The three-bedroom, two-bath house at 13620 Plaster Circle in Broomfield currently for sale for $317,000 sounds like a pretty good place. "Updated ranch style home in very good condition," reads the online description for the 1,752-square-foot residence, noting there are vaulted ceilings, slab granite counter tops, even a full basement.
What the ad doesn't note, however, that a little over a year ago that full basement was packed with more than 900 live marijuana plants -- and that police discovered it because the grow operation was apparently causing a brown mold-like substance to leak out of the house's siding.
The home was one of several dozen clandestine grow operations raided last year as part of Operation Fortune Cookie, the largest pot bust in state history. According to real estate records, the residence was purchased in June 2007 for $325,000 and when police raided it in February 2008, it was listed to Xiu Yun Li, who has since been sentenced to thirty months in prison. To read more about Operation Fortune Cookie, check out this week's cover story.
"I am aware that something was going on, yes," said Westminster RE/MAX Alliance realtor Stephen Robertson, the listing agent for the house, when called earlier this week and asked about the property. Real estate records show the seller Robertson represents purchased the home for $252,000 in March 2009 -- four months after someone else had bought it for $281,266. When asked what had been done to clean up the marijuana grow -- or if he planned on informing potential buyers about the house's history, Robertson said, "This conversation is over. I am not answering these questions."
Then he hung up.
After police busted the house on the Plaster Circle, it went into foreclosure -- just like many of the other 24 grow houses raided as part of Operation Fortune Cookie. "When you have an organization like this that's purchasing dozens and dozens of homes in the area and then forfeit on the homes, that's taking an already bad foreclosure situation in the community and making the situation even worse," said Northglenn police detective Dan Joyce, lead agent on the investigation, when he was allowed to talk about the case last year. "In the long run, property values are going to go down."
And 13620 Plaster Circle isn't the first of those homes to go back on the market. Keller Williams Executives Realty LLC in Littleton, for example, recently acquired two of the houses from banks and quickly resold them. One of them was 14379 Fillmore Street in Thornton, which went for $300,900 in January. The other, at 2942 East 151st Place in Brighton, went for $337,750 last month -- even though it had once contained one of the largest grow operations associated with Operation Fortune Cookie, one that involved 2,054 plants.
"We didn't have trouble selling either of them. They were beautiful houses," says Paula Lee, pre-marketer for the real estate company. "The only impact the [grow operations] really had on these houses was they rewired the electrical to bypass the meter. So before we could sell the properties, we had to work with the electricity to have it wired properly. We didn't have any type of mold or water damage."
Lee says her office would have disclosed the houses' pasts -- if the buyers had asked about it. "We are totally honest about it if it is brought up, but we didn't bring it up to them," she says. "If there is usually enough evidence, we are asked and we disclose it."
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There's no rule that they have to. While the state requires disclosure about homes for sale previously containing meth labs that aren't certified clean, there's no analogous rule for indoor marijuana grows, says Marcia Waters, investigations and compliance director for the Colorado Division of Real Estate. And while Colorado realtors do have to reveal environmental hazards and other "adverse material facts" associated with properties they're selling, most of them likely aren't aware of environmental hazards resulting from large-scale pot grows. "I would say that if a broker is aware that a house has been used for a marijuana grow operation, they should acknowledge it, but I don't think a lot of people recognize the negative impacts of having one of these operations in a residence," says Waters.
That's because large-scale indoor marijuana grows are a relatively new phenomenon around here; Waters says she can't remember the issue ever coming up before. It's different in British Columbia, which over the past decade has become a Silicon Valley of sorts for indoor marijuana grows. Officials there estimate the region contains between 7,000 to 17,550 indoor grow operations producing $2 billion worth of marijuana a year -- and they say they've witnessed the residential impact of these grow operations firsthand.
"Grow operations pose a significant risk to the community on many levels," says Sergeant Ian Sanderson, northwest region coordinator for the Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. According to Sanderson, grow houses in the region have been host to a variety of problems, including unapproved structural changes, mold and fungus infestations, rotting wood, chemical spills and booby traps. A report on the situation prepared by a local fire chief determined that, thanks to clandestine electrical rewiring, houses containing grow operations were 24 times more likely to catch fire.
The same sort of problems could start popping up around here, says Sanderson: "I think it is important if they are starting to show up in the Denver and surrounding area, the community needs to know what all those risks are and what the impact is."