The Plutonium Dust Bowl | Rocky Flats

by Osman Parvez
A few months ago I met with prospective clients moving from California.   They said they needed at least three bedrooms, a decent size garage, and preferred something newer so they could spend less time dealing with maintenance.    They didn't know much about Boulder and were open to location, including "the L's" (Louisville, Longmont, and Lafayette).   

After our meeting,  I gave them our neighborhood guide and sent them out on a driving tour. I also set them up with MLS listing alerts (much better than Zillow, Trulia, Redfin) that matched their search criteria and price range.   I checked in with them every so often on how the sale of their house in California was going and when they were planning to revisit so we could schedule showings of available homes. 

Then one day, I get the email.  

Unbeknownst to me, they had visited again.   Driving around, they decided to check out Candelas, a large development just a few miles south of Boulder.   In the sales office, they didn't disclose they were working with an agent and went ahead and signed up to purchase a new home.    They were now under contract... without representation.

Here's how they shared the news: 
"We were able to score a lot on the far west end of the Candelas backed right to the reserve with fantastic unobstructed views of the mountains. Beyond excited we are to say the least."
Too bad they didn't call us before handing over the non refundable deposit.   

What The Buyers Didn't Know

Candelas is directly adjacent to the former Rocky Flats Super Fund Site, now rebranded a Wildlife Refuge.  The formerly secret nuclear weapons plant (with almost 800 structures) was once called the most contaminated site in America (read Full Body Burden).   

Some environmental activists call Rocky Flats the "Plutonium dust bowl" for its history of fire and leakage of radioactive materials.   Nuclear weapons were manufactured here for nearly 40 years leaving facilities, groundwater, soil, and surface waters contaminated with chemical and radioactive substances that, according to the EPA, posed potential health and safety risks to the public and workers.

Naturally, the developers think the site is perfectly safe.  Their version of history doesn't mention the plume, the thousands who protested, and the fact that nearly all of the underground contamination was left in place.  Most government officials would now like you to think its perfectly safe, despite the health studies suggesting otherwise.  

Why Didn't the Buyer's Call?   
My guess is they didn't understand how real estate commissions are paid (from the seller's proceeds, almost always).   They figured they saved some money, when it really just added to the developer's profit.

The buyers didn't know that there is usually no price difference for using a buyer's agent.   Developers rely on Realtors to sell their product.  They're not going to undercut their independent sales team, even in this inventory deprived market.   If you doubt it, ask the question point blank to the sales office and see what they say.   I help clients buy new construction every year.   None of them have offered a discount for cutting out the buyer's agent. 

Make an Informed Decision
Whether you believe Rocky Flats is perfectly safe or you believe it's Colorado's Love Canal, you have the right to study the issue and make a decision for yourself. A good buyer's agent has deep knowledge of local market conditions and other factors that affect long term desirability.  Talk to your real estate agent.   Get the facts.  Make a smarter real estate decision.  

If I were representing the buyers, I would have warned them not just for their own health but because of the stigma that Rocky Flats may have on potential future buyers. Let history be your guide.   Environmental concerns with real estate transactions only increase with time.   See the history of lead paint, asbestos, radon, and mold.   

The Colorado Real Estate commission thinks buyers should have their own representation. This is one of the reasons.   

p.s. Don't ever be shy to ask your agent about how commissions work and the pros/cons of representation.  There are no dumb questions when you're investing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars into an asset. 

Additional Reading
Candelas Glows
The EPA site on Rocky Flats

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The ideas and strategies described in this blog are the opinion of the writer and subject to business, economic, and competitive uncertainties.   We strongly recommend conducting rigorous due diligence and obtaining professional advice before buying or selling real estate. 

Please Note

This document contains forward-looking statements. You are strongly cautioned that investment results are subject to business, economic and other uncertainties. There are no guarantees associated with any forecast and the opinions stated here are subject to change at any time. Always consult your financial advisor before making an investment decision.