Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Apparently, another one of our Minnesota school districts, N St Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, finds itself with a budget shortfall and will be making program cuts to make up for it. I posted a few weeks ago about the Lakeville School District running into a similar problem, and it seems like the only solutions council members can come up with are cutting student activities and letting teachers go.
According to the Star Tribune, the district will be getting rid of all middle school athletics and extracurricular activities, but keep the yearbook and student council. Wow, how generous of them. They will also be eliminating 40 teacher positions, nursing staff, 5th grade band, guidance counselors, and music assistants, to name a few.
You can obviously tell that I am not too thrilled with these cuts, and here is why. The one position that is never eliminated in any of these budget cuts is the administrative jobs. Two administrators positions could cost the district upwards of $300,000 per year. Instead of taking this route, they are instead cutting everything that a student can participate in after hours, like sports and clubs, which cost about $324,000. Now, if you were to look at these two figures, which would you cut?
We wonder why our kids have no discipline nor direction and fail to see that music, art, and sports play a huge part in how our children are influenced. Extracurricular activities offer a break from the amount of school work piling up on them each year, from getting into trouble with the law, offer social interaction with their peers, and teach them a few things about life in between.
I loved art and music growing up. It gave me another way to use my mind. I was not the best artist, nor the best singer, but participation gave me something to look forward to everyday other than books. With two small children, I often wonder what school life will be like for them in another 10 years. Will athletics exist? How about the Science Club? Will they cut advanced courses too? Who knows...the only way to change the path we seem to be traveling down is to voice our opinions and tell officials to find another way. Oh, and I don't mean by raising our property taxes!
What are your thoughts about school budget cuts and how they affect our kids?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Part of being a real estate agent is making sure we offer Full Disclosure to those we represent. When in an agency relationship, it is law to tell a buyer or seller everything you know. This includes any information you know about a property, any zoning changes you are aware of, and any kickbacks an agent or company might receive from other businesses.
Case in point, it appears that Coldwell Banker Burnet, a local real estate agency in Minnesota, is being taken to court over a possible RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) violation. The Star Tribune reports that CB Burnet "provides incentives to its agents to refer their clients to affiliated Burnet Title for high-priced title and closing services without full disclosure". Apparently, the company discloses the fact of affiliation between Title, Loan, and Real Estate, but fail to disclose properly, in their fiduciary relationship, that their agents receive compensation for successfully referring a client to one of their affiliates.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of this lawsuit, as there are numerous real estate agencies that have title and loan partners in their offices. It becomes a problem when the agent receives something of monetary value, say a gift certificate, cash, etc for sending the lead, but fails to disclose to the client this fact. The motto every real estate agent should live by is Disclose, Disclose, Disclose. The last thing one needs is a lawsuit.
If you are in a current transaction, or will be soon, make sure you ask the agent that represents you if they are receiving any kind of a kickback for a referral. They must tell you. Now don't think it is anything big, usually it takes the form of $25-50, so the agent won't be making millions on the deal.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
About two-thirds of Americans do not have a clue what their credit score is, but understand that lenders live by the number. Like the hand of God, they choose, based on this three digit number, how much to loan you and what interest rate you will pay. Sound a little scary? This score cannot only affect your auto and home insurance rate, but it could even keep you from getting a job! Some employers, about 20%, look at your credit history to judge your character and forecast your job performance.
Ok, so what's the deal? Well, your credit score is a number ranging from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better chance you have of getting a better rate and saving yourself a ton of money. The chart below gives an example of how you could save hundreds a month on your mortgage if you have a great score:
Most lenders agree that if you have a score of 720+ you should have no problem getting a loan. Once you start creeping down into the 680-700 range, your payment rate will definitely change, and if you are below 620, you might not even qualify for a loan. The important fact to remember is that your score fluctuates with every credit card you sign up for and every bill you are late with. With one late payment, your score could plunge by 50 points or more.
The big three credit bureaus who hold your life in their hands are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It used to be very difficult to get your credit report, or you had to pay for it, but with the power over peoples lives these companies possessed, the government recently signed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act. Now every American is entitled to a free credit report annually from each bureau. You still have to pay them to learn your actual credit score, but it is usually only around $6 from each. Don't be surprised though if they differ from each other, some by 50 points or more.
Look for the next two installments of this series, in the upcoming weeks where I will discuss How your Score is Derived and How to Raise your Score.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
- Kincaid's - known as the special-occasion headquarters, Kincaid's is continually nominated as one of the best in town. Serving the traditional meat, fish, and potato menu, the restaurant is located at 380 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul (651-602-9000).
- The Oceanaire Seafood Room - the town's definite top spot for seafood, steak lovers will not walk away disappointed either. Make sure to try the key lime pie as well! The Oceanaire is located at 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (612-333-2277)
- La Belle Vie - has a fantastic kitchen which serves up some of the best Mediterranean around. Eat a'la carte or from a tasting menu. La Bell Vie is a little pricey, but you will find it is worth every penny! Located at 510 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis (612-874-6440)
- Lake Elmo Inn - Located in the northeast metro, is a great place to brunch. Go there for Sunday and they might have to roll you out the door! The Inn can be found at 3442 Lake Elmo Ave N, Lake Elmo (651-777-8495)
- St Paul Grill - known for its American food and voted "the best bar for grown ups", the Grill is located in the Historic Saint Paul Hotel and is sure to please. 350 Market St, Saint Paul (651-224-7455)
- Murray's - Minneapolis' most honored steak house, has fantastic steaks, burgers, and more. Find Murray's at 26 S. 6th St, Minneapolis (612-339-0909)
- Manny's Steak House - offers a great wine list, the best veal chop in town, and a mouth-watering ribeye. Manny's is located at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (612-339-9900)
- Vincent A Restaurant - Vincent Francoul's cuisine is best described as French with an American twist. You will be surprised at the exceptional flavor of the dishes and also at the affordable price. 1100 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (612-630-1189)
- Palomino - the menu is best categorized as European-inspired American cuisine and features a warm atmosphere for dining. Find Palomino at the LaSalle Plaza, 825 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis (612-339-3800)
- Jax Cafe - Jax has been around for a while and is currently being run by the family's third generation. They feature a seasonal "net your own fish" stream in the outside garden, and are best known for the atmosphere and the outstanding steak and potatoes menu. 1928 University Ave NE, Minneapolis (612-789-7297)
(top 10 courtesy of MplsStPaul magazine readers poll)
Friday, February 16, 2007
- Structural Damage - seen more often on an older home, it can still happen on a newer one. Problems occur when water penetrates the foundation, floor joists, or window/door headers. Addressing the issue sooner than later is very important because the longer you wait, the more expensive it will become to fix.
- Older Heating Systems - There can be serious health and safety issues if an older system has been poorly maintained. Consider if it will have to be replaced soon and what it will cost you. In the mean time, make sure carbon monoxide detectors are installed throughout the home.
- Leaky Roof - A sure sign of roof problems are stains on the ceiling or missing roof tiles. Quick, inexpensive repairs can fix the problem, but if the roof is older, it might have to be replaced.
- Plumbing Problems - usually the repairs can be fixed without much expense, but common offenders include leaking fixtures and toilets, faulty seals, or just old plumbing.
- Poor Drainage - some lots have poor drainage and cause water to pool in areas around the exterior of the home. In worse cases, water actually enters the home. Proper use of eaves and downspouts can relieve the problem with just a little cost to the homeowner.
- Wood Rot - if too much vegetation touches the home and remains wet, wood rot quickly becomes a problem, especially in the summer. Wood decks that have supports directly in the ground (not into concrete) will surely rot within a few years. Make sure proper measures are taken to prevent any wood coming into direct contact with dirt.
- Leaky Doors and Windows- Improper caulking and weather stripping can cause air to penetrate the home and increase your energy bill. This is probably one of the easiest and least expensive problems to fix.
- Poor Home Maintenance - torn carpets, peeling paint, broken fixtures, missing window screens, stains and the like are all cosmetic problems that come with a home. Some states do not require home sellers to fix cosmetic problems found in an inspection, but as a buyer, it does not hurt to nicely request they be fixed before closing.
- Fogged Windows - when a window seal is broken, moisture is allowed to penetrate the interior panes and can cause what is called "fogging". Even though the window still operates as it is intended (open & closes), you can usually no longer see out of it. This can become a very serious financial cost if more than 4 windows need to be replaced.
- Dated Kitchens and Bathrooms - a 40 year old home with the original kitchen and bathrooms might not funtion well with today's lifestyle. If you plan on updating or renovating, take into consideration the cost associated to replace plumbing and rewire electricity. Make sure to get a couple bids on the job before you purchase to make sure buying this particular home is financially feasible.
Have you encounted any huge problems with a home inspection that you would like to share? Feel free to comment and let me know.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
What do you think the graphic to the left represents? Do you know what the word "Realtor" means? Most in the public have an incorrect perception of what a Realtor® is and the benefits one brings to a real estate transaction. I thought I would take the time to clarify a few things, so we can all get on the same page.
I was prompted to write this article after I read a quote by the former president of the National Association of Realtors, Richard Mendenhall, saying " I have never seen the media (movie, TV, Book, etc) ever portray the Realtor in a good light, but the facts remain they are entrepreneurs and are much more adaptive, competitive, and actually generous than anyone ever gives them credit". This comment moved me in a couple of ways, first, by knowing that our leaders in NAR are looking out for us more than we probably realize, and second, that I have seen what he describes so many times that I wish I could just shake the public into a better understanding of who we are.
A Realtor® is a real estate agent, but not all real estate agents are Realtors®. Confused? The term "Realtor" is a trademark of the National Association of Realtors, but unfortunately, the public has come to use the word "realtor" as an adjective to describe agents, much as you would describe a surgeon, as just a doctor. An agent can choose to become a Realtor or not. Those that choose to become Realtors® are in fact pledging to follow a strict Code of Ethics set down by NAR. The public can always file a complaint with the licensing state for agent misconduct, but did you also know you can file an ethics complaint with NAR or the local Association Board as well? I personally would be disappointed in myself if I had an ethics complaint filed against me because I hold myself to a very high standard and always strive to be the best professional possible.
Realtors® are in fact real professionals who have the opportunity, experience, and privilege of helping people achieve the American dream of home ownership. Our profession is not easy, contrary to some reports that state otherwise. One must be knowledgeable about the national and local market, be very organized, have great communication skills, and work long hours (sometimes 7 days a week) to succeed in this industry. We must analyze body language as well as speech patterns to understand our clients. Sometimes we must be "therapists", a sports official, a confidante, a shoulder to cry on, or all at the same time. I have acted as a Power of Attorney for some clients, an interpreter for a German client, and a friend to clients that needed me when Hurricane Ivan hit us head on.
Do not think for an instant that I am alone. While there might be an excess of real estate agents in the industry right now, due in part to the past five year boom, there are still those of us that hold ourselves to high standards. The industry is in the mists of a great correction. Those that chose to enter during the boom because marketing real estate was "easy" are now finding themselves leaving because it has become too "difficult". They are finding out that to be the best Realtor®, one actually has to work. Now that the uncommitted are leaving (some say 400,000 alone will leave in 2007) the public will once again have the very best, committed professionals available.
I can only hope the public will come to realize over the next few years, when profit and offers are no longer beating down their door, the value of a Realtor®. I truly hope my short article has helped with your perception of a Realtor®. Next time you see a negative ad or comment about the real estate industry, please think back to what I have said and take it to heart.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
My question for this blog is why do people read "hidden" messages and meanings that aren't there? Did I ever say that I traveled to China and New Zealand because they were ugly? You would think that knowing I have lived on almost every coast in America, I do not like to stay in one place, but like to visit different cultures (thus traveling to two locations most people don't).
In fact, New Zealand is best described as a fairytale land...it has everything: mountains, glaciers, rain forests, black beaches, hot springs, farm land, and some of the most beautiful rivers you will ever see (I saw one with a rainbow over it, each end touching the sides of the riverbank). China took me back in time as China is very proud of its past. If you ever get to see the Great Wall, it is truly a new Wonder of the World.
The fact is most people choose to travel to other destinations. In my life I have only met 1 person who traveled to China and one person who went to New Zealand. Some people, if you ask them, do not know where New Zealand is and if they do, it is only because of Lord of the Rings.
So, to prove my point here are some of the top destinations people travel to:
- the Caribbean
- Las Vegas
Where do I want to visit next?...Egypt.
(data courtesy of Frommers and Carlson Wagonlit Travel's surveys)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
This is a prime example of "Just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come". Before I got married and started a family, I lived in downtown San Diego. My only option was to rent a condo because that was all there was. Condo living, anywhere, is mostly used for areas with little space to build out, so the only option is to build up. I understand the need for condo developments in downtown Minneapolis or St Paul, but in Burnsville? The largest condo is a two bedroom, 2000 sf unit for $325,000. Again, that price in Burnsville? (By the way, I live in Burnsville).
One of the hardest areas of real estate to sell right now is the condo market. It is happening nationwide and Minnesota is not immune. I believe in Miami, FL there are currently 70,000 vacant units for sale and 30,000 more are scheduled to hit the market in the next year upon completion. Needless to say owners and investors are realizing that buying by speculation comes with its risks...no buyers. Case in point, Uptown Landing, which had only sold 3 units out of 111 before it went into foreclosure. Yes, there might have been design flaws buyers did not like (two story units), but the fact is that condos do not do as great in the suburbs. Now the article in the Pioneer Press does state that another condo has been selling well in the area...in a year since completion, 31 of 91 units have been sold. To me, those numbers are still not that great.
No one should be surprised to see a developer go under. I am sure with the market stalling like it is, we could see a few more fail. When you speculate on the future, it can come back and bite you in the pocket book. If you think you might like to look into Uptown Landing, the bank has slashed prices up to $100,000 on each unit. The unit I mentioned above is now selling for around $229,000. Get them while they last as I am sure they will sell out by the weekend. Yeah, right.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Other cities that fall into the top 10 fittest are Albuquerque, Seattle, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis,Tucson, Ariz., Denver, San Francisco, Baltimore, Portland, Ore., and Honolulu.
I recently read an article in the Pioneer Press that Lakeville schools and students are about to suffer losses due to lack of funds. Not surprisingly, the expected consequences will be increased classroom size, more kids will walk to school, and teachers will be let go.
Lakeville school district administrators say they saw it coming. Well of course you would if local voters rejected all three levy ballots that were on the November election ticket. Homeowners have apparently had enough of the constant increase in their taxes and are letting their elected officials know it. The response set forth from the school district appears to me to be a fear tactic. Judy Keliher, a school board chairman says "it's going to make it tough to deliver education next year...we'll do the best we can. We value every program and person we have in this district". Funny thing is, if they value everyone so much, why are they cutting 21.7 full-time elementary positions and 10.7 positions at the two high schools. I haven't read anywhere that they are cutting any superintendent or district administrators jobs. Those should be the first sized down before any teachers are laid off or student programs are cut. But of course that won't happen. Instead they comment that the students will suffer and leave the impression that it is the taxpayers fault.
Maybe they should concentrate on running the school system more effectively. One thing I am glad to see is that they are not offering school buses to those that live within a 2 mile radius of the school. Kids now must either walk or get a ride. Wow, that's a novel idea. Where I grew up in Indiana, this was the norm, even in winter. Maybe it will help our kids get a little more exercise!
Look to see the district asking for more money again on the next ballot. The Lakeville school board will vote on the 2007-08 budget and boundary proposals at its next meeting, Tuesday, 7pm at 8670 210th St. W.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
For those of you do not know, the insurance industry is heavily regulated. Any request to raise rates has to be approved by the state. In fact, a few insurers recently requested an increase in Florida rates by as much as 40%! Keep in mind that Florida was devastated by multiple hurricanes in 2004 and home owners policies were either canceled or increased between 50-100%. I should know, I lived through Hurricane Ivan, a Category 4 storm that hit my town of Pensacola head on. My rate in 2004 for our home was $2000 per year. It is now $6000 per year! It has gotten so bad that the big companies like State Farm and Allstate will not write any new policies in Florida. From what I have heard, they have also cut out Louisiana and Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina. A lot of home owners now must find help from the state run insurance company Citizens. You want to know why some states have had their real estate markets bust? It doesn't really have to do with overpriced homes, but more to do with lack of insurance choices. If you cannot get insurance, the lender will not underwrite the loan, and buyers cannot purchase a home. If you are a lower income family, there is no way you can afford to buy a home in Florida.
So, what's to be done? Some states are investigating whether insurance companies are maneuvering to go around rules that make sure homeowners everywhere, including coastal state get coverage. California recently won a fight with several large insurers who agreed to cut back rates as much as 20% for a total of $439 Million. Many insurance companies have been making huge amounts of profit from their premium increases and some states don't like it. Insurance companies have come out saying they will not offer insurance in the state if they are regulated to cut profits. The states, like Florida for instance, have responded by proposing a bill that says if insurers write home and auto policies in other states then they must offer home owners insurance in Florida, or be banned from selling any other type of insurance in the entire state.
According to an article from the Wall Street Journal Online here are a couple things happening in other states:
- Connecticut: Attorney General is investigating 10 insurers seeking to require coastal homeowners to install storm shutters that can cost $50,000 before they will issue coverage
- Mississippi: State Farm just lost a lawsuit by homeowners alleging the company wrongly denied their claims by contending their home damage was caused by flood waters instead of wind.
What do you think about the regulation of the insurance industry? Do you have any experiences like these you would like to comment on?
Thursday, February 1, 2007
- Average Days on the Market single family residential : 87
- 12 month Housing Supply residential: 5.9 months (total amount of months it will take to asorb)