Monday, April 30, 2007

Want instant Value in Your Home?


Maybe you didn't get the memo...money DOES grow on trees.

I have always believed that a property with trees has more value then one without. After being a real estate agent and working with many home sellers and buyers, I have found that buyers, for the most part, like a home with grown trees. Studies are now showing that well placed thriving trees can add as much as 15% in increased value to your home. Not only are trees pleasing to the eye and add great curb appeal, but they also help to reduce your heating and cooling bill by offering shade.

I grew up on a couple acres which had probably 20 trees that were 40+ years old. As a kid, I loved swinging from the limbs or climbing as high as I could. In the fall, we had two huge red maple trees that were beacons in the neighborhood once the leaves began to turn a brilliant red. Since then, I am always looking for that perfect property that has well placed trees and different varieties. Just like a gardener who plants flowers of different colors and heights, it is just as important to offer variety in the trees you pick.

Over the last two decades, home developers have been going into areas and clear cutting every tree in site. What they are now finding out is that home buyers want some trees to remain in the yard, giving the property a more "natural" appearance. Covenants are even being created where trees of a certain diameter cannot be removed without permission. People are starting to finally see the value of trees. Yes, it might be a pain to rake up the leaves in the fall, but I sure do love to hear the leaves rustle in the wind or have a picnic with my family under the far-reaching branches!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I've Got the Fever...

...Spring Fever that is!

My whole family has been loving the last few days because spring has finally arrived. I haven't posted since Wednesday because I have taken time off to take my son to the park everyday and just enjoy the weather. After an early April of cold temperatures that set some records, it is nice to finally open up all the windows and let the breeze through the house.

I also took the time to start my spring Minneapolis real estate project, a historical tour of Minneapolis neighborhoods. I spent Friday walking through the Lowry Hill district and photographed homes of architectural distinction. Look for my upcoming weekly posts where I will showcase one home a week and give a little history of the home and talk about its design details. Be sure to see my current project on my Minneapolis Luxury Real Estate blog where I have been showcasing historic homes of Summit Avenue in St. Paul since January.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Surveys Should Always be Part of a Transaction

Unlike most Minneapolis real estate agents in the area, I am a big lobbyist for a seller to provide a survey any time they sell their single family residential property. Some think it is a waste of money. Others might not see the need. I mean, you can see how the lot sits next to adjacent buildings, so only an idiot would ask for a survey, right?

Well, I am here to tell you that is a very flawed thought process to not see the need for a survey, especially if you are the buyer. Here are some reasons to get a survey the next time you buy a home.

  1. Why would anyone need to know the exact lot lines? It's called Encroachment, meaning an unauthorized use of someone's property. A lot of times, peoples' fences encroach on a neighbor's land, and is usually not a big deal because a fence can easily be moved. What do you do though if the neighbor has built part of a buildings foundation onto your land, or built a patio deck over the property line? If you are buying a piece of property with such a defect, and the previous owners have ignored it for over 15 years, that simple encroachment could turn into an easement by prescription, or even give that neighbor title to the land by adverse possession.
  2. Many homeowners have an Easement through their property, most commonly a driveway for a neighbor to reach his own property. But if you never have a survey of the land, how would you know if there are any hidden easements? Case in point, we were looking at a property to buy last year in Bloomington. We were about to make an offer, but decided to drive around the neighborhood once more. I noticed at the end of the adjoining street some large markers that said "Warning-Natural Gas Pipe Line". Upon further investigation we found that the pipe line rain directly through the properties back yard and had a 35 foot easement on each side of the pipeline. That turned out to be the entire back yard! There would be no way we could ever put in a pool or add on to the home. If they ever wanted to work on the pipe line, they had automatic permission to dig up the yard. The homeowner never knew because they never had a survey completed. Needless to say, we decided to not buy that home. Only because I am use to looking at these details was I saved from making a mistake. How many other buyers have not been so lucky?
  3. A survey will also reveal the proper set back lines on a property. Set back lines tell you how far away from the property line you are allowed to build. We ran into another problem where a seller had added on a third garage stall directly up to the property line. Its was encroaching on the set back by 10 feet! (also meaning the proper building permit was never pulled by the owner) If we inherited this problem, we might either have to get a variance or remove the structure. We decided to not inherit the problem and moved on.

Are you beginning to understand the reason why a survey is so important? It puts the buyer at ease knowing the property is in good standing with neighbors and the city, but it also helps the seller sell the home by offering the buyer another "insurance" policy on why the property is sound.

Some states require a survey on every property that sells, as does the mortgage company. However in Minnesota and Wisconsin, this is just not the case. How would you feel if you purchased a home and one day came home to find your yard was gone because the power company decided they needed to install some power lines in your backyard? The only one to blame would be yourself. A title search won't tell you anything about encroachments, hidden easements, or set back lines. Do yourself a favor...make sure to request a survey next time you buy real estate in Minnesota!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Minnesotas Best Small Towns...

...well, at least according to the new issue of Midwest Living. Now some of you might think your small town should have been noted in the magazine. So I am giving you the opportunity to tell me about your town via comments. Those that nominate their town will see their town highlighted here, as long as it is a "Day Trip" from the Twin Cities. I will visit, take photos, and write a short blog about your town, with a special thanks to you! Just give me time in the next couple months to visit.

Here are the towns that made the top 100:


# 9. Stillwater, MN
#13. Lanesboro, MN
#21. Northfield, MN
#26. Ely, MN
#27. Grand Marais, MN
#42. Nisswa, MN
#44. Park Rapids, MN
#50. Wabasha, MN
#55. Red Wing - check out my post, Day Trip to Red Wing
#75. Detroit Lakes, MN
#91. New Ulm, MN
#100. Mantorville, MN

Monday, April 23, 2007

Minnesota Homes in Foreclosure, Part 2


This weeks follow on to the Minnesota Homes in Foreclosure series explains the Methods of Foreclosure found in Minnesota. Not all states have the same methods, so check with your local agent for more information.

Remember that the reason for a mortgage is to give the lender the right to foreclose, have the property sold, and the debt paid out of the sale proceeds. So upon default, the bank has two options:


  1. Foreclosure by Advertisement - also known as the power of sale method, this is the most commonly used method in Minnesota. It allows the bank to conduct a foreclosure and sheriff's sale without taking the matter to court. The property must be advertised by publishing a notice in a newspaper in the county where the home is located for six weeks prior to the sale. Also, at least four weeks prior to the sale, a copy of the notice must be sent to the homeowner.
  2. Judicial Foreclosure - if a mortgage does not contain a power of sale clause, then the mortgage must go to court. The lender must file a lawsuit in the county where the property is located. An attorney will further record a lis pendens, making the judgment of the court binding on all persons that have interests in the property. The judge will then order the sale of the property.
  3. Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure - some borrowers might have the option of giving the deed and title directly back to the bank, rather then going through the foreclosure process. Some banks might except this as it saves them time and money, but they may decline and proceed with #1.

Be forewarned that in some cases, the proceeds of a foreclosure may not cover the full amount owed to the bank. The lender might want to seek what is called a Deficiency Judgment in order to get the full amount owed. However, know that a DJ is not allowed after the Foreclosure by Advertisement method if redemption periods are 6 months or five weeks. If the redemption period is 12 months, then it is possible to get a DJ, or else the lender must close by Judicial Foreclosure.

I know this all might be confusing, so if you are facing foreclosure, my best suggestion is to seek the advice of an attorney. Everyone has different circumstances. Check back next week when I post the third instalment on What Foreclosure Means for You. Also read part one of this series about pre-foreclosures and redemption periods.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Death to the Phantom Tax!

Minneapolis Real Estate Owners in Foreclosure Could be in Luck

Well, it looks like we could be having a funeral very soon. Let's all cross our fingers and pray for it to die. I'll be the first to shovel some dirt over the coffin...and let's make sure we dig a really, really deep hole so it cannot resurrect itself in the future.

What am I talking about? For those of you who have never dealt with a foreclosure or short sale this might be news, but to those of you currently in this unfortunate position, it could be good news. See, when a Minnesota home owner short sales their home and sells if for $150,000 instead of the $200,000 they owe, the bank issues a 1099 to the federal government. The government sees you as actually getting $50,000 in income (the difference between the two numbers) and sends you a tax bill. That's right. You got stabbed in the gut with a really large knife when you lost your home or had to short sell it, then the government steps in and twists it back and forth just to make sure it hurts a little more.

But now the National Association of Realtors is very close at getting the Federal Government to stop twisting the knife. The House of Representatives has introduced H.R. 1876, the Mortgage Cancellation Tax Relief Act, which will no longer tax individuals when they have had a part of a mortgage loan forgiven or have been forced to foreclose because of their inability to pay their mortgage.

Let's pray that this bill passes. With the increase of foreclosure and short sales being seen all over the country, it has the potential to affect thousands of home owners by ridding them of one financial burden being replaced by another. Just another way Realtors are looking our for the consumer!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Minnesota Day Trip - Red Wing



If you are looking for somewhere to explore try Red Wing, Minnesota. It is only a 1 hour drive from the Twin Cities. You drive through some beautiful farm country and end up on the banks of the Mississippi River. Take a lunch and eat at Baypoint Park or tour the many antique stores or the Red Wing Pottery showroom. One of the things I like to do is stroll down the residential streets and enjoy the town's numerous historic homes. They have great parks for hiking or for the kids to play. This year the town is celebrating 150 years of being incorportad so be sure to visit the city this summer for special events.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Son would Love this Place

Visit Bandana Square in Saint Paul

My son loves trains. Loves them. Anytime he sees Thomas the Train, he gets really excited and just has to grab it. If we are driving and see a train, we must stop, roll the windows down, so he can see and hear it. Of course, we love to oblige him because it is just too cute.

Last week I took my Wisconsin real estate class in St Paul, at a complex called Bandana Square. It is an old train station used at the turn of the century, and is currently used mostly for offices and a Best Western Hotel. The complex is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Children's Museum was located here a few years ago too.

Take you kids to visit the Twin City Model Railroad Museum. It has scaled down displays of model trains and is a treat to see. If they love trains then it will be very hard to get them out of the museum. They also have a couple Thomas the Train activity tables where kids can play while you look around.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Minneapolis Median Sales Prices

The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors recently released 2006 data for Median Sales Prices in various areas of the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. Below is a breakdown of Minneapolis specific neighborhoods according to the Multiple Listing Service, including the percentage increase in sales price since 2000.

  • Calhoun - Isles : the average sales price for 2006 was $263,590, an increase of 19.9%
  • Camden : the average sales price for 2006 was $164,000, an increase of 72.6%
  • Central : the average sales price for 2006 was $270,000, an increase of 84.9%
  • Longfellow : the average sales price for 2006 was $207,500, an increase of 66.1%
  • Nokomis : the average sales price for 2006 was $225,000, an increase of 60.8%
  • North : the average sales price for 2006 was $153,000, an increase of 93.9%
  • Northeast : the average sales price for 2006 was $210,000, an increase of 62.8%
  • Phillips : the average sales price for 2006 was $191,580, an increase of 122.9%
  • Powderhorn : the average sales price for 2006 was $183,700, an increase of 67.0%
  • Southwest : the average sales price for 2006 was $287,000, an increase of 57.1%
  • University : the average sale price for 2006 was $240,000, an increase of 62.2%

Please know that these amounts include all single family detached homes, all condominiums, and also twin homes.

If you would like to know how another area or town compares, please either comment below or send me an email request!

Monday, April 16, 2007

An Unconventional Truth

  1. The truth is, there are more mortgage options available to buyers than just the typical 30-year fixed loan. Known as "unconventional mortgages", buyers should know the additional options available. Please remember,they may not work for you, and to check with your lender about personal pros and cons.

    40-Year Fixed - these loans offer fixed rates with principal and interest payments each month. While your interest rate will usually be higher, your monthly payments will be less. One benefit of this type of financing is that it might be easier to qualify for and not hit your monthly budget too hard, but it will mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan and also cause you to build less equity into the home.

    Interest Only - this payment plan allows a borrower to only pay interest on the loan, usual a fixed time period of 5-7 years. At the end of the term, you will have to refinance, pay the balance, or start paying Principal and Interest. If you are likely to move in the next few years, this could be an option for you, but if you plan on living in the home for a while, then the increase in payments after the initial period of interest only could be too much for your pocket book to handle.

    80-20 or 80-10-10 - if you have a small down payment amount, then these two types could be for you. The 80-20 is a first mortgage of 80% and a second mortgage for the remaining 20%. It helps you avoid paying PMI (private mortgage insurance) which is tacked onto any loan higher than 80% of the purchase price. If you have at least a 10% down payment, then the 80-10-10 might work. In this instance, you have an 80% first mortgage, 10% second mortgage, and the 10% down payment. Some call the second mortgage a "piggy-back" loan. While the interest rate might be higher than on the first mortgage, the monthly payment for the combined loans could be less than a conventional loan with PMI.

    So if you are looking for additional options to purchase your next home, here are just a few to consider. Remember that many things could affect your eligibility like credit score, yearly income, etc, so go in with an open mind. You just never know what you might qualify for!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Will You be Reading this Somewhere Else

I found an interesting article today on yahoo news. Apparently the people who invented the Internet want to scrap the one we have and build a brand new one. Hmmmm....I wonder if this blog will be somewhere else?

They say it will be a new platform that will run parallel to the current one in use, until at sometime, it will completely replace it. Does that mean all current domains will no longer be valid, that Google will have to start all over again with new page rankings, or will we have to pay for use of the Internet. I don't think the founders ever thought it would become the giant it is right now, nor be free. Maybe they want to be paid for their invention, or maybe the government is lobbing for policing abilities?

Only time will tell and I am sure there will be tons of debate over this issue. Who knows how this will effect online real estate sites. Maybe a virtual tour will actually be "virtual", with clients literally walking through someones home online. That would be pretty cool! Hopefully Google Earth will be able to zoom all the way to that ant hill in your back yard. Who knows what else will arrive for us to fiddle with. Check back in 2010, then wait till 2015 to find out. See you then!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Get Your Free Copy for June/July

I will be sending out a new home magazine called Jennifer Kirby's Home by Design starting this summer. The issues are delivered every two months so if you would like a Free copy for June/July, please let me know and I will add you to the publication list. Remember, this magazine is always FREE to you, so don't think of it as a subscription. It is more my way of saying "Thank You", for your referrals and loyalty. If you have any friends or family who might also be interested, please forward their name and address to me as well! Enjoy!

Email me : JKirby@theLuxuryAgent.com

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sorry for Being Absent, Please Don't Hate Me

To say the last weekend was busy is an understatement. Not only are we looking for a home somewhere around the Twin Cities, but Friday was my son's second birthday. We traveled to my in-laws, who live in Wisconsin, to celebrate his big day and also Easter.
With all the activities planned by Grandma, I was just too tired to sit down and write some good blogs. Please forgive me. I will work on it this week.

I should have some good content as I am taking a class to get my Wisconsin real estate license this week. It will be interesting to see how much similar and different the laws are for WI and MN.

Seeing as I am also licensed in Florida, I wonder how many other real estate agents have three or more states they can sell real estate in. If you know of someone who has more than three, please let me know!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

How Much is a Photo Worth?

Well, in my case, about $300,000.

See, I am in the process of buying a home and now find myself in the shoes of my buyers and all the buyers out there. Seeing as there are so many homes on the market here in Minneapolis, I have to find a way to narrow the field. With two kids in tow, it is my responsibility to pick the best, as they can only last through four homes a day.

While it is required in our MLS that a photo be placed online within so much time, I am amazed that so many agents still only place one photo for the public's viewing pleasure. There has been alot of debate on AR, ePRO, and Real Talk about multiple photos, and agents that pass these listings by when searching for their clients. Some felt that was unfair and not representing the best interest of the client by NOT showing them "every home".

Let me tell you this...now that I am looking for myself, I am definitely passing any home by that only has one photo of the home. I am even passing those by with only exterior photos. I don't care if the rest of the details describe it as what I am looking for, I just don't have time to mess with a listing agent that refuses to snap a couple photos and post them on line. The last thing I need is to pick one of these homes and walk in to find it is in terrible shape. Now I have just wasted a home on my family who will need a nap soon.

So what is a photo worth to those sellers out there wanting me to buy their home? Well, $300,000. Without those interior shots, there is no way I will be writing a contract on your home simply because I won't be viewing it!

My advice to sellers is that you make sure your agent is posting at least 6 pictures of your home into the MLS. If they don't do this within a week of the listing, ask them to cancel the listing and find a better agent. Or better yet, when you are interviewing her, ask them about photography and how they implement it into the listing. You might be surprised that most agents do not take alot of photos. I have seen Million dollar homes have one photo, too.

(We have been searching for a month or so and still have not found what we are looking for. Of course it doesn't help me being a real estate agent as I am more picky than the average buyer. You can see my first post about our search regarding Smelly Homes. I thought it might be good to those of you out there that care, to see how the buying process goes for me, so I will be making various posts as time goes by. It will be fun to be in my buyers shoes again and experience the pains they go through)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Flashing Lights are Trying to Tell you Something

If you are new to Minnesota, it might be important to know a state law that concerns your driving. Many states also have enacted similar laws and it should be common sense to observe it anyway.

When driving down any road with two lanes or more and you see flashing emergency lights from a police vehicle, ambulance, tow truck, etc, it is now your responsibility to move over a lane. Too many police officers have been killed by distracted, inattentive, or just lazy drivers, who fail to move over for safety. The "move over law" was written after a local state trooper was killed as he was issuing a citation to another driver while parked on the shoulder.

By law, you are required to do the following:


  • Keep one lane away from any stopped ambulance, fire truck, or law enforcement vehicle while passing them on a roadway with two or more lanes.

  • If you are not able to get over due to traffic, then you must slow down considerably.

  • Failure to do so means you could be the one receiving a citation.

Too many times I see drivers not observing this law. Maybe they do not know about it. But I honestly have to say I don't care of their ignorance. It is common sense to get out of the way of any emergency on the side of the road. Stop rubber necking and just drive safely to your destination.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Proactive Property Assessors Could Help with Property Taxes

If only Minnesota County Property Assessors Would Care This Much

Not only am I licensed in Minnesota, but also in Florida. I specialize in the Northwest Panhandle, including Pensacola. I have just learned that the Escambia County Property Appraiser is asking for local Realtor help. With property taxes at their highest ever, Chris Jones wants agents to go back through their sales and make a note of any seller concessions, bonuses to agents, etc that would artificially inflate the purchase price. These items are viewed as a "cost of the sale" and not considered a part of the purchase price or "indicative of real estate value".

Agents are being asked to log back into their SOLD listings and update these concessions in the area marked as "sale notes", then forward these MLS numbers to the County property appraiser so he can make a case to lower the current assessed value on that property. Not only will this action help property tax assessments, but appraisers that use the sold MLS data as a basis for comparables, will also not give over inflated values for homes under contract.

Wow! Finally someone in a government position is looking at high taxes as a bad thing, and doing something about it. I always make a note in my sales data of any concessions that are part of the contract, just for this very reason. Now if only we could get local counties in and around the Twin Cities to do the same!
Has anyone had their local property assessors do something proactive similar to this?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Minnesota Homes in Foreclosure, Part 1

If you have not heard about the recent increase in Minneapolis foreclosures, then you probably live under a rock. I think there is an article every day about the foreclosure "problem", unethical lenders, and the government stepping in to conduct hearings on proper lending practices. To help some of you understand the foreclosure process in general and how it works in Minnesota, I thought I would create a three part blog post for my current and future readers.


Pre-foreclosure in Minnesota

Once a home owner begins to stop making payments and the bank is aware of the default, the home enters the state of pre-foreclosure. One thing that should always be done is keep in constant contact with the bank. From the second an owner knows they can no longer pay the loan, they should call or write the bank with an explanation of their problems. Banks are not the bad guy (yet) and are willing to work with customers and advise owners of possible solutions. If you choose to ignore their letters of inquiry, you are only making matters worse.

During this time period, it is also advisable to seek help through a Realtor to market the home for sale. Try contacting a local investment club for potential buyers. They might know someone looking for a deal. What ever you do, don't haggle too much. Your goal is to get out of this home without going into full foreclosure and ruining your credit for 10 years. Check your pride at the door and try to leave emotions out of negotiations. (I have first hand knowledge on the stress a possible foreclosure can cause to yourself and your family and will feature a post on the subject at the end of April).

Redemption Periods

There is hope should you find yourself able to reinstate payments or pay for the loan in full. After default, and up until the time of the sheriff's sale, the borrower can stop the foreclosure process by bringing past payment up to date and paying any penalties the bank has charged (usually lawyer fees and such).

Another plus is that Minnesota state law gives the borrower the right to redeem the property after the auction, too. To get your property back, the owner usually has to pay the bank the price bid at auction plus interest. Here are the Statutory Redemption Periods in Minnesota:

6 Months - Most mortgages allow only six months time to return home to owner

12 Months - in order to have a year, one of the following must be met:

  • the Mortgage is more than one-third paid off
  • the Property is more than 40 acres
  • the Property is more than 10 acres and is used for agricultural purposes
  • the Property is more than 10 acres and mortgage was originated before July 1, 1987
5 Weeks - if the property has been abandoned, is residential of 10 acres or less, and no more than four units, a home owner won't have much time to redeem the property

Look for future posts on the Foreclosure Process in Minnesota when I discuss the Methods of Foreclosure and What Foreclosure Means for You.