Monday, October 29, 2007

The 4th Annual Loft and Condo Tour of Minneapolis

For the next three weekends you won't want to miss the chance to view 15 of the best loft and condo developments in and around the Twin Cities. Locations range from Minneapolis, St Paul, Edina, Bloomington, Eden Prairie, New Brighton, and St Anthony.

As most of my readers know, architecture is a love of mine. With this tour, you will be able to see everything from newly renovated historic warehouses to the truly modern. Some of the projects I have yet to see, so I will be reporting back over the next weeks with what I find.

The Event

November 2-4, 9-11, 16-18
Fridays: 3 - 7pm
Saturdays and Sunday: 12-5pm

Friday, October 26, 2007

Having Trouble Selling?

Then consider looking to a small statue for help.

St Joseph has been helping home owners sell their homes for years. But how did this tradition come to be?

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly Father of Jesus Christ, is honored as the patron saint of married couples, families, carpenters and workingmen. It is believed that a 16th century Saint buried medals of St Joseph in land she wished to buy for her convent and a tradition was born.

While originally used to help buyers, St. Joseph has crossed over to the other side, sellers. Now you can purchase a small five inch plastic statue, say a prayer, and bury him in your yard. The goal is for him to help the home sell. Versions do vary with some requiring:
  • you to bury him upside down so his feet point to heaven
  • bury him three feet from the house
  • bury him next to the for sale sign
  • dig him up once the home sells and bury him in your new homes yard

...and the list goes on and on. Yes, it might seem silly. But what do you have to lose? If your home has been on the market along time here in Minneapolis, anything can help. Just don't forget to say the included prayer....and no, you don't have to be Catholic for it to work. All you need is a little faith!

By the way, we had a home for sale in Florida that had been on the market for a year. I buried the statue in the back yard, upside down, following all instructions. Six months later, the home finally sold. Divine intervention? Who knows, but all I care about is that the home sold and kept us from going into foreclosure.

For those of you here in the Twin Cities that have their homes for sale, or are planning on putting your home on the market soon, I am offering the first 10 people who contact me via email a free St Joseph home kit. Make sure to include your name, phone number, and local address so I can send it to the correct home. (One thing, you must be a home owner, not a Realtor or one of my avid real estate blogging buddies) :)


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some Inspiration from a Dying Man

I don't always watch Oprah, but for some reason today I sat down after running around after the kids, and turned on the TV. What I saw was a really inspiring outlook on life and how as adults we can still make our childhood dreams happen. I suggest you take a look at it and think about what your childhood dreams are or have become.

The Oprah version, which is much shorter is first. Take a look at it:

Below is the entire lecture that is sweeping the Web, which is over an hour long.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Minnesota Fall in Color

I'll just let the photos speak for themselves. Fall is my favorite time of year and the color can be amazing!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Light Transport in Minneapolis

The Hiawatha Light Rail Line

One great feature that Minneapolis has is the relatively new light rail line that was completed in 2004. At a cost of $715 Million, it allows local residents and tourists to travel 12 miles.

The line begins in downtown Minneapolis Warehouse District and ends at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. Other stops along the way include Fort Snelling, Minnehaha Park, the Minneapolis-St Paul Airport, and the Metrodome. It is a great way for locals to catch a ride and avoid traffic at the same time. Each station has an automated machine where tickets can be purchased and run times are any where from 8 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on what time of day it is. Due to the diverse culture in the Twin Cities, tickets can be purchased in English, Somali, Hmong, or Spanish. The cars run up to 55 miles per hour so your ride can go by very quickly. They are powered by electricity from wires that hang 16 feet above the line.

What some don't know is that this is not the first transportation system Minneapolis has ever seen. From the late 1800's t0 the 1950's, there was an extensive network of streetcars throughout Minneapolis and St Paul. As buses became more prevalent and costs to maintain the aging streetcars increased, the cars were no longer needed. In fact, all but two of the Minneapolis streetcars were burned in 1954, the only way the city saw to get rid of them. (The photo on the right is one of the renovated ones still in use.)

There is a planned extention of the light rail system north of Minneapolis, ending in Big Lake, and also an additional stop in Bloomington. If the project works out, it is expected to be completed in 2009.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beware the Following Statement

If you ever read or have some one tell you "You don't need an agent to view this home", your best course of action should be to run directly TO your agent.

Today, I received a card on our door by a local lender who was advertising an open house for a home being sold without agent representation. I think it's great that some owners feel they have the ability to sell a home on their own, but I don't always recommend it. In today's case, the lender had the statement above on the card.

My problem with this is that no buyer should walk into a For Sale By Owner without their own representation, and here is why:

  1. Confidentiality: The seller is going to engage you in a conversation and seek personal information from you that you might feel is confidential. However most buyers will feel obligated to talk and unfortunately will talk too much. Buyers need to understand that any info they divulge could result in them not getting the best deal, or paying too much for the home. Sellers WILL use what you say against you during negotiations.

  2. Disclosure: The sellers have chosen to forgo any representation, which means they may not be following the law when it comes to disclosure. They also may have not measured the home correctly and that 2500 square foot home you think you are getting actually includes the garage square footage as well. Having an agent with you will ensure you get the correct information.

  3. No Deal: If you show up at an open house by a FSBO without your agent, the seller could claim that they "found" you on their own and state they are not obligated to pay your agent their rightful commission. This either means you will have to pay your agent the commission out of your own pocket, decide not to purchase the home, or buy the home without representation and take on the risk of going it alone. With the litigation happy world we live in, I highly recommend you have an agent by your side at all times.

  4. Private Showing : by going to an open house hosted by a seller, buyers will not be allowed to walk the home by themselves. Sellers don't trust you and will follow you room to room, trying to sell the home. The problem with this is that instead of seeing the details of the home and how it can fit your needs, you will be listening to the seller, and most likely be getting annoyed. You will miss important aspects of the home which could have sold you on purchasing it.

  5. Representation: and lastly, don't let anyone tell you not to bring your agent. It is your right to have someone representing your interests at all times. If a seller insists for you to ditch an agent, ditch that seller. Most likely any transaction pursued with them will result in alot of unneeded headaches.

Please know that I am not against home owners selling by themselves. I have just run into a couple that are dishonest from the start and actually refuse to show a home if a buyer has an agent. In these cases, it is much better if the buyer passes the home by. I have also met many sellers who are very agent friendly and these transactions have ended with two happy parties. What ever you decide to do, do so with the advice from a real estate agent. They could just save you thousands of dollars during negotiations and save you from a possible lawsuit in the future.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Other Pumpkin...

White pumpkins are new to me since living in Minnesota. I never saw a white pumpkin growing up in Indiana, and they definitely weren't in Florida. In fact pumpkins cost $10 for a big one in in Minnesota you might only pay $3 for the same size.
So this year I decided to try the white ones. They look pretty nice. South of the Twin Cities, there are numerous pumpkin farms. It is amazing to drive for a quarter mile and see rows and rows of pumpkins...even weirder when it is only the white ones. I thought about drawing on them like Martha Stewart suggests, but they look so good plain I just couldn't' bring myself to deface them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Minneapolis Market Update

Details for the Nokomis Minneapolis Real Estate Market

Due to Minneapolis encompassing a large area of real estate, the local Realtor association has created 11 areas in Minneapolis in order to better organize the sale data.The Nokomis region is denoted by the number 304 in our multiple listing system and includes the Lake Nokomis, Lake Hawatha, Diamond Lake and surrounding areas .Following is some year-to-date (YTD) sales information.

Average Sales Price : YTD the average sales price is $240,787. In 2006, it was $240,958. So the sales price really has not changed over the last year, which is really good news...this region isn't experiencing a slump like other areas of Minneapolis.

% of Original List Price Received : currently sellers are getting 96% of the list price, where in 2006, sellers were receiving just 97%. Prices are holding steady which is great news for local sellers in this region.

Average Days on the Market : If you are a seller in the Nokomis region, you are doing quite well. Currently it is taking only 95 days to sell. This is actually the second quickest area in Minneapolis to sell. Longfellow is only seller better at 77 days.

New Listings vs. Closed Listings : YTD there have been 1328 homes listed for sale down only 6% from 2006. At the same time, only 548 have closed this year, which is down 19.6% from 2006.

As you can see, the Nokomis real estate market is holding it's own this year. One thing to notice is that even though sales are down in this region, home owners that do successfully sell their home, are spending less time on the market, and getting more of what they ask for. The likely reason is that sellers are being realistic about their list prices. Many in Minneapolis still deny reality.

Look for more updates every couple months as the new data is released so you can get a better view of how the market is progressing as the year goes on! You can view statistics from other areas of Minneapolis here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Now I've Seen it All

While driving around today I happened to be stopped at a light when I noticed this vehicle sitting next to me. I had to rush to get the camera out before the light changed. If you can't read his side window, it says "Experimental Hybrid". On the back of the truck are 10 solar panels, sitting in the bed. Now, I don't know if this is a joke, or if somehow this really works. If anyone out there knows, please tell us!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Expensive Land in Minneapolis

Well, after months of back and forth negotiations, the downtown parcel of land that will be the site of the new Minnesota Twins stadium has finally got a price tag. For the small sum of $28.9 Million, Hennepin County will be purchasing the eight acres of valuable real estate so us baseball fans can finally feel like we are at a baseball game. (Of course the "word" purchase is a stretch since the county took the property through condemnation and the price they are paying is the fair value as negotiated by a local judge.)

For years the Twins have played in the Dome, and let me tell you, Domes are no place for baseball games. It is too loud to hold a conversation with the person sitting next to you and baseball should just be played outside. I probably won't be attending a game until the ballpark is complete which is estimated for opening season 2010.

Check out the webcam of the site during construction.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Minneapolis is in Business

Minneapolis and Saint Paul have been named the top metro area in the country for business by MarketWatch. According to the report, the Twin Cities metro area ranks as the top place for business because it has a strong mix of large and small, established and new, publicly-owned and privately-owned businesses. The metro area’s low unemployment rate also helped lift it to the head of the rankings.

The study ranked the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country, and Minneapolis – Saint Paul finished with a sizable lead over the other ranked cities. Read more of what makes Minneapolis great at the link above.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Old Path Still Survives

Believe it or not but there are still streets in Minneapolis and St Paul that have the original paver stones. When in front of a historic home or business, they can really add to the ambiance of the area. Some alleys have the old ruts from a hundred years of use by carriages and cars, and make you car sick driving down them. Go really slow or you could damage your car.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Confessions of New Construction, Part 3

Shopping Day!

Well the one fun thing about building a home is deciding on what you want to put into it. This can quickly become a hair pulling out experience if you let it overwhelm you. Oh, and it can get expensive too!

After you sign all the paperwork and have the negotiating complete, most builders will ask you to set up a meeting, a three hour one, to pick your "colors". Of course, "colors" really means you will be choosing everything from the appliances, paint colors, flooring, cabinets, siding, electrical, faucets, lighting, countertops, etc. Some builders have showrooms where you can see every single product they offer. Most are still behind on this trend and will have you look through photos of the items, or travel to a local vender to view products.

Some things you will have to consider:

  1. Cabinets - Oak is usually the baseline for cabinets and automatically "included". Maple comes in second, Cherry third, and exotics next. Upgrading to Maple can be quite expensive, especially in the kitchen. Cherry is really expensive and mostly comes in darker colors. Be careful with how dark you go. If you choose dark, but don't have enough light, the room will appear smaller than it actually is. (HINT: if you want to save some money, put oak cabinets in all the bathrooms and laundry room. These rooms aren't used as much as the kitchen and won't stand out as much)
  2. Floors - another cost that can easily escalate is floors. Most options begin with vinyl, then laminate, wood, or carpeting. If you want wood, find out how much the builder is charging you , then get some estimates from local hardware stores. In some cases, it is cheaper for you to put in the floors latter, after closing, as you won't have to pay the extra mark-up from the builder.
  3. Paint - builders love to put in flat color paint on the walls. I hate flat as it shows marks really well and is hard to clean. You can ask to have other textures put in, but it will cost you. Most builders will give you a choice from 4-6 neutral colors, and will paint the entire home the same. We saved $1000 by just having the builder paint the home all white, instead of paying for a color.
  4. Countertops - there are so many choices available and you will need to ask the builder what type of products they offer. Some offer Corrian, Laminate, Granite, Cambria, Silestone, etc. If you choose a natural stone, it can add thousands of dollars to the home. To save money, only put the expensive countertops in the kitchen and leave the bathrooms with the least expensive stuff. You will also have to coordinate the countertops with the cabinet and floor colors, which is one instance when you could be pulling your hair out.
  5. Electrical - this will be the longest part of the selection process and you might want to walk through the model a couple of times to get an idea of where you want switches, dimmers, recessed lights, cable outlets, fixtures, etc to go. You will have to sit down and go room by room with the builders representative. Recessed lighting can add up, as can dimmer switches. Also think about if you want any ceiling fans in rooms as they will need to be wired for future use. Don't forget cable outlets. You may not need them in every bedroom, but a future buyer might not be to happy with having to install them themselves.
  6. Lighting - builders usually offer five lighting packages, with different finishes. The typical "cheap" lights are brass/gold finish and I advise, if you can, to pay for the next level up. Don't forget to think about floor outlets for lamps in the living room, or under-cabinet lighting for the kitchen or bathrooms.

Ok, so I have tried to cover the most obvious things you will have to choose during the selection process. If you are using a custom home builder, your options could be limitless, but more expensive. Think about what you would really love to have in the home and then review the final price. If the cost is too high, take out the things you don't really need, or things you can do at a later date yourself. Just take care of the most important, and worry about the small stuff later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Minnesota Finally Gets It's Green Certification

Minnesota has always been a state leading the way to better living. Now the state has taken one more step by creating Minnesota GreenStar, a new voluntary program for certifying homes and remodeling projects as "Green".

The green certification for remodelers is the first in the nation and has a goal of encouraging home owners to choose more efficient, environmentally safe, and healthy ways to build their homes. The Green building standards take into account local building codes, energy codes, and seasonal concerns. They are still being developed and tweaked, and according the company will be finalized this month.

According to MN Green Star they are trying to ensure that homes under their certification are:
  • Healthier and more comfortable
  • More sensitive to the community and the environment
  • More efficient with use of energy, water, materials, and land
  • Less costly to operate
  • More Valuable in the Marketplace
Green building is much more than just making the home more energy efficient, or using recycled materials. Green also means using environmentally friendly construction vehicles, disposing of waste in the proper way, and through protecting the community during construction. As energy cost rise and our nation becomes more environmentally conscious, building green is going to be more the norm than the exception. With more Minneapolis buyers wanting homes that are environment friendly, sellers are going to have to take the movement seriously and make their homes as Green attractive as they can when it comes time to sell. The certification will help their homes stand out in a market of over saturated home sales.

Certification could also lead to other benefits, including:

  • Mortgage and home equity rate discounts
  • Rebates on building materials and products
  • Tax credits
  • Preferred utility rates
  • Preferred homeowner and health insurance rates

Wouldn't you just love to get some of those savings and benefits?

Visit their website to learn more about green certification in Minnesota and think about making your next project as MN green as you can!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lake Harriet Historic Home

This weeks Historic Home in Minneapolis is 4427 Lake Harriet Pkwy

Built in 1923 by D.C. Bennett, this home has a wonderful lot that sits high above the street and gives views of Lake Harriet. Some may consider historic homes to only be those 100 years or older, but given the age of our homes here in Minnesota, I usually say a home is historic if it was built before 1930 and has architectural significance.

The home is designed in Spanish - Mediterranean style which can easily be seen in the tiled roof. One architectural feature that stands out are the balcony balustrades. The last recorded sale was in 1994 for $675,000. It has 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and about 4700 square feet.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Minneapolis Real Estate Update

The following market update was released this week by the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. It gives some great insight into the overall market for the Twin Cities and surrounding areas.

"With consumer confidence in residential real estate in the doldrums, the Twin Cities housing market is seeing a new downward surge in home sales in recent weeks. For the week ending September 29, new purchase agreements (pending sales) fell from the same week last year by 33.1 percent. This is on the heels of a 26.3 percent drop last week vs. the same week in 2006.

The downward velocity in buyer activity appeared to have bottomed out in the first half of 2007, but August and September have shown further decreases as uncertainties in the mortgage industry have intensified. Keeping a close eye on real estate activity in the weeks ahead will give us an indication of where this road will lead. Thankfully, the decline in seller activity has also accelerated, with new listings down by 15.7 percent for the same time period."

Don't forget that fall is approaching and the market naturally slows down at this time of year as well. Each neighborhood is different and yours could be doing quite well. Remember to ask a real estate agent for help on getting an idea on how your home will price if you are looking to sell. You might be presently surprised. It's not ALL doom and gloom!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, and Pumpkins, OH My!

October is here and the pumpkins are being harvested. I like to make pumpkin pies or pumpkin bread, but my favorite it to carve them up for Halloween.

Local folks can either buy them at nurseries, roadside stands, or pull them out of the pumpkin patch by hand. Only in the Midwest can you find a pumpkin and gourd stand along a road with a sign that says "Pumpkins...$2..please put money in cash box"...the Honour System, you have to love it.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Different Type of Auction

Twice a year the Minnesota Bonsai Society holds an auction of Bonsai trees grown by local gardeners. It is really interesting to attend and see trees that are just starting out being trained into various styles, and other that have been bonsai for 10+ years. Of course, I like auctions and the bidding, and it is quite similar to bidding at a real estate auction, except for the fact that you don't have to leave as much money on the table. Maybe by going to a small auction like this, you can overcome your fear when bidding at a Sheriff's Auction. Just a thought! :)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Taxing Commissions

The last few years has seen the Minnesota legislature trying to find a way to tax local real estate commissions earned by agents and brokers. The main reason is that they, the government, spend too much money and need to find other financial means to support their budget. They know raising property taxes is a sore spot with local Minneapolis and St Paul residents, so they look to an industry that has seen recent financial gain.

The problem is that with a real estate market now in the toilet, most agents do not make as much now as they did in 2004-2005. Politicians want to label real estate as a "service" industry, much like a hotel or car rental company. We just rented a rental car the other day while our car was getting new tires. It was so nice to see an additional 6.2% tax on the bill, in addition to the sales tax, which was labeled as a "Minnesota Car Tax". Minnesota would like to do the same to my paycheck. Now don't take this as a complaint, I do have a larger point for the consumer.

In 2005, the bill to tax real estate commissions didn't pass. Probably most likely because they were unfairly singling out one profession. No big surprise, but they came back the next year with an even better bill. This time, real estate agents were not the only target, but now everyone that takes part of a real estate transaction were being included - title companies, local lenders, lawyers, etc. Obviously, you can tell this made alot of people mad.

Not to get to deep into this topic, but the measure didn't pass again this year. The main problem with lumping real estate into a "service" is that this is no hotel room for $100 a night. This is one of the largest purchases people make in a lifetime and hundreds of thousands of dollars "exchange" hands. The problem is that by taxing the people who work the transaction, they will have to pass the cost on to the consumer by raising their fees. So the people who really lose are the sellers and buyers who are just trying to close on a home.

Many people in today's market cannot afford to have their fees increased when it comes to buying or selling a home. The Minnesota government is just wanting to cash in on a good market that no longer exists. They think we make too much money, but last I checked they make alot more money than the average agent. Maybe we should tax their job and label it a "service" industry as they are here to serve the people, right? I wonder how they would handle such a proposal?

Bottom line, any time you see politicians wanting to apply more taxes to hard working people's paychecks, stand up and say something. If it happens to us, it is only a matter of time before it happens to you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Your Get Out of Jail Card

In Monopoly, the card has the word "free" in it, but the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation will only give you one chance to get out of "jail", but it will cost you a few bucks. What am I talking about? Well, I know first hand what happens to you if you visit a local Minneapolis park and park your car in the wrong spot.

A couple months ago I took my sons to Lake Harriet and was so distracted by the beauty of the day that I supposedly parked in a permit only spot. Oops!

Upon reading my lovely ticket secured under my windshield wiper, I found out my "oops" was going to cost me $35, (In San Diego, not curbing your tires on a hill could cost you $60, so I was happy with the low cost here in Minneapolis). Luckily, upon reading further, if it is your first offense, you can instead send in $27 dollars to the Minneapolis Parks and Rec and receive a 1 year permit to park in designated spots across the city.

I took the $27 option. So for the next year, I can get some front row parking, which it pretty good when you have two small children. Just remember that if it happens to you, they only give you seven days to get the lower fee in, or else you must pay the $35 fee AND get no parking permit.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bright Ideas for Christmas

I decided to join the fray of retailers of selling Christmas before Halloween. Seems each year that Christmas starts a month earlier than the last year. Next year, plan on seeing Christmas trees up in department stores after the 4th of July. I hate the trend as it kinda takes a way from the excitement. Is it so bad to enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving first?

But aside from that, a new idea on the "Going Green" front is LED (light emitting diode) Christmas light strings. They are safer, easy to use, and use less energy than the traditional lights we have complained about putting up every year. Now that they are becoming more common place, different color combination are available for your viewing pleasure.

Here are some facts about LEDs provide by the Minnesota Department of Commerce:

  • they have a life span of up to 100,000 hours indoors and 50,000 hours outdoors

  • most are guaranteed up to 20 years of life

  • if one burns out, the rest stay lit (no Griswold family Christmas here)

  • they use about 100 times less energy than standard bulbs and 10 times less than mini lights

So maybe think about saving yourself some money this holiday season by going a little green. I know Dakota Electric will be providing a $5 off coupon on LED lights strands in their October bills so be sure to take advantage of the extra savings. If you know that they are doing this in other counties as well, be sure to let me know so I can pass on the good news!