Friday, November 30, 2007

I Caught a Whopper Today

Today I caught a whopper of a fish. No really, it was huge...couldn't even get it into the boat. Funny thing was it was a little transparent. Kinda like real estate right now. I had it stuffed this afternoon with wood timbers. My husband wasn't too happy with the size and the fact that we couldn't get it into the house for mounting, so we decided to donate it to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. They are taking really good care of it for us. You can even catch a glimpse of it if you like, for free.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

St. Anthony Falls

Approximately 10,000 years old, St. Anthony Falls must have been a wonder to see before any of us were here. The glacial River Warren helped to create the falls, with time and natural erosion moving the falls up river until it landed on a limestone base. It is estimated that the waterfall originally fell 180 feet into the river below.

In 1680, Father Louis Hennepin was the first white man to see the natural falls and decided on giving it the name St. Anthony. However he wasn't the first to name the waterfalls. The local Indian population gave religious significance to the area, calling it MI-NI RORA (curling water) by the Dakota and Kakabikah (the severed rock) by the Ojibwa. At this time, Father Hennepin described the falls to be a height of 60 feet, about half the original perceived height. Below is the first known drawing of the falls by Jonathan Carver, as published in his book in 1778. He estimated the height of the falls was 30 feet and described the presence of six islands beside the waterfall.

By the 1800's St. Anthony Falls was viewed both as a natural wonder and a power source. With industry now setting in, the falls dwindled down to a 16-20 foot limestone wall into the only gorge on the Mississippi River for the next 2500 miles. Wild rapids dotted the area, but sadly they can no longer be seen. Mills and flour plants were constructed along side the river, and the logging industry fished their timber down the river and over the falls. Of course all this use slowly eroded the natural landscape of the falls even further and caused a lot of damage.

In 1869, St. Anthony Falls was dealt another blow. When local business men acquired Nicollet Island, they began excavating a tunnel through the sandstone near the waterfall. Digging into the falls weakened it causing the falls to break through the limestone bed and into the tunnel. Despite attempts at repairing the damaged areas, St Anthony Falls continued to deteriorate.

It wasn't until the late 1930's that the Army Corp of Engineers came in and began repairing the area with stone aprons. St. Anthony Falls was the limit of upper Mississippi river navigation until the Corp began building a lock and dam system between 1948-1962. Now known as Upper St Anthony Falls (seen in aerial photo above) and Lower St Anthony Falls, the once natural wonder is a system of two hydro-electrical dams, with a "tiny" falls for our viewing pleasure. Below is a diagram of the recession of the falls between 1680-1887, as drawn by the US Army Crop of Engineers.

Without the rise of industry centered around St Anthony Falls and the Mississippi River, Minneapolis would not have grown into the city it is today. Because of the historical significance of the area, St. Anthony Falls was added to the National Registry of Historic Places and developed into the St. Anthony Falls Historic District in 1971. It is now a tourist attraction that can be seen well from Nicollet Island the the Stone Arch Bridge.
While it may not be as grand as it was before we arrived, at least now there is a historic conscious that keeps the falls alive for future generations to enjoy. Make sure to visit the area in the is a beautiful landscape set off downtown Minneapolis.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twin Cities Statistics and How Hindsight is 20/20

Yesterday I was able to sit in on a real estate statistic class offered by the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. It was a very informative class, even though it was about numbers.

Later in the evening, I was cleaning out some articles I had saved from a few years ago and putting them in the recycle bin. One column that caught my eye was from late 2005 and it concerned whether or not the Twin Cities market was going to burst. Written by a regional director of a national franchise here in Minneapolis, the author states that the Twin Cities will not deflate like markets across the nation. In fact, he stated that 2006 would see an increase in the number of home sales and the dollar volume, as well as an appreciation rate of 4-6%.

Now fast forward to reality and yesterday's class. A fantastic resource offered by our Realtor association is the years worth of data they possess on the real estate trends over the Metro area. They can show trends from years, to months, to weeks...and the data isn't boring.

What actually happened in 2006 was that records were set for listing volume, but home sales and dollar volume declined to levels seen back in 1999. Home appreciation was dealt a blow as well. Instead of the 4-6% appreciation rate served up by the author of the article, actual home appreciation rates came in at a meager 0.6%. Yep, that's right, less than 1%. Talk about missing the mark and ignoring the signs on the wall. After some discussion yesterday, the market is showing that 2007 might produce negative appreciation in the Twin Cities and 2008 could be a repeat of this year.

Now I am not trying to be all doom and gloom, because frankly, the doom is over. We just have to wait out a little more gloom. Some things that are changing and helping the area recover are:
  • Builders are pulling back on new developments with the number of building permits down 35% from 2006.

  • Sellers are getting the hint and pulling homes off the market, choosing to sit and wait the necessary time for the market to normalize. Super-saturation is disappearing and now the market is just "saturated" with listings.

  • Home prices are coming down to points where buyers can actually afford them. Housing affordability was nearly non-existent by early 2006. While home prices sky rocketed 2001-2006 by 151%, income did not keep pace and only increased by 51%.

  • Negotiating is back!

While this isn't a detailed statistical analysis of the market, I hope it has shed a little light on what has happened to the Minneapolis market without boring you. In February of 2008, this years annual report will be coming out and it will be interesting to see mathematically what has happened. Stay tuned in a few months for my summary of the findings and feel free to send in any questions you have about data in any area of the Twin Cities Metro area and surrounding 13 counties.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nicollet Island Historic Home

Located at 27 Maple on Nicollet Island, this intriguing home was built around 1888. While small and playing the part as a quaint cottage, the home has grandeur dreams of being a Second Empire home.

Nicollet Island consists of 48 acres east of downtown Minneapolis on the Mississippi River and has had interesting past. Home to both industry and many Victorian homes, the Island survived a period in the 1980's when the city didn't know what to do with it. A compromise was reached and the area became part of the St Anthony Falls Historic District. Old industry areas have become park, and many of the residential homes have been restored with city financial aid. A few homes were actually moved to Nicollet Island from other parts of the city. One key note is that all homes are standing on property leased from the Minneapolis Park Board.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vaccinations in Minnesota

I never really gave child vaccinations much thought until I had my own children, nor did I give any thought about the possible harm that multiple shots could bring to my child. I did some reading up on childhood vaccinations and found that there are serious side affects that can result from allergic reactions. Thankfully, my children did not see any of these effects.

In Minnesota, there are numerous shots that are required in order for your children to attend school. Thankfully, Minnesota is one of the few states that allows parents to opt out of shots for two reasons:
  1. It goes against parental religious beliefs

  2. A parent does not personally believe in giving the child the shot

Most states give the parents no option. In fact, on the national news a few nights ago, there was a story about a town in Maryland that sent out notices to 2300 parents warning them that if they did not bring down their children to the county courthouse for vaccinations by a certain date, then the parents would be sent to jail. Are you kidding me? Threatening jail time over a shot! What has our country become that parents no longer have parental rights in deciding what is right for our children?

One shot that I have a hard time believing in is the relatively newer Chickenpox shot. I am of the belief that it is good for our kids to get sick. What good is an immune system if you don't give it the natural chance to build up resistance to disease? Yes, I understand that it is mostly a convenience thing and keeps kids from weeks out of school. But chickenpox is almost a right of passage for kids...I still have a small scar on my forehead. Currently only one shot is needed, but starting in 2008, a second Chickenpox shot will be required in Minnesota for kids entering kindergarten or the 7th grade. I think I will be opting out of that one, siting " conciencioulsy opposed" to it.

Now don't get me wrong, some shots are great and have erradicated childhood diseases that affected polio, but as medical science knowledge increases and new cures are found, more and more immunizations will be required for our children. My question is, when does the need to be disease free actually begin to hurt our bodies? Another problem I have is the government telling me as a parent how I need to raise my kids. Just my opinion.

If you have children and are planning on moving to Minnesota, below is a list of immunization shcedules you might want to reference:

Minnesota Immunization Schedule for Babies

Minnesota Immunization Schedule for Kids

Minnesota Immunization Schedule for Teens

If you would like to read more about Minnesota's Law and history on childhood vaccinations, view this pdf.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Certified Residential Specialist

For the last three years I have been working toward obtaining one of the most prestigious real estate designations available, that of the Certified Residential Specialist (CRS). This week it finally happened and I got confirmation just today that I am being awarded the CRS designation.

It's not an easy one to be awarded. For one, an agent has to have production numbers that are verified by a broker. You have to sell alot of homes in order to be "one home a year" sales allowed. An agent must also complete classwork and additional education that can take years to finish. Classes only come into town so often and sometimes we have to fly to them in another state.

I have to say, the classes have been some of the best I have seen, and I have learned many new things that will help me to continually strive to be a better agent. Remarkably, less than 38,000 Realtors hold the CRS designation nationwide. With over 1 Million members in the nation, those that are Certified Residential Specialists are rare to say the least. In Minnesota, only 3% of Realtors have the production to be a CRS.

So when you think about choosing a quality real estate professional, be sure to ask them about any designations they hold. If they hold the CRS designation, then you can rest assured that they have completed extensive training on residential real estate and a have proven track record of sales transactions. The more transactions an agent has, then the more experience they have. When the average agent completes only three sales a year, is it any wonder that there are so many inexperienced Realtors in the industry. Next time you choose an agent, make sure they have the experience to back themselves up.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Winter Is Here

Woke Up This Morning to a small dusting of the white stuff. Needless to say my son was very disappointed when it all melted.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Perspective Can Change Your View About Anything...

...and also tell a wonderful story. What type of story do you try to tell through your photos?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Confessions of New Construction, Part 4

Staking the Lot

The time will eventually come when the builder will stake out the lot, letting you know exactly where the lot lines and set backs are, and where the home will sit in relation to the parcel. At this time, the field manager will meet with you at the site and walk the lot with you. The goal is not only to inform you, but to also make sure you are OK with the positioning of the home. Not that there is anything you can really do, but most builders want to make sure you are a satisfied customer. Some builders will also give you a survey of the lot to keep for your records.

Don't be surprised if it is hard to visualize your home at this point. In most instances, you will feel that the home foundation size looks too small. Don't worry, it is an a illusion, and once the home is framed you will be able to get a better feel for the home.

Another thing to remember is that weather does happen here in Minnesota. Once our meeting with the field manager was complete and the dig date was set, it rained for two weeks straight. Of course it only rains when you least need it to.

To follow the previous posts of this series visit:

Part 3, Shopping Day
Part 2, Picking the Lot, and Part 2.1,
Part 1, Picking the Builder

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Minneapolis Home Owner Wins on Oprah!

Yes, I watch Oprah. I cannot help myself. So today's episode was right up my alley, as "O" Magazine announced the three winners of its "Do It Yourself" design challenge. One of the winners was none other than a Minneapolis resident, Kirsten Hollister. Her European design caught the judge's eyes as unique and high quality.

A small photo tour of her home is available on

Congratulations to the Hollister family!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Winter Survival 101 - Driving Awareness Week

Winter will be on us before we know as temperatures continue to drop over the next month. Are you prepared?

Survival Kit for Your Car

It can get very cold here in Minnestoa, so consider putting a survival kit in your vehicle in case you are in an accident, or find yourself in a snow storm and have to pull over. Here are some items to keep in your car:

              • First Aid Kit

              • Shovel (for snow removal)

              • Sand Bags

              • Warm Clothing and Additional Boots

              • Blankets

              • Water and small food items

              • Tow Chain / Tire Chains

              • Road Flares and Reflectors

              • Jumper Cables

              Also make sure that your windshield washer fluid contains antifreeze. This will keep any ice from building up on your windshield. Don't forget to SLOW down and watch for "black ice". Black ice is ice that cannot be seen when driving and is a huge hazard in the winter, causing your tires to slip and your car to slide out of control.

              For more great Winter driving tips in Minnesota, check out the Department of Public Safety website.

              Sunday, November 11, 2007

              The One Good Thing...

              ...about being a real estate agent, or working for yourself, is that the only person you have to account to is yourself. So when I have been out sick the last four days, I don't have to worry about calling a boss and pleading for time off, or waste sick days either. Having been in the corporate world before I can remember how guilty I would feel if I got sick, and how stressed out I would get by taking the time off. Now, no more. I can rest stress-free and get well. Being a real estate agent isn't easy, but there are obvious perks that come with the job. Now that I am well again, I will be punching out some posts this week to further entertain you, I just apologize for not blogging for a few days. Maybe I should have asked Teresa Boardman to blog for me in my absence?

              Thursday, November 8, 2007

              See, it isn't That Bad in Minneapolis

              Today Forbes released a list of the most affordable cities to live well in, and no big surprise to us here, but Minneapolis came in number one. Forget about New York, Chicago, and LA, midwestern cities rank in the top three. Indianapolis and Cincinnati came in second and third.

              Big cities might have tons of art, culture, and sports, but the bussel becomes a hassle in most cases, not to mention the air pollution. Minneapolis ranked high due to "homes [being] relatively affordable and residents enjoy a high quality of life and access to choice arts, leisure and entertainment offerings".

              Tons of data and analysis went into determining the top cities. We all know how crazy the real estate market is right now in the Twin Cities and some of us don't like it. But we easily have it better than some areas of the country, who are fairing much, much worse. According to Forbes, our housing market is what pushed Minneapolis into the number one spot with 61% of the homes closed in the last quarter going to average wage earners. Pretty good when you consider residents in states of California and Florida can no longer afford a simple home.

              It also helps that it is just beautiful here in Minnesota and that the state, and residents for that matter, are taking steps to create greener living alternatives. Of course, places like the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the Lakes area combine nature with the arts. And it also helps to have major corporations choosing the Twin Cities as their national headquarters. Target is an icon here in Minneapolis and their local donations help tremendously on creating a better living for residents.

              So you see, many around the country probably don't know where Minneapolis is, or understand just how great it is to live here. Having lived in California for four years, I have first hand knowledge on the "crazy" west coast life, and I know all about Florida living and the hurricane factor. I may not be a native of Minnesota, but I have to say this feels more like home than any other place I have lived. (Except for my hometown in Indiana...don't worry mom, that will always be close to my heart)

              Wednesday, November 7, 2007

              Final Days of Fall

              I think now Fall is officially over and the beginning days of Winter are setting in. I saw these leaves gathering one of the first morning frosts and had to snap a photo before they blew away.

              Tuesday, November 6, 2007

              Marketing Your Home : Print vs. the Internet

              Recently I presented a Minneapolis homeowner with a market plan to sell their home. It included Internet sites and also some local print advertising. Their home was probably worth $400,000. I had tailored the marketing plan to fit the type of home and its condition (which wasn't the best).

              I was surprised when the seller insisted on placing the home in a high-end magazine. Their opinion was that it would attract more attention as a prestigious home. The only problem was that the home was anything but high-end and it would look out of place in this magazine. Secondly, I explained to them that the cost to take out an ad was at least $500, and the full page ad they wanted would cost around $1000 (for only one month), and that it just would not be cost effective. Now they were surprised.

              Most sellers do not realize how much print advertising costs now a days. If you are looking in an upper-tier magazine, then the cost is even more. The Internet has changed things. For the most part, you can put a listing on five different sites for free, and maybe two will cost you a small fee. When it comes to magazines, the lowest price I know is $250 for a quarter page. Since it is taking on average three to six months to sell a home here in the Twin Cities (sometimes up to a year), an agent could spend $1000-2000 just on print alone.If the home is expensive, then the costs can get into the $5000+ range. Taking into consideration the fee agents receive for successfully completing a transaction and the fact that agents pay this cost up front, a real estate agent could be spending 25% or more of their commission on advertising.

              Another major difference between print and Internet promotion is the rate of return. The National Association of Realtors reports that 80% of buyers look for a home on-line first. Then they contact an agent. The Internet is national advertising and reach everyone. Printed publications are usually local and can only be found at random spots around town, or at your local grocery store. So the pool of buyers you are reaching is much less.

              Sellers really need to think hard about the type of advertising their listing agent will be doing for their home and take into consideration the cost. I personally like to use both avenues...cover all your bases, so to speak. Some agents only do the Internet, and some still only embrace print magazines. Both have their pluses and minuses. The key is to develop an effective marketing campaign that will attract as much attention to your home as possible, and not cost an arm and a leg. Don't be afraid to ask questions of your agent. Also, make sure your agent sends you copy of the final magazine ad and any website addresses your home appears on. It's good to be in the loop, just remember that the listing agent is trying to sell your home, so try not to step on their toes too much.

              Saturday, November 3, 2007

              What Goes Around Comes Around

              When you cheat a little, you sometimes get a way with it. When you cheat BIG, you almost always get caught. Kids learn this at an early age, and adults would be wise to remember life's lessons. But apparently a local Twin Cities builder chose to ignore the age old rule that "What Goes Around Comes Around".

              The Parish family of Parish Marketing and Development have just been indicted for money laundering and mail fraud. According to the Pioneer Press, they were part of mortgage fraud system that involves some 200 homes and $100 Million of borrowed money. Some of the homes are facing foreclosure...big surprise.

              Here is what this local builder did and how deep the fraud went:

              • They built spec homes, then brought in fake buyers. The fake buyers borrowed more than $25 Million to buy these homes. The "solution" of having the builder buy its own houses flooded their business with money to keep it a float, which in turn let them build even more houses. Fortunately the declining real estate market caught up with them and unveiled the scheme.

              • The fake buyers were friends and family who bought the homes to obtain the loans. One buyer bought 46 homes at the tune of $20 Million between 2004-2007.

              • A bank officer was enlisted to falsify verifications of bank deposits

              • An appraiser was enlisted to inflate and over-value the property appraisals.

              • A closing agent was enlisted to forge signatures on purchase documents

              The real losers are the people in these neighborhoods that bought homes at inflated values and now are seeing surrounding homes being auctioned off at sheriff sales. In New Prague, many homes have already been auctioned off. Other buyers have entered into leases with the option to buy, and are facing eviction from new owners.

              It will be interested to see how this all unfolds in the next couple of months. The Parishes have all plead guilty and are currently awaiting sentencing. They could get 5-15 years for their offenses and will have to pay back millions to the bank and affected home owners. People always get their comeuppance. It is nice to see justice served.

              Just remember not to group this company in with all the great builders out in the market place, or to have a bad impression on appraisers, closing agents, bank officers, or real estate agents. There are more good people out there than is just that the media likes to report on the bad more than the good.

              Friday, November 2, 2007

              We are in for a LONG Season...

              I think I have mentioned before how HUGE hockey is in this state. We have the Minnesota Wild for a professional team, and the big college team is the Minnesota Gophers, not to mention Mankato, St Cloud State, and Duluth.

              My family is big Gopher fans and we attend games when ever we can get tickets. Gopher hockey is so popular that it is impossible to get season tickets. I called up the ticket booth last week to see about getting on the "LIST", and found out that the list currently has 2800 names on it. Holy Cow! That means it could take 15 years to finally get season tickets.

              See, Minnesota fans love the sport so much that they keep season tickets in the family. When a family member dies, they will the tickets to other family members. This creates a situation where vacant seats seldom come up. So those of us not privileged enough to have been in the state the last 50 years, have to defer to friends who might not want to attend a game, or see the Gophers when they play in the WCHA tournament.

              Then again, I can't complain. It warms the heart to know there are such strong Minnesota hockey fans. What other sport can claim this type of dedication and love?

              Thursday, November 1, 2007

              New Rules for FHA Buyers

              The US Department of Housing and and Urban Development (we all know them as HUD) has passed down a new law concerning downpayment assistance for FHA loans. Effect 10/31/2007, sellers can no longer be looked to for help.

              In the past, buyers have been able to receive money from a seller as downpayment assistance for their loan. (Usually stemming from the buyer not having enough money to put down which means they cannot qualify for the loan) With this "help" from the seller always came a catch. To make up for the seller's bottom line being reduced, the seller would usually then bump up the sales price to make up the difference. HUD sees this as a problem because it artificially inflates the value of the home.

              Another problem was seen with downpayment assistance programs that would take money from the seller, subtract a fee from the amount, and then give the money to the buyer. Again, home values were being artificially inflated and other parties were benefiting at the determent of the buyer. As a result, HUD has been seeing a higher default rate from these types of loans, compared to non-FHA loans.

              Now this does not mean that all downpayment assistance is disallowed. In fact, HUD had made a point that assistance can be given by family members, employers, and any other party that does not have a financial interest in the transaction. Also, builders and sellers can give assistance, but only if it reduces the cost of the mortgage. So for instance, a seller can give a buyer $5000 as a gift, but the seller cannot turn around and raise the purchase price by $5000 to make up loss. This is the true definition of a gift. Who ever heard of getting a gift at Christmas from mom and dad, only to have them ask you for a check for the cost of your shiny new toy.

              Hopefully this will help sellers and buyers be more realistic about the purchase price, and cut down on the number of defaults. Only time will tell. Just understand that the rules have tightened up a bit and the government is cracking down on known abuses.

              Click here to read the entire rule as published by HUD.