Monday, December 29, 2008

the No Offer

Nothing bugs me more than an agent who calls to inform me that they will be sending an offer on one of my listings, only to never receive it. After I give him or her my fax number and email address to send it to, after I email them the Seller's Property Disclosure, after I sit patiently by the computer waiting for the offer....I get diddly squat.

My next course of action is to call the agent, send them a text message, or email them, sometimes doing all three. Who knows, maybe the file was too large to get through email. Amazingly, these agents never return my calls. Is it embarrassment? Probably, but I chalk it up to pure old unprofessional behavior.

Like most people, I hate it when my time is wasted. So now, I don't contact my clients until the offer is in my hand. What's the point of disappointing them as well and wasting their time? So the lesson of this story it, don't tell me about an offer unless you actually have one.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Do I have to Sign a Buyer's Contract to be Represented?

Lately I have had some buyers ask whether they have to sign a Buyer's Representation contract in order to be represented in Minnesota. In some states, like Florida for instance, it is not a state law to sign a representation form, but here in Minnesota, it is.

It seems like everyday I run into a local real estate agent who does not know the basic rules and laws of Buyer Representation. They tell prospective buyers or their clients that there is "no need" to sign an agreement, and then people wonder why I make them sign one. The fact is, here in Minnesota, you are not represented until you enter into a written agreement with a brokerage.

Upon first meeting an agent, he or she should give you what is called an Agency Disclosure form. This form is just a disclosure for the different types of representations available for sellers and buyers, which are:

  • Seller's Broker

  • Sub-Agent

  • Buyer's Broker

  • Dual Agency

  • Facilitator

You'll notice that I said the disclosure is JUST a disclosure. It is NOT a contract for representation. People always get confused over this one. If you want an agent to represent your interests, then you must, by Minnesota law, enter into a written contract.

Yep, that's correct...a written contract/agreement.

So here's a scenario: Buyer Bob calls Agent A and tells her he just moved to the area and needs to find a home. Agent A meets with Bob, finds out his needs, and they go house hunting. Buyer Bob really likes a home and wants to put in an offer. Agent A doesn't return his phone calls. After two days, Buyer Bob finally hears from the agent and is told the agent is working with another client on the same home. Bob is really upset and wants to know why "his agent" is not putting his best interests first. Agent A reminds Buyer Bob that he refused to sign a Buyer's Representation contract, and so the Agent owes no fiduciary duties to Bob.

Hmmm...what's going on here?

Well, on the disclosure form that was presented to Buyer Bob, it reads that if a buyer or seller does not enter into a written contract, that they:

"will be treated as a customer and will not receive any representation from the broker or salesperson...and will be working as a facilitator"

Yes, there is a difference between a "client" and a "customer". Buyers and sellers do not become clients until they sign a written agreement with an agent. So, this leaves us with the question, what is a facilitator?

For the simplest definition, a facilitator performs limited services for a buyer or seller. They do not owe any Fiduciary Duties to the customer, except confidentiality. Oh, no, I have brought up another topic! What the heck are Fiduciary Duties?

Whenever an agent represents a client, that agent owes the client certain duties:

  • Loyalty (agent acts for the client's best interests)

  • Obedience (agent will carry out the client's lawful instructions)

  • Disclosure (agent will disclose all material facts known by the agent)

  • Confidentiality

  • Reasonable Care (agent will use reasonable care in performing duties)

  • Accounting (agent will account for client's funds received)
You get all these rolled up into a nice package when an agent represents you as a Seller's Broker, Buyer's Broker, or Dual Agent, but if a buyer refuses to sign the Buyer's Broker Agreement, then the only thing an agent owes you is the right of confidentiality.

Now I ask you, what type of relationship do you want to have with an agent? One in which you can actually say she is "your agent" (because you entered into a written agreement). Or do you want the other one, where no one is really looking out for your best interests and you are left out in the cold, blowing around, lost in the wind?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Minnehaha Falls Getting a Face Lift

Starting this month, one of my favorite areas in Minneapolis will begin a year long process of getting a much needed face lift. Minnehaha Falls, located in Minnehaha Park, has been famous every since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made the falls famous a century ago by writing the poem "The Song of Hiawatha". Visitors, like those I photographed last year in the above photo, can walk beneath the falls in winter when it is frozen over, or throw rocks into the waterfall pool and bubbling stream in the summer.

For the price of $6.3 Million, Minnehaha Falls will have its crumbling retaining walls repaired, hiking trails fixed, creek banks stabilized, etc. Work will be going on during the winter because the area will be frozen over, and workers will not have to fight the water current. I visit Minnehaha Park a couple times a year and the banks are indeed eroded very badly. As long as the parks department keeps the renovations natural looking, I think everyone will welcome the improvements.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Working on a Short Sale in Minnesota

Let me tell you, working with a bank on a short sale sucks.

There, I said it.

Whew, I feel better...but I am sure it won't last long.

For the past three weeks, I have been trying to keep a deal together with a client of mine. We finally had an offer submitted and quickly sent it off to the bank. Unfortunately, it was the same week of Thanksgiving, and as you can imagine, the bank got nothing done.

  • First, we had to wait for the property to be assigned to a short sale rep in the loss mitigation department. (Some banks will not do this until an offer comes in). Sadly, this delays the process.

  • Next, we have to wait for a BPO (broker's price opinion) to be completed on the home. It follows the line of a CMA (comparative market analysis) and falls short of an appraisal.

  • Once we here from the bank regarding the offer, two weeks after the initial submission, the short sale rep decides to counter offer, reducing the buyer's requests and slashing the real estate commission. (Don't get me started on that part)

  • Next we have to negotiate back to the bank and tell them the deal will walk out the door unless they give the buyer such and such for closing costs. Not too mention that if they try and make the seller sign a promissory note at closing, the owner will just let the property go into foreclosure and the bank will lose everything.

Now, I call the bank at least two times a day, trying to push the transaction along. Christmas is just weeks away and both parties want to be in and out before then. Today I find out I have to wait until end of the week for the final approval because some other person at the bank has to sign off on the deal. Geez!

Needless to say, but the whole thing has been more aggravating than I can put in words.

People say real estate agents don't do anything and are not worth the money, but I tell you this, if you had any idea of the "behind the scenes" things we do to keep a deal from falling apart, you would change your mind. Someone once told me that real estate agents earn their money best, by keeping the deal out of trouble, and that when the deal does go south, buyers and sellers really see our true value. You can kind of equate it with insurance. You pay into it for years, and nothing happens. But finally when something does happen, you thank God for having the safety net there, even while the whole time, you didn't think you needed it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Latest Chicago Government Corruption Shows Nothing has Changed in Politics

I had to laugh out loud this morning to read about the latest government corruption coming out of Chicago. When is the city and state going to realize that they are one of the most corrupt cities in the nation...not only do they have a dictator of a mayor with union corruption ties, now the Illinois Governor has been arrested by the FBI for trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barrack Obama to the highest bidder. Apparently he wanted to personally gain from the sale and was "seeking a "substantial" salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or union affiliated organization, a spot on a corporate board for his wife, promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice".

He also is accused of "threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of the Chicago Cubs' baseball home Wrigley Field "to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical" of him".

Amazing, isn't it? The people we continue to elect are corrupt just like the ones we vote out. Now the state is seeking to impeach the Democratic Governor before the Governor can select who will feel the seat. Illinois law allows the Governor to appoint someone to the seat, no matter if he is in jail, and the Dems fear losing the Governorship in 2010 because of this latest scandal.

Those of us that have lived in Chicago or in its shadow understand this is just another part of the Chicago Godfather Saga. Don't be surprised when Blagojevich is pardoned by Barack Obama in a few years. If that happens, I will lose all remaining respect for the President.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Covered in Snow

Tonight we are getting about 4 inches of snow....Christmas time is so much prettier when covered in white.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Morning Sunrise in Minnesota

I happened to wake up the other day to a beautiful sunrise. It was crisp and chilly and the colors were perfect. Grabbing my camera and running outside in bare feet, I was able to capture the shot just in time. Five minutes later, and it was gone.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Failure of Home Builders in the Twin Cities

For the last few months, it seems every week I hear of another local builder closing its door, or filing for bankruptcy. The first big one to go down this year was MW Johnson, the 11th largest builder in the state, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June of this year. Even though their doors are still open, their website now only has contact information for current home owners and the media.

When we were house shopping two years ago, MW Johnson had developments everywhere, and they were still asking for buyers to over pay for their homes, which in my opinion, were mediocre at best. So it is no surprise to me for them to restructure their business. They followed the model of most home builders in Minnesota: they failed to see the writing on the wall and continued to over build the Twin Cities housing market.

Now it seems another large builder who has been around since 1968 has closed its doors, literally. Just two days before they won the right to build in Eagan, MN on the Carriage Hills golf course, Wennsmann Homes closed its doors November 7th and is not answering its phones. No one knows for sure what has happened as there has been no response from Wennsmann. Maybe the money it took to win the four year legal battle drained them dry. Who knows. But what I do know, is that when viewing their developments in Prior Lake two years ago, I wasn't impressed. Homes were overpriced for the falling housing market and Prior Lake was becoming over-built.

Many small time builders have also gone out of business, which is really no surprise. The Twin Cities builders that are staying afloat are doing so by cutting jobs. Centex homes has laid off many of its employees, contractors, and real estate agents. Other builders are laying off their designers, and some are not keeping their model homes open, but rather rely on "by appointment only" showings. To take a step further, I have heard some builders are cutting back the number of floor plans they offer to potential clients, and no longer allow upgrades at the time of build. Cutting costs and overhead is the only way to stay alive in this depressed real estate market.

But my main point is this, could it be that home builders in general didn't have a business plan in place for after the boom? They reaped the financial rewards for five years. Now many of them are in trouble because they failed to prepare for the bad times. Did they spend all their profit, waste it away in new developments, waste it away in fancy advertising? I honestly don't know.

I am not a genius. But I did see the hand writing on the wall in 2004 and took measures to make sure I would be OK when the market started to decline. I am staying afloat right now because of making a plan four years ago. But like many local builders, many real estate agents have been forced out of the business. So the questions is, if builders and agents had been honest with themselves and planned for the future that was inevitable, would they be closing their doors or filing for bankruptcy? Let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Minneapolis Downtown Condo Update

The area in Minneapolis which has the most single listings is by far downtown Minneapolis. With the inventory largely condominiums, it is easier to break down the data, separating out the houses (only six for sale currently) from the condos. Below is a break down of what has happened so far this year when compared to 2007 for downtown Minneapolis condominiums:

              • Average Days on the Market (DOM) : it is taking on average 108 days for a Minneapolis condo unit to sell, up an amazing 28% from this same time last year!

              • Inventory : the good news is that the number of condos for sale in downtown has decreased by 28%. This means there is less competition compared to 2007, and because of this inventory decrease, the Average Price for condos has increased by 5.6%. The only downside is that the number of closings so far in 2008 is pretty much the same as that in 2007.

              • Foreclosure Rate: So far this year, of the 571 closed sales, between 7-8.5% of them have been foreclosures or short sale properties. I don't know about you, but that is a pretty low portion of condo sales. When compared to the average Twin Cities real estate market, which is at 35% rate of foreclosure, it is really quite good.
              So the bottom line is this, if you own a condominium in downtown Minneapolis, keep your chin up. While times are tough, if you stay positive and have patience, your condo will most likely sell. Just remember to keep your asking price realistic, and possibly ahead of the market. With current listings receiving 96% of the asking price, pricing it right from the start is imperative. Before you know it, Spring will be here and a new wave of home buying will begin!

              Monday, November 10, 2008

              It's Winter Hazard Week in Minnesota

              Winter Hazard Week — November 10-14

              My friends in Florida would have you believe that living in the north during winter is like living in hell. Funny how I feel the same way about Miami in the middle of summer. At least in winter, you can put multiple layers of clothing on to keep you warm; however, in the hottest summer (with lots of humidity) you can strip down to nothing and still be roasting hot.

              So for those of you new to Minnesota this year, or for those of you thinking of moving to our beautiful state, this week is Winter Hazard tips week. For the cliff notes version of winter survival, check out these quick tips.

              Today it is Winter Weather Overview, where you can learn the basic winter terms like Lake Effect Snow and such. With 10,000+ lakes, it is very common to have white outs on one side of a lake. To make the rest of the safety information easy for you to find, follow the links below for each days winter weather tips:

              Remember, winter in Minnesota is beautiful. One thing unique about the north is that people don't let the cold weather keep them indoors. Everyday you can find people around Minneapolis and Saint Paul enjoying a walk down the street, or taking a jog around the lake. To my friends in Florida, while I do miss the Gulf of Mexico, there is something to enjoy about Minnesota when you can actually have four seasons.

              Friday, November 7, 2008

              First Day of Snow in the Twin Cities

              Not all of the corn has been taken in quite yet. It was very pretty to see the snow clinging to the stalks this morning in Dakota County.

              Saturday, November 1, 2008

              Gopher Hockey

              Tonight I get to enjoy some early season hockey at the Xcel. If you move to Minnesota, you're sure to become a hockey fan!
              Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone with SprintSpeed

              Monday, October 27, 2008

              The Monthly Skinny for September in Minneapolis

              Each month, the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors puts together video snapshot of the Twin Cities real estate market. Take a look at September, a historical month for home sales.

              Friday, October 10, 2008

              Fall Color is Reaching the Twin Cities

              Fall color is creeping into the Minneapolis metro area. You can drive to one town and see tons of color, and then drive five miles away to no color. But no doubt, by the end of next week, the entire area will be brilliant.

              Fall is my favorite season. So many changes happen, you get to bundle up in a warm jacket, sip on hot chocolate, enjoy the first game of hockey season, and trick or treat....and then, before you know it, Christmas is here.

              Tuesday, September 23, 2008

              Loring Park in Downtown Minneapolis

              On the southwest corner of downtown Minneapolis sits Loring Park, a great oasis for all the family to enjoy. The park is surrounded by cathedrals, new condominium developments, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and the Walker Art Center.

              Created around 1883 by the Board of Park Commissioners and originally named Central Park, the park was renamed in late 1890 to honor Charles Loring who served as a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and who was the first President of the Board of Park Commissioners in 1883. Loring is now known as The Father of Minneapolis Parks.

              For the sports enthusiast, the park features basketball courts, tennis courts, biking path, and a tot-park for the kids. For dog lovers, there is now an off leash area at the northeast corner of the park.

              One part of the park that I love is the perennial flower garden that is blooming spring through fall, which is very relaxing too. Surrounded by brick trails and lounging benches, visitors can sit back and enjoy the day while being only minutes away from downtown.

              To learn more about the park visit:

              Friends of Loring Park
              Loring Park Neighborhood
              Loring Downtown
              Minneapolis Parks

              Thursday, September 11, 2008

              Lake Harriet Historic Home in Minneapolis

              This gorgeous Spanish Revival home is located near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis and was built in 1923 by the well known local architect John W. Lindstrom. Mr. Lindstrom has designed hundreds of homes and buildings around Minneapolis and has even authored a few books about home styles and floor plans. In 1922, he published a book solely on two story homes, many of which can be found still standing today. Unfortunately, when I looked through a copy of the book at the Minnesota Historical Society, the above home was not included. Most likely because the home was not completed until after publication of the book.

              The original owner of the home was Fred Soderberg, which looking at original permits, contracted out the work himself. All in all, it appears the homes was built for around $11,000. He didn't live in the home very long, for the 1934 Land Survey conducted by the City Planning Commission shows a new owner by the last name of Kavanaugh was in possession, with 8 people residing in the home, including the maid.

              With almost 4000 square feet and five bedrooms, the home sits on a large corner lot. It sold in 2007, for the first time in 35 years, at a price of $832,000.

              Saturday, September 6, 2008

              New Minnesota Carbon Monoxide Detector Law

              The new carbon monoxide (CO) alarm law requires that "every single-family dwelling and every dwelling unit in a multifamily dwelling" have "an approved and operational carbon monoxide alarm installed within ten feet of each room lawfully used for sleeping purposes." (See MN Stat. 299.51) This law was effective as of August 1, 2007 for newly constructed homes, and just became effective August 1, 2008 for all existing single-family dwelling units. It becomes effective in August 1, 2009 for existing multifamily dwelling units. The alarms must be an approved device (conforming to UL2034 standards), and may be hardwired, plugged in, or battery-powered (if attached to the wall).

              So, yes, this means YOU, all home owners in Minnesota, must have CO detectors or you are breaking the law! But some how I doubt most of you will be running out and picking one up. Just know that when you go to sell, you should make sure to have one within 10 feet of all bedrooms. Failure to comply with the law could hurt your wallet in the future...with the sue happy society we live in, a buyer that is later injured by Carbon Monoxide poisoning could come back and take you to court for damages.

              Thursday, August 21, 2008

              Another One Bites the Dust

              Looks like another local fraudulent figure in the real estate world has been taken down, being sentenced to federal prison on Tuesday.

              Molly L. Heise, of Chaska, was sentenced to six years or money-laundering in which she stole more than $2.5 million from the clients of her real estate closing company, Profile Title and Escrow. Her wonderful actions win her the prize of 70 months in prison and three years supervised release. She also has to pay more than $3.9 million in restitution.

              Makes you wonder if she thinks it was all worth it, in the end.

              Wednesday, August 20, 2008

              The Wonderful World of Foreclosures

              One of the luxuries agents have when showing vacant homes is that you never quite know what you are going to find when you open the front door. I have a few clients that are looking at investing in some foreclosed homes around the Lake Nokomis area, so needless to say, I have shown quite a few these last few weeks.

              Foreclosures are vacant homes that the bank really doesn't care about. All they want to do is sell them. Many of the agents I have run across that specialize in foreclosures don't ever check up on the homes they list. Sometimes they take a photo of the home from their car window. If you are lucky, you might get a photo of the back of the home too. But that is about all they do.

              Take for instance, the little birdie in the photo. He has been dead a while on the second floor of a foreclosure I looked at a few weeks back. He took the pleasure of dieing right in front of the only bathroom in the house, so my clients were a little put off by his presence. It didn't help matters to then go into the next bedroom to only have another dead bird laying near the attic door. Strike clients, though at one time interested in the house, decided against it. I took the liberty of calling the agent and leaving them a message about the dead birds. Who knows if they ever cleaned up the mess.

              But my point it, you never know what you are going to find inside a foreclosed home, so it is best to keep an open mind. Some homes have mold problems, some have updating issues, some need to be torn down, while others have been torn apart by the previous tenants. I heard about one owner in Prior Lake who has been foreclosed on and is still living in the home. He is "getting back" at the bank by stripping the property of everything he can, and then selling it on Craigslist. Supposedly someone bought his retaining wall, and dismantled it stone by stone. He also sold his deck. I heard his shingles are also for sale for anyone that wants to come take them off his roof.

              Foreclosure makes people do funny things, and lets buyers see anything you can imagine.

              Monday, August 11, 2008

              Downtown Minneapolis Towers

              Monday morning was beautiful with blue sky and lots of natural light. As you can see, the buildings reflect the blue very well, what with all the glass on these architectural towers.

              To see a few pictures of my approach to Minneapolis, check out my Minneapolis Luxury Real Estate Blog.

              Wednesday, July 23, 2008

              Butterfly Garden

              Butterfly gardens are a great place to visit with kids and to also try to take photos of these beautiful creatures. You have to be quick to get a good shot. I went through many blurred photos just to get about seven photos that were decent. I used the macro setting on my camera and got really close to the butterfly for each shot.

              Tuesday, July 22, 2008

              The Wonderful World of Real Estate Smells

              One of the joys of showing real estate is the unexpected surprises that can great buyers as they walk through a home. The good ones are the smell of cinnamon apples and chocolate chip cookies. The bad ones...well, read on to learn about some I have ran into on a recent showing.

              House #1 looked great online. While is was quite a bit older than the other two on our list, say 20 years older, the current owners had done quite a bit of remodeling. The first thing we noticed when we drove up was the next door neighbors car collection. Wow, what it must take to service 2 minivans circa 1980, 1 beat up Chevy, and something else we couldn't quite make out. We decided that wasn't a total scar on the home, so we went inside. Now here is where the sellers lost us. As I opened the door, the lovely aroma spilled out into the snowy cold. Unfortunately it wasn't the spell of Roses, or cookies, or cinnamon apples, but the smell all real estate agents know is a deal killer, pet urine.

              You have to understand, while I can see a way out of the situation, like giving the home a head to toe bath, husbands are not so forgiving. His crinkled nose tells me that no matter how great the inside looks from this point on, there is no way we will be buying this house. I convince him to go inside anyway. The sellers have done a pretty decent job...a great new kitchen, hardwood floors, and a refinished basement. However even I notice the poor tile job, the unfinished trim, and the shoddy painted walls, and I have to join my husbands prior unspoken position. We decide to move on to #2.

              The 2nd home was more expensive than the last and had more square feet. With no bad odor greeting us at the door, we preceded downstairs to the beautifully remodeled lower level. Wow, this was great! It even had a huge office with french doors, perfect for me! As we ventured upstairs, thinking this was the one, we headed to the kitchen. See, I am a cook, so I am very picky about my kitchen...this one got a B, but it needed updating. I could over look this, so we headed upstairs. As soon as we started up, another wonderful odor hit us head on. No, not roses again, but this time mothballs and must. Unfortunately it had to be me to scratch the home off the list, as I am allergic to both these smells. I couldn't even continue up the stairs it was so strong! Now that my allergies are all messed up, it is useless to proceed to #3. We decide to go home to regroup and venture out on another day.

              So what is the moral of the story? Sellers, please get an outside third party to smell inspect your home before you put it on the market. Do not be offended if the report issues you a citation for having a smelly house. If you do not take care of the problem now, the home will never sell. The easiest solution is a thorough, do not just cover it up with a spray. It only adds to the problem. Realtors, do not be afraid to tell your clients their home does not smell like roses. Offer them suggestions to improve it and tell them it will not go on the market until odor is fixed. Why waist your marketing dollars if a seller refuses to listen to you? Anyway, if your home is stinky, you won't be smelling anything green.

              Monday, July 21, 2008

              Rural Minnesota

              We have been having a great summer so far this year, at least in my opinion. I grew up in a small town in Indiana, that was surrounded by farms. Minneapolis is very similar as you can drive just a half hour out of the city and be in farm country. We have some of the most beautiful scenery with rolling hills and acres of corn fields, reminding me of southern Indiana. If you want real estate with 2 or more acres, you have to travel to the far suburbs to find a great piece of land. Seeing the profit to be made, many local farmers are selling off their tracts of real estate to developers.

              Thursday, June 26, 2008

              Declining Markets No Longer Penalized

              In the past, home buyers who have wanted to purchase in declining markets were penalized for doing so. Usually, lenders required more funds for a down payment, some up to 5% more than homes bought in regular markets. Local lenders held the power to call an area "declining" so any buyer could find themselves paying more, even when local areas were doing well.

              Sound unfair? Well, it is.

              Thankfully, someone has finally figured this out, and surprisingly, it is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now, buyers will pay the same amount for down payments, no matter where the property is located. Both factions have suspended their loan penalties indefinitely.

              Now there are still many lenders out there that refuse to lift their penalties, but if the loan if backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mace, relief is available now. For heaven's sake, how can you get a market out of decline if you make it harder for low income families to purchase a home?

              By the way, buyers can also get funding through FHA which also does not have a declining market penalty for home purchases.

              Wednesday, June 25, 2008

              A Day Trip Through La Crescent, Minnesota

              There is this little area of road near the Mississippi River just south of La Crescent in Southeast Minnesota that always captures my eye. If I had to describe peace, then this would be one of the first places I would think of. We drive though it every time I travel to Wisconsin to visit the in-laws. On one side is this old looking train bridge that sits just above a small tributary stream. On the other side is a water-marsh area that is always a nice bright green. Finally, after two years, I stopped to take some photos. Enjoy!

              Monday, June 16, 2008

              Fresh Off the Presses

              A Snapshot of the Minneapolis Housing Market

              The Minneapolis Association of Realtors has reported the following:

              "Bringing our market back to balance involves a two-step process: supply needs to draw down, demand needs to bounce back up. It's as simple as that. So far, 2008 is proving to be the year that we can confidently check the first item off this list, as the number of homes for sale continues to dwindle relative to one year ago. There are currently 33,219 homes for sale in the Twin Cities region, down a hearty 4.9 percent from one year ago, a year-over-year figure which should continue to drop in the months ahead. New listings for the week ending June 7 were down 13.9 percent from a year ago, while pending sales declined by a smaller 5.3 percent for the same time period comparison.

              All in all, we're halfway there: supply is coming down, but demand is only flattening, not coming back up just yet. Regardless, the signs are encouraging."

              Saturday, June 14, 2008

              My Photos Stink

              Many real estate agents have a computer generated feedback system in place for their listings, so that when a home is shown, the agent can let the seller know what buyers think of their home. It is a great way to get honest feedback about price, condition, etc.

              Today I received some feedback on one of my listings. I had to chuckle at this one. Apparently I have been asked to put new photos of the home on the Multiple Listing System because the home looks nothing like the photos. In fact, the home is too small. Hmmm...the home is only 1000 square feet, so what were you actually expecting when you walked in?

              I can only presume that my photographs made the home look like it is 2000 square feet, and now I can understand why the buyer was upset. Of course, the room sizes are available as well, but I guess they missed that one too.

              Bottom line is that I take really good photos for my clients which helps receive more traffic through the home. Not everyone will be happy with a home they see, but if my photos get them in the door, at least they will know if it works for them. By the way, I won't be changing the photos any time soon.

              Wednesday, June 11, 2008

              Let There be Hail

              We had a series of rough storms roll through today, and nature decided to drop marble size hail onto my house. Haven't checked for damage yet, but maybe I can wish it away?!

              Monday, June 9, 2008

              Can You Get a Deal from a Short Sale?

              Quite simply, the answer is yes. While some banks are still having trouble stomaching taking a huge loss, many others are realizing the necessity of getting homes off their books, or keeping them off there in the first place. I am seeing many more short sales sold at low prices.

              Take, for example, a home that closed this past month at a price of $145,403. The original list price started out 138 days ago at $227,000. The owners had bought the home for $250,000. Instead of going into foreclosure, they were able to get the bank to agree to a short sale. And some short sale this was!

              The buyers are now sitting on a home with instant equity because they bought it greatly under market value. If they hold the home for at least five years, there is a very good chance they would make a good resale profit on the home, should they sell in the distant future. The positive point to remember is that they made an offer to the sellers and were not embarrassed that is was low. I am sure the sellers were happy just to get an offer, and while difficult to swallow, the bank is probably happier that it won't have to deal with the home as a foreclosure.

              If you are in the market to buy, don't be afraid to look at the short can get a great deal right now all over the Twin Cities for homes that are in excellent condition.

              Saturday, June 7, 2008

              Early Summer at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

              The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a great place to take the family and enjoy hours of exploration. There are so many gardens to see and collections to visit that it you might actually run out of time and come another day to finish. It is also a wonderful place to host your wedding.

              Friday, June 6, 2008

              Just in Case You Want to Know

              There is a lot of mis-information on how much real estate agents earn floating around the media, so I thought you might like to see the newest income stats for Brokers, agents, and Realtors. Remember, brokers run the business, all of us are agents, but only those who proscribe to a Code of Ethics can call themselves Realtors.

              Thursday, June 5, 2008

              How the Next President Could Effect Your Taxes

              One of my financial advisors from Merrill Lynch sent this interesting article on how the two presidential candidates might effect your future pocketbook.

              Two Candidates, Two Different Tax Plans

              The next president will have much to say about taxes and investments. From the capital gains rate to the corporate tax rate, here’s what to expect after the election.

              With the economy ranking No. 1 on voters’ list of concerns, the topic of taxes is coming up with increasing regularity in debates and on the campaign trail. It’s clear that the 44th president will greatly affect future tax policy and, by extension, your pocketbook and investment portfolio.

              The parties have very different approaches, as evidenced by their candidates’ positions. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, for instance, proposes making President George W. Bush’s tax cuts permanent. He also wants to make it harder to raise taxes. His Democratic challenger, Barack Obama, is equally vocal about repealing those tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000.

              Here’s where the candidates stand on these issues and how their proposed changes might affect you:

              Wednesday, June 4, 2008

              Minnesota Wildflowers - Columbine

              This beautiful red-orange flower hangs upside-down and is usually found perched on rocks or on the edge of shady woodlands. From the Buttercup family, Columbine blooms in late spring and into summer.

              Tuesday, June 3, 2008

              Are Buyers Spoiled?

              For the last few months, I have been working on and off again with several buyers, which is keeping me really busy. However it is proving difficult to find a home that each of them likes. Now, trust me, we are finding homes that are fantastic, but it seems buyers want the cake and to eat it too in the current real estate market. My question has to be, are buyers spoiled when it comes to amenities inside homes?

              Over the last five years, with the increase in home "appreciation" equity, many home owners could afford to renovate their aging homes. Trying to make the home more modern, it was common to put granite counter tops in, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, and exotic wood cabinets. Builders jumped into the fray as well and offered all types of previous "upgraded" amenities as standard options.

              Rehabbers that bought homes to fix and flip were making a killing on net profit, so to make their homes more appealing, they were putting in the best products. I remember watching one of the cable home improvement shows where a 900 square foot home was being rehabbed, which they priced moderately, but it had granite countertops and high end appliances. As a former rehabber myself, a few things you have to look at when considering what to out fit the home with are:

              • value of the home

              • type of buyer

              • location of home

              If the home is not in a great area, or has a low value, then one should not over build the home with luxury amenities that are not supported by the surrounding homes. Unfortunately, I saw this happening time and time again over the last several years, and it looks like buyers are now used to top of the line, even in the smallest homes.

              One new home buyer I represent has been looking at homes near Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. They can only afford a certain amount of home, which means they cannot buy a home even a few blocks from the lake. Most of the homes we are looking at were built 30+ years ago, some need minor updating, while others may need a ton of work. Obviously, the less work to put into the home the better for my buyers.

              What has surprised me most is that we have found a few homes that are PERFECT for them, being completely renovated. The only thing they don't have is granite countertops, high end appliances, etc. The buyers refuse to accept any house that doesn't have these amenities, I have come to learn. I have tried to explain to them that in their price range, these "luxury" items are hardly found, but they sadly refuse to believe it.

              So my question is, have buyers, especially first time home buyers, been spoiled by the boom years? Growing up in a lower income family, one thing I learned was that sometimes you have to work your way up to what you really want. We bought a modest first home five years ago, and it took three years to finally get the money to tile the floors. After hard work, we were able to build a new, larger home, this last year.

              But it seems to me that the new generation of buyers no longer want to work for things. They want it all, right now. With the market haven fallen the last two years, many buyers now expect to get everything for nothing. Sadly, I have to try and bring current buyers into reality, but it is no easy task. Buyers are even shunning homes that need a little updating via carpet or new vinyl because they don't want to do the work later. Sometimes, you just have to look past these minor flaws if your goal is to get into a home.

              So what's an agent to do, when buyers just won't come to reason? Well, I guess just keep showing homes until it finally sinks in because, after all, this is just one more learning experience for the first time home buyer in Minneapolis.

              Saturday, May 31, 2008

              Hiking the Bluffs of the Mississippi

              There are many places up and down the Mississippi River to hike and enjoy the beauty of the area. Many times hiking has to be done very carefully because hills are steep, large rocks are plentiful, and deadly drops lurk around corners. But if you find a great location on a beautiful day, you can get some amazing views and take the most gorgeous photographs.

              Thursday, May 29, 2008

              Ugliest Architecture in Downtown Minneapolis

              I ran across a funny read from the Star Tribune about ugly buildings in downtown. The writers drove around to see what they could find for terrible facades and design. I have to say, I agree with them, I really loath late 60s building design, not to mention most buildings from the 70s. Not an ounce of inspiration in them.

              The building shown in the photo is at 100 Washington Square, which gets a great critique by Rick and Claude:

              "A big thanks to City Hall for issuing the building permit for that monster. The best thing about owning an RW condo is you can't see the outside when you're inside. And don't look now, but there's 100 Washington Square, Minoru Yamasaki's blow-up of a 1970s computer punch card, in a blinding shade known down at Hirshfield's as Crest Whitestrips. On stilts, no less, with a skyway snaking under it like a mirrored python. Then there's the Metrodome. Oh well. Why kick a dog -- literally -- when it's down?"

              Of course, with all the modern design going on right now, I have to wonder if in 20 years, we will be asking the same question "what were they thinking?".

              Wednesday, May 28, 2008

              After New Construction - Part 1

              Many of you might have followed my series, Confessions of New Construction, which focused on my experiences while building our new home this last year. Now that we are moved in, the new phase of owning a home is beginning. My new series, while short, will highlight some of the things many people don't think of when building a new home.


              One thing many new home buyers forget to think about are the costs that arise after you move in. One that we almost forgot about was that our home would need gutters, since they were not offered by our builder. Call it a warranty issue or something like that.

              But anyway, having never had to fund gutters before, I called three different Minneapolis vendors for pricing. Two were referred to me and the other I picked up at a trade show.

              The new thing in gutters is seamless construction. Less seams mean better looks, and you can get them in aluminum or steel. One company we met with promoted steel gutters and that they would hold up to anything, but at a cost of $3000, our wallet's heart skipped a beat in disbelief. We went on to look at two other companies who used aluminum gutters. They came in around $1250 and $1500.

              Before anyone came out to give us estimates, we looked at all the places that would need gutters. Right away I knew the corner of the porch would be a problem (pictured above) because it had this small 90 degree turn. How the companies handled this problem was going to tell me how smart they were. The lower priced guys said no problem, but the expensive company tried to tell me that the only way to make the downspout work would be to have it follow the porch post down to the ground. They would bend it to fit the post, then have it go down the brick base. Now, I had to look at that and wonder what this guy was thinking. I can't even begin to tell you how ugly that would look, not to mention take away from the architecture of the craftsman inspired post design. I'll let you guess who we didn't pick!

              In the end, we decided that "gutters are gutters" and that there was no need spending a lot of money on these things. Even though the warranty is only good for 10 years, we don't plan on being in this house that long. Two weeks after closing, our new gutters were installed in a couple of hours. We even were able to get down spouts that matched the color of our siding to blend into the home. They look great!

              The best advice I can offer is to remember the gutters:
              • If you don't put them on, you will have a little moat running around the home from water cutting into the ground.
              • Ask your neighbors who they used and get referrals, with at least three different estimates
              • Don't be afraid to ask questions...go with your gut feeling

              Tuesday, May 27, 2008

              Mmmmmmm.......Tasty Morel Mushrooms

              One thing I love about being in the Midwest is the yearly spring ritual of going mushroom hunting in the woods for Morels. These tasty mushrooms only grow for about a week or two and are highly sought after by local chefs. We had so many that I didn't have time to eat them all! It can be quite a task searching for them, so have patience.

              Wednesday, May 21, 2008

              More Real Estate Education

              The next two days I will be in at CRS class furthering my education on real estate topics. The class is called "Creating Wealth Through Real Estate Investing". Today was pretty much a numbers crunching game, because let's face it, investing in real estate is all about the numbers. Emotions should be checked at the door.

              Having some personal investment properties all ready under my belt, I know some things about the topic. But I could never say that I know it all. That's why I take classes like this, to further my knowledge. My personal belief is that real estate agents cannot be any good at the job unless they take the time to go beyond just putting in their required continuing education units.

              When you think about hiring a real estate agent to represent you, you should really check into their educational background. See if they have any real estate designations beyond the GRI, as this is a pretty simple designation to get. You might even ask them what was the last class they took and when. The subject matter could give you a good idea of how in depth the agent goes to further their real estate education. And of course, you have to like them too!

              Monday, May 19, 2008

              Lake Living in Minneapolis

              Just south of downtown Minneapolis sit multiple lakes for residents to enjoy. Naturally over time, homes have sprung up around the lakes as desirable places to live. Some of the most popular are Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet, which string together to the west of I-35W. If you looked east of the 35W, the largest lakes are Lake Nokomis and Diamond Lake.

              One of the great reasons for living in Minneapolis is the public use of the lakes and the surrounding parks. Residents and visitors can hike, bike, jog, stroll, or take a relaxing kayak - canoe ride on one of the lakes. Lake Nokomis has a public beach area that is perfect for summer swims in the lake. Lake of the Isles has a dog park at its south end, which needless to say, is used every day for a good doggie social hour.

              There are just so many fun things to do in Minneapolis, and lake living is one of them.

              Sunday, May 18, 2008

              Yellow-Rumped Warbler

              This little guy posed long enough for a photo op...his name makes you chuckle.

              Saturday, May 17, 2008

              Don't Pick Your Home Based on Schools

              When ever I speak with a buyer client who has children, the most important question they want answered is whether a home is in a good school district. Because of fair housing laws, the question is a difficult one to answer. As real estate agents, we can't steer people to only one neighborhood, but have to make sure we show clients all the options.

              Now if a client tells me they only want to search in a certain school district, then it is OK to carry out their wishes. What kind of agent would I be if I sent them to an area they didn't want? The kind that doesn't get paid, that's what.

              So when the question of schools comes up when house hunting, the first place to look to determine a homes surrounding schools is the MLS fact sheet. Now, this might come as a shock, but these have been known to be wrong every now and then. The next best place to look is the school district website, which usually has maps, showing what school boundaries your home falls in. When you really want a solid answer, then the last resort is to call the district yourself.

              But even when a buyer has done their due diligence and is satisfied with the results, things can change after you move in. Over time, and as little as every few years, school boundaries can change. Case in point, the city of Farmington is building a new high school, completion set for 2009. The old high school is going to become a second middle school for the area, so of course, the school boundaries are going to have to be reset, to accommodate the new schools. Most likely, there are going to be families affected by this change, and children are going to be attending different schools then originally intended.

              There are also some elementary schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul who are talking about closing down certain schools for lack of money. Many families will now have to truck their children many miles to the next school, and may not get a choice on what school their children attend.

              Now if you had just moved into the area and were planning on sending your kids to school A, but a year later find out they have to attend school B, upset would probably be a good term to describe your feelings. But as the saying goes, "That's the way the cookie crumbles". So the best advice I can give is to not treat the school boundaries surrounding your home as the word of God...things can change.

              Friday, May 16, 2008

              Just Let the Kids BE Kids

              Sitting down this evening to watch the evening local news, something I rarely have time to do, I heard a story that blows my mind. Apparently there is a school in Minneapolis that has implemented a policy for their elementary school of "No Touching" on the playground. The new rule pertains to the games of touch football and tag.

              The school principal says she is doing this to alleviate injuries, but also to make sure aggression between children does not happen. Now, I understand her thought process, but for goodness sakes, when are we as a society going to stop treating our children with white gloves?

              I have heard of schools that do not allow kids to play kickball, one of my favorite games as a child, or dodge ball, because someone might get hit by the ball. These sports not only foster quick thinking, agility, and exercise, but they also teach our children proper sportsmanship and how to treat others. In today's society, however, we would rather our children be injury free, instead of building confidence and growing into life.

              There are even schools who do not allow hugging or hand holding. See how ridiculous this is getting? In our litigious society, schools fear lawsuits from parents for physical and emotional injuries to their children. No longer is anything an accident...someone has to be to blame.

              Elementary school is the beginning of life amongst others. Children have to learn manners, sharing, dealing with loss, peer pressure, physical changes, bullying, etc. If we shelter them too much, as is currently happening at our public schools, the only thing we will accomplish is raising children who cannot think for themselves, nor take care of themselves.

              WE as parents are the only ones who can change this scary trend. It's time to say enough is enough of these silly rules, and just let the kids BE kids!