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!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Out Sick

Sorry guys, I have been out sick the last few day so I will try and get back on track when I can stand to look at the computer long enough to post a post....

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is it Always this Cold Here?

This spring I have been working with quite a few buyers moving to the area from the south. Being as our Spring this year is quite cold, the number one question I hear right now is if our weather is always this way.

Let me put your minds at ease and say that this Spring is really odd. The cold has delayed the trees budding, but the grass is getting very green from all the rain. The only thing that really puts a damper in my plans is flower planting and landscaping. Being in zone 4 means that many annuals cannot take colder temps. About the only thing you can plant safely outside right now are pansies.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Minnesota Wildflowers

It's that time of the year again...the wildflowers are creeping out from under the fallen leaves of last year. This past weekend I took a long nature hike off the bluffs of the Mississippi River and found some great spring wildflowers.

The photo is the wildflower called Dutchman's Breeches. The odd shape of the flower makes it hard to get to the flower's nectar. Only bumblebees have mouths capable of reaching in far enough for the prize.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Some Reality in the Housing Market

Everyday I hear the same old story...the real estate market is tanking, buyers are scared to buy, bla-bla-bla. Even though us real estate agents scream to the roof tops that housing markets are local, the media negativity drowns the truth out.

The only thing we do know is that the number of foreclosures has increased and so the perception is that the Twin Cities real estate market is going down, down, down. Luckily, some savvy people at the Minneapolis Association of Realtors have created a new report that better outlines what is really happening here in Minneapolis.

Some say that statistics don't line. However, statistics themselves can be a problem if they don't take special circumstances into account. Case in point, all the stats that come in for the Twin Cities includes data from both foreclosures, short sales, and traditional sellers, saying that median home prices have fallen 10.3% in the last year. If you were to separate the two bank related sales from traditional sales, you would have a very different look for our local real estate market. Home sales NOT related to foreclosures or short sales are actually only down 3.9% from this same time a year ago in 2007.

Yes, foreclosures do effect the market, but sellers not facing foreclosure can now look at real information that shows the future is not as bleak as the media paints it. The same goes for buyers. While the national media might be reporting the sky falling, sellers are not giving away homes as you might like. There are good deals to be had, but if you want a steal, the best bet might be too look at a foreclosure.

You can read more of the report at the link above, which also has a break down of foreclosures by price range and housing type.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring Flowers are Blooming

Photos I took of flowers after a Spring rain this weekend.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Take Time to Smell the Roses

The last few weeks I have taken a step back from blogging. One reason is that I have been really busy with buyers, and the other is that I am just enjoying time with the kids. Like John Lennon says, life is what happens while you're making other plans. I have found that sometimes blogging can consume me, and I forget to look up from the computer. The other day my son was trying to get my attention, and I was so busy blogging that I didn't hear him.

When I finally felt him tugging my arm, I realized that, much like a video game consumes our children, so has blogging consumed parts of my life. At that moment, I realized that maybe I should take a step back and make sure I am not missing life as it happens. I decided to make a plan for my blogging.

My new goal is to only blog when my children are asleep. That means I will mostly be blogging at night, like right now. Have you thought about how blogging effects those around you? Do you no longer talk to your spouse because your head is buried in a laptop? I realized both I and my husband would have our heads in laptops at the same time. Now I make sure to close them and take time with ourselves.

We live in a world where technology surrounds us. It has become so much a part of our daily routine that we forget life with out it. Yesterday I stepped away from the TV, computer, and phone, and went for a long walk with my family. I even took photographs of nature after a spring rain. What fun it was to be free. When was the last time you were free?