Saturday, June 18, 2011

Perfect Timing—In Real Estate, Does it Exist?

Years ago, my then 3 year old son wanted us to videotape him singing a song. He was not like most toddlers, wanting to record Twinkle Twinkle or a quick chorus of Happy Birthday on tape. No, he loved the Hal Ketchum song, Small Town Saturday Night and wanted us to record him singing the entire song.
I can still see him start the first few lines then pause with his blonde head bobbing slowly as he concentrated. We stopped the camera and asked if he forgot the words. He said of course not and started again. But again he paused at the same point. This time we kept taping because we now knew he was still listening to the melody in his head, waiting for the words to start for the next verse. We were amazed that at such a young age, he wanted his timing to be perfect…even without any background music playing.
Whenever I hear that song play, I remember my little boy trying so hard to perfectly time his singing without any assistance and only his memory to guide him. It also makes me think about all those home buyers and sellers hoping to perfectly time their real estate transactions.
Keeping a musical beat for a 3 year old is easier than timing the real estate market…WAAAY Easier! While my son had the memory of a tune to follow, home buyers and sellers really don’t have a road map for this market. Yet time and time again I hear comments similar to these.
“I’m not going to GIVE away my house. I will wait out the market and list when things get better.”
“This home seems perfect but I’ll wait for the next price drop.”
“I don’t think the market has hit bottom yet.”
“Interest rates have been low for quite awhile. I think I will wait to see if home prices drop further too.”
“I love the house but I'm going to wait. I want to make sure I do not overpay.”
Just like the stock market, it is impossible to project and time the real estate market. We can make educated guesses or predictions on the market based on what is currently happening. But know one really knows if you would get more for your home by waiting a year or if you would be paying less for a similar home in the future. By the time prices begin to recover and trend upward, you have missed the bottom of the market. If in your hyper-local community, home prices start selling for higher prices there is no guarantee you will receive more for your home. Like all other aspects of the economy, there are predictions and opportunities but knowing which prediction will perfectly direct you to the right opportunity; that is hazy in the proverbial crystal ball.
It’s Time to Step to the Beat of Your OWN Drummer
I know it's cliche but when investing in real estate one cannot follow the crowd and take a "wait and see" approach. Residential real estate is like no other investment because of the extremely personal aspect. People need a place to live. Deciding to buy or rent in this market is not a cut-and-dry decision. There are several pieces to the "rent vs buy" puzzle, including getting the right mortgage and working with an experienced REALTOR® for the buyer.
While home sellers have to understand how to make their property stand out from the pack with aggressive pricing, thoughtful staging and expert marketing, sometimes it does make sense to wait to move up to a larger home in a market like this. But more often, people make successful and quick transitions to new homes with expert advice. Sellers that “give away” their homes often “steal a home” at a fabulous price on the other end of the transaction when they buy their new property. Buyers opting to move forward now are getting awesome interest rates and bargain home pricing to boot! It is a good time to buy a home and homes are selling at fair prices considering the current economy. People sitting on the fence waiting for the “perfect” time may end up disappointed because nothing is ever perfect.

Copyright 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

100% Financing AVAILABLE in Chisago County--USDA Rural Home Development Loans!

You want to own your own home. You know that prices are very affordable and interest rates are extremely attractive. But rising gas prices and a weak economy leaves you struggling to save for that down payment. Sound familiar?

Most loan officers will tell you that a conventional mortgages can require 5, 10 or 20% for a down payment. Even government backed FHA loans will require that buyers have a minimum of 3.5% of their own funds to invest in their home. Our veterans have always had a wonderful zero down program available and the VA loan program is still a great option to those who have served our country. But for other buyers trying to come up with the minimum 3.5% down payment required by FHA or 5-10% down for a conventional loan is a road block to in their path to a new home.

There is good news for those considering buying a home in Chisago County. Most communities in Chisago County are designated rural areas and qualify for the zero down option, Rural Development Program through the USDA. Best of all this is NOT a pro
gram just for first time home buyers…Anyone can take advantage of the program if the home and your income meet the requirements.

Now when some people hear "rural", they immediately start to think I will have to buy a broken down old-time farmstead in the middle of nowhere. Nothing could be further from the truth! According to the
USDA Rural Development website, the program was created to "build stronger, more vibrant rural communities across the nation." This unique housing loan program does apply in many counties in the north and east metro that aren't so far from the cities and they don't have to be farmsteads either! Communities in Isanti and Chisago Counties including North Branch, Stacy, Chisago City, Lindstrom, Shafer, Taylors Falls and many others can possibly qualify for this program. If you are considering buying a home in any of these communities, it is a great program to look into. But only a handful of loan officers really know the ins and outs that make a program like this work.
I do work in several of these communities and have shown homes in these areas of the past few weeks. The deals throughout Lindstrom and North Branch are nothing short of amazing. Homes that are 5-6 years old are being sold for $30-50K less than just a few years ago! Amazing properties with 4 Bedrooms, 2 Baths, 3 car garages and ½ acre yards for well under $200K. Beautiful homes in move in condition…And with the USDA program they are available for ZERO DOWN! I have a couple of great loan contacts that do understand USDA and can get you started on your path to home ownership with a USDA loan. These mortgage professional know I work with buyers and sellers all over Chisago County and the north and east metro so have given me a quick lesson on this unique CONVENTIONAL LOAN program. Some of the features and benefits include:

  • NO down payment
  • NO monthly PMI
  • The seller is allowed to pay all reasonable closing cost and prepaids up to 6%
  • NO hit to the interest rate for the zero down
  • NOT just for first time home buyers
  • NO reserves needed
There are income limits to the program that will prevent some buyers from qualifying. These numbers have recently increased to allow more potential buyers to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Household income does include all residents in the home that work so yes, your teenager’s income from a job at the local fastfood chain will be included as would be your retired mother’s social security payment if they are living in the home. These income limitations are guidelines and, in some cases, may be exceeded.

Understanding the restrictions is essential but the benefits to the program are enormous! If you are considering a home in Chisago County, plan on speaking with a qualified loan officer that understands the rural development loan program before starting your home search. You could be able to afford more home than you expect. Likewise, working with a REALTOR ® that knows understands the current market conditions of the communities within this program are just as critical to your dream home becoming a reality.

Copyright 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Filling out YOUR Minnesota Seller’s Disclosure Form—What is a Unique Well Number?

The seller’s disclosure form for residential real estate in Minnesota is currently nine pages long. It may seem like a lot of pages, but if your home was built after 1978 and has city water and sewer, there are more. If a home was built prior to 1978, the seller must fill out the two page federal disclosure regarding lead based paint. If a home has a septic system, the seller needs to complete a three page disclosure for subsurface sewage treatment systems. And if a home has ever had a well for water, there is a specific three page disclosure for wells. This must be completed whether the well is sealed or not. (There is an additional disclosure form if a home has ever been used for the production of methamphetamine, but thankfully, most home sellers do not have to complete that one.) And a handy-dandy location map is required for well/septic systems too.
So the grand total of required disclosure paperwork for most acreage homes in Minnesota is 16 pages—or 18, if built prior to 1978. That’s a lot of paperwork for listing your home but it is essential. More importantly it is essential to that it is completed completely and correctly.
One of my pet peeves when showing an acreage home is when the well disclosure isn’t properly completed on a recently built home. One of the first questions on the form…and probably the most important is, what is the Minnesota Unique Well Number and the depth and type of well. Often this is blank. I understand that most people have no idea of what the exact information is off the top of their heads. But for homes constructed after 1975, this is very simple information to obtain.
I have a link the Minnesota Department of Health’s Unique Well Number LOOK UP TOOL on my website so all my clients can easily locate this essential information. Every well constructed since the late 1970's has been tagged with a metal tag and its unique number. The numbers are logged and tracked by the MDH. So even if it is 30 below and Minnesotans are experiencing a horrific blizzard, a homeowner can log on to the website and find the necessary information to complete their disclosure form. (It's soooo much easier to find this time of year!)
Once located, I recommend that sellers print out a copy of the report and attach to the disclosure paperwork because it shows all the necessary well construction details (i.e. who constructed, when, depth, type, etc.)
HELPFUL TIPS FOR USING THE LOOK-UP TOOL I have noted a few important tips for using this website because it can be a bit frustrating if you are not familiar with it. Here are a few quick tips to simply your look-up experience:
  1. Use Internet Explorer as your browser. The site doesn’t work well with newer browsers like Firefox and Chrome. There isn’t a mobile app for this either.
  2. Disable pop-up blockers. The map and information will show in a pop-up window and it looks like the site isn’t working if you have pop-up windows blocked.
  3. The information posted will not always show the current owner but the name of the owner or builder that filed the original paperwork.
  4. Sometimes the well will not always be listed by street address but still can be found by looking at the plat map of the street.
Take the time to fill out the form correctly as this is important information for the new buyer. Buyers appreciate when the seller takes the time to put the correct details on the disclosures. It takes a bit of time and research, but in the end, your buyer will have all the information needed to make an informed decision. Since many other sellers leave this information blank, sellers who go the extra mile will make their home stand out from the rest!

Copyright 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is that Terrible Smell? Your Pet Could be Killing Your Home Sale!

I love my cat but I have to admit, when that noxious cat box odor wafts up the stairs from the basement on a rare occasion, it makes me crazy. I notice it immediately and take care of the terrible smell as soon as possible. And I don't have my home listed for sale either.
We Americans LOVE our Pets. Dogs, Cats, Bunnies, Monkeys, name it. We let them sleep in our beds and eat in our kitchens. We buy and cook them special foods. We dress them up and treat them like the members of the family that they are. But have you ever considered the damage pets can do to your most important investment, your home?
As a real estate agent working in the north and east Twin Cities metro area, I have seen some strange pets inside of some homes...everything from pot-bellied pigs to monkeys and bunnies with the run of the house.
Oh, yeah and then there are the people who have dogs and cats too. Many homeowners take great measures to protected their homes and property but some do not.
I have walked into vacant homes and had potential buyers pick out the exact location of where the previous owner had the litter box. I have seen puppy's teeth marks on the sides of oak cupboards and cedar decking and claw marks on wood floors. I have walked through extensively landscaped yards destroyed by holes dug by chained dogs. I have witnessed a family whose cat jumps up and hangs on screens to notify their owner that they want to come inside. One seller had a sign posted in the furnace room on a terrarium full of large, noisy crickets announcing that it was food for the lizards and snakes that were kept in the bedrooms and family rooms of the home. And then there was the family that let the horse wander in the front yard and let the bunny have the entire house to can just imagine the damage left behind on that one.
While amusing to read about, pets can be hard on your home. When if you are trying to sell and haven't addressed these issues you may find yourself discounting your selling price significantly in this buyer's market (almost to forclosure pricing) to reflect the condition.
The smells are the worst. People who keep pets in carpeted rooms even in cages or kennels can have serious problems. Often the odors will not be removed with a simple steam cleaning. In most cases, I recommend that the carpet be replaced. But homeowners with serious damage find that they are not only replacing the carpet, the padding and sometimes even the sub-flooring needs to be removed to eliminate the smell.
But smells aren't the only problem. Stains from accidents or the favorite sleeping spot can be impossible to remove. Our cat knocked down a just-watered plant a few years back. The potting soil mud never fully came out so we know when we sell that carpet will have to be replaced. We bought our dog a few dog beds and put them strategically around the house when we noticed his favorite spots changing the color of the carpet too.

It is possible to have your beloved pet and to protect your home.
  • Keep your pet well groomed to reduce odor, hair and nail damage.
  • Get a pet bed for your dogs and cats. (Several are available at Our dog loves the extra comfort and it keeps dirt and sweat from his coat from going into the carpet fibers. We will move his from room to room during the day so he can stay with us. If this is too much trouble, buy several. They are considerably cheaper than replacing carpet. Our cat uses his bed daily too. It is positioned for his easy access in front of his favorite window so he doesn't jump and leave marks on the woodwork.

  • Have a proper sized kennel or cage for exotic pets and clean often.

  • Clear all accidents immediately. Use special pet cleaners to remove odors and stains.

  • Cover all exposed woodwork especially around windows. Pets love to jump up and look out windows. Use gates to limit your pet's access to soft wood floors like birch or cherry wood. Nail marks require the floor to be completely sanded down before refinishing. It can get very costly.

  • Don't chain your dog to the side of your house. Chains and bolts can cause both cosmetic and structural damage to your home.
  • If your dog shows behavior problems such as chewing, clawing etc, address them immediately to avoid damage to your home.

Copyright 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Headache Today Can Help Homebuyers Avoid One in the Future!

Don’t you hate when you forget the simple things? Like this morning, I have all my vitamins and allergy medications set out to take first thing when I wake up but today I realized at noon, I hadn’t taken them. No biggie…except for the generic Allegra that keeps away sinus headaches. By lunchtime it was too late and the headache had already started. Oh well, it won’t last for too long.
This reminds me of a rather expensive headache that a homebuyer could experience if they don’t take care of the simple things in a timely manner. Filing for homestead is a very simple process. It is a matter of taking the paperwork to the county offices prior to December 31 and dropping it off. It doesn’t even cost anything. But it does take a bit of time out of your crazy moving-in day.
The closer often cautions the buyer to head to the county offices immediately but moving day is busy. Some buyers, especially in the summer months, will opt to wait a few days, or weeks. After all, they have MONTHS before the paperwork has to be filed.
This can be a bad choice. Remember I said moving day is busy right? It is also a very confusing time with boxes, bags and furniture being unloaded. Paperwork can be misplaced and forgotten but unlike my allergies, forgetting to file homestead means a bigger headache (i.e. higher property taxes). And, unlike my headache, this cannot be resolved in a matter of hours. The higher taxes will last an entire year!
So remember to file the homestead paperwork as quickly as you can after closing on your new home and avoid that HUGE tax headache!

Copyright 2011