Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buying a Foreclosed Home on Minnesota Acreage

The current prices on Minnesota Acreage are nothing short of astounding. There dozens acreage homes that are currently available throughout the north and eastern suburbs of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. However, buying a foreclosure is different than buying from a more traditional seller. The biggest difference when buying a bank-owned property is that buyers are required to waive their right to a seller’s disclosure. This actually does make sense since no one at the bank actually lived at the home and can properly complete the disclosure. In fact, it is doubtful that anyone at the bank has ever set foot on the property. So when buying a foreclosure on acreage, what other things need to be considered to protect yourself?

**Ask for a Compliance Test for the Septic System.
Most rural homes have a private septic system to handle sewage and waste water. Not all systems are created equal. They are designed for the specific property and size of the home. Even a new septic system can fail if not properly maintained. How do you know if the septic system is working? Ask the bank to have a third party inspect the system and  supply a report of compliance. This MUST be written into your purchase agreement as a contingency of purchase. (i.e. Sale is contingent on the buyer reviewing a current compliance certification for the septic system.)

If you have never lived on a home with a septic system, it is important to educate yourself on how to best maintain your system. Additional information on Septic Systems.

**Well Disclosure is Mandated by State Law
In Minnesota, well disclosure is mandated by state law as a part of the Ground Water Protection Act. A seller must provide information on the location and status of all wells on a property at the time of sale. If this information is known and not provided, the buyer has 6 years in which to file a claim against the seller. If you chose to waive your rights when buying a foreclosure AS-IS and it is a large acreage parcel of land, it is a good idea to visit the MN Dept of Health webpage on Finding Abandoned Wells prior to purchase. Abandoned wells can be very expensive to seal properly. Improper sealing is not only illegal, it can be detrimental to the ground water. Additional information on Private Wells.

**Are there any underground fuel tanks?

Often people looking at acreage for the first time will have questions about the huge propane fuel tank located near the home. These tanks are usually only seen in the city at gas stations where homeowners fill their small propane tanks for the weekend BBQ. In the country, the large tanks are in many backyards as the source of fuel to heat the home and run appliances. But what if there is no visible tank? Don’t immediately assume the home is heated with natural gas. Homes on large acreage are rarely heated with natural gas as the cost of bringing the gas line to the home can be cost prohibitive. Check for underground fuel tanks. Even if there is a propane tank visible, there could be an old fuel tank on the property either above or underground. The removal of underground fuel storage tanks can be dangerous and is regulated by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal as well as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  

**Check the Trees! 

Buying a home AS-IS also applies to the landscaping. If there are dead trees on the property, it would be a good idea to assess them to see if they died due to a disease. The big three in Minnesota are oak wilt, Dutch elm and the Emerald Ash Borer.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Selling an Acreage Home? Mark a TRAIL!

Earlier this month, I was out showing homes to clients looking for acreage that would work for having horses. One home on a 20 acre parcel was perfect so we started to walk the land. On west side of the home was the mound septic system an a bit further west was a large pond that was at the very least 3 acres of the property. The backyard looked dry so we started there. Just a few feet beyond the trees the yard got boggy. So we couldn’t assess how dry the acres were. We assumed this property was mostly wet and made mental notes to check the aerial view from google maps. I noted the problem in the feedback and the agent responded the land had a huge and accessible meadow beyond the pond. My clients, after getting wet feet and seeing lots of swampland on google had no further interest.
This reminded me of a property I sold last year. I met with a homeowner to re-list his 35 acre, Anoka County property after being under contract with another agent for a year. As part of my job as an acreage REALTOR®, I walked with the seller around the house, through the barn and looked out the barn’s backdoor at the 35 acres of woods and wetland. Looking out the door, I asked if there was a path that goes through to the perimeter of the land so buyers could walk the property. He confirmed that there was but then said something else. “The previous agent never stepped one foot further beyond where you are standing now to see the land. I don’t think he wanted to get his shoes dirty. Wow! How do you sell a home on acreage without seeing what you are selling? Especially when you have had 12 months to take that walk! It was no surprise to me that the home did not sell.
Selling a home on acreage isn’t rocket science. But like rocket science, there is research and work involved. From getting the septic compliance checked to understanding what a Minnesota unique well number is, there are details that need to be reviewed when an acreage home is listed. It is kind of like staging the inside of the home. Marking a trail for the potential buyer to follow sets the stage for the buyer to fall in love with the entire package. A significant portion of an acreage home’s total value is often tied up in the value of the land. Buyers need to see the land, online and in person, in order for the home to sell.
When I listed that home, the photos I took were not only the basic interior and exterior shots, I took additional time and walked the land with the seller. During the tour of the land, I took photographs that showed the appeal of the acreage. He pointed out landmarks and details that would buyers would want to know about the property. I took photos from various points along the path. Interestingly, many of the potential buyers also walked the land with me and remarked that they remembered the shots as ones they saw on the internet. These pictures were important as they created excitement about the property and were photos that could never have been seen from the backdoor of the barn or home.
A short time later, the home was sold. Not to a buyer that I brought through the home and walked the property with. It was sold by another REALTOR® who was able to take his buyer along the mapped and marked trail through the acreage. the buyer’s agent thanked my clients for having a clearly marked trail and for providing a map at the home that showed the trail and property corner markers. He said it was a big help for the buyer to make his decision about the property.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Art of the LOWBALL offer on Real Estate—How Low is it Safe for a Home Buyer to Go?

So you have scoured the internet for the perfect home and you found it! But it is tens of thousands overpriced compared to similar homes. Is there an art to submitting a lowball offer in this changed real estate market? Where do you start? 10% less? 20% less? 50% less? And is it the percentage less than the original list price or the current asking price?

Welcome to the reality of the real estate market today! There is no one-size-fits-all answer on this one. It really depends.

® working in the north and east Twin Cities metro for several years, I have seen my share of sellers who were insulted by a buyer’s offer. And not just in a market where buyers have the upper hand either. A decade ago, anything but a full priced offer was insulting. Buyers were afraid to request a few thousand toward closing costs lest the sellers would balk and accept the next offer in line. So buyers would skip inspections and write offers thousands more than asking just to get into their "dream" home.

Those days are but a memory now...Sellers throughout Anoka, Washington and Chisago Counties are anxious to sell. They know that they are competing with short sale sellers (those who have to sell and owe much more than their home is currently worth) and foreclosed homes. Few traditional home owners with “for sale” signs in the yard are naive enough to expect a full priced offer in this changed market.

The problem is that there are naive buyers who believe sellers are desperate to take ANY offer. But in reality most sellers can't or won't accept just “ANY” offer. An offensive lowball offer could put the buyers’ dream home purchase in jeopardy.

How to Coming up with an Acceptable Starting Point:

  • Ask Your REALTOR® to do a Market Analysis for the Home. In this market, I always pull the comparables to see what has sold recently in the neighborhood before my buyers decide what to offer on a home. Many sellers are listing homes at or below current market value. If the home is properly priced, anything less than 15% of the current asking price could be considered an insult. Currently, in the Twin Cities market, most homes are selling for about 990-95% of asking price. This percentage does not include seller paid closing costs either which does reduce the net offer. By looking at the neighborhood comparables, my buyers better understand what offer will be considered reasonable.

Keep in mind that if you are working directly with the listing agent who is under contract with the seller, they cannot ethically prepare a market analysis for a buyer. As a dual agent (working for the buyer and the seller) they must remain neutral regarding price negotiations.
  • Consider the Original List Price. If someone has come down 25-30% or more from when they originally put their home on the market, they have made improvements since listing to the condition and now the market analysis shows the home is priced fairly, writing an offer over 10-15% less could be insulting. If this truly is THE home for my buyers, we discuss whether it makes sense to offer closer to the asking price rather than hitting the seller with a lowball offer.
  • The Overpriced Home. If the market analysis shows the home to be significantly overpriced and the offer will be more than 20-25% less than current the current asking price. I provide the comparables to the seller. Sometimes when the offer is accompanied by documentation to back up the offer, the seller is less offender especially when it is explained that these are the same comparables that will be used by an appraiser. If the home doesn't appraise, the offer will have to be renegotiated in most circumstances.

  • Buyer’s Plans to Remodel and Update. Be careful when using documentation for changes that reflect cosmetic and personal taste. Many sellers will be insulted when a buyer’s offer indicates that they are offering tens of thousands less due to paint, carpet and other cosmetic changes that a buyer wants to make. If the updates are necessary due to age or wear, make note of the fact and consider whether the home is currently priced to reflect the condition or not. Slamming a well maintained and updated home to justify a low offer is insulting.

  • Avoid Considering Price Paid for Home. Many buyers think that if someone purchased a home a decade ago they mus have tons of equity. This could be true but it is not a hard and fast rule. Many sellers have taken the equity out of their home for improvements or for other reasons. Keep the negotiations focused on the fair market value of the home.
Most sellers are in waiting impatiently for that non-contingent buyer to write an offer on their home. In most cases, they understand the market and have worked hard to prepare their properties to entice an offer. But buyers must think through their offers; the perfect starting point for negotiations must contemplated thoroughly. Discussions can go south very quickly between buyer and seller when the initial offer is deemed rude. If you want to try a lower offer to see how low a seller will go but are prepared to pay more, make sure a note or letter accompanies the offer saying this is a starting point for negotiating on the beautiful home and property...a little kindness often goes a very long way.