Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Home Ownership Still Trumps Apartment Life—When there’s a Special Place for Grandma!

Homebuyers for Multigenerational Acreage Homes

When I started selling real estate over a decade ago, one of my very first clients was a family: mom, dad, two daughters, three horse AND a grandma! My goal as a REALTOR® was to find a home on acreage that accommodates horses within the Forest Lake School District that had a mother-in-law apartment for grandma. There weren’t too many options at the time. Sure the market was overloaded with McMansions on small lots but few homes were designed to accommodate a multigenerational family with horses. We did eventurally find a home that would work…but it was not ideal. About a year later, an administrator at my sons’ school had a discussion with me about the difficulties his family was having finding a home in the Mahtomedi school district that would have a special place for his mother-in-law.  There was no need for acreage for this family, yet they were struggling to find a home that met their multigenerational needs too.

Over the years I have seen single family homes with mother-in-law apartments scattered throughout Anoka, Chisago and Washington Counties. Not too many homebuyers were impressed by a second kitchen in the basement unless they were truly looking to have a separate home within their home. Yet, on more than one occasion, I have had clients seeking such a house; one that accommodates a returning college student, a relocating relative or an adult child with grandchildren.

I was reading a article about how home ownership still trumps apartment life this morning…Don’t Bet Against the (Single Family) House. I was pleasantly surprised that many builders are now recognizing a trend toward the multigenerational home. Due to the changed economy, it is often a way to the pool resources of family members while continuing to give everyone their own space. The thing I like most about this trend is that homes will be designed specifically to include the separate living space. Most of the homes that I have viewed over the years with a mother-in-law apartment were a turn off because the space was ill conceived by the owner. The home was originally designed as a single family home but due to family circumstances the home was altered to include a kitchen, bedroom, laundry, bath and separate entrance…and viola, “we have an apartment for mom!” Unfortunately, these poor designs don’t sell well.

As a REALTOR® will be watching to see the floor plans of these new multigenerational homes. Hopefully, the floor plans will be adopted by builders on Minnesota acreage so if families moving with grandma and the horses will have more options than before!

Copyright 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How the "Busy Road Factor" Affects the Sale of Your Home

Busy Road Factor Selling a Minnesota Home

As a REALTOR®, people across the north and east Minneapolis/St Paul metro area  contact me to provide comparative market analyses on their homes. I work hard to get the price right whether it is for a single family home, a townhome, an acreage estate or a lakeshore getaway. Getting the price right is imperative in this changed real estate market. I use a system to check the comparative homes sold in the past 3-4 months and add and subtract for differences in each particular home. But every once in a while there are homes that are affected by what I call the "Busy Road Factor". These are situations that are unique to the property but will dramatically affect the number of interested buyers.

My daily travels as an Anoka & Washington County real estate agent take me along many of the same major roads day after day.  County roads are wonderful short cuts through the north and east metro as most are posted 55mph and they crisscross the communities of Ham Lake, Lino Lakes, Forest Lake, Columbus and White Bear Lake. There are many residential developments adjacent to these well-traveled roads.

Of course I notice several for sale signs along these roads as they have become a part of the landscape that doesn't change as quickly as it had in the past. Often a sign goes up and then 6 months or a year later the sign is switched out on the same house when they try a new real estate agent...again and again. In fact there is one home I have watched over the past 3 years switch out every six months to a new broker. I think they are on their sixth agent with no sale yet. I is not just the buyer's market causing this situation. This home and other properties like it located on well traveled roads are affected by "the busy road factor". It is a lethal combination with the buyers' market for a sale of residential home. A home seller is literally dead in the water before the house is listed if they do not account for the negative impact the road will have on their sale price.

"Location, Location Location" is the real estate mantra. If your home is located on a busy road, you cannot change it. But you can change the price. In order to sell, it is necessary to price your home significantly lower than all other homes on the market with similar features  to attract buyers.

This phenomena does not only affect properties on busy roads! There are other undesirable location situations that are very tough sells when the market is good but become next to impossible when there are many homes for the buyers to select from.  These unwanted locations include properties which are next to or near the following:

  • Cemeteries
  • Industrial Parks
  • Huge Power Lines/Transformers
  • Gas Pipelines
  • Landfills
  • Airports
  • Prisons
  • Flood plains
  • Train Tracks 
  • Shopping centers 
  • Gas Stations
  • Open Land either for sale or not that has undetermined development potential
  • Gun ranges 
  • Auto Salvage Yards and other disposal businesses
So how can you deal with the Busy Road Factor and get the house SOLD?
  1. Be Realistic. Don't ignore the elephant in the room. Set your price reflecting the undesirable location
  2. Best Foot Forward Make sure everything else regarding your home is a positive. All repairs done, stage the home and market its unique positive features. 
  3. Work with a Professional REALTOR® An experienced professional real estate agent can assist you in pricing your home correctly factoring in all adverse conditions.
  4. Be Ready to Negotiate. When buyers submit a purchase agreement for review, don't pass on a low offer. Counter and try to reach terms that are acceptable for both parties.
  5. Be Patient. In most cases, a property affected by the Busy Road Factor, will required twice the market time compared to the average home.

Copyright 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Home Selling Tips—What do Sponge Painting and SpongeBob Have in Common?

Home Selling Tips Sponge/Textured Painting

Both SpongeBob and sponge painting were hugely popular and trendy a decade ago but are now passé. I know some people will argue that SpongeBob is still your kid’s favorite television show, heck the show was renewed for 9th season in 2011. And, some people still love their sponge painted walls as much as the yellow cartoon character with the square pants. But if you want to sell your house in 2012, the sponge painting and faux texturing techniques that were very popular in the late 1990’s, must go!

My family does not have our Ham Lake home on the real estate market. However, after a decade of looking at rag rolled, sponged and textured walls, it was time to take down the dated wallpaper borders and paint our interior walls a neural, warm tone. We updated the kitchen and had new flooring put in a year ago and decided it was time to add a more trendy hip interior style to our home.  My husband and I are discussing a move in the next few years and we don’t want to have to update everything at one time. So in the same way teens across Minnesota kicked old SpongeBob SquarePants to the curb with like likes of Barney and the Power Rangers, sponge painting was out of the house.

I must admit when we began the project, I had a bit of trouble painting over all the sponging in my living room, laundry room, ½ bath and hallways. After all I had painstakingly selected the perfect two, sometimes three shades of paint to achieve the perfect look and match the wallpaper border. There was the neutral basecoat and then a light blue and tan for the laundry room. In the living room I used a special texture tool that looked like a dust mop to add a pale green texture to the taupe base. Every room was a thing of beauty when I finished it. Yet, that was well over a decade ago when my son started kindergarten. Since he is graduating and no longer wears cartoon characters on his t-shirts, it was time to have a different more up-to-date look to our house too.
One of a homebuyer’s biggest objections to this style of painting is the texture. Homebuyers will look at that bumpy surface and think that repainting will not be easy. Sure, it may take more than one coat of paint to cover over the myriad of shades that the multiple layers of sponge application provided, but it isn’t a huge project. However to a new homebuyer, getting rid of the sponge look will seem like a time consuming project.

I was very freeing to finally let go of the sponge-look….but I have a confession to make. The photo is from our master bath. It’s still stuck in the ninties but like I said we aren’t selling this year. But I guarantee that every trace of pink, gray and white will be long gone before the first potential buyer steps over the threshold!

Quick tips for selling your home

  1. Paint over dated texturing and remove wallpaper.
  2. Make any major/minor repairs.
  3. Clean EVERYTHING!
  4. Declutter and get rid of junk.
  5. Can’t afford new kitchen appliances? Provide a home warranty. 

Copyright 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Give Me the Key! Why Immediate Possession is a Good Thing in Real Estate

First Time Homebuyer Question What is Immediate Possession?

Today people want everything NOW! There are drive thru windows for quick meals. We communicate with instant messaging and texts. Americans are trained for immediate gratification in our daily lives. As a Minnesota REALTOR® I try my best to get people to slow down throughout the homebuying process. But when it comes to handing over the keys, I strongly recommend my clients ask for immediate possession.

Immediate possession after closings is good  for both the homebuyer and homeseller in a real estate transaction. In Minnesota, time of possession of the property is negotiated.  But it is in everyone’s best interest that the buyer be given the keys to the home at the time of closing along with full possession to access the property.

As a REALTOR® who works with first time homebuyers, move up homebuyers, downsizing homesellers and everyone in between, it has been part of my job to navigate the moving day obstacle course for clients on more than one occasion. From time to time there will be a chain of transactions that all will close on the same day…i.e. The first time homebuyer is purchasing from a homeseller who then goes to the next closing to become a homebuyer, After the second closing, the seller will become the buyer in a third closing…sometimes the chain can be longer too. This "chain of home sales" can have kinks in it when homesellers don’t understand possession they negotiated their move out time at the time the purchase agreement was written.

Minnesota purchase agreements allow the possession time to be negotiated. Whether working with a homebuyer I always recommend that we ask for immediate possession of the property at the time of the closing. When reviewing a purchase agreement with a homeseller, I always recommend giving over full possession to the new home buyer immediate after closing.

In this scenario a homebuyer will go to the final walk through, check out the home,  drive directly to the closing, sign the papers, get the keys and be able to move right in to their new home. The homeseller being completely moved out of the home prior to the walkthrough limits conflicts and/or potential property damage during the move out.

On occasion, a homeseller will request 24 hours or more after the closing to have all personal property removed from the home. An agreeable buyer might think this is being accommodating to the seller but it can cause problems for both parties. Here's why: the buyers now own the home and now the new homeowners' insurance policy in place. What if something of the seller's is stolen? What if the house is damaged by movers? What if the sellers don't get everything out in the specified time frame? How is the situation resolved when there is a loss and the transaction is complete? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and these situations can get ugly and end up in court.

Here are just a few examples of situations that I know have occured when full possession was not immediate.

  1. Pets left unattended in home. Sellers arrived to the closing and told the buyers they would need to stop to pick up the last load of laundry and their dog after the closing. They were going to use the electronic entry on the garage to get into the home. The buyers said okay as they had to do errands prior to moving in. When the buyers arrived to their new home later that afternoon, they had quite a nasty surprise. The seller’s dog had been left unattended in the second bedroom for several hours and had soiled the light colored carpet. The sellers did not clean it up and left as a welcome gift for the new home owners.
  2. Irresponsible Previous Owners Though immediate possession had been written into the purchase agreement, at the closing table the homebuyer graciously offer that the homesellers take their time getting their last few items out as they didn't plan to move in for a few days. When they arrived at their new home later in the week, the seller had left all of their garbage inside of the garage and the every door to the home unlocked. Luckily the home had not been damaged but as it was in late August and very warm, it took several days for nasty smell out of the home and the buyer was stuck paying for the trash removal.
  3. Squatters! Homebuyers for a large family home were agreeable to allowing an additional weekend for the homesellers remove the remaining personal items to their new home. But when the homebuyers came to get the keys because the sellers were obviously moved out, the sellers refused to relinquish the final set. It wasn’t that they needed more time to get their possessions; they just sat in the driveway of their old home drinking beer with the neighbors for several evenings until the agreed four day possession time ran out. During this time they flat out refused to let the homebuyers into their new home.
I could give additional examples but it becomes obvious that, immediate possession is designed to prevent problems. Sure in the first two instances, if a buyer had not agreed to arbitration, they could go to small claims court to get reimbursed for the damaged carpeting or trash removal fees. But those remedies take time and cause additional frustration. After weeks of waiting to move into a dream home, having a previous owner with lack of sense and compassion can make a homebuyer crazy. Immediate possession is the tool to prevent these situations. Concessions can be negotiated at closing if the final walkthrough doesn’t go as planned but once the paperwork is signed, if a problem arises, it will be up to the legal system to come up with a resolution.

So take as much time as necessary when reviewing the details of the homebuying transaction but insist on immediate possession at the closing. It protects buyers and sellers in the real estate transaction. In this part of the home buying process, demanding the keys for immediate gratification is a very good thing! 

Copyright 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Home Sweet Home on a Budget! Foreclosures on Acreage in Anoka County

Looking for an Anoka County foreclosure, bank-owned or short sale but need to be able to live in the home immediately after closing?

Good news is that foreclosures are not always destroyed homes requiring major rehab. Some of today's foreclosures can be MOVE IN READY! This economy has forced builders and responsible homeowners alike to let amazing properties go back to the bank. Many are still in pristine condition. Some still may require a bit of cleanup or a few cosmetic changes but there are many in move in condition too.

Here are a few of the treasures I noted on the Twin Cities MLS in Anoka County:

  • Andover 5BR/3BA on 2.5 Wooded Acres. New septic, appliances,& carpet. Sold for $380K in 2007, bank asking $249,900.
  • Starter home in Columbus on 9 Acres. Move in condition 3BR/1BA/2 Car. $169,900.
  • Ham Lake 4BR/3BA/2 Car 1994 Stone front Rambler on 4+ Acre Lot  New Appliances, carpet & septic. Bank offering at $207.5K.
  • 10 Acre Executive Estate in Ham Lake with 12 Stall Garage! 3BR/5BA w/Granite, New Stainless appliances, HWD, whirlpool mstr suite& sauna. Sold in 2008 for $1.1 Million, bank list $495K.
  • Linwood 6BR/4BA 2Story w/3 Stall Garage+Pole Barn on 3 Acres 4500+ Finished +Unfinished Basement. Four fireplaces, new carpeting offered by the bank for $339.9K.
  • 4BR/2BA on 43 Acres backing to Golf Course in Oak Grove with 1100+ finished sq ft and 2 stall garage bank list price $194,900!
If you are in the market for a great deal on a foreclosed home, time to get organized because the rules to buy are a bit different than when working with a traditional seller.

Seven Tips for homebuyers considering a foreclosed home:
  1. Banks LOVE clean offers. Buyers MUST be preapproved with credit checked and employment and funds verified. Documentation must accompany the offer or it won't be considered.
  2. Banks reject lowball negotiation. They are a business and know the value of the asset they are selling.
  3. Well priced foreclosed homes get multiple offers. Serious buyers put in their best bid first.
  4. Banks sell homes AS-IS. What you see is what you get. Repairs will not be made.
  5. Banks will not pay for inspections in most cases. This includes the septic system and/or well. Be prepared as all inspections could end up being the buyer's responsibility. If you chose to inspect the septic or the county requires a septic compliance test, expect to pay $400-$500 for this inspection. A well test will run around $150. A whole house inspection is $350-$500.
  6. Personal property is not included as part of the sale. So if the appliances are at the home when you close, they are a bonus. The bank will not remove. But they don't guarantee will remain at the home or that they are in working order. This means if someone breaks in the home prior to the closing and takes them, the bank will not replace.
  7. Having your own REALTOR® to represent your interests is essential. The listing agent is under contract to represent the bank. In many cases, the bank will not allow a dual agency so if a buyer contacts the listing agent to write the offer, the buyer does not have representation. This means all of your information goes to the bank...the listing agent is required to tell the bank everything that you say about your financing and the amount you are able or willing to pay. But the agent is not required to tell you anything in return. The agent works only for the bank.

Copyright 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

First Time Homebuyer’s Real Estate Word for Today is Short Sale

First Time Homebuyer Word of the Day Short Sale

As a Minnesota REALTOR®, I have received many calls in recent weeks from excited first time homebuyers and/or their parents as they assist their children looking for a first house. A lot has changed since dad and mom bought their first home a decade or so ago so are many questions.

A few days ago a call came from an excited first time homebuyer who has been scouring the internet for the perfect property at the ideal price. He calls and wants to set up some showings for the homes he has found. With a quick email, he forwards a list of a half dozen MLS listings and I bring up an array of his dream homes. With five of the six properties, there is an agent note that indicates the home is in short sale. When I pass on the information, I hear a puzzled silence and pause.

What exactly is a Short Sale?
Even after the abundant media coverage of the mortgage crisis over the past few years, many people still do not understand exactly what a short sale is....And more importantly, how it affects the home buying process. In a nutshell, a short sale is when the seller owes more on the home than it can be sold for in today’s market. In order to sell the home and avoid a possible foreclosure, the homeowner must ask the bank to take a loss on the sale by approving the purchase at the lower value. It is also know as a pre-foreclosure home and can be a way for a homeowner to avoid being foreclosed upon if they can no longer pay their mortgage.

Why should a homebuyer care if a home is in short sale? When a homebuyer writes and offer on a short sale home, the offer is submitted with earnest money to the property owner selling the home just as in any other real estate transaction. The sales price and terms are negotiated and agreed upon by the homeseller who then signs the purchase agreement. But the agreement is contingent upon the bank who holds their home mortgage agreeing to accept less money than is owed on the market to clear the title for sale. Some larger banks have hundreds, if not thousands, of these files waiting for short sale approval. It is normal to wait 12-16 weeks for an answer from the bank.  Adding to the problem, many sellers will have more than one mortgage on their home and therefore more than one bank will be involved in the approval process. In some cases, the purchase price might cover enough for the first bank to receive most of its money back so it will be willing to approve the sale. But the second bank, who is in a subordinate position, will get nothing and not approve the deal. It can be frustrating for a home buyer to wait for a closing to be scheduled when there is no guarantee as to  when the bank (or banks) will respond.

How does a short sale compare to a foreclosure? In a foreclosure, the bank has taken back the home from the owner. The seller is now the bank and homebuyers along with their agents, deal directly with the bank when an offer is written. A bank representative did not reside at the home so cannot fill out a disclosure with information about the condition of the home. While negotiations are easier and much faster, buyers must accept the risk and purchase the home in as-is condition. While it is always recommended to have a home inspected, it becomes extremely important to be diligent and inspect everything thoroughly when buying a bank owned property.

Copyright 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Home Selling 101--Did the Color Look Better on the Paint Chip?

About a decade ago now, some close friends built a new home in an Oakdale development. Our own home was just on the other side of Silver Lake in North St. Paul so we drove through the development several times during the construction. We monitored the new community as the first dozen or so homes were constructed in the new neighborhood. This development didn’t have extremely restrictive covenants regarding the exterior of the home. The resulting neighborhood was very eclectic with assorted styles of homes. The sidings were of differing colors and materials so each home was truly unique. One night we passed by a home that really was starting to take shape and we noticed the very bright PURPLE front door! The siding on the house itself was a totally different color palette as it was slate blue, but the door was a striking shade of purple. The PURPLE door had to be a mistake!

As it turned out, we discovered we had a friend in common with the homeowner of the house with the purple door. So I asked if that was the color they wanted or was it a mistake. Turns out, it was no mistake, the owners LOVE purple! Okay we live in Minnesota--Home to Prince and the  Purple and Gold the people like purple. But from that day on, whenever we drove by the house, we remarked, “It must have looked better on the paint chip”.

And over the years, this saying has become code between my husband and I when we see someone with a love for flamboyant or unusual colors in their decorating.

As a REALTOR® I have to view many homes. Every once in awhile I come across a “better on the paint chip” room, door or house. When marketing your home, it is essential to make certain your own personality does not prevent the buyer from seeing the details of your home. If a bright orange kitchen counter, hot pink bathroom or lime green playroom is the way you have made your home your own, I do think that is an awesome way to personalize your space. But, you are going to be moving and if your favorite colors choices are too wild, it could hamper your sale. Bold colors in internet photos could knock your home out of the running with many potential buyers. And in this slowly recovering real estate market, you don’t want to lose any potential buyers over something as inexpensive to update as paint.

Stage your home with neutrals to bring out the details and style of your home. You want the buyers to feel your home is welcoming and warm. That can be difficult as people are quickly often turned off a home by colors they view as a mistake.

Copyright 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Real Estate Market is Changing—HOMES SOLD in DAYS in Minneapolis/St. Paul!

Homes sold in Days in Mpls/St Paul

All this past week, KSTP, one of our local television stations promoted a feature on how to get your home sold quickly. They looked at homes that sold in “days” across the Minneapolis/St Paul area and the segment promised to give sellers “tips” on get to get their home sold quickly. As a REALTOR®, I knew I wanted to see this feature.

The segment ran Sunday evening but was a bit disappointing. There was some good information and tips, yes, but they only looked at THREE houses. Not enough of a sample to show a ground-breaking trend. Each of the three agents of the sold homes offered a few reasons as to why the homes didn’t languish on the market as many others have, but there were no specific trends…all the reasons given were different.

It seem to me that the basic reason all the homes that sold quickly, is they were starter homes in lower price points for the neighborhoods they were located in. Each home was properly prepared for sale and made available for showings. The homes were all offered by traditional sellers; not foreclosures or short sales requiring mediation from a bank. The homeowners painted, repaired, inspected and staged their homes. At the end of the piece, the anchor did acknowledge that the sellers PRICED their home properly. Bottom line, that is the essential KEY to seeing a SOLD sign hung quickly!.

So what if, anything, did potential Twin Cities home sellers learn from this hyped-up, “homes-are-selling-in-just-days” feature? Not enough in my book, but the reporter made a good effort in this 2+ minute feature. And I have to give kudos to them for starting the conversation. HOMES are SELLING in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and can sell in days!

As a REALTOR® who had helped several traditional sellers in the north and east Twin Cities metro find homebuyers in a matter of days recently, I wanted to offer a few more ideas and tips:

  • PRICE the Home Properly—An overpriced home will not sell, plain and simple.
  • REPAIR Everything!—Buyers inflate the cost of repairs by thousands if they are left to make them.
  • PAINT—Neutral colors are always preferred.
  • DECLUTTER—People cannot see the home if there is too much junk.
  • CLEAN Carpets—Replace if necessary.
  • MARKET the Home—Find a REALTOR® that has a plan to sell your home not just list on the MLS!
These are just a few quick ideas but I do have more specifics on how to get a home sold in the Minneapolis/St Paul north and east metro area as quickly as possible. For the details, feel free to call me to learn more.

Copyright 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Fun--Septic Humor or When a Good Flush Beats a Full House!

Septic System Pumping Requirements on MN Acreage

When I first heard the infamous Erma Bombeck quip, "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank", I had no idea what she was talking about. Now, after a decade of living on an acreage property with a septic or private sewage system, I not only get the joke, I know it is true.

Septic cleaning is a dirty business and somebody’s gotta do it. Septic tanks must be pumped out at a minimum of every three years in the city of Ham Lake. This periodic requirement for individual septic systems specifies not only pumping but a visual inspection too. In fact, having your septic tank pumped and inspected is a requirement of most Twin Cities north and eastern metro communities. State and county codes do not control the point of sale or inspection of on-site or individual sewage disposal systems (ISDS or septic systems) leaving it up to each Minnesota city and community to adopted their own standards and rules for inspection.

Our personal choice has been to use Olson’s Sewer Service of Forest Lake to pump out and inspect our septic system since we moved to our Ham Lake acreage. Their slogan, “keeping your sewer in the pink” and hot pink trucks are seen all over Forest Lake, Columbus, Wyoming and Ham Lake. When their pink reminder postcard arrives in the mailbox every three years, I call and schedule our septic pumping and inspection right away.

Olson’s colorful slogan is catchy yet tame compared to septic professionals really. Some septic service companies have adopted some unusually humorous, and rather gross, sayings to remind you of what they deal with on a daily basis. Here is a list of some favorites that have been seen on sewage and plumbing trucks all over the US:

· Yesterday's Meals on Wheels
· We're #1 in the #2 business.
· You Dump It, We Pump It
· After the first whiff, call Cliff.
· A good flush beats a full house
· We do Pump 'N Right
· We'll take crap from anybody.
· Satisfaction guaranteed or your merchandise cheerfully returned.
· Your poop is our bread and butter!
· Your brown is our green.

If you have a septic system on located on your property, check with city hall for specific pumping and inspection guidelines as they are not all the same. While Ham Lake requires an inspection once every three years, it is once every two years in Lino Lakes. Most cities require that the tank, drain field and baffles of the system be inspected at the time the system is pumped. As part of their service, most septic contractors will submit a completed permit to the local city hall to document the inspection.

Keep in mind, in many cases this is not an optional maintenance process and  inspection. If you choose not to clean and inspect your private sewer system, most cities will hire a contractor for you and assess the charges on your property taxes.

Copyright 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

14 Essential Considerations When Moving to Minnesota Acreage

Moving to Minnesota Acreage

Remember the story of the country mouse and his city cousin that switched places? Rural life was so slow and different that the city mouse couldn’t stand it. And likewise the country mouse was so out of place in the city that he scurried home as fast as his little mouse feet could carry him.

Moving to Minnesota acreage doesn’t have to make you feel like a fish-out-of-water, or a mouse in the wrong part of town for that matter! Planning before you make the move can ease the transition from life in the city so your family will love your new life on Minnesota acreage!

As a REALTOR® who works throughout the north and east Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, I show homes to other families looking for the same escape from the city my own family made several years ago. We first felt like that crazed city mouse and wanted to sell our new Anoka County home and move back to North St. Paul where we had lived for years. But we soon found out, you cannot go back….the yards looked too small. Acreage has its appeal.

Since that first fateful year, we embraced our life on our small acreage in Ham Lake. In fact, over the past decade, as a REALTOR® , I have assisted several old friends and neighbors make similar moves to Anoka and Chisago County hobby farms and acreage homes. In each of these transactions, I notice that the same questions continue to come up whether considering a hobby farm in Forest Lake, an acreage lakeshore home in Linwood, a horse property in Columbus or an executive estate in Ham Lake. Though the properties that are being considered are only 15-20 miles from the bustling city life of downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America, there are significant differences in the way of life out in the country.

Here are 14 important questions and considerations homebuyers should ask before they move from the city to acreage in Anoka and Chisago Counties.

**What is a Septic or Private Sewer system?
Most rural homes have a private septic system. 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? Since not all communities require point-of-sale inspection, have your REALTOR® require the seller to supply certification of compliance from a certified septic inspector in your purchase agreement. This certification should be no more than three years old. Also, if you have never lived on a home with a septic system, it is important to educate yourself on how to best maintain and protect your private sewer system. 

**Is there a city water utility or a private well?  Will I need a water softener or other water treatment system?
Families new to the concept of well water have many questions regarding its safety. Most buyers will request the water be tested for bacteria and nitrates in the purchase agreement. This is usually paid for by the seller. If you want the well test for your property to include tests for other contaminants, like lead, it must be specified in the purchase agreement. Annual water testing is recommended for all home owners with wells.

One question often asked by home buyers considering a property with a private well is about water treatment options available. Many homes with private wells have water softeners to treat the water in the home. Some will go one step further and have a reverse osmosis water treatment system in the kitchens as a drinking water supply.

**Is there a natural gas supply to the home or will a propane tank be located on the property?    
Often people looking at acreage will have questions about the huge propane fuel tank located near the home. People from the city usually only see these tanks outside of the gas stations where they pick up the small refills for their gas grills. In the country, the large propane tanks are in many backyards as the source of fuel to heat the home and run appliances. As a fuel source the differences are not noticeable. Propane is the least expensive cleanest fuel if a home does not have access to natural gas. 
**Does the home have access to cable or high speed internet or will a satellite connection be required?  Which cable services are available to the home? What are the alternatives if DSL is not available through the phone or cable lines? Do I have to have cable or a dish to get television reception? Will I have cell phone reception?
A decade ago, these were not questions that people worried about in the rural communities. Today our interconnected world brings these questions to the forefront but no worries; there are tons of alternatives today to keep you connected. From hot spots to internet cards there are options to keep your family connected even out in the woods. However, there are many homes in Lino Lakes, Ham Lake, Forest Lake and East Bethel that do not have cable lines or high speed internet available through the phone lines. And there are cell phone dead zones no matter how numerous or close those towers seem to be. We have one less than a mile from our house and still have to have a Sprint Airave to get continuous cell phone reception. So if your family lives on the internet and could not live without a high-speed connection, it is essential ask questions to figure out how to get the best access and reception.

**If the road is gravel or unpaved, how often is it maintained by the city/county?
Our road was not paved when we first moved to Ham Lake. We were nearly a mile down a soft, gravel/sand road. When we moved it was late fall and were very surprised when the spring rains and snow melt left the road extremely poor condition. It was treacherous at times. The re-grading was done by the city on a periodic schedule so we had to negotiate the pot-holed road for days. Our road is now paved but the memories still remain.

If you are considering acreage, remember many rural roads are not paved. If the acreage property you are considering is on a gravel or dirt road, try to visit the property on several occasions and under differing conditions. It might be a good idea to talk to the city and county to understand how the road is maintained. Also be sure to ask if there are any plans to pave the road in the future and what would be assessed per property owner for the project.

**Is there wildlife?
Well maybe not lions and tigers, but we have had bears and cougars seen near our home in Anoka County. We also have pheasant, hawks, bald eagles, raccoons, foxes, several varieties of squirrels and deer. A flock of wild turkeys have made their home in our neighborhood and continue to nest year after year. And an owl and a hawk have nested in trees in on our property. I rarely saw blue jays, cardinals or hummingbirds in the city, but in our Anoka County acreage home, we see them on a daily basis. While exciting, the downside is sometimes the wildlife comes in. I don't know anyone on Ham Lake acreage that hasn’t had an occasional field mouse enter their home.

**Can I have horses?
If your move to acreage is for having horses or other farm animals in your backyard, keep in mind that most communities have restrictions on how many, if any, animals are allowed. Whether you can have horses, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, sheep or goats will be determined by the local city regulations. Even the amount of domesticated dogs and cats can be restricted on acreage property, just as it was in most urban communities. So if you plan to run a dog kennel, breed cats or train horses, for business or pleasure, make sure it is allowed in your new rural community prior to writing an offer.

**Is hunting allowed?
In some rural areas hunting is still allowed depending on the amount of acreage, the development restrictions and city and county rules. It was a rude awakening for us to discover our neighbors were allowed to hunt….and it seemed right outside our door too! Imagine our shock that first deer opener when the hunters came out in blaze orange to hunt in the woods next to our home. The property owner, at our request, posted the land and the hunters left. The land has since been developed but it is something everyone moving should understand before buying any acreage home. Check with the city and county for all ordinances regarding firearms.

**Where are the schools?
The public school districts in rural communities can be vast. In the Forest Lake School District 831, students come from communities as far west as Ham Lake, as far south as Lino Lakes, as far east as Scandia and as far north as Stacy! It you drive from the western border to the eastern border of the district, it takes almost 45 minutes, one way! There is only one high school in the district, so your children's best friend from school could literally live almost an hour from your home. But the opportunities to get to know kids from all areas can outweigh any negatives. The bottom line here is, it pays to research the school district prior to any housing decisions.

Also school alternatives can be limited. Communities in the city have dozens of private and charter school options. These options are much lower in rural areas due to the smaller population. 

**Can we have a bonfire and burn all this debris?
There are strict state and local restrictions regarding burning of construction debris and yard waste. There are restrictions on the size of the fire and what can be burned. Many construction materials cannot be burned because they release chemicals into the air that pose an environmental hazard. There are times of the year where burning is only allowed by permit and sometimes not at all. Before burning it is best to check the local restrictions as well as the DNR. 

**Where do we shop? How far to the nearest corner store, gas station, shopping center and mall?
Depending on how often you like to shop, this may or may not be a big concern. But it is always nice to know how far you will have to go for a gallon of milk for breakfast, a propane refill for the BBQ or gas for the lawn tractor.

**How long does it take to cut the grass?
If your yard is over an acre with few trees, you might consider a lawn tractor. Many people on acreage only cut certain areas leaving the rest to grow to a natural prairie. Another consideration would be whether or not to install an irrigation system for the sod near the home.

**Wow! There are a lot of trees! Do I have to worry about oak wilt and emerald Ash Borers?
Oak wilt is a big concern in Anoka and Chisago counties. Many of the communities have information and programs to help protect and save the oak trees from this disease. And  Recently people have been extremely concerned with the emerald ash borer that has been found in Ramsey County communities including St. Paul and Shoreview. These insects bored into ash trees and tunnel under the bark eventually killing the tree. There are programs to control the spread of the insects.

**What about emergencies? How far to the nearest hospital? Where is the nearest fire station? Who provides police protection?
No one wants to think about these things when moving but accidents and illnesses do happen. It was a long hour drive to Children's Hospital in St. Paul when my young son fell and needed stitches. If the nearest fire station is staffed with volunteers and over five miles away, it will seem like a lifetime during those 5-10 minutes while you wait for the fire truck to show up to YOUR home. And big fires in dry areas will need the water trucked in due to limited water hydrants, if any, like in the city. Many rural communities do not have police officers but are patrolled by the county sheriff's department. Understand your options before an emergency occurs because it will likely take a bit longer if you are in a rural area.

With a little planning your move to a home on acreage can be a great one!
Copyright 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Home Seller Tips--Why Would a Seller Pay a Home Buyer’s Closing Costs?

Best Tips on Selling an Anoka County Home-Why Pay Buyer Closing Costs

A seller's estimate of proceeds or net sheet is an essential part of the listing contract.  It lists the  estimated closing costs associated with the sale of the home. One of the items on the list sheet is a blank for the “Seller's contribution to a Buyer’s Closing Costs.” In this current market, I always include several thousand dollars as an estimate to prepare my clients that this could come up at negotiations. So many FHA buyers, and even some conventional ones, will require assistance with their closing costs. 

But every now and again, I hear will hear a seller loudly scoff at paying a buyer's closing costs. The conversation usually goes something to the effect of, “I don’t want to pay my own closing costs. Why would I want to contribute to the BUYERS?”
This is an excellent question and the answer is very simple:
You contribute to a buyer's closing costs so they can BUY your house!
Today most buyers are required to put down a minimum of 3.5% of the purchase price of the home as a down payment. In the case of a conventional loan, this can be 20%. The closing costs for a buyer include title insurance, home owner’s insurance, appraisals, loan origination fees, name search fees, filing fees and more. As a REALTOR
® working throughout  communities in Anoka County and the north metro Minneapolis/St Paul area, I see these closing costs will run anywhere from $4000-$8000 for a first time buyer. Add this amount with a required down payment and few buyers will have sufficient funds to purchase a home.

Understanding Closing Cost Assistance Buyers have the option of waiting and saving additional money to cover the down payment and closing costs or asking for seller assistance. In many cases a financial institution will allow a seller to assist a buyer by paying either points to reduce the interest rates and/or closing costs.

How does this work? Let’s say that a home is on the market for $200,000. The buyer writes their offer for $195,000 and their financial institution allows up to 3% seller’s assistance with fees and closing costs. They decide to ask the seller in their purchase agreement document for $5000, thus the net offer to the seller for the home is $190,000. 
If a seller does not want to pay the closing costs, the buyer in many cases will not be able to purchase the home. 
If the offer is accepted, the seller’s proceeds at closing would then be reduced by the $5000. Sellers do not have to come up with the funds in cash if there is sufficient equity in the home to cover both the buyer's and the seller's costs.

When an offer comes in on a home, it is sometimes confusing to sellers what the sale price versus net number is. In the case above, the $195,000 would be the sale’s price on the purchase agreement but by paying the $5000 in closing costs, the seller’s net number is really $190,000 less the seller's own closing costs including all fees and commission. And the home must appraise for the sales price of the home, in this example it would have to appraise for  $195,000.

If as a seller you decide to counter on the original offer, you can counter on the sales price of the home or the amount of closing costs paid. When counter offers are involved, a seller needs to make certain that they understand what the net proceeds will be in each offer and counter offer.

This is where the assistance of a professional REALTOR
® comes into play. As a real estate agent, I provide my clients with a seller's net sheet that outlines all costs and fees that has been updated after receiving each offer and counter offer. When counter offers start going back and forth, I reiterate at each step what my seller's net number will be  to help eliminate the confusion.

Assisting a buyer with closing costs can be the ticket to getting your home SOLD in this challenging real estate market. With so many short sales and foreclosures, often it is the more traditional seller who has the ability to negotiate with a buyer and assist in their financing a deal. As long as a seller is happy with the NET number received, it doesn't matter whether some of the proceeds went to pay closing costs or not. Understanding the process is simple with the assistance of a knowledgeable real estate agent!

Copyright 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Selling a GEM in a pack of Diamonds in the Rough—PRICE isn’t the ONLY way to Sell an Anoka County Home!

Selling an Anoka County Home

You have a beautiful Anoka County home you need to sell. It is not a short sale but you know you will be competing with them, as lender mediated and bank owned properties are scattered from Blaine to East Bethel and back again. Selling an Anoka County Home shouldn't be difficult but it can seem like very real estate website you visit, the agent is a short sale expert. But you want a REALTOR® that can market your home to stand out from the pack because YOUR home is not a diamond in the rough…It is a shimmering gem that should attract buyers who are buying the dream, not the price.

Such is the dilemma of the traditional seller in today’s market; How do you find a REALTOR® to make your home stand out from the pack?

That’s my job.

See when my colleagues were learning about selling homes short and negotiating with banks, I took the classes too. But also realized the regular guy, who didn’t have a hardship that will qualify him to sell at a discounted rate or didn’t need to jeopardize his stellar credit score, might NEED to move. Relocation; Marriage; New Baby; Retirement and other life changing events bring traditional sellers into the real estate market. These sellers need to move but in order for the home to sell it needs MARKETING.

When I was in college studying for my business administration degree in marketing, the 4 P’s of the marketing mix were drilled into my head: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. These aspects work together as a part of a successful marketing plan. However many short sale and foreclosure focused agents have started to care only about PRICE. Their PRODUCT is distressed and frankly, PLACE is location so there is little that can be changed about that for any part of the real estate sale. So in order for the traditional seller’s home listing to stand out and get sold, you must find an agent who can focus on PROMOTION.
That’s where I come in…I have been in sales and marketing for nearly 30 years and successfully selling homes for over a decade. In this changed real estate market, I continue to get homes sold for traditional sellers and help them move on to their next stage in life. Sure we still need to PRICE the home correctly, but I do not ignore the marketing dimension.

And you don’t have to just take my word for it, take the word of my sellers. Here is just a sample of the thank you notes and testimonials I have received from happy clients.
“After a period of internet research, I was impressed by the type of feedback you were giving everyone on selling their home.

You were straightforward, honest, down to earth and extremely hard-working. The fact that you were able to sell our townhome in the worst market in decades speaks volumes about the way it was marketed.
Teri, we couldn’t have chosen a better person to work with us. We were very pleased with the attention and effort you put into selling our townhome. Thank you. Thank you. Thank You!” Brian and Dawn O. of Chaska, MN
“Thanks again for your excellent work to sell our lake home despite the difficult economic situation!” Maggy and Robert Z. of Tarpon Springs, FL

“Teri—We really appreciate all you have done to make our dream a reality! We will give all of your friends & family our highest recommendation to use you in the future!” Sherry and Adam M. of Oak Grove, MN

"Teri had previously sold one of our homes and was our first choice when we were looking to find a new home.Teri was able to help us navigate the current unstable real estate market and went out of her way to help us.” Cheri and Denny L. of Apple Valley MN
If you need to sell your home in this changed real estate market, consider working with a REALTOR® that understands all aspects of the marketing plan. I will work hard to get your home SOLD so you can move on to your next step in life.

Copyright 2012