Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Don't Wait Until Spring! Minnesota Homes Sell in the Fall and Winter too!

Think it is too late to sell your home because snowflakes are in the forecast? Think Again!

As a REALTOR® who lists and sells homes in the north and east Minneapolis/St Paul area, I come across this every fall. Potential home sellers complain that it is too late in the year to sell their Minnesota home. "It’s almost November and soon the snow will fly. No one will be buying a home now. We will have to wait until spring to get the best price for our home now.”

Most are surprised when I tell them they are wrong. “If you can list your home now, you REALLY should.”  

Why? Well the reasons are very simple:
  1. Low Inventory
  2. Continued Demand

The Minneapolis/St Paul metro area has become a year round market. Sure, more people do move in spring and summer but traditional sellers have an opportunity to shine if they list their homes in the fall and winter, when there are mostly distressed homes on the market. Interest rates are still low and projected to go higher in 2014.   This has home buyers off the proverbial fence and into the real estate market. Home buyers look for well maintained and well priced homes and jump on them quickly when they hit the market. This is an opportunity few Minnesota home sellers will take advantage of because they think people do not want to move in the winter slush and snow. And some people don’t want the inconvenience of showings during the holidays. 

But in my experience, the buyers looking in the fall and winter months are very serious about buying a home. Home buyers are tired of viewing bank-owned properties that need work and have no disclosures. They are frustrated with short sale homes that they will have to wait months for possession. Most buyers prefer to buy from a traditional seller….and buyers do worry that prices and interest rates will continue to edge up come spring. So home buyers are looking in late October and will be looking in November, December and January too. 

However, well prepared home sellers might not have to wait until January for an offer. I have seen well maintained, staged and priced homes receive offers within days of hitting the market in the fall and winter. Remember though pricing and preparation are always key to getting the quick offers at any time of year. 

Quick Staging Tips for Selling Your Home this Fall:

  1. Rake leaves (or shovel snow) and clean gutters—Unfortunately, outdoor tasks will  need to be done every day you have a showing. Buyers cannot assess the condition of the lawn, sidewalk and roof if it is covered with leaves and even a dusting of snow can make sidewalks slick and dangerous.
  2. Heat up cinnamon sticks—Put a few cinnamon sticks in a pan on the stove or in a microwave dish with water just before a showing so it smells like an autumn festival!
  3. Turn on the gas fireplace—If you've got it, flaunt it! A crackling fire adds ambiance and makes a house feel like home!
  4. Pumpkins and mums—Accent the entry with a pumpkin, colorful mum or other fall décor to give seasonal curb appeal. 

Copyright 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Buying a Home in October in the Halloween Capital of the World!

It is almost time for one of my favorite holidays, Halloween, and it is not just because I live in Anoka County, Minnesota either.  Anoka, Minnesota is the  "Halloween Capital of the World" which puts tricks and treats on the minds of many young people (and those young at heart) in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes". 

Minnesotans are often referred to as "Minnesota Nice" and when a home closing is closed to a holiday it does put the buyers and sellers in festive moods. Halloween is no exception. As an Anoka County REALTOR®, I have witnessed many a late October closing with "interesting" and topical questions asked by the new buyer of the home seller to a new home buyer. 

In Minnesota it is traditional for all parties to sit down in the same room for the closing transaction. After all the signing is done, the title company representatives  leave the room to make copies of the documents and to prepare the checks from the final settlement. During this time,  home sellers take a few minutes to share some idiosyncrasies of the home and pass over the keys, Often these are expected concerns like how to change the code for the electronic garage door opener, has the sprinkling system been blown out for the season or where the water shut off is located.

In late October the questions are often a bit more "festive". New homeowners buying into  neighborhoods big and small often want to know how many kids are in the neighborhood  which quickly translates to how many bags of candy will be needed.

A few years ago I attended a closing for a home in Anoka, County. The seller lived on a dead end street with only a handful of neighbors as is quite normal in this area filled with acreage homes. The seller made share the wants of young neighbor girl who had recently lost a front tooth (or two). She had stopped over with a request for "Reethe's Pee-thes" as her preferred Halloween Candy. 
Have a festive, fun and safe HALLOWEEN!

Copyright 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Real Estate Word of the Day: Assessed Value

First Time Homebuyer Real Estate Word is Assessed Value

So many real estate terms can be confusing to home buyers and sellers alike whether it is an acronym like FSBO or an often used word like equity or foreclosure. As a REALTOR® I am not surprised when that look of confusion comes over a buyer’s eyes when I mentioned escrow or earnest money. These terms sound so much alike when being bombarded with new terminology like, mortgage, deed, easement, appraisal, and association dues, etc. It is understandable that homebuyers that are more interested in room sizes and kitchen counters to be confused with the everyday real estate jargon like down payment or cash to close. This confusion is very understandable because for most people, buying a home is a once in a lifetime experience.

This REALTOR® jargon is so prevalent, I thought a First Time Homebuyer glossary of real estate terms might be helpful. From time to time I have been adding to this list of terms used often by REALTORS® in a series of posts. This way you can skip buying that big “how to buy a house” book or attending that First Time Homebuyer Class and have a quick resource at your fingertips. I am continuing the series with Today’s Real Estate Term:

Assessed Value (or Tax Value) Every home has a value assigned to it by the county assessor which is the assessed value. This value is updated on regular basis (usually once a year) and it is used for determining your property tax. This value should not be confused with an appraised value (value determined by an appraiser) or market value (value determined when listed on the market), since it is often a year or two out of date. Usually the assessor will determine a separate value for the land and the structures. This value does not add for landscaping which would be included in a values determined by appraisers and homebuyers.

Copyright 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Buying a First Home? Define YOUR Dream!

Minnesotans are fortunate to live in an area where housing is affordable. Couple that with the low interest rates and first time buyers who live in the Minneapolis/St Paul metro have opportunities to buy that aren't available in other parts of the US.

However affordable, buying a first home can be quite intimidating. Understanding the difference between a lender mediated short sale,  a bank-owned foreclosure and traditional sale is essential. The Twin Cities market still has some distressed homes in the market but there are abundantly more traditional and new construction sellers too.  From Forest Lake to Blaine to Hugo and White Bear Lake, there are homes in all shapes, sizes, price ranges and conditions. 

Savvy home buyers will educate themselves using the wealth of information that is available online, but there will come a time to view the home in person too and many first time home buyers get stuck on what is the first step to buying a home. But I can help...and surprisingly, it is commission FREE!

I love assisting first time home buyers!

The thought of owning a first home is exciting and that excitement bubbles right out of these home buyers. Most will have a picture in their heads of what their dream home should look like.  Part of my job is to help draw out that picture and locate a home that will fit their dream. But each dream is different.

  • Is it a little bungalow with the white picket fence?
  • A new trendy condo in the heart of downtown St. Paul?
  • Or maybe a vintage, fixer-upper to renovate and build equity?

As a REALTOR® working for home buyers, I work with you to define YOUR dream. But my service while invaluable is FREE!  It doesn't cost buyers one cent in commission to have representation but and is received is priceless!

As the real estate market in the metro becomes more balanced, there still are options in almost every price range for a homebuyer to consider. So how does a buyer narrow down the choices? 

Working with a professional real estate agent can help. The first step is always to get pre-approved for a mortgage to define an affordable price range and mortgage program. As a REALTOR®, I work with loan officers and can direct you to someone who is experienced and professional. Once we understand the financial parameters, my job really begins. I work hard to understand my client's needs and lifestyle so we can find the perfect home.

One of my favorite ways to assist buyers is to ask questions that help define their dream...What is most important their home? I take this beyond the number of bedrooms and baths or how many garage spaces. I want to know how do they really plan to live. By taking the time to talk with my buyers about their lives and what is important to them, I better understand their needs and wants in a property.  By taking a short, lifestyle inventory, I focus in on what makes up an ideal house. 

Once home buyers have outlined their needs and wants, putting a priority on the NEEDS of course, the list of potential properties can be narrowed down to good potential options. By understanding what my buyers' picture perfect home is, I help them stay focused and avoid wasting time with homes that don't fit the dream. It most cases it's not long before one house will stand out as the "perfect" home to make an offer on.

Copyright 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tips for Buying a Foreclosure on Minnesota Acreage

Even as prices rose in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro this spring and summer, there were still deals to be had on Minnesota Acreage. There are dozens acreage homes that currently listed  throughout the north and eastern suburbs of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Not all are foreclosures or short sales either. But if you do decided to attempt to purchase a distressed property, you need to be aware it has vast differences than buying from a more traditional seller. For instance, when buying a bank-owned property most 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.) Be aware however that often times a bank will say the testing is the responsibility of the buyer. This testing can cost several hundred dollars. But replacing a failing septic will cost thousands!

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, even if it is a bank, 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 propaneMinnesota State Fire Marshal as well as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
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 or an fuel oil tank in the basement. 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

**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.

Not every question about buying an acreage property is unique to bank-owned homes. CLICK HERE for more answers to common questions buyers have when purchasing a home on Minnesota acreage. Also, keep in mind to consider all options. Many buyers have found after weighing all the pros and cons that the best deal on a home with acreage may not be a foreclosure or short sale!

Copyright 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Playing Words with Friends and Selling Real Estate with Ethics

I have always loved to play Scrabble; so much so that my family will groan at the mere mention of this game as a potential pastime.When I received a Kindle last Christmas, I quickly installed and became hooked on Words with Friends and my family rejoiced!

I have a few people I play games with every evening. Some of the other players are really my friends and some are random opponents who are apparently as hooked as I am. (FYI—I refuse to put this or any other game on my phone or I would never get anything done.)

The other day my college student son saw me playing and said, “You know people cheat at that game, right?”

I said that yes, I did know. I know there are apps that will give the best words and online resources to find words ending with x or z. I could play that way too, but I don’t. There’s more sport in a game if you don’t cheat, plain and simple.   

Because it comes down to one word, ethics. But I am not naive; I do realize not everyone has the same ethics as I do...whether playing online or working in the real world.

When I do a market analysis, I play fair. A past selling client recently referred me to a friend of theirs by saying I was a “straight shooter”. I kind of liked that label. 

Even though these particular clients didn’t like all of the things I told them in regard to getting their Forest Lake home sold, I laid it all on the table, the good and the bad. And with work on both of our parts, their house did sell. It was sold within their time frame, budget and they now happily relocated out west.

With their strong recommendation, I was called in along with several very good agents that work the north metro to do a market to do a market analysis for another property. As always, I was honest with my market analysis and recommendations. A week later, I got the call. These sellers went with another agent. I was not surprised or upset by this…it happens when we are all good agents. So, I asked how the final decision was made and who they went with.

The wife’s answer floored me. They chose an agent from out of the area but who said she worked in the north metro. This agent also told them she “sells most of her listings in a day or two via word of mouth”.

Though were selling very quickly this spring certain metro communities, was an anomaly in the Forest Lake area when there are several new construction developments within a few miles selling brand new houses in the same price point. Most homes in this particular development stay on the market 3-4 months at the very least before receiving an offer. This was true even as the market activity increased because the builders in the area had really ramped up their construction efforts.

Telling a seller what they want to hear, whether it is price, timing or any other over promise is not the way I do business. My ethics just don’t allow me to puff up my abilities in that regard to get a listing.

When I was interviewed, I did say I had sold a couple of homes in a matter of days this past spring, but I also said the circumstances were very different. I could not guarantee the same results for their home. If I had over-promised or lead a seller to believe that I could work miracles when it came to their home sale, I would have to deal with their eventual disappointment. An upset client is never a positive in a service business. So I was up front and honest but lost the listing. I was not upset by this…it is the only way to “play the game” in my book. It is not about winning a listing. When it comes to my sellers expectations, I don’t play around.

So if you call me to do a market analysis of your home or list your house, rest assured, I will shoot straight. You might not like everything you hear, but I will be honest. Using this information, we can devise a plan together that will get your home sold. Like I said, it is all about ethics (and a lot of hard work too!)


Copyright 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5 Features of Vintage Homes that Buyers Love!

Age of a home is often a big deal for buyers. Yet not all home buyers want a “brand new” house. In fact, many home buyers seek out vintage homes for features that are too expensive to install in new construction today. Any home built in pre-1960 could possibly fit the bill...even smaller "affordable" homes will have unique details that give the home character.

Top 5 Features of Vintage Homes

Hardwood Floors—Of course new homes can have hardwood floors too but vintage hardwood is usually a smaller board with a very distinctive look to it. It really has character that you cannot find in the recently installed wood floors of today.

Coved ceilings and Plaster Walls —Beautifully rounded corners of a coved ceiling were used in the formal rooms to show elegance. Often these corners were paired with decoratively, swirled ceilings. Similarly, most walls in homes built in the 1960’s and earlier were plaster. This type of wall has a texture and is much more attractive than plain sheetrock.  This type of hand craftsmanship is has become too expensive to build into homes.  

Leaded Windows—Many of these windows will have colorful stainglass type inserts which give a home style inside and out.

Built-ins—Buffets, pillars, cabinets and other architectural details were common in many older homes. Often ornate and expertly crafted a built in cabinet can add to the appeal of a vintage home, especially if well maintained.

Crafted Wood Doors and Mouldings—Often the wood work in an historic home is of significantly better quality than in a comparably priced new home. Solid wood paneled doors were common in the construction of homes pre-1960. And mouldings were larger and thicker than what is used on a home today.

Serving Anoka, Chisago, Ramsey and Washington Counties in Minnesota.
Copyright 2013