Friday, May 30, 2014

Don't Trim that Oak Tree!

There are many variables that I have to discuss with my home buyers when we start a search for their new home. Home layout, bedrooms, garage space, school district are just a few of the topics that are covered. But many home buyers want trees! Yep, the white picket fence on a wooded lot with a mature tree that would be perfect for hanging a tire swing from just like it the movies. In Hollywood, trees don't die though but in real life, just like everything else, trees can require maintenance. 

In many counties of Minnesota, oak wilt is prevalent. It is a nasty disease that can cut down a mighty oak in it's prime. Keeping the fungus at bay takes forethought when doing spring and summer yardwork.

What is Oak Wilt?

Oak wilt is a disease caused by a fungus that destroys the entire central system of the tree from its  roots to the tips of its leaves. The tree will try to block the fungus, but in doing so it blocks all water and nutrients to the branches and leaves. Eventually, the tree's leaves will begin to wilt then dry up and the tree will die.

Oak wilt spreads in two ways. It will either be attacked through the root systems of near by trees or by fungus beetles that carry the oak wilt spores from tree to tree. For additional information on oak wilt from the University of MN Extention Service

Here are a few important reminders to prevent the spread of Oak Wilt:
  •     To prevent the spread of devastating disease, it is imperative to follow the guidelines for oak wilt prevention. Do not prune, damage or cut down oak trees during the spring and summer growing season from May 1 through September 30.
  •     During the spring and early summer months of May and June, oaks are at especially high risk to this highly contagious disease.
  •     Any wood or branches taken down over the winter that is infected with oak wilt needs to remain covered under black plastic and completely sealed until after July 1.
  •     During the summer if you sustain storm damage and lose a limb from an oak on your property, immediately paint the wound with black tree paint to seal the wound and prevent exposure to the oak wilt fungus.

How to Protect Your Trees

  • The fungus beetles infect trees that have been recently injured or trimmed. These beetles are very active in the spring and summer months. Oaks should be protected from damage and not trimmed from April through July.
  • If an oak tree is damaged during a spring or summer storm, apply tree paint immediately to any wounds that accidentally occur.
  • If an oak is infected a nearby neighboring property, your trees could be at risk through their intertwined root system. Oak roots travel up to 50 feet out. The fungus can pass underground from tree to tree. Roots can be cut using a trencher or vibratory plow to prevent the spread of oak wilt. The process uses a five foot blade that severs the roots to protect neighboring trees. Root cutting should be done prior to tree removal. 

Ignoring oak wilt only causes the disease to spread. Since it can take decades to grow a beautiful oak shade tree, shouldn't they be protected? A wooded landscape has a direct  affect on a property's value.

Copyright 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rent Versus Buy--A Tool to do the Math!

Buy or Rent? It is a fantastic question and one often asked by first time home buyers. It also creates a lot of discussion and sometimes debate. So why is this such a tough question to answer? Because there are many variables that will define the home purchase investment. The biggest is location which can often determine the price of a home. In some areas like in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro where we are blessed with very affordable real estate, an entry level home can be purchased for roughly $150,000 to $200,000 but in other large metropolitan areas, starter homes can be double this amount. This makes it more attractive, and affordable to rent. 

But even in an area where homes are affordable, other several other factors do come into play. Taxes, insurance costs, maintenance, utilities, mortgage rates and how long you plan to stay in the home are a few of the things that need to be added into the rent versus buy equation.  This might seem to be an impossible calculation  but there is a great tool available online. Check out the NY Times Rent VS Buy Calculator. It is an interactive tool where you adjust the graphs to what is happening in your market, your life and your future. The tool calculates where the breakeven rent versus buy point would be for you. It is very helpful no matter where you live. 

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Overcoming REALTOR Phobia--12 Tips for Interviewing a Real Estate Agent

I’ll admit it. From time to time I have had trust issues when I first meet a salesperson. Perhaps I have been burned one too many times when an overzealous salesman makes a promise and doesn't deliver.  Maybe it is because I have read too many “scripts” in my own sales career that I am have become cynical to the process. Of course there are good products and sometimes the sales pitch is as genuine as is the person delivering it. But it's tiresome weeding out the good from the bad.  I don’t think I am alone feeling this way. As a REALTOR® I have discovered home buyers and sellers can be afraid of real estate salespeople.
Several years ago my teenagers were into reading the melodramatic and very snarky books, A Series of Unfortunate Events.  One of the characters, Aunt Josephine was deathly afraid of nearly everything in her house but she was particularly terrified of the huge picture window with a panoramic view of a cliff, rocks and lake below. Petrified as she was, Aunt Josephine couldn’t bring herself to sell her home as she feared REALTORS® even more.

I found this funny but also very eye-opening. If someone could actually write a humorous novel about a person with “real estate agent phobia”, there probably is more than one person who feels this way. And this could be a clue as to why so many home buyers and sellers trying to go it alone when moving.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Not all REALTORS® work the same way. Being conscious of what potential clients might feel, I try to be open, honest and treat everyone as I would like to be treated. I don’t sell houses; I assist people in the process of finding a home or a buyer for their home. 

Trust is a huge obstacle for many people when choosing someone to work with on a home purchase or sale. The best way to decide whether or not you can work with someone is to spend some time talking with them.  INTERVIEW potential agents prior to signing a contract for buyer or seller representation. If in the interview, you don’t develop a good rapport or "click" with this particular person, move on to the next. The home buying/selling process takes time and it is a more pleasant experience if you like and trust the person you have representing your interests.  But don’t avoid signing a contract and try to go it alone without any representation. Your best protection against a hard-sell sale pitch is having a REALTOR® working with you every through every step of the transaction.  Home buyers are especially vulnerable but once you commit to working with a single trusted agent, the process of buying a home is truly simplified.

12 Questions Interview for a Potential REALTOR®

1.     How long have you been selling residential real estate?

2.      Is this your full-time job? Do you have another part-time job or business in addition to real estate sales?

3.      Do you represent buyers or sellers exclusively or will the transaction be a dual agency?

4.      Tell me more about how you work and your business philosophy.

5.     Can you help recommend service providers who can help with financing, inspections, repairs, etc.?

6.     How will you communicate with me? Via text, email, phone or a combination? How frequently can I call you? Do you answer your own phone?

7.     Will I work with you directly or an assistant/team member?

8.     Can I speak with some of the home buyers (or sellers) you worked with most recently?

Additional questions to ask when selling a home: 

9.     How many homes did you sell last year?

10.    On average, how many days does it take you to sell an average home?

11.    How did the final sales prices compare to the initial asking prices of the homes you sold most recently?

12.   How do you plan to market my home? 

Copyright 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Home Buying Questions Answered: How Much Earnest Money Do I Need?

Writing an offer on a home is an exciting time whether it is a first time buyer or someone who has purchased a home previously. Going through the offer raises many questions, one of the most important is about earnest money and how much should be written into the offer.  So what exactly is earnest money and how much does a homebuyer need?

Today’s Real Estate Term is:

Earnest money The funds that a buyer submits with their offer or purchase agreement to demonstrate to the seller their seriousness about buying the property. It should be an amount sufficient enough to indicate to the seller that the buyer will not walk away from the deal without good reason. It is not the same as a down payment. If your offer on the home is accepted, the earnest money check will be cashed and placed into a broker’s trust account. The funds will go toward the purchase price of the home.

HOW MUCH Earnest Money Does a Buyer Need? In Minnesota, most sellers expect to see a minimum of 1% of the sale price of the home but that has been increasing. Often sellers want the buyer of their property to have a bit of skin in the game. This is especially true with new construction where up to 5% or more could be required.

It is very important to keep in mind if the offer is accepted and the check for earnest funds will be cashed and held in a broker's trust account. If for some reason all contingencies are not met or a situation arises where the sale does not go through, the buyer does NOT automatically receive a refund of the earnest money. But the seller will not automatically get to keep these funds either. In the event of a cancellation, the buyer and seller must reach an agreement to cancel the contract which will outline the disbursement of the funds.

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

10 Homebuying Tips when Looking at Vintage Homes

There is nothing that compares to the architecture of a historic home. A turn of the century home often was designed and constructed with unique rooms, window sizes, dormers, front porches, attics, stone fireplaces and hand crafted woodwork are sought after by many. Finding an affordable vintage home to purchase that  has been properly maintained with authentic details intact can be challenge. Sometimes the search can take a home buyer across the Twin Cities metro area from Summit Avenue in St Paul to homes along the St Croix in Stillwater to quaint neighborhoods in North St. Paul and Chisago.
Surprisingly you can find vintage homes in every style and price point throughout the north and east Twin Cities Metro. Whether you seek a lovely old duplex, traditional two story or highly sought after mansion (the original executive home), there are some key considerations in purchasing a vintage home.

Updated with Style—Not current style but did the updates reflect the style of the era when the vintage home was originally constructed. If the updates to the home do not blend well with original home, the value of the home can be compromised.

Upgraded Plumbing and Electrical—If the furnace resembles and octopus and you need fuses for the electrical panel, there will be major updates required to the home at some time in the future.

Charming Windows—Decorative leaded glass and stained glass windows are beautiful. Many vintage homes will not only have beautiful window details but often there will be odd sized windows too. While this adds to the charm, it costs to have custom windows replaced.

Odd Sized Doors—Just like with the windows, often doors are not a standard size. This can lead to additional expense when repairing and/or replacing a door as it will have to be cut to measure.

A Good Foundation—When homes were constructed a century ago, there wasn’t a building code or city inspector. Often a corner of a home would be a “root” cellar without a foundation wall or floor. Sometimes the builder would just skim a thin layer of cement over the wall to make it look nice rather than use cement blocks. Though they have stood for decades, walls can deteriorate over time.
Garages and Sheds—Very few families owned cars or the lawn equipment we require today so when vintage houses were constructed there often weren’t garages. Look closely at any older detached garage as many can be unstable. Finding a vintage home with an attached garage means it was probably added on as a remodel. If this is the case, make certain it fits well with the existing structure of the home.

Closets—Homes in the early 1900’s were insured by the number of doors so bedrooms were often constructed without closets. Some closets or dressers were added later under the eaves in the upstairs of a home. Because people did not have the extensive wardrobes that we have today, closets were much smaller than what is expected today.

Original Hardwood—Properly refinished and maintained, vintage hardwood can be a one of the most beautiful features of the home. How do you check to see if the flooring is hardwood ? If the home has carpeting, look at the floor inside a closet or at the edge of the floor under a vent for clues as to what the flooring is like below.

Fireplaces and Chimneys—While beautiful and a focal point, be certain to have any original brick or stone fireplace inspected by a professional chimney expert prior to purchase. Over time bricks can loosen and linings crack which can be costly to repair.
This list is not all inclusive but a starting point of things to consider when searching for a vintage house to call home. The charm of a historical home is that it was handcrafted to be full of charm and not necessarily perfectly constructed.

Copyright 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Payment Assistance for First Time Home Buyers in Minnesota

Summer is almost here and wouldn't it be wonderful to enjoy a barbeque in your OWN backyard? Interest rates are still very good but what if you don't have a down payment? If you are thinking of buying a home in Ramsey County, there might be a chance to make your dream home a reality. First time home buyers in Ramsey County have amazing, but often overlooked opportunities with first time buyer funds. If you qualify under the specific qualifying guidelines you could take advantage of down payment assistance and access to newly remodeled homes in Ramsey County. It is very important to find a loan officer or mortgage broker that knows all the details of the programs to take advantage of these unique opportunities.

Minnesota Down Payment Assistance

There is an excellent program for down payment assistance available in the Ramsey County area. Ramsey County includes the communities of St. Paul, Maplewood, Roseville, Shoreview, New Brighton, Little Canada, North St Paul, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Lake. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency offers a program called StartUP which can be used for either up to 3% or $3,000 worth of assistance. This StartUP down payment assistance is a second mortgage on your home but has no interest and requires no payments until you pay off the home. One of the unique features of the funds in this program is that it can often be used in addition with other assistance programs.

Down Payment Assistance through Ramsey County

Ramsey County offers another great down payment assistance option for Minnesota first time home buyers up to $10,000. The FirstHome assistance program can be used with many loan programs such as VA, FHA, and conventional loans. The program can also be used with the StartUP assistance from Minnesota Housing if you qualify. Like all other programs Ramsey County has certain qualifications that the Ramsey County first time home buyer must meet. Meeting with an loan officer familiar with the program for your pre-approval is essential as they can help you determine if you are eligible for the Ramsey County FirstHome program.
Neighborhood Stabilization Program in Ramsey County Qualified homebuyers also have an opportunity to purchase newly remodeled and rehabilitated Ramsey County homes. These homes are amazingly updated and give the first time homebuyer a perfect start to home ownership. They are reserved only for first time buyers that meet the income guidelines outlined by the Ramsey County program. Several of these homes come on the market every year in communities throughout the county.

Homebuyer Classes are Required in Ramsey County

Most of these programs for down payment assistance will require that you attend a class for first time home buyers called the Home Stretch Workshop. Don’t worry…these are not like high school classes. There is no test at the end. They are fun and very informative.
You will need to plan for a full day of classroom training. There are many dates available to accommodate home buyers schedules including evenings and weekend options. Verify that the workshop you register for will satisfies both the state and local community program guidelines if you are using more than one program. 

Ramsey County down payment assistance programs can be used with a variety of mortgage loans. Most typically they would be used with an FHA loans to help with the 3.5% down payment. However, if you already have a sizable down payment but need some help getting to 20% down to eliminate the need for mortgage insurance, it is possible these programs could help if you meet the income restrictions.  If you are a veteran, these programs can also work with a VA loan if you meet the qualifications.
Information about Ramsey County
Ramsey County is one of the eleven counties in the Minneapolis/ St Paul metropolitan area. It is the home to the state capital of Minnesota, St. Paul. With a population of over 500,000 it is one of the most densely populated counties in the state if not the entire U.S. First time home buyers  in Minnesota can benefit from the Ramsey County First Home program with down payment assistance up to $10,000.
First Step In Buying a Home: Get Preapproved!
For most Minnesota first time buyers the next question is, where do I start? Your very first step towards buying your first home is to get pre-approved for a first time buyer's mortgage. Contact me and I can direct you to a local loan officer that understands and is approved to work with these special programs. Your mortgage partner will counsel you through the pre-approval process and help determine which programs you will qualify for. Once you know exactly how much you qualify for, we can start a home search in a price range with payments well within your budget.

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

More than 10,000 Lakes but NONE are Safe for Spring Swimming!

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes it is hard to resist the temptation of the water on a warm 80 degree spring day. But no matter how refreshing the water may appear, all Minnesota Lakes are all too cold for swimming in the spring.  

With this years extremely cold, record breaking spring temperatures, it might be a bit longer before a plunge in a northern lake is safe. We will often experience an occasional May temperature where the mercury rises as high as a sultry July day, making the water in those 10,000+ lakes look very enticing. But beware. In order to swim safely, the water temperatures need to be at least 70 degrees. Most Minnesota lakes do not reach a 70 degree temperature until late May. Some lakes in the northern part of the state may not get out of the 60's all summer season!

It is important for residents and visitors to our great state to understand the affects of hypothermia and cold water are not limited to the falling through ice crusted water in the winter. Spring temperatures in a Minnesota lake or river are just as problematic. Knowing the exact temperature of body of water is essential before taking a dip to cool off to determine how long a person can safely swim outside. Keep in mind, a low lake water temperature will affect children more quickly due to their smaller size. Their bodies will not be able to withstand the cold temperatures as long as an adult can. is a website developed in memory of Brian James Jacobson, a young Minnesota boy who died on April 30, 2004 when he chose to swim in a cold Minnesota lake. He was a healthy 9 year old and good swimmer. It is believed his abilities were completely stalled in the frigid water. This is a sad reminder of how dangerous cold water swimming can be. 
Minnesota has thousands of beautiful lakes within its borders. But be forewarned, the inviting beauty is best enjoyed from the shore or the safety of a boat until the water has warmed sufficiently for safe swimming. 

Copyright 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Life on a Minnesota Wetland--Affordable Beauty and Privacy!

The legendary 10,000 lakes in Minnesota are why so many people want to buy homes in our beautiful state. Yet lakeshore homes can be very pricey. Sometimes buyers want something beautiful and natural but not too expensive. A great option can be a wetland property. Wetland or marsh doesn't sound as attractive as lakeshore. It can often lead to the question, Is buying a home with environmental lakeshore a good option or a huge mistake?

As a REALTOR who works primarily in the north Minneapolis/St Paul metro, I often educate buyers on the benefits of wetland homes. There are many acreage properties in Anoka, Chisago and Washington County areas on marshland or wetland as well as lakeshore. 
From White Bear Lake to Wyoming and throughout the communities of Hugo, Lino Lakes Centerville, Ham Lake and Blaine, there are acreage properties abutting wetlands and natural environmental lakeshore. Many Minnesotans seek out these properties  because of the size of the acreage and find them very desirable. But as with any purchase, opting to live on a wetland is a personal preference.

So how do you decide if a marsh, wetland or natural environmental (NEDS) lake home is for you? Take time to consider some of the positives and negatives.


Wildlife—White-tailed deer, raccoons, turtles, ducks, loons, cranes, hawks, eagles, and a host of other animals have been spotted living near Minnesota wetlands. In the spring there can even be a bear or coyote wandering along the shorelines.
Privacy—Whether the wetland is 20 acres or 200, it cannot be built upon so a property with a wetland or NEDS lake shoreline will limit neighbors.
Affordable—NEDS lakeshore and wetland properties are significantly less costly than lakeshore on a full use recreational lake.
Activities—Though there could be some limits on the use, wetland ponds, environmental lakeshore and NEDS Lakes have been used winter skating, summer canoeing or kayaking and more depending on the water depth.


Mosquitoes—Yes, wetlands are known to attract summertime pests like mosquitoes and deer flies.

Drainage Issues—If the home is on a smaller lot, the owner must pay special consideration to the foundation. A drain tile system and sump pump can be the best solution. Homes with private septic or sewer systems might have special DNR (Minnesota Department of Natural  Resources) or city point of sale requirements and additional criteria for a new installation if the system were to fail.
Copyright 2014