Sunday, December 20, 2009

SOLD! 3935 Fremont Ave N

Learning New Tricks from an Old Dog

I have been watching Chewie, my 13 year old Chow/Keshound mix, grow into a grand old dog. I say "grand" as he continues to do many of the things he has always done - chase squirrels, beg for people food, stand on top of the living room radiator to bark at the mail carrier - and he reminds me growing old doesn't have to mean giving up the things you love to do. You just do them differently.

Chewie just learned a new trick last month (say "pray" and he does!), and he's adapted to his few limitations quite well. He will wait for us to help him get on the bed instead of trying to make the jump himself, he takes the stairs a little more cautiously, and he's learned if he doesn't listen to a command right away, we may just assume Chewie can't hear us and he won't have to respond at all. Not a bad place to be if you're Chewie.

Chewie was my first dog when I moved to Camden. I remember it was about this time of year, a few days before Christmas, when Chewie came into our lives. My boyfriend and I stopped at the Humane Society in Golden Valley. We were thinking of getting an older dog, and we were considering several - and then I saw Chewie. He was the cutest ball of fur I'd ever seen, and when we went to "interview" him he immediately peed twice and pooped once - as if saying "I dare you to take me home" and of course we did. He had a cold and my boyfriend started a sneezing match with him on the counter as I filled out the paperwork to make him our little sneezing fur ball.

Chewie was an instant hit with friends and family. He was just too adorable for his own good. He was also unbelievably smart - house broken in less than a week, he never chewed or destroyed anything except for a jade plant that attacked him once, and he learned his parlor tricks readily. Sit, stay, down, speak, shake, wave, balance treat on nose, heel, and occasionally - roll over - but his fluffy tail would get in the way on that one. If David Letterman had a category for "tricks only stupid people teach their dogs" we would have qualified - we thought it was funny to put Chewie in a "sit" and then place a treat in our back pocket and say "steal"- and he took the treat out of our pocket. Hmmm - that probably wasn't the best idea . . .

Although Chewie is extremely smart - there is a Chow side too - loyal to the family, steadfast in his devotion to us, and just a touch of unpredictability. He has required us to be diligent about maintaining our alpha status, and he continues to look us straight in the eye when given a command, as if to say - "I love you, but that request is pretty damn stupid and I'll do it but only for you."

When I started dating Robert, who is now my husband, he eventually told me he knew winning over Chewie was going to make-or-break the whole deal. Luckily Robert grew up with some really amazing hunting dogs with names like King and Bo - and he moved into the alpha male spot right away, winning Chewie over with long walks, lots of praise, and I suspect an Oreo or two along the way. With Chewie's stamp of approval, Robert became his second dad.

Watching Chewie grow old with grace and dignity is a reminder although aging is inevitable, how you manage it is entirely up to you. Chewie's approach is very simple - take one step at a time, get enough sleep, don't eat too much, go for as many long walks as possible, and ignore the things in life that really irritate you. A simple plan all of us should probably learn from.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Growing Into a New Career

Growth is something everyone needs from time to time. Some folks embrace growth and the change it brings; others fear the change and avoid growth, refusing to take the risk or challenge their fear of failure.

Taking on a new career has brought growth to my doorstep. I am learning new skills and discovering interesting things about myself, particularly what my strengths are and what my potential could be - as well as what could be road blocks to success.

I actually haven't "felt" this good in years. I almost feel as though somewhere after college I got off track and never really got back on - although most folks thought I was doing just fine - I personally never felt that way.

There are times when I am scared. Being scared of failure is an obvious thing; however, have you ever contemplated the fear of success?

Sounds silly - I know. Isn't success in a new career or hobby or project what everyone is striving for? But what if success changes your values, your priorities, your dreams and goals - will you like the person you become?

I look back at the last 5 years of my life and I recognize I've done some amazing things within my realm. I met and married a wonderful man, received several awards for my community work, pursued a life-long dream of working for a nonprofit and then finding the courage to change course and work for myself. Throw in raising the puppy from the depths of purgatory and I probably accomplished a lot.

As I'm off on this new adventure, I do stop and wonder at times who will I become, as I am changing - I can feel it and its impacting how I live. Some folks would tell me not to worry about it and let it happen; others understand my fears and recognize I'm growing into not only a new career but my own skin - something I should have done years ago.

I am thankful for the support my husband, my family, and my friends have given me, and I hope regardless of the outcome of my career change - I get to know myself a little better, so I can make better decisions in the future as I move on to the next stage of my life. No matter what happens - I am thankful to have the opportunity to grow.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Guilded Salvage - NoMi's own Architectural Salvage Resource

A few years ago I heard about a salvage shop in Minneapolis with an abundance of quality merchandise, an eye for creating attractive displays, and a cool shop dog who would give you a warm greeting at the door. Add a friendly smile and good conversation from the owners and you've got a gem in Guilded Salvage.

Christina Dodge and Scott Rogers are the proprietors, and they have since moved their shop into NoMi at 4430 Lyndale Ave N. Although they don't live in NoMi, Scott has relatives in the area and they are very fond of community - for years, they sponsored the Victory Neighborhood Garage Sale by paying for the map printing and they hosted the Camden Old House Club a few years ago.

Their shop is an adventure back into another era, but not just because of the merchandise. From their logo to their cards to their stationary and note cards - they are a class act (all printed by Di's Printing in NE Minneapolis). If you need a resource for something they don't have - they pull out a Guilded Salvage note card, look in their rolodex, and write down the name and number of a resource to help you out.

On a recent visit, I saw Construction Manager Ron Korsh from Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation taking the time to track down door knobs to match the vintage ones in a current rehab project, as well as a new homeowner looking for a light fixture for the dining room of a foreclosed home he was restoring in NoMi.

Christina and Scott welcome a visit by the locals or a chatty Realtor, and offer you a comfy stool and a counter to sit and chat at while you marvel at the variety of light fixtures, door knobs, bath tubs, windows, door trim, and other architectural gems. If you're into Steampunk - it's definitely worth the trip.

Even if you don't think you need anything for your home right now - wander in and say hello to these NoMi entrepreneurs and enjoy a bit of architectural history for free. Hours are 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday - Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday. For more info - check out their website at:

Oh - and the Shop Dog always appreciates if you think to bring a treat.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Qualifies for the Homebuyer Tax Credit Now?

Homebuyer credits: Who qualifies now?

Thanks to the newly extended and expanded tax breaks for buying a home, you might qualify for a credit that you hadn't been able to get before.

By Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

Read the full article here at MSN money:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pohlad Foundation's $8,000 Down Payment Assistance Expanded for NoMi!

Good news! The Pohlad Foundation has expanded its $8,000 down payment assistance program into three neighborhoods in 55412 - McKinley, Folwell, and Cleveland! Details from the Live MSP facebook page are below - Get To NoMi!

I have a FANTASTIC listing coming up in Folwell a buyer could use this money on - 4 BR, 2 Baths - more to follow!


Live MSP
The Pohlad Foundation just expanded the $8,000 Home Buyer Assistance to include both the 55411 Zip Code (Willard Hay, Near North, Hawthore and Jordan) & 55412 (Cleveland, Folwell and McKinley) This is $8,000 Down Payment Assistance - 0% Deferred ...Loan (no monthly payment) forgiven after 7 years of continued ownership & residency. Available through Neighborhood Housing Services of Minneapolis, Inc. @ 612-521-3581.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing Business in a Pandemic World

I have been told I am "old school" when it comes to my work ethic. I work too much, too long, too hard, and at all times. I just live to work, and I'm at my happiest when I'm productive and getting things done.

So what happens to someone like me who gets hit with the flu (non-H1N1)?

Normally I would take cough medicine, sleep from 6 pm to 7 am, go to work, and repeat until I was through it, spending every non-work moment resting so I wouldn't miss a single minute of the work day. Sometimes I'd even have the cough medicine hidden in a drawer and I'd down the stuff at my desk. My bosses praised my work ethic, and my clients thought I was invincible, while my co-workers would avoid my office, and if they had to walk by - they would often spray Lysol in my direction in a vain attempt to dilute the potency of my germs.

Why did I insist on functioning like this? While I pride myself on possessing a high level of common sense - going to work sick was far from sensible. And as of this year - no more.

I came down with something over the weekend - not sure what, just know it's not the super nasty H1N1 stuff. So I slept all day and most of the night Sunday, stayed in on Monday, slept some more, and ventured out of the house briefly last night, after making sure I was feeling pretty normal.

And the response from my business appointments this week has been very accommodating - they were happy to reschedule, stay home, see you next week, etc. etc.

In the wake of a pandemic world, business is changing. The pace is hectic but more accommodating. We'll opt to email, text, call, fax - just for Pete's sake do not come near me! Getting a deal done has never been so accommodating from a time/distance/technology standpoint. We'll do a virtual "shake on it" - no problem. Need to reschedule? No problem - even if it's your accountant!

So perhaps as Americans we will learn something from this pandemic - slow down, rest, take care of yourself, think of others by NOT going in to work or out in public. As a good friend and fellow workaholic said to me over the weekend "if you don't have your health, you really don't have anything."

I'm going back to bed now.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Who Was C.C. Webber?

A few years ago I contacted the John Deere Company looking for information on Charles C. Webber, or C. C. Webber, the last grandson of John Deere, who donated the money to build the Webber Baths and Webber Library in the Camden Neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Technically - I believe I do not have the right to reproduce the article in full on this blog, but I believe I can quote the section on C. C. Webber, which I have included below. I hope you enjoy! Steph

Character of a Company: The C.C. Webber’s

By: Neil Dahlstrom
For Two Cylinder Magazine

"Webber was a throwback to another era. Passing away in 1944, he had still never driven a car, preferring horses still, though he did fly once on a plane, which gave him “no pleasure” as he “prefers the solid earth under [his] feet.” Webber was also the last surviving grandson of John Deere. Although it was not uncommon for Deere employees to spend much of their lives with the company, Webber was one of the few who could say that he spent his entire life with the company. Though some of the projects for which his name was attached are now gone, his name can still be found throughout Minneapolis. Some of those projects, some now distant memories, are Webber Municipal Park, the Minneapolis YMCA, Webber Parkway, the John Deere Webber Baths (named for his son who died of Meningitis at age 11), the Webber name adorned many a civic project in Minneapolis.

According to his death announcement by Deere & Company, “his total contribution to the advancement of the implement industry is incalculable. At his death, he was the dean of all farm implement men in the entire United States, having spent 67 years of his life in active association with the John Deere organization. He rose to the position he held in the company and the industry through sheer ability and strength of character.” If there is indeed a character to a company, Charles C. Webber was the epitome of its influence."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Home Improvement Tax Credits for Consumers in 2009 and 2010

The media is focusing a lot of attention on the $8,000 tax credit for first time buyers; however, there is also a tax credit of up to 30% of qualified improvements focused on increasing the energy efficiency of homes ($1,500 maximum) to help homeowners improve their homes.

Rather than try to summarize the program within my blog, I am hoping the following link will be helpful:



Identify the Energy Vampires this Halloween! Save Money with a Power Check Meter

A note from Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein on a new program to help homeowners learn more about reducing energy use via power check meters - what a great idea! It's also a great reminder to use our libraries : ) There's a link to Green Living ideas as well. Enjoy! Steph

Energy meters available for check out at Hennepin County Libraries

Fifty easy-to-use Power Check energy meters from Xcel Energy are available for check out from Hennepin County Libraries. Requests may be placed for the energy meters either online or in person at any of the 39 Hennepin County Libraries (
Plymouth and Nokomis are closed).

The meters will help you:
Identify high energy use appliances in your home.
Determine how much it costs to use appliances.
Predict your savings in reducing appliance use.
Calculate the cost-savings of replacing older equipment with energy-efficient models.
Identify "energy vampires" - appliances that use energy when switched off.

The energy meters come with home energy assessment instructions, worksheets, money-saving energy tips, and information about rebates and incentive programs.

Visit the Library's online catalog and search under Power Check Energy Meter.
Here is a link (you might have to cut and paste).!horizon&view=items&menu=search&uri=full=3100001~!4

For more information on Green Living, go to the Hennepin County Libraries information on green living. Here is the link.

Mark Stenglein
Hennepin County Commissioner
District 2
Office: 612-348-7882

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NoMi Home Buyer's Tour Sunday, Oct 11th

Looking to learn more about the great houses in North Minneapolis and Camden? The NoMi Home Buyer's Tour is on again this weekend! I am passing along this email I received from the organizers of the tour in the form of a post to share with my blog readers. Enjoy! Steph

Date: Sunday, October 11
Time: 10:30am
Location: Papa's Pizza and Pasta (4159 Thomas Ave N)
Enjoy your Sunday morning at Papa's Pizza and Pasta for breakfast or coffee and a pastry prior to our tour - -
If you would like to have breakfast prior to the tour, we recommend that you arrive by 9:30am, coffee and a pastry 10:15am or if you are just going to join us for the Tour please plan on arriving no later than 10:30am.
Please RSVP to this email and let us know if you intend to have breakfast prior to the tour and your preferred reservation time, name as well as the number of guests in your party. We will confirm your reservation at Papa's for you!!
Even if you are going to be joining us for just the Tour, we still want to hear from you.
At this time we are still in the process of selecting the homes for the tour, however we are focusing on the Victory and Cleveland Neighborhoods. We will have realtors on hand to answer any questions you might have about the homes on the tour as well as the many financial incentives that are currently available and don't forget, we are getting close to the deadline for the $8,000 federal tax credit. There will also be plenty of current NOMI residents to tell you about their experiences living on the Northside.
So come on out and meet some of your "new neighbors" while we explore the wonderful neighborhoods of NOMI.
If you have questions please feel free to email
We can't wait for you to Get To NOMI!

Daycare for the Dogs and a Great Local Vet

Some of my clients have asked for referrals for "doggy daycare" being they are gone so much during the day. If you haven't checked it out, Downtown Dogs at 821 2nd Avenue North is a great resource for keeping your dog happy and active during the day.

Our Chow Chow, Indie, goes on occasion and she typically has a ball. The group play promotes good socialization and gets her some exercise. If I am wondering how she is doing - I just go to their website, and click on their live webcam. I can check up on how she's playing and see if she's got a new boyfriend (last time, a Basset Hound was trying to get her attention).

Anyway - it's a fun option to a traditional day at home sleeping in front of the fireplace.

Downtown Dogs also does boarding; however, if you live in the Camden/NoMi area, I encourage you to check out Dr. Cynthia Fetzer's boarding services at Camden Pet Hospital at 1405 44th Avenue North. Dr. Fetzer has been our vet for 13 years, and we've been extremely pleased with her practical approach to the health of our dogs. The staff is incredibly patient and kind. Pure breed Chow Chows like Indie are a bit rare in the Twin Cities - and she has been very helpful in addressing issues specific to the breed. Visit the hospital on the web at:


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finding Down Payment Money in the Suburbs

A lot has been written about the down payment assistance funds available in Minneapolis neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosure. Although I'm a loyal urban girl myself - I also know a lot of buyers aren't interested in living in the City for a variety of reasons - their work isn't here, their friends aren't here, or perhaps they just want a house on a larger lot than you typically find in the City.

In researching down payment assistance programs, I recently found one specifically for folks who work in Ramsey County and who want to live in suburban Ramsey County. Some income restrictions apply, and you have to be a first time buyer - but you might be surprised at the details. One of my buyers can qualify for up to $20,000 of down payment assistance to bring the monthly payment down to 30% of the buyer's monthly income.

For more information on the program, drop me a note via my website at or at


Finding Money for a Down Payment

Came across this article today by Kara McGuire, the personal finance journalist at the Star Tribune. Check out the article and the links on the left hand side of my blog for more information on programs out there in the Twin Cities. Steph

Finding money for a down payment

October 5, 2009

Mr. Kablog and I bought our first (and only) house with about 3 percent down; some of that was even a gift from our parents.

It was 2002. We were engaged and I remember waking up one morning and thinking "Let's buy a house." It cost $149,900, so 3 percent wasn't a huge down payment by any stretch. But for two people in their early twenties at the start of careers, it was a significant chunk of change.

I hadn't been working in the field of personal finance journalism for very long and wasn't well versed in housing issues. For instance, I didn't know I should shop around for a loan; we went with the lending arm of the real estate company that our Realtor worked with. And I was too impatient to take a Home Stretch class.

I still wonder if a low-level public radio employee and a county government worker would have qualified for any down payment assistance programs. There are several, and Maria Verven, who does communications work for Edina Realty, put together a nifty list of various down payment assistance programs that I've pasted here.

The best thing of all is that most of these programs are eligible even if you get the $8,000 tax credit that I mentioned in my weekend story.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers 3.5 percent down mortgages. Qualified buyers must demonstrate that they will spend no more than 31 percent of their gross income on mortgage payments.

A VA home loan is a zero-down loan, which requires a military background with VA loan eligibility.

The Guaranteed Rural Development loan is a zero down loan designed for use in rural communities.

Down Payment Assistance Programs (DAPs) Homebuyers can also obtain low down payment loans on conventional loans with DAPs. Many community, city, county and state agencies offer DAPs, which have unique qualification requirements regarding income, assets, credit, occupancy and location. Some examples available in 2009 include:

HOME HELP: A federally funded loan for qualified first-time homebuyers that lends up to $14,999 in interest free funds for a down payment and closing costs; 70 percent of the loan is forgiven after five years. The goal of this DAP is to make housing more affordable by lowering the borrower’s housing debt ratio to 30 percent.

The Silver Lining Loan Program: This Dakota County DAP program loans up to $15,000 in interest free funds that can be used towards down payment and closing costs. Designed for use within specific Dakota county locations, this DAP is not exclusively for first-time homebuyers, although the borrower cannot own other real estate.

Homeownership Assistance Fund (HAF): This Minnesota Housing program awards eligible first-time homebuyers an interest-free, deferred loan – up to $3,000 – to help with down payment and closing costs. Homebuyers interested in the HAF should contact a Minnesota Housing participating lender prior to signing a purchase agreement. Participating lenders determine eligibility, which generally includes households earning 80 percent or less of area median income.

The St. Paul Heroes Program: This loan was created to honor those who dedicate their lives to serving the community, including active military personnel, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, health care workers, police, teachers and public employees. This program awards up to $10,000 to first-time homebuyers who purchase a home in St. Paul in conjunction with the Take Credit!! Mortgage Certificate Program. This interest and payment free loan helps with down payment or closing costs and is forgiven if the borrower resides in the home over 10 years.

Pohlad Family Giving Foundation Homebuyer Assistance Incentive Program: All prospective homebuyers (not just first-timers) who want to purchase and occupy a home, condo, or town home in the zip codes 55411 (N. Minneapolis) and 55106 (St. Paul-Dayton’s Bluff) may qualify for an $8,000 grant for down payment and closing cost assistance. Buyers must intend to occupy the property as their principal residence for seven years, and they must close on their home on or before Dec. 31, 2009.

Harvest Fest - Celebrate the reopening of Lowry Avenue North


Saturday October 10th, 2009 from 10am to 4 pm

Celebrate the reopening of Lowry Avenue North at Penn Ave North. There'll be art from the Northside Arts Collective (NAC) artists, classic car show, food for sale, kid zone and live music all day. The official ribbon cutting is at 11am.

Get to NoMi - Arts, Parks, and You!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Info on the First Time Buyer Tax Credit

An interesting question came up recently from one of my buyers who owns some land but not a primary residence - does the buyer still get the credit? Based on the National Association of Home Builder's website - it appears the buyer will qualify - but I would recommend a call to your tax professional for confirmation.

A link to the fact sheet is below for your reference. Hurry - time is running out - you have until November 30th to close on a new primary residence.


Architectural Antiques Sale This Weekend!

As found by a neighbor in this week's Star Tribune:

Architectural Antiques -- a Minneapolis mainstay for more than 30 years for
vintage light fixtures, mantels, doors, plumbing, windows and other
treasures -- is revving up its annual fall customer appreciation sale this
weekend with discounts of 40 percent off its entire inventory, plus
additional markdowns of up to 80 percent on selected items. Manager Bob
Jeffrey noted that these are the stores' lowest prices in a decade and that
the 28,000-square-foot retail warehouse will be freshly stocked. 10 a.m.-6
p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. and noon to 5 p.m. Sun.; 1330 NE. Quincy St.,

Happy Hunting!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coming Attractions for October

After a few days of fun blogging, I'm sure some of you would prefer to see some pithy and insightful articles on buying and selling real estate, investment property, and other business topics.

I promise - these articles will come. I have meetings next week with some very interesting folks - a life/health insurance specialist, a builder, and the owner of a very reputable property management company. I'm sure these meetings will generate some interesting conversations worth sharing to help you with your real estate and/or business needs.

Meanwhile - tomorrow is Sunday, and I'm hoping we get another nice day to enjoy here in Minneapolis. I will be out scouting homes for a first-time buyer and an investor most of the afternoon.

Be well.


Possibly The Best Garage Sale Ad Ever!

This was an actual garage sale ad I found today on the Star Tribune's website:

Published: 09/26/2009
Robbinsdale / Memorial Pkway Gay-tastic Multi-Family Garage Sale (w/ estate sale next door) All you & your partner need, tools, perennial hostas, sculptures, fine art, clothes, furniture, some antiques, and life-sustaining gossip. Enjoy coffee as stroll thru gardens picking out hostas of your dreams. Haggling expected! Food, bev, fun, music, "Lets make a deal". Buy raffle ticket to win apple tree and make homemade apple pie next yr. Fri/Sat Sep 25 & 26, 7:30am to 5:30 pm; 3708 Zenith Ave NORTH, Robbinsdale MN

Needless to say - you really can't pass up a garage sale with this kind of marketing. I promptly posted it to my Facebook page and got in the car.

The sale was fun and the folks running it were having a ball with the success of their marketing. My Facebook post also helped - at least six of my NoMi neighbors got in their cars and came over. Probably the best deal was the set of 4 antique oak chairs for $40 - I was tempted myself.

Sales lesson of the day - sometimes the best marketing is just being yourself.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Cool Antique Shop of the Month - Timelines

A number of folks have asked where we shop for "Steampunk" and other cool antique stuff for our home. Although I'd like to hoard all the great finds for myself - I do want the shop to stay in business! Timelines is our main shop these days, at 420 Snelling Ave S in St Paul.

Jim Barnard is the owner, and the shop is a reflection of his good taste. One of the things I like the most about Jim's shop is I don't have to look at a ton of tasteless junk to find a gem - he prefers to sell gems!

Sure - I like good deals - my family is famous for hunting down "treasures" - but there are times in life when you want something special, a particular table or chair or lithograph to accent a particular space or room in your home, new or old - and I tend to find it lately at Jim's shop. And his prices are typically pretty fair for the quality of the item - so there are good deals to be had.

The safe from my Steampunk post is one of the gems we've found at Jim's shop. Robert also found a fabulous grandmother's clock for me there as a birthday gift a few years ago.

The other reason I like Jim's shop is let's face it - Jim is nice to talk to, and do business with. Life is too short to do business with difficult people - hmm - might be the start of a book.

In any case - if you stop by Timelines on Saturday, September 26th, 2009, Jim has 15 percent off all Mission furniture. If you stop in - please tell him you saw this note on Steph's blog. If you don't have time to stop in his shop - you can shop online - the website is under our Resource section on the left.

Happy Shopping!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

What is Steampunk?

When my now-husband and I started dating a few years ago, he commented on my house as being very "Steampunk" - and I had no clue what "Steampunk" was or if it was a compliment or an insult. So off to Wikipedia I went:

"Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date . . . Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk."

In other words - take something from the Victorian era and make it useful in today's world - and you've probably got Steampunk. The genre also is very romantic in a machine age/science focused theme - think of the elegance of the submarine the Nautilus from the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I decided to take his comment as a compliment - and eventually married the guy. We now have made a hobby of adding "Steampunk" elements to the house - everything from a Victorian floor safe (now an end table), to an Art Noveau Eperge (fancy term for flower vase centerpiece), to funky candlesticks and vintage lighting.

My husband would like to take it one step further, and build a computer key board with key tops off an antique typewriter, and have the processor housed in an elegant wood cabinet.

If you like adding vintage details to your decorating - google "Steampunk" and you might find some ideas you'll like for your own home. I've included photos of a few samples of "Steampunk" items we've found. And you don't have to spend a lot on them - the candlestick was $4 at Arc Thrift Store and the leather wrapped binoculars in the photo of the Art Noveau lamp were also an Arc Thrift Store find for less than $5 - and they still work! Enjoy!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Should the Feds Extend the $8,000 Tax Credit?

The deadline is quickly approaching for first time buyers to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit for the purchase of a primary home. In order to qualify for the credit, a first time buyer has to close on the purchase of a primary residence no later than November 30, 2009.

As the deadline approaches, we are seeing a scramble in the market place for properties within reach of most first time buyers - predominately homes well-under $200,000 in value. In areas like NoMi (North Minneapolis), Camden, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Columbia Heights, Fridley - the houses are going fast and often in multiple offers, creating an increase in prices generally not seen during the last few months of the calendar year.

The most common argument I hear against the tax credit is one of fairness. Is giving out $8,000 for buying a house really fair to the rest of the folks who struggled and saved to buy before the market crash, often giving up vacations, putting off major purchases, or working overtime to obtain homeownership? It's a question my husband and I have pondered, and although it doesn't seem completely fair to folks like us - we still endorse the credit, and here's why:

Stabilization of Neighborhoods: Attracting new homeowners to remediate foreclosed properties may be the single biggest factor in the future success of our urban neighborhood, translating to a recovery of property values for not only our home, but our rental duplex next door. Although we aren't getting the direct benefit of an extra $8,000 - we are seeing small signs of a recovery in property values and an overall stabilization of our community with an influx of enthusiastic new owner occupants.

Employment: Buying a home impacts a string of industries - so far, I've come up with mortgage, title insurance, homeowners insurance, closers, real estate agents and brokers, home inspectors, appraisers, local and state governments (property taxes, deed tax, mortgage registration tax, permits, etc), contractors, building suppliers, and an endless number of local businesses who will gain a new customer once the property is occupied again. What would the impact be on these businesses if the tax credit disappeared?

Balancing the High Reinvestment Need and the Lean Appreciation Potential: Although prices are down from 5 years ago, the actual "good deal" is still not as good as it was 13 years ago, when I purchased my first house.

After inspecting over 600 foreclosed properties in the last two years - my experience is the $69,900 house of 2009 is typically so distressed buyers can't use FHA financing (unless it's a 203k), it has title issues, and it's going in multiple offers. The $69,900 house purchased in 1996 was clean, serviceable, and essentially move-in condition, with slightly dated decor but overall free of title and vandalism issues which would have made financing nearly impossible. And I wasn't fending off multiple offers - I was even able to negotiate some repairs into the purchase.
"In other words - the buyers willing to jump in and take on a vacant, foreclosed home in 2009 are still not getting as good of a deal as I got in 1996 due to the condition of the property and the probable lean appreciation years ahead - even with an $8,000 tax credit going in their pocket - although they are still getting a deal compared to prices in 2005."
It's one of the few times in life I feel blessed to have been a little older, as I got into the market just before it took off and was able to sell that first house for a very nice profit within just 6 years due to what we now realize was a very irrational market. Today's buyers are mostly likely going to see a more traditional level of appreciation than the buyers of a decade ago.

Common Sense and Comfort Level: The buyers I've been working with are demonstrating a significant amount of common sense. Most of my buyers are buying homes well within their means, and they are planning on saving at least part of the credit for an emergency fund. Also, the tax credit is enabling buyers to have a comfort level to buy despite the overwhelming negativity of foreclosure in the marketplace.

Should the Feds extend the tax credit? It's hard to ignore what it's bringing to the table - and harder to predict what may be the cost if it's removed from the tool box while our economy is still in a delicate position.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Positive Real Estate Trends In Camden

Each month, the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) puts out statistics on the trends in real estate by community based on MLS areas. Based on the most recent MAAR report, there appears to be some positive changes taking place in Camden, the NW corner of North Minneapolis (NoMi), which is the zip code 55412 and part of 55430.

Check out the latest statistics from MAAR's Top 100 report for August, 2009. Camden is up from a median sale price of $60,001 in August, 2008 to $74,750 August, 2009, an increase of 24.6 percent! Also, single family detached housing inventory is down considerably, from 486 available in August, 2008 to 245 available in August, 2009 - a decrease of 49.6 percent from 1 year ago! The number of new listings in Camden is down from 159 in August, 2008 to 96 in August, 2009 - a decrease of 39.6%.

These are good signs for Camden. Prices are not what they may have been 5 years ago, with so many foreclosures on the market, but there is strong activity from first time buyers looking to make Camden home, positively impacting the median sales price.

Of the two buyers I've worked with most recently in Camden, both faced multiple offers, even though we submitted an offer on one listing within 8 hours of coming on the market! In both instances, we were able to design competitive offers and work through inspection concerns to secure the homes for my buyers.

For more information on what is going in your area, check out the MAAR Top 100 Report at:


Living at the "Little House" in Two Harbors, MN

Last week, for our third wedding anniversary, my husband convinced me we needed to go on vacation. Looking for an affordable option, we finally took my Aunt Meredith and Uncle Cal up on their standing offer of using their guest house for 4 days.

The "Little House" is just outside of Two Harbors, MN and is the original homestead on their property. My grandfather, Cliff Gruver, and his brother, Ralph, built it in the 1950s. It's a small, 1 story house with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and most of the 1950s decor is intact, including the original Art Deco yellow and black plastic wall tiles in the kitchen and bathroom.

The house sat vacant for decades until my uncle bought the property from my grandfather's estate. The house required significant exterior and structural repairs, and now sits quietly up towards the top of the hill, a little gem of a guest house for those lucky enough to know Cal and Meredith.

As a child, I knew the house as a place my parents stored extra furniture, and my father stored old cars on the property, including many prized 1940 Ford rehab projects. My brothers knew the property as the lawn mowing job they never wanted. I'm sure the property was an eyesore for the neighbors during those years, and Cal's ownership and improvements appear to be well-received.

As we stayed in the house for several days, I came to appreciate the Little House and its purpose in life. The house is on a large lot, 500 ft deep from the main road, with plenty of room for a dog to safely wander. There are neighbors but they are not so close you notice them, nor are they so far away you feel alone in the world. The house had all the conveniences of home, with my aunt thoughtfully including just about anything you could possibly need for a stay, and having access to a kitchen proved to be an ideal way to save on expenses during a vacation. Although we were "in the country" - Two Harbors was only a mile away, and Duluth was less than 20 minutes by freeway.

"During the trip, I made a run to town, and as I drove up the driveway on my return, I realized I could live happily in the Little House, as long as I knew every day my husband would be there with me."
During the trip, I made a run to town, and as I drove up the driveway on my return, I realized I could live happily in the Little House, as long as I knew every day my husband would be there with me. I was a bit surprised to feel this way after years of living in a spacious Tudor probably seven times the size of the Little House - but life is no longer completely about owning a grand home.

Granted, it's fun to own a semi-historic house, and we're very happy here in Otto's house in Camden - but I could be happy in a Little House too, with my husband and dog and enough to sustain a stable existence. My husband claims hearing me say this was his favorite part of the entire trip - it was my favorite part of the trip as well. Steph

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why blog about old houses?

When I started my insurance career after college, I noticed one of my favorite clients was the owner of a historic home. The house was immaculately cared for, they followed every word of advice I gave them about preventing potential losses, and whenever they improved the home or bought a new antique for the house - they always called and made sure their insurance coverage was current and happily paid their premium.

Needless to say - I loved working with these clients. They were my ideal client, and soon I realized the friends they referred to me were the same way - and they all had old homes.

Old house folks are a different breed. To these homeowners, their house is a significant part of their lives - it's more than an asset - it's a way of life. Vacation budgets are sacrificed to pay for historically accurate improvements (ours was a tin-ceiling in the kitchen 2 years ago), hours are spent on Ebay hunting down the right light fixture or door knob, and wall-to-wall carpet is usually banned from one's vocabulary unless the original floors are truly beyond repair.

Old house folks are proud to say they don't actually "own" the house - they are just the caretakers of a piece of history for the next generation.

And it doesn't have to be an elaborate old home - whether it's a 3 story, 1890 Queen Anne or a 2 bedroom, 1920s Bungalow - old house folks are passionate about every last detail, from the oak floors to the leaded glass to the true dimension lumber hiding within the plaster walls.

There are times when I've walked through new construction and thought "I could live here" - and I probably could, quite happily, with my husband and my dogs and my Mac. And then I return to my old home, Otto Franzen's house, with real plaster walls, perfectly proportionate archways, and the original 1920s drapery rods - and realize I'm blessed to have a chance to be the caretaker of Otto's house for the next generation to come. Steph

Catching Up with the Times - Blogging

Learning a new skill in your 30s is a bit intimidating. As a kid everything is an adventure - you can't wait to get to your first day of school, go on the big family vacation (even if it was just a 4 day trip to see your cousin in Albert Lea, MN), or toss the tricycle aside for a chance at riding the "big kid bike" with only two wheels and hopefully more than 3 speeds.

You hit your teens and let's face it - boy or girl, it's all about getting a drivers license and access to a car - any car - as long as it will get you as far away from your parents as possible.

In your 20s - you long for having cash in college and then you long for having cash after college to make up for not having cash in college (it's a vicious cycle).

And then you hit your 30s and everything seems to slow down - starting with your metabolism and then your raises and last but not least - your ability to take the plunge and learn how to blog.

I conquered Facebook last year and Google promises to make this blogging thing easy - so I'll take a shot at it and see how it goes. Life is just too short to not reach out for the latest version of pen and paper . Steph