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