Saturday, December 25, 2010

Code to Mobile Marketing Success - QR Codes: Mr. Internet: Technology: REALTOR® Magazine

What are QR Codes? The latest in marketing technology in Japan and Europe, they are starting to show up in the US in places like In Style Magazine. The popularity of Smart Phones makes this technology perfect for real estate - but is your agent utilizing it yet? Read more about it at:

Code to Mobile Marketing Success: Mr. Internet: Technology: REALTOR® Magazine

Monday, June 21, 2010

Finding Customer Service in 2010

Many clients and prospects I work with feel customer service is a lost art. There are articles in magazines on a regular basis about being passed off to inexperienced employees, automated systems, or even just being ignored.

Perhaps one of the things all of us need to do as consumers is recognize great customer service more often. Whether it's in the form of a tip, a special note to their manager, a Facebook update, or a piece in a blog - taking the extra five minutes to recognize great service may just promote more of it in this country.

Tonight I had great customer service. A Delta faucet I bought November 29, 2010 started to give me trouble. I know the date as I still had the receipt. So at 8 pm, I called Delta's 1-800 number and thought I'd be told to leave a message. Nope - a live person answered the phone, took my contact information, apologized for the issue, and ordered new parts be sent to my home immediately - for FREE! No request for a copy of the receipt, no interrogation about whether or not I was using the faucet properly - just "your parts will be shipped and we'll send you an email when they are." I nearly dropped the phone.

More great customer service - I recently had some neighbors work on my garden. I have no idea what to do with plants anymore - half the time I put shade plants in sun, or sun plants in shade - I'm a lousy gardener. My gardeners called me every morning they couldn't show because it was raining (which was several the last few weeks), they explained everything they did to the garden, and they brought their receipts for the materials along with their invoice for everything plus labor right to my door. Great service - paid them instantly - actually looking forward to them coming back.

What positive customer service stories have you had recently? Share a few via comments and I'll include them in this blog. Perhaps we can inspire each other to give a little more in return.


New Listing! 2120 James Ave N only $99,000! Not a Short Sale or Foreclosure!

Just Reduced! 2520 Victory Memorial Drive only $149,900!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Story of Something Lost and Found

Every now and then, I add something to this blog that comes from the heart. I know - professional decorum should limit me to writing about things only related to my business - but please indulge me a bit and enjoy this story as written by my friend Colleen Kastanek from North Branch, MN. Whether it's a house, a car, a friend, or a motor bike - I think everyone has a similar story in their lives about losing something special to them - and this is a story about a man who was able to get it back. Thank you, Colleen, for capturing these memories so well. Steph

Jimmy's First Motorbike by Colleen Kastanek

When Jim was nine years old he thought that any day spent with his dad was a good day. His parents were living apart, and between Jimmy’s school and the many hours his dad worked, he didn’t see Cliff often. Days that Jimmy rode with his dad to Duluth were really good days.

A year previously, Cliff had bought a 17” black and white TV from the Zenith dealer in Duluth. He felt good to be able to provide his family with one of the first television sets in Two Harbors, but he also had to drive back to the dealer almost every month for a repair. For Jimmy the drive to Duluth with his dad was a treat. The errand took several hours and Jimmy had his dad all to himself.

For at least six months in 1952, it was the same scenario. When Cliff and Jimmy got to the Zenith TV dealership on First Street and First Avenue, Jimmy would ask his dad if he could cross the street and go to the Sander Key and Lock Shop. Mr. Gruver would watch his son run across the busy street, knowing Jimmy would be entertained by Mr. Sander while he talked TV repairs with the Zenith people. Mr. Sander was a small, dark haired man not typically amusing to most folks - but whether Cliff would be at the Zenith store for a few minutes to drop the TV off, or whether he waited for an hour or so while it was fixed, Jimmy and Mr. Sander had plenty to talk about.

In addition to making keys, Mr. Sander sold bicycles and bicycle parts. Anything mechanical interested the ten-year old boy, who had already built more model trains and go-carts than any of his friends, and Mr. Sander had something in his shop that Jimmy could not stop thinking about.

Whizzer began manufacturing kits to motorize 26” bicycles in 1937. The one-cylinder three-horsepower engine conversion was popular with young men who had delivery jobs, and with the sons of wealthier families for just having fun. Several of Jimmy’s older friends had Whizzers. The motor on a bicycle was a great mechanical assist for climbing the hills of Two Harbors, but the Whizzer that Jimmy saw in Mr. Sander’s shop was much more exciting than any he had seen around his hometown.

In the late 1940’s Don White, a California Whizzer employee, wanted to share his motocross racing experiences with his son. On weekends he rode his motocross bike to the track, and so that his son could ride with him, he designed a smaller frame and used 20” rims and fit his design to the Whizzer engines he built at the factory during the week. The father and son became a riding sensation in southern California and Whizzer took advantage of its location to sell to this segment of the motorcycle market. Whizzer used Don’s design plans and manufactured 1100 Whizzer Sportsmans between 1948 and 1964.

The Whizzer Sportsman in Sander’s Key and Bike Repair Shop caught Jimmy Gruver’s eye. He had never seen or read about a bike like that before. The low profile and thunderous stainless steel exhaust made it a sharper ride than the 26” converted bicycles that his friends were riding. Jimmy admired it, studied it, talked about it and dreamed about it with Mr. Sander. After his dad finished his business at Zenith TV and crossed the street to pick Jimmy up, the three of them would admire it, study it and talk about it. On the way home, Jimmy and Cliff would talk about it more. But as much as they talked about it, Jimmy never imagined his father would buy him that bike. His father had never had a bike, didn’t know how ride a bike, and, suffering a back injury, was in no financial position to make such a purchase.

Early in the morning of December 25, 1952, Jimmy’s dad came over to the house and asked Jimmy to come outside. He said he had something in his car for him. Jimmy always enjoyed the presents his father found for him, but Jimmy never expected what he saw wedged between the seats of his Dad’s Chrysler. It was the Whizzer Sportsman that Jimmy had admired at Sander’s shop for so many months. His father had not only bought the basic bike for $239.50, but he had spent an additional twenty dollars and upgraded it with a windshield, speedometer, buddy seat and foot pegs! He had financed it for $18.75 per month for eighteen months.

Jimmy pushed his Sportsman to his older friend’s house. Darrel Rosen owned a full sized Whizzer and shared Jimmy’s interest in engines. He gave Jimmy five ounces of oil and a gallon of gas. They fired up their Whizzers and were off for a day of riding! They even picked up Darrel’s cousin so they could try out Jimmy’s buddy seat.

The fun that Christmas Day was tempered by the Two Harbors winter. The temperature hovered near zero and the icy roads contributed to a wipeout that bent the gooseneck and scratched the windshield of Jimmy’s new Sportsman. Jimmy tried to hide it from his dad, but Cliff noticed it the next morning. Jimmy didn’t know if he admired his father more for understanding that the bike’s state at the end of the day was no reflection of his appreciation for the gift, or the fact that his father simply sat down on the bike seat, grabbed the handle bars and with Herculean strength straightened the gooseneck back to its original configuration.

Jimmy lived on that motor bike for the next four years. It was the last thing he thought about before he fell asleep at night and the first thing he thought about in morning when he awoke. When it broke down he could think of nothing else until it was fixed. He had all the part numbers and prices memorized. A rod bearing was $.90. A set of rings was $1.28, a side cover gasket was $.10, and the side cover screws were $.10 each. Mr. Sander had a loyal customer.

Jimmy kept a maintenance schedule and performance record in his head. He changed the oil ($.35 a quart) every 150 miles. He got five oil changes to a quart. Even though his Dad’s fleet of trucks provided Jimmy’s gasoline, ($.30 a gallon no questions asked as long he kept his homemade siphon clean and secure so no one else used Gruver Trucking gas) Jimmy knew his bike got eighty miles to the gallon.

Jimmy’s first racing modification to a gasoline engine came unexpectedly the first time the head gasket blew on his Whizzer. When he disassembled the head he noticed that there was a burn in the cast of the head and the gasket could not seal. Jimmy thought about it and thought about it. He discussed it with his father. He finally decided the only way he could fix it would be to file the head flush. It turned out that this repair raised the compression and the engine now delivered 3.5 HP instead of 3, but now the 5/32” cast iron oil ring began to leak oil every 1200 miles. Not knowing, at eleven years old, that a steel-segmented oil ring could solve this problem, Jimmy added installing a new oil ring every 1500 miles to his maintenance schedule.

Jimmy’s goal was to visit every classmate and explore every road in the Two Harbors School District. All this riding around greatly irritated a crotchety old ship’s captain who was a neighbor to the Gruver family. Commander Cole did not appreciate the earsplitting roar of Jimmy’s pipes breaking the silence of his North Woods, and he complained to the Lake County Sheriff constantly. Sheriff Falk, who felt a young man could do much worse than tinker with a motorbike, addressed the Commander’s complaints as minimally as possible, but when he could no longer put off Commander Cole’s complaints, he would pull Jimmy over and admonish him for riding without a license. Jimmy responded by sneaking around even more, and this response heightened the degree and number of adventures the young man enjoyed with his Whizzer.

The days of fun on the Whizzer came to a crashing halt in 1956 when Jimmy lent it to a friend on a warm spring day. Roger Johnson hit a downed tree in a ditch and wrecked the bike. At fourteen, Jimmy decided it was time to move on to four wheels, so he stored the bike in his dad’s office and dedicated his summer to fixing up a 1935 Ford coupe he had bought from his brother. By fall he had the car running, people started calling him Jim, but he still didn’t have a driver’s license.

Jim didn’t want his father to sell his Whizzer, but his father needed money. Cliff tried to soften the loss by explaining to Jim that every young man deserves a bike, and one of the county commissioners had a son who would enjoy and cherish his Whizzer. Still, Jim always regretted that sale. Years later, while struggling to raise his own family on working man’s wages, long after his father had repaid the “loan” for selling the Whizzer, Jim scoured the country for a Whizzer Sportsman as he travelled the United States as a sales representative for Barko. He never found one.

On a Saturday evening in 1972, Jim looked at his wife Susie and family sitting with him at the supper table. Jeff was ten, Timmy was nine, Kevin was seven, Stephanie was baby, and Jim thought he was the luckiest guy in the world. He didn’t mind working overtime at his city maintenance job and moonlighting in his small shop behind his house to put food on the table. He loved fixing things and both jobs presented a continuous line-up of mechanical challenges.

Jim told his family that their neighbor across the alley had brought over a frame and a motor that he found at the dump. “Vince didn’t even know what it was,” Jim told his sons, “but he sure was happy to give it to me when I told him, ‘I can’t pay you anything for it , but I’ll do fifty dollars worth of work for you if you give me that Whizzer frame and motor.’”

“Wow Dad, that’s COOOL!” the boys said in unison. “What’s a Whizzer?”

Between spoonfuls of hotdish the boys listened to their father’s discourse of the Whizzer bike he grew up on. His excitement was contagious, and soon the boys were encouraging their dad to find that old Whizzer. “If it was such a cool bike it still has to be around SOMEwhere Dad, it’s not THAT old!”

The Sportsman Whizzer was the last thing Jim thought about before he fell asleep that night and the first thing he thought about the next morning when he awoke. That Sunday morning Susie followed him to the kitchen table, set a cup of coffee and the phone book in front of him, and Jim started making phone calls.

His first call was to Ed Hanson, the county commissioner who had purchased the Whizzer fifteen years previously.

“Well, Yahhh, Jim, I remember you! Sayyyy, how’s your dad doing? I suuure always liked him! Yaahhh, I remember that Whizzer. Dennis sure liked that bike! Noooo, he doesn’t have it anymore. We sold that to Billy Johnson. You know him, he works at the county garage.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, I know you Jim. I see you around town all the time, now that you work for the city. No, I don’t have that Whizzer any more. I sold it to my neighbor, but I don’t think he has it any more….don’t know his number, got a phone book there?”

Nine phone calls later Jim was talking to a man in Duluth. The bike was on a garbage trailer and would be hauled away early Monday morning. If Jim got there before the garbage service, he could have it!

“Let’s go boys!,” James called up the stairs to his sleeping sons. Jeff, Timmy and Kevin rode with their Dad to Duluth to pick up the Whizzer.

It was a really good day. There would be many more really good days as the four men worked together to restore Jim’s first Whizzer.

It is restored and on display at the Sunrise Engine Rebuilder’s Whizzer Showroom in rural North Branch, Minnesota

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NEW Federal Tax Credit for Minneapolis and St Paul Homebuyers!

First Time Home Buyer Mortgage Credit Certificate

What is the TAKE CREDIT!! Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) Program?

It is a 20% federal income tax credit that can be used toward the amount of taxes you owe at the end of each year you live in your home. Because of this credit you can increase your monthly income by amending your W-4 so there are less deductions taken out of your paycheck.

Who is eligible?

You may be eligible for an MCC through the TAKE CREDIT!! program if you meet the following requirements:

• First-time Home Buyer: (A first-time home buyer is defined as someone who has not owned, or been included on a title to a property in the last three years.)
• Income: 1-2 person taxpayers with adjusted gross income of less than $83,900 - $92,290 or 3 – more persons of less than $92,290
• Purchase Price: The purchase price of a new or existing single family house, townhome or condominium is less than $369,160 (Certain adjustments apply to owner-occupied duplexes, tri-plexes and four-plexes)
• Qualify for a mortgage: Loan must be a fixed rate conventional, FHA, VA or RHS mortgage product and not financed by a Mortgage Revenue Bond program


It’s simple. If you meet the requirements listed, you can apply for a MCC through a participating TAKE CREDIT!! lender. You will receive the MCC when you close on your home. You must file IRS Form 8396 with your federal income tax return each year.
There is a one-time program participation fee of $575.
If you close on your home before December 1, 2009, you may also be eligible for up to $8,000 First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit permitted under recent legislation passed by Congress.
For more information please contact a participating lender. For a list of participating lenders visit

Monday, May 10, 2010

Selling Non-MLS

A lot of agents feel the key to getting a property sold is to have the property listed on the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. In fact - many agents use the MLS as their main marketing tool.

I believe the MLS is a great tool for selling property, and I continue to incorporate the use of the MLS in the majority of my listings.

On the other hand, when you are trying to sell your property in a competitive market, or you are a buyer looking for a specific type of property or special financing such as a contract for deed, perhaps one of the questions you should ask your prospective Realtor is "how many properties do you sell each year without being listed on the MLS?"

". . .perhaps one of the questions you should ask your prospective Realtor is "how many properties do you sell each year without being listed on the MLS?"

Why? In a market where there are a lot of properties to choose from, the agent who is selling homes before they go on market or without ever going on market is really demonstrating a talent for networking.

For example, I have a buyer who is looking for foreclosed apartment buildings in a specific area. By the time these properties go on market, they are typically in multiple offers. So I tracked down two buildings for them through banking connections (one connection I've had for several years, one I made looking for the building) and both of these transactions would probably not have occurred without my networking as neither were on the MLS.

I have several buyers looking for specific types of commercial property in a specific areas. I've got 3 non-MLS deals going right now for these buyers, none of which are published on the MLS. One of the buyers I acquired because I found the lead on the building, the other two buyers told me their needs and I went out and found the properties through agents and other contacts I've built up over the years.

In another example, I obtained a listing on a bank-owned, commercial office building in South Minneapolis. I networked it with agents in my office and got a showing with a fairly serious buyer before it even went on market. The fact it wasn't on the MLS actually made the property more interesting to the buyer - knowing they were getting a "first look" created a sense of urgency with the potential buyer.

When selling residential real estate, it can be harder to match buyers and sellers as a home is a very personal purchase. Using One Time Showing Agreements has been a great way to connect potential buyers to sellers, and reinforce my abilities as an agent who is worth considering for a listing. I've also used the One Time Showing Agreement contract to get sellers to consider buyers who may need special financing or consideration, such as a longer contingency or temporary Contract for Deed financing.

In the last 6 months, 6 of my deals (4 sold, 1 under contract, 1 with a Letter of Intent) are non-MLS transactions. Networking still has a role in today's real estate market, and the better your agent is at it, the better you will be served.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Next NOMI Home Buyers Tour is April 11th!

The NOMI Home Buyers Tour is just around the corner and have we got a line-up for you!!

We are once again nearing 35-40 homes for the April 11th tour! With prices ranging from $59K - $349K...there is going to be something for everyone!

Even if you aren't in the market for a home right now it makes for a great day to explore the neighborhood and visit some wonderful homes!

Please spread the is a free event to enjoy. We will be at 42nd Avenue Station (4171 Lyndale Ave N) from 11:00am - 1:00pm handing out the Tour Guides Booklets, then it is up to you...your tour is self guided and you can visit as many homes as you like!! Homes will be open from 12:00pm - 3:00pm.

The February Tour brought out nearly 300 attendees and we hope to see that kind of turnout again!

Can't wait for you to Get To NOMI! Hope to see you on tour!


SALE PENDING! 4313 Webber Parkway 5 BR/2 BATHS!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Know A Guy Who Knows A Guy Who Knows . . . A Woman Who Can Network

Networking. So many people need to network and so few actually do network. My broker would call it "lead generation" but it's more than that - it's about generating knowledge and helping people, not just about getting business.

Recently one of my top clients said "so how did you get to this property before it hit the market?" and my response was:

"I know a commercial banker, from my insurance days, who had a client he wanted me to talk to, who knew another real estate agent. I called the other agent regarding another client's needs, who remembered I worked a lot in a specific area, and he mentioned he had this property coming up. I thought of you, as I know you are working in the area, and so I called and signed you up as a client, and put this together." My "top client" was shaking his head at this "chain" of networking and he seems to appreciate me a bit more after hearing the story. I gained the "inside" knowledge about an upcoming property and was able to gain a client.

So why is networking about knowledge and helping others? I look at meeting people as the opportunity to learn something, and in return, the chance to potentially help someone. In some cases - I have been blessed with the gift of a long-time friendship. And yes - I network for business - but by putting these other priorities first, it makes the business part very easy to do, and here's why:

Knowledge: has several different definitions of knowledge, my favorite being: "the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time." In order to be successful in your endeavors in life, don't you need to be useful? How can you be useful if you don't know your stuff? Meeting people and learning about their business or personal interests is an exceptionally fast way to gain knowledge. Most folks enjoy telling you about their business and interests - shut up and listen to them, let them talk, and gain knowledge. My husband is a master at listening and watching - he does not talk much about himself, but rather enjoys listening to others and learning things along the way.

Helping Others:
A lot of sales people are "guarded" about their knowledge and expertise. It's very understandable - they have worked hard to make their contacts and learn their business and many were not helped along the way. But to give is to receive - giving a little bit of one's self can encourage others to give of themselves, thus creating an exchange. Sure - there will be times when you give and you don't receive - oh well. Take the high road and give a little and see what happens.

Understand Expectations: When you do offer your knowledge or expertise to others - do it without the expectation of "receiving". If you do things solely with the expectation of "receiving" - you will always be disappointed. If you really want something from a prospect or client or business partner, just ask - and then look for a way to give them something of value in return.

Networking is not rocket science. Based on Myers-Briggs personality tests, some personality types will have a harder time with it than others. Not everyone is a natural ENFJ - but you don't have to be to be successful at networking. You'll just have to be more diligent and methodical about networking, making a concious effort to make connections of value.


Friday, February 5, 2010


Join us for our "NOMI Home Buyers Tour!"

What better way to spend Valentine's Day...grab a loved one and head to NOMI to fall in love again...with your new HOME!!

The NOMI Home Buyers Tour has taken on a new twist in 2010: demand has grown, guests have spoken and tour coordinators listened. The NOMI Home Buyers Tour will include 15-20 For Sale properties that guests will be able to view at their leisure. With prices ranging from $99,000 - $249,000, there is something for everyone.

The tour will begin at 42nd Avenue Station located at 4171 Lyndale Avenue North (Meet & Greet is from 11:00am - 1:00pm). Guests will be able to pick up a complete list of featured homes that will be open between the hours of 12:00pm and 3:00pm. as well as spend some time chatting with locals, elected officials, representatives from Neighborhood Organizations as well as Realtors. It is the perfect opportunity to learn about the positive changes taking place in North Minneapolis. Even if you aren't in the market for a new home, stop in and take advantage of the NOMI Lunch Special and register for a great prize!!

Also, be sure to check out the Star Tribune Home Edition on February 7th for more information on the NOMI Home Buyers Tour!!


SOLD! 1606 Irving Avenue North!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why Stage a House?

Being a person with a passion for old homes and for fixing things, I sometimes forget not every buyer or seller has a "vision" for the potential of a property. For those folks who know me well - I tend to see opportunity where others see bad wallpaper, shag carpet, or overwhelming window coverings.

It's amazing what a difference cleaning, painting, and staging can make. If you look at the photos of 3935 Fremont Ave N posted on this website, you'd never know just a few months ago peach drapes hid the beautiful wood trim, carpet hid hardwood floors, and wallpaper made the kitchen look nearly impossible to work with. With paint and the removal of carpet and drapes, plus the addition of a few accessories, including artwork, silk plants, a dinner table for two, and some kitchen accessories - the house looks very welcoming. There are times when I stop by 3935 Fremont Ave N and I think to myself "geez, this is a gem of a house". I only wish I had gotten a few "before" photos to truly show the difference.

As a seller, one of the easiest things to do to improve your home is take as much "stuff" out as you possibly can, and then go back a day later and repeat! I operate under the idea "less is more" when staging a home, and it seems to be working.

I've also noticed younger buyers may like some antiques but they don't want to be living in a museum. This is a hard concept for me to grasp as I LOVE wonderful old furniture with charm and character - but for staging, we need to keep a balance between new and old so the buyers can go either way when envisioning the house as "their" house. If you stage it too much one way or another - you're likely to shut out half the people who look at the home.

Staging also helps buyers understand how they may use the space. By simply adding a drop leaf table to one house, a seller clearly demonstrated the lack of a separate dining room wouldn't mean you couldn't have a nice meal. Staging can also minimize some of the imperfections in an old home - it's not meant to hide serious flaws, but it can show how some minor imperfections are not necessarily impossible to live with - much like putting on a flattering party dress - staging should show off a home's best features.

I can see staging and minor rehab work plan are going to become a part of my real estate business. Not only will it benefit my sellers, but I enjoy the down time from being out and about all day. Plus - it gives me a great excuse to buy some really fun accessories when they show up on clearance!

If you are curious about the potential of your home, feel free to contact me for a complimentary 30 minute consultation.