Everything in an old house can be made new

Gravity Furnace – isn’t she a beauty?

Just about everything on the inside or the outside of a house can be rebuilt or replaced. An old house can have a new roof and new windows too.

There are old houses and there are old houses. Sometimes home buyers are intimidated by the house that was built in the 1890’s when it is the house that was built in the 1980’s, or 1990’s.  that they should be concerned about.

Houses built in the late 1990’s may still have the original roof. Replacing a roof is expensive and some only last 20 years. A 20-year-old forced air furnace is a scary thing. Plumbing doesn’t wear out as quickly but I know from experience that plumbing for toilets and faucets and valves wear out and they can be expensive to replace.

Our home was renovated in the late 80’s and we have replaced almost every faucet and valve in the house and upgraded toilets and replaced a few sinks. The plumbing, in general, is in much better shape than what I find in houses that are almost a 100 years newer. The fixtures and plumbing in the kitchen are just a couple of months old.

Our furnace is now three years old and the water heater is about six years old.

I strongly encourage home buyers to have a complete home inspection before buying a home of any age. While house hunting pay close attention to the age of the systems inside and outside the house rather than the age of the whole house.

If a home as been newly renovated ask for warranties on the work, make sure permits were pulled and that they have been closed.  Local government entities that rehab and sell houses will sometimes refuse to provide any kind of warranty on the work making a complete home inspection even more important.

Most of the housing in St. Paul is old. There isn’t a lot of new construction and it is very expensive. Houses are definitely reusable and upgradable. The oldest houses in St. Paul were built without plumbing or electricity. That was all added later.

Also, see Younger buyers want technology  Homes can be retrofitted with smart home technology.

searching for a decent neighborhood

On the river bluff – Cherokee Heights neighborhood

Home buyers are out in full force looking for that perfect home in a “decent” neighborhood. I St. Paul we have seventeen neighborhoods to choose from. Within those 17 neighborhoods, there are more than 100 sub-neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a district council. One way to learn about the neighborhoods is to visit the district council website for the neighborhood.

If a decent neighborhood is an area with a low crime rate the best place to learn about crime in St. Paul is from the Saint Paul Police Department’s website.

The idea of a decency in a neighborhood is vague and subjective, yet most home buyers are looking for a “decent” neighborhood. In addition, to “decent”, the neighborhood needs to be “safe”.

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act.

As a real estate agent and broker, I can not recommend a neighborhood or even state that a neighborhood is decent or safe. I can not steer anyone into a particular neighborhood because that violates fair housing laws. Fair housing discrimination does not need to be intentional to be illegal. To learn more about fair housing rules and laws in Minnesota, visit the Fair housing basics web site.

For most people, it is the amount of money they have that will determine where they live. The most expensive homes are near the best schools. Great schools drive property values up. Higher property values mean property higher taxes which in turn means more money is spent on education.

There are private schools in St. Paul and public magnet schools. Parents have choices. To learn more about St. Paul Public Schools.

When choosing a neighborhood write a list of what is important and do some research. Drive through the neighborhood or walk through it when the weather is nice and people are outside again.

Fewer Registered Vacant houses

In St. Paul you can register your vacant building with the city. During the peak of the housing market crash and the great recession there were over 2000 registered vacant buildings in St. Paul and most of those were houses.

Today there are 645 registered vacant buildings in St. Paul and 586 of those are homes. I mention this because there are fewer than 300 homes for sale in our fair city at the moment. St. Paul appears to own at least 135 properties at least according to tax records. Apparently, some of these homes are going to be re-developed. Some of them were foreclosures.

This little house at 47 Douglas street has been on the vacant building list since the Fall of 2009 and has been owned by the City of St. Paul since 2010. I asked about it a few years back and was told that it needed a lot of work. I’ll bet one day it will be a vacant lot owned by the city rather than a vacant house.

vacant house
47 Douglas Street, St. Paul, MN 55102


Make a great offer

My mother’s Antique Teapot

These days multiple offers on houses that are for sale are fairly common. When choosing an offer it isn’t just about the amount of money being offered. Here are a few things that matter to sellers when they evaluate offers:

  1. The total dollar amount of offer.
  2. Down payment percentage. The greater the down payment the better but that doesn’t mean buyers need a huge down payment to buy a house. It just means that if all things are equal an offer with a 10% down payment is better than an offer with a 5% down payment.
  3. Closing date. Usually, closing dates can be negotiated but buyers should ask their agent to find out what the sellers have in mind for a closing date.
  4. Length of the inspection period. A shorter inspection period is better than a longer one.
  5. Earnest money matters, it shows that the buyer has money and it also shows the strength of the buyer’s commitment to buy the home.
  6. An offer written by a real estate agent with a good reputation. An agent’s reputation is based on how she works with her clients and with other agents. The agent with the most sales isn’t necessarily the agent with the best reputation.
  7. Offers that are not contingent upon the sale of another property are better than contingent offers.
  8. Asking the seller to pay the buyers closing costs weakens the offer.

These days speed is important. When the right house comes on the market buyers need to drop what they are doing, see the property and make an offer. Unfortunately, those who wait for the weekend or for an open house end up missing out.

Pro buyer tip: If you are at an open house and you think you want to make an offer on the house act as disinterested as possible around other open house attendees and be very careful about what you say in front of the real estate agent who is hosting the open house because he/she is representing the seller and anything you say can be held against you and it can weaken your negotiating power.

It is also important to have that pre-approval letter from a lender ready before looking at houses. If there are multiple offers the seller isn’t going to wait for a pre-approval letter and an offer isn’t any good without one.

Happy house hunting and may the odds be forever in your favor.

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Keeping St. Paul warm

It is Friday and Fridays are for fun. We have had a few breaks from the cold and it might get above freezing again today. It has been a cold winter and apparently, the light posts need to be kept warm and a group of “yarn bombers” have taken on the task.

The yarn work is led by the “Rage to Order Artists Initiative” of Lowertown, with support from the St. Paul Saints Art Program and a series of sponsors, including St. Paul and Ramsey County.

The goal is to wrap 158 lamp posts along 12 downtown city blocks from Rice Park to CHS Field and keep them on display into March.

lamp post with crochet sock on it
Lamp post near rice park

Historic and current mortgage rates

chart of interest rates
Freddie Mac rates

Mortgage interest rates have been at an all-time low. it is possible that they will go all the way up to 5%, maybe even this year. Back in 2006 during the housing price peak and before the housing market crash and the great recession mortgage rates were over 6.3%. When we look at mortgage rates I think putting them in context helps.

Higher rates are bound to have an impact on the housing market. Here in the metro area, there are so few houses on the market that it will be hard to see the impact.