Your friend isn’t very good at home inspections

I think I have been on a zillion home inspections with home buyers. Sometimes home buyers have a friend or relative who has a background in construction or who is a handyman or contractor conduct a home inspection.

What could possibly go wrong? Usually, these helpful friends or relatives miss a few important things. They don’t check the furnace or the water heater. They miss the fact the garbage disposal doesn’t work or that the new furnace does not have a filter in it.

They might not notice missing window screens or even cracked window glass. They may miss the gaps between the showe

r surround and the bathroom wall, or that the back door lacks any kind of weather stripping.

The helpful and knowledgeable friend does not use a systematic approach nor does he give the home buyer a report with pictures and recommendations. Usually the friend does an incomplete or partial inspection. If they are not familiar with the older houses in the inner city they may not know what some of the common problems are like ungrounded electrical systems and tree roots in sewer systems.

On the one hand, the buyer saves money because professional inspectors will generally charge at least $300. On the other hand, they may end up paying for repairs that they could have had the seller pay for if they had known about them during the inspection period.

If you buy a house you might need a few things

Buying a house is a big step. First time home buyers will spend money on all sorts of things they had not considered before.

Shovels. Snow and dirt shovels.

At least one garden hose

A rake or two

A lawnmower

Buckets, yes buckets.

Small hand tools like screwdrivers, hammers, and pliers.

A sprinkler or two?

A snow blower?

A grill, gas or charcoal or both.

Dehumidifier for the basement.



putty knife



The list goes on and on. You don’t need it all the day you move in but you should plan ahead and make a list, pace yourself.


House hunting isn’t what it used to be

I did a little research on how many houses were on the market each may from 2008 to 2018. I got data from the NorthstarMLS which is deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

May houses for sale
houses for sale in May

I could have chosen any month and the chart would have shown the downward trend. I like to think that what goes down must go up. In 2008 home buyers had 4 times as many homes to choose from.

It can be hard for buyers to find a home in the hottest price ranges. There are houses on the market. There are bargains too and they are not foreclosures or low priced houses. The bargains are the overpriced houses that do not sell with multiple offers but are sold to the buyer who is willing to take a chance and offer a fair price.

First home with second hand furnishings

It is easier than ever before to furnish a home with second-hand furniture. There is furniture in various thrift shops and second-hand furniture stores around town and there is Facebook marketplace and of course Craig’s list.

Garage sales present some opportunities as well. There are “curb alerts’ in various Facebook groups for people who just want to give stuff away. they leave it on a curb.

There are a couple of pieces of furniture in my own home that I got before there was social media or Craig’s list. I found it by a dumpster and hauled it home.

Household items like dishes, cups, pots and pans and even crystal punch bowls are easy to find at thrift shops like Goodwill or my own favorite St. Vincent de Paul on West 7th.

It takes some patience and sometimes sanders, glue and paint to furnish an entire house with thrift shop finds. it isn’t like going to a furniture store and it all at once or one room at a time. It can take months or years.

Don’t forget the artwork. A home with bare walls doesn’t seem like a home at all.

Knowing what I know now if I were to start all over again with no furniture I would not be in a hurry to fill each room in a house. It is easier to acquire stuff than it is to get rid of it. Hunting for furniture and refinishing or upcycling can be a lot of fun.

Lost objects on West 7th street


Fuses or breakers?

The answer is breakers. There are houses in St. Paul that still have old electrical boxes with fuses instead of breakers. Fuses seem to work fine but those boxes are at least 50 years old and some are much older. Having an ancient electrical system means having fewer circuits. Insurance companies do not like fuses and will charge more or they won’t provide insurance at all.

If the power is 100 amp and the fuse box does not have to be relocated prices for upgrading to breakers start at about $1500.00. It can cost twice as much if there is 60 AMP service or if the electrical box needs to be relocated.  It is easy enough to get an estimate from an electrician.

If you are buying a house with fuses plan on upgrading to breakers. Make sure to check the electrical box before making an offer on a house. Sometimes there is more than one box especially if there is central air or an upgraded kitchen.

I strongly encourage sellers to upgrade to breakers before they put the house on the market.

We use our houses much differently today than we did in the 1950’s. We use a lot more electricity. I have seen old fuse boxes with four or five circuits for the whole house. Newer electrical systems will include that many circuits just for the kitchen.

fuses and breakers
Electrical panels


Sellers, view love letters with caution

Monarch butterfly

an offer on your home will be accompanied by a “love letter”.  There isn’t anything wrong with a love letter as long as the letter is mainly about the house and how much the buyers like the property.

Buyers could make an offer and include a letter about how much they like the house and admire the gardens and love the neighborhood. I once had a seller who accepted an offer mainly because of a love letter.

Usually, those love letters never make it to my home seller clients. I ask them if they want to see the letter and encourage them to say no. Why would I do that? Because I am concerned about fair housing violations. If a seller chooses one offer over another based on the family status of the offerer or how the buyer looks that might be a fair housing violation.

As a real estate broker and agent, I can not help any of my clients discriminate against anyone who wants to buy a house.

Usually, when I explain fair housing to my clients they decide not to view the buyer’s love letter.

Buyers who choose to write these letters should omit pictures of themselves and their families and focus on the house they are making an offer on. They may want to include personal information about where they work or what they do for a living.

When the buyers do not know the sellers they can put information in the love letter that has a negative impact.  Maybe the house is on the market because of a death or divorce or financial problems.

I meet homeowners who tell me their home should be sold to someone who will fill it with children. Choosing a buyer based on family status is a fair housing violation.

Learn more about fair housing