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.

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


Home prices continue to climb

It is hard for me to forget the great recession and the housing market crash. The banks came out alright but those who lost their homes will always feel the impact. Many have recovered and some have purchased homes again.

The good news for home ownership today is that the demand for homes is stronger than it was before the great recession. We are at full employment with an unemployment rate at around 3% for Minnesota and 4% on average for the whole country.

The graph shows median home prices in St. Paul. The numbers come from the NorthstarMLS which is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. I manually computed the median home sale price in St. Paul for May 2018 and got $219,500. I am not sure why the chart shows a lower number.

During the peak in 2006 before the recession the median home price in St. Paul was $207,073.

Median home prices
Median home sale prices

I’ll have more numbers later in the week.

No you can’t just dig up the hostas


There are certain things that “run with the property” When you sell your house anything that is built-in like the fireplace, furnace, central air, dishwasher and kitchen cabinets are automatically included with the sale. The chandelier in the dining room is also included.

Perennials plants, trees, and bushes also run with the property and are included in the real estate sale.  Homeowners that would like to remove a perennial should dig it up before putting the house on the market or specifically state that the plant is not included in the sale.

I have had clients who decided to keep grandma’s rose bush or a plant that was a gift. Sometimes plants turn up missing from yards especially if the house has been vacant.

The hosta in the picture is one of many that my mother gave me. We divided them before putting her house on the market, leaving plenty for the new owner and no holes.

There are different rules regarding crops. Crops belong to the person who planted them. Crops include tomatoes.

touring houses with buyers

One of my favorite things to do is to tour homes that are for sale with buyers. I have always enjoyed the house hunting process and I am lucky that I get to do it often.

When touring houses home buyers should:

1.  Wear slip-on shoes

2.  If you plan on bringing the family make sure everyone visits the restroom before you go house hunting.  Vacant houses don’t always have the water turned on.

3. Keep an eye on your children.

4. Do not take pictures or video of the home without the owner’s permission.

This is the list for agents:

  • Leave your business card in the house after the showing as a courtesy to the seller, unless showing instructions ask you not to leave a card.
  • Make sure you’ve confirmed the showing so you or your clients are not waiting or turned away
  • If the showing gets canceled or postponed, let the listing office know immediately so the seller can be contacted
  • Stay within the appointment time frame.
  • Use your own app or e-key to open the property for a showing
  • Take your shoes off before you start the showing — a good sign of respect to the current homeowner
  • View the home together with your potential buyer — avoid letting them roam the home by themselves
  • Never allow buyers to enter a property unaccompanied
  • Honor the listing agent’s relationship with the seller and encourage the seller to direct all questions to his or her agent
  • Have a listing sheet ready with all the info of the property for buyers to easily refer back to. (I have it all on my phone)
  • Respect your client by limiting your use of cell phones or computers to the business a hand
  • Don’t allow anyone to eat, drink, smoke, dispose of trash or bring pets into the property
  • Double check that all doors & windows are locked before you leave the property
  • Report any problems with the property to the Listing Agent

I would add to this that agents should knock on the door first.  I try to remember to do that.  You just never know when there is a miscommunication. Earlier this week I was touring a home and there was someone in it. I had knocked first.

It is important to remember that homes for sale are someone else’s private property and that people may be living in the home.

Sunny three season porch

When highest and best goes wrong

If you are a home buyer you know the drill. House goes on the market and there is a deadline for making an offer. The listing agent will call for highest and best offer by a certain date and time.

Sometimes the time passes and the house is still on the market. Sometimes multiple offers are made by the deadline. Other times buyers were not interested enough to rush through the process and compete with other buyers so they did nothing.

Some listings have highest and best offer deadline in MLS and the dates are from weeks ago making me wonder what happened.

Home may buyers end up bidding against themselves as they are told that there might be multiple offers or that another offer is coming in. I strongly discourage buyers from raising the offer amount unless they are sure there are other offers.

If you are selling a home it is probably best if you don’t set a deadline for offers unless you already have an offer. Sometimes buyers think there is something wrong with the house if it is on the market after the call for highest and best.

Every year I have to explain to a new crop of buyers that they won’t be told what other buyers have offered and that they are more or less rolling the dice. In the end, I want my clients to be happy with their purchase. I don’t want them to feel like they were taken to the cleaners or like they paid to much.

When representing the seller I want to make sure that the offer that my clients want to accept will result in a closed sale.

Home buying isn’t easy these days and sometimes home selling isn’t as easy as it looks. I have seen houses that got multiple offers end up back on the market after the financing fell through or after the inspection. When buyers are paying top dollar for a home they don’t expect to have to spend a lot of money on repairs.

The more the buyer offers on a home as compared to the asking price the pickier he/she/they are going to be about the condition of the place.

Sometimes I chuckle when an overpriced house hits the market on a Friday with a call for highest and best offers by Monday.

There are still agents out there and real estate companies that believe they need to create a sense of urgency to sell a home quickly. We are in a buyers market which by its very nature means there is a high interest among buyers and a sense of urgency.