Call your agent before you look at new construction

New construction

There isn’t a lot of new construction in the area but there is some and I like to remind homebuyers that they can and should buy new construction with the help of their REALTOR.

The nice agent in the model home is representing the seller. Sure they will work with you and they really know the project better than your own agent does but why not work with an agent who has experience and one who represents you and not the seller? Buyers do not get discounts for working without their own agents.

The salesperson at the model should ask if you have an agent and is required by Minnesota law to explain agency and have you sign an agency disclosure at the first substantive contact. It is the agent’s job to help buyers who come into the model, that is what they are there for. Even buyers who have signed contracts with buyer agents.

The easiest way to involve your agent is to include their name when you sign in at the model home.  Better yet go with your agent to the model home. We always have time to tour homes with our clients.

Often buyers report having somehow ended up in a model home and before they realized what happened they made an offer. Buying real estate should be intentional, not accidental.

Recommending a neighborhood

tree
On the river bluff – Cherokee Heights neighborhood

It is a common misconception that a REALTOR can recommend a neighborhood. Recommending a neighborhood is a fair housing violation.

Often home buyers will ask if a house is in a “decent” neighborhood. REALTORS can not answer that question, and “decent” is pretty vague. There are people who tell me that a neighborhood is “bad”.  Like “decent”, “bad” can mean just about anything.

There are homebuyers who choose neighborhoods based on what they can afford or how close it is to where they work or to family or to a place of worship.

There are people who want to live in walkable neighborhoods but I have found that definitions of walkable vary considerably.

REALTORS can not “steer” people into a neighborhood or recommend a neighborhood.

REALTORS can and will answer specific questions about neighborhoods. Some will even recommend restaurants and know a lot about neighborhood amenities.

There are plenty of resources and maps of the internet that provide useful information that can help home buyers choose a neighborhood. Driving, biking or walking through a neighborhood can help buyers narrow the search. Some homebuyers research schools before choosing a neighborhood while others look at crime rates.

The City of St. Paul web site has neighborhood information. Each neighborhood has a district council. Learning more about the neighborhood council is a great way to learn more about the neighborhood.

When choosing a neighborhood is important to consider housing stock in that neighborhood. People looking to buy a rambler should not be looking in the downtown area and people looking for a Victorian-era Queen Anne style might find one in Highland Park but there are so few that the likelihood of finding one on the market is slim.

Some buyers choose a neighborhood only to discover that there aren’t any affordable houses available in the area. People with more money have more choices.

How to get your home ready for winter

Colorful leaves
Maple leaves

A first time home buyer asked me what she needs to do to get her house ready for winter. There are a couple of generic things that most homeowners will need to do:

  1. Get the furnace or boiler serviced.
  2. Turn off water to outdoor spigots.

Even if the furnace or boiler is new you should have it checked out by a professional. In the metro area expect to pay between $90 and $200 dollars for the service. I have found that the companies that charge the least are also the companies with the most inexperienced technicians and they like to sell furnaces and boilers.

As for the water, there should be a turn off valve in the basement or crawl space. Turn the water off inside the house, and then go outside and turn the water off. Disconnect the hose and put it away for the winter.

Leaving the water on can damage faucets or cause pipes to burst inside the house or both.

There is a lot more that can be done to help winterize your house like caulking around windows if needed and sealing up any openings where mice can get it.

For older windows sometimes using window insulation kits (plastic)  will stop drafts and improve efficiency.

I like to put the garden tools away and get out the snow shovels. . . there is more but I think I have covered the basics.

Winter projects

I live in an old house. This time of year I create a “to do” list for the winter.  I have more free time in the winter, business is a little slower and there are a few days when I won’t leave the house unless I have to.

Last winter I spent some time getting rid of stuff and reorganizing what we have and I did some work on the woodwork in the dining room. The winter before that I repainted the kitchen and replaced the hardware on the cupboards.

My plans for this winter include cleaning out and painting and upstairs closet. I want to kind of redesign it and make it more efficient. Right now I am rounding up my materials and supplies so they are ready. I’ll also be painting and patching a wall that was damaged during the great ice dam melt of early 2019. Lucky for us the damage was minimal. I’ll need some paint to match what is already on the walls and I’ll use the leftovers for the closet project.

For me, the secret to actually getting the projects done is having everything I need ready so that when I am snowed in or when I have some extra time I can get to work right away. Each trip to the hardware store can mean a serious delay especially.

If you have winter projects to do around the house start planning now.

snow
Winter Wonderland St. Paul, MN 2019

 

Reality TV has made my job more challenging

I can tell when I am working with a home buyer who watches those reality TV shows about flipping, fixing, remodeling, buying or selling real estate.

The shows do not match up to the reality of the average Minnesota home buyer or seller. The good news is there usually isn’t a lot of drama in real estate, the bad news is buying and selling real estate isn’t as fun as it looks on TV.

Remodeling and renovating a home is actually more expensive and complicated than it looks on reality television. Things go wrong and sometimes by the time the project is complete the owner of the property owes more on the home than it can be sold for.

The number of houses a home buyer has to look at before they find the right one varies a lot. There is no magic number but most home buyers know it when they see it.

It would be nice if life worked like those real estate shows but it doesn’t. Be prepared to have an open mind and expect the unexpected.

Saving up for a downpayment

Experts generally agree that being able to put a little money aside or save it is important. There are people who earn above-average incomes but who have no money.

Skipping the fancy coffee is’t going to add up to enough savings for a down payment on a house, it is going to take more than that.

Knowing where your money is being spent can help. Often it is the smaller monthly expenses that really add up.

A cell phone bill here and a streaming service there and some magazine subscriptions and maybe a membership that rarely gets used.

Go through monthly expenses at least once a year and see if any of the bills can be lowered or eliminated. Look for free trials that ended up being monthly bills.

It is possible to make savings a monthly expense by using auto-pay to transfer money from checking to savings each month before it all gets spent. Based on the idea of paying yourself first.

The word budget sounds boring but it is easier than ever thanks to electronic banking. I like to categorize expenses so I can easily see how much is being spent on utilities or restaurants.

Cooking at home can save a lot of money. When my daughter was a starving graduate student she used to do most of her cooking for the week on Sunday afternoons because she didn’t always have time to cook.

Bringing lunch to work can be a significant saving over dining out each day.

Buying a house does not require a 20% downpayment but in most cases, homebuyers will need cash. For those who already own a home sometimes things break.

People who want to buy a house in 2021 should start saving today.