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

Basics for the garden

Herb garden

I just got these plants at the farmer’s market last weekend and will plant them soon. These are some basics that come in handy for cooking. They are all super easy to grow. I plant them in a little patch of dirt by my back door.

Fron Left to right: Basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and Lavender. We don’t eat the lavender but I like the way it looks and smells. I also grow a variety of peppers, some cucumbers, and tomatoes and There is rhubarb in the backyard and it gets used for pies and cake.

I freeze parsley at the end of the season and if I have enough basil I make pesto before the first freeze. The rosemary gets dried and used in the winter and so does the lavender. I used to grow dill but it tends to spread all over the place. Mint is also an invasive species. I have chamomile that reseeds itself.

Herbs can be grown in pots but I have plenty of space in the garden. Basil is an easy plant to grow from seeds which is a nice way to grow a larger crop.

If you are new to gardening or a new homeowner or both try these easy to grow garden herbs. I am always amazed at how much food I can grow on my postage stamp sized city lot.

Everyone wants to live in a safe neighborhood

The number of people living in an area impacts the crime rate as does the number of homeless shelters and bars and sports stadiums. The Saint Paul police department has information about crime in each neighborhood. There are also details about what types of incidents happen each week and the location of the incident.
I wish I could say that there is no crime in St. Paul but I can’t. Crimes were up last year because of a rise in thefts. Crime is a perception. There are areas that people perceive to be high crime areas but the numbers do not support that belief.
The highest priced homes in the city tend to be in the lowest crime areas. Crime rates are up due to an increase in thefts. I have had a few things stolen over the years. Usually, Real estate professionals do not talk or write about crime because it can be bad for business. Yet hardly a day goes by that a home buyer doesn’t mention crime or safety.
Causes and Origins of Crime According to Saint Paul PD:
  • Administrative and investigative emphasis of law enforcement
  • Citizen’s attitudes toward crime
  • Climate
  • Crime reporting practices of citizens
  • Cultural factors and education, recreational, and religious characteristics
  • Drug use
  • Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability
  • Effective strength of law enforcement agencies
  • Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness
  • Gang activity
  • Modes of transportation and highway system
  • Policies of other components of the criminal justice system
  • Population density and degree of urbanization
  • Stability of population with respect to residents’ mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors