Staging in an era of minimalism

There are various ways to stage a house. Hiring someone to come in and furnish every square inch of the home isn’t the way to stage a home.  The goal of staging should be to make a room look more inviting or in some cases to show how the room could be enjoyed.

Often when I see professionally staged homes I see too much stuff. Too much furniture and too many objects, a cluttered look.

Having less in a room makes it look larger and can help the buyer imagine the potential of the room.

Personally, I think empty or nearly empty rooms can really show off living spaces. Once the stuff is gone I notice the lighting and the layout and I start to imagine the room with my belongings in it.

Some of my clients feel the same way. The idea of minimalism and of smaller houses with smaller rooms is more attractive than rooms filled with furniture.

Recently I have read a raft of articles about the advantages of living without furniture. The articles include pictures of rugs, mats, and pillows. There may even be some health benefits in sitting on the floor vs. in a chair. I’ll keep my furniture but I won’t ignore the trend.

Furniture is expensive, it takes up space and limits how a room can be used.

I am not ready to get rid of my furniture but I am open to the idea that houses are not about furniture.

Often removing items from a house make it more salable.

Sometimes removing some furniture and re-arranging what is left can make a big difference in how a room looks. Rooms with some rugs and a few pillows, a chair or rocker, end table or coffee table and some window treatments are enough, especially in some of our older smaller St. Paul homes.

Real estate broker cooperation

It is common for an agent from one company to list a home for sale and an agent from another company brings in the buyer. It is called broker reciprocity. When your home is on the market and listed with a REALTOR thousands of local agents are competing with each other to find a buyer.

Broker reciprocity works because of the promise to pay the buyers agent. The agent who represents the seller charges a commission and shares it with the buyer’s agent who may end up getting paid more than the seller’s agent.

As far as I know, this type of arrangement is unique to real estate sales.

Often the agent who actually “sells” the house isn’t the agent who listed it and put the sign in front. The listing agent gets his or her name on the sign but the buyer’s agent does not.

People who are buying or selling a home are not required to use a real estate agent.

If you search for homes for sale on the internet usually the fine print on the bottom of the page will say that the listing is provided courtesy of XYZ company.

The days when only a real estate agent knew about homes for sale are long gone, yet we still add value to the process because an experienced agent has worked through many home sales. Finding a house that is for sale is one small part of the home buying process.

The home buying process should be more transparent than it is. If you are buying real estate and working with a buyers agent ask questions. Most people do not buy houses all that often.


Also, see Agency in real estate

Taking on water

If you recently bought a house you may be surprised to find water in the basement or a leaking roof. We had record amounts of snow all at once and then the rains came.

Sometimes homes with previously dry basement will take on water under a unique set of circumstances like when a couple of feet of snow melts in a few days.

Last weeks rain melted a lot of snow all at once. There are a lot of wet basements in St. Paul as a result. I am sure there will be delayed closings on home sales because of wet basements.

It is going to warm up this week which will likely cause more flooding. Removing snow from around the foundation can help prevent water from leaking in.

At this point, the ground is still mostly frozen which will cause more flooding because the snowmelt will run off rather than soak in. There will be flooding along the Mississippi river too as snowmelt from Northern Minnesota and from the Minnesota river start flowing down river.

March 2010 flood – Mississippi River, St. Paul, MN


Down Payment assistance available

spare change

It will be interesting to see how smaller tax refunds affect purchasing power and the housing market. Often first time home buyers plan on tax refunds for some of the cash they need to buy a house.

It is a myth that a 20% down payment is needed. Down payments start at about 3.5%. Closing costs can add another 3% in cash. Asking the seller to pay buyer closing costs used to be a common practice but in a seller’s market asking sellers for anything puts an offer at risk of rejection.

There are down payment assistance programs. Some of them help with down payments and closing costs. Eligibility depends upon several factors including the location of the home.

Check here for down payment assistance.

There are also programs for first time home buyers. Ask your lender.

I also recommend the Minnesota Home Ownership Center as a general resource

The bank of mom and dad is also a popular option for down payment assistance.

All offers have to be presented

One of the issues we are running into in this seller’s market is that offers from buyers are not always being presented to the sellers . . or sometimes we are not sure they were presented or sometimes they are not presented right away.

If a buyer makes an offer, even after the seller has accepted an offer that offer must be presented to the seller unless the seller had waived this obligation in writing.

When I represent buyers I sometimes ask that the seller initial the offer as an indication that he or she has seen it. The initials also give me proof to offer the buyers.

As a rule, offers should be presented quickly but there is no hard and fast rule about how quickly. We use terms like “timely manner”. In some situations that “timely manner” can be several days or even a week.

“Timely manner” can also mean right now.  Some of our clients give the seller a 24 or 48-hour deadline. Giving a deadline can backfire too.

REALTORS are bound by a code of ethics which is an extra set of rules that dictate how we handle offers.

From the code of ethics:

  • Standard of Practice 1-7

When acting as listing brokers, REALTORS® shall continue to submit to the seller/landlord all offers and counter-offers until closing or execution of a lease unless the seller/landlord has waived this obligation in writing. Upon the written request of a cooperating broker who submits an offer to the listing broker, the listing broker shall provide a written affirmation to the cooperating broker stating that the offer has been submitted to the seller/landlord, or a written notification that the seller/ landlord has waived the obligation to have the offer presented. REALTORS® shall not be obligated to continue to market the property after an offer has been accepted by the seller/landlord. REALTORS® shall recommend that sellers/landlords obtain the advice of legal counsel prior to acceptance of a subsequent offer except where the acceptance is contingent on the termination of the pre-existing purchase contract or lease. (Amended 1/19)”

The code of ethics only applies to REALTORS® and there is a complaint process.   Anyone can file a complaint.

Confusing and deliberately misleading


The world of marketing homes for sale on web sites is misleading, sometimes deliberately so. I saw an advertisement in a neighborhood newspaper about how many visits the web site of a local real estate company gets and how home sellers should have their home listed on it.

The ad more or less says that if you want your home listed for sale on our website then you need to list it with one of our agents. What the add doesn’t say is that if you list your home with any agent from any local real estate company it will end up on our site and appear to be one of our listings.

When someone lists a home with a local real estate company, and we can use my company as an example, the same information appears about the home appears on like a zillion web sites. Usually, the listing information is fed directly to participating sites directly from the MLS. The same feed also sends it to Zillow and Realtor(dot) com and many other sites.

As a home seller if it is important to you to have your home listed on the web sites of the largest local companies or on the web sites with the most traffic listing your home with any REALTOR® from any real estate company should work.

The system may be confusing but it also gets all of the agents in the area competing to find a buyer for all of the homes that are listed. Your house is also used as bait by agents who pay to get “leads” from sites like Zillow.

Real estate agents pay to have their contact information next to the listings. In fact, the reason the sites are free to consumers is because of advertising revenue from real estate agents. Yet consumers often see the site as an alternative to real estate agents.

People who are selling their home without listing it with an agent can and should list it on Zillow. There is no one place where all of the homes that are for sale by owner are listed so it is important to go where the traffic is.

The spring market is heating up. The number of homes for sale was up slightly from record-breaking lows but in the last few weeks home buyers have been shopping again and making offers. We are still in a strong seller’s market.

Also see: Broker reciprocity

Also, see:  Agency