Timing is important for home buyers

blue house
small house

We are in a strong housing market. I like to think of it as a shortage of homes for sale because the demand for homes is exceeding the supply.

Back when there was a surplus of homes on the market people who needed to move could look for a home ahead of time, make an offer and get the sellers to agree to a closing in a few months.

In today’s market sellers can set the terms and most are looking to close soon.

When there is a shortage of homes it is a good idea to start looking in May if the plan is to move in July or August.  Especially for those who are in the $150,000 to $250,000 price range in the metro area, there are going to be multiple offers on just about every home.

Buyers will need to plan ahead and be free to make an offer anytime and plan on having to make more than one offer before an offer is accepted.

People who are renting should try to enter into a month to month lease with 30 days notice to move. Flexibility makes a difference and makes it easier to win in a multiple offer situation without having to go far above the asking price.

Plan on getting pre-approved for a mortgage four months before the move. Start working with a real estate agent three months before the move.

Planning a move to another town or state is even more complicated if you don’t know the area. Allow some time for a visit and to drive around and maybe go to an open house or two.

Not that old house

Old brick

Sometimes first time home buyers think they want an old house that needs some work that they can fix up. These same home buyers will panic when the inspector mentions some rotted wood that needs replacing.

The idea of having to use caulk around windows and doors to keep out cold air and moisture seems overwhelming. Replacing or repairing a leaky faucet if far beyond the scope of what some homeowners want to do.

Some homeowners have no curiosity. They don’t want to watch a video or read an article on how to make a repair themselves.

The good news is that there are people who can make home repairs and they can be hired to do just that. The bad news is will cost money.

If the idea of changing a light bulb makes you panic or you can not live with an ungrounded outlet maybe an old house that needs some work isn’t for you. Just about all old houses need some work. Sometimes even hiring someone to do the work can be intimidating.

How do you know they are doing it correctly? How do you know you are not paying too much? Is there a warranty on the work? How long should the repair last?

Renting an apartment or buying a new or newer home might be a better option.

It is only on those TV shows that houses are rehabbed in an hour and it all works out. In real life fixing up an old house isn’t just about choosing paint colors and hardware. They even make knocking out walls look easy.

In real life having an old house about fixing things that you can not even see and repairing things that pretty much look the same when they are repaired as they did when they were broken.

The advantage in fixing up an old house is that it can be a great way to build equity. Old houses are also an opportunity for people who want to learn how to make repairs or improvements.

What I learned from the crash

It isn’t hard to remember back to the housing crash and the great recession. The period left a mark on the housing market.

Up until about 2007, I truly believed, based on past experience and housing performance that housing would always appreciate in value from one year to the next.

Yet I watched as my own home decreased in value by about 40% between 2006 and 2011. It was still worth more than twice as much as we paid for it and today it might be worth slightly more than it was worth in 2006.

It doesn’t really matter unless we sold it and even then we would have to pay more for a house to move to then we would have had to pay in 2011.

crystalballI think everyone knows that I can not predict the future but I get inquiries from people who want to move to our marvelous city and they want to know how much a home in a given area will appreciate. People who already own homes in the area will sometime contact me and ask me how much their home will be worth in five years.

There are oh so many variables it just isn’t possible to predict what a home will be worth at some point in the future. During the recent housing market crash, we saw that in some neighborhoods home prices did not go down as much as they did in other neighborhoods.

The neighborhoods that saw the most depreciation during the crash are now seeing the greatest percentage increases in home values.


Don’t ask your real estate agent to predict the future and always remember that past performance does not guarantee future results.

In fact, there are few guarantees in life. However, buying a house is one decision I have never regretted even when it was worth less instead of more.

Know where the snakes live


There places in St. Paul where garter snakes are abundant. We should start seeing them sunning themselves as the soil starts to warm up. Some people are terrified of snakes, even the harmless garter snakes that live in St. Paul.

The garter snake is common in Minnesota in both rural and urban areas.  They don’t have teeth and don’t attack people, they eat insects and slither away when people come close.

Garter snakes live in my garden, in the rhubarb.  They like heat and need it to aid the digestion of food.  On a warm fall day, it is not unusual to see them sunning themselves along the foundation of my home or on the walkways.  On occasion, I have seen them come out of hibernation during the winter to catch a few rays.

Every couple of years a snake gets inside the house.  We get them out before the cat figures it out.  They do not live in the house and since they can not climb in they usually get in through an open window in the basement.

They prefer to live in the ground and are found of compost heaps and wood piles and are plentiful along the river bluff in St. Paul in the residential areas.  Garter snakes are plentiful in parts of the West 7th neighborhood.  The soil on the bluff is warmer because of all the limestone close to the surface.

Home shoppers should let their REALTORS know if they are afraid of snakes.  Sellers are not required to disclose the presence of snakes outside the house.  They are not required to disclose the existence of bees, bats or any other kind of wildlife found outdoors in most urban areas.

For some home buyers, their ability to enjoy their property is greatly diminished by the presence of these creatures.  Read about ophidiphobia, fear of snakes.

Learn more about garter snakes from the University of Minnesota extension service web site.

Sellers disclosures and you

bungalowMinnesota sellers are required to fill out a seller’s disclosure or non-disclosure. The seller’s disclosure form is fairly long and detailed. Sellers are asked about leaky basements, roofs, walls and more.

I usually give sellers the disclosure form a few weeks before I list a home because for some filling out the form is overwhelming. it is alright to answer a question with “unknown” or if it is a matter of not understanding a question a real estate agent or Google can sometimes help.

The whole idea behind the disclosure is for the homeowner to disclose everything they know about the property that might be a problem for future owners.

Sometimes sellers forget things they know about the property because they have lived in the home for decades. It is also possible to live in a house for a long time and to not be aware of a defect, like a collapsed sewer line or a water heater that doesn’t vent properly.

Often owners of rental properties use a non-disclosure which states that they did not live on the property and do not know anything about it.

As a Realtor® I am required to disclose what I know about a property. If I know that the roof is leaking I have to disclose it. I recently wrote an offer on a house that had mold in the basement and some serious foundation problems. Both the seller and the seller’s agent knew about the issues but did not disclose that information.

Problems arise when sellers fail to disclose something important that the home buyer believes they should have known about. In other words, sometimes people try to hide defects which is why it is so important to have a complete home inspection. Most home sellers are honest and most realize that by hiding defects they could end up in court.

The home buying competition

There are about 310 homes on the market in St. Paul and about 100 of those have offers on them. The shortage of homes for sale has become the new normal.

Buying a home is like a competition and I would like to offer a few pointers.

  1. If you have found this amazing bargain-priced house you are not the only one looking at it.
  2. Avoid overpaying. In the long run, you will regret paying too much. Let someone else pay too much.
  3. Current home prices are causing some people to re-evaluate renting. Sometimes renting for a while longer is the right decision.
  4. Be prepared to make an offer. Have your pre-approval letter ready.
  5. Do not wait for an open house to view a home for sale. See it the day it comes on the market. There might not be any open houses or the may already have an offer on it by the time the open house rolls around.
  6. Work with one agent.

Home buying has not yet become a contact sport but it isn’t unusual to see other interested parties touring the home you are touring.

Work with an agent who has the ability to help you make an offer on the spot. Speed matters. Avoid the agent who has the day job and the agent who only works certain hours or days.

Being a buyers agent isn’t a 9 to 5, five day a week job.

Serious buyers know that they may need to change their plans in order to see that perfect house the day that it comes on the market or before. Life happens but sometimes being flexible enough to meet friends for a drink a half hour later than planned can mean the difference between having a home to buy or losing out to another buyer.