First half property taxes are due tomorrow

Ramsey county building
Ramsey County Government Center 160 Kellogg Blvd – not a place to drop off your tax payment

If you live in Minnesota property taxes for the first half of 2018 are due on May 15th which is tomorrow. If you live in St. Paul you live in Ramsey County and have not sent them in yet you might want to drop them off in person.

Here are the fees for paying taxes electronically:

E-check: $1 per transaction.
Credit card or debit card: 2.49% per transaction.
Signature debit card: $3.95 per transaction.

Current property taxes can be paid in person at:

Ramsey County Plato Building
Property Tax Services Counter
90 Plato Blvd. West
Saint Paul, MN 55107

Cash, check or money order accepted. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Pay by Dropbox
You may submit payments at two drop box locations. Do not pay with cash.

Saint Paul Regional Water Services, 1900 Rice Street, Saint Paul, MN.
Property Tax, Record, and Election Services Office, 90 Plato Blvd. West, Saint Paul, MN.

If you have a mortgage the money has been collected from your mortgage payments and your taxes have already been paid. If you are not sure it is super easy to look it up on the Ramsey county web site

What do county taxes pay for? Many things like libraries and parks and golf courses and the Sheriff. Birth records, death records, and marriage licenses and records.  The medical examiner and financial and medical assistance and jobs programs and voting too. Various transportation projects in conjunction with other entities with taxation authority.

Ramsey County is weird and backward and part of what helps keep St. Paul parochial.

There is an elected board of commissioners that oversees the county programs and budgets. Getting to know your commissioner is important.

Taxes for the second half are due on October 15, 2018. Some folks just pay them all in may.

Downsizing and moving or not moving

Thrift store punch bowl

If you have children they may eventually grow up and move out which means you will have more space in your home.

If you bought a large house you may want to sell it and buy a smaller one, which means you will need to get rid of excess stuff.

If you already own a smaller home you might want to get rid of excess stuff and stay put.

As someone who has lived in the same small house for almost 30 years, I can tell you that even in a small house it is possible to accumulate a lot of stuff.

I can also attest to the fact that once most of the stuff is gone it is almost like moving into a different house except without the actual move part.

Getting rid of excess stuff that your kids are never going to want anyway can mean having a lot of closet space and some empty shelves and drawers. Not having to use the upper cupboards in the kitchen is a definite plus.

For us buying a smallish house was the right thing to do. There were a few years where it seemed a little cramped but we managed and now that the kids are out of the house it is the perfect size.

As I got rid of excess stuff I reorganized what was left. Now I know what we have and it is easier to find something when I need it.

If you have owned the same home for a couple of decades downsizing is a process that can take a year or more whether you move or not. Once you get to the point where you have less stuff you might find that you have more housing choices or you may find that you like your current home again.

Some people downsize by getting rid of excess stuff in one room at a time. Some get rid of one item a day. Others kind of do it all at once. I did it by area. One bookcase, dresser, drawer, closet etc. at a time.

The idea of getting rid of one item a day didn’t work for me. I reorganized one area at a time as I got rid of stuff.

During that second round of getting rid of stuff, I asked myself if I really needed all of those serving bowls or if I was ever going to use that stove-top pressure cooker my mother gave me. I also got rid of some items that I had hung onto because they were gifts.

Getting rid of books was hard but I still have plenty of them and I like to think that someone else is enjoying them as much as I did. I donated many of them to a nursing home that has a library.

I sold some of the excess stuff and I gave some of it away. I donated household items to a local thrift shop that is run by a church. At this point moving would be fairly easy. I like having less stuff. I also like owning a smaller home.

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.

Everything works in a seller’s market

light fixture

There are a lot of companies that want to sell products, services, and advice to real estate agents. We are in a strong seller’s market which means a lot of the advice on how to sell a home quickly for a lot of money works. Products and services designed to help homes sell faster and for more money are working well too.

The basics of selling a housework well too:

  1. Clean it up.
  2. Paint – as needed
  3. Repair
  4. declutter/stage
  5. Use professional quality photography.
  6. Price it correctly.

Advertising isn’t as essential as it once was but it does help attract a larger pool of buyers. For many of us selling a home is fairly easy. Getting the job done correctly and legally is still the hard part.

There are some challenges in selling a house. Getting through the inspection phase and getting it to close can be challenging. There are still risks to home owner’s who do not disclose information about their home.

There are still overpriced houses on the market that no one is making offers on. There are even a few that are unfit for use as dwellings without major repairs.

Sometimes homeowners and their agents believe that in a seller’s market they don’t need to disclose. That assumption would be wrong and could be costly.

You are ready to sell but is your kitchen ready?

Getting a house ready to sell is often about cleaning, painting and small repairs. Your kitchen may need extra attention and a deeper cleaning. Here are some suggestions on what you can do to get your kitchen ready.

  1. Clear the countertops.  Remove anything that doesn’t need to be there and about half of the stuff that does need to be there.
  2. Clean cupboards inside and out. Put in some shelf liner.
  3. Remove any items from the cupboards that you will not be used during the next six weeks and then remove half of that.
  4. Clean out the fridge. Try to keep it clean with the minimum amount of food in it.
  5. Run the cleaning cycle on your oven(s). If you don’t know how to clean it find the model number, usually inside on the door frame and ask google for instructions.
  6. Wipe everything down. Make those appliances sparkle. Clean that countertop and the windows too. Scrub the floor.

Make sure that all light fixtures have light bulbs in them. Check the walls and ceilings for grease and dirt. Clean them if needed and repaint if necessary. Consider using a plug-in air freshener.

Personally, I like the candles that smell like various baked good or like apple and cinnamon.  Anything vanilla scented will remind the buyer of fresh baked cookies.

Some stagers like to put fake fruit and cookbooks in kitchens. Today’s buyers especially the younger buyers often prefer a more minimalist approach. Kitchens with less in them look bigger.

Kitchens really do sell houses. A little extra effort in the kitchen will pay off.

Kitchen – less is so much more. 

What is earnest money?

Earnest money is money paid to confirm a contract. People who make an offer on a house draw up a purchase agreement and offer earnest money. Earnest money isn’t required but it is often expected and is considered a kind of standard business practice.

The funds are usually in the form of an electronic deposit from a bank account or an old-school paper check. The funds need to be immediately available. They are deposited into a brokers trust account where they are held until the closing.

Usually, the money ends up being used to pay for the house.  If the buyer backs he/she/they may end up forfeiting the earnest money and it will go to the sellers.

There are no hard and fast rules about the amount of money a buyer should offer. Generally, $1000 dollars is a starting point for homes in St. Paul and there is no limit to how much money can be offered. I have had buyers offer $25,000 or more.

The amount of earnest money offered is usually part of the negotiating strategy. It shows the sellers that the buyer is serious. Sometimes sellers will counter an offer and ask for more earnest money. The money forces the buyers to have some skin in the game.

Once a seller accepts an offer the house is tied up for a time. Even though it is usually left on the market until inspections are completed it may be largely ignored by other buyers. Sellers want to know that the buyer will not back out.

Purchase agreements are usually structured in such a way that the buyer gets the earnest money back if he/she/they if they decide not to buy the home because of issues on the inspection or in the case of a condo if they are not comfortable with what is in the association documents and financials.

Buyers may also be able to get their earnest money back if the financing falls through. Again it depends upon how the purchase agreement is written.

Sometimes in multiple offer situations, buyers will offer more earnest money and the contract will allow the sellers to keep it if the financing falls through.

In the end earnest money usually isn’t enough to compensate sellers if the purchase falls through and they have lost time on the market.

Buyers earnest money is safe. There are numerous laws that dictate how the money is kept and accounted for. Real estate is regulated by the state. People who are buying property outside of Minnesota should consult a professional in their state.