How much does it cost to heat?

We will experience some January cold here in the next few days. It will be cold but I will call it kind of cold because it can get a lot colder. We

Statue of Marcie in rice park
Marcie – Rice Park

should hit -10 over the weekend. We can get temperatures in the -20 to -35 range in late January.

Before buying a house it is a good idea to find out how much it costs to heat. St. Paul homeowners can get some averages by calling Xcel energy customer service, or by looking at their billing and usage history online.

It is also helpful to find out how many people are living in the house. A household with one or two people will generally use less energy than a household with four or more people.

The efficiency of the furnace or boiler makes a difference and so do windows and the amount of insulation in the attic. New windows might reduce heating costs but it takes a long time to save enough in energy bills to pay for them.

Look for energy star ratings on appliances. We had an old dehumidifier that was a real energy hog.

Using less electricity can be a matter of turning off lights or maybe using some timers. Use energy-efficient light bulbs and motion detector switches in basements and outdoors.

The City of Minneapolis now requires a Truth in Energy report to go along with the truth in housing reports that homeowners need to have before they sell their house. Homeowners will not be required to make repairs.

St. Paul home buyers should talk to their home inspector about the condition of the heating plant and how the home uses energy.

Here are some energy-saving tips I found on the Xcel Energy website.

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.

The risk of loss clause

I ran into a Realtor who did not understand the “Risk of loss” clause in the standard purchase agreement. If the property is damaged after the final acceptance date on the contract but before the closing, the buyer has the option of canceling the contract.  The buyer must do so in writing and the buyer and seller must sign a cancellation and earnest monies are refunded to the buyer.

Damage can occur after a severe storm or maybe an accident. Some home repairs fail eventually, siding, roofs, furnaces, and water heaters wear out or malfunction.

There isn’t anything in the contract that would require the owner to make repairs either. Homebuyers should do a final walkthrough of the

fire fighters
firefighters

home before the closing. If something in the home has been damaged or is broken it should be addressed before closing.

Closing dates can be changed as needed with an agreement from both parties.

The risk of loss clause doesn’t specify the amount of damage that has to have happened to the property. If a home burns to the ground after an offer has been accepted but before the closing, the buyer does not have to proceed with the purchase.

If the roof develops a leak before the closing there are all kinds of remedies. One remedy is to put money in escrow for repairs. The seller can get a bid and have that amount of money withheld from the proceeds of the sale. The money can be held by the title company.

There is a myth out there that money held in escrow must be 1.5 times the amount needed to make the repairs. That is only true in some cases where the buyer’s lender asks that money be put in escrow to pay for repairs.

When choosing a real estate agent it is a good idea to find someone who has some experience. The unexpected can happen at any point in a real estate transaction. A good real estate agent can find solutions to any problem that arises. Having experience really helps. There are times though when the buyer or seller should consult an attorney.

Winter is the time to test for radon

January is national radon awareness month and the winter months are the perfect time to test for radon. You can do the test yourself, and right now radon test kits are discounted.

Homebuyers should always have a radon test as part of the home inspection.  It doesn’t matter if the next-door neighbors have tested and do not have radon or if no one knows of anyone in the neighborhood who has ever had a positive radon test.

When buying or selling a house the radon test should be conducted by a professional. 

Most homeowners have never tested for radon even though it is estimated that nearly half of all Minnesota an estimated 40% of homes have elevated levels of radon.

I’ll never forget the time the real estate agent told the buyers that she had never heard of radon in the neighborhood. It just doesn’t work that way.

Radon gas can be anywhere and everywhere. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that comes from the soil. When inhaled these fine particles can damage the lungs. Exposure to radon over a long period of time can lead to lung cancer.

The average radon level in Minnesota is more than three times higher than the U.S. radon level. This is due to our geology and how our homes are operated. Minnesota homes are closed up or heated most of the year, which can result in higher levels of radon. In Minnesota, more than two in five homes have radon levels that pose a significant health risk.

Learn more from the Minnesota Department of Health

Info graphic national radon hotline 1-800-sos-radon

More houses to come on the market soon

During the holiday’s homeowners sometimes have their houses put in a “temporarily not available to show” status so that they remain for sale

old brick building and new apartment building
Panama Flats and Irvine Exchange apartments

but no showings are allowed. That way they can enjoy the holidays without having to worry about people wanting to tour their home.

When homes for sale are put in the TNAS status they kind of disappear from web sites and apps that show homes for sale.

Starting as early as today those houses will start going active again. If you are serious about buying a house now is the time to watch the market while others are headed for the gym or emersed in finding recipes for their keto diet or busy riding their stationary bike.

There will also be some homes that will come on the market for the first time in January, which is a good thing because right now there are fewer than 400 homes for sale in St. Paul.

Sellers should be aware that for the last several years the spring housing market is well underway by the end of January.