Your home doesn’t have to be new to be smart

queen anne house
Queen anne

My house is old. Part of it was built in 1858 and the newer part may have been built as recently as 1860. In fact, it was built without central heating, electricity, central air conditioning or plumbing. The house has all of that today and more.

It was built before many of the modern appliances we have today existed. They were added later. The electrical system and the plumbing and heating have all been updated even more recently.

I have one of those smart thermostats that I can control with an app or by voice the Amazon Echo. I don’t have to be at home to know what the temperature is in my house or to change the temperature.

There is a camera in my house that can be activated by motion and it can send me an email alerting me that someone has entered my house. I can watch someone take my stuff using an app on my phone as I dial 911 and yell at them through a speaker.

I have some lights and electrical outlets that can be controlled with an app on my phone or by voice. I am interested in upgrading some of the locks to smart locks.

As we add smart devices to our homes those devices will become obsolete and will need to be replaced with newer devices or some other kind of technology altogether.

When we bought our last refrigerator there was no such thing as a smart refrigerator that could help us keep track of what is inside the fridge and what we are out of.

This holiday season I gave my brother’s family an Instant Pot that is accessible by wifi. Doesn’t everyone need a smart Instant Pot?

You don’t have to buy a new house to have smart home technology, which is a good thing because not many new houses are being built.


Internet of things

Get it in writing


When buying or selling a home in St. Paul it is important to get everything in writing. The contract to purchase should include:

  1. Purchase price.
  2. Earnest money amount.
  3. Downpayment % if financing.
  4. Type of financing.
  5. Closing date.
  6. Specific contingencies.

An offer might be inspection contingent, contingent on financing or contingent on the sale of a home that a buyer currently owns or the seller may want to add a contingency.  Contingencies always have start and end dates and usually require that some specific thing happen before they can be removed. For example, an inspection contingent offer will have an inspection period with a beginning and an end.

With some types of real estate, there are automatic contingencies and laws dictate when the period starts and how long it has to be.

Sometimes everything is in writing and both parties agree but the agreement is written in such a way that there are misunderstandings. For example, a buyer may ask for a specific repair without specifying that the repair needs to be made by someone who is qualified to make the repair. If the buyer is asking to have a window repaired on a house with more than one window the contract needs to reference the specific window.

Using too many or too few words on a contract can lead to misunderstandings later on. Using the wrong words or not being specific enough can lead to misunderstandings or even lawsuits.

When I receive or review a contract from another agent sometimes I can tell if the agent is new or if he or she is experienced. Experience does matter when writing real estate contracts.

Before making an offer or accepting an offer on real estate read the contract and make sure you understand it. Often I spend more time explaining a contract than I spent writing it and I am fine with that.

If everything isn’t in writing . . . good luck!

Open house 101 for buyers

Open houses are a great opportunity for buyers to just look at houses.  Here are some tips on what to do once inside the home.

1. Take your shoes off. Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off.

2. If asked to sign in do so, you are in someone else’s house and they make the rules. If you do not want to leave an email address don’t.

3. Taking pictures of the inside of the home without the owner’s permission is considered an invasion of privacy and may be illegal. Ask the agent holding the open before taking pictures.

4. If you are working with an agent let the agent at the open house know even if he or she doesn’t ask. Give the agent at the open house the name of your agent. If you are one of my clients you will be given business cards to give agents at open houses.

5. Keep an eye on your children do not let them run around the house unaccompanied. Children love to explore other people’s homes.

6. Be careful what you say. Giving the real estate agent too much information can hurt during negotiations. Try to act somewhat disinterested.  At the same time listen to what other buyers are saying because it may help when making an offer.

7. The agent at the open house may be very nice to you but they do represent the seller and are supposed to act in the sellers best interest.

8. The main reason an agent has an open house is to meet potential clients and that is why they may recommend other houses if you don’t like the one that is open.

9. The agent at the open may not be the listing agent and he or she might not be able to answer questions about the property.

10. If at all possible if you decide to buy the home you saw at the open get assistance from your buyer’s agent and avoid dual agency.

Keep in mind that only a very small percentage of the homes for sale have open houses. It is important to search for homes for sale on the internet and to view as many as possible online.  Make appointments for private showings to see the homes that are the best fit. Don’t wait for an open house because there might not be one and some houses sell the day they go on the market of sooner.

also, see  Why an open house if the home is sold?

and Open house open to theft

The many for the price of one myth

In business, the word “team” is used to refer to a group of people who work for the same company, department or office. The word is overused and in most cases, the term “workgroup” is more accurate.

A team is a group of people who work together to achieve a common goal. Sports teams work together to achieve a common goal.

The real estate team helps team members get more “leads” and it is a way for the leader to make more money.

The leader gets some of the agent’s commissions. For new agents, teams can be a great way to get some hands-on experience and training but to be honest that is what a broker is supposed to provide.

Sometimes the clients of real estate teams get this mental picture of several people working on selling their home or finding them a new one but it almost never works that way. One agent works on selling the house while the others work with other clients or on lead capture.

There is a real estate team leader who insists that when anyone on his team makes a sale he gets credit for it. That way he has more sales than any other local agent has.

He leverages the myth that the agent with the most sales is the best agent. People who hire the agent end up working with someone on the team who will use the name of the lead agent.

If I call a team and ask about a home for sale usually no one but the actual listing agent knows anything about the home. In fact, it seems like they don’t talk to each other at all.

They don’t actually help each other when problems arise and they do not tap into each other’s expertise. Homes do not sell faster because they are listed by a real estate team.

Some teams do work together. There are a couple of smaller teams where each person on the team knows what is going on. I can call one team member and ask another team members listing or offer. Often these teams are families or couples who work together.


Closing cost and you

calculatorHome loans are not free. First time home buyers are often surprised when they find out about closing costs. Those pesky fees are in addition to the down payment. Lenders will provide a “good faith estimate” which will show the closing costs.

Here are some examples of typical closing costs:

1. Loan origination fee

2. Appraisal fee

3. Pre-paid homeowners insurance.

4. Property taxes prorated from the day of closing and for the rest of the year.

5. Mortgage registration tax

6. Pre-paid interest and taxes (prorated from the day of closing)

Typical closing costs in Minnesota are about 3% of the purchase price which is usually not the same as the loan amount. In addition to closing costs, most home buyers will make a down payment. The down payment can be as little as 3%. There isn’t any truth to the rumor that home buyers need to put 10 to 20% down to buy a home. There are some down payment assistance programs too.

Home buyers often ask sellers to pay their closing costs. Typically that means that the buyer borrows 3% more and those funds are applied to closing costs. I encourage buyers to do the math and understand that the closing costs come off of the seller’s bottom line. I encourage sellers to pay attention to the bottom line and I let them know that paying the buyer’s closing costs is common and often necessary.

To estimate closing costs the lender needs to know what day the closing will be held on and will have an exact figure available to the borrower 3 days before the closing. The lender will provide a good faith estimate shortly after the loan amount is known.  Closing costs should never be a surprise.

Closing costs are generally lower in Minnesota than they are in other parts of the country.

It is never too late to winterize

I usually write about this in the fall. I have seen what happens when pipes freeze and then burst. I have seen it happen in homes that were on the market too. One homeowner was able to minimize the damage by having a plumber thaw out the pipes after she turned the water off and before she turned the heat back on. She ended up with one broken pipe and had to replace most of the faucets.

If your home is vacant and is on the market please have it winterized.  Furnaces can fail and frozen pipes can burst when they thaw and that leaves a really big mess.

The process involves turning off the water and draining anything that has water in it like pipes, the water heater, and the heating system if it is a hot water type boiler. You can winterize your own home it isn’t all that difficult especially if you have a forced air furnace but most people prefer to use a contractor. If you don’t know who to call try your local heating and plumbing company.

Also, call the insurance company. Some homeowners insurance will not cover damage to vacant homes. You may need to pay a little more for insurance but it may be worth it.