Hire a pro inspector instead of your friend

I see a lot of houses, like hundreds of old St. Paul houses every year. I have seen hundreds of inspection reports and have been on well over a hundred home inspections. There is always something that needs fixing in an old house and sometimes it needs so much work that buyers decide not to buy it.

Having a complete home inspection is an important step in the home buying process but those inspections are not free. Sometimes, buyers, have friends or relatives conduct the inspection.

What could possibly go wrong? Usually, these helpful friends or relatives miss a few important things. They don’t check the furnace or the water heater. They miss the fact the garbage disposal doesn’t work or that the new furnace does not have a filter in it.

They might not notice missing window screens or even cracked window glass. They may miss the gaps between the shower surround and the bathroom wall, or that the back door lacks any kind of weather stripping.

The helpful and knowledgeable friend does not use a systematic approach nor does he give the home buyer a report with pictures and recommendations. Usually, the friend does an incomplete or partial inspection.

If they are not familiar with the older houses in the inner city they may not know what some of the common problems are like ungrounded electrical systems and tree roots in the sewer line.

On the one hand, the buyer saves money because professional inspectors will generally charge at least $300. On the other hand, they may end up paying for repairs that they could have had the seller pay for if they had known about them during the inspection period.

Home sales and prices by neighborhood

Home prices in St. Paul are at an all-time high. The average sale price homes in St. Paul was higher than the average list price in May or 2019.

Multiple offers on homes that are for sale are common and that drives the price up. It is a wonderful market for home sellers but not so wonderful for buyers.  We usually see the highest prices of the year between April and June and I noticed that pending sales were slightly lower in May than they were in April, while new listings were up from April. Maybe it is an anomaly or maybe the market is cooling a tiny bit.

chart of home sales by neighborhood
May home sale data for St. Paul, MN

The data used to make the table was exported from the NorthstarMLS. The data is deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

For more local numbers go to Local Market Conditions and Home prices.

For fixing things

It is Friday and Fridays are for fun. Here are two of my favorite things for fixing stuff. Zip Strips and metal clips. Zip strips come in a variety of sizes and colors. I think we have every size. They have more uses than I can list.

I use them for outdoor holiday decorations and recently I used s few to create hangers for some mops and brooms so that I could hang them on some pegs. They are strong and the only way to remove them is by cutting them.

The metal clips are a real estate thing. We use them to attach the sign rider to the bottom of the sign. Zip stips work for that too. I use the metal Clippy things to secure my pannier bags to my bike. I have also used them as hooks for hanging planters. They have some of the same uses “S” hooks have but they are more secure.

If you are going to fix something this weekend go get some Zip Strips. The clippey things, have to be ordered. I order them from my sign company.  Just google “metal sign rider clips” to find them the online.


Home improvement



St. Paul property look-up


In Saint Paul homeowners who are selling their home are required to have a Truth in Housing Inspection. Those reports are not always available as they should be. Anyone can look up a St. Paul property and get the Truth in Housing Report if there is one.

The city has a list of items that they check. Most of it is basic safety and homeowners are not required to make repairs but homes have to have at least one hard wired smoke detector and any open permits finalized before the property can change hands.

Often homeowners do not know that they have open permits. That information is on the Truth in Housing Report. If the permits do not get closed the sale may be delayed. Home buyers should look up the property and check for open permits.

Sometimes looking through closed permits is a good way to find out about work that was done on the property. Sometimes it is obvious that work that requires permits has been done but there are no permits.

Some of the work done without a permit might not have been done properly which can mean that work has to be redone before related permits can be pulled and closed.

There have been cases where lenders have asked that permits be pulled and closed before they will approve a loan. That can mean tearing into a wall to inspect some plumbing. I am not making this up, it has happened. Get information about permits on the StPaul.gov web site. I would include a link but the city moves pages around often creating broken links which are like a broken promise.

Other municipalities have a different set of rules. Minneapolis, South Saint Paul, and others require hazardous items to be repaired. Some cities do not require any kind of inspection.

Ten years ago homes were hard to sell

When I look at the marketing materials some real estate agents put out there you would think they are magicians the way they sell houses. When selling houses in a seller’s market just about any kind of marketing works better than it did during the buyer’s market.  Here is something I wrote in June of 2009:

Brickhouse“I found 107 homes listed on the MLS that have been on the market for more than 500 days.  That is a long time even in today’s market.

Of the 1768 homes that have sold this year in St. Paul the average cumulative days on market was 137.

Townhomes and condos take about 90 days longer to sell on average than single family homes and most of the homes that have been on the market more than 500 days are townhouses or condos.

Buyers look at how long a home has been on the market.  Sometimes the information is used to determine how much to offer for the home and in other cases, they get cold feet and make no offer because the home has been on the market for so long.

When I look at these listings I check to see if there have been any price reductions.  If I see a home that has been on the market for a long time, like over a year and the price has never changed I assume that the sellers are not very motivated and wonder if they are open to negotiation.”


Ten years later in some price ranges if a home is on the market for more than three weeks without any offers it is almost always overpriced. The demand for homes is higher than the supply especially in price ranges below $450,000.

Back in June of 2009, there were 1770 or so  houses on the market in St. Paul, today there are less than 550. It was a very different housing market.

What is a walkable neighborhood?

I have noticed that when my clients refer to walkability they don’t all mean the same thing. I have heard people define neighborhoods with few sidewalks as walkable because there is a park nearby.

If there is a grocery store two blocks away but it is on the other side of a freeway or road that does not have a safe pedestrian crossing.

Walkable neighborhoods have sidewalks and streets that can be crossed on foot. Walking has to be easy and practical. In a walkable neighborhood, it is easy to walk to nearby businesses, libraries, parks, and other amenities.

For me “nearby” is within a mile. Even in the winter, I am willing to walk a mile. I will walk further but I don’t always have time for that.

It is debatable if neighborhoods where cars do not stop at crosswalks or where electric scooter are allowed to ride on the sidewalk or where the sidewalks have huge cracks, heaves, snow and potholes are walkable.

If walkability is an important consideration when buying a home, don’t just look at how close the home is to businesses and amenities make sure that it is possible or even easy to walk to the businesses and amenities.