What I did on my summer vacation?

It is Friday and Fridays are for fun and it is still summer but Monday is Labor day.

I have not had a vacation this year other than a few imagination vacations and some lovely evenings spent on the front porch reading.

As I look back on the last six months I realize I have learned a lot. Too many things to cover in one blog post. One of the highlights of my summer has been my experiment with staw bail gardening.

I had my regular garden and the experimental garden that I planted in four straw bales, two of which turned out to be mostly hay while the other two were mostly straw.

The straw bails are easy to weed and there isn’t any digging involved and not much weeding. They needed to be seasoned for about ten days by getting them wet and adding some fertilizer until they started to decompose.

Once they cool down a bit it is time to start planting. There are many web pages dedicated to straw bale gardening. Ask Google for more detailed instructions.

My cucumbers were huge, my tomatoes were late, the beets are still smallish but they can definitely be grown in a straw bale. My peppers did well and are very hot and I grew the largest rosemary plant I have ever grown. I grew some marigolds in the bales for some color and one nasturtium which was almost impossible to keep alive.

The bales require less care than a regular garden. They need water and plant food. I also fed the plant coffee grounds and leftover coffee and tea.

I’ll do it again next year but I am going to see if I can find better straw.


It isn’t easy to find good home improvement contractors

I wrote this last year. We replaced some windows and the roof too. I know people and that helps but I wanted more than one estimate on the roof and that put me in touch with people I would never hire.

Here are some of the red flags I have encountered while searching for a roofing contractor:

  1. The salesperson who asks if I am married and then insisted that the spouse be present for his presentation. They do this because they use high-pressure sales tactics and they don’t want the homeowner to delay making a decision to discuss it with a spouse.
  2. The company says that they will be in the neighborhood next week and pushes to schedule an appointment. It is true they will be in the neighborhood if you schedule an appointment. (This one was just a coincidence)
  3. Promises of a big discount if you sign up right now. They will tell you the can only offer you a discount right now.
  4. Asking various questions to determine the age of the homeowners. Some salespeople like to bully or scare older homeowners.
  5. The roofing company says that while they are looking at the roof they will inspect the attic for mold. I call that the old mold in the attic routine. Since mold is everywhere on the planet there is a 100% chance mold will be found in your attic. Please hire a specialist if you are concerned about mold, not a roofing salesperson. (I had someone tell me about the mold inspection over the phone and as a result, I did not invite that company to bid on my roofing project)

There is more. In the past couple of weeks, we have seen a few invoices for some outrageous charges our clients have paid to plumbers and electricians.

Some plumbers or electricians have a lot of favorable reviews on the internet but they charge a lot more than their competitors for the same quality work.

Do some research, ask around, and find out what a fair price is for the work your home repair project.  The biggest company isn’t always the best choice neither are the franchises. The company with the best online appointment system may not make the best repair.

Oh and stay away from those online companies that will match you up with the right contractor. A better bet is to ask your neighbors, your friends, your REALTOR, and family if they know anyone and start from there. The “right” or “best” contractor on the web site is the contractor who paid to be on the website.

Home value and size are related

Location, condition, and size are the three elements that influence the value of a home. I am not talking about dollar value. When a client asked me to come up with a value for his house I found three different square footage.

The foundation size was the same everywhere I checked so I went with that multiplied by two for rough square footage that I can use as a starting point until I can measure or have it measured.

When I looked at information from when the house was last on the market I discovered that it grew by almost 500 square feet between 1989 and 2002. There were no additions to the home during that time.

It is a small house and it was marketed as being about 300 square feet larger than it actually is. With that additional 300 square feet, the house could be worth 50K more than it is worth without it.

When you look in our MLS (multiple listing service) there is a disclaimer that says that the information about homes for sale ” is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed”.

I think some real estate agents and homeowners are creative or maybe they just add random amounts of square footage. At any rate, buyers can take their own measurements.

When measuring a house it is the total finished square footage and the total square footage that matters the most. Finished square footage is more valuable than unfinished.

Above ground square footage is usually but not always more valuable than below ground square footage.

If you own a home or if you have had one appraised you should have accurate measurements in the appraisal. Tax records also list square footages but they are not always accurate. My house is missing 350 square feet and the reason is that the house I own isn’t the original house that was on the lot.

Size does matter when it comes to the value of a house.

Happy First day of September

This September the only thing that looks normal are home sales if we compare them with the last five years. I ran some searches for home sales in Ramsey, Anoka, and Washington county. I’ll call it the “tri-county” area, with a mix of suburban and urban areas. When I look at the counties individually I saw the same trends.

We have seasonal peaks and valleys in home sales and home prices too.

If I look at months of inventory in my tri-county area and in January of 2015 we had a balanced real estate market with a six month supply of houses. By balanced I mean that it wasn’t a buyers market or a seller’s market. We have has a seller’s market every month since. Currently, there is a two month supply of homes for sale. In St. Paul there is a 1.8 month supply.


chart of home sales and prices
Home sales and prices

I’ll have August home sale numbers for St. Paul up on Monday.

Down and then up again

Pending home sales may be lower in August than they were in July and that is because they were way up in July. Why were pending home sales up

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

in July? My theory is because they were down in June. The civil unrest that we saw at the end of May and beginning of June affected home sales for a week or two.

We are always looking for good news and rising pending home sales is good news.

Overall the housing market is still strong and will likely remain so because the demand for housing is strong. For about the fifth or sixth year in a row the supply as not kept up.

The biggest issue facing housing is affordability. Lower interest rates make housing a little more affordable. If there was such a thing as affordable new construction we could sure use some of that right now.

Here is some national pending sales data for July 2020:

“NAR released a summary of pending home sales data showing that July’s pending home sales pace increased 5.9% last month and rose 15.5% from a year ago. This would be the third consecutive month of gains as well as the second year-over-year incline since the virus’s impact on the housing market.”

“Pending sales represent homes that have a signed contract to purchase on them but have yet to close. They tend to lead Existing Home Sales data by 1 to 2 months.

All four regions showed double inclines from a year ago. The Northeast had the biggest gain in contract signings of 20.6% followed by the Midwest with an increase of 15.4%. The South had a gain of 14.9% followed by the West which the smallest incline of 13.2%.” [NAR]

The season for fine dining

Many local businesses started offering outdoor dining. In the pictures, the street is blocked off. The tables are set up far apart and we have outdoor dining. The season for dining out in the street is pretty short in Minnesota. Let this serve as your reminder to support local small businesses and take advantage of outdoor dining while you can.

Hope breakfast bar
Hope Breakfast Bar Leech Street in St. Paul
Astoria coffee shop
Caf Astoria _ Leech Street St. Paul

There are several restaurants and taprooms in the area that are open with outdoor seating using parts of parking lots and sidewalks.