7 winter energy saving tips for Midwest homeowners

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Key Insights

  • It doesn’t take big money to reduce your winter heating bills, but it can require a bit of up-front work.
  • Replacing just one aging device on your fireplace can reduce your home’s energy loss by 75%.
  • Not everything needs a full replacement! Keep your furnace running efficiently with simple filter replacements over the winter.

Winter is coming… and so are those astronomical heating bills. As you stay warm and dry, here are seven winter energy saving tips that can help you reduce heat loss and increase your home’s energy efficiency.

1. Replace an aging water heater

Most folks don’t think about replacing their water heater until they go to take a shower and…. Brrrr! But if your water heater is more than 8-10 years old, its energy efficiency could be lacking. Depending on your heat source and your household’s water needs, it may be smart to look into a new option. Consider:

  • A storage water heater that offers better insulation and efficiency
  • A demand water heater, which produces hot water on demand

This excellent guide from Smarter House can help you better understand which type of water heater will work best for your household.

2. Get an energy-efficient fireplace damper

Of all the winter energy saving tips we researched, this one was the most surprising to us. Even more than a drafty window, a faulty fireplace damper — the device that seals up your fireplace when it’s not being used — can lead to major heat loss and higher energy bills.

If a fireplace damper cracks, rusts or warps over time, the device can stop closing properly. And that means that on the nights when a fire isn’t roaring, the warm air from your furnace or radiators can flow directly up your chimney and out into the frigid winter air. (That sound you hear is your dad yelling, “Close the door — you’re heating the whole neighborhood!”)

In recent years, energy-efficient fireplace dampers have come on the market and they can be easily installed by a reputable chimney service or on your own if you’re handy. No matter how you choose to do it, be sure to replace your fireplace damper early in the winter months; according to HomeSaver, a study shows that closing up those fireplace leaks can reduce heat loss by more than 75%.

3. Invest in a programmable thermostat

Smart thermostats have been on the market for nearly a decade, but many homeowners are still manually updating their heat settings each day — or not changing them at all during the cold winter months.

This is a mistake that directly affects your heating costs, says the U.S. Department of Energy, which states that homeowners can “save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning [their] thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.”

A programmable thermostat makes it easy to automatically save money on your monthly heating bills; you can simply adjust the settings so that the temperature drops when everyone is at work or school, then rises as everyone returns home. You can even have it turn down the temperature overnight as everyone sleeps soundly under a plethora of blankets.

And if you’re in a constant battle over the exact temperature that should be set during those in-house hours, let this be the final word: the Department of Energy recommends that you program it to “68°F while you're awake and set it lower while you're asleep or away from home.”

4. Replace your furnace filters

If your home is heated by a furnace, be sure to check the filter monthly and replace it when you notice it is dirty and dusty. Generally, you should plan to replace the filter every three months to ensure that it’s running in tip-top condition. Think of your filter like the lint trap on a dryer: If it’s full and clogged up, it has to work harder to run. A new filter helps your heating system run more efficiently right away and can prevent expensive maintenance down the road.

5. Upgrade to LED holiday lights

While the holiday season comes and goes quickly, the ensuing energy bills can be surprisingly high. Whether you’re decorating a simple tree or going for a neighborhood-best holiday light display, keep in mind that your aging lights may be costing you more than you think.

According to the Edison Electric Institute, it can cost homeowners up to 8.68 cents per hour to light just one 100-count string of large, traditional holiday lights; the mini-lights you’d use on a tree cost just under a half-penny per hour.

We know that it might seem like overkill to replace all your holiday lights with brand-new LED offerings, when the hourly cost is less than half of a penny. But what if we told you that LED lights are ten times as energy efficient, meaning that you’d pay just a half a penny for ten hours of usage? According to the institute’s research, LED mini-lights cost just 0.0496 per hour.

The initial investment into LED holiday lights will be higher than the traditional lights, but they also tend to last longer. Just imagine how delightful it would be to plug in your holiday lights and have them work on the first try!

6. Check for air leaks and prevent drafts

From drafty windows to eaves to doorways and more, it’s likely that you have air leaks somewhere in your house. And during our ice-cold winter months, those air leaks can lead to quite a tidy profit for your utility company.

Here’s an exhaustive guide on how to check your home for air leaks. If you have an older home or one that seems particularly drafty as the weather cools, you may want to pay for a professional energy audit.

Even the tiniest of gaps in windows and door frames can lead to major heat loss over time. The Department of Energy recommends this simple test when checking them: “Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull the dollar bill out without it dragging, you're losing energy.”

Once you’ve identified the gaps, break out the caulk and weatherstripping to help seal the gaps and promote energy savings this winter. And don’t underestimate the power of those plastic window sealing kits if you need to cover drafty windows. After all these years, they’re still popular for a reason

On a larger scale, leaks from your attic can not only have a large impact on your heating bills — they can also lead to treacherous ice dams. By fixing the leaks early in the winter, you can save energy while also protecting your roof from severe damage.

7. Use the ceiling fan all year

Using a ceiling fan during summer months to create a cool breeze is a no-brainer. But did you know that many ceiling fans offer the option to reverse their rotation (from counterclockwise during summer months to clockwise during winter) in order to force warm air down from the ceiling into your room? Energy Star recommends operating it at a low speed to realize additional energy and dollar savings.

Still have questions?

Need more help upgrading your house? Or maybe you’re ready to buy a newer house with energy-efficient features built right in! Either way, reach out for help strategizing the best home choices for you and your family.

How to prepare your home for holiday guests

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Key insights:

  • When hosting holiday house guests, go beyond their basic needs to offer maximum comfort in their sleeping spaces and bathroom accommodations.
  • In charge of a feast for 12? Be sure to mark anything that's off-limits in the refrigerator to ensure your eggnog doesn't go missing before the big meal.
  • If you're hosting the next generation, the holidays are a great time to dig out old games and toys.

'Tis the season for house guests! Whether you've been hosting holiday guests for years or you’re a first-timer, follow these tips to ensure your overnight visitors feel warm and welcome in your home over the holidays.

The sleeping spaces

Whether your guests have a bed or will be relegated to a space on the floor, provide an assortment of blankets and pillows to ensure maximum comfort. While many people now use their cell phones as their alarm, you can also provide an easily programmable travel alarm clock on a small side table. Last, put out a small tray or bowl where guests can store their wallet, keys and other personal items.

If you want to go the extra mile to make your guests feel special, consider adding a welcome basket to each room. This assortment could include some or all of the following:

  • Mints or candy canes
  • Chocolates
  • Water bottles
  • Phone chargers
  • Earplugs
  • Linen spray

The bathing basics

Be sure to show guests which bathroom they should use during their stay, along with how to operate any complicated bathroom appliances (a tricky shower nozzle or a special heated floor system). At this time, you may also let guests know about hair dryers, towel warmers or other gadgets that they can use.

On the counter, provide easily forgotten essentials like shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste. And, if the bathroom isn't connected to your guests' sleeping space, consider lighting the hallway with a nightlight.

Traveling and eating rich foods can take their toll, so consider offering some or all of the following as well:

  • Pain medication
  • Antacids
  • Melatonin or other sleep aids
  • Bandages
  • Moisturizers and lip care
  • A nail file and clipper

The fridge factor

Most houseguests won't touch the cupboards or refrigerator without asking. Still, you should be sure to label anything that's “off-limits” – lest you end up with Aunt Franny drinking all the eggnog before the party starts!

Conversely, try to have a few easy-to-access snacks on hand to tide your guests over as you prepare for the big holiday meal. Some quick and simple snacks are:

  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Fruit
  • Olives
  • Holiday cookies
  • Nut mix

It's all relative

You know your guests and relatives better than anyone, so take them into account as you prepare your home. If your sister is a coffee drinker, be sure you can offer her some in the morning, taking into consideration how she likes it (with extra cream and sugar!). If your cousin is bringing their three children, set out your own kids' long-forgotten favorite toys and books to occupy them. These thoughtful additions can make all the difference and create a pleasant atmosphere for everyone.

A hygge house

Hygge is the Danish lifestyle of warmth, coziness and simplicity. This holiday season is the perfect time to embrace hygge. To fully encapsulate a house full of hygge, consider the following:

  • Baking a family recipe and letting the aroma fill the house
  • Enjoying the golden glow of the fireplace or decorative lanterns
  • Watching a movie or playing board games as a family, without cellphones
  • Cozying up in knit blankets or sweaters

A house full of hygge is bound to elicit positive interactions and memorable moments. After all, who isn’t happy wrapped up in a blanket with a mug of hot cocoa?

Above all, enjoy the holidays

Holiday house guests come but once a year. By being proactive, you can ensure their visit is pleasant, not stressful.

Hoping to upgrade your space so you can host next year’s holiday festivities? Get in touch any time and we can begin your search.

Why do buyers love mid-century modern, and how can sellers incorporate it into their home?

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Key Insights

  • Mid-century modern design is a popular style that encompasses simple yet thoughtful features and elements.
  • Search anywhere from antique stores to Target to find mid-century modern furniture and art to transform your house.
  • When it comes to incorporating mid-century modern, small pops can make big statements! Consider changing out hardware or light fixtures to get the look for less.

If you’ve watched a house flipping show, visited Pinterest or taken a peek into interior design, you’ve likely run into the term “mid-century modern.” The design trend is taking over everything from furniture to wall decor to light fixtures.

Homeowners, buyers and sellers all seem interested in mid-century modern properties. Whether you’re staging your home for sale or you’ve just purchased a property and want to upgrade your interior design, be sure to keep these mid-century modern styling tips in mind.

What is mid-century modern?

The original mid-century modern period began in the 1930s and ended in the 1960s. However, mid-century modern design continues to be a favorite choice among homeowners and property buyers today.

The mid-century modern style is a design movement best known for its colorful, minimalist and functional characteristics. The unique aesthetic of mid-century modern can be expressed through anything from furniture to graphic design. Here are some additional standout features of the mid-century modern style:

  • Blend of organic and geometric forms
  • Clean lines and clutter-less
  • Mixture of materials and textures
  • Plenty of natural light and exciting light fixtures

Where to shop for mid-century modern pieces

Due to its popularity, mid-century modern furniture pieces can be found anywhere from vintage and antique stores to big box retail stores like Target and Walmart. This makes shopping for mid-century modern decor elements extremely convenient, especially if you’re looking to score a great deal on new furniture.

And if you want an original piece or two, be sure to check out local second-hand shops and antique stores. With baby boomers clearing their attics and basements, mid-century modern treasures are being unearthed and donated every day!

Small changes for a big mid-century modern effect

If you’re hoping to make small updates to modernize an outdated house, or you’d like to add a fresh design style when staging your home before selling, consider adding pops of mid-century modern around the property. The clean lines of mid-century modern furniture and art will look great in-person and online. Plus, the minimalist mid-century modern style will help to make the house’s best features stand out by complementing (rather than competing with) the space.

Plus, keep in mind that buyers are likely to love a house with mid-century modern style. In fact, according to the furniture company Joybird, mid-century modern is the #1 preferred design trend in Minnesota and the #2 in Wisconsin.

Mid-century modern design elements

When decorating your space in a mid-century modern style, look for quality pieces of furniture and home decor that include:

  • Sideboards
  • Long, low couches
  • Glass coffee tables
  • Modern-colored paintings and walls
  • Starburst wall hangings
  • Pendant light fixtures and floor lamps
  • Clean, wooden side tables
  • Rugs featuring geometric patterns or lines
  • Brass elements, such as knobs or picture frames

These design elements are key features of mid-century modern design and will certainly help enhance the look and feel of your space.

Making the move to mid-century modern

Now that you’ve invested in a mid-century modern decor style, it’s time to sit back and relax, while taking in the beauty of your new space. And, if you’ve put in the work to upgrade your home so it’s ready to sell, reach out anytime! Together, we can work to sell your mid-century home quickly and for a fair price.

Home buying tips that never go out of style

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Key Insights

  • When it comes to signing a mortgage, you deserve to be picky! Shop around until you find the perfect fit.
  • Ensure your mortgage is manageable, and that you have some extra financial cushion each month.
  • Don’t worry about what kind of property the family across the street has. Instead, put your family and finances first.

While the housing market can change on a day-to-day basis, some home buying tips always retain their truth. By following the advice your parents and grandparents likely considered as they purchased their homes decades ago, you can be sure you’re responsibly undertaking the biggest investment of your lifetime. Here are some insights you can use while purchasing a home.

Don’t buy a bigger house than you can afford

First, don’t spend beyond your means. In other words, don’t buy a bigger or more expensive house than you can afford. Many homeowners learned this lesson the hard way during the downturn in the housing and mortgage markets, leaving millions underwater on mortgages they could no longer pay.

While it’s true that lending standards have gotten stricter, homebuyers can self-regulate by purchasing homes no more than two to three times their annual income. Be sure to determine what you can afford to spend on a home at the beginning stages of your property search.

Shop around for a mortgage

As a prospective buyer, you have many finance and loan options. Since you will likely need a loan for your big investment, meet with various banks and lenders to assure you're getting the best rate, terms and conditions.

By shopping around for a mortgage, you may end up with financial savings and optimal conditions. Compare fees associated with applying through multiple lenders and don't be afraid to mention you are considering competitors as it may earn you better rates. Some may even have special promos or financing options.

Make your mortgage manageable

In today’s credit-happy world, it may seem silly to turn down a large loan offered by your bank. However, by putting down a generous down payment and choosing a lower mortgage loan, you will offer your family a bit of cushion should your financial situation change.

Focus on the best purchase

Perhaps the most common advice parents and grandparents give out is, “Don’t buy the nicest house on the block.” While humility is a wonderful trait for anyone, this advice is also financially sound.

It may be best to buy a fixer-upper or an average-priced home, so you can add value to it over time. If you buy the standout house of the neighborhood, it’s possible the property won’t appreciate as quickly as the mid-range homes surrounding it.

Rather than picking the most trendy or modern home on the street, consider investing in a property with good bones that’s also within your price range.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses

Last, don’t buy more house than you need! With investment properties on the rise and social media fostering a digital “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’” mentality, it seems as though everyone is living above their means these days. By choosing a home that you can grow into, but isn’t too big or extravagant, you’ll be investing in a future that allows you more financial flexibility.

Put these tried and true tips to use!

Whether you find a forever property or a starter home you’ll have for a few years, these tried-and-true home buying tactics will help you make the most responsible decision. Together, we can find you a property that puts a skip in your step — without putting too big a dent in your pocketbook.

Must-have features and resources for downsizing homebuyers

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Key insights

  • When it comes to planning for retirement, downsizers should look at more than just single-level living options.
  • As home prices continue to rise, some would-be downsizers may prefer to renovate their existing home. Programs are available to help with that.
  • Rising home values are great when you’re selling — but they mean your buying budget doesn’t stretch as far.

The youngest baby boomers are now in their late 50s and the mega-demographic continues to shape the American economy and the housing market. As boomers head into retirement, many remain unsure about their future housing.

Whether you’re planning to downsize in the next year or just want to learn more about what kind of features and resources exist for downsizers, here are insights you can use as you plan your second act.

Top features for downsizing homebuyers

For most downsizers, single-level living is at the top of the list. When you’re still in great shape, it may not seem like a huge deal to have your laundry setup in the basement or your bedroom on the second floor. But having to navigate steps several times a day eventually takes a toll on aching joints, so older homebuyers should look at ramblers or other one-level living options as they downsize.

Additionally, downsizers may want to consider these features:

  • Wider hallways that can accommodate walkers, wheelchairs or railings
  • An open floor plan
  • Carpet, rather than rugs (which tend to cause trip-ups)
  • At least one no-step entry into the house
  • Pull-down levers, rather than round doorknobs
  • A step-in shower, rather than a traditional bathtub
  • Pull-out kitchen drawers (rather than cabinets that make you bend and hunt)

Aging in place? Consider these modifications

If you’d prefer not to move from your current home, it’s smart to update your existing residence while you’re still feeling super-spry. It can be difficult to visualize your space completely reconfigured, but most homes can be updated to accommodate single-level living.

If you live in a rambler, you may have the simplest renovation plan of all. Make sure to move the laundry to the main floor, if it isn’t already — you can always convert a bedroom closet into a space for your washer and dryer, if another space isn’t immediately apparent.

If you live in a two-story with all the bedrooms on the top floor, you may have to get a bit more creative. Consider converting your traditional living room into a family room with a TV and repurposing the family room into your master bedroom. If your first floor only has a half bath, you’ll need to expand it to include showering capabilities and additional space.

Not sure you can afford to take on these renovations? In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, there are local programs that offer low-interest financing for homeowners who wish to improve the livability or efficiency of their homes.

Search loan programs in Minnesota.

Search loan programs in Wisconsin.

The affordability factor

Many would-be downsizers are surprised to see how much their home values have risen in the last decade. It’s welcome news as a seller, but it also means your buying budget may not go as far as you’d like.

Together, we can meet to analyze and discuss how much your home could sell for in today’s market, as well as the properties and communities that may best suit you as a buyer.

Getting started

Whether you’re seeking solutions for yourself or your aging relatives, reach out any time.

Condo buying: The step-by-step guide

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If you are thinking of buying a condo, but aren't sure which steps to take first, these steps can get you started. Here are insights into the three phases of buying a condominium.

Research and planning phase (4 steps)

1. Begin your search online

It's natural to wonder what kinds of condos are for sale in your desired area, so take some time to research the cost, condition and amenities of condos in the city or neighborhood where you hope to reside.

2. Hire a real estate agent

Before you get too far into the process, it’s important to hire a REALTOR® who can help you navigate everything from budget, to location, to the nitty-gritty details of securing a loan. Get in touch today and we’ll get you on the road to owning a condo.

3. Get pre-approved

Together, we’ll work with a mortgage consultant to get pre-approved on a loan. The pre-approval process is important because it can help you confidently determine your budget and begin looking at condos in earnest. Pre-approved buyers may also be preferred by sellers, as a pre-approval indicates that a lender is more likely to approve the deal.

Your lender can walk you through the details of the type of loan you’ll secure. While some first-time buyers prefer FHA loans, not all condo complexes accept FHA financing. By understanding the type of loan you qualify for early on, you can keep your search narrowed down to condos that are within your reach.

4. Determine your criteria and wish list

Condos can be a great, flexible living option for buyers who want their own space but don’t want to take on all the maintenance that comes with a single-family home. But condos can also have strict regulations and guidelines for residents, so you’ll want to be sure to weigh the mechanics of each condo complex as you tour them.

Prior to touring condos in person, brainstorm some upfront questions that might help you narrow down your search.

  • Does the building allow pets?
  • Are there designated areas for smoking?
  • Does the building have on-site security personnel, alarms, cameras or other safety features?
  • What are the condo HOA fees and what do they cover?
  • Will you be able to rent out the condo in the future?

Touring and selecting phase (4 steps)

5. Start scheduling showings

The real fun begins once you can start touring potential properties. Together, we can make a list of condos you want to see in person, then weigh the pros and cons of the condo unit and the complex’s amenities as you walk through.

Be sure to pay close attention to the cost of the HOA fees for each condo unit you tour; you may find that some condo fees go toward amenities that you don’t really care about. You can save money by selecting a condo with amenities and services that fit your lifestyle and priorities.

6. Do your due diligence on condos you tour

While it’s important to respect the privacy of the current condo owner (that means no snooping in their dresser drawers), you should also do your due diligence as you tour the condo. That means double checking:

  • Underneath rugs and behind furniture for potential damage or defects
  • That appliances have been well-cared for
  • The condition of built-ins or other fixtures
  • That the light switches, ceiling fans and garbage disposal work
  • For adequate water pressure

You may also wish to visit the condo at different times of the day or different days of the week. You’ll be able to get a feel for the community (and how busy the rooftop deck gets) by visiting on a Saturday afternoon or evening, but you may also want to see how bright the natural light is in the morning.

7. Make a strong offer

Once you’ve found the right property, it’s time to make an offer. We’ll strategize to determine a competitive bid and any contingencies you want to include.

Inspecting and closing phase (5 steps)

8. Apply for the loan and get the condo appraised

Once your offer is accepted, you’ll officially apply for your home mortgage loan. You’ll work with your mortgage consultant to file the paperwork and your lender will begin the approval process.

Getting a loan approved for a condo requires a slightly different process, as your lender will have to approve your application and the condo complex in which you hope to reside. Don’t worry — we have plenty of experience in this field and we’ll work together with your mortgage consultant to complete this important step.

Another important step in the lender approval process is the appraisal. Your mortgage consultant will order an appraisal to ensure that the property has sufficient value to support the loan you are seeking. In this step, an appraiser will assess everything from the condo unit’s location and condition, to the general upkeep of the condo community, to the recent sold prices of similar condos nearby.

9. Get the condo inspected

It’s also advised that you hire a home inspector who can check to ensure the property is safe and free from major issues like structural damage and plumbing and electrical issues. While an appraiser is in charge of verifying the value of a condo, an inspector’s role is to educate the buyer on issues that may factor into the current and future condition and valuation of the property.

10. Review relevant documentation from the HOA

In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, the condo seller is obligated to disclose a number of documents to the buyer before closing.

These documents include:

  • A map (also called a plat) that shows the exact location of your condo unit within the complex.
  • The declaration, which is a legally binding document that encompasses the rules of the complex and its usage, as well as the collection and enforcement of HOA dues. Declarations are more difficult to change than a rule or regulation because they require a vote of the unit owners and often require the consent of two-thirds or more of the owners.
  • The bylaws, which outline how the HOA is governed — including how many board members serve on the HOA and how they are elected.
  • The rules and regulations, which cover the remaining rules that are not “set in stone” within the declaration, but are nevertheless enforced across the complex.

While your inspection will help you understand the condition of your individual unit, these documents will shed light into the “health” of the condo complex and the HOA that governs it.

As you review the documents, pay special attention to:

  • The monthly condo fees that are charged by the HOA.
  • The HOA’s current budget (which includes the number of delinquent HOA fee payments from condo unit owners).
  • Projects the HOA is currently taking on and any projects they have approved for the future.
  • The responsibilities that the HOA takes on, vs. the responsibilities of the individual condo owners.
  • Any lawsuits the HOA is currently involved in.

It’s important to review this packet carefully, as you have only 10 days in Minnesota (or 5 business days in Wisconsin) to review it and revoke your purchase contract if you feel that the condo purchase is no longer the right fit.

11. Verify that the condo’s title can be transferred to you

It’s also important to verify that the condo seller is able to convey the condo unit free and clear of any title issues. Prior to closing, you’ll hire a title company to research the condo unit and its history of ownership, and to verify that the owner can deliver title to you free of any judgments, liens or other matters that may affect your full ownership rights.

Your lender will likely require that you purchase lender’s title insurance so their risk is minimized; most buyers purchase owner’s title insurance so they’re protected as well.

12. Attend your walk-through and closing

Once your loan is approved and the title research is complete, you’re ready for your final walk-through before the closing. Tour your condo unit one last time to ensure that nothing has been removed, replaced or damaged, then head to the closing where you’ll sign the final closing and loan documents and collect your keys.

Congrats! You’re a condo owner. Now, who’s helping you move in?

Ready to get started?

Whew. That’s a lot of information, right? If you’re ready to get started on the path to condo ownership, but need an expert to guide your way, reach out.

Can I sell my haunted house?

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Key insights:

  • Minnesota disclosure laws do not require sellers to disclose “perceived paranormal activity” to buyers.
  • Carbon monoxide leaks and electricity shorts can cause spooky occurrences in your home.
  • It can help to look into your home’s history to determine what is behind the slamming doors or drafty areas.

Have you ever felt a draft that can’t be explained, or watched a door in your house slam shut when you’re home alone? It’s more common than you think! According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 28% of surveyed Realtors said they’ve had to sell a home or help a buyer who believes that their current home is haunted.

But how does “perceived paranormal activity” affect the ability to sell a home? And are there ways to scientifically explain (and debunk) the spooky goings-on in your home? Let’s explore what you need to know if you are living in a house that seems haunted.

Do I have to tell a buyer if my house is haunted?

Per Minnesota’s disclosure laws, sellers must state if there are any “material facts” that could affect the buyers’ use or enjoyment of the property. One exception to this law is that home sellers do not have to disclose “perceived paranormal activity” to any homebuyers. This law was put into effect after a homeowner in New York sued when they found out they were about to buy a “haunted” house.

The short answer, then, is that you do not have to disclose to buyers that you believe your house is haunted.

Boom! Crash! What’s really causing that noise?

There’s a longstanding feud between scientists who believe they can explain away most paranormal activities and the so-called “ghost hunters” who spend their time communicating with the other side. While we’re a no-judgment zone, we do know that some drafts, sounds and light flashes can be explained logically.

Here are a few common causes for haunted house happenings:

Drafts: If your home has unexplained cold areas or the doors keep slamming shut, don’t immediately assume a ghost is upset you replaced her vintage door knocker. Check windows, doors and your chimney to ensure they are all properly sealed and see if the drafts vanish for good once the gaps are filled in.

Noises in the walls: Before you decide that the noises in your walls or attic are due to paranormal activity, put out traps or hire a professional to check for rodents, bats and squirrels. Even small critters can make deceivingly loud noises that are easy to mistake for an intruder or apparition.

Flickering lights: Whether your lights flicker on and off or the bulbs burn out quickly without explanation, consider hiring an electrician to check for electricity shorts in your home.

Orbs of light in photos: Do your photos tend to include orbs or flashes of light that don’t come from your interior lighting? Make sure that your camera lens is clean of dust, debris and hair particles. And if the orbs only show up occasionally, consider that it could be from floating particles in the air — which is especially common in attics, basements and other rooms that don’t get much traffic or routine cleaning.

Visions: If you suddenly start to have persistent visions of paranormal figures or scenes inside your house, be sure to check carbon monoxide levels immediately. After prolonged exposure, the toxic gas can lead to hallucinations that are even more dangerous than they appear.

What else can I do?

If logical explanations fail, consider doing some research on your home’s history. The property’s location and past owners may be able to help clarify what you are seeing and hearing. If it would give you peace of mind, you can also hire a paranormal team to assess the home.

Whether your home is haunted by ghosts, too many belongings… or you just want a fresh start, get in touch today.

Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer: How do I legally get rid of fall leaves?

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Homeownership can be complicated, but we also think it’s one of the most rewarding ventures out there. In our series, Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer, we are hoping to demystify some of the trickier aspects of buying, selling and owning a home.

In this edition, one of our lawyers discusses how homeowners can legally dispose of the leaf piles that are overtaking their yards.

Dear Edina Realty Legal,

Fall is here and I need to do something with all the leaves piling up in my yard. Can I burn them? Or push them into the street for the street sweeper?

Burning leaves used to be quite common, but many municipalities now ban or discourage leaf burning for a variety of reasons, including safety, air pollution and health impacts. That said, whether you can burn leaves or have the street sweeper take the leaves away depends on where you live. Most cities have adopted regulations regarding leaf disposal and leaf burning and even if you live outside the city limits, there are rules and regulations to consider. Let’s explore how to legally dispose of all those leaves overtaking your front and back yards.

The state law on leaf burning

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) requires open burning permits for any fire that is more than three feet high and three feet in diameter, unless the ground is covered in three inches of snow or the fire is contained in an approved burner or similar device.

For Wisconsin residents, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) also offers burning permits; the need for an open burning permit is dependent upon the location of your proposed burn.

A permit will allow you to burn vegetative materials including grass, leaves and other brush. So if you do want to burn your fall leaf piles, you can obtain a permit from any MDNR Forestry office, fire warden, or through the MDNR's website. In Wisconsin, you can both determine if your location requires a permit and obtain a permit through the WDNR’s website or by visiting a WDNR office or an emergency fire warden.

Local regulations on leaf burning

Getting a permit may be just the first step to legally burning your leaves, though. You should also check with your local government authority to ensure you’re not breaking a local ordinance.

Many cities have adopted stricter regulations regarding open burning; cities from Edina to Aurora have outright prohibited leaf burning. And while open burning is likely acceptable (and quite common) in rural areas, you should still check your county, township, or village regulations if you reside outside city limits. You’ll also want to consider environmental impact as well as personal health and safety risks that can accompany leaf burning.

If I can’t burn my leaves, what are my disposal options?

If you cannot burn your leaves, can you rake them into the street and wait for the street sweeper to pick them up? Probably not.

While some cities, like Mankato, offer a leaf vacuum service for residents, most cities prohibit pushing leaves or other yard waste into the street; the buildup could have a potentially damaging impact on natural bodies of water and can plug sewer drains.

However, your garbage hauler may offer an easy (and affordable or free) yard waste pick-up service. Typically, the company will require you to bag up the leaves in a yard waste bag, then they pick it up curbside with your usual trash and recycling.

If that’s not an option, many local governments have yard waste disposal sites. Contact your local government authority to see if there is a disposal site nearby.

And of course, there are other ways to repurpose leaves! You can always consider getting into the world of composting, or using your leaves as mulch to protect your plants over our long Midwestern winters.

The Edina Realty Legal Department serves as in-house counsel for Edina Realty and does not represent private clients. This Insight is not intended to provide legal advice.

Is fall the best time to buy and sell a home?

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While you’ve undoubtedly heard about spring market frenzy, you may not know what to expect when buying or selling a home in the fall. Many find that buying and selling in autumn is less stressful and allows them to use the winter to build a feeling of home.

Here are insights you can use as you consider buying or selling a home in Minnesota or western Wisconsin this fall.

Something’s in the air

Before we get into the market numbers, let’s discuss what Edina Realty regional manager Marge Kane calls “the fall feeling.” Whether you’ve lived in the Midwest your whole life or recently moved here, you’ll notice that as the air and leaves get crisper, everything seems a little smoother than it did in the summer. (Even attending three soccer games on the weekend feels refreshing when you have a flannel blanket and a warm cup of coffee on the sidelines.)

Similarly, fall just feels like a great time to start over in a new home. “Many buyers have mentioned that they love moving into a new home in fall because it’s the right time for a fresh start. Plus, when you move in the fall, you get to spend your winter ‘nesting’ and really making a home your own. If you buy in the spring, you’re more likely to be outside and less likely to paint, decorate or organize for the long-term during those first few months of homeownership,” explains Kane.

Digging into the numbers

Fall may feel like the right time to move, but what do the housing market numbers say?

Annual national market trends show that since 1999, the most popular months for home sales are May, June, July and August; comparatively, November, December, January and February tend to be the slowest months for real estate activity, according to information published by the National Association of REALTORS®. Generally speaking, real estate activity moderates in autumn months as renters stay put and families with children avoid changing school districts mid-year.

While spring and summer are known as the peak times in the market, the housing market doesn’t hibernate when the leaves start to turn colors. In these more moderate sales months, motivated buyers and sellers tend to work toward straightforward, mutually beneficial transactions.

What fall sellers should expect

Sellers with homes under the $300,000 price point will likely still see a flurry of showings after they list, given the high demand for the limited inventory of homes for sale in this price point. Sellers with higher-priced homes should neither expect a bidding war nor lowball bids; in 2019, the average seller has recouped at least 97% of their original list price.

In the fall, open houses and showings are usually attended by serious buyers. This could mean that you see less in-person traffic than you would if you listed in April, but you’ll also host fewer “looky-loos” who are unlikely to make an offer. Selling in the fall could also mean a faster path to closing, as your buyers likely have a reason to be entering the market at this time and may be motivated to get settled before the holidays.

Remember, today’s buyers are discerning and have high standards. Sellers should work to build curb appeal and fix up the interior of their home to show pride of ownership before listing their homes for sale.

What fall buyers should expect

Above all, buyers can expect more buying power! Low, low interest rates make it a great time to be a buyer (the best time in years, in fact). If you were pre-approved for a loan before the interest rates fell in early August, you may want to ask your mortgage consultant to run the numbers again. Even a small dip in interest rates can lead to a boost in buying power.

Buyers who attend open houses will see that they are less crowded than in the spring and summer months. This could mean that you have less competition, or it could mean the competition is fierce with a small pool of equally motivated buyers. Reach out any time for insights on the inventory and desirability of your selected neighborhood and price point.

Should buyers be worried about a recession?

Would-be buyers may be wary as whispers of a potential recession grow louder. It’s important to remember that after the last market downturn, stricter mortgage standards were put into place to help ensure responsible borrowing and lending. When you apply for a mortgage, your mortgage consultant will help you understand how to build a responsible buying budget that takes into account your goals and retirement plans.

Last, unemployment is another factor that tends to help predict market shifts. For now, unemployment remains low in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Thinking of getting started?

As you can see, the fall is about more than pumpkin-flavored treats and bagging up that ever-growing leaf pile. If you’re thinking of buying a home or are ready to put your property on the market, reach out now to get started.

For even more insights on the process of home buying or selling, follow #BuyerInsights and #SellerInsights on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Why isn’t anyone building starter homes?

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Key insights

  • Starter homes are in high demand, so why aren’t builders building less expensive homes?
  • In addition to land, labor and building materials, builders have to factor in regulatory fees when determining their developments.
  • High regulatory fees can also make it difficult for builders to add any new construction in the starter home price point.

The median home price of a Twin Cities single-family home rose to $285,000 in July — but many buyers are still hoping for a starter home in the low or mid-200’s. The competition in these lower price points is fierce, with buyers snapping up properties in days or even hours.

So why, even with the consistently growing demand for these lower-priced homes, are there so few new construction options for this demographic of buyers?

The short answer is that between materials, labor, land and required permits, many builders simply can’t afford to build anything in that price range. Let’s explore why.

The cost of building a new construction home

When building new construction, builders have to first consider the cost of land. Builders may purchase large plots of land, where they plan to put up communities with hundreds of homes. In other cases, they may buy a smaller plot of land with plans for just a few homes. As with any real estate transaction, plots closer to the city or with good commute potential tend to be more expensive than rural plots.

Builders must also take into consideration the materials and labor required to build each property. There are hundreds of tasks that must be completed for each home; builders hire contractors and specialists who complete everything from laying foundation to custom-building cabinets to wiring the home for electricity.

In recent years, builders have seen a labor shortage. Commercial and residential new construction has been rising steadily as the economy has gained steam, but many of the workers who left the industry during the recession have not returned to their previous line of work. With this labor shortage and (to a lesser extent) the rising costs of materials, a recent report featured in an article by MinnPost shows labor and materials costs in the Minneapolis metro area have gone up by a third since 2009.

And then there are the regulatory channels. In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, the builder needs to get a permit to build. They’ll also work with the natural resource department(s) to review potential issues related to stormwater, wetlands and watershed. They may also need to work with the park department to pay park fees or even build a new park for the community.

All of these costs add up, and in Minnesota, they can add up to between 20-30% of the total cost of a new construction home, according to the Star Tribune. In Wisconsin, the regulatory costs tend to make up less of the total cost.

The cost of building in Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

According to a recent study from Housing First Minnesota, a homebuyer purchasing a new construction home in Wisconsin could save tens of thousands of dollars over a homebuyer purchasing the exact same property in Minnesota.

From Kare 11 News:

“Housing First Minnesota partnered up for a study about this topic and broke down the estimated cost of a new house in Corcoran, Minnesota. The estimated construction cost is $182,000. The administrative costs that go into it were estimated at $56,000. The total cost of the home came in at $372,000.
“The study estimated the exact same build in the community of Hudson, Wisconsin and the total price was $43,000 cheaper, with the savings split between land and administrative costs.”

In other words, Wisconsin land tends to be cheaper and their regulatory fees are less expensive, too. Overall, it means that Wisconsin buyers may be able to access a wider variety of affordable housing options than Minnesota buyers.

Need to find a starter home?

We work every day to help buyers within every budget. We’re confident that we can help you find your dream home, whether it’s a stunning new construction property or an historic home with plenty of charm.Get in touch today to get started.

Status Definitions

For sale: Properties which are available for showings and purchase

Active contingent: Properties which are available for showing but are under contract with another buyer

Pending: Properties which are under contract with a buyer and are no longer available for showings

Sold: Properties on which the sale has closed.

Coming soon: Properties which will be on the market soon and are not available for showings.

Contingent and Pending statuses may not be available for all listings