Monday, March 31, 2014

20 Clues You're Buying In The Right Neighborhood

A great neighborhood sells a home, real estate agents say. It also helps your home hold value and makes it easy to sell when you decide to move on.

With all the pressure and excitement of home shopping, how can you know if a neighborhood is truly great?

Make a list of what you want and don't want in a neighborhood and shop for those qualities.

1. It meets your specs
Describing his ideal neighborhood, Jay Walljasper, author of "The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking," says he looks for "the invincible spirit of neighborliness (that's) apparent even to a casual visitor."

But what's ideal varies. Your ideal could be a close-knit community with trees, playgrounds and great schools. Mine might be a downtown block of clubs, shops and condos.

2. You like what you hear
Become an expert on the neighborhood that interests you. Get a feel for it by attending open houses, walking its blocks, spending time in restaurants and coffee shops, and looking for community gardens.

Have a home in mind? Knock on doors and chat with neighbors on that street. Ask everyone who'll talk with you about the crime, noise, traffic, neighborhood issues, pros and cons.

3. You can get a latte

Upscale chain and independent retailers are signs a neighborhood is well-established or on the way up. These businesses signal a degree of affluence. Also, they've typically done market research to assure themselves the neighborhood is stable and worth the investment.

4. You see home improvements
Especially in the warm months, look for activity that shows owners are keeping up or investing in their properties. Improvements like new gutters, painting, re-roofing, gardening and landscaping, replacement windows, new fences and decks tell you they have pride in their homes.

5. Neighbors are organized

Block watches and neighborhood meetings are signs of a tight community. If you find a neighborhood group, attend a meeting or two to meet people and ask questions. Subscribe to any neighborhood newsletters.

"Crime is lower where people say they feel more attached to the neighborhood, more social connectedness, more responsibility for what goes on around them and a greater willingness to intervene when they suspect criminal activity," Dennis P. Rosenbaum, director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told MSN Real Estate.

6. People are out on the streets

People on sidewalks and children walking to school and playing in parks tells you they feel safe. This article at Veterans United asks:
Are there people sitting on their porches? Walking dogs? Taking their kids on a walk? If residents are willing to get out and walk around the neighborhood, that's a good sign of its vitality and safety.

7. It passes muster after dark
Don't think you know a place if you've only seen it in the middle of a weekday. Return repeatedly, at night and on weekends, to get a realistic picture.

8. Crime numbers are low
Don't buy into a neighborhood without checking its crime statistics. City police department websites often publish them. In Chicago, for example, weekly crime statistics are reported by police district.

9. School scores are strong
Where school test scores are strong, home prices are high. Search for the schools' scores in the neighborhood you're considering. Ratings are based on performance on state standardized tests. (GreatSchools' rating system is explained here.)

10. It's walkable

Do cars dominate? Or do sidewalks and streets encourage pedestrians and bicyclists? Sidewalks wide enough for outdoor cafes, benches and strolling give a place a neighborly feel.

Put an address or ZIP code into to obtain a "walkability rating" for neighborhoods or cities. Scores, ranging from 0 ("car dependent") to 100 ("walker's paradise"), reflect the ease of life without a car.

11. Bus stops abound
And subways. And rail lines. Homes with easy access to public transit fetch higher prices than similar homes without it, says a 2013 study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors. Homes within a half mile of "high-frequency" public transit were worth 41 percent more, on average.

But don't get too close. Locations adjacent to rail lines and bus stops lose value, Portland, Ore., real estate agent Rob Levy told Bankrate.

12. It'll work for you for five to seven years
So, a hip, edgy, gentrifying downtown district is your dream location right now? But will it work later, if you want children? Or if you change jobs? Don't count on being able to sell and move quickly.

I remember talking during the recession with a young couple who'd bought a condo in what they hoped was an up-and-coming neighborhood. After a while, though, they grew tired of hearing gunshots at night. When she became pregnant, they felt stranded. They wanted to move but could not because their home was worth less than they'd paid.

Lesson: Make sure the neighborhood suits your needs for at least five years.

13. Ownership is high
Neighborhoods with high homeownership rates are more stable. Exceptions: You can expect renters to outnumber buyers in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco.

Typically, renters are more mobile than homeowners. Longtime residents watch out for one another, making for a safer community.

Statistics on homeownership in neighborhoods can be hard to find, although some Realtors may have them. You can get a sense, though, by asking Realtors and locals about the renter-owner balance. Also, watch for apartment complexes that dominate a neighborhood or large numbers of "for rent" signs.

14. Homes sell quickly
Fast turnaround of homes for sale indicates a neighborhood in hot demand. A real estate agent can run "comps" (comparative home analyses) to tell you how quickly homes are selling.

Other clues to a neighborhood in demand: Employers are moving in with new jobs, the population is growing, and the supply of homes for sale is limited.

15. Homes hold value
In the housing crash, home values held up better in some neighborhoods than others. You can find historical sale prices in your county's property tax records. Many counties put these online. (NETRonline, a title company, has links to online county property tax records.) Or ask your Realtor for neighborhood sales trends.

If you're considering a bargain home in a neighborhood of foreclosures, consider whether home buyers will want this neighborhood when you are ready to sell. Even if you don't care about school quality or how many playgrounds are nearby, the next buyers of your home probably will.

16. The commute is not bad
Homes located close to major employers and in city centers are in high demand.

"The Driving Boom— a six-decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States — is over," says a 2013 transportation report by the nonprofit advocacy group U.S. PIRG.

"Younger people are less likely to drive — or even to have driver's licenses — than past generations for whom driving was a birthright and the open road a symbol of freedom," adds this New York Times article.

17. City services are good
The trash is picked up. Streets are paved and well-maintained. Beware of broken streetlights, cracked sidewalks, and lots of vacant homes with cracked windows and an overgrowth of weeds.

18. You see plenty of churches

You don't have to be religious to appreciate that churches, mosques and synagogues are signs of community strength and evidence that residents are connected and invested.

19. It has police and fire stations
Find the nearest fire and police stations and fire hydrants. Nearby public safety services add to a sense of neighborhood security. Also, a firehouse nearby might mean lower homeowners insurance premiums.

20. (Good) change is coming
Major economic development can change neighborhoods dramatically. Says Trulia: "From Google and Microsoft building cloud storage data centers in Des Moines to a new light rail station going live in Denver, one large-scale employer or infrastructure development can be a very early, very strong sign that an area will see its real estate fortunes rise."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Weekend Happenings: Shopping and Paisley

Lululemon Warehouse Sale
Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 2nd Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN
Fri. - Sun., March 28-30, 2014
Cost:  Free to shop

This is a big deal, if you are into Lululemon. Each year, the company holds its warehouse sale in a different city, and 2014 is Minneapolis’ year. The sale is taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm each day. And since this is the first year the sale is here, there are some things you need to know before you go, courtesy of
First, there is a 25-item limit per guest per visit, and bring your ID as this is a credit-and-debit sale only (no cash or gift cards). The prices will be slashed as the sale goes on, and items will be restocked and added every day. Menswear will be available, but worry not; they’ll have their own dressing room. And speaking of dressing rooms, they are communal so if you are shy, know your size before you go.
Paisley Park After Dark
Paisley Park Studios
7801 Audubon Road
Chanhassen, MN
Fri. & Sat., March 28 & 29, 2014
9:00 pm to 2:00 am
Cost:  $30


Paisley Park is opening its doors to the public at 9:00 both Friday and Saturday nights this weekend. What can you expect? Live music and a DJ, food and drink, but that’s about all you’ll get in terms of advance notice. The cover is $30, and per usual, cell phones cameras and recording devices of any kind are strictly prohibited.
You’ll notice on the poster an end-time of 2:00 am is noted; wonder if that will hold true? Also, a shuttle service from an area parking lot will be provided, and if the past is any indication, it will be from Life Time Fitness in Chanhassen. Advance tickets are not available, so if you are interested in going, just show up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adding A Second Story

Maybe when you were starting out, you headed all the experts advise and chose your home based on it's amazing location.  At the time, the one-story ranch fit your lifestyle just perfectly.  And because you chose to live in such a great location, your house is gaining value by the day.   But what happens when you love your location but start out-growing your house?  Maybe you got married, added some pets and now find yourself with a kid or two and one on the way.  You've already finished the basement, you've eked out every inch of space for storage and you still find yourself tripping over everyone and everything.  Rather than moving away from the house and neighborhood that you love and that is a great investment, you might want to consider adding another story to your house.

Yes, this is a huge undertaking.  It will involve weeks of being relocated, with months more of living with construction.  Your foundation also needs to be able to withstand the additional weight of another story, so you need to be sure to have a qualified inspector/engineer determine if it is even an option for you.  But the results can transform your home and your life.

Not only will it add much needed living space, but it can transform the entire look and feel of your house.  Take a look at some of these before and after pictures to see for yourself what you can gain when you go up.




Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weekly Market Update: March 24, 2014

Spring is finally beginning to show its face after a long, cold winter in many parts of the country. Generally, housing activity is waking up as well. It's been a slow start to the selling season thus far, but many believe this has more to do with the weather and lack of inventory than it does demand. Any gains may be moderate compared to a year ago, but most experts agree that market normalcy and stabilization are upon us.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending March 15:

 • New Listings decreased 0.9% to 1,462
 • Pending Sales decreased 13.1% to 912
 • Inventory decreased 8.2% to 12,475

For the month of February:

 • Median Sales Price increased 14.4% to $183,000
 • Days on Market decreased 10.8% to 99
 • Percent of Original List Price Received decreased 0.2% to 93.6%
 • Months Supply of Inventory decreased 12.5% to 2.8

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Importance Of Staging

We've said it on this blog many times before, but it is vitally important that you stage your home to ensure buyers will see your beautiful home and not your "stuff".  Staged homes generate more online traffic because they pictures highlight the home so well, they sell more quickly, and for a higher price too.

Your main objective is to actually sell your home, so you want to do everything possible to make your home as appealing as possible to the widest audience possible.  If you still don't believe us, just peruse some of these before and after staging pictures to see what a difference some staging and updates can do.

Photo credit: Patti Stern, PJ & Company Home Styling LLC

What was done:  Updated some furnishings and accents, painted walls a more contemporary color, rearranged furniture.

Photo credit: Patti Stern, PJ & Company Home Styling LLC

What was done:  Empty rooms look smaller without furniture.  Furniture was added, wallpaper removed and walls painted, new carpet installed, window treatments.

Photo Credit:  Karen Otto,

What was done:  Added and rearranged furniture, included contemporary decorations, incorporated rug to define the space.

Photo credit:  Michelle Minch, Moving Mountains Designs

What was done:  Resurfaced fireplace to a more contemporary style, replaced carpet with hardwood, replaced window treatments, painted walls, added furniture and accessories.

Photo credit:

What was done:  Added accents to play up the charm of the space.

Photo credit:

What was done:  Painted walls, removed old drapes, updated carpet and furnishings, decluttered and cleaned.

Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Saturday, March 22, 2014

2373 Highover Trail, Chanhassen, MN

2373 Highover Trail, Chanhassen, MN 55317

New listing just posted:

Description:  Lot/Land

Home Information:

Beds: 0

Baths: 0.00

Sqft: 0

Price: $299,900

MLS #: 4458228

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekend Happenings: Macy's Flower Show

Macy's Flower Show - The Secret Garden
8th Floor Auditorium
700 on the Mall
Minneapolis, MN 
Sun., March 23, 2014
Cost:  Free

Macy's the secret garden

For the taste...and smell... of spring you've been craving you will need to head to the Macy's Flower Show. As in years past, this show features millions of live flowers, plants and trees from around the globe. The Secret Garden, the show’s theme, offers an inside glimpse behind the magic and majesty of  lush landscapes.

The Flower Show is also the backdrop to two weeks of in-store special events, including fashion shows and cooking demonstrations that celebrate the rejuvenating change of the season. This all takes place during Macy’s regular hours, and it’s all free and open to the public. The show is open through April 6, 2014.

Get your 10% off Macy's Visitors Savings Pass for exclusive all-day savings. Just present your flower show brochure at the executive offices on the lower level. restrictions apply. valid ID required. details in-store.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Christmas Lake Estate, MN

Christmas Lake Estate , MN 00000

New listing just posted:


Home Information:

Beds: 0

Baths: 0.00

Sqft: 5,900

Price: $2,400,000

MLS #:

Fun Backyard Projects Part II

On of our most popular posts was when we highlighted some fun backyard projects that you could do yourself in a weekend or two.  You can find that article HERE.  In that post we highlighted 5 fun projects that your family would love.  But that just scratched the surface so we decided to highlight a few more in Part II of that post.

Tiki Bar

With snow all around us it's natural for us to dream about warmer climates.  Why not bring a little Hawaii to your Minnesota backyard this year with a Tiki Bar!  Big or little, thatched roof or metal, custom made or pieced together from around the yard, nothing says fun and relaxation like a tiki bar.  Just add some hanging lights, a tiki lamp or two and some island music, and you have the perfect ingredients for a fun evening with your friends.

Plans are plentiful on the Internet.  Just type in tiki hut plans or tiki bar plans and you'll find more than enough information to build your own.

Water Wonderland

Do your kids love the water but you can't afford a large pool?  There's still plenty you can do to create a fun, water-centered backyard playground.  You can install special spigots under your patio that are attached to your sprinkler system to create a splash pad.

With a few hoses and some PVC piping you can create all kinds of fun water features for your kids.

And who doesn't love the time tested slip and slide?!  If you don't have the actual thing, a tarp and some hoses and sprinklers will do the trick just as well.

Secret Garden

Technically, this one could take you a few years to really get established, but start planning this year for a secret garden.  With some planning and a small investment in some shrubs, trees and fencing, you can create your own private oasis...right in your backyard.  Ideal spots for creating instant privacy can be found behind garages or sheds, behind a particularly large bush or tree, or in a corner of a fenced in yard.  To add instant privacy, you can plant tall grasses and vines in pots placed to create a barrier while you're waiting for your other plants to mature enough to surround your space.  Once your space is carved out, simply adding a chair, a hammock or even a blanket and pillows will create the welcoming peaceful space you've always craved.  Be creative and see what happens!

Tree House

The tree house is a time honored tradition for fun families.  And they are all the rage now with shows like Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet.  Pete Nelson may build amazingly beautiful and complex tree houses that are more like mini mansions.  But you can have just as much fun with a much simpler model that you can build yourself.  Don't have any trees, you say?  You can still build a small structure on stilts.  The idea is to just get higher than the ground and it will change your whole perspective on life.

Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Weekly Market Update: March 17, 2014

More daylight should help bring more hours of long-desired activity to the housing market. As the spring market dawns, sellers may see prices continue to rise and more homes should find their way to market. As long as the economy continues to gain momentum and mortgages remain low, previously underwater sellers and eager buyers should find opportunities to talk business.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending March 8:

• New Listings increased 6.5% to 1,454
• Pending Sales decreased 14.7% to 821
• Inventory decreased 9.4% to 12,118

For the month of February:

• Median Sales Price increased 14.4% to $183,000
• Days on Market decreased 10.8% to 99
• Percent of Original List Price Received decreased 0.2% to 93.6%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 12.5% to 2.8

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, March 17, 2014

Going Above And Beyond For Your Open House

Having an open house is a lot like speed dating. In speed dating, you only have a few minutes to make a first impression on a potential date before they move on to the next person. With an open house, many buyers will visit and may only stay a few minutes before moving on to the next showing. 

To stop them in their tracks, your home will have to make a great impression, and if you go above and beyond with a few easy steps before the big day, it will.
Depersonalize Your Home
When buyers are touring a home, they naturally try to “identify their family, children and lifestyle in the home,” said Chantay Bridges, a senior REALTOR® for Clear Choice Realty in Los Angeles. “Visualizing placing their furniture into the house switches a Looky Lou into a serious buyer.”
Give yourself at least a day to depersonalize your home. Take down family photos, pack up trophies and clean the kids’ art off the fridge. And don’t forget religious items, political affiliations or X-rated material. “More often than not, they do not appeal to the overall buyer and can be a turn-off and offensive,” Bridges said.
Clean, Clean, Clean
While most sellers know a clean place is more likely to get an offer, an exceptionally clean house can make a great impression on potential buyers. Set aside a weekend to go above and beyond a simple cleaning: Power wash the windows, mop the garage floor and scrub inside drawers and cabinets.
Before you finish, double-check these areas that Bridges says sellers commonly overlook:
  • Baseboards
  • Blinds
  • Carpets
  • Exterior areas
  • Garages
  • Closets
  • Tops of heaters and air conditioners
  • Rugs
  • Bookshelves not dusted
Prep Your Backyard
While some potential buyers may only glance out the back door, others will step onto the back porch and try to envision themselves lounging outside as the sun goes down or watching their children play in the grass. To help them see this vision as a reality, spend a day cleaning your backyard. Mow the grass, pull weeds in flower bed areas, and set up an umbrella over your patio furniture to create a feeling of summer.
On the day of your open house, Bridges recommends “setting out a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses” to really sell the image of lazy summer days in the backyard.
Create a Feeling of Warmth
The day before your open house, after you’ve cleaned and readied the space, try warming things up a bit. Bridges says something as simple as “bringing in some fresh flowers or herbs” can make a living space seem homier. In the kitchen, try “setting out a bowl of fresh fruit” to brighten up the space.
And if you want to go bigger, try adding curtains to blank windows, or pillows in warm colors to sofas and beds. Having a splash of color and the softness of fabric will give a warm feeling to the whole space.
Seek Your Realtor’s Advice
Finally, don’t forget to ask your REALTOR® for advice. Your REALTOR® can combine their personal experience, the current trends and your home’s unique style to set the perfect tone for your open house.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

2181 Pinehurst Dr., Chanhassen, MN

2181 Pinehurst Dr., Chanhassen, MN 55317

New listing just posted:

New listing video just posted:

Description:  Sighted on a private cul-de-sac in the heart of demand Pinehurst of Chanhassen, this beautiful custom home built by Colson Homes features upscale amenities and finishes for the most discerning buyer. 

Home Information:

Beds: 5

Baths: 2.00

Sqft: 4,760

Price: $899,000

MLS #: 4454758

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Weekly Market Update: March 10, 2014

Extreme winter weather may be partly responsible for sluggish durable goods sales, consumer spending, business inventories and exports. As more income goes toward heating bills, four-wheel alignments, frozen pipes and other winter expenses, there is less (or no) remaining discretionary income. Several southern cities were paralyzed by winter storms, costing the economy billions in lost productivity, while consumers were forced to hunker down for much of the winter in the Midwest and Northeast. Consumers should be more than ready for warmer days ahead.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending March 1:

• New Listings decreased 12.6% to 1,245
• Pending Sales decreased 8.6% to 901
• Inventory decreased 9.1% to 12,079

For the month of February:

• Median Sales Price increased 14.4% to $183,044
• Days on Market decreased 10.8% to 99
• Percent of Original List Price Received decreased 0.3% to 93.5%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 12.5% to 2.8

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, March 10, 2014

Driveway Luxuries

For most of us a driveway is just something to get you from the street to the garage with little effort.  However, you will quickly notice a driveway that wasn't graded correctly in the beginning by the huge sinkholes that show up a few years later. Trying to shovel snow from a driveway with potholes, uneven cracks and crumbling edges will quickly drive you insane.

Therefore, it is essential to do the proper up-front work in the grading of the not skimp on this part!  But it is also essential to maintain your driveway so that it lasts as long as possible.

But let's say you don't just want a driveway that functions well.  Maybe you don't ever want to shovel, or maybe you want it to lend some curb appeal to your house.  We're here today to give you some ideas of those little "extras" you can add to your driveway to make it more than just a workhorse for your house.


Driveway Bag Lights

Sure anyone can put lights in along the sides of your driveway, and it definitely amps up the curb appeal.  But, again, we live in Minnesota where snow will mound higher than your head at the edges of the driveway.  Not only will your lights be covered for 8 months of the year, but they run the likelihood of being damaged by overzealous shovelers or out of control snow blowers or plows.


So why not opt for lights IN your driveway.  You read correctly.  There are companies that offer lighted pavers that you incorporate into your driveway to light the way.  Some are designed to look like regular pavers during the day but then light up at night.  Others look like glass blocks that you insert in with your other pavers or into your concrete driveway.


And if you really want to add mystery and uniqueness, you can incorporate photo luminescent stones into your driveway to make it look like a glowing pathway to your house.

Permeable Driveway

Remember grandpa's driveway that had the two small strips of concrete surrounded by grass for his driveway?  He was onto something.  If you care about water run-off from your driveway, you might want to consider one that helps water seep through the driveway rather than sliding off of it.  These are called permeable driveways and they come in all shapes and sizes.

The above driveway has small bits of gravel and stone in between that allow spaces for water to seep into the ground rather than water running into the storm sewer where it might carry residual chemicals from your car.

This driveway actually has living plants in between its spaces that will use the water to grow.

Heated Driveway


A heated driveway has to be the ultimate in luxury for those who live in cold climates (or maybe we should say necessity instead of luxury!).  While you can use electric wires, hot water pipes are probably the preferred and less costly method to heat your driveway.  The pipes run under the pavement and circulate hot water down the length of the driveway thereby melting any snow and ice that may have accumulated.  A dedicated wood fired boiler for just the driveway, would have very little cost after initial installation.  After the winter we've had in Minnesota this year, I'm sure this is looking like a might nice addition to your home right about now!


Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors