Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween From Stafford Family Realtors

From all of us here at Stafford Family Realtors, we wish you all a safe and super fun Halloween!  Enjoy these photos of some pumpkins carved by people with WAY too much time on their hands. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Weekly Market Update: October 29, 2012

The housing market is improving. But don't take our word for it. CoreLogic, Standard & Poor's, FHFA and the NAHB all closely monitor a diverse array of housing data and indicators. At some point over the past six months, every single one of these indices has either reached a multi-year high or has shown several consecutive months of improvements. Does that mean every home in every neighborhood in every city across America is worth more today than it was a year ago? Of course not. But you'd be surprised just how robust this recovery is. Go ahead, dig into the numbers and see for yourself.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending October 20:

• New Listings increased 0.6% to 1,110
• Pending Sales increased 33.3% to 1,012
• Inventory decreased 28.5% to 15,903

For the month of September:

• Median Sales Price increased 12.8% to $174,813
• Days on Market decreased 28.5% to 101
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 4.0% to 94.8%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 39.2% to 4.1

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, October 29, 2012

Kitchen Command Centers

Let's face it.  Running a household takes a lot of work.  And who wouldn't love a way to make that easier?  That's where the kitchen command center comes in.  Many new homes are being built with a space for managing the household, usually in or in close proximity to the kitchen.  This can be as simple as a little counter space for a computer or as elaborate as an entire office.


And if you live in an older house you can see scores of ways to carve out a little creatively decorated niche for organizing all your household tasks on Pinterest - all matchy-matchy of course.

Kitchen Command Center
Credit: Pinterest
 While in theory this all looks great, what happens when reality sets in?  Unless you're an uber-organized person or love to take the time to be artsy in all that you do, are you really going to maintain a space that looks as nice as it does on Pinterest?  Let's take a regular household task, like menu planning, and see the different ways you could change your space to accommodate that task.

Maybe I've lost you already if you're not a menu planner.  But everyone has to eat so whether your system is formal or casual, every family has to figure out a way to get the food in the bellies.  How you do that, will depend upon your personality.

Can you say chalkboards?  Artsy people LOVE chalkboard paint.   You can paint a small square on the wall, the back of a door or cupboard, or one entire wall if you like.  Grocery lists, menu for the night or the week, notes to other family members, and, of course, art are all great uses of a chalkboard. 

Do you like to keep a running list of what you have in your deep freezer, crossing off items as you use them?  Do you have a grocery list spreadsheet listing commonly purchased items sorted by aisle number at your favorite grocery store?  Do you plan out meals by the month and keep it posted where everyone can see it?  Then you would probably like a spot in your kitchen where you can tack up your lists and menus for the month along with a spot for your computer and cookbooks.  And because your uber-organized, it will probably always look nice and tidy.

Do you have an app for everything?  Do you keep your grocery  list on your smart phone? Do you keep all your appointments on an electronic calendar and then check how many activities you have on a given night to determine whether you're running through the dive through or making mac and cheese?  If this sounds like you, you would probably be more comfortable with a bit of standing height counter space that houses a laptop and multiple plug-in sites to power up all your electronic devices.

Average Joe (or Jane)
Most people probably fall into this category.  You keep a calendar, but it's a paper one either on the wall or in a desktop organizer.  You keep a running list on your fridge of stuff you need from the grocery store.  You don't really have time or energy to plan out a month of menus but you have an idea of what you are going to make in the next few days given what you already have in your pantry and your freezer.  You have a desk but it's used more for storage of papers and mail than for anything else.  If this sounds like you, then an in-kitchen center probably isn't for you since it would just be a place to gather clutter.  If you have a "command center" at all, it should probably be located somewhere out of the way of the public eye, like inside a pantry, in the mudroom area or maybe even in a closet.  Close enough to use but far enough to hide all the stuff you can't quite get to. 

So remember, before you invest in a beautiful desk area for your kitchen or an elaborate command center, take a moment for a reality check to see if it's something you'll really use.  Just because it looks good in a picture on Pinterest, doesn't mean it will work for you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weekend Happenings: Halloween Acitivies

Blackout 2012
Nickolodean Universe
Mall of America
5000 Center Court
Bloomington, MN 55425

Oct. 26 & 27, 2012
5:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Cost:  $19.99 + tax


Experience Nickelodeon Universe in a whole new way with unlit rides, black lighting, fog effects, a live DJ, costume contests, black light t-shirt making, glow in the dark airbrush tattoos and more!

Blackout Unlimited Ride Wristbands: $19.99 + tax Purchase a Beat Flashing Bracelet for $3 First 1,000 ride ticket purchases made after 5 p.m. will receive a FREE treat bag. Valid on event nights only.

Boo Bash
Grand Avenue
from Dale to Fairview
St. Paul, MN 55105

Sat. Oct. 27, 2012
10:00 am to 3:00 pm
Cost:  Free

Boo Bash

Celebrate Halloween with Grand Ave’s Boo Bash, one of the best Halloween events in the Twin Cities! Stop by in the afternoon for a children’s costume contest, the Monster Mash dance, a petting zoo, pony rides, and a word search! If you’re looking for Halloween events in the Twin Cities, don’t forget Boo Bash right here on the Avenue! 

Halloween Brick-or-Treat
Thorp Building
1620 Central Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

Sat. Oct. 27, 2012
5:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Cost:  $5; $20 per family, food donations accepted

Psycho Movie Scene

This season, LEGO lovers won't have to go all the way to the Mall of America to get their fix. For the next two Saturdays, the folks at Brickmania Toyworks will be hosting special family-friendly Halloween activities each evening. The space will feature trick-or-treating inside a huge walk-through LEGO display series featuring spooky horror and sci-fi themes. The event will take over 10,000 square feet of the space, so there will be plenty of things to explore and view. Last year's sets included haunted houses, spinning UFOs, and skeleton armies; expect a few Psycho-themed buildings this year. The party will also include snacks, and a toy bazaar in the space next door. To enter the event, be sure to use the side door on Jackson and 18th Avenue. (LEGO displays open at 6 p.m.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spooktacular DIY Halloween Decorating Ideas

When I was little, decorating for Halloween meant that you put a candle in your jack-o-lantern and placed it on your front stoop.  To say that Halloween decorating has exploded in the past few years is a massive understatement!  If you want to partake in the fun but not break the bank, then check out some of these cool and cheap DIY ideas.

Paper Silhouettes

Credit:  Noah Fentz
 If you want to keep the fun quotient high but the cash outlay low, paper window silhouettes are wickedly cool. Make cutouts from black paper, stick them on your windows, and back them with a translucent shade or sheet. Turn up the background lights to create a whole-house luminary. Need artistic help? Download these silhouette templates.

Eyes In The Bushes

Credit:  Thrifty Crafty Girl
Want a great low-cost lighting idea? Take cardboard cores from paper towels and toilet paper rolls, cut out a pair of fanciful eyes, and light them up with a glow stick (about $2 for a pack of 4); glow sticks come in many colors. Strategically place them in bushes and trees for that “I’m watching you” touch of creepiness. Try covering the cardboard rolls with paper and drawing in a set of eyeballs.

Light A Ghostly Path

Easy Homemade Halloween Decorations
 Save up those milk jugs and create a lighted pathway of ghosts.  Using a thick, black sharpie pen, draw on scary or silly ghost faces.  Cut a hole though the back of each jug then push 5-7 white light bulbs from a string of indoor/outdoor mini lights.  String several together to make the ghostly path as long as you'd like.

Spooky Spectre

Credit:  Small Home Love
Grab some sturdy leather gloves, wire cutters and some standard chicken wire and you've got the makings of a cool ghost.  Shaping it may take some work but the end result is pretty cool when seen from a bit of a distance.

Spiders Galore

What's creepier than a creepy crawly spider?  Lots of creepy crawly spiders!  Buy a bag (or two) of plastic spiders from a Halloween supply store and hang them from threads and attach them to every surface.  Then sit back and watch the fun as everyone tries to fling them off of themselves.

A Pumpkin Says It All

Of course, you can still put out that Jack-O-Lantern on your front stoop.   Carving a pumpkin is the ultimate DIY Halloween decoration.  But even there, things have gone to the extreme as you can see below.

Credit:  Women's Day Magazine
So, get those creative juices flowing, put on your thinking cap and get ready to be the "it" house this Halloween.

Source:  Houselogic

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Weekly Market Update: October 22, 2012

Housing pessimism is as out of fashion nowadays as bell bottoms and shoulder pads. Those who are still fishing for that elusive "market bottom" have likely missed it in most areas. The major story continues to be tightened inventory and high buyer turnout. Homes should be selling faster and for closer to list price – or even above in the hottest neighborhoods. Continue to monitor key differences between the foreclosure and traditional segments as well as variability between the single-family and condo markets.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending October 13:

• New Listings increased 7.3% to 1,252
• Pending Sales increased 26.7% to 954
• Inventory decreased 28.8% to 16,017

For the month of September:

• Median Sales Price increased 12.6% to $174,500
• Days on Market decreased 28.4% to 101
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 4.0% to 94.8%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 39.6% to 4.1

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, October 22, 2012

Forget Starter Homes! First-Timers Trade Up

More first-time home shoppers say they want a house they can “grow into” not a home they can quickly grow out of.

With big housing bargains and low mortgage rates, some first-time buyers have decided to go big with their home purchase and sidestep the traditional smaller “starter house.”

A growing number of real estate professionals are reporting that childless, twentysomethings who have strong incomes are taking advantage of housing deals and looking for their dream house now, rather than wait until later.

A Minneapolis couple purchased a 3,000-square-foot-home as their first home. "The more starter homes we saw, the less impressed we became. ... Since we knew we could easily afford to buy more than we were initially looking to spend, the choice was quite simple," Joseph Simons told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Why not buy a forever home with everything we want?"

Indeed, more buyers are purchasing a home with intentions to live in it longer than they once did. On average, buyers now expect to stay in their house 15 years compared with 10 years in 2010, says Walter Maloney, spokesman for the National Association of REALTORS®.

Steve Howe, a sales agent for RE/MAX Results in the Minneapolis area, says one big driver for first-time home buyers to to go big on their first home is low mortgage rates. Howe says first-time buyers worry that mortgage rates — the cost of borrowing for a home purchase — will never be this low again so they want to take advantage while they can.

"If they can lock in a $300,000 or $350,000 mortgage at 3.5 percent, that's as good as gold," Howe says.

Source: “First-time Buyers Skip the Starter Home,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (Sept. 29, 2012)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Open Houses: October 21, 2012

19100 Rutledge Road - Deephaven
3 bedroom/3 bath
SqFt:  3,850
OPEN:  3:00 to 4:30

Welcome to Beachcomber, in the heart of Deephaven! This new home brilliantly combines the white, gabled architecture this area is known for, with modern, contemporary design, creating a home perfectly suited to this neighborhood. New and interesting details are used throughout, this includes a cantilevered entry roof to welcome you inside and a vaulted family room to encourage you to relax and enjoy your surroundings. Whether it’s time with family, or curled up in the window seat with a good book, you’ll enjoy sunshine from morning until night. The house is wrapped in windows and features a spacious, open floor plan. The kitchen, dining and family rooms all complement each other, allowing easy movement from one room to the next. On the second floor, the loft, overlooking the family room, allows you to nestle into the treetops in your own home and is down the hall from two junior bedrooms, a full bath, and a master suite. The master suite features a vaulted ceiling and windows on three sides. The master bath features a free-standing soaking bathtub and walk-in shower. It is bathed in natural light, providing a spa like experience. The home also features both a front deck and dining patio to allow you to enjoy the close proximity to Lake Minnetonka and Deephaven Beach. Well equipped with Thermadore appliances, a wine cooler, Marvin windows, Koehler faucets and Corian countertops. >>> We called this home Beachcomber due to it’s unique location near Deephaven Beach on Lake Minnetonka. We used the spirit of Beachcomber to guide the design, focusing on light, openness and a relaxed approach to living. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile! -Chris Guerrera, Risk Architectural Design, LLC.

Click HERE fore more information on Rutledge Road.

6841 Chaparral Lane - Chanhassen
4 bedroom/2 bath
SqFt:  1,947
OPEN:  12:00 to 2:00

Main Photo

This home is a MUST SEE! The seller is an interior designer and has done a beautiful job updating this home. ALL NEW Siding, Windows, Stainless Steel Appliances, Furnace, Water Heater & more! Walk to Chanhassen shops & parks!

Click HERE for more information on Chaparral Lane.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weekend Happenings: Fun Fest, Arts & Crafts, and Pumpkins

Minnetonka Fall Fun Fest
Minnetonka Outdoor Amphitheater
14600 Minnetonka Boulevard
Sun. October 21, 2012
1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Cost:  $8 per child, adults are free

Activities include musical entertainment by Jack Pearson, storytellers, hayrides, face painting, pumpkin painting, hot apple cider by the fire, games, treats and more! Costumes are encouraged, but not required.

Registration is required for this event. All registered participants will receive a treat bag. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Adults are free! In case of rain, the event will be moved into the Minnetonka Community Center. This event is geard towards children aged 1-10.

Eden Prairie Art & Craft Show Grace Church
9301 Eden Prairie Road
Eden Prairie, MN 55347
Sat. October 20, 2012
9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Cost:  Free

The Eden Prairie Lioness would like to invite you to our 2012 Artisan, Shabby Chic, Craft & more Fair.  This year is our fourth annual event and the Lioness have worked hard to find quality artists, re-purposed shabby chic and crafters to bring their unique and hand crafted wares to you. We hope that you will be as delighted as we are with the variety and quality of the items offered.

Weekend Family Fun: Squish Squash
MN Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska MN 55318
Sat. & Sun., October 20 & 21, 2012
Noon to 4:00 pm
Cost:  Free with membership, $12 adults, Kids under 12 free    


Sink your hands inside a pumpkin, squash, or gourd and dissect one. Dig out the insides and take a closer look at plant parts. Sample pumpkin soup.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

25 Quick, Cheap and Easy Home Sale Tips

Even with rising values and reduced inventory in certain markets, selling a home remains challenging. Buyers expect not just a shiny new stainless sink but pruned hedges, freshly painted walls, glistening hardwood floors, and more. Making everything look great can cost a pretty penny, and many sellers won’t be able to afford all the suggestions their realtor might make.

Prioritize items based on the condition of what’s needed most, what buyers in the area typically request (ask your realtor), what competing houses offer, and — of course — cost. Here’s a list of 25 affordable, easy-to-make changes from top design and real-estate pros:

1.Add power outlets with USB ports in rooms that lack them, especially in the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms where they’re most needed. “Younger, more tech-savvy couples and individuals love them,” says Tyler Drew, broker and property investor with Anubis Properties Inc. in Los Angeles.

2.Eliminate acoustic popcorn-style ceilings since they look dated and tacky.

3.Remove exposed posts and half walls. Today’s buyers want more space, and partial walls and posts gobble up room. The only walls that should remain are those that offer privacy or conceal electrical wires or plumbing stacks.

4.Update wiring for the Internet and flat-screen TVs. You don’t have to run CAT-5 through walls, which can be costly and require opening and closing and repainting walls. Instead, find a place to put a wireless router, Drew says.

5.Clean carpets and wood floors since they’re often the first part of a room that buyers check out; you don’t need to replace them unless they’re in terrible shape. A good carpet steam cleaning or wood floor waxing can be relatively inexpensive, sometimes less than $200.

6.Expand a small kitchen to make it work better and look larger. Two quick fixes: Change the backsplash by adding mirrors, stainless steel, or paint, which will introduce light and views; and add an island, which requires only 30” between counters and the island to pass through comfortably. If there’s not enough room for an island, bring in a rolling cart with pull-out shelves underneath and a wood top, says Libby Langdon, an interior designer, author, and expert with Liebherr Refrigeration.

7.Clear out and clean a garage, a big selling feature.  Power wash the floor or paint it if it’s in bad shape, remove dated cabinets, and remove all junk that’s been stored there, so prospects can see how much space they would have for their stuff.

8.Change out corroded or dented door knobs and levers. The replacements don’t have to be expensive but they should look new and clean, Chicago architect Allan J. Grant suggests.

9.Pay attention to landscaping, which can add 7 to 15 percent to a home’s value, according to principals Jessy Berg and Bonnie Gemmell. Focus on mowing grass, removing crab grass, and eliminating dead plants and tree branches. “I’d rather have dirt and the potential to paint a picture for the buyers’ mind than a backyard full of dead plants,” Drew says. But if you have extra funds, consider Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman’s ideas: Add lots of seasonal color through blooming annuals and perennial plants and remove problems like too much noise from traffic or neighbors by installing an inexpensive fountain with trickling water.

10.Paint exterior windows, doors, gutters, downspouts, and trim, then go inside and paint the home’s trim, doorways, and walls that are in need of freshening. Don’t worry about the colors but consider those that veer toward quiet and comfort such as Benjamin Moore’s Yosemite Sand, Edgecomb Gray, or Carrington Beige. “Gray is a hot interior color now,” says Manchester, Vt.-based designer Amy Thebault. Painting rooms other, lighter colors such as white, yellow, and beige help to bounce and reflect sunlight and use more natural and less artificial light, according to Chris Ring, vice president at ProTect Painters, a professional painting source. But in cooler months, Ring says, dark colors such as deep brown and blue absorb sunlight, thereby reducing heating costs. And don’t forget ceilings, which can be a “fifth wall.” You can improve them with paint or old-style metal or faux-metal tiles, says Beverley Kruskol, a general contractor and owner of MY Pacific Building Inc. in Los Angeles.

11.Remove outdated wallpaper, replacing it with paint and preferably a neutral color, says Shelley Beckes, ASID, CID, a designer with Beckes Interior Design in Los Angeles.

12.Remove, store, or discard excessive accessories on tabletops and walls and in cabinets. “Less is more, and you want the house to be seen by prospective buyers without the distraction of too many personal items,” Grant says. Some suggest following the rule of three: Leave out only three things on any surface.

13.Get the house inspected before it’s listed to know its condition and identify any structural issues that could derail sales. Many problems can’t be detected by an untrained eye, including those in a basement, crawl space, or attic, says BillJacques, president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “There might be roof damage or a plumbing leak. Many inspectors take photos and provide a detailed report,” he says. “And if home owners have repairs made, they should be handled by a qualified licensed contractor, so the home owner can get problems corrected.”

14.Outfit closets for extra storage to make rooms look larger and less cluttered, but don’t redo all closets and elaborately. Top contenders for redos are an entry closet for a good first impression, kitchen pantries where storage is key, and a linen closet to keep sheets, towels, and other stuff neat, says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer at California Closets Co. “The costs needn’t be excessive. A linen closet can be fitted with baskets and cubbies for between $500 and $600, an entry closet for between $400 and $700, each dependent on closet size and features,” she says.

15.Tighten a home’s “envelope” to improve energy efficiency and savings. Put money and effort into well-insulated double-paned windows, sealed furnace ducts, energy-efficient appliances, the newest programmable thermostats, LED and compact fluorescent lights, and a smart irrigation box on a sprinkler to cut water usage, says Kate Latham, energy consultant with WattzON, a service based in Mountain View, Calif., which analyzes home energy use to pare costs. “After a few months, sellers can show buyers how costs have dropped. They also should put together a green manual to show which features they added,” she explains.

16.Improve a home’s healthfulness by using paints and adhesives with low or no VOCs. Point out these changes to prospective buyers in another list or manual, Latham says.

17.Use what you have, and arrange each room in a conversational way if possible. Don’t set all furnishings in a family room so they face a TV, since most potential buyers like the idea of an open-room milieu for socializing.

18.Remove and replaced faded draperies, fabrics, and rugs, or leave windows and floors bare to avoid showing lack of attention, Thebault says. Slipcovers, which can cover worn furniture can also provide an affordable decorative feature, changed for each season, says Hugh Rovit, CEO of Sure Fit, a manufacturer and distributor of ready-made slipcovers and other accessories. The company’s slipcovers range from $49.99 to $149.99, based on fabric and treatment.

19.Replace old, dated, or worn bedding. Before any showing, fluff up pillows and covers, and make all beds neatly. Affordable choices can be found at stores like Target and Web sites like

20.Toss out old magazines. “You don’t want a People magazine from a year ago; it looks like nobody lives in the house or cares,” Thebault says.

21.Check smells regularly. Besides getting rid of bad odors from pets and mildew, introduce nice fresh fragrances, but don’t go heavy on scents from candles. A light lavender or citrus spray is smart and inoffensive. Open windows before showings to bring in fresh air.

22.Make rooms lighter and larger for showings with good lighting. Thebault prefers warm, cool colors rather than fluorescents. Additionally, 60-watt bulbs are a good choice, even though they’re not as energy-efficient.

23.Go with plants rather than flowers indoors since they last longer, but either choice can add vivacity to a room.

24.Pay attention to your bathrooms. Specifically, make sure you have freshly laundered towels, new soap in soap dishes, spotless mirrors, and no mildew in view.

25.Be sure your house is priced competitively with the current market and homes in your area. In most regions, it’s still the No. 1 “fix” to sell quickly. Go a bit under the market price, and you may even bring forth multiple offers that are higher than expected, says Jill Epstein, a REALTOR® with Nourmand & Associates in the Los Angeles area.

Source:  RealtorMag

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Weekly Market Update: October 15, 2012

In between days. The spring and summer selling seasons are well behind us, and the holiday slowdown is well ahead of us (except in some department stores). As the days grow shorter, housing numbers may not be as thrilling as they were in recent months, but the trends remain the same. Compared to last year, sales are regularly up and inventory figures are down, including months of supply. Sales and prices will surely drop, but there is reason for optimism through the end of the year, providing a cure to several years of little to hold on to.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending October 6:

• New Listings increased 2.8% to 1,301
• Pending Sales increased 33.5% to 1,049
• Inventory decreased 28.6% to 16,113

For the month of September:

• Median Sales Price increased 12.6% to $174,500
• Days on Market decreased 28.5% to 101
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 4.0% to 94.8%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 40.1% to 4.0

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, October 15, 2012

8 Ways To Make Small Rooms Feel Larger

When selling a home, you don’t want buyers to step foot in a room and suddenly feel cramped. They will quickly start questioning whether they’ll be able to fit their belongings in there and whether the home is too small.

What can you do to open up some of the tight spaces in your listings?

1. Remove furniture. Rooms packed overly full of furniture will not allow buyers to visualize their things in the space. Keep the furniture basics in each room, and then haul away the extras to a storage unit or somewhere else in the home that could use more furniture. Make sure the furniture is fit to the size of the room. For example, that canopy bed may be commanding too much attention in the master bedroom, making the room feel cramped and even blocking the walkway through the room.

2. Declutter. This is an obvious way to make a space feel bigger. It can have one of the biggest impacts to the perception of a room’s size. Have your sellers go through their closets and box up about a third of it. They can take the load to a storage unit or put into bins to store elsewhere in the home. When buyers open up a closet, you want them to see the spaciousness, not it filled top-to-bottom with your sellers’ belongings.

3. Find secret storage spots: Ottomans that can double-up as storage units too can help your sellers clear away clutter in a hurry. These can be useful particularly for sellers with children who need a quick place to throw toys and clothes prior to a showing.

4. Lighten the color. Dark colors on the wall can make a room feel more closed-in, whereas lighter tones on the wall can open it up. Cream colors and soft tones of greens and blues can help open up a space. Monochromatic color schemes, which is using colors all from the same color family, can go a long way in creating flow in a home and making a space appear larger too.

5. Let the light flow in. Tieback–or better yet, take down–the curtains and open up the blinds to let the natural light flow in from the windows. The more natural light that flows in, the more a space can appear larger.

6. Hang some mirrors. Mirrors can reflect light and give the illusion of depth to a room.

7. Opt for plain fabrics. Upholstery that is plain and neutral can make a space feel larger than upholstery with bold prints or stripes. To avoid the neutral blahs, however, liven up spaces by incorporating textured or small patterned items, such as with throw pillows on the sofa.

8. Make smart furniture choices. See-through furniture, such as glass tabletops, can open up a space. Also, armless chairs or sofas can make a space feel larger too. For desks, try stools that can be tucked underneath and show off more floor space than a bulky desk chair. Also, remove any floor lamps and instead use desk lamps or ceiling light fixtures for light.

Bottom line: The more floor space you can see in a room, the more open and bigger it will feel.

Source:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Weekend Happenings: Scary Fun

Scream Town
7410 Hwy 212
Chaska, MN 55318
Weekends, Sept. 28 thru Oct. 28
7:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Cost:  Adults $25, Children $20 for Peak nights, VIP and Coupons available

Scream Town is one of the largest halloween haunted attractions in Minnesota and much more than just a Haunted House, it offers much more than other Minnesota Haunted Houses with over 5 Huge Attractions.

Scream Town is an entire town of fear right here in the Twin Cities. It is one of just a few places in Minnesota that has a haunted corn maze, and it is the largest haunted corn maze in Minnesota! Scream Town is just 40 minutes away from Minneapolis MN and 50 minutes from St. Paul MN.

Check them out on Twitter.

Trail of Terror
Renaissance Festival Site

12364 Chestnut Blvd.
Shakopee, MN 55379-8944
Every Thurs. -Sun., Oct. 11 thru Oct 28
7:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Cost:  $19.95 for adults, $13.95 children 5-12, $16.95 online or at Walgreens

 Trail of Terror

For those who like to celebrate the season with heart-stopping jolts and creepy chills, the Trail of Terror offers quite a few options, such as the haunted woods walk, the winding maze, the slimy Crystal Caves, the jail, and Lockdown, a sensory-deprivation experiment. In between the fearful moments, folks can visit the gypsy grotto to have their fortunes told, dance at Club Scream, warm up at the bonfire, play some beer pong, or sing their hearts out at karaoke.   Check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Zombie Pub Crawl:  The West Bank
Palmer's Bar
500 S. Cedar Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55454  
Sat., Oct. 13
4:00 pm to 2:00 am
Cost:  $22.99/$40 at crawl

Zombie Pub Crawl: The West Bank

Things have changed greatly over time for the Zombie Pub Crawl, which is now in its eighth year. What started as a modest-sized crawl through northeast Minneapolis is now an epic, all-day binge fest drawing in over 10,000 undead to two cities. Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants along Minneapolis's West Bank will welcome zombies who are 21+ for drink specials (keep an eye out for limited-edition cans of "Brain Belt" from Grain Belt), special performances, and sidewalk shenanigans. Be prepared for big crowds and lines, but part of the event's charm is meeting new friends while waiting for that pint or bathroom stall. The big stage act of the night for this part of town is the Gin Blossoms at the Cabooze, but other bars will be offering live music as well. If bar crowds get to be too much inside, there are usually a few good food trucks, outdoor grilling, and beer specials to be had in open parking lots, sidewalks, and patios. Meanwhile, over at St. Paul's Midway Stadium, there's Zombie Island. This all-ages zombie party will feature a variety of activities in one convenient place. Amenities for the undead include free carnival rides, fireworks at dusk, and a live performance from DMX. There's also a possibility that Phil, a 50-foot inflatable zombie, will be hanging out. Attendance on the Island should peak at around 8 p.m., when the festival attempts to break a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Zombies. The current record is 4,093, so we should have this one in the bag. Want to attend both parties? No worries; there will be a shuttle for those old enough to drink. 

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Source:   (Photo by BFresh) — By Jessica Armbruster

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How To Get Kids To Save Energy

Eco reminder wall stickers around light switches

These switchplate stickers remind kids why it's important to turn off the lights when leaving a room. Image: © Hu2 Design 2012
 Kids have more important things to think about than turning off the lights. But discovering the lights blazing in an empty room for the umpteenth time is enough to make any parent scream, especially when the power bill arrives.

The good news is, you can train your kids about the importance of saving energy right from the start. Here’s great advice from some of our favorite bloggers who know a thing or three about kids.

1. Let them take charge.

Jenn Savedge, who blogs at The Green Parent, practices a little reverse psychology — she urges her kids to remind her to turn off the lights.

“They get such a kick out of ‘telling Mommy what to do’ that it’s first and foremost on their minds,” Savedge said. “If I walk out of a room without doing it, they’re happy to point it out and then dash back and do it for me.

“Works like a charm and keeps the whole thing from becoming just one more thing that Mommy nags them about.”

The key to getting children to do anything is to make it “theirs,” says Monica Fraser, a mother of two who blogs at Healthy Green Moms.

“I get them to police me because they get inspired to turn off the lights ‘better than me,’” she said.

2. Find their motivation.

For Sommer Poquette’s 8-year-old son, it’s money.

“If I have to ask more than three times for my son to do anything in particular, he loses $1 out of his piggy bank,” says Poquette, who blogs at Green and Clean Mom.

“I do this so he learns that leaving the lights on costs me money, but also because he’s very motivated to earn money and spend money, so I hit him where it hurts the most: the wallet! Amazingly, he listens very well and never lets me get to the fourth ask!”

Fraser’s kids are motivated by the idea of helping out friends and neighbors.

“Because my children are quite young, I have said that we must remember to turn lights off and shut water off when brushing so that our neighbors have enough,” she says. “They know their neighbors, and certainly wouldn’t want to use all the water.”

3. Incorporate non-verbal reminders.

Gentle reminders, such as stickers on the light switches, help kids remember to turn off the lights when they leave a room.

“They’re each in charge of shutting off their bedroom lights each morning and during the day,” Poquette says. “We have stickers above the light switches to remind them. As a family, we all offer each other friendly reminders.

Sticky notes don’t just apply to light switches, either. Tiffany Washko, who blogs at NatureMoms, places Post-It Notes labeled “Turn Me Off” and “Unplug Me” all around the house as reminders.

“Putting them by the light switch, on the side of the TV, on the wall next to the power bar that controls game consoles, etcetera, is a great visual reminder,” Washko says.

“We also require each child to do a walk-through each morning before they leave for school and turn off anything that may have been left on. Once they consistently remember, we stop requiring it … that is, until they have a few lapses, then we rinse and repeat.”

4. Explain to them why it’s important.

The full implications of saving energy may not immediately be clear to kids, but they’ll be more likely to remember to turn off the lights if they understand why it’s important.

“To teach them about the importance of turning off the lights and saving energy, we’ve read them several children’s books,” says Poquette. “My son understands the value of a dollar, so I’ve shown him our energy bill and explained to him what this means and how energy is produced.

“I think being up front with your kids, and explaining things to them in simple ways they can understand, is the best policy.”

Source:  HouseLogic

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Weekly Market Update: October 8, 2012

Some say that housing and the economy are woven together into a single garment of destiny. Let's review recent national economic data: a good September non-farm payroll report marking 31 consecutive months of private job growth, the unemployment rate falling to 7.8 percent (a 44-month low), a widely positive S&P/Case-Shiller home price report and mortgage rates averaging close to 3.4 percent. Combine the above trends with less housing supply and strong home sales numbers, and you can start to see just what's driving this recovery. Here's what transpired locally.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending September 29:

• New Listings increased 6.2% to 1,314
• Pending Sales increased 15.5% to 1,000
• Inventory decreased 29.6% to 16,261

For the month of September:

• Median Sales Price increased 12.3% to $174,000
• Days on Market decreased 28.7% to 101
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 4.1% to 94.8%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 40.9% to 4.0

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Safeguard Your Credit Rating

My husband and I recently refinanced our mortgage, and the bank sent us our credit scores during the process. Both scores were good, but my husband’s was 30 points higher than mine. This puzzled me, because we share the same spending and bill-payment practices. To find out why my score was lower — and to get a better understanding of credit scores — I decided to talk to some experts. I learned four lessons that I think you’ll want to know.

First, a brief refresher on what a credit score is: It’s an algorithm designed to predict your likelihood of repaying debt Lenders use your score to determine whether to approve you for loans and credit cards and at what interest rates. Insurers use credit scores to set premium rates, and employers use them when making hiring decisions.

Your credit score is based on your credit report, which is a record of your borrowing and repayment history, typically compiled by one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. (You can get your credit report — not your credit score — free at But watch out for sites offering phony “free” scores, as another Next Avenue article explains.)

Here are the four lessons I learned that could help you improve your credit score:

Lesson 1

Don’t sign up for new credit cards you don’t need — even if you’re offered attractive deals for doing so. This mistake, it turns out, probably cost me several points on my credit score.

Shortly before I refinanced my mortgage, a retail clerk persuaded me to open a store credit card to save $40 on a purchase. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But, as I’ve since learned, opening a new line of credit negatively affects your score at first because you have no history with the new creditor. At the same time, a new account lowers the average age of all your credit accounts, which also dings your score. And closing the account quickly won’t help.

“Be strategic in deciding which credit card offers to accept,” said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for “Only sign up for them if you’ll really save money over time.” For example, if the department store’s card has an interest rate that’s much lower than the rate on the card you’d otherwise use, you might want to consider it despite the impact it will have on your score.

Lesson 2

Make sure all your medical bills have been paid, either by you or your health insurer (or both of you). “It’s very easy for a payment to fall through the cracks and end up in collections,” said Detweiler. A 2003 Federal Reserve study found that more than half of all collection accounts noted on credit reports involve unpaid medical bills. “This is a huge problem,” Detweiler said.

It could be that you assumed that your health insurer paid a bill when it didn’t. Or perhaps you thought you received all the bills for a recent surgery, but the anesthesiologist’s went to the wrong address. With that in mind, go through all your medical bills periodically to double-check that none is outstanding.

Lesson 3

You won’t have a good credit score if you don’t have any credit cards or loans. This is the downside to becoming debt-free just before you retire.

Here’s how Anthony A. Sprauve, public relations director of FICO — the most widely known credit scoring firm — explained it: “Some people may move to a cash-only existence when they retire. This can result in a ‘thin’ credit file, which could make getting new credit tough if they find they need it — to replace an aging car, for example, or downsize to a smaller home.”

So even if you don’t need credit now and don’t think you will anytime soon, consider keeping a couple of credit lines open and use them wisely. Using the card occasionally and paying it off in full won’t lower your score. But if you never use a credit card, sooner or later the issuer will cancel it.

Lesson 4

Think twice before closing credit card accounts and credit lines just because you don’t use them. Closing them may reduce your credit history and the total available credit on your credit reports, which in turn could lower your score.

By the way, closing an account because you had a bad payment history won’t make that black mark disappear from your credit report — it will continue to appear for seven years. But take heart: The negative impact lessens over time. If you’ve been late on payments, bring them up to date as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the more your credit score will be nicked.

Source:  Caroline Mayer,

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trees You Should Never Plant In Your Yard

Cool weather is the best time to plant trees — low temps ease the stress on young trees and give them time to root in before the onset of growing season. But beware! You don’t want to be planting a long-term problem. What to avoid? We’re glad you asked! Before you head to a nursery, check out our slideshow catalog of trees that are more trouble than they’re worth.

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)

Big, fast-growing, and a dandy shade tree, silver maple is widespread in eastern states and the Midwest. Unfortunately, the speed at which the tree grows makes for weak, brittle wood that may break during severe storms. The shallow root system invades sewage pipes and drain fields, and is notorious for cracking driveways and walkways.

Credit:  A Corner Garden

Ash (Fraxinus)

Sturdy and tough, the many varieties of ash that populate North America are some of our most beloved trees. Professional baseball bats are made from its wood — how American is that? But the venerable ash is threatened by the emerald ash borer, a tiny beetle that’s on track to wipe out the species. If you’re looking for a long-term tree for your yard, look elsewhere.

Credit:  ©2011 Melissa WILLIAMS / LEAF

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

The aspen is found in northern climes and higher elevations. Its white bark and gently vibrating leaves are attractive, but its root system is insidious, sending up dozens of suckers that relentlessly try to turn into new trees. Once established, it’s war. In fact, the largest living organism in the world is a Colorado aspen root system called Pando. It weighs 6,600 tons and is thought to be 80,000 years old. Try digging that out!

Credit:  David Wilson

Hybrid Poplars (Populus)

Hybrid poplars are created by cross-pollinating two or more poplar species together. The result can be a fast-growing tree that looks good in your yard — for a while. Hybrid poplars are especially susceptible to diseases, and most won’t last more than 15 years. This poor fellow is dying … quickly.

Credit: Dieback of a poplar hybrid due to infection by Cryptodiaporthe populea, the causal agent of Dothichiza canker, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Laurentian Forestry Centre

Willow (Salix)

With its long, slender branches that hang down like Rapunzel’s tresses, the willow is one of the most recognizable of all trees. Beautiful on the outside, yes, but the willow has an aggressive, water-hungry root system that terrorizes drain fields, sewer lines, and irrigation pipes. The wood is weak and prone to cracking, and the tree is relatively short-lived, lasting only about 30 years.

Credit: EV Grieve

Black walnut (Juglans nigra)

Native to North America, this well-known shade tree produces prized cabinet- and furniture-making wood. It also produces pollen and plenty of fruit that’ll drive you, well, nuts when you have to clean it all up in the fall. It’s true sinister side, however, is that it secretes growth-inhibiting toxins that kill nearby plants, wreaking havoc on flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Credit:  Jeffrey Beall/Wikipedia

Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii)

These fast-growing evergreen trees are favored for their ability to quickly create a living privacy screen. However, they require constant upkeep and trimming to keep them healthy, and as they get taller they’re increasingly likely to uproot during storms. The center of the tree forms a mass of dried twigs and branches that are considered such a fire hazard that many communities officially caution residents against planting them.

Credit:  Hugh Conlon/What Grows There
Source:  Houselogic