Thursday, December 27, 2012

Essential Home Building Ideas: Design & Build

We're continuing our posts on Essential Home Building Ideas with Design & Build.  We previously posted on all things Electrical, which you can view by clicking HERE

Let's face it, once the framing of your house is up, it's hard to make major changes, like moving a staircase, without it doing serious damage to your budget.  Therefore, it's essential to plan out every room carefully to make sure you have it right.  When we built our last home we wanted a main floor laundry room.  Everything looked fine on the plans but when we moved in we realized that the room was way too small given that we had a front loading washer and dryer.  Once the floor was piled with clothes you could barely move in there.  We really wish we had taped out the dimensions of that room to make sure it made sense.

Save yourself frustration after moving in by takeing some ideas from the list we've compiled.  And feel free to comment and add some yourself!

Design & Build

1.  If you plan on staying in your home throughout your retirement, plan in universal design elements like a main floor master bedroom with en suite, no-clearance showers, and wheelchair accessible elements where ever you won't be able to make changes after the house is built.
2.  If you can't imaging sleeping on the  main floor then plan space for an elevator shaft that can be incorporated at a later date.  You can use the space as a storage closet in the meantime.
3.  If you plan to house a water softener in your basement, install a staircase from the garage to the basement for hauling salt without tracking everything through the house.
4.  If you plan on having a home-based business, plan your space so that there is easy access to the outside for customers/clients.
5.  If you have a growing family, allow more space for a mudroom with a bathroom very close by.
6.  Plan a multi-purpose room between the kitchen and garage that includes space for a family desk , charging station/purse storage, printer/modem/router storage, paper recycling for mail with a nearby shredder, lockers, chest freezer, pet feeding/cleaning/litter box station, pantry for bulk storage (think paper towels/toilet paper/cases of soda), and possibly laundry or at least access to the laundry room.  Top it off with a pocket door.  These are all functions that tend to be on the messy side so you can keep them out of site by just closing the door.  And the bonus is that finishes in this area can be scaled down to save money since its an area off-limits to the larger public.
7.  Plan your house siting and window placement to take advantage of the sun and block north winds in the winter.
8.  If you plan on building without a basement, be sure to include space for a reinforced storm shelter somewhere within your home or close enough to your home that you can get there in a matter of seconds.
9.  If you have a lot of art that you like to display, make sure you plan in wall space.  Many open-concept floor plans have very little wall space because there are very few inner walls and all the outer walls are covered in windows.
10.  Be sure you size your rooms correctly, especially if they are smaller rooms (like laundry rooms) or if it will occupy many people at one time (like the kitchen).  Go to a large space or outside and lay out the space with tape or rope, including appliances and furniture.  Then walk the space as you would use it to help determine if the size is appropriate.
11.  Since you are custom building your home, include special touches that make it your own like window seats, custom niches for special furniture or art, columns, and built-ins.
12.  Don't let the builders box off every space but use it for storage or bookshelves.  Knee walls that partition a dining room from a living room, the dividing wall near the toilet, etc.
13.  Reconsider "formal" spaces.  If you are a family that rarely entertains, why have a formal living room and dining room?  Instead opt for nicer finishes in your breakfast nook or great room so that it can function as a formal entertaining space when needed.  Bonus, you'll save money with less need for extra furniture.
14.  Be sure your access to outdoor decks and patios makes sense.  A door near the kitchen makes sense for those who grill a lot and enjoy eating outdoors. 
15.  Plan in an away space, especially if you have children.  This space should be close to the main activity centers of the house but have a door to enclose it, possibly even a glass door so that you feel connected but still separate.  You can plan it for a place to send the kids or a place for you to go when things get too hectic but you can still keep an eye on things.
16.  Carefully consider the placement and size of your windows.  You can always downsize a window at a later date but it's much harder to make a window larger. 
17.  Have your builder reinforce the top side of windows, extending beyond each side of the window to accommodate heavy curtains and rods.
18.  If you plan on having curtains, make sure the builder doesn't place heating/cooling vents on the edges of large windows.  All your hot/cold air will then go right up your curtains instead of out into the room.
19. Include additional soundproofing between bedrooms and active areas.  Also include more soundproofing if you plan to have wood or tile floors to reduce sound to the floor below.
20.  Reconsider two-story or vaulted rooms.  While these rooms are beautiful and spacious looking, many times they are also very loud and drafty.  Additionally, they waste precious square footage that could be use for additional rooms.
21.  Storage, storage, storage.  Plan for more storage than you think you will need.
22.  Plan space for guests.  If you have many guests from out of town, consider a separate guest bedroom with a dedicated guest bathroom. 
23.  Include spindles and handrails that can be easily removed for ease in moving that huge king-sized bed.
24.  Plan in pocket doors where ever you can.  They save on space and are hard to incorporate later due to wiring,  plumbing, and venting lines.
25.  Work with your electrician and HVAC people to place vents, switches, and thermostats that make sense and are unobtrusive.
26.  Consider heating with in-floor radiant heat.  It keeps basements warm, requires far less energy, and provides a nice warm floor for you feet in the winter.
27.  Take pictures of all the walls before Sheetrock goes up so you know where all the wiring, plumbing, venting lines are in case you needed to add or change anything.

28.  Set up your appliances with both gas and electric should you choose to change them at a later date.
29.  Provide a dedicated gas line to your grill.
30.  Provide space to recess your refrigerator.
31.  Make copies of manuals prior to installation and give the builder the copies so you can keep the originals.

32.  Include a drain in your garage to get rid of the excess water from vehicles after it snows and so that you can wash your vehicle during inclement weather.
33.  Place shut-off valves for your appliances in an easy access location.  Place the water shut-off valve for your refrigerator under a cabinet.  Place the shut-off valves for the washer and dryer above them, then enclose them in a cabinet.
34.  Insulate under your basement floor.
35.  Read up.  Consider buying these books before planning your next home:
  • How To Make Your House Do The Housework by Don Aslett
  • Designing Your Dream Home by Susan Lang
  • Better Houses, Better Living by Myron Ferguson
  • The Not So Big House by Sarah Susan
36.  Probably the most important:  Hire a great architect who you trust and can freely communicate ideas with.  Share pictures of elements you love, bring them to the building site, and give them all these ideas!

As always, we'd love to hear from you.  Please share any ideas you have.  The more the merrier!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Convertible Spaces

A room that has only one function, like a formal dining room, is SO last year (insert eye-rolling sigh here).   Gone are the days of having multiple rooms that serve only one function for only a small portion of the time.  Separate rooms for formal dining and entertaining are being shunned for a great room concept where every activity takes place within sight of each other.

But what happens if you live in a home with formal spaces and you just don't have the money for an all-out remodel?  That's where convertible spaces come in.  Convertible spaces are rooms that can be converted to have more than one function.    They allow you to make use of spaces that are seldom used otherwise.

Formal Dining Rooms

Formal dining rooms are usually located close to the kitchen which makes them ideal spaces for kids activities.  Close enough for you to keep an eye on them yet out from under your feet.  With the addition of a few built-in cabinets, you can convert that space for a kid's domain.  The cabinets can contain board games, craft items,  and homework projects.  The items can stay out on the table because you don't have to set it for dinner every night.  And you can clean it all up and neatly store everything in the cabinets when you want to have your spouse's entire family over for Thanksgiving dinner.

And if you never have need of a formal dining space?  Then why not take the table out and put in a ping-pong table or a pool table.  Instant rec room.

Formal Living Room

When you bought your home with that beautiful formal living room, you probably envisioned having guests over and chatting on the sofa with a glass of wine in everyone's hands.  But the reality is that you never use the room and it currently serves as the storage spot for your grandma's stuffy old couch and some house plants.  These spaces are ideal places for libraries, music rooms, or even a home office if you can find a way to enclose the space with a door.  Heck, it can even serve all three purposes at once.

Guest Bedroom

You insisted on buying a home with a guest bedroom even though all your friends and family live close by.  This presents the perfect opportunity to put in a home office or a craft room.  Still have a friend or two who live out of town and come to visit once in a while?  A murphy bed converts any room into a guest room at the drop of a hat.

Get those creative juices flowing and use all your space to its fullest advantage.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas From Stafford Family Realtors

Love came down and changed the world.  Merry Christmas to all our friends and family.  We are so very thankful for you all.

Eric & Sharla Stafford

Monday, December 24, 2012

Don't Let Your House Sale Fall Through

Encouraging signs in the housing market may entice more homeowners to put their properties on the market in 2013.


Still, it isn't exactly a seller's market yet—and deals can fall through at the last minute for a variety of reasons. Financing delays, low appraisals, title problems, home inspections and even buyer's remorse can interfere with a seller's ability to close.

The good news: Many of these problems are preventable if sellers are proactive and involved, says Lanny Baker, president and chief executive of ZipRealty Inc., a residential real-estate brokerage. Here are some tips:

1. Learn about the buyer's financing

Seek out a buyer who has been preapproved for a mortgage, says Mr. Baker, who evaluated 250 failed or delayed deals over a recent 2 ½-month span and determined that financing problems were to blame 40% of the time. Typically, the buyer's agent will be eager to share this information with you.

However, preapproval doesn't preclude a lender from rejecting a buyer's mortgage application later on, so don't stop there. Check in regularly with the buyer's agent to ensure that the loan is on track to close on time.

Lenders are requiring more stringent documentation, and if buyers aren't organized, or procrastinate when additional paperwork is requested, the closing could be delayed. To keep things on track, make sure your contract contains specific deadlines for buyers. "One key term is a financing contingency, and if the buyer cannot [resolve] that contingency, the terms of the contract would normally release the seller to entertain other offers," Mr. Baker says.

If a buyer is seeking a Federal Housing Administration-insured loan, the home being sold may have to meet certain safety and soundness requirements that typically wouldn't come into play with a conventional loan. To avoid delays, sellers can take care of things that might be flagged in an FHA appraisal, such as chipping paint, before listing. An experienced real-estate agent should be able to help identify such problems.

Sometimes buyers underestimate the amount of cash they will need at closing. If that happens, the agents involved in the transaction—who have a vested interest in the deal closing—may agree to give up part of their commissions to cover the shortfall, Mr. Baker says. A seller can pay some of those costs, as well.

2. Consider cash offers

A buyer who doesn't need financing is more of a sure bet than one who does, says Bob Kelly, an agent with Re/Max Main St. Realty in Moorestown, N.J. However, cash bids are typically lower, so sellers need to weigh their options carefully.

A buyer with a 3.5% down payment who is also asking for seller-assisted closing costs may bring in a larger return for the seller, but the deal could take longer to complete or be derailed by a low appraisal, Mr. Kelly says. A cash buyer won't need an appraisal, just verifiable funds, and may offer an earlier closing date—which in the seller's eyes could compensate for the lower offer.

3. Prepare for the appraisal

Real-estate agents will tell you that low appraisals have killed many transactions in recent years. Many agents say appraisers—who are hired by lenders to assess the value of the home—are overly conservative in their valuations these days, even as home prices are rising in many locations.

To avoid appraisal problems, price your home in line with comparable homes for sale in your area. Even then, however, problems may emerge.

John and Susan Moon priced their Bethesda, Md., home competitively and received multiple bids. Still, the appraised value was $5,000 lower than the offer they accepted. In the end, they split the difference, dropping the price by $2,500 while the buyers brought $2,500 more to the closing table, Mr. Moon says.

"In some cases, you're pioneering new values," especially when receiving multiple bids that raise your home's price, says Stew Larsen, head of mortgage banking at Bank of the West. "As a seller, you need to think about what is Plan B if [the appraisal is low."

Sellers can challenge a low appraisal, he says, but they rarely win unless the appraiser made an obvious mistake.

One option is to add a contingency to the contract, laying out how the sides will renegotiate if the home's appraised value is lower than the sale price, says Paul Reid, an agent with Redfin in Orange County, Calif.

4. Tackle title and inspection issues early on

Some listing agents include a preliminary title report as part of their package, but a good agent will be able to spot red flags when reading it for you, Mr. Baker says.

Perhaps a sewage assessment wasn't paid by the homeowner, the deed never got recorded, or an easement was granted that the owner is unaware of, he says. Addressing such issues early on will mean fewer surprises at the end.

Similarly, instead of waiting for the buyer's home inspection to turn up problems, sellers should get one themselves before listing, says Tony Geraci, broker/owner of Century 21 HomeStar in the Cleveland market. That way, they can make needed repairs before the buyer requests them—or gets scared off, he says.

5. Commit to a tight timeline

As a seller, time isn't your friend.

Encourage buyers to move quickly on things like the home inspection. If a deal is going to collapse, it is better to know sooner rather than later so the home can go back on the market.

A longer process also gives a buyer more time to get cold feet. After winning a bidding war, buyers sometimes look at closing documents and paperwork and realize they're spending more than they should have on the home, triggering buyer's remorse, Mr. Reid says.

But if the buyer is looking for reasons to get out of a deal, it may be better to oblige than waste more time. "You never want to keep a buyer that doesn't want to buy your house. Let them out and find the next buyer," Mr. Geraci says.

Source:  Wall Street Journal, Article by Amy Hoak

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Essential Home Building Ideas: Electrical

Have you ever walked through someone's newly built home and thought, "Wow, I wish I would have thought of that!"  If you've ever built a home and later regretted that you forgot many small, but significant details, then you're reading the right article.  Below we've compiled a list of small but important additions to your home building project that can save you time, money, and frustration down the road. 

There a so many ideas worth writing down that we decided to list them in separate articles.  Today we're tackling all things electrical.  Other building ideas will be added soon!

Essential Electrical Ideas

1.   Run a 2" pvc pipe from baement straight up to attic, for any future wiring to second floor.
2.  Include outlets in all closets, including the pantry, for cordless vacuums or other rechargeables.  In a master closet, outlets could be used for ironing or to add a lamp or clock radio.
3.  Install 4-plug (or moe) outlets on either side of the bed in the master bedroom.  By the time you have a bedside lamp on each side of a bed, plus a plug-in clock or two, plus a plug-in base for your cordless phone, adjustable beds, and an electric all adds up to lots of outlets.
4.  Install an outlet or two in your attic storage space to run a fan, radio, or power tools if you ever have a need to do work in that space.
5.  Install a light with a switch for your attic space.  Have you ever had to find a leak in your attic crawl space in the middle of a stormy night while trying to carry a bucket and a flashlight while balancing between the rafters?  Trust me, you'll be glad for a switched light!
6.  Outlets outside your home near the soffits for holiday lighting.  And be sure that the outlets are at a logical starting point for the lights.  We knew of one couple who asked for this but didn't specify where and their builder put it right in the middle of the front soffit of the house.  Consequently they never used it.
7.  While you're adding outlets in your soffits, why not have a switch in the house to turn them on and off.
8.  An outlet in the small room that houses the toilet is a plus for a nightlight or to plug in an electronic device for those who tend to spend a long time in this room.
9.  Outlets placed inside a cabinet or drawer in your bathrooms for rechargeable razors, electric toothbrushes, blowdryers, curling irons, etc. This keeps your counters free of clutter and is much more sanitary in a bathroom setting.
10.  Wire for a TV connection in your bathroom for getting ready in the morning or taking a long bath.
11.  Pre-wire for a heated towel rack in your bathroom.
12.  Include outlets in areas where you may want to decorate with lighting such as above an entertainment center, near a mantel, near a high window in a 2-story foyer or great room, along a staircase railing, or above kitchen cabinets.
13.  Install 3-way switches in any room that you may enter from more than one direction.
14.  Install dimmer switches in almost any room that you might want to dim the lights.
15.  In an open concept great room, place outlets in the floor if your sofa will act as a room divider.
16.  Install a motion sensor light in the pantry and closets or if you're good about keeping doors closed, install a switch in the hinge of the door that turns the lights on and off as you open a close the door.
17.  Install a master-switch from master bedroom that controls all exterior lights (in case you hear something from bed).
18.  Run a 220 volt outlet in your garage for large power tools or if you plan to ever have an electric car that needs charging.
19.  Include a charging station in your mudroom or kitchen for all the electronics your family owns:  phones, ipads, mp3 players, and gaming devices.
20.  Install conduit under your sidewalks and/or your driveway for future electrical needs.
21.  Include outlets outside your back patio door or on your porch/deck for music, lighting, heaters, misters, etc.
22.  Pre-wire for speakers both indoors and outdoors.
23.  Instead of placing kitchen outlets on the backsplash above your counters, mount them either below the rim of the counter or in the underside of the upper cabinets where your undercabinet lighting is.
24.  Pre-wire for future security system.
25.  Pre-wire for future solar installation on the roof.
26.  Pre-wire for a generator to essential areas.
27.  Place in-cabinet lighting on a timer.
28.  Carefully go through your plan for placement of light switches to make sure it makes sense to you.  Your electrician's ideas about where switches should go and yours can be very different.  Imagine yourself walking throughout your home in the dark and where you would want those switches to be.
29.  Plumb for central vac including vac pans in the bathrooms and kitchens.
30.  Install times on your bathrooms fans so that they can run after you leave the room for a specified amount of time.
31.  If you have someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the garage, install TV and internet cabling in the garage.
32.  Install internet cabling near all TVs for internet capable TV's, DVD's, and gaming consoles.
33.  Install an outlet and an ethernet connection (and a shelf) for a wireless router in a central location of your house (like the front entry closet) so that all areas of the house get a strong signal.
34.  If you really want to save energy, install a master switch in each room that controls most of the outlets and lights.  With one flick of a switch, you can turn everything off when you leave the room.
35.  Install a light in each shower/bathtub stall.  No one likes getting clean in the dark.
36.  If you like to switch your furniture around often, be sure to install more than one cable connection so you can move your TV around.
37.  Consider recessing your outlets so that you don't have plugs sticking out from the wall, especially in areas where you will be placing furniture in front of the outlet.

Do you have any awesome electrical ideas for building a home?  We'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weekly Market Update: December 17, 2012

The chase to 2013 is on, and we are pleased by the prospects ahead. Given the upward progress of the 2012 housing market, many homeowners may find that their properties will be worth more next year. That's a nice change of pace for potential sellers, and for residential real estate as a whole, and is a direct result of widespread improvements in the marketplace. Most of the positive trends we have seen in 2012 should persist into the new year. Let's take a peek at what's happening locally today.

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

• New Listings increased 3.0% to 942
• Pending Sales increased 12.6% to 788
• Inventory decreased 28.8% to 13,832

For the month of November:

• Median Sales Price increased 16.2% to $172,000
• Days on Market decreased 26.2% to 103
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 3.6% to 94.2%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 40.0% to 3.4

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, December 17, 2012

What You Should Know About Home Appraisals

When you refinance or sell your home, the lender will insist that you get an appraisal—an opinion of the value of your home based on what similar homes in your area have sold for in recent months.

Real estate appraiser outside of a house

Here are five tips about the appraised value of your home.

1. An appraisal isn’t an exact science

When appraisers evaluate a home’s value, they’re giving their best opinion based on how the home’s features stack up against those of similar homes recently sold nearby. One appraiser may factor in a recent sale, but another may consider that sale too long ago, or the home too different, or too far away to be a fair comparison. The result can be differences in the values two separate appraisers set for your home.

2. Appraisals have different purposes

If the appraisal is being used by a lender giving a loan on the home, the appraised value will be the lower of market value (what it would sell for on the open market today) and the price you paid for the house if you recently bought it.

An appraisal being used to figure out how much to insure your home for or to determine your property taxes may rely on other factors and arrive at different values. For example, though an appraisal for a home loan evaluates today’s market value, an appraisal for insurance purposes calculates what it would cost to rebuild your home at today’s building material and labor rates, which can result in two different numbers.

Appraisals are also different from CMAs, or competitive market analyses. In a CMA, a real estate agent relies on market expertise to estimate how much your home will sell for in a specific time period. The price your home will sell for in 30 days may be different than the price your home will sell for in 120 days. Because real estate agents don’t follow the rules appraisers do, there can be variations between CMAs and appraisals on the same home.

3. An appraisal is a snapshot

Home prices shift, and appraised values will shift with those market changes. Your home may be appraised at $150,000 today, but in two months when you refinance or list it for sale, the appraised value could be lower or higher depending on how your market has performed.

4. Appraisals don’t factor in your personal issues

You may have a reason you must sell immediately, such as a job loss or transfer, which can affect the amount of money you’ll accept to complete the transaction in your time frame. An appraisal doesn’t consider those personal factors.

5. You can ask for a second opinion

If your home appraisal comes back at a value you believe is too low, you can request that a second appraisal be performed by a different appraiser. You, or potential buyers, if they’ve requested the appraisal, will have to pay for the second appraisal. But it may be worth it to keep the sale from collapsing from a faulty appraisal. On the other hand, the appraisal may be accurate, and it may be a sign that you need to adjust your pricing or the size of the loan you’re refinancing.

Source:  Houselogic

Friday, December 14, 2012

Open Houses: December 16, 2012

2420 Heron Lane - Victoria
4 bedroom/3 bath
SqFt:  2,857
OPEN:  12:00 to 1:30

Crisp, Clean & Better than New Construction in Lakebridge of Victoria

Click HERE for more information.

3819 Tonkawood Road - Minnetonka
4 bedroom/4 bath
SqFt:  3,891
OPEN:  3:00 to 4:30

New England Charmer on Tonkawood of Minnetonka

Click HERE for more information.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cool Bathtubs

You're one or the other...a bath-taker or bath-avoider.  If you fall into the category of people who build a ritual around taking a bath, from the candles to the bubbles, you'll love these photos of beautiful bathtubs.  From modern to traditional, from space deprived to all the space in the world, from old world to cutting edge, there's a bathtub to fit your personal style. 

Overflow Bathtubs pond

Now go take a bath!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Coming Soon To Market

Coming soon to market in Demand Longacres of Chanhassen

7269 Bent Bow Trail
Chanhassen, MN 55317

Give us a call to find out when this beautiful home will be on the market!

New Listings: Early December 2012

NEW LISTING - 2420 Heron Lane in Victoria

Presenting another Exceptional Home from Stafford Family Realtors:

2420 Heron Lane
Victoria, MN 55386

For Sale: 4 bedroom/3 bath Single Family Home for $350,000

Crisp, Clean & Better than New Construction in Lakebridge of Victoria

NEW LISTING - 13528 Larkin Drive in Minnetonka

 Presenting another Exception Home from Stafford Family Realtors:

13528 Larkin Drive
Minnetonka, MN 55305

For Sale:  4 bedroom/2 bath Single Family Home for $287,000

Meticulously Maintained Home in Minnetonka

  NEW LISTING - 4532 Bluebell Trail South in Medina

Presenting another Exception Home from Stafford Family Realtors:

4532 Bluebell Trail South
Medina, MN 55340

For Sale:  4 bedroom/5 bath Single Family Home for $1,200,000

Non-MLS Stunning Custom Built Home in Bridgewater of Medina

Weekly Market Update: December 10, 2012

This year has brought sustained turnaround in a variety of areas and market segments. It's why many in the housing industry are optimistic about 2013. Attractive mortgage rates, affordable inventory and a healing jobs picture give reason to believe that year-over-year improvements will continue into and after the traditional holiday slowdown.

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

• New Listings increased 0.7% to 1,019
• Pending Sales increased 18.6% to 977
• Inventory decreased 29.0% to 14,260

For the month of November:

• Median Sales Price increased 16.9% to $173,000
• Days on Market decreased 25.9% to 103
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 3.7% to 94.3%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 40.6% to 3.4

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, December 10, 2012

Helping Wild Birds Through The Winter

If you live in Minnesota, you have to find things to like about winter if you're going to survive here.  One of the pleasures of winter is watching the birds out your window while sipping a warm cup of coffee or tea.  There's a sweet beauty in seeing a bright, red cardinal against a snow-filled evergreen or a black-capped chicadee flitting between the birch trees in winter.  If you, too, love watching the birds in winter there are certain things you can do to assure that they will visit your yard throughout the long, cold season.

1.  Provide something to eat

Cold weather increases a bird's caloric requirements at a time when food is most scarce. There are no insects flying around. Seeds, weeds, fruits, and nuts are often used up or covered in snow.

And while most birds can find some sources of food during the winter, if you provide food for them in feeders, they will flock to your yard.  The key is that you need to provide food throughout the entire winter since the birds that are visiting your feeders will start to rely on them as a food source. 

You can keep your feeders stocked with the essentials like suet, Nyger thistle seed, and black sunflower seed.  Peanuts are also a very good food source full of essential fats.  These foods will feed the majority of birds for a wide variety of visitors.  And if you want to keep the squirrels away from your bird feeders, stock up on stalks of dried corn cobs for them.

2.  Water is crucial, and scarce, during the winter

Though food is scarce in winter, dehydration can be a bigger threat to birds than starvation. Fewer non-frozen sources of water exist. Though birds can eat snow, it takes much more precious energy for a bird to eat snow and warm it to body temperature than it does for them to drink unfrozen water.

Water is not only important for hydration, but it also helps birds preen their feathers. Without proper preening, birds' feathers won't stay positioned and aligned. Feathers out of alignment in winter create gaps in insulation, which makes birds lose body heat faster.

We can give birds access to unfrozen water right in our backyards by providing a heated birdbath. Or, we can use an existing birdbath and add a heating element. Most of these units turn on and off automatically when temperatures dip below freezing.

3.  Give them someplace warm to sleep


There are a number of species of birds, like the chicadee, that stay warm at night by roosting with other birds in tree cavities or man-made nest boxes. We can help by cleaning nests and other debris out of our birdhouses at the end of the breeding season, so birds can use them for roosting in winter.

Source:  Excerpts taken from Drs. Foster and Smith

Friday, December 7, 2012

Open House: December 9, 2012

2420 Heron Lane - Victoria
4 bedroom/3 bath
SqFt:  2,857
OPEN:  12:00 to 1:30

This beautifully finished home features gracious rooms and many upgrades throughout. Enjoy the warm, sun-filled rooms perfectly designed with family and entertaining in mind. Good food and good company are two of life’s greatest pleasures and this spacious Kitchen is where it all comes together. Expertly crafted maple cabinetry and granite countertops finish off this inviting space. This is truly the heart of the home complete with an informal dining area and planning desk. A butler’s pantry is the perfect amenity to the Formal Dining Room making entertaining a breeze. This open floor plan features a Family Room with a large picture window, cozy gas fireplace and cherry stained mantel making this space perfect for any gathering. Adjacent to the two story foyer is the well appointed home Office which will work the way you do while inspiring creativity and enhancing productivity. The second floor is where you will find the Master Suite with its vaulted ceiling and private bath offering spa finishes from the large Jacuzzi tub to the large shower and His & Her vanities. There are three Junior Bedrooms located on this floor. The unfinished lower level is a blank canvas that is ready for you to finish to your liking. Nothing compares to spending time outside and the professionally landscaped paver patio is the perfect addition to this home. Nestled on a .3 acre lot in demand Lakebridge, this home enjoys easy access to the Carver Park Reserve, LRT Regional Trail & Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. For information on pricing or to schedule a private showing, please call 952.470.2575.

Click HERE for more information on Heron Lane.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Weekend Happenings: Holiday Festivities At The Arb

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
3675 Arboretum Drive
Chaska MN 55318
Fri-Sat, Dec. 7-9, 2012
9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily
Cost: non-member gate admittance $13 for ages 12 and up, under 12 free, Members free, specific activties see costs below

Holiday Teas

Tea time

Share holiday joy at these formal teas complete with freshly baked sweets and savories, plus an English trifle. Fee is $26 member/$29 non-member.

Holiday Family Breakfast

Enjoy a Holiday Family Breakfast with a wonderful assortment of pastries, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage and more. The Gingerbread Man will also stop by your table to wish you Happy Holidays! Reserve online or call 612-626-3951

Live Music

Minnetonka Chamber Choir

Throughout each day, enjoy live music from local artists.  This weekend features music from the Minnetonka Choral Society, "Messiah" sing-along with the Minnetonka Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Chorus, F-Sharp Keyboard Duo, and Dragonfly: folk and holiday tunes sung by a talented group of five seniors - ages 55-85.

Weekend Family Fun: Ginger and Spice

Ginger ornament

Discover the plants that spice up and flavor the holiday season. Create a scented ornament.

Pictures With Santa


Santa will stop by to visit with youngsters and pose for photos in the balcony by the candy-themed Restaurant on weekends. Photos start at $5 with package options available. Visit times: 10:30 a.m.-noon & 12:30-2 p.m.

Click HERE for more information on Arboretum events throughout December.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

7 Reasons Your Neighbors Have More Money Than You

You look out the window of your home each night after dinner, staring across the street at your neighbors. You long for the cars they drive, their weekly manicured lawns, and even the vacations they seem to take several times a year.

You’re not alone.

I often look out my window, too, staring at the gorgeous homes and cars wondering how they manage to pay for them. After all, we live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same schools, and their salaries aren’t that much more than ours.

There are several reasons our can neighbors afford so many of the things we would love to have, but could never fathom splurging on:

1. Perception is Everything

Your perception may be skewed. You see fancy cars in the driveway, and the trim lawns you can almost feel between your toes. You watch work crews going in and out of the awesome remodeling projects happening inside. Yet, none of that means your neighbors are wealthier than you are. Just because you see them as more affluent, doesn’t mean they are.

You are only able to see above the surface of their spending, meaning you have no idea what’s happening down below.

2. Allocation is Essential

While you choose to consistently save money for your kids’ education, and retirement later in life, they are spending what they believe are excess funds on their cars and homes. They might be making the shallow choice to spend their money on what people can see, while you are spending your money on the life you want to live, both today and tomorrow. You choose to pay for peace of mind.

It’s how your neighbors allocate their income that makes them seem richer than they are.

3. Perks Matter

While Your neighbors’ salaries might be slightly more than yours, it isn’t enough to justify the massive leap in spending. However, fringe benefits can greatly widen the gap. Perks such as cars, phones, laptops, and more can give the recipient an amazing leg up when it comes to freeing money for other pleasures.

4. Luxuries of the Mature

As families mature, houses get paid off and savings grow. Even if your children do go to the same school, their children are older, and they have a few years on you as well. Those could be years spent paying on their house and putting money in the bank. Imagine how much more freedom you would have without also having to manage your monthly mortgage.

5. Their Lives Might be Plastic

Your neighbors might be disciples, worshiping the power of the plastic. While you are smart enough to understand the headaches of undisciplined credit, your neighbors might be living carelessly, buying short-term luxury today in exchange for a meager tomorrow.

6. They Know Where to Find Deals

I consider myself a connoisseur when it comes to finding great deals on groceries and kids clothing. Perhaps your neighbors also know something about finding deals on the things they need, freeing up more money for things they want.

7. They Pay for Their Immediate Wants First

Your neighbors could also have more money than you do because they prioritize differently, and pay from their savings for projects and luxuries that they want done.

While my neighbors may or may not make have more money than me, I don’t let it influence the way that I live. I spend money in the way that’s most important for me and my family, both for a better, more comfortable today, and for a brighter tomorrow.

As “The Millionaire Next Door” and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” point out, those that spend on things like homes, cars, and clothes are spending on material items and living on “rented” lifestyles. Instead of building assets, these people are living on liabilities and that can be a dangerous mindset. You don’t have to live like a king today, if it means you’re going to live like a pauper tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter what the Jones’ are doing. Not now, or ever. Save where you can, spend where you need, and live a life you want.

Source:  Moneyning

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weekly Market Update: December 3, 2012

Home buyers entered more contracts and homeowners listed more properties than during the same week of 2011. As a whole, 2012 is shaping up to be quite the pivotal year for housing. With 2013 right around the corner, the smart money is monitoring seller concessions, market times, absorption rates and, of course, home prices. The genius money is watching foreclosure listing and sales volumes, delinquency rates and showing activity.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending November 24:

• New Listings increased 0.7% to 607
• Pending Sales increased 12.8% to 608
• Inventory decreased 28.8% to 14,546

For the month of October:

• Median Sales Price increased 14.8% to $175,000
• Days on Market decreased 25.2% to 103
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 3.5% to 94.5%
• Months Supply of Inventory decreased 39.6% to 3.8

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, December 3, 2012

Decorating Your Fireplace Mantel For The Holiays

Fireplaces serve as a focal point in your home.  It makes sense, then, to use this space for some festive holiday decorating.  We've gathered some photos of some decorated mantels to fit every style.  Maybe you can get a few ideas for your home.

White Modern

White Rustic






christmas fireplace decorations

Over The Top

Northwoods Lodge