Thursday, February 26, 2015

Weekend Happenings: February 27 - March 1, 2015

Skylark Opera Showcase
Landmark Center
75 5th St. W., St. Paul
March 1, 2015
1:00 pm
Cost:  Free

Skylark Opera

This FREE concert is perfect for the whole family! A musical showcase of songs from their spring concert, "Where or When: Broadway in the Thirties."

Tech Fest
The Works
9740 Grand Ave. S., Bloomington
Feb. 28, 2015
9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Cost:  $8

Tech Fest

Join in the fun as our Museum explodes with activity during our annual celebration of National Engineers Week. Live demos with scientists and engineers, hands-on projects, family activities, and more!

Tech Fest offers a unique chance for families to learn about engineering and technology from real engineers and scientists. Featuring demos from local corporations, educational institutions, and partner non-profits, Tech Fest is an amazing opportunity for kids and families to dig in and explore together.

Other Things Going On This Weekend

Big Bridges

Snowball classic

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hard Work Pays Off

Yes, it was unusual to have Minnetonka's Coldwell Banker Burnett morning team meeting at the Excelsior Brewery.  But there was much to discuss and much to celebrate.

Stafford Family Realtors were honored when they were told they were ranked 10th in sales in the 2,500+ Coldwell Banker Burnet (CBB) company.  They also hold the #1 spot as top agents in the Minnetonka office and have joined the ranks of CBB's International President's Elite Circle.

Additional honors awarded to Eric and Sharla include Presidents' Club, 100% Club, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine Super Agents.

With a constant attitude towards offering the best service to their clients and working as hard as they can, they have been able to accomplish much.  Congratulations to a great team!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Weekly Market Update: February 23, 2015

As we hit February, mortgage rates continue to remain low, bringing about a high dosage of optimism to the market. While some reports attempt to dissect drops in builder confidence with a negative-bent attitude, low rates seem prepped to steer potential buyers toward getting their own set of house keys, curbing the pessimism of market naysayers.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending February 14: 

• New Listings increased 12.1% to 1,298
 • Pending Sales increased 15.6% to 920
 • Inventory decreased 3.7% to 12,410

For the month of January:

 • Median Sales Price increased 8.5% to $195,000
 • Days on Market increased 7.5% to 100
 • Percent of Original List Price Received increased 0.2% to 93.7%
 • Months Supply of Inventory remained flat at 2.9

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Monday, February 23, 2015

Making The Most Of A Small Kitchen

I've had all sizes of kitchens in my life except for the gargantuan kind with 3 islands and a refrigerator the size of a mack truck.  I've lived with a micro-kitchen where I didn't even need to take a step to get to the other side...I just had to turn.  I've lived with a lot of space as well, both storage space and physical space.  My current kitchen is what I'd call a smallish to medium sized kitchen.  But the problem is that it behaves like a very small kitchen because of the poor layout and underutilized and unorganized storage spaces.

I think this is where many people find themselves.  Their space is not being used to its potential and therefore they think they need a new kitchen, when in fact they just need a tune up.

Today we'll show you some things you can do to amp up your usable space and to make it look stylish as well.


The first thing to do when you have a small refrigerator is to get into the habit of regularly throwing out old food that you won't be eating and expired condiments.  And while you're at it, quickly swipe down your shelves.  A little bit of dirt and grime on all of your shelves means that the stuff furthest from the light is hard to see.  Oh, and replace those bulbs when they burn out.  I mean, c'mon!

Second it to take a good look at everything you regularly keep in your fridge and determine if it's organized in the best way.  Optimize your shelving by adding storage bins.  Refrigerators are deep and items that you don't use very often, can get shoved to the back and be lost in no-man's land for ages.  Add storage bins and lazy susans to your shelves so that you can always reach whatever is in the back.


Another option to consider for a small home is to purchase a refrigerator without the freezer and have a chest freezer in another part of the house.  Freezer's tend to get used less often than a fridge and would make a trip to another room now an then a viable option.

Use Your Oven For Storage

When you aren't using it, your oven is just a big empty box with shelves sitting unused for much of the day.  Why not use that space to store a few things.  Now, it probably wouldn't be wise to store, say your dishcloths, in there in the event that you forget and turn the oven on by accident.  But it's an ideal spot to store cast iron pans, and glass baking dishes.  Just remove them when you need to use the oven, and put them back when it has cooled back down.


Another option is to buy this beauty.  This Bertazonni Pro Series range has the look and functionality of a high end range, but comes in at a mere 24" in width.  This would make any home look better.

bertazzoni gas range

Hang Whatever You Can

Wall space, inside cupboards, refrigerator surfaces and ceilings are all spaces where you can hang equipment.  Use a magnetic strip near the stove for your most-used knives, hang pots and pans, coffee cups, install shelving to hold more get the idea.  Here are a few pictures to help you out.

Beautiful Kitchen Cabinets in Small Kitchen Ideas Great Tips in Decorating Kitchen on a Budget







When you have a small kitchen, lighting it correctly is key.  Nothing will make you want to go into your kitchen less than a dank dark space.  Install under cabinet lighting so that your work surfaces will always be well lit.  Optimize natural light by keeping windows free of shades or drapes and consider opting for shelving rather than cabinets near a window so that light will reach more spaces..  Do whatever you can to make it a bright and workable space.



Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Weekend Happenings: February 20-22, 2015

Crappie Flop Ice Fishing Tournament
Lake Minnetonka Regional Park
Excelsior, MN 
Feb. 21, 2015
Check-in at 10:30 at Bayside Grill, Tournament starts at 12:00 pm
Cost: $25, Children under 10 fish free

One of Minnesota's Largest, Most Unique and Most Fun Annual Charitable Ice Fishing Tournaments on Lake Minnetonka hosted by the Metropolis Rugby Club benefiting community athletics and family outdoor education.  There will be organic local food and beverages available.  Prizes will be given at the every popular Awards Ceremony held at Bayside Grill on Excelsior Bay.  Prizes include Shelters, Fishing/Hunting Equipment, Tickets, Gift Certificates and more!

Click Here to register for the event.

Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 2nd Ave. S., Mpls
Feb. 21-22, 2015
Friday:  1:00 pm to 8:00 pm; Saturday:  11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Cost:  Free!

Twin Cities Women's Expo!! It's Everything Women!

Food, Fashion, Fun & Shopping, Fitness, Relaxation, Pampering, Self Care, Psychics & Goddess Empowerment!! This isn't a freebee expo! Come expecting premium exhibitors, awesome talks, goddess empowerment and a great weekend out with your girlfriends, sisters, mothers and grandmothers! Join us for a women's expo like no other!

Other Things Going On This Weekend:


(photo courtesy of Sidewalk Dog)


Journey to Space Omnitheater film

Minnesota Golf Show

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cool New Gadgets For The Home

Someone put their thinking cap on and came up with a great idea.  

SkyBell Video Doorbell

The Skybell is a smart video doorbell that you answer with your smartphone. There’s a a video camera, exclusive motion sensor, microphone and a speaker all encased in a small (< 3") doorbell-sized disc. It has to be connected to a wired, mechanical doorbell chime, and you'll need to connect to your home's Wi-Fi network, of course. When someone rings the bell, live video feed is sent to your smartphone and you're able to see and talk to whomever is at your door. The motion sensor detects sneaky visitors even when they don't ring the bell, thus alerting you to any potential prowlers. Installation appears to be pretty simple, too.  At $199, it won't break the bank either.

Source:  Better Living Through Design

Why did it take so long for someone to come up with this?


An electrical outlet that doubles as an extension cord!  The Rambler Socket would be a big hit in my house.  You see either children huddled at odd spaces along the wall where there is one remaining unused electrical outlet playing games on a tablet with low juice, or ugly extension cords traversing the floors just waiting to trip you up. 

With about 5 feet of extension, you can pull the cord out when you need it and with a light tug a spring mechanism will wind it back up for you and neatly tuck itself back into the wall.

Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Weekly Market Update: February 16, 2015

Nationally, housing starts are off to a good start in 2015, with new projects ahead of last year at this time. Before the confetti cannons come out, this doesn’t necessarily mean that sellers can start asking more and that buyers will immediately have more to choose from. But this does bode well for increased confidence throughout the residential real estate marketplace. Balance means a lighter ebb and flow of various market metrics rather than astronomical gains and losses. This is positive.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending February 7: 

• New Listings increased 25.4% to 1,496
• Pending Sales increased 14.3% to 881
• Inventory decreased 5.1% to 12,104

For the month of January: 

• Median Sales Price increased 8.5% to $195,000
• Days on Market increased 8.6% to 101
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 0.2% to 93.7%
• Months Supply of Inventory remained flat at 2.9

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, article by Aubray Erhardt

Monday, February 16, 2015

Start Dreaming of Green

I'm getting pulled down into it again.  It happens every year about this time.  The pull is strong and threatens to pull me under.  And then I see a picture somewhere showing vibrant green and colorful surroundings.  And I'm reminded that this is temporary.  I just have to make it a couple more months and I will be surrounding by the smell of rain and cut grass and rich, black soil.  

Nothing reminds me quite of spring and summer like seeing pictures of verdant gardens bursting with life.  If you're in the same state as me, then I have some hope for you.  February is a time when gardeners (in the North like us) start perusing seed catalogs and start thinking about all the ways they are going to enhance their outdoor spaces this year.  And many times it includes green of all hues.  Bursting colors.  Birdsong. And the smell of passing thunderstorms and fragrant blooms.  

We long to create an oasis away from our daily grind.  A place to put the frigid biting winds of winter behind us for a few blessed sultry days.  I am here to help you, my friend.  Linger on the beauty set forth below.  Let your mind wander to all that you could do to create your own oasis this year.  And start planning.  You know you'll be working toward a great thing, and each day will bring you closer.  Hope and the assurance of warm weather to come will get us through these bleak cold days.









Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Weekend Happenings: Feb 13-15, 2015

Valentine's Day.  Whether you love it or hate it, it doesn't matter. What matters is how much fun you have!  Sure you could go to a fancy restaurant.  But why not do something a little more out of the ordinary.  Check out a couple of the offerings this weekend.

Cupid's Undie Run
The Pourhouse
Lumber Exchange Bldg
10 South 5th St., Mpls.
Feb. 14, 2015
11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Cost:  Free with fundraising

Cupid's Undie Run is a 1.5 mile run in your bedroom-best on Valentine's Day weekend. No, we're not crazy, we're just crazy serious about raising money for The Children's Tumor Foundation. You can fundraise as an individual or join a team, and the prizes are better than ever this year.

Mystic Lake Casino
2400 Mystic Lake Blvd, Prior Lake
Feb. 13-14, 2015
All Day
Cost:  $21

Love is in the air this Valentine’s weekend! We’ve got fun stage games and drawings
throughout the casino, plus a real wedding officiated by “Elvis” on Saturday!

Elvis & Priscilla Presley Impersonators
Prize Drawings & Stage Games
Free Souvenir Photo Station

Romantic Dinner Specials, Live Entertainment on the Promenade Stage, Friday Night • DJ & The Mystic Dancers, Saturday Night • Jam Factory

Saturday, February 14
2 pm Wedding • 5 – 8 pm Casino-Wide Reception
Engaged? Interested in renewing your vows? Enter to win an Elvis Wedding prize package!
You’ll be married by an Elvis impersonator in our hotel lobby,
with a public casino-wide reception to follow.

Our Elvis Wedding prize package includes:
Hotel suite for two • Bridal bouquet • Dinner for two at Mystic Steakhouse
Wedding photographer • Box of chocolates • $250 Mysticash®

5185 Meadville St., Greenwood
Feb. 14, 2015
5:00 pm Dinner seating, 7:30 pm Performance
Cost:  $90 for dinner and show, $65 for dinner only, 

Celebrate Valentine's Day at the Old Log Theatre and Cast & Cru Restaurant. For $90/person tax and gratuity included you can enjoy a wonderful 3 course meal paired with a bottle of wine at Cast & Cru along with a performance of our romantic Irish comedy OUTSIDE MULLINGAR. If you would prefer to just have a lingering romantic dinner with your loved one; we offer a meal only option at $65/person.

Have you already seen the show? We will still be serving Small Plates at 6pm.

Lake Hiawatha Park
2701 E. 44th St., Minneapolis
Feb. 14, 2015
12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Cost:  Free

Bring the family down for some good family fun. Enjoy a variety of winter activities such as ice skating, ice sculpting, hayrides and more. You can warm up by the bonfire outside, or inside with hot drinks, music and displays from local businesses. Kids can make crafts or dance to the kids’ DJ and adults can celebrate the area and local businesses.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ready For The Switch From Rent To Mortgage?

We've all been there.  You've been renting a place for several years and you're getting kinda tired of the plain white walls, the sounds of your neighbors all around you and scrounging for quarters every week to do your laundry.  Emotionally, you are SO ready to make the jump to home ownership.  But are you ready financially?


The National Association of Realtors claims that 2015 will be "the year of the first-time home buyer".  But does that mean this is your year?  Do your homework and find out.

Are You Here To Stay (For Awhile)?

Before you even consider buying a home, you need to assess your life situation.  Do you love your job and are there advancement opportunities for you here?  Do you like living in your city?  Do you have lots of family in the area and well established friendships?  If you answered yes to all of these and you plan on sticking around for a while (i.e. longer than 5 years), then buying a home in the area is probably a good idea.

But if you're not certain about any one of these questions, then think hard about it.  Just because everyone says that it's a good time to buy a house doesn't mean its good for you.  Closing costs on a home are steep, and if you leave before 5-7 years you are likely to lose money on the deal and owe more on your house than what you bought it for.

Can You Swing It Financially?

Maybe you're very comfortable with your rent and feel like you could stretch a bit to pay for a mortgage.  After all, you'd be gaining equity, right? But even if you up your housing budget by 20% to allow for a home, can you even afford a home in your city at that price and if so, would it be in an area that you'd want to live?  

Peruse house prices in the areas you want to live and using an online mortgage calculator, determine if you can even afford the monthly mortgage amount.

Let's say you get that number and feel like it's in your acceptable range.  Great!  But that doesn't even scratch the surface of what you're going to shell out monthly.  Maintenance of a home comes with costs.  Unlike renting, there is no landlord to call to fix your burst pipe or replace the furnace.  You are the landlord.  Assume an annual amount of 1-3% of the purchase price of your home for a maintenance fund.  So if you buy a $200,000 home, expect to have $2,000 to $6,000 per year in maintenance costs.


But we're not done!  Maybe in order to afford your house, you had to go further out in the suburbs which increases your drive time, which increases the amount of gas you'll use each month and your insurance rates as well.  Or maybe in order to afford your home you had to do some repair and refurbishing of parts (or all) of the home.  Meet Home Depot, your new best (worst) friend.  Or maybe you had to buy in  a less savory part of town and now you need to install a security system or at the very least buy a big dog.  Hello vet bills.

The bottom line is to really think it through and determine if you can afford to own a house on a monthly basis.

How Hearty Is Your Savings Account?


If you found an online mortgage calculator in the step above, then you probably noticed the down payment part of the calculation.  In order to qualify for a conventional mortgage, you need a down payment of at least 5% of the cost of the home up front, with 20% being ideal.  For our $200,000 home we talked about earlier, this means you need between $10,000 and $40,000!

Again, we're not done.  Remember those closing costs we mentioned earlier?  Expect to pay about 2-3% of the purchase price on closing costs.  In our example this means an additional $4,000 to $6,000 at the time of closing.  

In addition, you'll have to come up with escrow fees and still have some amount of money sitting in your bank account so that you won't be house poor.

If you can't swing it, start on an aggressive savings plan so that you can make your dream happen.  Consider it good practice for your higher house payments in the future.

How Healthy Is Your Credit Score?

Your credit score is a measure of how well you have paid off debt in the past and everyone has one.  You can have a bad credit score from missing payments, being consistently late on payments, or even if you have never used any credit ever.  Why does your credit score matter?  Because lenders look at the score and determine if you are a safe person to lend money to of if you are just too risky of an investment.

The highest credit score you can get is 850.  Most lenders consider you a safe bet if your score is above 700.  Lenders start saying "No Way" when your score dips below 640.  If you're in the 500 range, you will only qualify for subprime loans that come with lots of hidden fees and are riskier ways to borrow money.


The good news is that you can always raise your credit score. First, find out your score.  There are lots of free online services out there.  Pay your bills on time and lower your overall debt so that it is less than 30%.  Its better to have a large amount on one card than to have lots of cards with smaller amounts on them.

Are You Pre-approved?

Let's say you've done your homework and find that you are the ideal candidate to buy a new home.  Congratulations!  But don't go looking for a Realtor just yet.  While they will always be kind, you probably won't get the attention you'd like from a Realtor if you do not have a pre-approval letter from a bank in your hand.  This assures them that you have met all the criteria necessary to afford a home and are serious about buying.  


Another advantage to being pre-approved is if you find yourself in a multiple offer situation.  Time is of the essence when you are trying to outbid others for a house.  Sellers are not going to look at any offers from anyone that isn't pre-approved by a bank.  Have this step completed before you even start the process of looking for a home.

If you're ready to speak to a Realtor, we'd love to talk with you about buying your first home.  Please call us at 952-470-2575 or visit our website at

Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Weekly Market Update: February 9, 2015

The U.S. economy continues on its journey upward. Not only have gas prices hit multi-year lows, but wages have experienced gains not seen since 2008. As the year picks up steam, and whether you hang out with the bears or bulls of market recovery prognostication (not Chicago sports teams), one cannot deny that the economy is in a more stable position than it has been in years.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending January 31:

• New Listings increased 8.5% to 1,012
• Pending Sales increased 16.0% to 886
• Inventory decreased 5.6% to 12,202

For the month of January:

• Median Sales Price increased 8.5% to $195,000
• Days on Market increased 7.5% to 100
• Percent of Original List Price Received increased 0.2% to 93.7%
• Months Supply of Inventory remained flat at 2.9

Source:  Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, article by Aubray Erhardt

Monday, February 9, 2015

Home Features on Buyer's "Must Have" List

So, you're thinking about putting your home on the market.  Your home can sell quickly and for a premium price if you have some or all of these features that buyers are looking for.  It can mean the difference between your home selling with multiple offers driving up the selling price or getting no offers at all.  The statistics you see below are based on Remodeling magazines 2014 Cost Vs. Value Report.

1.  Separate Laundry Room

Percentage of buyers who want this feature:  93%


Potential buyers see a separate laundry room as an essential feature in their home.  In fact, 57% of buyers said they wouldn't purchase a home without one.  People want a place big enough to hold a full-sized washer and dryer, space to sort clothes, fold clothes, hang damp clothes to prevent wrinkling, as well as storage space to hold laundry and cleaning supplies.

2.  Exterior Lighting

Percentage of buyers who want this feature:  90%


Exterior lighting amps up the curb appeal of a home during the evening hours and helps with safety.  Exterior lighting is the most wanted outdoor feature and luckily it's relatively inexpensive to install at $100 to $250 per fixture.  Wall lanterns, landscape accent lighting and spotlights aimed at the front wall of the house are the most sought after lighting options.

3.  Energy Star-Qualified Windows

Percentage of buyers who want this feature:  89%


If you want to impress buyers, replace your old windows with new fuel-efficient versions.  Energy efficient windows save a lot of money in the long term while usually improving the look of the home both inside and out.  Buyers will love knowing that they won't have to worry about windows for many years to come.

4.  Garage Storage Space

Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 86%


Growing families have lots of stuff going on, and lots of stuff to go with it.  Extra space in the garage is especially needed because it is very easily accessible by everyone, yet keeps the clutter out of your main living areas.  Be sure your storage space is easily accessible, very well organized and clean.

5.  Eat In Kitchen

Percentage of buyers who want this feature:  85%


Whether it's a kitchen table in the corner or stools pulled up to a counter, many buyers, especially those with children, want a sit-down space for eating and other tasks in the heart of the home, the kitchen.  Whether its eating breakfast together before work and school, a spot to do homework or catch up on emails, or a space to go over your day in the evening while dinner is getting prepared, families rate this as a high priority.

6.  Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 85%


One pantry can take the place of seven or more kitchen cabinets when it comes to storing food.  Pantries are also ideal places to store large appliances like mixers and food processors and bulky cleaning supplies like brooms and mops.  It's no wonder this miracle space is one that buyers really value.

This is all very well and good, you might be saying to yourself.  But what do buyers hate?

  • Overgrown and unmaintained landscaping
  • Over-the-top paint every room
  • Popcorn-finished ceilings
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Shiny brass fixtures
  • "Crystal" faucet handles
  • Vanity strip lighting

Source: and Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors