Category Archives: Real Estate

Fixer-upper or move-in ready home?

Shows like HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” have popularized the idea of buying and renovating the worst house on the best block. Homes that need major remodeling, however, aren’t for everyone. Sometimes a move-in ready house is a better option. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned investor, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each.

Pros of Fixer-Uppers

  • Lower price — Homes that require some updating tend to be priced lower, and many renovations can quickly add value to your home.
  • Creative control — When you’re the one in charge of updating your home, you can customize it however you choose.

Cons of Fixer-Uppers

  • Delayed move-in — The planning and work involved to fix it up can significantly delay your move-in date.
  • Unexpected costs — No matter how well you plan, major renovations are always subject to unforeseen expenses.

Pros of Move-In Ready

  • Quick move-in — Can’t wait to begin nesting? With a finished home, you can start moving in as soon as you get your keys.
  • Energy-efficient technology — New and renovated homes are often outfitted with the latest energy-efficient options when it comes to kitchen appliances and heating and cooling systems, which can save you money over time.

Cons of Move-In Ready

  • More expensive — To recoup the costs of updating, sellers often price move-in ready homes much higher. These homes also don’t allow for easy customization.
  • Questionable quality — When you’re not there to oversee the update process, you’re unable to ensure that high-quality work and materials are used for your home.

Still not sure which approach is right for you? Take this quiz to help you decide if you’re ready for a fixer upper.

Have you bought a fixer-upper? What was the process like? Share in the comments!


Photo Credits: “house updates” by mazaletel © 2011 (CC BY 2.0) | “Dining Room with Recycled Wood Ceiling” by Jeremy Levine © 2009 (CC BY 2.0)

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Find a Lake Home Bargain in One of These Six Minnesota Towns

While the Twin Cities metro area’s real estate market is hot, hot, hot (and only getting hotter this summer), the same can’t be said for some of Minnesota’s waterfront cities. Slower to recover than much of the state, lake homes are remaining on the market longer and selling for less than the original list price (whereas it’s a general trend that homes are going for more than asking in the Twin Cities). With that in mind, if you’re on the hunt for a vacation home on one of Minnesota’s more than 10,000 lakes, you can’t go wrong looking in one of the six cities on this list. These cities currently have more inventory of single-family seasonal homes (everything from mobile homes to luxurious log cabins), which are selling for around 90% of the original asking price. Check them out, and let us know if you’re interested in more information.

1. Aitkin (Aitkin Co.)

#  of active homes*: 17 | Price Range: $75,000 – $414,000 | Median Sale Price: $209,000 |Median DOM: 217

Aitkin is a historic Mississippi Riverboat Town, about two hours from Minneapolis, known for hunting, fishing, and their annual Riverboat Scramble. While the largest local lake is Mille Lacs Lake, there are plenty of smaller bodies of water (365, in fact) nearby that would make for the perfect summer getaway retreat.

2. McGregor (Aitkin Co.)

#  of active homes: 12 | Price Range: $84,000 – $229,900 | Median Sale Price: $209,000 |Median DOM: 217

A city with less than 400 full-time residents, McGregor is great for vacations and visitors – it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise! Most of the current seasonal inventory in McGregor can be found by the Big Sandy Lake Reservoir or on Lake Minnewawa. This city is also home to the Minnesota National Golf Course.

3. Crosslake (Crow Wing Co.)

#  of active homes: 12 | Price Range: $47,000 – $535,000 | Median Sale Price: $385,000 |Median DOM: 253

Crosslake has the highest median sale price for vacation homes on this list for a reason. Spacious log cabins and other seasonal homes with majestic waterfront views dot the city’s more than 121 miles of shoreline. Permanent and seasonal residents enjoy the wonderful small town charm while maintaining convenient access to the Lakes Area amenities.

4. Longville (Cass Co.)

#  of active homes: 12 | Price Range: $79,900 – $377,900 | Median Sale Price: $234,250 |Median DOM: 242

Home to no more than 200 full-time residents at the moment, you’ll certainly get to know your neighbors in Longville. From charming cottages to dockside dream homes, there’s a summer house to fit any of your needs. While you’re in town for the summer, you might also want to check out one of the city’s iconic Turtle Races.

5. Hackensack (Cass Co.)

#  of active homes: 11 | Price Range: $99,900 – $359,000 | Median Sale Price: $232,000 |Median DOM: 183

Less than an hour north of Brainerd, Hackensack is a small town known for one big resident (the statue of Paul Bunyan’s girlfriend, Lucette, to be exact). With inventory ranging from mobile homes to cabins on notable lakes including Big Deep Lake, Ten Mile Lake, and Kid Lake, it’s not too hard to find your ideal family vacation spot.

6. Park Rapids (Hubbard Co.)

#  of active homes: 11 | Price Range: $87,500 – $399,900 | Median Sale Price: $287,250 |Median DOM: 247

One of the larger city’s on this list, Park Rapids has a population of almost 4,000. Many of the vacation homes currently for sale can be found along the shores of Potato Lake. Probably most famous for being home to the Mississippi River Headwaters, residents choose to call this city home for many other reasons too, such as quality fishing, water sports, and a scenic downtown area. Whether you’re looking for a cozy cabin in the woods or new construction, you can probably find it in Park Rapids.

*All data sourced from NorthstarMLS on 6/14/16.

Photo Source: “Cabin in the Trees, Lake Tahoe, CA 8-10” by Don Graham © 2010 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

6 Tips for Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Have a plan for reviewing purchase offers so you don’t let the best slip through your fingers.

You’ve worked hard to get your home ready for sale and to price it properly. With any luck, offers will come quickly. You’ll need to review each carefully to determine its strengths and drawbacks and pick one to accept. Here’s a plan for evaluating offers.

1. Understand the process.

All offers are negotiable, as your agent will tell you. When you receive an offer, you can accept it, reject it, or respond by asking that terms be modified, which is called making a counteroffer.

2. Set baselines.

Decide in advance what terms are most important to you. For instance, if price is most important, you may need to be flexible on your closing date. Or if you want certainty that the transaction won’t fall apart because the buyer can’t get a mortgage, require a prequalified or cash buyer.

3. Create an offer review process.

If you think your home will receive multiple offers, work with your agent to establish a time frame during which buyers must submit offers. That gives your agent time to market your home to as many potential buyers as possible, and you time to review all the offers you receive.

4. Don’t take offers personally.

Selling your home can be emotional. But it’s simply a business transaction, and you should treat it that way. If your agent tells you a buyer complained that your kitchen is horribly outdated, justifying a lowball offer, don’t be offended. Consider it a sign the buyer is interested and understand that those comments are a negotiating tactic. Negotiate in kind.

5. Review every term.

Carefully evaluate all the terms of each offer. Price is important, but so are other terms. Is the buyer asking for property or fixtures – such as appliances, furniture, or window treatments – to be included in the sale that you plan to take with you?

Is the amount of earnest money the buyer proposes to deposit toward the down payment sufficient? The lower the earnest money, the less painful it will be for the buyer to forfeit those funds by walking away from the purchase if problems arise.

Have the buyers attached a prequalification or pre-approval letter, which means they’ve already been approved for financing? Or does the offer include a financing or other contingency? If so, the buyers can walk away from the deal if they can’t get a mortgage, and they’ll take their earnest money back, too. Are you comfortable with that uncertainty?

Is the buyer asking you to make concessions, like covering some closing costs? Are you willing, and can you afford to do that? Does the buyer’s proposed closing date mesh with your timeline?

With each factor, ask yourself: Is this a deal breaker, or can I compromise to achieve my ultimate goal of closing the sale?

6. Be creative.

If you’ve received an unacceptable offer through your agent, ask questions to determine what’s most important to the buyer and see if you can meet that need. You may learn the buyer has to move quickly. That may allow you to stand firm on price but offer to close quickly. The key to successfully negotiating the sale is to remain flexible.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Source: HouseLogic (Published: February 10, 2010) Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Here’s Why You Should Totally Snoop When House Hunting

This house-hunting checklist gives you carte blanche (well, almost) when viewing potential homes.

By: Jamie Wiebe

Ah, house hunting. It may technically be shopping, but it can feel more like breaking and entering. Even though you know the seller wants you there, does anyone really want you traipsing through their bedroom? Or looking through their closet? Or digging around in their basement? Awwwwkward.

But here’s something that should feel weirder: buying a home without knowing absolutely everything you can about it. The only way to avoid the second awkwardness is to face the first head on. When you’re house hunting, don’t think of poking around in someone else’s home as nosiness. It’s a smart, must-do investigation.

Here are six things you should absolutely do when viewing a home — no matter how awkward it feels.

1.  Soak in the Bathroom
Home buyers tend to peer into the bathroom for as long as they’d want a stranger to examine theirs: not long at all. But this isn’t the time to be quick. Josh Myler, a REALTOR® with The Agency in Los Angeles, encourages buyers to take a long, close perusal of the water closet.
Flush the toilet to find any backups in the system, and turn on the faucets to check the water pressure. Besides being annoying during showers, low pressure can indicate problems with the plumbing. “Water pressure can really cause headaches down the line if you don’t dig in before you make an offer,” says Myler. But always, always check with your agent first. In some markets, or with some sellers, it’s considered impolite to actually use the toilet. Or, if the owners already have moved, the water may be turned off. And that could be, ummm, awkward.

2.  Dig Around in the Closets
OK, don’t actually go through the owner’s stuff, but take a close look to assess how much storage space there is, and decide if it’ll meet your needs. “People don’t like to open closets because they think it’s rude, but if you’re buying the house, it’s one of the biggest investments,” says Myler. “You want to make sure there’s enough room for everything you need.” Before you step foot in a single house, take inventory of your current storage space, and know how much you’d like your next home to have.

3.  Poke Around the Attic and Basement
Don’t just stick your head inside and call it good. Give the basement and attic a thorough investigation. If there are belongings piled against the wall, request they be moved before a second viewing. “I get very nervous when I see a packed basement and stuff against the wall,” says Kyle Alfriend, lead agent of The Alfriend Group in Dublin, Ohio.
That’s because hidden walls and ceilings can conceal water damage, including peeling or discolored paint, rotting wooden accents, or a white, chalky substance on the wall, which indicates water intrusion. As for the attic, a quick glance should tell you what you need to know. Are there rat droppings? Molding wood? Or is it generally clean, even if dusty? BYO flashlight for an enlightened examination.

4.  Meet the Neighbors
Sorry, introverts. There’s no better way to get a read on the neighborhood than by directly asking the actual neighbors. Pop by their home and strike up a chat. It’s a twofer: Not only might you get valuable information about the area — from the noisy bar on the street behind you to eager babysitters on the block — but paying attention to their attitude speaks volumes about your potential relationship with your maybe-neighbors. Do they seem excited to meet you? Or are they standoffish? “It’s not what they answer, but how they answer that will be very illuminating,” says Myler.

5.  Be an Amateur Investigator
Anything seem fishy? Take your suspicions to city hall. If there are additions, pull the permits or get help from your buyer’s agent. You certainly don’t want to be responsible for tearing out that beautiful porch because the previous owners didn’t comply with the law. Also, check the certificate of occupancy and any easements — especially if you’re hoping to make any major changes. Both are public record. An easement simply gives someone the right to use property they don’t own. Often that other someone is your local government that needs it for public services, such as water. Myler remembers a friend who purchased a home with the goal of building a pool, only to find out an easement for the sewer line cut directly through the middle of the yard. Another common use is a shared driveway, such as when one homeowner has to pass through another homeowner’s property to reach their home.

6.  Ask Questions
If your sleuthing finds something concerning, don’t panic.
“Many times, there’s stuff that, at first glance, is real scary,” says Alfriend. “Often people will write off a house without digging into it, but there’s usually a perfectly logical, understandable reason, and it’s not a problem.”
Say you find a gaping hole in the drywall. It might be a huge red flag — or they might have rambunctious kids they absolutely plan to clean up after. “Boys can wrestle and put a foot through the thing, and it’s 30 minutes before a showing,” Alfriend says. There’s not much the sellers can do at that point.

With any problem, your first step is simple: Ask.

“Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

Compile a Home Inventory with the Right Tools

By: Gwen Moran

Creating a home inventory for insurance doesn’t need to be complicated. All you really need is a pencil and paper. The key is to have a record of your possessions in the event you experience a theft or casualty loss from flood, fire, or other disaster.

But the more thorough the documentation of your belongings, the less likely you are to run into problems when you file an insurance claim. That’s why you should consider using a digital camera, fireproof safes, and other equipment to create and store your home inventory. Devote a full day to the task.

Take pictures of your belongings

Photos of your belongings go a long way toward demonstrating ownership and value. Digital photos are preferred, since they’re easier to print and store. A decent digital camera costs less than $100. Be sure to get full-room shots, as well as close-ups of items. Don’t neglect to photograph possessions inside drawers, cabinets, and closets.

Video is even more convenient and effective, especially since you can record audio along with the images. Describe items and any identifying details as you film your home room by room. Digital camcorders are available for less than $150. It’s a good idea to keep backup copies of digital files and hard-copy printouts in a safe place. (More on storage options below.)

Prepare a written home inventory

Images alone aren’t enough. You should also prepare a written home inventory. Your insurance company will likely ask for one if you ever file a claim. Include as much identifying detail as possible, such as serial numbers, brand names, purchase dates, and estimated costs. Keep a copy off-site, perhaps with a friend or in a bank safe-deposit box, in case your home is damaged or destroyed. Download our free home inventory worksheet to get started.

Home inventory software is also available. Enter information on your possessions, attach digital images, and store the data electronically. The Insurance Information Institute has a free program called Know Your Stuff, or there are a number of programs available for purchase.

Be sure to attach receipts to your home inventory list. If you’re storing your records electronically, you’ll want to scan receipts at a copy and print shop or purchase a scanner. Pick one up for as little as $50 at an office supply store. Digital copies of receipts come in handy if originals are damaged or lost.

Safe ways to store your records

When backing up digital files, a USB drive—sometimes called a “thumb” drive, due to its small size—can be useful. Buy one for as little as $5. Simply copy the files onto the drive and keep it somewhere safe, preferably away from your home.

You can also stash a drive in a pre-packed emergency “go” bag, which should be accessible in case you need to evacuate quickly. An external hard drive can perform the same function, though it’s less portable.

You can use a bank safe-deposit box to store paper records, drives, and other valuables off-premises. Rent may range from about $25 per year for a small box to more than $100 for a larger box.

If you like to keep important documents closer at hand, consider a fireproof safe, which is usually waterproof as well. You can find small safes for as little as $50, but a more representative range for good residential fireproof safes is $150 to $300. Larger, high-end safes can cost more than $1,000.

When your home inventory files are electronic, it’s relatively easy to use online backup systems to keep digital copies outside of your home. That’s a big plus if your computer is stolen or destroyed. Some backup services like Mozy offer limited storage space for free, while others like Carbonite charge $5 or more per month. Choose a backup service whose features fit your needs.

Source: HouseLogic “Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”
Flickr Creative Commons: andrewarchy (CC BY 2.0)
All photos used under this license.

How Important Are School Districts When Purchasing a Home

If you are in the process of buying a house, there are many things to consider such as price, size, neighborhood, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the size of a backyard, etc. Many families with kids put the school district as the most important factor when deciding on location. It is important for them to know their child will be attending a good and safe school. On the other hand, for the buyers who do not have kids it is a concern because of the higher prices and taxes. So, what role does a school district play in the home buying process. Good school district equals good location.

Many parents are willing to pay extra per square footage to be close to schools that rank high. Whether you have children or don’t, buying a home in a good school district has it’s advantages. As we all know, real estate market has it’s ups and downs, and being in a good school district can protect you from that and your home value might not be as affected. Also, when purchasing a home, it is important to keep in mind the resale value. According to, buyers will spend 6% to 10% more to be in a good school district.

As you can see, being in a good school district has it’s advantages, but despite all the factors, when you make your buying decision and deciding on the location, make sure you are choosing the house that is right for you!



Flickr Creative Commons: Bruce Washburn (CC BY 2.0)
All photos used under this license.

9 Ways to Deep Clean the Cruddiest Things in Your Home Without Breaking Into a Sweat


Ahhh! Sparkling floors, gleaming windows, and zero dust bunnies. A thorough spring cleaning can make your abode feel brand new. But that immaculate house comes with a price — sore biceps. Instead of skimping on your annual deep clean because you’re zonked, use these brilliant hacks for nine of the most pain-in-the-butt tasks. You’ll get the same pristine results with half the time and energy.

1. Break Out the Drill on Your Bathtub

Cleaning a grungy tub can be back-breaking work. But here’s a genius idea that’ll save you time and sweat: Use your drill. Simply attach a foam ball polishing attachment, and use it to do the scrubbing for you. Look in the automotive section for the attachment, which is made specially for tackling grime without scratching surfaces.

2. Soak Stove Burners in Ammonia

Your stove burners take the bulk of the greasy, gunky mess during cooking, so do them a favor and give them a good cleaning. Don’t worry: No scrubbing involved. To clear the crud, combine your stove burners and 1/4 cup ammonia in a plastic bag and let sit overnight. They should come clean with a light sponge the next day.

3. Run Floor Vents Through the Dishwasher

wash floor vents in dishwasher

Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

Scour as you might, removing all the accumulated dirt and dust from your floor and ceiling vents can be a spring cleaner’s nightmare. If yours are made of aluminum or steel, there’s a shortcut to spic-and-span: Just run them through the dishwasher on a water-only cycle.

4. Iron Out Bad Carpet Stains

Don’t spend an hour scrubbing out that nasty, set-in carpet splotch. Iron it out instead. Spritz a solution of one part vinegar, three parts water on the stain, and lay a clean cotton cloth on top. Turn your iron to its highest steam setting and run it over the stain for about 10 seconds to transfer the stain to the cloth and off your carpet.

5. Tie a Bag of Vinegar Around Your Showerhead

bag of vinegar cleans your showerhead

Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

Mineral build-up on your showerhead can cause low water pressure and wonky water streams. But it’s easy to clean them without removing them. Using a rubber band, attach a bag of vinegar to your showerhead, making sure all the holes are submerged in the vinegar, and soak it overnight. Voilà. Good as new.

6. Make Your Leaf Blower Multi-Task

Forget the broom and rags when you’re cleaning out the garage. Whip out your leaf blower and let it blow all the dust, debris, and dead bugs (yuck!) away from the floor and shelving. Just be sure to put away light-weight things could accidentally get blown out with the trash.

7. Get Rid of Crayon Marks with Goo Gone

Removing evidence of your toddler’s overactive imagination from your gorgeous white walls can be a struggle, but a little bit of Goo Gone (traditionally used to clean sticker residue) will remove the crayon and your headache. Spray it on the drawing, wait a moment, and wipe it off cleanly — without exhausting your arms.

8. Boil Your Range Filter

boil your range filter to clean it

Image: One Good Think by Jillee

There’s no need to scrub the grease and grime off your range filters. Use a bit of baking soda and your largest pot instead. Set the water to boil, slowly add 1/2 cup of baking soda, and submerge your filters for about five minutes. (Make sure to dump the water somewhere safe. Grease in the drain is even worse than grimy filters.)

9. Sprinkle Your Mattress With Baking Soda

Your mattress needs a springtime refresh, too, but you sure can’t toss it in the washing machine. Cleaning gurus recommend dragging your mattress outside, beating it, and letting the sunshine help freshen it, then dragging it back in. But who has the muscle for that? This is much easier: Use a kitchen strainer to sprinkle baking soda over its surface and let sit for an hour or longer. Longer is better. Then use your vacuum’s upholstery attachment to suck up the odor-absorbing soda.


“Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

How Buying a Condo is Different from Buying a House

Buying a condo is different than buying a house in many aspects. The process of getting a mortgage is different; there is also home owner’s association to consider and other rules and regulations.

One of the important things to remember is that condos are individually owned and owners do not hold title to the land.  Also, due to the fact that most of the losses came from condo defaults after the economic crisis, they are viewed as more risky than other types of real estate. Thus, the process of getting a mortgage for condominium is more strict than for a house. The loan costs such as interest rates might be higher and also the loan requirements vary depending on the loan type. Also, for certain loan types such as FHA, the building must be approved as well. So if the building is not on the FHA list of approved buildings, it might not be approved.

Condo buildings have certain restrictions as to the use of amenities, etc. so before committing to buying a condo, make sure you know if pets are allowed, use of common spaces. Also, another thing to check is whether they allow it to be rented out in the future if you would like to. In addition, you will want to know what are the fees and what those fees cover as far as insurance and upkeep. You will also want to know if you are responsible for any repairs.

Despite the buying process that might be a bit more complicated that other types of real estate, there are many advantages of owning a condo, you just need to remember to do your due diligence before buying!


Flickr Creative Commons: Payton Chung (CC BY 2.0)
All photos used under this license.


Interesting Real Estate Stats

Here are some interesting stats about Real Estate Housing and Industry.

According to Statista, there were 124.7 million housing units in the US; The combined value of those homes was around $25 Trillion in 2013 and around 4,940,000 existing homes were sold.

Real estate agents and brokers: there are approximately 2.5M licensed agents in the US; according to economic census, there are 86,004 brokerage firms in the US. The typical age of an agent is 57, there are more females than males with college education.

According to, 92% of people search for homes online; also, 89% searched for a real estate agent, and 46% looked up “open house”. Typical home buyer takes about 3 months to buy and most look for agents earlier in the process. 31% of home shoppers are aged between 25-34 years old.

Most agents spend a lot on technology and advertising. It is estimated that both real estate brokers and agents spent close o 13.5$ billion on a variety of advertising, mostly online, only 25% spent it on print media. In addition, in the last 12 months, 27% of agents spent around $500-$2,000 on technology. Also 91% of agents use social media.


Flickr Creative Commons: Simon Cunningham (CC BY 2.0)
All photos used under this license.

Is Buying Cheaper than Renting?

According to RealtyTrac buying will continue to be cheaper than renting in most of the US housing markets. They compared rent and wage growth in 504 counties. The analysis showed that the rent prices are rising faster than wages. The rents for 3 bedroom homes were examined and showed that, in the second quarter of 2015, average weekly wages went up 2.6% whereas rent increased 3.5%. This means that a family will have to spend around 37% of their household income on rent.

Here are some markets with the highest rents: South and North Carolina, Louisiana, Montana counties, as well as some counties in California and Texas. Some of the more affordable markets are some counties in Tennessee, Maryland, New York, and Oregon.

Due to the low interest rates and high rent prices, it is believed that now is the best time to buy. Also, there are additional benefits to being a homeowner such as equity and tax deductions. Despite that, some younger people are still very reserved when it comes to buying, mostly it’s because of the down payments, not all can afford or are willing to give it away at once.

Before you decide to buy, ask your agent and financial planner all the questions you have and evaluate your financial capabilities. Make sure you are ready to buy!


Flickr Creative Commons: Joel Telling (CC BY-SA 2.0)
All photos used under this license.