From the category archives:

Local News for Minneapolis – St Paul

Below is snippet of my feature in the Star Tribune.

Jennifer Kirby, luxury real estate agent

If you think it’s tough to find a buyer for grandma’s silver and the family china, imagine trying to unload an expensive old house with a butler’s pantry and a foyer too fancy for muddy boots and dirty dogs.

For five years, Mark Perrin has been trying to sell one of the most beautiful houses in Minneapolis, a 10,000-square-foot mansion on Mount Curve Avenue. It is now priced at $3.1 million, half his original asking price and below what he paid for it.

“It boggles my mind,” Perrin said. “You get to the point where it just gets silly.”

More homes changed hands in the Twin Cities this year than ever before, and transactions of $1 million and more also set records. But at that exclusive level — the homes most people can only dream about — something is changing: Houses that couldn’t be replicated today are sitting unsold as well-to-do buyers seek technology over turrets and perfection over patina….

…Jennifer Kirby, the agent who has the Perrin listing, said that selling a house in Minneapolis can be challenging because there’s a perception that when you factor in property taxes and lot sizes, you get a better value in the suburbs. Of the 22 houses that have sold for more than $3 million in the Twin Cities so far this year, 19 have been on Lake Minnetonka.

 “Even rich people care about their money,” Kirby said. “There are plenty of people who have the money, but we’re competing with Lake Minnetonka.”


It looks like the lack of rain is taking its toll on Minnesota lakes and rivers.  According to the state climatology office, the last three months near zero precipitation is making most of Minnesota rainfall totals rank at or below the lowest on record. The DNR is also calling for water conservation across the state and is giving examples of how the drought conditions are affecting the State’s water levels:

  • Water conflicts between users and uses are emerging in more places.
  • Nearly one-half of the state is in severe drought or worse; severe drought is considered a one in 10-year event; extreme drought is considered a one in 20-year event.
  • The extent and geographic distribution of the current drought is rivaling the extreme drought event of the late 1980s.
  • Large areas of Minnesota have missed the equivalent of two summertime month’s worth of rain.
  • Soil moisture levels are at or below all-time low values for the end of September.
  • White Bear Lake’s water level has hit its lowest point on record.
  • It is a dire situation going into the 2013 growing season.

For Lake Minnetonka, the current water level is a foot lower than it was a few months ago, and about 18 inches lower than at the beginning of summer, according to the DNR and an article from the Lake Minnetonka Patch. The lowest recorded water level ever recorded for Lake Minnetonka was in 1937, putting it about 6 feet lower than the recent October 2012 measurement.

You might wonder why Lake Minnetonka water levels might matter so much to the Twin Cities. The answer is simple – it is the beginning of the Minnehaha Creek watershed which encompasses “181 square miles that drain into the Minnehaha Creek and ultimately the Mississippi River. The watershed includes Minnehaha Creek, Lake Minnetonka, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, and Minnehaha Falls and there are eight major creeks, 129 lakes, and thousands of wetlands” affected by decreasing water levels. Low levels in the watershed mean a low Mississippi River, which can already be seen in areas down to the Gulf of Mexico.

While levels are not at record lows, it is a concern for the upcoming years if we don’t get rain soon. If the winter brings no snow, conditions will only worsen in the spring and make for a very dry 2013. Maybe it’s time to start the rain dance.



Swamp Milkweed in Minnesota

Recently I was reading an article in the Star Tribune that just makes you shake your head in wonder.  The City of Edina and some of its residents seem to dislike the growing natural area around the new Public Works building as it looks too “weedy”. I guess people just can’t appreciate the pink blossoms of Milkweed (which is the only thing Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on), or the beauty of yellow sunflowers swaying in the breeze. The complainants prefer manicured yards to nature and rain gardens, and want the city to start mowing the area.

Now, I really hate to go into how stupid the Mayor and Council member sound in the article, but that’s what happens when you are not educated about a subject. They need to take a class on native wildflowers, grasses, and rain gardens before they go any further on this topic and discover how beneficial this green movement can be to their town.

I first learned about Rain Gardens when I moved to Minnesota through the Blue Thumb program. I attended a class as I was curious about how they work. Simply, instead of rain water going directly off streets into sewers, the rain water first goes through the rain garden and then into the ground, thus helping keep pollutants out of our rivers and lakes. Case in point, the City of Burnsville conducted a study of the benefit of rain gardens by implementing them in a test neighborhood, and the results show how beneficial such gardens are to storm water runoff.

There is a strong push in Minnesota to go native. Prairie planting with native wildflowers is becoming much more common. Instead of bushes, home owners are planting perennial wildflowers and quite frankly, I think yards are looking better. Wildflowers offer fantastic curb appeal, not to mention low maintenance.

 Sometimes rain gardens are new to city planners, so you might have to educate your town. I requested putting in a rain garden on our property easement due to the steep slope, as rain just pours down one side of our property line, but the city member I spoke with just looked at me with dumb look on his face and asked what a rain garden was. I was then told that plants could not be put in an easement. When I explained what a rain garden does, he stuck to his guns and said no, I could not get permission to put one in. Maybe he needs to see Burnsville’s case study, and other Minnesota towns success, to get a better idea on the benefits of natural plantings.

Going prairie in Minnesota seems to be the future. The low maintenence reduces city costs while adding natural beauty to the area.  If you are interested in learning more about native plantings, the best resource I have found is the Blue Thumb program or your local county website. Here are a few other resources to check out for more information:

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The New York Times has a great interactive map which gives insight into population growth and decline, housing trends, and ethnic/racial concentrations.  Real estate agents are not allowed to comment on neighborhood/city demographics, so this interactive tool will answer many of the questions you might have. You are even able to zoom into Twin Cities neighborhoods to get a  more detailed look on what is going on in your neck of the woods.


Looks like Bill Pohlad, one-third owner of the Minnesota Twins, bought a very expensive home on Lake Minnetonka late last month. The home, while carrying a heafty price tag of $5.2 Million, is actually pretty small when compared to the other huge mansions that sit on the Lake Minnetonka shoreline.  It was built in 1951, has 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and just over 2300 square feet.

What makes it so expensive? Well, for one thing, it sits on a 3 acre pennisula jutting out into Lafayette Bay and has 1600 feet of shoreline. Yep, you heard me right – 1600 feet. That means this new home owner has panoramic views like you wouldn’t believe, and pretty much all the privacy he wants.

Lake Minnetonka Home Sells for $5.2 Million
2417 Woodwinds Lane , Minnetonka Beach, MN

Looks like Mr. Pohland can now boast that he “owns his personal private island”.



I have to admit, I have insider information, so I’ve seen this coming for years. I even wrote a blog post about it back in 2007, listing some benefits to having a home sprinkler system installed, especially in a million dollar home. I don’t have a problem with them, after all, my husband project manages for Summit Fire Protection in St. Paul and oversees daily the installation of fire suppression systems in Minnesota buildings.

What I do have a problem with is the government making it mandatory for all newly constructed homes to have a sprinkler system installed. You most likely haven’t heard that the International Code Council added in 2009 to its International Residential Code that fire sprinkler systems be a required standard feature in new home construction. The National Association of Home Builders tried to have the measure repealed, but was unsuccessful, so the new requirement will be included in the 2012 IRC edition.

What does this mean to you?

So far, there are only a few states, California being the first, to adopt the 2009 IRC requirements. But I am sure there are many other state and city governments that will jump on the bandwagon, all in the name of public safety. Currently there is an effort in Minnesota, championed by the Builders Association of Minnesota, to prohibit the State Building Code, State Fire Code, etc to require the installation of sprinkler systems in residential homes (H.F. 460 and S. F. 297). Now this doesn’t mean you can’t have one installed, but it does keep you from having to pay for one when you don’t want it.

I’ll keep a close eye on this one. While the cost of sprinkler installation is fairly low, about $3000 for a $300,00o home, in today’s market, people are watching the dollars they spend very carefully, and one might just rather have granite counter tops over a fire suppression system.


Our Lovely Governor’s Plan

In case you haven’t heard, our new democratic governor has unveiled his budget proposal for Minnesota.  The Governor’s proposal focuses largely on liberal, revenue-raising measures that unfairly target one group of people – those he considers RICH. 

  • His plan calls for creating a fourth tier income tax bracket at 10.95% (why  not just make it 11?) for joint filers earning over $150,000 and head-of-household filers earning $130,000. (By the way, when did spouses making $150K become rich?)
  •  He also wants to create a “temporary” income surtax of 3% on filers earning more than $500,000 annually. Of course we all know that any tax that is touted as being only “temporary” always becomes a permanent tax.
  • And probably the most ridiculous is imposing a statewide property tax on homes valued over $1 million. 

It shouldn’t be any surprise to my readers that I oppose all three of these proposals. I am not rich, but I aspire to be some day through hard work. Why then should I, or anyone else who has worked hard to be successful, be punished for earning more? I constantly hear about how one class deserves more than the other, and frankly I don’t get the whole “spread the wealth” thing. I grew up lower middle class, and through hard work, my father raised us up some. He never asked for a handout, and he raised me to believe that the only one looking out for myself is me. I could never ask someone that is wealthy to give me a piece of their pie just because I don’t have any – I prefer to make my own.

So when I hear Dayton say he wants to tax the rich more because “they can afford it”, I get a little mad. At 11%, Minnesota will be one of the states with the highest tax bracket. I see luxury home property taxes all the time, and trust me, they aren’t cheap. So also increasing the property taxes on million dollar homes just pushes the knife in further for high income wage earners. With the plethora of million dollar homes available in the Twin Cities, especially around Lake Minnetonka, I can help but think that these proposals will keep the wealthy from moving to Minnesota, therefore making it harder for local home owners to sell.

I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens. The Minnesota Association of Realtors “opposes the imposition of a statewide property tax for several reasons.  First, property taxes should remain a source of local government revenues and should not be expanded at a state level.  Second, expanding the residential property tax to the state poses an opportunity for future expansion to other, lower-valued properties.  Finally, it is the wrong time to add additional burdens to an already ailing housing market”.


A few months ago I reported that financing for the upper bracket home market in Minneapolis and St. Paul was having some difficulties. Banks were being very cautious for million dollar loan requests, and the new norm for down payment was at least 30%.  The word of the day was “documentation”, and banks required a ton of it. Now it looks like banks might be easing up on luxury home buyers…well, maybe just a little bit.

According to Lisa Wells of Residential Mortgage Group, the luxury real estate market is getting a little easier to finance, but still remains cautious. She says, “Loan amounts for 1 million or less are pretty decent for interest rates and the underwriting process, but buyers still need 2 years of solid income and at least a 700 credit score rating.” It appears that a down payment of 20% is also OK, but if you want a better interest rate, than banks would like to see at least 25% down.

If you require a loan amount of over $ 1 Million, things will be a little bit different. Now two appraisals are required by the bank, with the lower of the two used for the loan.  The borrower must have at least 12 months of payments in the bank in a liquid reserve and ideally more, and of course a high credit score.  Ms. Wells says she has found that final loan approval in the million dollar plus market, even if the buyer meets all the requirements and guidelines, “is still left to the discretion of the Underwriter, and that she should have a very, very strong borrower with 35%-40% down.  The thought out there is the upper bracket market still might have some downward pressure, and therefore, anything with loan amounts of $1.5 Million or more is just hard”.

Home owners looking to sell this year should realize that there is a real obstacle with million dollar home financing, as buyers must be able to come up with the dough. Price is not always the reason for why your luxury home hasn’t sold – it could be the lack of qualified buyers. With the tougher rules in place for loan approval, sellers should require that all buyers be pre-approved. In this way, Twin Cities home owners can have a little bit of comfort that a financial capable borrower is knocking on their door.


Some of you might be wondering where I have been the past month. While I hate to be away from the blog so much, it happens sometimes that other parts of the business take me away from writing. I have to say that the reason this time is a good one, as I have just done something I have been dreaming of doing ever since I entered real estate – opening my own real estate brokerage.

The company is small to start out with, but that’s the way I like it. Too many real estate brokerages spend tons of money of what I call “Go Big, Go Large”. Their money goes to expensive offices that no one visits, nor any agents actually work from. Overhead eats them up, and their agents suffer. The old way of running a real estate company is dying. I plan on being a part of the new way.

Kirby Fine Homes Luxury Real Estate Brokerage 

My boutique firm sells real estate in the Twin Cities, including Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Lake Minnetonka, and the surrounding Metro areas/counties. While we cater to all price ranges, special emphasis is given to luxury properties, historic homes, and waterfront/lakefront real estate. By keeping the firm small, we will be able to better serve our client’s needs with personal attention. Clients will not be lost in a shuffle of a big box firm where no one knows their name.  While our goal is to be the best, it is not to be the biggest. Think “Jerry McGuire” if you will.

Being as I have just opened Kirby Fine Homes, it will take time to get everything in place. This year a new website will be developed for the brokerage, and knowing me, an Internet presence will quickly be established. I am very excited about this new venture, and can’t wait to see what 2011 brings for the local real estate market!

“Kirby Fine Homes – Opening Doors to the Most Exceptional Homes in the Twin Cities”


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It continually amazes me how home owners don’t realize the poor quality of photos that their real estate agent is using to market their Million dollar homes here in the Twin Cities. Just today, I have been going through luxury homes stretching from Stillwater to Lake Minnetonka, and probably 90% of the homes priced over $800,000 have agent taken photos that are out of focus, tilted, angled, poor lighting….you name it, these photos stink!

In case you wonder if they really make that big of a difference, well I have to tell you that they do. If a buyer is looking at purchasing a luxury home, they want to see the home showcased at its finest. This means that quality photos must be taken by a professional photographer, and edited in the best way to show the homes highlights. Hey, I consider myself a decent photographer, but I leave the high-tech photo business to the professionals when it comes to my luxury listings. This means I spend money to get the quality I expect and the quality my clients deserve.
After all, what are they paying me for? My job is to market their luxury home to a luxury audience. Agents that bring their point-and-shoot cameras into a million dollar home should be kicked out on the spot. They don’t know what they are doing, and the people who will suffer for it are their clients.
Want to know why your home has been languishing on the market for over a year? Over two years? Take a look at the photo below. It represents the only photo for a $1.5 Million listing in Minnetonka. The description in MLS sounds great, but there are no photos to back it up. Do you think a buyer would really want to set up an appointment for this type of listing?
Or how about this home below that started out at $2.4 Million in Eden Prairie? It is has been on the market for a while, and now is reduced $500,000. Could it be that the really poor photos, and there are more, are killing any potential sale for this home? I certainly think so.

As a home owner looking to sell, you really need to question the agent you use and how they are going to professionally market your luxury home. Luxury home specialists know that money has to be spent on quality photography and marketing pieces to attract buyers. Ask your agent for marketing examples and past experience in the luxury home market before you sign a year long listing because if you don’t, the quality you could be getting could resemble the photos above.