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first home

The National Association has just released some statistics about how green home features are affecting buyers decisions when purchasing a home. While commuting costs are a big concern for younger buyers, energy heating and cooling costs are the number one concern as buyers get older. Even though the data paints a broad stroke over the entire nation, it is safe to say that commuting and energy costs rank high in Minnesota, too. Local builders are taking building “green” into account, some becoming GreenStar certified.



Luxury home Kenwood Parkway MinneapolisLooking to buy a luxury home in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Lake Minnetonka, or the Twin Cities metro area?  Here are more ideas on what to do before your next home purchase:

  • Look beyond your Target Price – You might be looking for a home in the $5 million range, but if you are looking in an area other than where you currently live, you need to find an experienced luxury agent to help you understand market value. Find out what $1 Million, 3 Million, or even $10 million will get you.
  • Don’t Get Sticker Shock – Prime locations command prime dollars. Expect to pay higher than normal prices for waterfront properties, mountain views, and prestigious areas.
  • Communication is Key – real estate agents cannot read your mind, no matter how good they are. It is extremely important to be honest about your goals and your finances in order to have a great experience. Most luxury agents understand the need for confidentiality and will be more than happy to work with you.
  • Put Trust in Your Agent – Realtors are professionals, so trust that your agent understands what you want (again, communicate) and you’ll be viewing homes that meet your needs. If at anytime you feel uncomfortable, do not feel guilty for seeking out a new agent.
  • Don’t be Confidential about your Assets – Be prepared to show your ability to purchase, no matter who you are. You might be well known where you live, but your new city banker won’t. Have your bankers talk to each other to verify there are funds available to close and to also source the origination of those funds. The seller might also ask for a letter of verification from your lender for their peace of mind.
  • Don’t forget Future Resale Value – It might not be your top priority, but someday you will probably want to sell the home you are purchasing. Check the appreciation rate for the neighborhood and take it into consideration when buying.
  • Think about your Offer – Price is usually the first item a seller looks at when an offer is written on their home, but an offer can also consist of contingencies about inspections, finances, closing dates etc. Remember to make your offer based on of all terms and the condition of the home. If need be, have your Realtor write up an explanation of your offer terms to include with the contract. Sometimes explaining your situation or reason to the seller will give you a “human factor” and most times get your offer accepted.
  • Don’t get Emotional about the Seller’s Personal Property – if there is something you like in their home and would like to ask for it, do not write it in the contract. Instead, draw up a separate agreement and ask nicely for the item(s). If they say no, let it go. Too many deals fall through because of household appliances or a chandelier. If they promise something is in included, get it in writing!
  • Get to know the Paper Work – Ask your agent for copies of all documents and disclosures and review them before you make an offer. Mark any areas where you have questions. Every state is different regarding the types of disclosures you need, and what you are use to in one state, most likely will differ in another. For example, in Florida, there is a “Termite” Disclosure which also covers mold, wood rot, and powder post beetles, but if you want to buy in Minnesota, they have no such disclosure.


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.


In light of recent experiences I have encountered with local Twin Cities home builders, I make it a point to tell buyers that they should thouroghly research any builder they might contract to build their new home. Some builders are barely keeping their business above water, and others are slowly sinking, but if you spoke with these builders, most likely they would tell you they are doing” a lot” of business. Don’t believe them. Here are some tips to consider when building a new home:

  • Ask the builder how long they have been in business under the current company name.If it is a short period of time, ask them if they, or anyone involved with company, has been a builder/contractor under a different name. Believe it or not, there are some fairly sizable builders in the Twin Cities who have declared bankruptcy, gotten in trouble with the state, etc, and closed their doors, only to open up under a brand new entity name. Of course, they don’t disclose this to potential buyers.
  • Ask the builder if their company name is the same as their legal corporation name. Sometimes builders “Do Business As” (DBA) a different name. You can research both names with the Minnesota Secretary of State and find out if they are in good standing.
  • Ask for the Builder’s License Number. They should be able to give it to you on the spot. If they don’t, consider this a red flag. Once you have the number, research the builder with the Department of Labor and make sure their license number corresponds with what you were given. Believe it or not, some builders have been using another builders license number to pull permits, illegally of course.
  • Find out who owns the company. Go to the Judicial website and see if there are any active judgments against the owner and/or the company. Pending cases brought against the builder by clients or trade professions could be a red flag.
  • Ask for References. Don’t just get the good, but also ask to speak with someone who was not happy to see how the builder resolved the issue. It could give you a clue on how the builder professionally handles complaints.
  • Don’t just take the builder’s word for it. I can’t tell you how many times I have been lied to by a builder as an agent, and it just makes me more mad when I meet buyers who were lied to as well. If you have contracted with a builder, make sure all permits are pulled for the work being done. Once again, some builders are doing work without a permit, and when the city finds out, and the project shuts down, the buyer is the one left in limbo. Don’t be afraid to call the city and ask them if proper permits were pulled.
  • Find out who holds the escrow money. I don’t like the escrow money being held by the builder. If a builder cannot finance the permit on his own, then I question their financial standing. I have run into buyers who have had problems with builders and had to cancel the contract, only to find out the builder has spent the escrow money and doesn’t have the funds to pay the buyers back. It just turns into an awful mess. See if the money can be held by a title company.
  • Don’t go with a builder just because they have a great lot. The worst thing you can do is fall in love with a lot that is owned by a builder that you are not excited about. Trust me, it is the kiss of death! I know two buyers currently (not my clients) who went with a builder because of the lot and the homes are falling apart. They were warned about the builder, but they said they would take their chances because they were so blinded by the lot.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask everything you can think of, and don’t hold back even on the things that seem minor. 

These are just a few things to think about. “Google” the builder, too, and see what pops up. For instance, a  recent article in the Star Tribune highlights how some local builders have lost their license recently or been fined in the past few months.


I remember eight years ago when we bought our first home…just married, and transferring to a new city from San Diego, we had no idea what  life would be like living on the Gulf Coast. Being the savvy Internet gal I was at the time (and still am), I shopped for homes on-line, narrowing down the list of homes my husband had to see when he went house hunting. (Yes, that’s right, when HE went house hunting. Unfortunately, I could not get time off work, but he received 10 days.)

There was one home in particular that caught my eye – a For Sale by Owner (FSBO in real estate speak) home that had the prettiest back yard.  I called the owner right away and told her my husband would be in town in a week and set up an appointment to view the home. For days my husband viewed homes with a real estate agent, taking pictures of each, drawing up a pros/cons list, and then emailing me everything each evening so we could discuss our thoughts. He did a really good job!

The last home he saw was the FSBO. Right away he knew it was the one. See, I love to garden, and the back yard of this home was full of Gardenias, Azaleas, Oleanders, Camellias, a beautiful Magnolia tree, and my husband knew that it was “me”. It was apparent that the original owners of the home were gardeners, too, as the landscaping was fantastic. Long story short, we bought that home, and lived there for three years. I have to say that I cannot think of a better place to begin a family than that small home. It was perfect, and so you can imagine how hard it was to leave when it came time to transfer to another city.

For the last five years, every now and then, I have thought back to that home with fond memories. I have always wondered if the couple who bought the home from us took care of it the way we did – did they make sure to drink in the smell of the Gardenias as they sat on the patio late in the evening? Did they enjoy watching the different colors bloom throughout the yard? I hoped so.

Well, two weeks ago we flew back to the area to visit a dying relative and some of our old friends. Being busy as vacations are, it took us till the last day to finally drive by the old house to see what it looked like. As we drove up, I could tell right away it was no longer the house we had enjoyed. Every bush in the front yard had been pulled up and replaced with a Palm Tree. And the fragrant Viburnum that stood by the front door was gone too. Being as a road was directly behind the house, we were able to drive by and peer through the slats of the backyard fence. To my utter shock, we found that the owners had pulled up everything but the trees. ALL the beauty was now gone and it was hard to choke back the tears of sadness and disbelief.

It’s hard to return to your first home to see everything that made you fall in love with it destoyed. I am sure this does not happen to everyone, as usually most buyers improve a home and the property, but it seems to happen to me. ( The same thing happened to my childhood home, according to my brother, with the new owner pulling out everything but the trees, and I still to this day refuse to drive by it.)

What is it that makes your first home magical?

I believe it is the simple fact that after years of being taken care of by your parents, the first home purchase is all YOURS. You made it happen. Your money financed the home. It’s your piece of the American Dream. Sadly, our dreams are not always the same as someone else’s – that’s just life. But in the end, no matter what happens to the home we first bought, we will always have the fantastic memories we made in it. Those are the parts of life that really matter and the parts that no one can ever take away.