Why Winter Is a Great Time to Sell Your Home


Photo by Nathan Wolfe on Unsplash

Everybody knows spring is the best time to sell a house. Or is it? Here in the Upper-Midwest, it might be easy to believe buyers aren’t as interested in trudging through snow and ice so they can look at homes. According to the National Asociation of Realtors, for the past three winters, existing home sales during November and December increased by an average of 4.5%. Here are a few reasons why winter might be a great time to put your home on the market.

Winter Buyers Are Serious Buyers

Not that buyers in other seasons aren’t serious but if you weren’t a serious buyer would you brave the weather just because? People who buy homes during the winter do so for several reasons. First, people move year-round. Leases come up for renewal. Jobs change and sometimes that includes transfers. Second, buyers have been told if they purchase a home in what many consider to be the off-season, they’ll get a better price. Whatever the motivation is, buyers are out there and they’re purchasing at a steady pace.

The Internet Doesn’t Go on Holiday Break

Most buyers begin their home searches online. You know how it is – when the weather outside is frightful, the fire is so delightful. And the internet doesn’t care about the weather. That could mean even more people will view your home online (at least for the first time). The internet has been one of the biggest players in the way home buying has evolved over the last several years. Take advantage of the internet and make sure your online listing and photos show off your home’s selling points. Consult with an experienced real estate agent for help maximizing the opportunity to make your home appealing to buyers even if you have 10 inches of snow on the lawn.

You’re the Big Fish in a Little Frozen Pond

Homes are listed for sale year-round but existing home inventory normally falls an average of 15% from November to December. When you list a home during warmer months you join hundreds of other sellers. In the winter, instead of being the little fish in the very large pond, you enjoy big fish status. When fewer homes are on the market in your area, it’s possible to sell at a higher price, especially if you attract a buyer who wants to move in quickly.

Don’t let a few snowflakes and chilly weather discourage you from selling your home. Take advantage of lower inventory and less competition for buyers. Work with a local realtor who can help you get your home ready. Then sit back and enjoy the winter wonderland outside your window. If you enjoy the view, there’s a buyer out there who will too!


Published in: on December 6, 2018 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Tips for Staging Your Home for the Holidays


Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The holidays are a great time to sell your home! You may have less competition and buyers tend to be highly motivated (read our next post to find out why). Staging your home during the holiday season is a little different than other times of the year. Consider these tips when preparing your home for showings.

Curb Appeal

Keep the blow-up characters in storage. Santa and Frosty may be a distraction from the beauty of your walkway and lawn.  Dim the lights just a bit. Not the lights inside – the outside light displays. Now isn’t the time to compete in the neighborhood lighting contest. The entrance to your home should be simple. White lights for elegance create an elegant look. If you do decide on colored lights, use one color and choose one that plays up your home’s exterior colors. Bring nature into your outside decor with a miniature potted Christmas tree or a single pine wreath.

Turn on the Lights

Days are short and many potential buyers will use the evening hours for viewing homes. Turn all the lights on in every room. Lighting sets the mood and creates a warm, welcoming feeling. Candles, as long as they’re the flameless type add to the cozy mood. If you have an electric fireplace, fire it up for showings. For daytime showings, open curtains and blinds and let natural light in.

Use Seasonal  Décor

The two holidays most often associated with the holidays are Chanukah and Christmas. Because these holidays are closely connected with religious beliefs many people celebrate by using religious décor. Keeping religious decoration to a minimum this year helps your home appeal to a wider range of buyers. Use seasonal accents instead. Snowflakes. Evergreen. Reindeer. These are associated with the holiday season and add a tasteful splash of the season without going overboard.

The Christmas Tree

If you celebrate Christmas, use a tall and narrow tree. Place just a few wrapped gifts underneath. The reason? Floor space sells homes. A slender tree adds height without taking up precious square footage. Removing one of two pieces of furniture opens up space for the tree. Consider using white lights on the tree – they look elegant and really appeal to buyers.

Color Scheme Really Is a Thing

You may not realize that bright red clashes with light blue. It also doesn’t complement earth tones. Use silver and gold this year – they both go with any color scheme. If you love bright red and can pull it off with your current color palette, go for it but do take time to look at the effect with an open mind, or an open eye.

Remember less is always better when you have a home on the market during the holiday season. Enjoy decorating but keep it simple with a few pieces you love. Home buyers are interested in how their belongings might look in your home. Overcrowding with too many decorations makes it more difficult for someone to imagine living in a home. If you’re still not sure how to prepare your home for showing, invite your realtor to come by and give you some pointers. Join us next month for more winter selling ideas.


Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Minnesota Homestead Exemption Deadline is Just Around the Corner

Minnesota property owners have an important upcoming deadline!  

December 1, 2018, is the last day to own and occupy property to qualify for the homestead tax exemption for the current assessment year. Read on to learn how Minnesota’s Homestead Tax Exemption impacts property owners.


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Homestead Defined

If you watch reality TV you’re familiar with those hardy people in Alaska who’ve made a life conquering land most of us wouldn’t be brave enough to visit much less live on. Fascinating stories for those chilly Minnesota nights when all you want to is drink hot chocolate, bundle up in a blanket, and watch an entire season of Below Zero or Alaska The Last Frontier.

For Minnesotans, homestead has nothing to do with living off the grid.

Homestead is a classification of property that is occupied by an owner or relative of the owner and is used as a primary place of residence. The State of Minnesota maintains the homestead program for residents who own and occupy their home or have a qualifying resident who occupies the home called the Homestead Market Value Exclusion. If you’re a qualifying property owner you have benefits under this program.

First, you can enjoy a  reduction in the taxable market value of the property (for properties valued under $414,000 only). As a result, your taxes may be lowered.

Second, you may qualify for the State of Minnesota Property Tax Refund.

How Do I Qualify?

The state has a list of guidelines to help homeowners figure out if they qualify for the exemption and/or the refund.

  • You must own the property, or be a relative or in-law of the owner (son, daughter, parent, grandchild, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew).
  • You or your relative must occupy the property as the primary place of residence.
  • You must be a Minnesota resident. If the occupant is a relative of the owner, the owner does not have to be a Minnesota resident.
  • You must file a Certificate of Real Estate Value for homestead status to be granted.
  • You can receive homestead status for more than one property if a relative uses a second home owned by you as their primary residence.

How Do I Apply?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the state could intuitively know that you’re a resident who qualifies for tax exemptions and refunds? Unfortunately, even if the state suspects that you might be eligible to get money back, they won’t arrive at your door with a check like the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Team. Hint: Even those winners had to fill out paperwork.

Before you apply take a few minutes and gather some required documents. If you purchased your property within the last three months, you’ll need a copy of your ownership deed. You may need a copy of your Certificate of Real Estate Value. If you don’t occupy the property but have a relative who does, there’s a special form you’ll need to submit with your application. Your application is submitted to your County Assessor’s office.

The good news? You only need to apply one time for each qualifying property you own.

Can I Get a Refund?

Who doesn’t get excited about a refund from the state?

The State of Minnesota administers two property tax refund programs for homesteaded properties. You may be eligible for one or both of these refunds.

The regular property tax refund is based on household income and the dollar amount of property tax you pay on your principal residence.

The special property tax refund is for owners who had an increase in their net property tax. The increase has to be at least 12 percent and at least $100. This refund is not based on income.

It can be confusing to figure out if you qualify and which program you qualify for, so instead of getting frustrated, or wasting time gathering the wrong forms and other paperwork, contact your county. They deal with homestead questions all the time and are happy to explain the program and help you figure out how to apply.

We’d love to hear your comments or questions below. Stay tuned for our next post on staging your home for fall listings.

*The content of this posts was copied or adapted from the Minnesota Department of Revenue Property Tax Fact Sheet 10.


Published in: on November 13, 2018 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Get Your Backpack Ready…It’s Time for School

Back to Scho

Late August in Minnesota is a special time of year. The weather pretends like it’s getting ready for the arrival of Fall. Apple orchards are just about ready for picking. And perhaps one of the most exciting events takes place – the back-to-school frenzy. The excitement of a new school year isn’t just enjoyed by the kids. Adults get their backpacks ready too! The Fall semester ranks as the busiest time for college admissions staff. The second busiest enrollment period is the first semester of a new year after people are inspired by their New Year resolutions. Adults face some of the same challenges that younger students deal with but also have a few unique to adult students. Here are few tips to help you have a successful start to your new adventures in education.

Don’t Worry about Picking a Major

The first question most people are asked when they enroll in college level coursework is, “what is your major?” Maybe you’re one of the many adults who’ve been out of school for an extended period of time and you really aren’t sure what you want to do now that you’ve grown-up. Don’t feel pressured to pick a major immediately. Instead, take a few general education courses first to help you acclimate to the college environment. You’re required to take those courses anyway and it gives you time to explore your career options.

Talk to Your Employer

Many companies offer education benefits to employees, so make sure you’re aware of what benefits are available to you. Benefits could include tuition reimbursement, scholarships, and in some cases, internships if your coursework is industry related. Most employers like to promote from within and enjoy supporting team members who further their education. It’s always a good idea to talk with your manager and let them know you’re taking classes. You need all the support you can get.

Schedule Study Time

Adult students have the unique challenge of fitting school in with work and family. While it’s a challenge, it’s not impossible. You may need to get up earlier than usual or stay up a little later at night. Instead of going to lunch with co-workers you might spend your lunch hour working on assignments. It doesn’t matter when you study. What matters is that you keep those appointments – no cancellations. The time you sacrifice for school work will pay off at graduation.

Learn How to Enjoy Learning

Adults go back to school for a variety of reasons. For some it’s about learning new job skills. Others need the degree or certificate to get a promotion. Don’t get so wrapped up in getting the diploma that you forget to enjoy the process of learning. The pressure is off now that you’re not answering to parents for grades. You don’t have to worry about peer pressure either. It’s just you and your goals. Why not make a point to have fun learning? If you’re taking an art course, go on a family outing to an art museum. Go outside and look at the stars – then talk about what you’re studying in your astronomy class. Let your excitement rub off on your kids, or vice versa.

Remember, it’s never too late to go back to school. Whether your goal is to be able to get a promotion, purchase a home, or be an inspiration to someone else, you’ll never be sorry you furthered your education. Time to hit the books!

Published in: on August 28, 2018 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kolacky Days – Celebrate Summer in Minnesota

Photo Courtesy of Kolacky Days

If you don’t have anything planned for the upcoming weekend, be sure to include Kolacky Days in Montgomery, MN. Not far from the Twin Cities, Montgomery captures what visitors and long-time residents love about small towns in Minnesota. Kolacky Days takes place July 27-29,2018. Don’t miss out on this fun and tasty celebration of Czech history in Minnesota. Whether you’re a new resident or are getting ready to relocate to the Twin Cities, you may not realize what a rich cultural history is enjoyed by people who live in and visit our state. Summer welcomes all kinds of events and festivals, so whether you’re an avid fishing fanatic or a dedicated foodie, Minnesota has something interesting to do just about every weekend.

Kolacky What?

If you’ve never experienced kolacky, it’s never too late to wander down to Montgomery and visit Franke’s Bakery. The bakery has been in business for 99 years and is a popular spot to eat kolacky. Kolacky is a Czech specialty made of sweet dough wrapped around a sweet filling. Popular fillings are prune, poppy-seed, apricot, apple, and raspberry. Montgomery just happens to be known as the Kolacky Capital of the World. It doesn’t matter that the town created the moniker for itself, it’s the quaintest place to enjoy the world-famous kolacky.

Isn’t Montgomery in Alabama?

Montgomery, AL is a beautiful city to visit, but don’t put it in your GPS or you’ll be way too far south to eat kolacky. This is Montgomery, Minnesota, a small town of around 3000 located 55 miles southwest of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. If you love visiting and exploring small towns, Montgomery is one you won’t want to miss. The town has a deep Czech heritage but is also representative of rural and patriotic America. The downtown area includes historic buildings with flags lining part of the main thoroughfare. Developers are building new subdivisions but there are plenty of homes that have been in Montgomery for over 60 years. If your job requires you to live near the Twin Cities, Montgomery may be a quieter alternative to living in the middle of the hustle of a big city. If you just enjoy a ride through Minnesota farm country, it’s a wonderful place to visit for a day.

Kolacky Days
Photo Courtesy of Kolacky Days

Don’t Miss Kolacky Days!

The signature Minnesota event to celebrate Czech heritage is Kolacky Days. For 2018, the celebration takes place July 27-29. The weekend will be packed full of fun including a coronation of the Kolacky Queen, a prune spitting contest, tractor pulls, music and entertainment of all kinds, cultural displays, and of course, plenty of opportunity to sample kolacky. Now, it’s possible to find kolacky in certain bakeries in the Twin Cities, but you won’t find any as authentic or delicious as those in Montgomery. You might love the town and its pastries so much you’ll decide to relocate to Montgomery. If you do, you’ll have a warm welcome!
Whether you’re looking for a new home or contemplating a relocation to the Twin Cities and surrounding area, you will find a welcome committee that includes some of the top real estate services in the country. You’ll find answers to everything from finding a lender to things related to your real estate closing. Welcome to Minnesota!

Published in: on July 23, 2018 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do you really need a Title Company?

Congratulations! You’ve fallen in love with a home and are on the way to packing and scheduling movers. Over the next month or so, you’ll provide more information than you ever thought possible, and sign what feels like reams of documents. In between you’ll get various communications from people who play a variety of roles in this production called real estate. One of those communications will be from a person who works for the title company. If you’re not sure what a title company has to do with you buying a home, read more to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about title companies and real estate. Well, at least everything that can fit in a few short paragraphs – if you have more questions you can always call your real estate agent, or the person who sent you the email in the first place.

Why Am I Getting a Message from the Title Company?

Shortly after signing the real estate purchase contract, you’ll get an email or phone call from the title company regarding your preliminary closing date. The title company plays a critical role in getting you from purchase contract to receiving the keys to your new home. Their role is very much behind the scenes but without the work of title officers and examiners, there is no closing date. You may get more than one message from your title company. Always read those communications carefully. Ignoring an email from your title company could delay closing!

Why Do I Need a Title Company?

Imagine for a moment the beautiful home you’ve chosen. Can you see yourself relaxing on the pretty tiled patio? Or pulling into the roomy garage – the one with enough space for 2.5 cars? Over the years, previous owners also loved your home, putting their own personal touch in the yard and on the walls. Sometimes a previous owner leaves more than just their decorating style. Maybe they never paid a contractor or owe back taxes to the IRS. They could have left you a lien on the home, which is a big problem. A previous owner also might have left behind an heir who has a claim on the home. The title company employs specialists who comb public records looking for any information that might prevent, or at the least, delay you getting those front door keys. Of course, the title company also gathers the information about easements, leases, or other restrictions on the property. If you’re still not convinced, just ask your mortgage company. They won’t approve your loan without a clear title.

Someone Said I Have to Buy Title Insurance

Talk to your lender. Most mortgage companies require the buyer to purchase title insurance that covers the amount being borrowed. Maybe you’re a cash buyer. In that case, it’s optional unless your state has its own requirements. Check with your title company – see, one more reason you need them. If you’re feeling a little resistant to being told you need yet another insurance policy, don’t stop reading now. Just like homeowner’s insurance protects you, title insurance is also designed with your best interest in mind. Title insurance protects you from any possibility that any previous owner did not have free and clear ownership of your property. Now, it’s a remote possibility, but are you willing to risk losing everything you’ve put into this home you’re buying if in a few years, some forgotten owner pops up and tries to lay claim to your investment? Didn’t think so. Borrowers typically don’t have a choice, but if you’re paying cash, just get the policy and hope you never need to use it. Are you wondering what this has to do with everything you want to know about title companies? Title companies issue the title insurance policies. They really are essential players, aren’t they?

It’s Closing Day!

Bet you thought you’d never get to closing day, but here you are, sitting at a big table with your realtor waiting anxiously for the moment when someone hands you the keys. The title company is here too! Say, “hello” to your closer.  This person sits at the head of the closing table. You and your realtor sit on one side, and the seller and their realtor sit on the other. The closer explains each process and collects the required signatures on the large pile of documents. Your closer does more than supervise signatures. If you haven’t realized it yet, buying a home is a complicated process. You won’t see most of the process because so much of it is taken care of behind the scenes. The closer ensures that all funds, including closing costs and down payments, are taken care of properly.

One final job that your title company does for you is to get all those papers you’ve just spent the last hour signing legally recorded. This includes the deed to your new home. You’re free to go home now and pick out paint colors, and garden plants. Welcome home!


Published in: on May 24, 2018 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still waiting to close…..

Title work comes in for a file that is set to close in two weeks.  It shows that there is an old mortgage on the property that should have been satisfied previously.  Good, we have two weeks, not two days!  I hate it when these come up a few days before closing.  I begin work on trying to determine where it closed when that mortgage was paid off.  This is generally the best route to take because we can then get them to issue us a letter of indemnity which is just a letter accepting liability for that extra mortgage instead of leaving that liability with us.  After some searching for the title company I discover that a title company was not used.   The mortgage company that did the refinance sent a signing company instead so we now have no one who can indemnify us.  On to the next challenge- locating the mortgage company and trying to get a satisfaction of mortgage to file against the property.    Title shows the mortgage is held by MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.) which is basically just a holding company.  I am able to go online and find out who the last servicer of record is but of course they are no longer in business.  After a lot of calling and google searching I think we have tracked down the company who took over for this mortgage company.  I then find that they have ceased their North American operations and only have offices in South America.   I proceed to call and try to get someone to understand exactly what it is we need but it is difficult.  At this point I have spoke with someone who seems to know what we need and faxed everything over to her.  This whole process has exceeded the two weeks and the closing has not happened yet.  The South American mortgage company representative needs a few days to do some research so I will hopefully hear something soon.  Whether or not they will be able to help us at all is questionable and if so, how long it will take is a concern.

Please read my first blog on title score and you will now see why a property “checkup”  is so highly recommended.  If we are unable to get anything from this company, the next step is for the sellers to obtain a real estate attorney to do a quiet title action on the property- get a judge to remove the mortgage- and the cost and time of that will probably kill the whole deal.  Not a good thing for the agents who have put so much time into the transaction and especially not a good thing for the sellers and buyers!  Call your local title company and have them check out your title..

Crap Happens!

A while back Network Title completed a remodeling project in our Shoreview office that gave us new countertops and a receptionist desk, carpet, paint and wall coverings—it was beautiful! Shortly after the project was completed, we were to do a closing for some VIP’s that were new in town; we were very excited to meet them. They arrived with their daughters, 2 year old Nina, and 7 year old Cici in tow. At one point during the closing, Nina indicated that she needed to use the restroom. So Mom took off her diaper and sent her to restroom under the guidance of Big Sister, Cici. We continued signing until there was a knock at the door. It was Carla, one of our closers, coming to inform Mom that Nina was apparently not feeling well, and nodded toward the lobby. The look on Carla’s face had us all gravely concerned, so all we trailed out of the closing—to find Nina in the middle of the lobby, perched proudly next to the biggest pile of foamy, green, stinking… well, you get the idea: Nina had never made it to the rest room! The closing exploded into instant chaos as Mom, embarrassed by her daughter’s accident, began scrubbing furiously at the putrid stain (in her turquoise silk suit), and Dad tried to clean up Nina, while Cici paced around lecturing Nina. The rest of us tried to pitch in and clean up the stain, all the while assuring our customers that everything would be fine. We then hurriedly finished up the closing and they left. To our amazement, they came back to refinance with us two years later, daughters again in tow. This time however, Nina was not allowed to leave the stroller, and we all had a good laugh. Despite repeated cleanings, the stain never did come completely out of that brand new carpet, but it was a fun reminder that closings do sometimes stink J

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Have you received your title score?

Millions of documents have been filed against property titles over the last decade.  The sheer volume of documents leaves a trail of misfiled documents, filed documents with errors and fraudulent documents.  Add to that the tens of thousands of defunct title agents who didn’t file documents and the likelihood of title defects on your property is high.  We are all urged to check our life insurance policies and vehicle titles as well as our credit reports and credit scores, but do we ever check the title to our property?  We generally don’t do this until we are going to refinance or sell our property.    In most cases, these title defects can be straightened out, but with so many banks and title companies no longer in business, tracking down satisfactions or other releases has become difficult and can delay the closing.

Here are some of  the title issues that can cause problems and hinder a potential sale or refinance:

Unreleased mortgages – even though you have paid your mortgage off in full, a lien release must be filed at the county to remove the lien from your property title.  These releases are sometimes sent directly to the county, sometimes to the title company that paid it off and sometimes directly to the homeowner who has no idea how to get it recorded or even that they need to do it.  Attempting to get the release years later is difficult at best and impossible at times.

Liens can be placed on your property by a variety of sources such as contractors, ex-spouses, business partners, attorneys, creditors and government entities such as the Department of Revenue, IRS or County Human Services for child support

Incorrect liens can be filed against your property due to an error in a legal description. Your neighbor’s $300,000.00 mortgage can be filed on your property by the simple mistyping of Lot 1 instead of Lot 2.  We have dealt with this situation far more often than you would think.

Family changes such as death or divorce need to be dealt with also.  Certified copies of probate documents and divorce decrees need to examined and filed and waiting to do this at closing time can cause delays and may even require amended documents due to incorrect legals or other clerical errors.

These are just some of the common defects that can be discovered by a simple property search.  An ownership report can save you invaluable time and stress when done now rather than when you are anxious to make it to the closing table.  You get your credit score, why not your title score?  Your investment is huge, why jeopardize it?

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 11:22 am  Comments (1)  
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Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 4:34 pm  Comments (1)