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Jeff Scislow

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Celebrating Memorial Day in 2015

by Jeff Scislow

memorial day“The dead soldier's silence sings our national anthem.

                               Aaron Kilbourn

Memorial Day was started to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War and was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored their dead. After World War I it was extended to commemorate all men and women who died in any war or military action.  Over the years the day has become a welcome opportunity to enjoy a three-day patriotic weekend which ushers in summer.

Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday is observed on the last Monday in May and features speeches, special ceremonies, parades, concerts, festivals, patriotic performances, and more.  Wreaths and flags are often placed at soldiers’ graves.

Regardless of how or where you do your celebrating, you can include red, white, and blue decorations in the form of streamers, balloons, stars, or paper goods.  You can also proudly display American flag (hung at half-mast until noon) or fasten a patriotic wreath to your door.  Picnics/barbeques featuring traditional food  (hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, potato salad, baked beans, and watermelon) abound on this day, as do field-day types of games and sporting activities.

Help your children have holiday fun while learning about our nation’s history and military sacrifice and perhaps gaining a sense of patriotism by involving them in many themed crafts and activities.   The Holiday Zone.com provides a wide variety of free printable puzzles, coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and the like to keep young ones entertained..  For Memorial Day crafts, poems, word searches, and poems for the kids, click here..

May is also National Military Appreciation Month.  For ways to share your respect and gratitude and to help current military personnel and veterans, visit the USO website.  You might consider making a donation in memory of a loved one or thankfully shaking the hand of a person in uniform.   Perhaps you will even utter a silent “thanks” to those who have died and those who are currently in harm’s way sometime during the day

Check your local paper or online for holiday activities scheduled for our area.  There is a 5K run at Como Lake in St. Paul, and the Landing in Shakopee will feature Civil War entertainment all weekend.   Click here for additional happenings.

Interested in a Condo? Additional Questions to Ask

by Jeff Scislow

In a recent blog dealing with questions potential home buyers should ask, I included such topics as the condition of the structure, appliances, heating and plumbing systems; neighborhood amenities such as street lighting, sidewalks, and parking; and neighborhood issues and a sense of community.

condoIn addition to these suggestions, I also included a caveat concerning the need for additional questions and gathering of knowledge before purchasing a condo—and promised you I would send that information on to you.  Read on…

  • What documents are available for me to examine?  Insist on seeing the bylaws, restrictions and covenants, master deed, prior and pending special assessments, minutes of recent meetings, financial records, and master insurance policy.  These documents should be of great concern to you, and which thorough investigation can prevent buyer’s remorse later on. Check carefully to see if you can:

                       ^ have pets

                  ^ select paint colors

                  ^ rent your unit to someone else

                  ^ are responsible for house exterior and yard maintenance

                  ^ have a business in your home

  • The HOA: Who manages it?  What are the fees—and what do they cover?  Some condo communities hire professionals to manage the properties.  Some condos manage themselves, i.e., there are no property managers, and the residents meet to make decisions together. The good side to this is that it often means monthly fees are much lower than professionally managed communities. Although self-management works in some cases, think carefully before moving into a self-managed community.
  • What is the delinquency rate for payment of fees? What percentage of units are rentals? Most banks will not approve mortgages for buildings with high delinquency rates (usually above 15 percent), which means that even with solid finances you could be denied.  Also, if the proportion of rental units gets too high, you may not be obtain FHA financing.
  • What is the quality/effectiveness of the sound proofing? Remember, you’ll be sharing walls with your neighbors.
  • What amenities are included?  Is there a pool?  A community center?  A fitness center? Storage facilities?
  • Is the HOA facing any pending legal action?

A rather exhaustive list, I know, but one that requires due diligence on your part.  Also, on a good note, we may already know the answer to many of your questions.  Just ask us!

Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Trends - March 2015

by Jeff Scislow

In March, Minneapolis, MN foreclosure filings were 66% higher than the previous month and 11% lower than the same time last year, according to RealtyTrac.com.

Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Status Distribution

The current distribution of foreclosures based on the number of active foreclosure homes in Minneapolis, MN.

Auctions accounted for 61.7% of foreclosure activity in March 2015 and Bank-owned properties accounted for 38.3%.

minneapolis mn foreclosure


Minneapolis MN
Foreclosure Activity by Month

The number of Bank-Owned properties increased 18.0% compared to the previous month and dropped 16.8% from the previous year in March. The number of Auctions increased 123.1% compared to the previous month and decreased 7.6% from the previous year.

minneapolis mn foreclosure


Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Geographical Comparison

Minneapolis MN foreclosure activity was 0.01% below national statistics, 0.02% higher than Minnesota numbers and the same as than Hennepin County statistics in March 2015.

minneapolis mn foreclosure


Curious about the value of your home? Find out NOW!
Information courtesy of Minneapolis Realtor Jeff Scislow.

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Condo

by Jeff Scislow

As many baby boomers reach retirement age and a large number of millennials set out to be first time home owners, their thoughts logically turn to condominiums rather than detached dwellings, and with good reason.  Older adults look forward to spending less time on maintenance, and the younger prospective buyers are interested in affordability.

condoJust as with any residential purchase, it is important that you exercise due diligence and investigate thoroughly several aspects of condo living such as type of ownership; HOA rules, fees, and restrictions; insurance; and financial stability in order to avoid unpleasant surprises and/or buyer’s remorse down the road.  Before you buy, ask the following questions:

What are the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs)?

  • Be sure that these legally binding bylaws do not conflict with your lifestyle and individual preferences.  Make sure you can afford the monthly HOA dues and know what services are covered by these monies. 
  • Understand that some CC&Rs prohibit pets, making any changes to the appearance of your unit—or renting it out.  Others have strict age restrictions, even for overnight guests, parking prohibitions (and penalties), and other restrictions that may seem unfair or unacceptable to you.  If that is the case, look elsewhere; CC&Rs are non-negotiable!

Are there any obstacles to getting a loan for a condo?

Be aware that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA financing approval is regulated by certain factors:
the condo must be listed on the FHA approved condominium list:

  • at least 80% of all FHA loans in the complex must be owner occupied
  • the project must be completed for at least a year before FHA will issue a loan on any unit
  • as a general rule, at least 85% of homeowner association dues must not be delinquent.

What is the financial status of the organization?

To pay for future major repairs, the association should be putting money into a reserve fund on a regular basis.  Be aware of the amount of that fund.  You should also:

  • inquire about recent or anticipated special assessments
  • investigate any current lawsuits involving the HOA
  • become familiar with insurance amounts and coverage held by the association
  • ask to see the last two years’ budgets, current reserve account funding level, and any capital reserve study

Feel free to call us for some expert condo counseling.  We want your home-buying experience to be a smooth one!

Only You Can Prevent House Fires!

by Jeff Scislow

For the last seventy years Smokey Bear has warned of the dangers of fires and has promoted safety tips to prevent them.  Originally targeting forest fires, he recently expanded his focus to include wildfires, but his message could easily grow even more universal and encompass the prevention of house fires.  On average more than 300,000 house fires occur each year in the U.S. — and most of them are preventable.

house fireMost Americans are familiar with basic home fire safety practices such as correctly preparing and using a fireplace in colder months, carefully extinguishing all smoking materials, exercising caution and diligence while cooking, equipping the house with an adequate number of working smoke detectors, and never leaving burning candles unattended, but there are many other lesser known, or at least less obvious, fire dangers inside one’s residence.

A few worthwhile tips for you to remember include the following:

  • Be a dust detective:  If dust collects near electrical sockets and floor heaters, just one spark can cause a fire. Sweep or vacuum floors regularly to prevent buildup. Pay close attention to hard-to-reach areas, such as behind doors or around entertainment systems. Also remember to remove lint from the dryer after each use.
  • Watch those wires:
    • Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old, or damaged appliance cords immediately and do not run cords under rugs or furniture.
    • Buy electrical products evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
    • If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
    • Use electrical extension cords wisely; never overload extension cords or wall sockets.
  • Be mindful of batteries:  Nine-volt batteries are designed with both posts on the top. Bits of metal, including other batteries and loose change, can create a bridge between the posts that causes a heat-creating charge,  Keep unused batteries in their original packaging and cover the posts of expired batteries with black electrical tape before properly disposing of them.
  • Supervise space heaters:
    •  Set heaters where they are not in the traffic flow of the room or closer than 3 feet to flammable materials
    • Extension cords are not recommended with space heaters.
    •  Use only on solid, firm surfaces.  Replace old space heaters with ones that will automatically turn off if tipped over.

Signs of the Times

by Jeff Scislow

Around this time of year, most of us anxiously look for signs of spring—yellow daffodils, budding trees, and warmer temperatures—and we are delighted with the optimistic feeling each one brings to us.

daffodilsSo, too, do we keep our eyes and ears open for signs which indicate that this spring season will be a good time to buy or sell a home—and, like the flowers, they are out there.  Read on for positive indicators.

Existing home sales shook off winter-related declines in February, and, as reported by the National Association of Realtors, sales increased 1.2% in February (up 4.7% from a year earlier).  In addition, the share of sales for first-time buyers registered its first gain since last November. Supplies of existing homes for sale are also diminished, with the current inventory representing only a 4.6-month supply.

* According to Freddie Mac’s March 2015 Economic & Housing Market Outlook, 40% of all home sales for this year will happen over the next four months.  The majority of homes sold in 2015 will be sold between now and June as the housing market begins the start of the spring home buying season. The agency expects that this year will be the best year for home sales since 2007.

* It appears that the word is finally getting out to consumers that home loan rates are close to 40-year lows. Money for home purchases right now is cheap, and housing prices are lower this year than they were last -- sometimes by 10 and 15 percent or more, depending on local market conditions.                                                                                                                                                        

* Mortgage credit availability increased in March according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI), increasing 2.3 percent in March. .A number of factors contributed to a loosening of credit last month, one being: Freddie Mac's introduction of their 97 LTV program (Fannie Mae's was implemented in December),

* Home buyers are more confident now then they have been in the past several years, according to TD Bank's third annual Mortgage Service Index. The survey of over 1,450 consumers showed 30 percent of Americans consider now to be a very good time to buy a home. That’s 10 percent higher than measured in 2014.

Just as nature’s signs of spring hold promise and optimism, so will the increasing number of real estate For Sale and Sold signs—by the Scislow Group, of course—you will soon be seeing in your neighborhood!

Tips for Winning a Bidding War

by Jeff Scislow

With a low real estate inventory in many communities, properties in some markets are receiving multiple offers and sparking bidding wars among eager buyers.  Good news for the sellers, but not so much for the hopeful purchasers.  There are, however, strategies that can work to your advantage if you find yourself drawn into such a situation.  Most will require a bit of extra effort on your part, but may well result in securing your desired property.

  • bidding warObtain loan pre-approval from your lenderHaving financing ready to go can help reassure sellers and make your offer more appealing.  Understand, however, that your lender may not want to finance significantly more than the appraised value of the property.   If you offer more than the home's appraised value, you may need to make up the difference in cash.
  • Keep in mind that your Realtor –hopefully us--will play an important role in negotiations, so choose carefully!  He/she will be responsible for orchestrating the competition, getting the best possible deal for you, and acting as your advocate throughout the multiple-offer process.
  • Make a larger earnest money deposit to show the seller that you are a serious buyer.  Pre-ordering an appraisal and setting up an inspection directly after closing will also indicate your legitimacy as a purchaser.
  • Discuss with your Realtor the possibility of adding an escalation clause to your offer.  An escalation clause stipulates that you will increase a bid by a set increment — say, $5,000 — if the seller receives a legitimate higher offer. The clause sets a cap on how much more you will pay. Do not set the cap higher than you can comfortably afford if you are relying on a mortgage lender.
  • Make a competitive first offer; do not risk insulting the owner with a lowball figure.  In addition to submitting a thoughtful offer, making sure your paperwork is complete and organized can help make a good impression on sellers and their agents.
  • Sell yourself.  Sometimes it’s about more than just the numbers. Many agents urge their clients to write a personal note to the seller. Be specific in conveying what you love about the home and your plans for it.

Above all, keep a clear head and don’t let emotions carry you away.  Know in advance your top offer and stick with that number!  You’ll be much happier in the long run.

For Home Sellers: Playing “The Price is Right” Game

by Jeff Scislow

The spring real estate season is upon us, and if you are selling your home, your first consideration is price. A sound and realistic strategy in setting your price can assure you of two things: you’ll be more likely to get your asking price, or close to it, and you’ll get it sooner.

price is rightWe all know that here are dozens of Internet sites, such as Zillow and Cyberhomes, which estimate how much your home is worth. They are called “automated valuation model” (AVM) sites and they use statistical modeling techniques that calculate the property value by comparing it with similar-sized homes that have recently sold in your area. These tools crunch their data with publicly available numbers from several listing services and combine them with regional trends to set a sale price for your property. Problem solved, right?

Actually, no.  Most AVMs admit that their evaluations may be off by around 5 percent, or even sometimes up to 20 percent, according to a study by Standard & Poor’s. This means that anyone strictly guided by these calculations can be much above or under market and consequently be losing either money or possible buyers.

And this is where a Realtor comes into play.  Real estate agents are trained to do a comparative market analysis, or a “CMA,” as we call it, for every property they list for sale. This includes going to the property and literally inspecting the home, the neighborhood, everything that will help pin down the ideal listing price range. This will also give the Realtor the knowledge/ability to convince potential buyers that the selling price is the right price.

Rather than simply crunching the numbers from a distance, Realtors make judgments based on their understanding of the local market and the dozens of peculiarities that affect price, such as lot size; lot orientation; tax-assessed value; and features of the lot, including its terrain, access and privacy, improvements and additions, condition, quality, and age. 

As you contemplate selling your home, you may certainly want to visit a few online AVM sites, do your own “market research” by attending local open houses, and investigate the market conditions in your area in order to become more informed about realistic home costs. However, never underestimate the value of working with a Realtor if you want to be a winner in “The Price is Right” game!

DIY Projects—Cost-effective or Costly?

by Jeff Scislow

Whether you have watched a home improvement on television or admired a friend’s handiwork, chances are you have considered one or two Do It Yourself (DIY) projects recently. If so, you are certainly not alone, as there are three key reasons why the current trend of DIY projects is so popular:  money, enjoyment, and a sense of accomplishment.

Before starting a DIY project, however, you should accept the fact that your project will probably take three times as long as you intend it to and cost twice as much.  This is not an underestimation of your skills; unfortunately, this is almost always a fact.

toolsThe reason for such a cautionary outlook is that DIYers often make mistakes, and in some cases quite a few costly ones on their projects, thus negating, to some degree, the amount of money saved, the fun, and your pride.  To help avoid those unpleasant results, you should be aware of common mistakes made by DIYers.  Read on...

  • Building codes: 
    • Not checking need for permits and inspections required for your project in your jurisdiction.   Start off by inquiring with your local building authority and discussing your project in detail.  Since codes change frequently in some areas, rechecking for compliance is a good idea.
    • Common violations include not testing for lead/asbestos, improper venting of fans, improper sized circuits (and many other electrical projects), wrong fence heights
  • Preparation:  
    • Failure to thoroughly research your project and gather materials in advance.  Know what skills and materials you will need before you go to the big box store.
    • Inadequate supply of necessary tools.  If you want to save money, borrow or rent any you know you will rarely use.
    • Skimping on materials.  Cheaper materials may be easier on your bank balance, but they are not the best option in the long run.
    • Inaccuracy is the biggest pitfall a DIY can encounter, and it’s very easily avoided.  Measure twice; cut once is a motto you should live by when taking on any project!
  • Safety: 
    • Not reading/following all instructions for power tool use-- a foolhardy decision which often leads to unwanted trips to the ER.
    • Failure to wear appropriate clothing and protective accessories.
    • Using power tools without first inspecting their condition.
    • Disregarding the need for a first aid kit always at the ready

 

With these handy and important tips in mind, you can begin planning for your successful DIY project with peace of mind.  Enjoy!

Make March the Month for Green!

by Jeff Scislow

st patgricks daySt. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday celebrated around the globe to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is a time for shamrocks, leprechauns, parades, corned beef and cabbage, and green beer.  ‘Tis an occasion for the wearing of the green, sporting of Irish symbols, singing loudly at the neighborhood pub, and searching for a four leaf clover. In addition, it can also act as a reminder of the benefits of going green in your home. 

Despite Kermit the Frog’s laments about the difficulty of being green, it is not at all hard to go green.  In fact, there are innumerable small steps you can take before, on, or after March 17th, to benefit the earth-- and your budget.  An eco-friendly lifestyle doesn't need to be difficult or expensive, and you can begin with these tips to create a home that'll make you — and the earth — proud.

Energy savers:

• Turn off video games (both the TV and the console) after playing, and you'll win back about $100 per year.

• Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Leaving the tap running during the recommended two minutes of brushing can waste up to five gallons of water a day.

• Switch to Energy Star--rated CFL bulbs; they use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than standard bulbs.

• Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use. Even when your phone isn't being charged, your charger is using electricity.

Office options:

Printer cartridges:  Every year hundreds of millions of cartridges are used in this country--and 70 percent  of those end up in landfills. However, cartridges are actually easily refilled/recycled, and you can also get paid to turn in used ones.

Recycle unneeded computer manuals and “how-to” guides by donating them to local workforce development groups and charity organizations.  This also applies to old laptops, printers, and other office equipment

Air Fresheners:

Improve the air quality of your home by adding specific-and easy-to-care-for house plants such as aloe, spider plants, or philodendron. Touted by NASA and horticulturists, these plants filter out common and harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

To celebrate your efforts to green both your home and our planet, observe St. Patrick’s Day with extra gusto this year and treat yourself to a second helping of corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew!

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 97

Contact Information

Photo of The Scislow Group Real Estate
The Scislow Group
RE/MAX Results
15451 Founders Lane
Apple Valley MN 55124
Office: (952) 953-5000
Mobile: (612) 747-9900
Fax: Fax : (952) 431-0420