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Jeff Scislow


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Happy Holiday News: 3% Down Payments Are Back

by Jeff Scislow

In an effort to open up lending to more low-income and first time home buyers—and, we suspect, to spread seasonal goodwill-- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced last Monday that they will start backing mortgages with down payments of as little as 3% of the home's price.  Both programs are for 3 percentfixed-rate loans given to first time homebuyers and those seeking to refinance. Fannie began backing the loans on December 13, while Freddie will start offering them March 23, 2015.

Who can apply?  Fannie Mae will allow new purchasers and borrowers who haven’t owned a primary residence within the last three years to qualify. Freddie Mac’s program will be limited to people who have never owned a home or those with moderate incomes or who are buying in under-served areas.  Borrowers who currently have loans backed by the two companies will be allowed to refinance with as little as 3 percent down. Fannie Mae borrowers will be allowed to take cash out for closing costs; Freddie Mac borrowers will not.  Both programs allow only fixed-rate loans on single-family homes used as a primary residence and require private mortgage insurance.

To reassure critics who fear a repetition of the infamous” bubble” and resulting real estate market collapse, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt stated that the underwriting guidelines of both agencies  provide a responsible approach to improving access to credit while ensuring safe and sound lending practices.

Borrowers must meet strict eligibility requirements, including automated underwriting, income documentation, and risk management standards to support their creditworthiness.  In addition, the new offerings will also include mandatory homeownership counseling and instruction, which improves borrower performance. “The FHFA will monitor the ongoing performance of these loans,” promised Director Watt.

Such good tidings offer hope for expanded home ownership in 2015.

Maintaining the Value of Your Home

by Jeff Scislow

As a homeowner, you should work to protect the biggest investment you have most likely made. Basic repairs done on a regular basis can protect your home from losing value. Updating the house and looking out for problem properties in your neighborhood can also help make a difference in your home’s value as well. 

calculatorMany factors, such as location, square footage, school district, and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, affect the worth of your house. Although several of those parameters aren't easily changed, some are certainly under your control.

As an astute homeowner, your job is to consider both what you can do to improve your home's value, as well as what you may be doing (inadvertently, of course) to decrease it.  Completing renovations and repairs might pay off to varying extents.  Outdated appliances and old cabinets and countertops can eat away at worth. Older, inefficient water fixtures and appliances also hurt. Energy-saving refrigerators and dishwashers can update your home. Be careful about assumptions on how much value renovations will bring, however.  Upgrades can maintain your home’s value, but they may not boost it.

Home maintenance isn’t fun, but you must do it if you want retain your home’s value.  Click here for many useful tips on doing just that from basement to attic, driveway to HVAC systems, and interior to exterior.  Also, online websites can help you adhere to an efficient schedule.

One of the main things to remember while trying to boost your house's value is that people have different tastes, and those may vary greatly both geographically and demographically. A house with the flexibility to appeal to a wide audience will be more in demand than one highly customized to any one particular lifestyle. The more people who find a house attractive when it hits the market, the better off you'll be.  With that in mind, avoid quite expensive or extremely cheap fixtures and appliances and choose paint colors carefully.  Just as faded and peeling paint can be a turn-off for others, so can colors that are too unusual or bright.

Not sure about current trends or upgrade rate of return in your community?  Ask us for guidance on what you can do to boost your home’s value. You don’t need to list your property to call in a sales agent for a consultation on how to improve worth.

December: A Month Of Celebrations

by Jeff Scislow

Yes, it really is December, a month for shopping, planning, partying, and attending religious, social, and cultural events.  It begins too soon after Thanksgiving and ends with a bang as it ushers in a new year.  It is a season unto itself, one filled with excitement, symbols, customs, reflection, and a general sense of good will.

Four major celebrations occur during December, both secular and religious (or a combination of the two), and include the following:

menoraDecember 16--24.  Hanukkah.  This  Festival of Lights is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE. The festival is observed by the lighting of the candles on a nine-branched menorah, and it is customary to give children one gift each night.  Although a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish calendar; its closeness to Christmas has brought greater attention to it in the U.S.

santaDecember 25.  Christmas  is a Christian holy day which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is typically celebrated on December 25th.  Although originally a purely religious event, Christmas has also become a very popular social holiday with an emphasis on decorated trees, Santa Claus, exchange of presents, and caroling, Varied Christmas traditions abound throughout the Western world.  Click here for a wide range of Christmas customs.

kwanzaaDecember 26--January 1.  Kwanzaa.  Neither political nor religious, Kwanzaa was created in the 1960’s to foster pride and unity among African-Americans.  A week -long celebration honoring universal African-American heritage, family life, and culture, it features candle lighting, feasting, and gift giving. 

happy new yearDecember 31.  New Year’s Eve is a social holiday observed annually on December 31st.  In modern societies New Year's Eve is often celebrated at festive gatherings which generally extend through midnight of January 1st.  The dropping of the ball in Times Square in New York City and the singing of Auld Lang Syne are symbolic of this holiday in the U.S.

Interested in adding one more red-letter day to the month?  How about the buying or selling of a home?  Because the real estate market generally slows down in December, our Realtors have extra time to devote to helping you and will gladly work around your busy schedules.  Give yourself a gift and allow us to assist you in finding yet another reason to celebrate!              

Selling Your Home During The Holidays

by Jeff Scislow

Traditionally, potential sellers of real estate have avoided doing so during the winter months, especially in November and December.  Because the last month of the year is a time of many religious, social, and cultural celebrations, most people feel they are too busy to deal with real estate matters gift houseand/or are convinced that the market is pretty much dormant until at least early spring.  Not so, say numerous Realtors!  Not only do many folks have vacation time in December and are thus free to house shop, but the slower months are often the ones where buyers are really serious.

Some of the reasons behind the belief that December is a good time to sell your home include:

  • Less competition.  It is probable that fewer homes will be available to potential buyers in the winter.  Many would-be sellers don’t want to disrupt their holidays or deal with inclement weather, so buyers have fewer homes from which to choose.
  • More serious buyers:  It is safe to assume that those who house-hunt in winter truly want to find a home.
  • Business moves.  January is traditionally the biggest time for job transfers, a month where employees have to move and can’t wait until spring.  They have to buy now—and you’re there to capture that market.
  • Taxes: Many potential buyers want to settle before the end of the year for tax reasons.
  • Time:  Buyers have more time to look over the holidays and can come during the weekdays.
  • Flexibility:  You can show your home at times convenient for you and not disrupt any holiday activities.
  • Efficiency: While the malls and retail stores may be packed, lenders and title companies aren’t as busy and can process loans faster. Because winter months are historically slower in the mortgage business, paperwork can be completed more quickly.

Other advantages of winter selling deal with staging your home for buyer appeal.

  • A home tastefully adorned with holiday decorations contributes ambiance and positive emotion.
  • The aroma of baked goods and the crackle of a fire definitely work in your favor and contribute to creating a cozy and comfortable atmosphere.

If you are considering the possibility of a winter sale for your property, contact us to determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances!  We’ll certainly do all we can to make your holidays happy and bright!

Thanksgiving Thoughts

by Jeff Scislow

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”  Thornton Wilder

turkeyOn October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November would be officially declared Thanksgiving Day.  Since then most Americans have celebrated the day with friends and family giving thanks at a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes.

Interested in adding some variation to your feast?  Try stuffed onions, grilled oysters, or a vegetarian bake.  For recipes for these dishes, click here.  

ENJOY YOURSELF!  Take advantage of local activities and festivities by ice skating at The Depot, attending the tree lighting at Rice Park, viewing thousands of multicolored lights at Phalen Park, and enjoying the Holidazzle Village Nov 28 through Dec 24.

For a greener Thanksgiving, show your gratitude for the many ways the natural environment sustains and enriches our lives by implementing these “green” suggestions found at

cornucopiaGiving back…Thanksgiving is a perfect time to share our blessings with those less fortunate than we are and to spread the spirit of friendship and community.  Opportunities for helping others during this season are many and can involve one individual or the entire family.  Some ways to foster goodwill and embrace the idea of sharing include:

  • Contributing non-perishable foodstuffs to a local food bank.
  • Sorting supplies, setting up /cleaning up, or serving meals on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Clicking here for holiday volunteer opportunities in the Twin Cities area.
  • Remembering someone who lives alone with a dinner invitation or a warm plate of Thanksgiving food.

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”

William Jennings Bryant

Also, do remember to demonstrate your gratitude for our military personnel by contacting VFW Operation Uplink, a program sponsoring free phone calls for those men and women who are away from home while serving our country.  You can also donate money or time to your local USO.

soldierAnd… if you are fortunate enough to own a home, take a minute to give thanks for the advantages associated with that possession, benefits such as the buildup of equity, interest deductions, a sense of permanence in your community, and a solid foundation for your family.


Giving the Gift of Real Estate

by Jeff Scislow

As the gift-giving season approaches, some parents are considering a sizable and meaningful present for their children and/or grandchildren---real estate   This is the sign of a solid trend, since a growing number of parents are currently helping their children purchase homes, whether they’re buying these homes for their sons and daughters outright, helping them pay for closing costs, or coming up with the money for their down payments.

gift of real estateWhile such a gift is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the season, those who are giving or those relying on monetary donations from their parents or family members to buy houses should follow some fairly simple underwriting and IRS rules.

  • First, parents need to know that they can gift a total of $14,000 a person without being taxed on that money. In other words, a father can provide $14,000 to his son and another $14,000 to his daughter-in-law that the couple can use for a down payment. At the same time, the mother can provide the same amounts to her son and daughter-in-law without having to pay taxes. Click here for detailed information about annual gift tax exclusions.
  • Buyers applying for a conventional mortgage loan must use their own funds for at least 5 percent of their down payment. They can then use gifted funds for the rest
  • When buyers are providing a down payment of at least 20 percent of their home’s purchase price, they can rely on gift funds for the entire down payment. For FHA-backed mortgage loans, borrowers can pay for the entire down payment with gifted funds.
  • Mortgage lenders will need to see documentation showing the origin of gifted funds.
  • A gift of real property is accomplished through a deed. Depending upon your state rules, a warranty or grant deed is normally used, but in some cases a quitclaim deed may be appropriate. You will identify the property being transferred and sign, notarize, and register the deed as clear evidence that the property has been given to your children.

As with all major financial decisions, you would be wise to consult your accountant and/or tax attorney before gifting monetary assistance for the purchase of real estate or the property itself.

Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Trends for Sept 2014

by Jeff Scislow

In September, the number of properties that received a foreclosure filing in Minneapolis, MN was 8% lower than the previous month and 36% lower than the same time last year, according to

Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Status Distribution

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

Auctions accounted for 50.7% of foreclosure activity in September 2014 and Bank-owned properties accounted for 49.3%.

minneapolis mn foreclosure

Minneapolis MN
Foreclosure Activity by Month

The number of Bank-Owned properties decreased 4.4% compared to the previous month and dropped 25.6% from the previous year in September. The number of Auctions decreased 10.9% compared to the previous month and 44.0% from the previous year.

minneapolis mn foreclosure

Minneapolis MN Foreclosure Geographical Comparison

Minneapolis MN foreclosure activity was 0.01% below national statistics, 0.03% higher than Minnesota numbers and 0.01% higher than Hennepin County statistics in September 2014.

minneapolis mn foreclosure

Curious about the value of your home? Find out NOW!

Helpful Hints for Selling Haunted Real Estate

by Jeff Scislow

No, this isn’t just another timely spooky story, although it just may have to do with ghosts!  Be you a believer or a scoffer, the fact is that there are pieces of real estate on the market which are purported to be haunted and are thus more difficult to sell.  Known in the industry as “stigmatized” properties, these houses have the reputation of being haunted or are the site of a previous violent crime--and the perception of ghosts and gore is not easy to erase from the minds of too many would-be purchasers

So what to do?  First, make yourself (and your Realtor) familiar with state laws regarding disclosure.  Contact the Minnesota Real Estate Commission to see if you’re required to disclose information about the stigma attached to your property because you could be spooked by a lawsuit if you don’t.  Regardless of what the state dictates, being upfront about your home’s paranormal guests or ghoulish histories is always the best moral policy, says Gena Riede, a California-based realtor who recently represented a buyer in the purchase of a haunted house.  

Then what?  Pay attention to the appearance of your property—inside and out.  To minimize any thoughts of ghosts, your home needs to look spirit-free and inviting on the outside. Avoid a dark, forbidding atmosphere by clearing away dead  trees and hanging branches; replacing  rusty iron gates with a white fence, and getting rid of unwanted residents like stray cats and spiders. On the inside, think warm, bright, and clutter-free. Doing away with darkness and gloom that could promote the idea of spirits may require removing outdated, musty furniture, antique rugs, old pictures of ancestors, and any other items that contribute to an “eerie atmosphere” so that you can alleviate any pre-conceived notions in potential buyers.

If you simply cannot dispel persistent beliefs about the “dark side” of the home you are selling, you may have to resort to bringing in a Ghostbuster.  David Frankin Farkas, owner of, makes a full-time living ridding properties of specters and/or negative energy.   Click here to find groups who will investigate paranormal activity in your home.

And finally, pricing your home to sell is another strategy you must consider.  By lowering your price 20-25%, you may make your property more attractive to potential buyers, especially investors.

Halloween Happenings For Your Home

by Jeff Scislow

happy halloweenIt’s nearly that time of year again—Halloween, a time of ghosts and ghouls, tricks and treats, and costumes and candy!  Did you know that Halloween is second only to Christmas in terms of spending?  Yep--$1.2 million on costumes and another $2.5 million on candy, decorations, and other themed paraphernalia!  Other little-known facts include:

  • 86% of Americans decorate their houses.                                                  
  • 10% of pet owners costume their pets. (Click here for unique ideas)
  • 35 million pounds of candy corn are produce yearly. (How many are consumed in your home?)

Halloween traditions are many and varied.  ‘Tis the night for donning a costume, wearing a mask, bobbing for apples, and, the children’s favorite—trick-or-treating.  Looking for something different to give to the little ones coming to your home this year?  How about juice boxes, mini-marshmallows, popcorn balls, fruit roll-ups, 4 pack crayons, small glo-sticks, silly erasers, themed pencils, or goldfish snacks?

Ghoulish groaners:    What is a mummy’s favorite music?    Wrap

                                        Best Halloween insurance?  Mediscare

                                        Favorite drink of ghosts and goblins?  Ghoulade    

jack o lanternCarving a Jack-o-Lantern:  Be your pumpkin orange, white, green, and yes, even blue, you want the face on the porch of your residence to be unique.  For free templates to assist you in carving or for cut and paste faces, click here.

If you see a spider on Halloween, the spirit of a loved one is watching over you.

Costumes:  Forget the old standbys of ghost and witch.  Get creative and think about the unusual.  A bearded lady? A cupcake?  Or perhaps popcorn or an aquarium?  Although the web is filled with sites which sell costumes, you can express yourself best by making your own garb.  Check out for silly, serious, and/or super-fast ideas.

A kid came up with a bright idea to dress up as an IRS Agent. This way he could take 28% of the man's candy and leave without saying 'Thank You.’

Projects and Activities For The Young At Heart: Visit these sites for more Halloween fun…, Activity Village,,

For creative ideas such as wicked wreaths, friendly ghosts, fright lights, tasty treats, and much, much more, visit Lowe’s Creative Ideas website.



Mortgage Relief for Active-Duty Military

by Jeff Scislow

Tens of thousands of military servicepersons could soon see lower mortgage payments thanks to a new partnership between the Obama Administration and five U.S. loan servicing companies. Expressing concern that far too many military personnel are not taking advantage of available mortgage relief programs, President Obama recently announced a new partnership with five major banks to rectify this situation. 

militaryUnder the current law, provided by the The Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA), active-duty military  members are entitled to reduced mortgage rates, but the burden is on them to ask for it and prove they're eligible for this relief. This option is greatly underused, however, primarily because of a lack of awareness of the program or due to the required paperwork.

According to the President, partnering with some of America's biggest banks and financial institutions will simplify the process, proactively notify service members who qualify for lower rates, and make it easier to enroll.  Lending institutions currently participating in the program include Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, Ocwen Loan Servicing, CitiMortgage, and Quicken Loans. The five companies are also pledging to more frequently check Defense Department databases to see whether their customers are entitled to unclaimed benefits, such as mortgage relief.

“Our preliminary analysis suggests that this new partnership will help tens of thousands of military families save money by reducing their mortgage interest rates,” writes Jeff Zients, National Economic Council director. “On a $200,000 mortgage, even an interest rate reduction of only one percent will result in over $1,500 a year in savings for our military families — money they can put towards daily expenses, retirement savings, or sending their children to college.”

In addition to mortgage relief, the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act also offers protection in the areas of housing eviction, early lease termination, credit card debt, and life insurance. Service personnel should consult their Armed Forces Legal Assistance Attorney for advice and/or instructions in such matters.

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 77

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) 276-2336
Fax: Fax : (952) 431-0420