Barker and Hedges Real Estate Blog

Greening Minnesota ~ July 2011

It's summer in Minnesota! The sun is shining, the rivers are flowing and the winds of sustainable change are blowing throughout Minnesota. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.

Edina's new public works building, which formally opened this spring, was built with sustainability in mind. It has geothermal heating and cooling and used recycled materials and its landscape was designed to minimize the development's impact on the environment. A rain garden holds and infiltrates water from sloping parking lots. Native grasses and plants are growing in "no-mow" areas between the sidewalk and the parking lot. Once they're mature, those native plantings should need little care. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how these native areas work or how much money they can save when it comes to caring for public lands and some people are complaining about their appearance as they become established.

Minneapolis is ahead of the pack in at least one way compared to the rest of the country and other bike friendly cities like Portland. Here, depending on the data, between 31 and 45 percent of bicyclists are women, compared to a national average of 26.4 percent. The only thing the biking pundits find more puzzling is that people here also bike in the winter.

Minneapolis became the 10th city to sign on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's urban bird treaty, which brings with it a $70,000 grant to restore avian habitat. Mayor R.T. Rybak's office and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board raised an additional $98,019 by teaming with the city of St. Paul and Audubon Minnesota. The money will be used to enhance the bird habitat along North Mississippi Regional Park and B.F. Nelson Park near Nicollet Island and to create a birding trail in the Lilydale Regional Park along the Mississippi River. The Twin Cities supports more than 300 species of...

Twin Cities Real Estate Statistics for June 2011

Pending home sales initiated in June within the Twin Cities area were among the highest in nearly five years. Buyers may be taking advantage of low prices and near-record low mortgage interest rates before they start to climb.

The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors reports that though there are some good signs occurring in the local Twin Cities residential real estate market, there's still a ways to go. Though pending sales rose in June, closed sales fell 11.4% compared with a year ago. The median sale prices fell 9.3% from a year ago to $165,000. That is still better than March's low of $140,000.

It's unclear whether the latest uptick in buying activity is a blip or a sign of a sustained recovery, given an economy still struggling to gain traction and the extent of the foreclosure crisis still unknown. Stable employment, strong rent prices and relatively low foreclosure rates suggest that the market has seen the worst, said Herb Tousley, director of the Shenehon Center for Real Estate at the University of Minnesota.

"I believe there is reason for optimism," he said.

The biggest barrier to a recovery is foreclosures. At its worst, nearly 60% of all residential real estate sales in the Twin Cities metro were distressed sales, but it has fallen to 38% last month - the lowest level since June 2010! Additionally, fewer foreclosures are entering the market, with the 29%  of new listings in the Twin Cities during June that were either foreclosures or short sales being one of the lowest monthly totals in three years.

Still, the foreclosure problem isn't going to go away soon, giving buyers some time to get their down payments together before Twin Cities real estate prices begin a faster climb.

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St. Louis Park Residents Love Living in Their City

People who live in St. Louis Park are really happy with their city compared to the ratings people in other Minnesota locations give their towns.

A citywide survey conducted this spring "took the temperature" of St. Louis Park residents. The poll was part of a city effort to track trends and check priorities. Mayor Jeff Jacobs and City Manager Tom Harmening were pleased with the results.

And they had plenty of reason to be. Survey firm Decision Resources told St. Louis Park officials that the ratings they found are among the highest they have seen in the many Twin Cities communities they have surveyed. A resounding 97% of residents rated the quality of life in St. Louis Park MN as excellent or good. About 95% of polled residents said they feel safe. About 89% rated city services as excellent or good. Only 4% of residents said they anticipated moving in the next five years.

When asked what serious issues face Saint Louis Park, 18% of residents cited Hennepin County's proposal to move a freight train line from Minneapolis to this city to make room for light rail. Just 8% cited high taxes and rising crime. And 12% said they did not see any serious issues facing the city. That "no issue" response is twice what is considered normal for a place like St. Louis Park, according to the survey company.

The city has lots of multifamily housing, and 28 percent of residents thought there were too many apartments and 21 percent said there were too many condos and townhouses. Harmening said proposals for more condo developments have withered as the economy has suffered. Jacobs agreed that the city needs to be careful not to overbuild multifamily housing, although he said the three light-rail stations that are proposed for his city may result in a push for higher-density housing in those locations.

"I think...

Unemployed FHA Borrowers Get a Slight Reprieve

Homeowners that have loans received with the assistance of the Federal Housing Administration could have some relief in the case that they become unemployed. Loan servicers collecting payments on FHA-backed loans will now be required to allow qualified unemployed borrowers to miss up to 12 months of mortgage payments before beginning foreclosure proceedings.

The FHA's current three to four months of required unemployment forbearance is "inadequate for the majority of unemployed borrowers," Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said in announcing the change.

"Today, 60 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than three months and 45 percent have been out of work for more than six," Donovan said. "Providing the option for a year of forbearance will give struggling homeowners a substantially greater chance of finding employment before they lose their home."

Although not all borrowers will qualify for the special forbearance program, the Obama administration is removing some hurdles to qualification. Servicers must provide any borrowers who are denied forbearance with the reason for denial. The borrower must be allowed at least seven calendar days to submit additional information that may impact their evaluation.

All FHA-approved servicers must participate in FHA’s loss mitigation program, which includes the special forbearance program. All servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program will also be required to extend the minimum forbearance period to 12 months whenever possible under new guidelines.

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