Barker and Hedges Real Estate Blog

Greening Minnesota ~ January 2010

There are a lot of environmentally friendly projects getting underway in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota. And we're even saving all the rail news for a separate, future post!

Amid rising concern over the effects that road salt has on Minnesota's lakes, streams and groundwater, public works officials around the state are trying out new methods to spread salt on pavement, moistening rock salt so it sticks better, and working to establish a less-is-more culture, while also keeping motorists safe. The impacts are salt run rampant statewide after decades of dropping a pound of salt onto every 10 feet of highway without much thought. In addition to the environmental impact, money has also become a key motivator. The new techniques use less salt, costing cities and counties less.

The new Target Field ballpark for the Minnesota Twins will have a sustainable water system that will capture, conserve and reuse rain water. Minneapolis-based Pentair Inc. is building and donating the sophisticated system. The water will be used to irrigate the field and clean the bleachers.  Officials say it'll be a new standard for water use in sports facilities.

Hennepin County Medical Center's newest recycling program composts food scraps and soiled paper napkins, cartons and plates from its kitchens and cafeterias. It promises to annually transform 100 tons of organic waste collected from the hospital into a soil additive that can be used in landscaping and road construction. It will also reduce how many tons of waste HCMC throws away each year and reduce its water bill by $1 million because not as much will be sent down the garbage disposal.

The new Saint Paul fire station that's nearing completion at W. 7th Street and Randolph Avenue was designed to include energy-efficient features throughout, including automatic faucets and toilets, lighting and temperature controls, and a green roof that will be open to West End community use. Saint...

Strange But True: You Could Own the School... Literally!

The Robbinsdale School District has to determine what to do with 7 expendable buildings. Members of the district's Divestiture Plan Advisory" Committee will meet with the public on Thursday to solicit ideas on how to put them to better use or sell them. The buildings include an elementary school in Plymouth that was shut down to save money.
Committee chairwoman and Robbinsdale school board member Sherry Tyrrell said possibilities include selling the buildings, putting them to some kind of new use for the district, or even razing them and holding on to the property until the commercial real estate market improves. Leasing them is unlikely because the district would still have to maintain the buildings.
In addition to the Pilgrim Lane elementary school in Plymouth, other buildings on the list include New Hope Elementary School, the old Highview Alternative School, the Winnetka Learning Center, and Hosterman Middle School, all of which are in New Hope.  The Cavanaugh Early Childhood Center in Crystal and the Olson Elementary School in Golden Valley are the final two buildings.

All the buildings on the list need to be remodeled, but those costs are too expensive for the Robbinsdale district to justify.

The public meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Plymouth Middle School, 10011 36th Ave N. in Plymouth, MN....

Twin Cities Home Builders Optimistic About 2010

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there has been some activity in the local Twin Cities home building industry in 2009, making home builders more optimistic about the industry’s recovery. Though the uptick in activity is moving slowly, it could pick up some speed in 2010.

According to the Keystone Report, which tracks permit activity in the 13-county metro area, residential construction in the Twin Cities declined for the sixth year in a row  in 2009 as measured by planned housing units. Metro area cities doled out 2,599 permits for 4,405 new housing units, a far cry from the peak of 11,472 permits for 19,000 units in 2003.

But builders are encouraged by 2009's strong finish. In the last two months of 2009, the Twin Cities saw 523 homebuilding permits for 997 housing units, up from 365 and 644 in the comparable 2008 period. Residential permits issued in just December 89% higher than in the same month 2008.

Shakopee was the Twin Cities metropolitan-area leader in both the number of permits issued and the number of units approved in 2009. The city issued 304 permits for the year and approved a total of 328 new units. Over 92% of Shakopee’s construction was single-family.

“Owning a home with a yard is still the dream of the majority of families, and we expect single-family homes will continue to gain strength,” said BATC 2010 President Gary Aulik. “Shakopee was the region’s top growth city in 2009, and more than 92 percent of its construction was single-family.”

Blaine was second in the number of permits issued in 2009 with 203,  followed by Maple Grove with 197, Woodbury's 181, and Lakeville at 140. For the number...

Battling the Emerald Ash Borer

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has awarded $1.9 million in grants to cities and organizations to arm themselves in the fight against the destructive emerald ash borer.

The emerald ash borer was first found in May in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. It has since been discovered in Falcon Heights and on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. More than 100 infested ash trees have been destroyed so far.

St. Paul will get $723,000 to help manage infestation in the city. The University of Minnesota will get $200,000, and Falcon Heights will get $77,400 to fight the pest. The Agriculture Department also awarded $875,000 in grants to 15 cities and agencies to prepare for infestation, including Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Roseville and St. Louis Park.

The St. Paul City Council recently adopted an ordinance declaring the emerald ash borer a public nuisance, which gives the city the authority to inspect trees on private property and the power to order the removal of infested trees.

Blaine MN, taking a cue from cities in the east that became ash-less in the 5 years following the discovery of an infestation, is taking a more agressive approach. The city of Blaine has a new plan to remove all ash trees from city-owned land before they're hit by the emerald ash borer. The move is meant to spread out the emotional pain of losing mature trees and the financial pain of replacing them. The city has already started looking for distressed trees to be targeted for later removal.

The Chinese bug was discovered in the U.S. in Michigan in 2002. It has destroyed tens of millions of trees in the Midwest. The pest's larvae kill ash trees by burrowing into wood and feeding on nutrients, effectively starving the tree.

Unfortunately, the ash tree was the preferred replacement for elms after Dutch elm disease hit in the 1970s. Additionally, it is a predominant tree throughout...

Twin Cities Real Estate Figures Through December 2009

A few Twin Cities real estate reports have come out recently for the area. They may all paint slightly different aspects of the picture, but together they give great perspective.

We'll start with the first report to come out. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index released at the end of December indicated that the Twin Cities home prices declined by .5% from September to October, which followed a 1.9% increase during the previous month. Overall, the report found that home prices in the Twin Cities metro area had dropped 8.4% in a year.

However, a separate report issued earlier in December by the Twin Cities Realtors association painted a slightly brighter picture of the local housing market. Their survey found that the metro area's $170,000 median sale price in November actually increased slightly from $169,000 in October. While $170,000 is down 3% from 2008.

A report from this month from the same group further ingrains that idea. The report shows the median home sales price for December again fell just 3% compared with December 2008. In December, closed sales were up 8.9%, but pending sales were down 0.8% as cold weather and the holidays came around.

All of these statistics indicate that the Twin Cities market could be bottomed out.

Twin Cities housing construction activity was up again in December compared to 2008, indicating that the local home building industry could also be headed for an uptick in 2010. For December 2009, metro area cities issued 260 permits for 423 new housing units, up from 158 permits issued for 223 new housing units for December 2008. The combined value of those planned units is also more than double those from a year ago: $89.7 million in December 2009 vs. $38.9 million in December 2008.

The National Association of Realtors isn't very optimistic, though. Nationally, signed purchase agreements fell 16% in November after rising in October. With the home buyer tax incentives...

Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour Application Deadline Looms

The application deadline to recruit or nominate a home for the Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour is January 21. Already 30 homeowners, neighborhood representatives, contractors and architects, have signed on and tour organizers have a goal of 50 homes. The Tour, in its 23rd year, takes place April 24 and 25, 2010.

The show exists to display what people can do to adapt and expand existing homes, so they can stay in the city rather than moving out to gain more space. It is a nice way for home remodelers to get feedback on what they've done to improve their homes. And it's a good way for enthusiastic homeowners to promote their neighborhoods in case people are looking to move into the city.

Need ideas for remodeling? Many of the participating Minneapolis and Saint Paul homeowners on this tour have mentioned gaining a few of their own ideas from previous tours.

For more information on the tour and a nomination form, see Early submissions will be visited before then, and others may later be recruited for geographic and other kinds of balance....

Strange-But-True: Minneapolis Assessor Contests His Home's Valuation

Many people were upset with their home's assessed values last year. Even Minneapolis' tax assessor wasn't satisfied with his property tax statement.

Minneapolis City Assessor Patrick J. Todd maintains his northeast Minneapolis home was valued at far more than it was worth when he bought it. He appealing to the Minnesota Tax Court to contest the value of his home, which was set by the office he heads. You read that right.

"It's one of those properties where the owner never called [the assessor's office] to say the value was too high," he said.

That's an understatement. He bought the 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom home as investment property in July 2008 for $90,000. On January 1, 2008, the home had been assessed at $166,500 with a tax bill for payable 2009 of $2,239.

The reason behind the discrepancy is easy enough to explain. City assessors don't usually set foot on every property every year. Assessment is done through Computer-Assisted Mass Appraisal, which bases values on neighborhood and sales.

The 61-year-old rambler was built of concrete block and still had the original furnace, plumbing and electrical components. The 804-square-foot house had a single detached garage, no basement and no central air conditioning. This simple house with no real updates didn't fit the property model on which assessments are based. The home owner, having lived in the house since 1951, failed to alert the city that it was valued higher than it should have been.

Because of the sheer size of Minneapolis, it would be impossible to do a property by property assessment.

"We're trying to do the best job we can," Todd said. "If you don't agree with us, you've got to call us."

To read more about the case, check out the Star Tribune Article.


Minnesota Educators Honored

Minnesota schools aren't new to the news.  They make headlines in one way or another every year for their excellence. The first mention of Minnesota educators in the New Year has already occured! Two of our teachers were among over 100 who were honored at the White House this week.

Barbara Stoflet, a math teacher in Minnetonka, and Kari Dombrovski, a science teacher in St. Cloud, received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. It is the nation's highest honor for teaching in those fields.
Related Links

Data Post December 24, 2009 - Forced vs. Unforced Registration Test

Website Data for December 17 - December 23, 2009

Here are the numbers for this week.

Raw Data: (Unforced) (Forced)

 Total Visitors

 Unique Visitors
 802 912
 Avg Pages Viewed per Visitor
 Avg Time on Site per Visitor
 9 minutes 2.3 seconds 7 minutes 48.9 seconds
 Bounce Rate
 IDX Registrations 236
 Showing Request Forms
 Property Inquiry Forms
 Other Misc Forms
 Call In from Website
 Bad Information Given


This is our last post before the grand totals will be reported along with our analysis...

Data Post December 17, 2009 - Forced vs. Unforced Registration Test

Website Data for December 10 - December 16, 2009

Here are the numbers for the 2nd week in December.

Raw Data: (Unforced) (Forced)

 Total Visitors

 Unique Visitors
 858 983
 Avg Pages Viewed per Visitor
 Avg Time on Site per Visitor
 10 minutes 45 seconds 6 minutes 10.9 seconds
 Bounce Rate
 IDX Registrations 141
 Showing Request Forms
 Property Inquiry Forms
 Other Misc Forms
 Call In from Website
 Bad Information Given

Overall results of the test are coming soon...stay tuned!