Barker and Hedges Real Estate Blog

From Bad to Worse: Foreclosure Fraud

All across the U.S., more than 1 million homes have been put in foreclosure so far this year. A recent study commissioned by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund predicts that 28,000 homes within the state alone will be foreclosed on in 2008, which is not only a 39 percent increase from a year ago but would be a record for foreclosure homes in Minnesota. If those projections are accurate, it means that between 2005 to the end of 2008, one in every 31 households statewide will have gone through the foreclosure process.

With more foreclosures occurring throughout the country, "foreclosure rescue" scams are also on the rise. From California to Indiana to New York, to right here in Minnesota, unsavory individuals have been calming the fears of residents facing foreclosure with promises of help, only to swindle them out of their homes and equity in the end. Thus, the end of the predatory lending outrage has simply transformed into the beginning of foreclosure fraud scandals.

Some elected officials have been requesting federal legislation to prevent predatory lending. Others have been asking lenders to voluntarily delay raising adjustable rate mortgage rates for home owners in the most trouble. Individual states are stepping forward in attempts to protect homeowners from this new scam as well. About twelve states have enacted laws designed to crack down on fraud by "foreclosure consultants" who claim to help homeowners in trouble.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Lori Swanson filed lawsuits in Hennepin County District Court against several out-of-state companies which had billed themselves in Minnesota as “foreclosure prevention experts”: National Foreclosure Relief; Lewis Loss Mitigation of Alabama, which also does business as Stop Foreclosure and Lewis and Associates Consulting; D.R. Financial Services of California, which also...

Special Considerations for Vacant Homes

Problems are much more likely to occur in homes that are left unoccupied for any extended period of time. With a large inventory of foreclosed and vacant houses on the market today, home buyers should be aware of issues that often arise when a home is not maintained regularly. While these homes can often be purchased at a bargain, anyone considering a house which has been vacant for a while should pay close attention to their condition. Here are a few things to be aware of when buying a vacant property.
  • One of the obvious things that can happen to a vacant home is vandalism. From broken windows and spray paint to the theft of copper pipes and wires, it does happen. This means that you may end up having to make some repairs yourself. Sellers may also make sub par repairs themselves to save money, which may mean even more work.
  • Fluctuating temperatures in vacant homes as the weather changes unpredictably can lead to cracks around windows and in weather stripping. Moisture and temperature changes in wood can also cause cracks in plaster and drywall.
  • If the furnace has been shut off for a long time, ensure to have them checked for leaks or rust build up. Heating systems usually dry moisture which may be in the home. Without heat, the moisture can create rust, or worse, mold. Air conditioning systems may also need to be inspected and possibly recharged to work properly.
  • Plumbing problems can arise with unused drain pipes. Some are more susceptible to waste blockages and solidifications, while others may be at risk for sediment buildup. Additionally, washers and gaskets may shrink, which may cause pipes and fixtures to leak.
  • Sediment buildup from stagnant water in an unused water heater can impair its function. Turning the water heater on improperly...

National Real Estate Statistics for 2008: February Reports

On April 22, First American CoreLogic, a leader in residential mortgage data and analytics for the mortgage industry, released its February 2008 LoanPerformance Home Price Index (HPI). The LoanPerformance HPI “provides a comprehensive set of monthly home price indices and median sales prices covering 7,508 ZIP codes, 957 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSA) and 670 counties located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The indices are the most comprehensive available in the industry.

According to their LoanPerformance HPI criteria, 36 states experienced a housing price decline over the three month period which ended with February 2008. The Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington Core Based Statistical Area experienced a 3 month decline of 4.6% and an annual decline in house prices of 8.98%. The LoanPerformance HPI data indicates that thirty-three states now show year-over-year real estate declines. On a quarter-over-quarter basis, the number of states with decreasing property values increases to thirty-eight states.

Not surprisingly, many areas on the list with the highest drops in property values are in California and Florida. The state of Texas had several areas where real estate property values have been climbing slowly. The full available statistics and press release can be found here.

Also on April 22, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight also sent out a press release regarding its monthly House Price Index. The OFHEO monthly index is calculated using the purchase prices of home mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Because of this, the OFHEO HPI is based on homes that cost $417,000 or less. According to OFHEO, U.S. home sales prices fell 2.4 percent for the 12 month period ending in February. Since its peak in April 2007, the index is down 3.1 percent.

These two reports offer slightly different views of the real estate market on a national...

Importance of Window Safety

Though this is just a little late, last week (the last full week in April) was Window Safety Week, sponsored by the Safety Council and window, screen and door manufacturers.  It is spring time, headed into summer.  The storm windows are coming off and screens are going in.  For the safety of children, steps should be taken to lessen the chances of a window-related accident occurring.
  • Window screens should be strong and thick enough to keep bugs out, but kids should still be able to remove them if an emergency occurs.  It is also important to teach your children how to remove the screens if a fire occurs and they must escape.
  • When children are around, keep windows closed and locked. If you open a window for ventilation, make sure it’s a window which is out of reach of children, such as a window behind the kitchen sink.
  • If you do install window bars or guards, be sure you purchase those which have a release mechanism that will open easily in a fire emergency.  Again, teach them how to remove the guard if it is necessary to escape.
  • Keep furniture - or anything children can climb - away from windows. Children may use such objects as a climbing aid.
  • Now that you have the proper screens and guards, prevent the children from playing near windows.  Set and enforce rules about keeping children's play away from windows or patio doors. 
  • In order to lessen a fall's impact, place shrubs or grass beneath second- or third-story windows.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, falls from windows account for an estimated 12 deaths and 4,000 injuries among children 10 years of age or younger every year in the United States. Between 1993 and 2007, at least 193 serious injuries from window falls were reported in the state of Minnesota.  Nineteen of those injuries resulted in a death. Of the...

Upcoming Twin Cities Home Events

You can still catch the Minneapolis and St. Paul Home Tour today. At this event, new and remodeled homes will be open for free self-guided tours from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 27. Home Tour guides can be picked up at Twin Cities libraries, at the homes themselves, and at

The Parade of Homes Easystreet is a tour of 112 association-maintained new homes, including townhouses, condos, lofts, villa homes and rowhouses throughout the Twin Cities area. This event takes place through May 18. The times are from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. Tour maps are available at local Holiday Station stores and at

As we discussed in a previous post, the Living Green Expo is coming up this weekend. This event features products, services, information and workshops on building and remodeling, yard and garden, recreation, energy and other sustainable- and green-living topics. The times are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 3 and 4. The event is free and it is taking place at the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Like the previously mentioned home tours with a slightly different twist, the Dayton's Bluff Vacant House Tour is also occurring over next weekend. The neighborhood council is sponsoring tours of about 10 bank-owned houses sitting empty, some of which are move-in ready. The tour begins at 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. on May 3, and 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. on May 4. Meet at 798 E. 7th St. for free trolley rides to the listings....

‘Tis the Season to Do-It-Yourself

With the weather warming up (and hopefully drying out… SOON), many Minnesota residents are gearing up to make improvements and repairs to their homes. Some will hire a professional, and some will do it themselves. When it comes to home repair, sometimes doing it yourself pays off - especially when trying to sell a home. Other times, it doesn't.

The idea of doing it yourself sounds great, at first glance. It can save you money on both labor and materials, you can learn new skills, sharpen existing knowledge, and improve your home at the same time. But it isn’t without its risks.

The key to avoiding an expensive mistake is knowing when to pick up the hammer and when to pick up the phone. When it comes to home improvements, you must know you’re limits. If you start a project you are unable to finish, you'll simply spend more money getting it fixed.

Here are a few home improvement tasks you might want to consider leaving to the professionals:

Anything involving Wires. In Minnesota, all electrical wiring work must be completed by an electrician licensed by the state. However, you can do electrical wiring in a home which you own and live in. All electrical wiring must be inspected by the State Electrical Inspector. Beyond the legalities, consider that 95 percent of electrical fires are due to homeowners who installed wires improperly.

Anything involving Plumbing. As with wiring, all plumbing work must be completed by a plumber licensed by the state, but a resident who owns a home and lives in it can apply for the proper permits to carry out the work. A plumbing permit is required to replace or install fixtures, replace or install water piping, replace or install a water heater, and to connect gas appliances to gas piping (stoves, dryers, or fireplaces). A mechanical permit and a licensed contractor are required when it comes connecting a furnace....

The Living Green Expo: May 3rd & 4th, 2008

The Living Green Expo is an annual event that provides information and products to help Minnesotans improve how their day-to-day lives impact the environment and society.  The Expo features over 200 exhibitors of products, services, and information, as well as workshops on a variety of sustainability and green living topics.  There will be music, art, food, demonstrations, and activities for youth and children at this free event.  Of particular interest, along the lines of our recent post about Green Homes, would be the Living Green Expo’s workshops, exhibits, and attractions which revolve around the home. 

In regards to building and remodeling, your own home provides the ideal location for practicing sustainability on a personal scale. We probably spend more time in and around our homes than we do in any other environment, except for perhaps work.  The Living Green Expo has home building and remodeling workshops, exhibits, and attractions which highlight good choices for building our living spaces and making them comfortable and healthy.  This includes the materials we use, the technologies we select to heat, cool, and ventilate, and decisions about where we live relative to where we work, go to school, and play.

Resources such as sunlight, water, and wind are managed to create diversity and abundance in a sustainable landscape. In a terrain such as this, plants, soil organisms, and animals do most of the work for you.  As designer and steward of the land, this is your place to create your own strong and healthy ecosystem in your own backyard.  The Living Green Expo showcases yard, garden, and landscaping workshops, exhibits, and attractions.  Here, you can learn how to create beautiful and productive lawns and gardens in ways which are conservative and which minimize any earth-unfriendly impacts.

Energy use, outside and inside the home, is one of the areas with the greatest potential...

Buying New? Try A Green Home!

It is not the color of the home of which we’re speaking, however.  Earth-friendly homes and construction practices are being sought by environmentally conscious consumers across the U.S.  No, we’re not talking about people living in cob, straw, or sod houses either, though there are people who choose to live in these types of abodes.  We are talking about homes when have been built with renewable building materials and with peak energy efficiency in mind.  This is called “green building.”

Green building is the practice of increasing the efficiency of an edifice throughout the entire construction cycle.  That means when creating a structure in this manner, human health and the environment will be taken into account through the dwelling’s design, the site its foundation will be laid upon, and construction.  The completed building’s future operation and maintenance will also be taken into account.  Probably most importantly, a green building is conservative when it comes to water and energy consumption.

Buildings have a profound effect on the environment, which is why green building practices are so important to reduce those impacts. The environmental impact of creating a building and the maintenance of an inefficient structure is often underestimated.  At the same time, the perceived costs of building green are overestimated. A recent survey by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development finds that green costs are overestimated by 300%,

Effective green building can lead to a variety of benefits for the homeowner.  Because of the increase in productivity and use of less energy and water, the cost of running and maintaining a green home can be quite significantly less than their inefficient counterparts.  Because of a green home’s carefully planned materials and design, these homes have greatly improved indoor air quality, which can have health benefits for its occupants. ...

Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Highlights

In the Central Community, one can find the Downtown Minneapolis neighborhood. Much of Minneapolis’ history is nestled in this area. Beginning in 1880, Minneapolis was known as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” This is from where Minneapolis’ nickname, “The Mill City,” comes. The Washburn A Mill was at one point the most technologically advanced and the largest in the world. At peak production, it ground enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread in a day. It received grain via rail lines that stretched into Duluth, the Dakotas and Canada. The flour was exported as well as used domestically. Minneapolis sprouted up around the mills. The city exploded from 13,000 residents in 1870 to nearly 165,000 in 1890.

After about 50 years, however, the boom ended. After World War I the milling industry in Minneapolis began to decline. As the industry moved out of Minneapolis, the old mills fell into disuse and the Washburn A Mill closed in 1965. In 1991 the mill was nearly destroyed by fire. With the help of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, Minneapolis cleaned up the site and fortified the walls of the mill in the late 1990s. The Minnesota Historical Society has since then developed the Mill City Museum at the site.

The downtown Minneapolis Riverfront District is a unique blend of old and new, with lodging, dining, historical landmarks, and other attractions. The past and present unite along the banks of the Mississippi. One can find the Nicollet Mall Farmer's Market in downtown Minneapolis every spring, summer, and fall.

Downtown Minneapolis offers a unique feature to its residents in the Skyway system. It is an enclosed pedestrian walkway which connects 69 blocks and nearly every core building in the Downtown area. Minneapolis has the largest continuous system of its kind with over 8 miles of skyways.

In addition to the skyway system, miles of trails along the shores of the Mississippi...

Downtown Saint Paul Neighborhood Highlights

The borders of Downtown Saint Paul are made up of University Avenue to the north, Marion Street to the west, Interstate 94 to the east, and the Mississippi River to the south. The river’s presence not only offers beautiful views from offices and condominiums, but also provides a place of recreation with green spaces and trails. With the Capitol just a few blocks, downtown St. Paul is an ideal location for government workers. Additionally, many state offices are located in the area. Industrialized areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul are within short driving distance. Easy access to I-94 connects you quickly with the rest of the Twin Cities.

Downtown St. Paul is home to a number of attractions. The Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild hockey team, is located on Kellogg Boulevard. Glacier Plaza, McNally Smith College of Music, and the Minnesota World Trade Center are also located Downtown. The Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota History Museum and the Children's Museum are all located Downtown. Downtown also boasts the Ordway and the historical Landmark Center. Some of the Twin Cities' best restaurants are located here, such as the St. Paul Grill, Kincaid's, and Fhima and Pazzaluna Urban Italian Restaurant. The skyway system makes it easy and convenient to walk instead of drive to your destination, even in the dead of winter!

Downtown St. Paul boasts quite a few popular parks. Biking and running trails along the Mississippi River downtown connect the neighborhood to many other areas of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Mears Park, Kellogg Mall Park, Rice Park and Harriet Island are all popular locations for recreation. Mears Park hosts a Thursday nigh concert series every week during the summer through September. Rice Park hosts St. Paul Winter Carnival events, including an outdoor ice rink. Harriet Island is a popular location for outdoor music and festivals. The Taste of Minnesota is also held each summer on the Island.

There isn't a lot of real...