Home Building Activity Ticks Up in the Twin Cities

As consumer confidence and incomes rise, home building activity in the Twin Cities metro area continues to rebound. According to the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC), housing construction so far this year is up 23 percent from the same period in 2012, putting builders on a track for their best year since 2007.

homes in blaine mnDuring June alone, 496 permits were issued to build 912 units. Minneapolis led the top five cities permitting 380 units. Brooklyn Park and Woodbury were in the second position with 31 units, followed by Ramsey with 29. Construction of new homes in Blaine MN, Chanhassen MN and Lakeville MN tied for fifth place with 23 units permitted each.

So far this year, builders were issued 2,379 permits to build 4,204 units, a dramatic change from this time four years ago when there were only 1,633 units.

In the south metro, Lakeville continues as the busiest homebuilding market in Dakota County and one of the metro area’s most active. The city has recorded 172 permits since the beginning of the year through the end of June, up from 107 for the same period a year ago.

In the north metro, Blaine is closing in on Coon Rapids for the title of largest city in Anoka County. It was the ...

Minnesota Foreclosures Continue to Drag on the Real Estate Market

The foreclosure crisis is far from over. Last year there were 25,673 foreclosure sales in Minnesota, an 11% increase over 2009 and the second-worst year on record.

According to a new report from the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, more than half of all of the foreclosure sales in the state last year happened in the Twin Cities metro area, where sheriff’s sales rose 9%. In greater Minnesota the number of sales was up 16%.

Foreclosures have been a drag down the housing market, pushing prices down and leaving an excess in available housing inventory. The situation was particularly bad in some of the communities north and northwest of the Twin Cities. Anoka and Hennepin Counties had the highest foreclosure rate statewide last year.


Greening Minnesota ~ January 2011

There have been some interesting environmental development happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Here are some of the community-related green news and stories that broke in January.

An in-depth survey of 3,000 households in Ramsey and Anoka counties is providing environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota insight into what it would take to get people to make more of an effort to reduce their impact on the earth. They asked about thermostat settings, number of children, cars, bedrooms, miles driven to work, lawn size and fertilizer use, even whether there were vegetarians in the house. As it turns out, most people really do care about their impact on the environment. But what really drives them to change is knowing how they rank on their own personal pollution scores, how they compare to their neighbors, and where they can improve. In the end, the researchers hope to find out how best to influence social norms and change behavior toward a more eco-friendly culture.

More U.S. consumers and developers are turning to factory-built housing for speed, quality and energy efficiency. The prefab market is positioning itself for major growth when the housing industry rebounds. Several prefab newcomers, including ZETA, Minnesota-based Hive Modular and Florida-based Cabin Fever, report healthy annual increases in the number of homes they're building. Several prefab newcomers, including Minneapolis-based Hive Modular, report healthy annual increases in the amount of homes they're building. The prefabs take 5 to 12 weeks to manufacture and 4 to 8 weeks to assemble and finish once it is delivered on site. Prices range from $200 to $250 per square foot. Several carried the Energy Star label and one earned the top, or platinum, rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Not finding a home that you like that's also energy efficient and earth-friendly? Perhaps buying a lot and a prefab is the right way to go.

The Varney Lake stormwater retention...

Greening Minnesota ~ April 2010

This is the Land of 10,000 Lake and millions of trees. We take our environment seriously. Read on to learn about environmentally friendly news that happened recently around the Twin Cities and Minnesota!

Anoka County Highway Department is working on ways to get fewer people driving on Highway 65 in Blaine. The county has received a $7 million Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant from the Federal Highway Administration to improve mass transit on the corridor. With $1.5 million in matching money, the county has issued a request for proposals for consultants to help create a plan to ferry nine busloads of commuters from Blaine's northern edge into downtown Minneapolis and back.

Also in Anoka County, employees may have saved a few jobs by saving energy (and money). First, lights were dimmed. Utility costs at the government center were reduced by $58,000 in 2009. In 2010, the county is expected to save more than $65,000. Next, Facilities Management and Construction team is changing the heating and cooling set-points in county building from 70/73 to 68/74. That means the heat will kick in at 68 degrees rather than 70 in the winter and the cooling system will trigger on at 74 degrees rather than 73 during the summer. Each degree of change will result in a 3% savings to the annual utilities budget of $720,000. The facilities management and construction team also has turned off most of the government center's lobby lights. The idea is to use natural daylight for lobby activities.

Mulroy’s Body Shop at the corner of 39th Street and Nicollet Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis has the largest array of solar panels in the Twin Cities, generating 30% of the building’s power. The installation of the shop’s 174-panel, 40-kilowatt system was completed in early April as part of a project run by South Minneapolis-based Solarflow Energy. The company offers solar electricity leasing. The company is under contract with Xcel Energy for the project, which involves...

Elk River is the Kindest City in Minnesota

Minnesota Nice. You hear about it all the time, but it's not always apparent. Elk River has brought it back.

After the Elk River City Council declaired February the Month of Kindness, Mayor Stephanie Klinzing challenged residents to commit 1,000 "random acts of kindness." And the Elk River MN resdients didn't hold back. All month long, residents did kindly deeds, then recorded them either on post cards sent to the city or posted them online at

"We are the kindest city in Minnesota," Klinzing declared this week, as she stood beside a wooden thermometer in Rivers Edge Park that registered the city's progress -- 1,300 acts of kindness as of Thursday.

The project was started due to Elk River's size. The city has grown so big, with a population of about 24,000, that residents worried it was losing its close-knit, small-town feel. Then Mayor Klinzing saw a YouTube video about a restaurant in Philadelphia where people kept paying for other diners' meals.

"I got the sense that if we did a similar thing through the entire city, something would change. It would be kind of a climate change. That basically is what happened."

Some of the kind acts included:

  • "A friend helped me with my homework and helped me to feel smart."
  • "I paid for the person behind me's fare on the commuter rail."
  • "I volunteered at a local food shelf."
  • "Cleaned a very dirty and smelly microwave out for others."
  • "My neighbors ... help me to remain in my house. They are always doing things ... that I just cannot do by myself. Their help is beyond question my lifeline to keep me going. Thanks"
  • "My dog, Sarah, & I visited a dementia floor at a nursing home. The residents seemed to be comforted by petting her."
  • "I thought...

Anoka County Home Weatherization Program Expands

157 residents were going to receive weatherization assistance from the Anoka County Community Action Program. Now, thanks to $1.6 million in federal stimulus money, the program will be available to nearly 300 more. Additionally, workers will be able to look more closely at more clients' energy use than they've been able to in the past. This will enable them to find more solutions to bring a home's utility costs down.

Anoka County's allocation is part of $131 million in stimulus weatherization aid being distributed throughout the state. The federal money allows ACCAP to triple its client load and raises the average allocation per home from $3,000 to $6,500.

The program is available to county residents who qualify for federal home heating aid. The cutoff is about 200% of federal poverty guidelines, or $44,100 a year for a family of four. Those with the highest energy consumption generally get first priority because unusually high energy bills signal that something in the home is malfunctioning. After that, seniors have priority, then disabled residents.

"Before they have the work they're turning to us saying they don't know where else to turn," said Donna Mattson, ACCAP's housing services director. "They're having trouble with their bills; this allows them to put more money toward other bills. Their furnace is dying or has gone, and they're just in a panic."

Sometimes, workers are able to solve problems that had caused a real hazard. In one mobile home, the furnace had been out for a year, but the client had sky-high gas bills because she was paying to run a leaking hot-water heater. She also had been heating the entire place using space heaters.

ACCAP has added 16 full-time auditor and staff positions, and 15 part-time contractor positions to accommodate the extra money and work. The ACCAP's goal is to weatherize 450 qualifying families' homes by next fall....

A New Era in the Twin Cities

After $317 million, political struggles, and a 13-year wait, the 40-mile North Star Commuter line embarked on its maiden voyage on Monday morning, November 16, 2009. And people were certainly checking it out. After the last train of its first operation day finished its run, Metro Transit reported that more than 2,400 paying customers rode Northstar trains. On a typical day, the line is projected to have 1,700 passengers each way.

Trains were on time -- the first one arrived three minutes early -- but the first day was not entirely free of glitches. At Target Field, the doors of the 7:10 a.m. train didn't open for a few minutes, so its more than 300 passengers were stuck inside. Once they made their way upstairs to the Hiawatha station, light rail wasn't there to greet them because of a mechanical problem. A replacement Hiawatha train left the station at 7:25.

During the afternoon rush, there were some frantic dashes for closing doors, some doorway stumbles and even a few people who missed trains and had to wait for the next one. Only one person missed the final train, arriving at Target Field two minutes late on a connecting light-rail transit train.
It is Minnesota's first long-distance commuter rail line. It currently has stops in Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Fridley, and Minneapolis. It is eventually expected to reach all the way out to St. Cloud.

You can read more first-hand experiences from the light rain in this Star Tribune article, Finally, All Aboard for Northstar. Yes, finally!


Greening Minnesota ~ October

Including North St. Paul and Anoka, 12 Minnesota cities have begun installing wind turbines. Buffalo, Le Sueur and Faribault have had wind turbines installed already. Anoka, Arlington, Brownton, Chaska, East Grand Forks, Olivia, Shakopee and Winthrop are up next. If everything goes as planned, all of the Minnesota Municipal Power Association wind turbines will be up and running by mid-November.

The St. Paul Convention & Visitors Authority has rolled out the "50-50 in 2" program. It is meant to cut trash output at the RiverCentre and Xcel Energy Center in half and push the recycling rate up to 50% in two years.

Three Minnesota schools took top marks on a national report card that measures colleges' sustainability efforts. The University of Minnesota, Carleton College in Northfield and Macalester College in St. Paul were three of 26 schools to score an A- on this fall's College Sustainability Report Card.

To meet federal clean water standards, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is considering ways to keep runoff and pollutants out of three west-metro lakes. Eagle Lake, a 291-acre lake popular for fishing and swimming, phosphorus would have to be reduced by 40% to meet Clean Water standards for swimming. The phosphorus levels in 81-acre Cedar Island Lake would have to be reduced by 67%. The 58-acre Pike Lake would need a 49 percent cut in phosphorus. The three lakes in Maple Grove and Plymouth are so polluted, it may take 20 years to get them off the state's impaired waters list.

In a similar move, Eden Prairie will repair two catch ponds at the base of the Minnesota River bluff to reduce storm water runoff and pollution from going into the river. The Lower Minnesota River Watershed District has also commissioned an engineering study on how storm water, groundwater and river water are interacting to erode the north bank of the river below the bluff, where Riverview Drive is located.

Land dedicated to scientific research...

Not Ready to Buy? Then Volunteer to Build a Home

So maybe you've already bought a home. Or maybe you're not ready to buy one. Maybe you're a little uncertain about the economy, perhaps you're unemployed? Even if the federal tax credit deadline isn't tempting you to buy a house, maybe you can help build one!

When slow sales meant employees had to take some unpaid time off, manager Jim Boschuetz at Rockwell Automation in Roseville MN thought about what to do with the 4 1/2-day furlough. They decided to do something constructive. Literally. They helped work on an eight-unit townhouse complex being built in Ramsey by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

The building, in the 14800 block of Olivine Street, is the last of three eight-unit townhouses built in Ramsey by Habitat. The $3.2 million development, which began in 2007, is just north of Ramsey's Town Center. To buy the land, Habitat received grants of $540,000 from Anoka County and $209,214 from the federal Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. The city chipped in $6,000.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has reported a dramatic increase in attendance at its volunteer orientations, from 550 people last year to 900 this year. In fact, many organizations have seen an increase in volunteerism since the economy has taken a downturn.

The nonprofit agency sells houses with no-interest mortgages to Twin Cities families with incomes less than half of the metro median, but large enough that their monthly house payment is up to 30 percent of their income. Habitat-paid supervisors and volunteers have built 770 homes in the seven-county area since 1986.

I highly recommend reading the rest of this Star Tribune article about the home, the workers, and the community spirit that building these houses has encouraged.

If you'd like to volunteer, contact Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.


Community Highlights ~ Blaine MN

Blaine MN is a dynamic and active community that's seen a flurry of business and residential development within the last few years. With a population now of about 54,000, Blaine is truly a city “on the grow.”  Stretched between both Anoka and Ramsey Counties, it is in a prime location to offer great access to the greater metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Blaine was named one of Money Magazine's Top 100 Places to Live in 2006, and it is easy to understand why. Blaine, MN has a wide variety of real estate and employment options for residents. The city is a well-planned mix of business, light manufacturing, commercial-retail and residential areas. Several large employers call Blaine home including Aveda, Dayton Rogers Manufacturing and the Anoka County Airport. Nine universities can be found in and near the city.

There are some great athletic, entertainment, and leisure activities available to the residents of Blaine MN. The National Sports Center is an Olympic-class training facility that provides top athletes the practice and preparation they need to perform to the best of their ability. The Schwan Super Rink in Blaine is the world's largest indoor rink and it provides children and adults with ice hockey and ice skating opportunities. For the golf enthusiast, Blaine is home to the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities and features a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Minnesota's Tom Lehman. There are also Brunswick Lanes bowling, Foss swimming and pool complex, and over 60 parks with trails, playing fields and courts. Finally, Blaine is in the running to become the home of the Minnesota Vikings new stadium.

From Blaine's older, established neighborhoods to recent developments, there is sure to be right house here to turn into the place you call home. From multi-million dollar mansions to empty lots of land and every possible price range and home style in between, Blaine MN real estate is as varied...