Neighborhood Tours · small towns and exurbs

Prior Lake MN

Prior Lake is a good place to consider if you’re looking for the following things – LAKES, parks, space around your house, a cute downtown and proximity to the cities! Watch the video if you want to see for yourself.

Where is Prior Lake?

Prior Lake is a suburb south of the Twin Cities, in Scott County MN. It sits about 20 miles from the Minneapolis¬†border on the SW side of the city, and if you’re concerned about commutes or getting to the airport, it’s approximately 25 minutes to MSP and likely about 10-15 minutes more to downtown Minneapolis or into St. Paul.

If you like the idea of taking a commuter bus line into the city you can ride the express (no stops!) Minnesota Valley Transit Authority bus from Prior Lake into Minneapolis. I think some people have a knee jerk reaction to busses and believe they are dirty and uncomfortable but these busses are similar to tour busses. Pure luxury. ūüėČ and in true Minneapolis fashion they have bike racks!

Quality of life – from the actual people that live there!

96% of residents rated the quality of life in Prior Lake as good or excellent! There are some happy people down there. Approximately 25,902 of the 27,000 people that live there are happy! You still have a 4% chance of running into someone who is a little salty, but odds are better that you’ll be bumping into someone that’s blooming where they’ve been planted. 

Prior Lake has that charming downtown that many people like, but most of the city is zoned as rural subdivisions & “low density residential”. It’s not what I would consider “walkable” for the great majority of residents. I do think this will appeal to people who like a bit more space around their homes, the city does have remaining agricultural areas, as well as denser neighborhoods of townhomes and an older town center with homes that are older, closer together and more walkable.¬†

Prices for homes

Prices in Prior Lake range widely – there were 2 condos that were priced at or around $200K when I looked at current listings, but the median price for homes in Prior Lake is $475K. Single family homes in the $300’s tended to be either townhomes or 1960’s to 1980ish split levels.¬† Homes that were built before the boom of subdivisions down there. Split levels can be a little controversial, I feel like people love them or hate them, but the good points are that they typically have a large amount of living space and if they were built in this time period the lots are generally larger as well.¬† I saw one home listed with deeded lake access (not lake front!) in the mid $500’s.¬† There are new construction homes in Prior Lake starting in the $600’s. But, if you want to be ON the lake you’ll pay a premium and will likely be spending upwards of $1M.¬†

SINGLE FAMILY Median prices
All property types compared to neighboring areas

I pulled median pricing for neighboring areas over the past three years as well and here you can see how Prior Lake compares to Lakeville and Savage (which I have a video for, check that out if you’re curious!).

Parks

Speaking of lakes – if you’re not one of the fortunate ones that owns a little slice for yourself, Prior Lake does have two swimming beaches as part of their extensive park system.¬† They have two major regional parks – Cleary Lake and Spring Lake which are part of the exceptional Three Rivers Park District, as well as having easy access to nearby Murphy Hanrehan Regional Park.

The city has 55 parks within it, mainly community parks, and lays claim to 100 miles of trails and sidewalks. The park district also has two large athletic complexes, an archery range and 14 lakes with fishing piers, boat slips, beaches and green space. The park district sponsors all kinds of sports including the super popular Pickleball, beanbag, and volleyball leagues. In winter the park district maintains 6 outdoor skating rinks. 

Fests

Minnesotans love a good festival or celebration and Prior Lake sponsors several.  In summer they have a large music festival which attracts bigger acts РLynyrd Skynyrd headlined this year. Freebird!

man in black crew neck t shirt holding jack o lantern
Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.com

In fall they host a candy crawl for the kids, and there is a new and I think, interesting event called Chalk Fest. They invite professional sidewalk chalk artists to create works and non-professionals can compete for prizes as well. 

Schools

man in black and white polo shirt beside writing board
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you have school-aged children they will attend¬†Prior Lake Savage Area Schools. There are 7 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and one high school serving the area. You can look up information on their web site, check out what Great Schools and Niche.com have to say about the schools, but schools welcome prospective¬†parents and students for tours as you consider your options and I always think that’s a good step.¬†¬†

Library

person holding book from shelf
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

If you love books and all the programming and services that the library provides you’ll find that at the Prior Lake Library, which is one of the six branches of the Scott County Library System. It’s located right in the heart of the little downtown area of Prior Lake. The library also hosts Club Prior which is its senior citizen programing.

Chickens, pets and fences!

four assorted color roosters
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

And the moment you’ve all been waiting for! You can have up to 4 chickens! but only 3 “regular” pets like cats and dogs. Fences are allowed if they aren’t banned by an HOA (thinking about the Wilds golf community where I believe it’s unlikely that you’ll have either of these).¬†

Fences must have 50% transparency in front (picket etc) and be no higher than 4′ and 6 ft with total privacy in back, if you want to build a great wall higher than 7′ tall you’ll need to get a permit from the city.¬†

You should check out the rest of the places I’ve profiled! I have an entire playlist of neighborhoods and suburbs on my YouTube Channel. Lots of good info out there is you’re trying to pick a place to live.

Reach out if you have questions, always happy to help.

Neighborhood Tours · small towns and exurbs · Uncategorized

Walkable, Charming, White Bear Lake MN

Need access to the cities but want a small town feel, White Bear Lake has it! I love where I live but every single time I go to White Bear Lake I want to move there! This suburb of Saint Paul just has a good feel to it – from the historic downtown to the lake and parks.¬† If you’re looking for a walkable lifestyle this should be on¬†your list of places you consider!¬† Watch the video below to see what I mean – lots of footage of the downtown and the homes.

White Bear Lake sits north of St Paul (so if you’re not from around here that’s the east side of Minneapolis St. Paul), if you work in downtown Saint Paul you’re about a 15 minute commute or to downtown Minneapolis it’s about 25 minutes. Getting to the airport will take a little longer because it’s on the opposite side of the city, but if you’re only heading there periodically it shouldn’t be a problem, it’s less than 30 minutes in decent traffic.¬†

Downtown White Bear Lake drips CHARM from top to bottom. Most of the homes in the downtown area have a historic look and feel, but are well maintained. As you move out away from that central downtown area homes get a little newer but this is not the place to look if you want new build / subdivision feel. WBL was an old resort town and escape from the city and the rail line still runs right up to it, it retains that feeling of a lakeside vacation area today. The old downtown has a ton of options for restaurants, pubs, bakeries, shops and other services like salons or day spas.¬† The library is downtown as well, it’s a busy bright and modern space that is part of the Ramsey County Library System.¬†

panda printed paper coffee cup on table
Photo by Quang Anh Ha Nguyen on Pexels.com

In the summer and fall, Grab your morning coffee and a muffin from one of the bakeries and then enjoy the community and seeing your neighbors while you shop for locally produced eggs, honey, fruits and vegetables at the farmers market held in downtown every Friday morning from June through October. 

a person holding a purple cabbage
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

For a small town white bear lake has a pretty big focus on the arts and you can take classes or take in a show at the White Bear Center for the Arts, The Player’s Theater or the Children’s Performing Arts. 

HOUSING

Home prices in WBL range from the mid-$200’s for a townhouse to $1.2M for a new construction lake front home.¬† If you want to live directly on the lake, prices are consistently over $1M, but you can find something more moderately priced with lake front access.

low angle photography of brown wooden dock at golden house
Photo by Heiner on Pexels.com

Currently White Bear Lake has a tighter sellers market than the metro area as a whole Рthey are sitting at only .7 months of inventory whereas the twin cities is a little over a month on average. 

Schools

White Bear Lake Area Schools are the big cahuna in this part of the metro they serve all or parts of Birchwood, Gem Lake, Hugo, Lino Lakes, Little Canada, Maplewood, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township.There are a lot of schools in the district, so do your research and see which one will work best for your kids.  You can look at sites like Great Schools or Niche.com, but schools welcome visitors that want to tour and get questions answered before making a decision.

Parks

White bear lake is home to 24 parks including access to docks at the lake, a disc golf course, and access to¬†Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Park which is one¬†of 4 Ramsey County regional parks. This park has a playground, boat launch, fishing pier, access to the Tamarack Nature Center and an off-leash dog area. If you’re looking for swimming, White Bear Lake County park has a swimming beach, this park is located just north of the downtown area.¬†

A city in Minnesota couldn’t hold up it’s head if they didn’t have an ice arena – White Bear Lake is home to the Sports Center Ice Arena where you can participate in or watch the state sport of MN – ice hockey – or for those without the urge to body check someone simply some ice skating. You don’t have to be a member to use the ice here, it’s pay as you go!

Hey – if you have questions about anything real estate or living in the Twin Cities related, let me know! I’m happy to help!

Neighborhood Tours · small towns and exurbs · Uncategorized

Buffalo MN

Whenever I venture out into the hinterlands for a client, I like to get some video and some information on that community for my clients but also so I can pass it along to YOU.¬† Today I’ll show you around Buffalo, MN.¬† It’s a small city in the western exurbs of Minneapolis and a great option if you like a small town feel, lake culture and yet still want to be within about a 35 mile drive of the cities.

I ended up out in Buffalo for the reason I think a lot of people may end up out in Buffalo! My clients were interested in getting a lot of house and the prices are more affordable out there, they were also excited about the prospect of being able to avoid “bidding wars” on pre-existing homes by buying new construction. Most new construction in the Twin Cities is going to be on the outer edges of the cities where buildable land is still available. 

When I went out there I met the agent representing the builder and was chatting with him about what is drawing people to Buffalo and his impression was that a lot of people discover it when they become priced out of homes in northwest suburbs like Maple Grove for the size and style of home that they are looking for.  I pulled the median prices for Buffalo and the MEDIAN price is $329k for a single family home. For comparison’s sake the median price in Maple Grove is $375K and for the twin cities REGION which I believe includes 14 counties it is $340K.  

Digging a little deeper I found that right now there are only 39 homes for sale in Buffalo, fully 30% of those are under construction or completed new builds. Prices range from the very lowest end for a townhouse at $250K up to a 120 acre horse farm with a circa 1900 farm house priced at $1.5 million.  If you’re interested in a big house with lake frontage there were a couple of these homes hovering around the million dollar plus mark as well, but MOST homes are much more reasonably priced. 

Where the in the heck is Buffalo?  Well, head about 35 miles north and west of Minneapolis on rt 55 and you’ll drive right past. If you need to be at the airport for any reason you should plan for about a 50 minute drive to get to MSP airport on the south side of Minneapolis. 

Things that I found charming about Buffalo were the shops in the historic business district right on beautiful and large Buffalo Lake. The city still has their post office, library (1 of 30 in the Great River Library District), and other city services right there in the center of town. The one that really caught my eye because I have a thing for books and coffee was the charming and aptly named Buffalo Books and Coffee. I would be a regular if I lived out there! Unfortunately I think Covid may have killed the movie theater, but there are quite a few restaurants either of the chain variety or local favorites within the city limits – not all downtown.  

If you have children they will attend the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose schools, when I looked at Niche.com to check out the district it looked like they are rated a solid B or B+. 

The good people of Buffalo have quite a few options for grocery shopping they can choose from Cub which is a large regional chain, they also have a Walmart Supercenter, a Target, and one of the smaller local grocery stores called Coburns Market. 

I like to see if cities allow fencing and chickens because I always get asked. Fences, la la la … the usual. Get a permit, 4′ facing the street and 6′ in back.  When I looked up chickens I was pretty shocked because the answer was short and sweet but the combination of animals was a little odd – Buffalo stipulates that you may not have a mountain lion or chickens and they phrase it as “no wild animals”.  I think this may need some clarification and may be contingent  on how large your lot size is at least as far as the chickens go – I can’t imagine the city having an issue with chickens on a 120 acre horse farm. 

Another somewhat unusual feature of Buffalo is that they have a small municipal airport. So if your hobby is flying – this would be a really nice convenience for you.

About the airport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Municipal_Airport_(Minnesota)

Buffalo likes to party and they have a lot of events every year including things like an Arts and Crafts show, a rodeo, the week long Buffalo Days with marching bands, a carnival and a beer garden, you can jump in the lake if you compete in the annual Buffalo Triathlon (or anytime you want to I suppose) there are free concerts in the park all summer, and in the winter they have a Kites on Ice celebration.  There were a lot of other events listed as well, for a small city they seem to have a lot going on.

The Buffalo Chamber of Commerce has a nice calendar of events!

Other things to do out this way are to go apple picking at one of the orchards or stop at Buffalo Rock WInery or the Hayes Public House and Brewery for some sips. 

I can’t leave out the parks!  Buffalo has 4 larger regional parks as well as 24 community parks. They have a golf course, a dog park, and a skate park.  The parks offer bicycle and boat rentals so you can enjoy the paths or the water and they have trails for fat tire bikes or snow shoeing for winter activites.

Check out my YouTube Channel to see more community profiles on my Neighborhoods and Suburbs or Exurbs and Small Towns playlists!  

Living in Minneapolis · Neighborhood Tours · small towns and exurbs · Uncategorized

“Cows, colleges and contentment”. What is going on in Northfield MN?

Do small towns appeal to you? I love them. They make me think of community and knowing your neighbors and the businesspeople in town. Especially when they have a charming, walkable, central area with great shops and restaurants where people will gather. Let’s see what is going on in Northfield MN!

Even better, in my opinion, is when the town is the home to a college – or in this case, two colleges! Having students and academic institutions around do a lot for small town life. It brings the energy of youth, the cultural pursuits of the college, and it also pumps the local economy full of money spent by students, teachers and staff.

Northfield MN is home to St. Olaf College (approximately 3000 students) as well as Carleton College (approximately 2000 students). Both are private, competitive, liberal arts schools founded in the 1800’s.

Northfield is located on the banks of the Cannon River and the downtown area centers itself on that feature. It was founded in 1855 and the charm of the historic downtown reflects the long history. Watch my video so you can get a live look at the downtown. It’s cute!

Photo of the river in downtown Northfield from Tripadvisor

Northfield Parks

For a small town, Northfield has a LOT of parks! There are 30 city parks!

Northfield has a dog park right on the river, 6 outdoor skating rinks in the winter and the Northfield Ice Arena for year round hockey and skating.

In downtown Northfield you’ll find Bridge Square which is the heart of the city and the site of summer concerts and festivals like the “Defeat of Jesse James Days” fest in September of every year – Northfield’s claim to fame is that the James gang once tried to rob the bank in downtown! Nothing like a little armed robbery to encourage an annual festival…

In addition to typical parks, Northfield has 10 soccer fields at the Spring Creek Soccer Complex, a public pool with a low daily price – I think I read $4.75 / day?!? at the Old Memorial Pool. Sign me up! Our pool up here is closer to $15/day. cray. If baseball is your thing – you will likely be playing at the Sechler Athletic complex home to 4 baseball fields and adjacent to the Mill Towns Trail.

From the state DNR site: “When complete, the Mill Towns State Trail will connect the cities of Faribault, Dundas, Northfield, Waterford, Randolph, and Cannon Falls, for a distance of approximately 25 miles. The trail will be an important link in the developing southeast Minnesota trail system, connecting the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail in Faribault with the western end of the Cannon Valley Trail in Cannon Falls.” I love a good trail! If you live in Minnesota, chances are good that you do too.

Awards- Northfield brings home the bling

Northfield racks up the awards, they clearly have the attention of those who like to rank cities. If you check out the city web site you’ll find a comprehensive list, but there were multiple mentions for things like “Best Cities to Live in America” and “Safest Cities MN”.

Northfield MN Schools

Niche.com gives the Northfield schools and overall grade of “A”. The district consists of 3 elementary schools: Sibley, Bridgewood & Greenvale Park with a total enrollment of around 1600 students and a student teacher ratio of 16:1. The elementary students then move on to Northfield Middle School & Northfield High School – each also graded “A” by Niche.com.

Demographics – who lives in Northfield?

Median household income in Northfield is higher than the national average at $70,148. The population of Northfield is around 20,000 people.

67% of residents are homeowners and the median single family home price is less than the twin cities metro median, but on a consistent rise over the past 3 years.

I also pulled information for townhomes. Those prices are HIGHER than the median in the twin cities… maybe a function of supply and demand?

Northfield Public Library

Image courtesy of the Friends of the Northfield Public Library

The Northfield library is right in the heart of downtown. It is in yet another historic looking building but the interior is throughly bright and modern. They finished an interior renovation in 2016, but kept the exterior in the character of this charming town. It was originally built in 1908 with a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie! Interesting bit of historical trivia.

Grocery Stores that serve the Northfield area

I did a video on Twin Cities groceries and now I’m adding this to everything… I love food. Knowing what shopping options there are (especially in a small town!) is important to me, so with that in mind I will now unveil the map o’ food:

I think because it’s a college town of relatively decent size, they have a good amount of options from budget choices like ALDI, to Cub & Target and up near the center of town is the co-op. I don’t know what a Minnesota town would be like without a natural foods co-op. It’s a thing here.

Senior Citizens

I kind of stumbled on this while I was researching but wow! I think this looks like such a great resource for the no longer spring chickens… Northfield has a senior center that has an absolutely gorgeous gym, classes in the arts and a bunch of continuing ed / lifelong learning classes. It seems like such a great resource for community and fun. I hate the thought of anyone staying put in their homes when there are options like this available. Check out FiftyNorth.

Other Attractions in Northfield…

The Flaten Art Museum resides on the campus of St. Olaf College and is devoted to the visual arts.

The Cowling Arboretum is a part of Carleton College. It is 800 acres of land that is open dawn to dusk daily to enjoy the outdoors. They do have trails for cross country skiing in winter!

The Goodsell Observatory is on the campus of Carleton College and is such a beautiful old building. In normal (non-covid times) the Goodsell offers open houses for people to come in and take a look. Looking forward to having that option again (soon)!

Goodsell Observatory image from mortarr.com

I think that’s it?

Northfield has a LOT going on for a town this size. I start these profiles thinking it will be short and sweet and end up finding more and more as I look. It’s great because I now feel like I have a good bit of knowledge about a lot of places around the twin cities – I love that for me, but I really love that it helps me help other people who are trying to figure out where they want to live.

Neighborhood Tours · small towns and exurbs · Uncategorized

Elk River and Otsego

I had a request from someone on my YouTube channel to do an overview of Otsego. I admit, that isn’t anywhere near the top of the pile for places that people have asked to see so I haven’t spent much time there. As with all of these neighborhood profiles, I learned a lot about what is out that way and some of it made me pretty happy! This is going to be the beginning of a series where I look at smaller towns an exurbs of Minneapolis – I have some video footage ready for Excelsior as well as Northfield and I’m looking forward to both of those as well.

shopping pins where you’ll see stores

The map give a sense of where Otsego & Elk River are – far NW of Minneapolis. It’s definitely what I would consider a 3rd ring suburb / exurb.

What surprised me most was that Elk River is actually the larger hub of economic activity! This is why it’s important to see things in person! Otsego itself is fairly rural with a lot of subdivisions “planted” on farm lands and still a lot of farm surrounding the neighborhoods. If you want a newer home but in a rural environment you may like it in Otsego.

Elk River has a charming and BUSY little downtown area that is right on the Mississippi River. The primary reason I headed that way after looking at Otsego was that I like to show the public library and any other city services and Otsego had the Elk River library listed as the closest, and it IS right next door. The Elk River library was a surprise to me as well – large and modern. I didn’t go into the building, but it exceeded my expectations by a LOT based on their minimal web site.

Elk River Library

Check out the video to get a good look at the downtown and the library. The police department, utilities and parks and rec buildings were similarly new and located directly across the street form the library- my point would be that the residents seem to be investing in their community infrastructure.

Schools

Photo by olia danilevich on Pexels.com

Otsego is served by three different school districts depending on where your home is located – St. Michael/Albertville, Otsego & Elk River schools. So again, this is a situation where you’ll ask your agent to include or exclude homes based on which district is best for your family. Elk River is served by ISD 728 – Elk River Schools.

Homes

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Home prices in Otsego are higher than in Elk River and I am guessing that is because most of the available housing is in newer subdivisions on former farmland. The median home price in Otsego for a single family home is $366,248 & the median townhome price is $228, 950. For Elk River the median single family home is $330,000 and the median townhome price is $205,000.

Shopping

Otsego has a Target with a liquor store and a few other small shops, but no real “downtown” per se. Elk River has more available but while it has more options including a Menards hardware store and larger groceries, you’ll need to leave this immediate area if you want more choices.

About 10 minutes away is Rogers MN, and Rogers has a lot of shopping and chain restaurants, and then if you continue south to Maple Grove (about 20 minutes drive) you have just about everything that you would expect in a large metro area, including Costco and stores that cater to a larger audience.

Parks

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

There is a city park next to city hall in Otsego that has a a splash pad, larger playground, ball fields etc and as I was driving by they had their little zamboni-ish contraption going over the ice of the outdoor skating rink. A+ for the creativity of whoever came up with whatever that was to add a fresh layer of water to the surface – don’t ask me to explain, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Elk River takes it’s parks seriously! I just did a google search to see what is up there and made a squinty face at the list because I thought it was giving me parks from other areas – I could not believe that they have as many as they actually do! So even if you don’t LIVE in Elk River it seems like it might be a good place to visit if you’re looking for some time outside. I guess I should have had an inkling from their beautiful new parks and rec building!

In addition to hiking trails, community parks, a public amphitheater on the river, & 4 outdoor skating rinks, Elk River also has an archery range.

Otsego doesn’t have as robust of a park system – they have many small, neighborhood parks, but when your park map highlights areas in the city that have sidewalks… it seems like they may be reaching a little.

If you go just south of Otsego you can take advantage of a Crow-Hasan Park. It has 18 miles of hiking trails, camping, paddling on the Crow River, off leash dog areas, and it is part of the Three Rivers Park District which is a bit of a curiosity to me because it seems independent of any county or city. It has parks across the metro area and my experience with them has been excellent in all ways so far.

To sum up – I think that if you’re looking for QUIET and space – Otsego may be a good option. Its definitely going to be a very slow pace of life out there, but you can get what you need within a reasonable distance. If you like the small town feel that has a bit more going on but it’s not a “CITY”, check out Elk River. It’s really charming! If Otsego is more your speed, Elk River is right next door and easy to get to. ūüôā