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.


Photo by olia danilevich on

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.


Photo by Jill Wellington on

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.


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.


Photo by Kampus Production on

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. 🙂

Home Buying

Buying a home – online!

Dr. appointments are held via telemedicine & Zoom calls. My cousin just ordered a CAR online and had it delivered to her house. You may now be buying your groceries online for delivery or curbside pick-up. We also buy just about everything from Amazon, pajamas for my kid, water filters for my fridge, I’ve even ordered a new antennae for my old VW Beetle from Amazon! We read a lot in our family and the libraries are mostly closed with some drive up options, but now we do kindle and download (I know that’s old hat, but it’s a new way for us).

Would you ever consider buying a home online?

This topic likely could have been one of the first that I put on my blog, but sometimes you do something so much that you forget that it’s unusual! Covid is bringing a lot of attention to it right now – a friend sent me a copy of this article in the Wall Street Journal about the fact that buying without seeing a home in person has gone from 3.5% of agents saying that they have done a contract this way to a whopping 31% in April of this year! All I could do was nod my way through it.

Buyers do this when they are in the military, moving from overseas, or simply relocating from another state. Obviously at any point a visit is welcome, but if it’s not possible then there are ways to make it work.

I know people start shopping for homes that way – they like to visit the big online portals for listings so that they can see what homes are for sale, see pictures, get information on taxes and prices etc.

I have a good understanding of the difficulty of relocation because of my personal history of moving from state to state for fun or job relocation and also knowing how hard that was without being able to piece together what life looked like – most especially when I moved to Minneapolis from Chicago, which had much higher stakes for us, we had a kid changing schools, no family here, homes to sell and buy…

I started my YouTube channel and have focused a lot on showcasing neighborhoods and homes of every price and type, as well as trying to show a bit about what life is like here in Minnesota.

I thought I would help people like me.

And I *AM*!!

I regularly get calls or emails from people that are moving to Minneapolis for work, school, medical care or just because they want to, and they are coming from every part of the United States and across the world. They may be thinking of renting at first or may also be ready to buy a home here.

So, how do you buy a home from a long way away? Well, it’s definitely not the same as when you’re here in person, and the most important thing is to find an agent that you can trust. Agents always act as your partner in the purchase of a home, but when you are buying from a distance this is far more important. Your agent will be able to give you the information that you need before making a decision. This can be data on sales, rising and taxes, information about what schools are there, to just being able to provide you with video and commentary on what is in the area.

A very important aspect is that you are very open and clear with your agent as to what you prefer and what things are important to you in a home. I’ve had clients that were very specific about wanting 2 acres of property in the south suburbs, to those that prefer a high rise in the heart of downtown and everything in between. For out of town clients I preview all homes for them and take a video tour. In some cases, I’ll look at anything available in their price range that meets their criteria – listings sometimes aren’t enough to decide. More than once I have bought a home that I didn’t even think I wanted to see based on the photos. If nothing else, this gives a very clear picture of the competition and a better idea of what to offer once you’ve narrowed down your choices.

You’ll still need to do all the basic things like get pre-approved for a mortgage (easily accomplished ONLINE!) so you know how much you can afford to buy. But after your preferences and budget are clear I generally try to do the following:

  1. Set up a search on the MLS for you. People generally seem to love Zillow, but I believe that is probably because it’s what is available and people are used to it. It is also notoriously inaccurate. The best thing to do is to have an agent set up a search that meets YOUR criteria. This can be very specific – certain streets, specific layouts (ranch, 2 story, town house…), school districts. This is tailored specifically to YOU.
  2. When you have an idea about neighborhood, I will film a neighborhood tour – this gives you a good sense of what the neighborhood looks like, what the streets look like, what businesses are there, is it very residential or mixed with industrial? Do you want to be able to walk or bike ride? What about public transportation and schools? Any funky smells? I can show these to you and you’ll have a private link on YouTube to look from afar.
  3. When you find the neighborhood that you like and narrow down the homes, we can take this a step further. Agents always present their listings to the best advantage in pictures, but does this always match reality? No. So again – a video tour of the home, inside and out so that ALL aspects of the home and its situation are available for your evaluation – closets, basements, the street, the back yard. This can be on a video link or through Facetime so you can be “present” on the tour.
  4. If the home is acceptable and you decide to move forward video can continue to do its job. The inspector may take video or your agent can attend in your place and video the inspection. This is helpful because you can pause at any time and rewatch as you like – it gives you some time to process what you’re seeing and hearing in the video. Sometimes inspections can feel overwhelming if it’s a first time buyer, but this actually gives you a way to slow it down.
  5. We already do so much of our business on line – we sign contracts and loan docs, transfer money, search for homes, communicate often and easily via text or msg, this is just the last piece. You can likely close remotely assuming that signatures are notarized or witnessed, and you’ll be able to get keys either sent to you or held for pick up when you’re ready.

It’s always best if you can see the home yourself. Then you KNOW. But if you can’t, that doesn’t have to stop you from getting a home for yourself.

You just need to find an agent that is used to working remotely and is willing to put in the time to show you what you need to know to feel comfortable with your decision. I personally find this to be a really satisfying client to serve – it gives me a new perspective on my city and I get to welcome new residents to a place I love.

Are you in this situation? I’d love to help you out. Contact me or leave a comment with questions!