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 – they 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!

Home Buying

Reasons you should RENT and not BUY… PLUS a resource if this is you.

Sometimes RENTING is the way to go. If you are moving to (or within) Minneapolis I’ll give you some reasons why you may want to choose RENTING a house or an apartment vs buying one.


I see people juggling this decision about where to live daily.  A lot of people WANT to buy, but certain circumstances may mean that renting is actually the best choice, at least for now. 
The number one reason people that I speak with most often are looking for a rental is that they are moving to the Minneapolis area from out of state.  Not everyone is ready to buy sight unseen (but if you are I have a video about how I help people do that!).  In this tight market, if you can possibly avoid having a home sale contingency on your offer you are FAR better off and that means there will be a period of time where you may be without a permanent home and need a place to rent.


A lot of my clients move to Minneapolis because they have been freed from having to work in an office and now work remotely and can live where they choose.  This means that they have a LOT of options – that’s both a good thing AND a bad thing.  Having the flexibility to explore without committing to a particular neighborhood is a great reason to rent! If this is YOU, let me know – I put together a list of rental options specifically with this in mind, you can email me and I’ll send it to you.


Most often people I work with that are relocating to Minneapolis may be looking for a short term rental to use as a base while they house hunt.  I do not work in rentals for several reasons, but I am happy to email you a list of resources that I have recently compiled of places to start your search. 


When you don’t have to eliminate any particular area because the commute is too long, it means that you have a lot to choose from and likely want to choose carefully based on what kind of lifestyle you want to live. 


Do you want to live downtown in highrise condo overlooking the famous stone arch bridge and the Mississippi River?  Taking advantage of easy access to all of the wonderful restaurants, clubs and outdoor spaces?  

photo weston-mackinnon


Or do you see yourself in a quiet suburban neighborhood with a cul de sac and playgrounds for the kids? Is being close to a large park to pursue outdoor activities important to you?  
Maybe you want to be convenient to shopping or find a single level floor plan?  You may need time to explore and figure out where the things that are most important to you are.

man standing beside his wife teaching their child how to ride bicycle
Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna on Pexels.com

Juggling a move from one part of the country to the other will necessarily have some uncomfortable times – it’s emotionally stressful and often physically a bit uncomfortable too as you adjust to temporary housing and figuring out your way around the cities. Having a home base to operate out of even for a short time can ease that pain.  

Another thing to mention – because rentals are in high demand if you need to sublet because you found a permanent place to live you’ll likely have an easy time finding a taker – just make sure that the landlord on your rental is ok with that before you sign. 


Not everyone wants to or should be a home owner! Do you need to move often?  Buying a home has a lot of associated expenses and they are typically not easily recouped in a short period of time.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash


If you want and need the flexibility to move without all of the expenses associated with buying or selling a home, then you should definitely rent.  Renting can be an option for any type of home or area in the Twin Cities – there are a lot of downtown condos available if you want to be in the heart of it all as well as options reaching out to the single family homes or townhouses in the suburbs.  Most single family homes are rented by owner, and not listed with an agent or a property management company. 


Another reason to rent is that you are saving up for a downpayment on a home because you DO want to become a homeowner eventually. The rental market in the twin cities is very tight, so this may not be the money saving option that you hope for unless you’re able to split the rent with roommates or somehow find something that will be well under your budget. 

Rents vary across the metro area but Average Rents in Minneapolis are: 

  • Minneapolis studio apartment is $1,297
  • Minneapolis 1-bedroom apartment is $1,541
  • Minneapolis 2-bedroom apartment is $2,432
  • Minneapolis 3-bedroom apartment is $2,960

How much do you need to save in order to buy? Probably not as much as you think!  There is a commonly held myth that you need to have 20% of the price of the home for a downpayment. This is just not true.  You can get a conventional loan with as little as 3% down.  Having more cash saved IS better, because you will want to have a cushion available when making offers in this environment.  


If you’ve seen any of my videos this year about how tough of a market it is for buyers, you’ll know that having the option to offer over list or to cover an appraisal gap is going to be very helpful for you in getting an offer accepted.  Even if you do not need to use all of your cash for a downpayment, moving into a home naturally leads to you to want to change a few things and make it your own so you should also plan to have some cash on hand in the event that you have something to change or fix. When you own your own home, there is no landlord and if the AC unit or water heater break that is now your problem, so try not to make your budget too tight.


For comparison to rental costs take a look at these estimated numbers by Nerdwallet.  $380,000 is the median price of a single family in the Twin Cities as of August 2021. We currently have exceptionally low interest rates if your credit is good – 3%! and even if you have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) because you did not have a 20% down payment you are still in a good position relative to renting IF buying is your preference. 

Nerdwallet.com Mortgage calculator


There are some other benefits to buying, including tax benefits and property value appreciation over time, so if you DO buy you’ll likely come out of it better off than when you purchased.  People talk about “generational wealth” or having something to pass down to help the next generation and home ownership is a fundamental element of that.  The National Association of Realtors said that prices appreciated by 22.9% in the past year – this is the result of a very tight supply of homes.  If you had purchased a home last year you actually may have been able to make some money selling it this year, but this is NOT the norm.  Prices rise and fall but the overall trend in values is UP.  Add this to the fact that you’ve built equity by paying your mortgage down over time and a home could be a spring board to other opportunities. 

Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash


Another reason you may want to rent – if you do not want to be the one responsible for the maintenance on a house – either by paying someone to fix it or putting on that toolbelt and fixing it yourself, stick to renting and leave the headache to the landlord. The fact of the matter is that houses are nearly constantly in need of something and they are the biggest asset that most people own, so keeping them in good shape is important to your comfort AND your bottom line. 


Let me know if you want that list of places to start looking for a rental home, or if you’re wondering about how you can STOP renting and buy your own home – I’m here to help either way.

Neighborhood Tours

New Hope!

Another surprising community! Today I’ll show you around New Hope MN and give you all the reasons you may want to consider living there.


Lately I’ve been working with several first time buyers, and if you remember buying your first home you probably didn’t have a massive pile of money for a down payment as many people who may have equity from a sale do, so you have to look for a starter house in a more affordable neighborhood. 

That’s where New Hope comes in!  A quick look at what is on the market right now illustrates my point – there are 30 active homes in New Hope ranging from a 1 bed 1 bath condo for $115,000 to only a few homes in the mid-upper $500’s with MOST homes being single family homes in the upper $200,000’s to mid $300,000’s.  The MEDIAN price in New Hope is at $309,000 whereas the Twin Cities Median is at $380,000. 

 
If you’re an investor and want to rent out a residential property you must register the property with the city. 


In addition to single family homes and people just starting out in life, New Hope makes senior living a priority as well. They have 3 long term care facilities, some assisted living complexes and senior citizen apartment homes. 

elderly couple holding bouquet of flowers while holding hands
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com


Let’s talk Property taxes… New Hope is in Hennepin County, the effective property tax rate in New Hope is 1.35%.  Hennepin County’s portion is 1.28%, the effective tax rate for the state of MN is 1.08%. Sales taxes since I looked this up as well – MN has a sales tax rate of 6.88% on everything except  (I believe!) food, prescriptions and clothing, and the sales tax rate in New Hope is 7.13%. 

tax return form and notebooks on the table
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com


The beauty of New Hope is not only the affordable home prices, but that New Hope is actually a really lovely community and it has a lot to offer.  


New Hope is an easy commute to downtown or the airport. It’s only about 20 minutes by car to downtown.  and Because I’m such a fan of our regional parks I also want to point out how close New Hope is to the beautiful Theodore Wirth Park. I touched on this park in my Golden Valley video (which you can watch next!) but Theodore Wirth really has it all. It’s just gorgeous, and can keep you busy outside no matter what season we’re in. 


If you are leaving town or going to fetch a visitor, it’s about 26 minutes to MSP airport and while you’re down there you can stop by the Mall of America and get your shopping done or amuse the kids on the roller coasters.  I was a major skeptic because I am not really a “mall person”, but I like “The Mall”!  It has so many great stores that you don’t see everywhere else, some nice food options and my kid and I had fun doing some of the rides the first time we stopped in.  Being close to it is nice because it can just be something you do for an hour or two and you don’t have to feel like you need to spend all day there since you can go back any time.  The Ikea is right next to the mall as well, so if you like. Swedish Meatballs and cryptic assembly instructions for affordable furniture that utilize allen wrenches  – you’ll be in heaven!


New Hope does NOT have it’s own school district, all schools in New Hope are part of the Robbinsdale Schools aka ISD 281.  It’s a pretty big district with 10 k-5 elementary schools, 2 middle and 2 high schools. I always recommend that you do your research and see if the school district that your home is in is one that you will be happy with. You can check out Niche.com or GreatSchools, but another option is to actually VISIT the schools and talk to the administration and see things for yourself.  


Speaking of brain food… New Hope residents have convenient use of 3 branches of the Hennepin County Library system.  They can easily access Brookdale Library in Brooklyn Center, Golden Valley’s adorable little library, or the Rockford Library in Crystal. 
One of my favorite topics when giving community profiles is the park systems. I just think green space improves the quality of life for everyone.  New Hope agrees! They are a small city (only about 21,000 residents) but they have 18 city parks and several other venues offering all kinds of recreational activities including: 

  • the new Hope aquatic center which is a community pool and water slide
  • 2 off leash dog parksa 9 hole public golf course
  • disc golf course
  • ball fields 
  • a skate park 
  • tennis / pickleball courts
  • Community gyms with basketball courts that can be rented out for the day
  • and 3 outdoor skating rinks that are open in season. 
sunflowers on rack with price tag near orange canopy tent
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com


The city hosts a Farmers Market on Saturdays from the middle of June through the middle of October at City Hall. 


Lastly – Pets & fencing. Everyone’s favorite topics!

winking black and brown puppy
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com


New Hope allows for a LOT of pets – 3 dogs, 3 cats and 3 “other” household pets, as well as 3 “fowl”, This is not restricted to actual chickens – if you want ducks instead – go crazy!
All dogs, cats and ferrets need to be licensed and vaccinated for rabies. 


Fencing – IS ALLOWED! 🙂 


OK – that is ALL I HAVE on New Hope! It’s a lovely community that I feel lucky to have worked in lately. It offers a lot of great options to people that may be priced out of other areas of the city. It’s 100% worth considering if you’re wondering where to live in the twin cities metro. 
If you like this kind of content – I have an entire playlist of neighborhoods/suburbs on my YouTube Channel that you can look at to see what feels right for you.


Thanks for stopping by!

Home Buying · home selling

March Real Estate Market Update

My last post & video about this were pretty well received, so even though numbers aren’t flashy, I’m going to try to make this a monthly feature as we navigate through this crazy market. This post has some good little nuggets in it if you’re in certain segments of the market, so stick with me.

A bright spot for buyers?!!

Last time I posted about the market I gave an overview of “absorption rates”, this is going to be a recurring theme, so if you want to check that out you can find that post here: https://twin-cities-living.com/2021/02/26/i-had-other-plans-for-this-weeks-post/

There is an obvious lag in the data because we need to look after homes close and that shows up in the MLS, but I do get some data relatively quickly thanks to Minnesota Transaction Coordinators, a company that helps many of us with processing our transactions.

Let’s start there with their analysis of terms that they see in contracts.

Inspections

In the past couple of months we’ve seen quite a few buyers deciding to waive the inspection in order to release one more contingency ahead of everyone else. By “a lot” I mean 38% of buyers were waiving inspection in the first 2.5 weeks of the month, but when they looked at the first through the 26th the rate went to 31%. That means that enough people have STOPPED waiving them to lower this percentage by 7%. Buyers are insisting on protecting themselves and sellers are acquiescing to that.

Offer acceptance rates

Even better, offer acceptance has gone from 31% for the month last week, to 39% for the month over all as of the 26th. YAY!!!! Sellers are accepting offers! I represent a lot of buyers and it has just been TOUGH. So this is great news.

Homes listed on the open market vs witheld

In an office as large as mine, we often hold listings off market and only market to agents within the office. This shrinks the pool of who looks at the house which is desirable for a lot of reasons – from Covid, to privacy, to simply wanting to not have to deal with the preparation and hassle of selling on the open market. Sellers can name their terms and if another agent has a buyer that can meet those, there is a happy meeting of the minds without all of the associated prep work, exposure, etc and everyone feels satisfied. The number of sales that they have worked on in this status is down to 5.6%. This is good because more homes are hitting the market than have been.

Percentage of list price received

Current purchase price to list price ratio is “down to” 104% from 105% last week. It has been hovering between 103% and 105% in the past couple of months. It’s good to have that number in mind, even though it’s not a fixed price, it’s an idea of what you should think about when offering on a property that has a lot of interest. Price is not the entirety of a an offer, there are a lot of other terms that need to be in line as well, but this is good info for this metric.

Seller paid closing costs

26% of deals include some seller paid closing costs. I have to assume in this market that the offer price was increased to account for these, but I like that we are seeing it because it means sellers are accepting these terms.

Forms of financing

76% of loans are conventional (you do NOT need 20% down for a conventional loan! These are viewed as more favorable and if you can get a conventional loan it’s one more check mark on the list of terms).

FHA loans represent 10% of the offers, CASH 10%, and VA & USDA loans are at 4%.

Traditionally, inventory really increases around this time of year (inventory = homes being listed and available for sale). We currently have less than HALF of the listings we had 6 months ago.

Good news for downtown condo buyers!

Downtown condos are in a balanced market right now! If you are looking for a condo in the central city including neighborhoods like Loring Park, Downtown, University, Dinkytown, Elliot Park etc… now is the time. We believe that this is caused by the pandemic and people wanting to live in less dense housing + fewer people needing to be downtown for work, but don’t expect it to last with the speedy rollout of vaccine and life returning to somewhat new normal.

Days on Market are up to 41 (only from 38), but these are the kinds of indicators that let buyers know that they will not likely have to pay more than list, that sellers will be willing to negotiate because they know you can find another condo to buy and someone will play ball with you.

So that is what is happening! Sellers are still mostly in control of things, but if you’re a downtown condo buyer you’re in the sweet spot!

Let me know if you have questions.

Uncategorized

MINNESOTA IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a couple of reasons – the first is that I wonder if my enthusiasm for Minnesota leads to blinders about things that people may not like? And the other is me thinking about times when I have lived in other places and have just felt slightly “off”. I was OK there, but it really didn’t feel like MY place. So here are some things to think about before you make the leap!

Weather

It is no secret that Minnesota gets cold. It’s kind of our claim to fame. It’s also a topic that I sometimes hear talked about with some level of fear or worry. I suppose that is as valid of a feeling as any other, but in my experience if you look it in the face and just know that “hey – that’s a big part of living here” and prepare yourself, you’re a step ahead.

Figure out how you can make it work for you. Learn a new winter sport, decide that you like puffy, down-filled fashion statements, and, if you REALLY don’t like being outside (which I think is unfortunate – Minnesota is really beautiful, even in winter! It’s just not “glamorous” beautiful. And to me – that is a bonus!) anyway – if you REALLY don’t like being outside, then you’ll need to figure out ways that you can be happy by being inside. Finding a place to walk indoors, join a gym, find an indoor sports league – there are a lot of them for adults including fun games that aren’t insane (hi hockey! looking at you!) like pickleball.

Yes! I know I’m writing this during a pandemic and this is all limited right now, but hope in the form of a vaccine is on it’s way! Another side note that I hope looks super quaint super quick is that our state vaccinated more than 40,000 people in one day yesterday and numbers are going up quickly, so hopefully we can put this behind us.

The other thing that I have (easily) embraced in winter is seeking the cozy. We like to build a fire in the wood stove in the evening, light candles, have warm drinks – anything that gives you that cozy feeling at home. It can be hard to go out when it gets dark early in winter, but if you’re a person that likes and needs to be around a lot of people (when this is over) make sure you get that cozy feeling from the inside of a bar or restaurant.

If your brain is giving an existential scream at the thought of several months of cold… Minnesota may not be the right place for you.

Landscape

lots of the left side in the west, lots of the right in the north
LAKES everywhere, WATER everywhere

If you need to see mountains or rolling hills, this may not be the place for you. It’s not exactly flat, but the south & western side of the state is nearly flat. It’s farm land for the most part and that part of the state is bordering on the beginning of the Great Plains. The south and eastern side is more rolling as it is part of the “kettle moraine” area where the glaciers receded and left “puddles”. One of the towns I want to profile because I’m a little in love with what I’ve seen online (haven’t been there myself yet!) is Lanesboro, MN. Charming small town on a river, there are bluffs and lots of trees and interesting terrain.

The area that is probably most well known outside the city is the “north shore”. This is some wild country bordering Lake Superior and Canada in what we call the “arrowhead” of the state. Lots of dense forests, and not a lot of people once you’re outside of Duluth. Some of the towns up that way cater to people going out on the Boundary Waters. The northern part of the state has a lot of lakes and that is where people head on the weekends here, “up nort”.

*I* think the landscape is pretty, but I know people that have said they just feel too exposed without a lot of hills. To which I say – seek a home elsewhere where you can be happy!

Color

Lake Superior on the right … Split Rock Lighthouse

You have to be able to appreciate a more stark type of beauty to like living in MN – at least in the winter.

MN loses a lot of it’s color in winter too – it goes from very vibrantly colored deep green to fairly monochromatic. Winter makes me think in white, dark purples, violet and bright cold blue. Many times it’s also gray. We can go days in a row without a lot of sun, but plenty of clouds. You have to know that you’ll have those days. The silver lining to it is that clouds hold in the heat, so if you have a cloudy day, you’re likely having a warmer day! Every time I think of the phrase “bright side of life” I get Monty Python stuck in my head. Do yourself a favor and listen to that! 😉

Light

4:30 in winter…

We are a northern people. With that comes the tilt of the earth on its axis and the slant away from the sun in the winter. In December when we hit the winter solstice the sun sets around 4:45 and it doesn’t rise again til nearly 8. It’s a long period of darkness. Some people HATE that. I sleep well during winter, so I’m in favor. The flip side is that we get ridiculously long days in the sweet time of summer – the sun is up early around 5:30 and sets after 9:30 at night. So much time to be outdoors and enjoying the weather. And Minnesotans take advantage – we know what is coming and don’t waste summer and that beautiful light.

Some people that live here (and love it) still need to spend some time in front of a “happy light” during winter mornings as they have their coffee. I’m basically a mole and don’t mind the dim of winter. You need to think about how you react to that type of environment. A colleague here heads to Mexico in the beginning of December and stays through May – he needs the sun but wants to be back here in summer.

Progressive politics

OK – I normally stay faaaar away from this topic, but hey, it is what it is and I’m just giving you information that you can take or leave. Minnesota has a reputation for being a “blue” state. Our current governor is a Democrat. The metro areas lean progressive- Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth.

As you move out across the suburbs the first rings are bluer than the exurbs and when you’re in rural MN, you are likely to be in some fairly solid red country. This is really no different than any other state if you look at demographics, but if you’re thinking of moving here to be in a blue bubble – well, that’s a stereotype and you’ll have to choose your home wisely.

Likewise, if you’re not feeling the progressive vibe, you are not alone, your people just tend to congregate in areas that are not as densely populated and I’m sure you’re not surprised by this news. Because MOST of the population of the state resides in the metro areas, and most of the people are progressives, you’ll likely also see policies that follow, but we do have loyal opposition in the form of a Republican controlled state Senate and that leads to a more balanced set of policies.

“Minnesota Nice”

I’m sarcastic and an introvert so people here don’t faze me, but you need to know that while people are “nice” they are also passive aggressive. That can be annoying if you let it. I don’t let it. I’m also going to add that sometimes there is a sense that MN has a lock on this attitude/behavior – NOPE. I lived in Atlanta. Land of “bless your heart” (“you idiot” = implied). I also did not find the famously hospitable south to be any more hospitable than any other place I’ve lived. People are people. You have to do the work when you’re new, it’s just a fact. That means you have to JOIN things and INVITE people to do stuff if you want to have friends outside of your house. I don’t think people are any more or less likely to knock on your door here and golly-gee you. Although I will say that when we moved here TWO of our neighbors dropped off food and offered a welcome. That IS two more than have ever done that anywhere else I’ve lived, so maybe it is nicer here?

Housing prices are high

It is not cheap to get into a home here. I don’t know if I’m the only one that was shocked by that information when I moved here, or not. Things are not easing at all, in fact they are getting worse as more buyers enter the market and the number of listings can’t meet the demand. People are staying in their homes longer, and here at least, people are reluctant to list until they have found a new place to live because the market is so tight that their home will be gone in a hurry and they may not find what they want from what is available. Add to all of that extremely low interest rates and people spending way too much time inside and you have demand that is insane. (If you’re thinking of listing – let me know lol! Not joking!) If you’ve ever taken a basic economics class you know that high demand + low supply = high prices.

I’m struggling to come up with anything else. I’m sure someone can help, ha ha! Comment below if you have a reason to stay the heck out of MN.