Archive for the 'Home Repair' Category

Changing A House To A Duplex Not Always Like On TV

said on January 6th, 2014 categorized under: Home Repair

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As Seen On  Income PropertyIf you’ve ever seen the HGTV show Income Property, chances are you may have considered either adding an apartment to your own home, or purchasing a single family home and converting it to a duplex.

After all, the only thing  better than buying and owning your own home might be having someone else buy it for you, right?

The trouble with many real estate shows, however, is they only give you part of the story.

For example, the show Income Property is filmed in Canada; which may have different zoning requirements and building codes than we do in your city or state.

In the Twin Cities, for example, many municipalities require you to change the zoning of an existing property from single family to one of the multi-family categories. Achieving this may involve obtaining permission to do so from a high percentage of neighboring property owners and bringing an older property up to current building code.

Failure to do so could result in difficulty obtaining a loan either for a refinance or sale, or even city inspectors requiring the unit to be removed.

Even if you are able to successfully negotiate the challenges of converting a single family home to a duplex, one significant problem usually remains: no matter how hard you try, a house conversion still looks just exactly like a house. In other words, the floor plan is reminiscent of a house, with living rooms continuing to resemble bedrooms and kitchens pushed into uncomfortable corners and taking odd shapes.

And finally, the conversion may ultimately cost and so much money the conversion no longer makes financial sense.

Many cities have existing duplexes that may ultimately make more practical and financial sense. Be sure to investigate all of your options before you choose “As Seen On TV”.

Save Money: Learn From My Mistakes

said on October 17th, 2013 categorized under: Home Repair

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bad contractorMany of the tips and suggestions I share here are the result of my own personal experience as a property owner. In doing so, my hope is you’ll either learn something new, or be reminded of something you had forgotten.

Unfortunately for me, learning never ends.

Over the summer, I decided to embark on some long-overdue remodeling of my own residence. And as part of that project, I wanted to use some flooring that’s something of a specialty item.

It turned out there was a manufacturer of this product in my area, so I spoke with the company directly.  In the course of those conversations, it was suggested that since this type of flooring had some unique quirks in installing it correctly, I find a contractor who had experience to install it.

I didn’t know of anyone locally, so I asked the manufacturer for a recommendation.

The gentleman they sent initially seemed like a godsend. He said he was a licensed general contractor, and as I also needed to replace some windows, I thought I’d found my savior.

The first sign of trouble was when he demanded more than my down payment for the job to show up and work.

The second was him not showing up when he said he would.

The third was him screaming at me on the phone when I asked why he hadn’t shown up.

The fourth was shoddy workmanship.

The fifth was missing materials I’d already paid for.

And the sixth was his complete lack of responsiveness to all forms of communication.

I am largely a patient person. But six months into a project that should have taken at most, a month, I finally got angry.

So I contacted the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to see if this contractor did, in fact, have a license, and whether I had any recourse against this individual.

Turns out he never had a license.

In Minnesota, anyone who engages in more than one category of construction: Excavation, Masonry/Concrete, Carpentry, Interior Finishing, Exterior Finishing, Drywall and Plaster, Roofing and/or General Installation Specialties is required to have a contractor’s license. The only exception is Roofers, who are required to have a license, even if it’s the only thing they do.

The good news is the Department of Labor and Industry has an Enforcement Services division. Consumers can send all of their receipts, contracts, and communications to them. If they feel there is merit to the case, they will pursue the company or individual and levy fines of up to $10,000.

And while they’re in pursuit, I can either hire a lawyer or take this person to small claims court.

In all, it was an excellent reminder to always ask contractors for their license number, or to look them up on the state web site before you pay them a dime.

And if not? Well, maybe we can carpool to court.

For Duplex Design, Check Out A Houzz

said on June 24th, 2013 categorized under: Home Repair

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houzz_logo jpgI have a confession. I’m not much for duplex decorating. And yet, I suddenly and rather inexplicably have found myself hopelessly addicted to the web site and app

Whether you’re thinking of remodeling your duplex, or just like to see photos of amazing multi-family properties, Houzz probably has what you’re looking for.

Touting itself as the leading online platform for home design, Houzz allows you to browse 1.5 million photos for ideas, collect them in your own Ideabook, and connect with professionals in the area who can help you achieve similar results in your own remodel.

The site’s search function allows you to put in exactly what you’re looking for and get thousands of visual results.

Try it and you’ll discover some of the most amazing duplexes you’ve ever seen.

How To Rehab Your Duplex Without Going To Home Depot

said on November 26th, 2012 categorized under: Home Repair

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duplex rennovationMany duplex owners and buyers believe the only way to make their property worth more is by swinging a hammer and grabbing a paintbrush.

They spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars installing new windows, granite countertops and central air conditioning, while overlooking the most obvious and inexpensive improvement of all: raising the rent.

Increasing rent to at or just below market value can add tens of thousands of dollars in equity to a duplex, triplex, fourplex or even large apartment building.

And yet, owners often refuse to do it.


Simple. They are afraid of losing tenants.

This is ironic, because most tenants are aware they are not paying market rent. They will not be surprised by a rent increase and in fact, won’t move if that increase is such that it still keeps their rent at bargain rates, but puts more money in the landlord’s pocket.

For example, let’s say a tenant is paying $800 for a two bedroom unit in a neighborhood that usually commands $1100 for comparable properties. (Of course, each must be in good condition.)

Raising the rent $150 a month will result in the tenant still “getting a good deal”, while the landlord increases her revenue stream by $1800 a year.

If each unit in a duplex is similarly under-rented, and the duplex owner gives both tenants rent increases, that would result in $3600 more a year in her pocket.

While market gross rent multipliers and cap rates are highly market and neighborhood specific, even if we use a conservative GRM of 6, means an increase in property value of $21,600.

The same calculations can be applied when buying a duplex as well. If rents are below market rate, a simple letter notifying tenants of an increase when their lease is up immediately adds value and increases cash flow.

All without a single trip to Home Depot!

Comments Off on Minneapolis Duplex Owners Recycle Parts For Charity

habitat for humanityWhen the Re-Use Center closed last year, Minneapolis duplex owners lost a valuable resource for replacing hard-to-match items, as well as dispose of gently used but still useful pieces of housing and excess building materials.

I’m happy to report that while the Re-Use Center hasn’t been reborn, Habitat for Humanity has stepped in to fill the void.

The ReStore store accepts donations of things like used kitchen cabinets, unwanted doors, leftover paint and floor tile.

It then resells these items at discounts of up to 75 percent of their retail price, with proceeds benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

This is a great idea. Not only does reusing material keep it out of landfills, it also provides duplex owners an opportunity to save money and match hard-to-find architectural pieces, but it also provides revenue for a great charity.

The ReStore also offers free electronics recycling for things like computer hard drives, cell phones, dvd players and ipods.  The items are then either refurbished or the raw materials recycled.

The ReStore is located in New Brighton at 510 County Road D W. They are open from 9-6 Tuesday-Friday, and 9-3 on Saturdays.

Comments Off on Why Some Duplex Foreclosures Need Professional Help

repainting a duplexLast night, I was reminded why I think HGTV bears some of the responsibility for the current duplex market.

My clients and I went back for a second showing of a bank owned duplex where the previous home owner had clearly undertaken some do-it-yourself home renovations.

Trouble was, he didn’t know what he was doing.

Oh, the refinished hardwood floors and exposed brick chimney looked really cool.

Unfortunately, however, the homeowner also forgot to install a heat source on the third floor.

The kitchen cabinets looked good too. I just wish that duplex owner had also bought glass for the broken windows instead of using masking tape.

Fortunately, my clients were wise enough to invite a FHA 203k approved contractor along to the showing so that they could get an accurate and professional opinion of what repairs were going to cost them; before they put in an offer.

After all, if the cost of rehabbing the duplex, when added to the cost of purchasing it, was more than the finished property would be worth in today’s market, they would find themselves upside down once they were finished with the repairs. Just like the previous homeowner.

When you’re looking at buying a duplex that needs either a little or a lot of work, it’s  important to remember that big repairs and improvements aren’t as easy as they appear on HGTV.

If you’re considering using a FHA 203k loan to finance those repairs, it’s not a bad idea to get one of their approved contractors to give you a professional opinion before you even put ink on a page.

There are always unexpected surprises and expenses, that can leave you frustrated and broke. And if you’re ambitious enough to take that kind of work on, you also deserve to be compensated for your time and energy in the form of equity.

Remember to build all of those expenses into your thinking when you write an offer to buy a duplex.

Six Ideas To Keep Your Duplex Out Of The Headlines

said on September 14th, 2011 categorized under: Home Repair

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keep fire extinguisher in duplexEvery morning I get email updates from Google that contain links to all the duplex news happening around the country and in Minneapolis and St Paul.

Almost every single one of them is about a fire in a duplex.

In fact, this morning I learned about a duplex fire in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, which is one of the most popular rental areas in the Twin Cities.

The duplex looks like a total loss.

These headlines serve as daily reminders of the importance of doing all you can to eliminate the risk of fire.

Here are a  6 ideas to keep your duplex from becoming a Google headline:

  • Keep anything combustible, like bags, paper or rags, at least 10 feet from any appliance that uses gas, like the furnace or boiler, stove, or water heater.
  • Install at least one smoke detector on every level of your duplex. And of course, always make sure the batteries are in good working order.
  • Be sure you have a smoke detector close to any room a tenant sleeps in.
  • Make sure a tenant’s path to any window or door that might serve as an egress is free of clutter and debris.
  • If you have a third floor in your duplex, make sure there are two ways for tenants to get out.
  • In Minneapolis, duplexes are not required to have fire extinguishers. However, it might not be a bad idea to make sure there’s one or two in each unit, as well as in any common area, like the laundry room.

These safety measures don’t cost much. And they will help both you, and your tenants, sleep better at night.

Duplex Owners Check Into Rehab

said on April 8th, 2011 categorized under: Home Repair

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Alcohol InterventionIf your Minneapolis duplex needs rehab, and Hazleden isn’t what you had in mind, you may want to explore a Rental Rehabilitation Loan from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Rental property owners who want to make improvements can borrow up to $25,000 for a one or two unit property, or $10,000 per unit for larger properties. The total loan amount cannot exceed $100,000.

The loan is amortized for up to 15 years at 6 percent interest.

There are some restrictions. First, the duplex or investment property must be occupied by individuals or families whose income is less than 80 percent of the statewide median income.

The median income for a family of two or less in Minnesota is $73,100. Eighty percent of that is $58,480, an amount which should help many Minneapolis and St Paul duplex owners qualify.

Income property owners need to have a good credit history to qualify for the loan. The duplex also must have some equity, and a positive cash flow.

The loan is not limited to individual property owners. Partnerships or corporations can also apply, but must be willing to personally guarantee the loan.

The work can’t go on indefinitely. It must be finished within nine months and meet Section 8 Housing Quality Standards when it’s done.

What a great way to make those improvements you’ve been putting off!

From A House To A Duplex And Back Again

said on August 5th, 2010 categorized under: Home Repair

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masonry constructionThere are two kinds of duplexes in the Twin Cities; those originally built as duplexes, and those that used to be houses.

Generally speaking, those that fall into the latter category often never seem to flow right. There’s always a kitchen in a former bedroom, and a couch and TV stuffed into a corner somewhere.

There’s another problem with metro housing. Many times, there aren’t single family homes big enough to accomodate growing families.

As a result, several times a year I’ll have someone ask me about the process of converting a duplex back to a single family home.

Fair warning. While the process isn’t necessarily complicated, it isn’t something you can just undertake on a whim either.

The city of Minneapolis requires a duplex home owner get Zoning and Plan Review approvals before they will issue a building permit to change the use of the property.

To achieve this, someone from the Zoning department will verify that the conversion is in keeping with the city’s zoning ordinance. After receiving a stamped approval, the duplex owner must then meet with a Plan Reviewer who will make sure your plans comply with housing and construction codes.

The reviewer will need to see floor plans drawn to scale that detail the new layout of the property, as well as the significant changes you’d like to make.

The plans need to be for each level of the home, including even the basement and attic. They must also be thorough enough to include locations of windows, doors, and stairways. They should indicate where new walls are to be built, doors and windows moved to, kitchens removed and so forth.

Ultimately, it may be most useful to have both before and after plans along.

Go Green And Save When You Fix Your Minneapolis Duplex

said on March 8th, 2010 categorized under: Home Repair

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recyclage ecologie symboleWhen I sit down with someone considering buying their first rental property, I always go over not only the potential revenue the property can generate, but also the certain and probable expenses.

The one expense most prospective owners (and to be honest, listing agents) seem to omit most often is the cost of repairs.

Let’s face it. No matter how new or old your duplexor house is, sooner or later something’s going to break, become outdated or wear out.

I have fixed numbers I use as projected repair costs for each unit per year. Of course, some years nothing breaks and others, everything does. So my estimates are just that; estimates.

It’s usually about then that I also share the names of some of my favorite local shops.

Of course, when and if  something needs repair or improvement, the obvious locations to look for supplies are Home Depot, Menards and Lowe’s.

However, if the repair or upgrade isn’t urgent, it might be easier to stay under budget by shopping at a couple of local treasures.

Building Materials Outlet (formerly Cannon Recovery) is just over the Mendota Bridge in Eagan. For over forty years they’ve specialized in liquidating excess inventory from national distributors and manufacturers.

While their inventory isn’t as reliably consistent as the retail stores, the savings are significant. On any given day you can find French doors, new windows, rolls of carpeting or pallets of tile for as a third less or more than at traditional home improvement stores.

Another local institution that’s not only a great place to save money, but also a green solution is The ReUse Center in Minneapolis.

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