Archive for the 'Home Repair' Category

13 Inexpensive Ways To Improve Your Minneapolis Duplex

said on February 1st, 2010 categorized under: Home Repair

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A row with colorful silk tulipsThe spring housing market begins one week from today.

If you’re thinking about selling, that’s important information. However, it’s equally important if you’re a landlord facing a spring vacancy.


Many of your usual prospective tenants are going to be looking for houses in order to beat the April 30 first time homebuyer tax credit deadline, resulting in more landlords competing for fewer prospective tenants.

What’s more, many homeowners unable to sell their property for what it’s worth have turned them in to rentals, meaning there’s far more competition out there than ever for rental dollars.

Here are ten ways you as a landlord can compete:

1. Get your vacant unit so clean that your mother would stay there.

2. Give every room a fresh coat of paint.

3. If the kitchen cabinets lend themselves to it, apply a fresh coat of paint and updated hardware. You’d be surprised how inexpensive hinges, knobs and drawer pulls can be. Replacing them can immediately give a kitchen a face lift.

4. If your kitchen counters are dated, replace them. You don’t have to put in granite, but many of the larger home improvement chains offer relatively inexpensive laminate counter tops with a similar look and feel to high end stone.

5. Replace switch plates. At pennies a piece, the return on the investment here is significant. Filthy switch plates imply a history of grime. Painted-over switch plates send a message of laziness.

6. Paint the front door. It’s tough to paint in the winter, I know. But you could remove the door, taking it to the warm basement long enough to get it painted and dry. It may be possible to cover the opening with plastic while you’re waiting.

7. Shovel the sidewalks. Fallen on ice yet this year? Enough said.

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Comments Off on Minneapolis Duplex Owners Have A Theme

Warranty - One yearI don’t know whether to call it a trend or a theme, but this week my real estate business has had one.

First, the pilot light on the furnace in a buyer’s new property went out the day before closing. Next, the forced air furnace in one side of a duplex a buyer is considering came back with a yellow flame; which may or may not be the sign of a cracked heat exchanger (which can result in the unit producing unsafe levels of carbon monoxide).

Then I got a call from a rural tenant stating they had no water in the house or any of the outbuildings on the property.

The theme for the week could be “things break”. However, there’s another one here; whenever possible, get a home warranty.

It seems like everyone from Best Buy to car dealers offer an extended warranty these days. And we’ve all had experiences where the coverage they provided were not worth the additional cost.

I haven’t found this to be the case with most home warranties, however; especially when a client is purchasing a foreclosed property.

Many foreclosures not only have deferred cosmetic maintenance, but the mechanicals like the furnace or boiler and water heater have been ignored as well.   Most banks aren’t in the business or maintenance or repair, so whatever’s wrong with the property will most likely be the buyer’s responsibility.

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Minneapolis Duplex Owners Answer “D: None Of The Above”

said on August 6th, 2009 categorized under: Home Repair

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3d human with a red question markSometimes I think I should write questions for “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

See, I get a lot of questions I can’t answer in my job. They range from, “Why did the seller think put a toilet in the closet?” (Answer: “I dunno”) to “How much does it cost to put a new boiler in a 4500 square foot triplex?”

While I don’t think I’ll ever have an answer to the first question, from time to time I’ve been able to answer the last by calling a contractor friend for a favor…or 12. I swear, sometimes I can (understandably) actually hear them roll their eyes over the phone.

In an attempt to answer without using my “Phone A Friend” lifeline the other day, I stumbled on one of the most useful websites I’ve ever found.

It’s actually called

Need a wedding dress? They can give you a ballpark idea of what you’ll need to spend. But more importantly, to this conversation anyway, they can give you ranges for any kind of home improvement you could think of.

While not exact, the prices the site provides are in keeping with figures local contractors have shared.

How much for the boiler? Now I can answer. Anywhere from $3500 – $7000 (dependent on energy efficiency, BTUs, etc.).

I don’t think, however, I’ll ever have an answer as to why some owners make some of the “home improvements” they do.

What Should You Improve In Your Minneapolis Duplex?

said on June 26th, 2009 categorized under: Home Repair

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can of green paint and brushOne of the challenges facing many duplex and single family home buyers in today’s foreclosure-laden real estate market is that many of these properties havea significant amount of deferred maintenance.

And it’s tempting, regardless of the type of property purchased, to “Pimp My Ride” with every conceivable improvement featured on HGTV or in the aisles of Home Depot.

Before you max out your credit cards, spend all of your $8000 first time home buyer tax credit or burn through your 203(k) construction loan, it’s important to stop and think who you’re improving the property for, and just what your return on those expenditures will be.

Just as improving a kitchen or adding landscaping increases the value of  a single family home, upgrades to duplexes do as well.  Before you start putting granite countertops in your rental units, however, it’s important to ask yourself a couple of questions.

First, if your intention is to ultimately sell the property, think about who your eventual buyer might be. Is your property one that lends itself to an owner occupant? To answer this, simply ask yourself whether you would live there.

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HGTV Rehabs Minneapolis Duplexes Too

said on June 22nd, 2009 categorized under: Home Repair

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scottmcgillivray_s3x4_alBelieve it or not, there’s a home improvement show for duplexes.

While it hasn’t gotten a ton of press, if you’re going to be home Wednesday night, you might want to check out the HGTV show, Income Property.

Hosted by Scott McGillivray, the premise is basically this.  First time homeowners buy a duplex or a single family home and gets in over their head. Either the rental unit is trashed, resulting in a longer term vacancy or, the owner of a house is financially strapped and needs to generate extra revenue in order to make the mortgage payment.

In the case of the latter, the solution is to turn a portion of their home (usually the basement) into an apartment.

The property owner is given the opportunity to either have the show do a “Lipstick Job”, which is typically a fast turn so the unit can be rented immediately. Or, they can have the big, extensive rehab.

The show has useful tips for both new property owners and experienced investors, including which materials to use to attract tenants, how to decide whether the cost of a renovation will generate an appropriate return, and which repairs and upgrades should be tackled first.

“Income Property” airs in the Twin Cities on Wednesdays at 8:30 pm.

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One of the greatest challenges for any first time investor or homeowner is finding reliable handymen and contractors for repairs or home improvements. And while I am always happy to pass along names and numbers of service people either I or my clients have been happy with, sometimes I don’t have the right person for the job.
While Angie’s List is always a viable option, a client called this morning with what may be a wonderful alternative; Service Magic.
Like Angie’s List, Service Magic lists and works with reliable contractors who they’ve screened. They also ask customers for reviews of the services performed which they then make public.
Where they differ, however, is their web site asks you for a description of the job you need done. They then figure out what type of contractor you need, then have up to four pre-screened contractors who do that type of work contact you.
My client reported she was thrilled by the caliber of people sent (which included Sears ), the speed in which they contacted her and the quality of work done.
It’s always nice to have these kind of resources on hand.

Bailout Bill Helps Minneapolis Duplex Owners Go Green

said on October 20th, 2008 categorized under: Home Repair

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While it hasn’t received a great deal of media coverage, The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, also known as the $700 billion bailout bill included several incentives for investors to go green.
For the next eight years, anyone who builds or renovates a multi-family, commercial or retail property and includes alternative energy features, particularly solar panels will receive a 30 percent tax credit.
Property owners who add small wind power (capacity of 100 kw or less) will also be eligible for a 30 percent tax credit, up to $4,000. This is in addition to any tax credits offered locally or from the state of Minnesota
The bill also offers a 10 percent tax credit for specific combined heat and power systems, as well as for geothermal heat pumps.
Taxpayers faced with the Alternative Minimum Tax will see their income tax limits increased through the use of energy tax credits. Alternative energy tax credits may now be carried over to the property owner’s next tax year.
It looks like a good time to go green.

Simple Repairs Can Improve Duplex’s Cash Flow

said on September 4th, 2008 categorized under: Home Repair

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dripAs we head into fall and winter, it’s easy to remember that heat is one of the biggest expenses any Twin Cities landlord faces. That is, of course, if a property has a single boiler or furnace. Another expense, however, which can inexplicably jump and cause diminished cash flow, however, is water.

I learned this the hard way. Which, unfortunately, seems to be how I learn best. In my 23 unit apartment building, my water bill inexplicably jumped from $800 per quarter to over $2000.

Of course, I immediately called my handyman, and we went through the building one unit at a time. We checked the usual for the source of the spike: dripping faucets, running toilets and more people living in a unit than were reflected on the lease. We found some small drips, but nothing that could account for such a radical jump.

So we asked some questions of the tenants. Guess what? One of the three washing machines on the premises repeatedly filled with water, drained, and then repeated the process: over and over again. Ad infinitum. We simply unplugged the machine until the appliance repair company could come out. The next month, the bill dropped below what it even had been in the past.

My lesson? It doesn’t hurt to do regular apartment inspections to find water issues.

Know the Duplex Next Door

said on June 5th, 2008 categorized under: Home Repair, Selling A Duplex

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NeighborsI had a unique experience the other day while showing properties in one of my favorite “secret” neighborhoods. Well, I don’t know if it’s a secret exactly, but I do think it’s under-appreciated: the Riverview/Cherokee area of St Paul.

The neighborhood is a quiet little strip across the river from downtown. It has many of the amenities people look for in other, more well-known areas, including walking/biking trails along the river, parks, big old trees and most relevant to this blog, a beautiful and diverse selection of early 20th century architecture (woodwork!) . The prices, however, tend to be comparatively reasonable.

I was first introduced to this area years ago by a client. Since then, I have helped move a lot of first time home and duplex buyers to the area.

My client and I looked at two properties, exactly next door to one other. From the outside, one appeared to have been built late in the Victorian era. The other looked more like a Craftsman. Both had very good cash flows and long-term tenants with solid rents.

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IreneSince it’s Memorial Day, a time when we remember people we’ve loved and lost, I thought it would be nice to write about Irene and her Rule of Real Estate. Have you heard of her? My clients have. And she’s earned them more money than Carleton Sheets ever has.

Irene was my grandmother. Irene Balle. She would want you to know that.

My grandparents were part of America’s Greatest Generation. They grew up on western Minnesota farms, survived the Great Depression, relocated to San Francisco during World War II to build ships for the Navy, then returned to Minnesota where they bought their first (and only) home.

Thankfully, there’s some longevity in my family. As a result, I had the great privilege of getting to know them as an adult. I marvelled at them, really. They stayed in their home well into their 90’s; even surviving the tornado that swept through St Peter, Minn., in 1998.

I came home and visited them the summer after the tornado. Most of their windows had been blown out in the storm, scattering shards of glass everywhere; even embedding it in the carpet. When I stopped in, the old carpet had been removed. And for the first time, I got to see the absolutely pristine oak hardwood floors that lied beneath.

Grandma was agonizing over carpet choices. I was incredulous, and said, “Grandma, these floors are beautiful! Don’t cover them with carpet!”

Irene gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “But we wouldn’t want people to think we were poor!”, she exclaimed.


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