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Best Places to Live... Even Now

Best Places to Live... Even Now
Photo by Dana Wheelock

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You can’t put lipstick on a pig, so here’s the bad news: Taken as a whole, the Twin Cities real-estate market looks bleak. But sift the details and you may be surprised by the number of home sales and home seekers in the metro. In fact, your residence may be holding its value because you live in a community with low taxes, safe streets, or lots of green space. What’s your house worth? How does your city stack up? Read on. And check out the guide to residential real estate to see how sales around the Cities are going.
 

Best Place to Sell

Anoka County
Oak Grove

Residents in almost every city in Anoka County saw double-digit slides in home prices last year. But Oak Grove, a community of roughly 8,500 people in the northern reaches of the county, stood out. The median sale price softened only 4 percent from 2007 to 2008—a palatable blow, compared to the falloff seen elsewhere in the Twin Cities. The median home sale in Oak Grove in 2008 was $249,900, and, on average, sellers got roughly 92 percent of what they were originally asking.
 

Carver County
Carver

Carver hasn’t changed much since it was established in 1852. It remains quiet and small—an enclave of just 2,800 people, largely untouched by the development boom that has transformed nearby Chaska and Chanhassen from farm towns into bedroom communities. But last year, Carver outshined its neighbors—at least in terms of residential real-estate: The median sale price of a home in Carver actually rose 4 percent over the previous year, to $288,500. But people in small Midwestern towns like this tend to be skeptical of all good news. Some were probably disappointed by the fact that sellers, generally speaking, got only 94 percent of their asking price.
 

Dakota County
Sunfish Lake

You may have heard of Sunfish Lake, but you’ve probably never visited or considered moving there. Why? Because only 500 people live in the bucolic burg, and last year the median sale price for a home in the tiny 1.7-square-mile community, located south of St. Paul, was $1,051,250 (down only a smidge from the previous year). Can’t afford that? Nearby Mendota is a tad more affordable: The city’s single 2008 sale fetched a cool million bucks.
 

Hennepin County
Woodland

The median sale price in Woodland, a coveted strip of shoreline on the east end of Lake Minne-tonka, was $2.5 million in 2008. That’s more than double the handshake sum for homes in Tonka Bay, Sunfish Lake, and Mendota, the only other Twin Cities communities where the median sale price for last year topped $1 million. But properties don’t go on the market very often in Woodland, says Carl Zinn, an agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet who focuses on the Lake Minnetonka area: The Woodland property that sold for $2.5 million hadn’t changed hands in decades. And it was one of just three properties sold in Woodland in 2008.
 

Ramsey County
Arden Hills

If you can find a house for sale in Arden Hills, chances are the seller has mixed feelings about leaving. “It’s a very tight community,” says Ann Hermes, an Edina Realty agent with a focus on Ramsey County. Located just north of Roseville, it’s a suburb known for its wooded lots and winding streets filled with mostly single-family dwellings. The population ranges in age, says Hermes, but it’s particularly attractive to young families, drawn by a strong school system. Sellers saw the median sale price for residences rise 5 percent last year, but at $250,000, it’s an amount that’s still affordable to many homebuyers.
 

Scott County
Credit River Township

The area just east of Prior Lake is dominated by rolling hills, small lakes, and picturesque woods. It also abuts Legends Golf Club and lies within the bounds of the high-performing Lakeville School District. All of which may explain why enormous homes continue to spring up on two- and three-acre parcels in the area and in high-end developments like Crest View. Only four homes sold in Credit River last year, but the median sale price was a whopping $632,137. And sales of existing homes only tell part of the story, says agent Maria McDonald-Zang, with Re/Max Home Realty in Prior Lake: New homes built for committed buyers, which aren’t generally listed, also continue to mushroom in the area.
 

Washington County
Mahtomedi

Astonishingly, nearly a third of the cities in Washington County saw an increase in median home values last year. Dellwood, an exclusive enclave that is reputedly the home of former governor Jesse Ventura, topped the list for highest average price, with 13 sales garnering a median price of $750,000, an uptick of 30 percent over the previous year. But nearby Mahtomedi may be a better statistical indicator of the luck had by residents in that corner of Washington County. Eighty homes changed hands in Mahtomedi in 2008, fetching a median sale price of $297,000—an 11-percent jump over the previous year. Surely that city’s residents were happier than those in St. Paul Park, where nearly the same number of sales yielded a 19-percent decline in price.
 

Urban
Downtown Minneapolis

Downtown Minneapolis and Lowry Hill, or what’s known in Realtor-speak as “Central,” recorded the highest median sale price in Minneapolis–St. Paul proper. On average, sellers in the neighborhood, which includes hundreds of gleaming new condos as well as avenues lined with stately old homes, got $275,945 for their properties. Additionally, Central’s prices didn’t soften much over the course of the year, dropping just 1 percent. More good news for those looking to offload a downtown condo: Residences in Central tended to spend fewer days on the market than the average Minneapolis home—just 106 days, versus 128. (One final note: Central also outperformed St. Paul’s highest-priced neighborhood, Macalester–Groveland, where the median sale price for a home was $266,250. That figure was down roughly 4 percent, from the 2007 price of $276,000.)
 


5 TIPS FOR SELLERS


1. TOUR THE COMPETITION

Check out the other homes on the market in your area. “Does your home look better than others in your price point?” asks Edina Realty agent Marian Peterson. If you don’t stand out, lower the sale price.

2. SPRUCE UP—INSIDE AND OUT

Dust off the furnace. Paint the basement floor. Re-stain the deck. (Outdoor spaces are increasingly important to buyers.) And don’t forget about first impressions. “The front door is key,” says Steve Havig, president of
the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. “No torn screens or peeling paint!”

3. LEAVE NOTHING TO THE IMAGINATION

Put out pictures that show your property at its best. Buyers visiting on a rainy day won’t necessarily grasp how great it looks in sunlight or when the apple tree is in bloom.

4. DON'T INFLATE THE PRICE

Price your home competitively from the start. If you aim too high, says Jim Tice, a sales manager with Century 21 Luger Realty, the home will languish on the market till you wise up.

5. BE FLEXIBLE

“If a buyer calls and wants to see the house in 10 minutes,” says Peterson, “you’ve got to be willing to show it.”

—J.H.


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