One Chance to Make a Good First Impression

  As we approach the busy holiday season and cold snowy weather, we have limited time to get home listings sold. For those that still want to sell their home this year, it is more important than ever to make a good first impression with buyers. The highest number of showings is usually the first ten days that a home is on the market. Staging or improving your home later, may include a price reduction.

  I was talking with a friend over the weekend that sold her home in another state, and she was surprised when the real estate agent recommended staging her home, as she thought it was perfect. Over half of her furniture and accessories were removed and the home was thoroughly cleaned, prior to the photos being taken. The home was priced competitively, and it sold for full price in 2 days.

  Another buyer, I spoke with felt good about his house and wanted to price it high as he didn’t want to leave any money on the table. He felt he could always reduce the price but couldn’t raise it. This house needed a lot of work as it had been a rental property and virtually no maintenance had been done for 15 years. The seller didn’t have the resources to make any repairs. 

  I knew the buyer, for this home, would be a contractor or someone with extra money that wasn’t afraid of some sweat equity. The property wouldn’t meet FHA or VA qualifications, with peeling paint and other hazards. In this case the property was emptied, cleaned, and priced $25,000 lower than if the property had been maintained as needed. 

    I showed a lake home a few months ago that had a new septic mound installed which created a hill between the house and the lake. Dozens of buyers looked at the house and it sat on the market for months, before the seller hired a landscaper. Had the beautiful improvements been made before it went on the market, the house could have sold faster without the seller having to reduce the price.


  With any home we are selling, we try to determine who the buyer will be and adjust our marketing to that buyer pool. A contractor or investor doesn’t care about staging as they see the property as a future investment. Buyers that purchase emotionally want to feel like they can move right in and feel at home. A buyer looking for a lake home or one level living, has specific requirements, and may look beyond staging. 


An experienced real estate agent can help you make a good first impression with your home.

Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.

Health Hazards at Home

  As the weather gets colder and windows are closed, it is important to give your home a check-up. There is a false sense of security when it comes to being safe at home. When people buy or sell a home, most of the problems are identified; the rest of us may live with hazardous situations for years.

  Check your attic for bat droppings, rodent trails in the insulation, bird nests, mold or water stains.

  Walk around your furnace and water heater and look for combustible materials, laundry, or storage items that are too close. Change your furnace filter and smell for gas. I have seen many furnaces test positive for carbon monoxide and gas leaks. If you have an air-exchanger, make sure it is running; newer homes are more air-tight and need fresh air circulating.

  Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. There should be a smoke detector in each bedroom and a carbon monoxide detector within 10’ of each bedroom, in addition to other areas. It is recommended that the detectors be replaced every 10 years.

  Inspect your down spouts, extensions, and grade around the house. Water should drain away from the house.

  In older homes, check for peeling paint or asbestos. Both are hazardous to breath, so have an abatement specialist recommend the correction. You can purchase a lead test from the hardware store.

  Test your drinking water. I have seen water test positive for bacteria, lead, and we often see rust and manganese. You can purchase water test kits from Chisago County, or you can contact water treatment companies.

  Test your home for radon. One home can be radon free and the neighboring home can be hazardous. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. You can purchase test kits at the hardware store or contact a radon mitigation company.

  Look for mold in the basement, bathrooms, under sinks, and leaky windows. If mold penetrates wood, insulation, or sheetrock it will be expensive to remove and repair.

  If an outlet, light fixture or switch isn’t working, have an electrician inspect and repair to avoid an electrical fire.

  Walk around your house, garage, and yard and look for anything that may need attention. Be safe and be pro-active. In addition to protecting your safety and health, regular maintenance checks will save you time and money when you decide to sell your home.

     Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lives and offices in the Chisago Lakes Area. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.

Repair Issues After Closing

  Occasionally I hear from buyers after they have closed on their home and moved in, that something isn’t working properly, and they want to know if the seller will pay to fix it.  When I get these calls, I refer to the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement and the Buyer’s Inspection Report, to see if there were any comments about the issue prior to closing.

  One buyer contacted me because they were smelling gas behind a new dryer that was installed a few months before closing. The buyers had a contractor turn off the gas, but the repair quote was expensive, and they wanted the seller to pay for it. The Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement mentioned the new gas dryer, so I checked the permit records at the City and found a permit was pulled for the work and inspected by the City. The work was under warranty, so the same contractor came back and made the repair at his own expense. Had there not been a permit pulled, we would have gone back to the sellers to request their cooperation with the repair.

  Some buyers elect to purchase a one-year home warranty or ask the seller to provide one. One of my clients recently got a new dishwasher and central air-conditioner a few months after closing. I hear from many clients, that they have used the home warranty for miscellaneous repairs.

  Minnesota Statutes require that sellers disclose to prospective buyers all material facts that the sellers are aware of that could adversely and significantly affect an ordinary buyer’s use and enjoyment of the property. Buyers need to be aware that there may be problems that the seller is not aware of and therefore they are not disclosed.

  There is a 12-page Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement form approved by the Minnesota Association of Realtors, that the sellers complete at the time of listing the property. If there are any changes that occur prior to closing the seller is obligated to update the disclosure. 

  In some cases, there is a Seller’s Disclosure Alternative form, where the seller does not answer the disclosure questions. This typically occurs in foreclosure properties, investment properties, or estates where there is a Power of Attorney or the seller has not lived in the home for some time.

  The disclosure form is not a warranty, and buyers are encouraged to have an independent home inspector inspect the property. Most purchase agreements are contingent on a buyer’s inspection. During this contingency, the buyer has the option to ask the seller to make repairs, provide compensation in lieu of repairs, or cancel the purchase agreement because of the condition.

  It is also recommended that buyers walk through the home again before closing to ensure it is in the same condition as when they purchased the property and that agreed upon repairs were made.

  Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lives and offices in the Chisago Lakes Area. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.

Helping Clients Who’ve Inherited a House

Over the past few weeks I helped five different parties sell a home that they inherited from their parents. This was an emotional time for them as they had lost their parent, some of them were raised in the home, and they were given the responsibility to liquidate their parent’s assets.

Two of the five parties had to go through probate court before they could sell, as their parents didn’t leave a will. They were responsible for taxes, utilities, yard or snow maintenance for several months.

There were between two to seven heirs in each of these transactions, and although there was an executor assigned, the siblings had competing interests, which caused friction. Some wanted to make repairs, some wanted to do nothing, and several didn’t agree with the value.

In one case, the executor and I established a value, and she made the decision to sell the home for less to one of her siblings. Right before closing the buyer changed his mind. I found another buyer that offered the original asking price, but ultimately another family member came forward and matched that offer and purchased the home. This process took several months longer than it should have, but the executor’s primary concern was family peace, which they had.

Three of the five homes were at different levels of disrepair as their parents had stopped making repairs several years prior to their deaths. In addition to needing work, the homes, garages, and out buildings were full of personal property that the heirs didn’t want. 

Three clients didn’t have the financial resources to pay for repairs, but they were able to sell or donate the contents and we sold their homes “as is”. We priced the homes competitively, so they were sold quickly in multiple offers, for more than the asking price, and the clients were pleased with the quick sales.

The other two homes were sold with the contents and the buyers were responsible for disposing of what they didn’t want. 

Not all inherited homes are in disrepair, but most heirs know very little about the property or community rules. An experienced real estate agent can help you determine the best way to sell a loved one’s home.

Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lives and offices in the Chisago Lakes Area. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.


Radon Levels Differ on the Same Street

  Two homes on the same street in Chisago City tested way below the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) recommended action level, so one would assume the neighborhood is safe from Radon, but another home at a higher elevation, on the same street, tested two times higher than the recommended safe level. The two “safe” homes have sandy soils, but the unsafe soil has clay soil. That does not necessarily mean that sandy soils are safe.

  Buyers are frequently having homes tested for radon after entering into a purchase agreement, especially if there are bedrooms on the lower level.

  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It is a heavy radioactive gas formed by the disintegration of uranium and radium in the ground. It seeps into your home through holes and cracks in the foundation. The average radon level in Minnesota is 3.8pCi/L which is like smoking 10 cigarettes a day. The EPA estimates 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year attributed to radon. Past and present smokers are at a greater risk than non-smokers. 

 The seller I was representing had a radon level of 19.5 pCi/L. The buyer requested a radon mitigation system be installed prior to closing at the seller’s expense.

  The EPA recommends radon mitigation when radon test results are 4.0 pCi/L or greater. The concentration of radon in the home is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Radon levels less than 4.0 pCi/L still pose some risk and in many cases may be reduced. If the radon level in the home is between 2.0 and 4.0 pCi/L, the EPA still recommends that you consider fixing the home. The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L; roughly 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The higher the home radon level, the greater the health risk. Even homes with very high radon levels can be reduced to below 4.0 pCi/l and many homes can be reduced to 2.0 pCi/lLor less.

  To mitigate radon, most homes need a sub slab depressurization system and sealing of any openings in the basement floor. My client had a fan and a 3” pipe installed to draw air from below the basement floor up through the roof.  This cost my client about $1200 and the contractor guaranteed the radon would stay below 4.0pCi/I, as long as it remained in use.

  In the 550XX zip codes north of I-94, it is estimated that 23% of homes have radon levels above 4.0 pCi/L.

  If you are buying a home, it is a good idea to have it tested for radon, as the seller will most likely pay for the mitigation. If you haven’t had your home tested, it is a good idea to do so, to ensure you are living in a healthy home. An experienced real estate agent can give you advice on how to have your home tested.

 Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lives and offices in the Chisago Lakes Area. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.

Cost vs Value for Remodeling Projects

Remodeling Magazine issues an annual Cost vs Value Report outlining the average return on investment for 21 home improvement projects. The 2018 report shows that the average return on investment (ROI) for home improvement projects dipped across the board, with “upscale” projects taking the biggest hit. This can be attributed to the strong housing market with low inventory and the increased cost in building materials and labor.

Improving your curb appeal brings the highest return on investment (ROI). Garage door replacement has the highest average ROI at 98.3%, adding stone veneer 97%, and replacing the front entry door averages 91% ROI. 

Adding a deck is a good investment as well, at 83% ROI. This is an important improvement on a newer home where the builder installed a patio door with deck ledger. It is better to make this improvement long before you sell, so you can enjoy it, but if you don’t install a deck before you sell, it may take longer to sell and for less. Many buyers are using all their cash to purchase a home and don’t have extra money for remodeling. 

Minor remodeling is far more cost-effective than replacement, This year, there’s a 20-point difference in ROI: 76 percent for replacement jobs, versus 56 percent for remodeling. For example, a minor kitchen remodel averages $21,000 with an 81% ROI, and a major kitchen remodel averages $64,000 with a 59% return on investment. 

It makes the most sense to make repairs and improvements as they are needed rather than waiting until you are ready to sell. I have had many clients that have lived in their homes for 10 or more years and haven’t updated anything, and then when it is time to sell they are painting, replacing flooring, countertops, appliances, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, etc.  Sellers often comment that they wish they would have made the improvements for themselves, rather than for the new buyer.

Some sellers overspend on remodeling projects prior to selling and end up with a very low ROI. If you live in a neighborhood where the homes are similar, and the average value is $300,000 and you spend $75,000 on remodeling projects, you may get an excited buyer willing to pay $350,000, only to have the buyer’s appraiser value the home at $325,000. In this case the selling price typically gets dropped to the appraised value, and seller loses $50,000 in remodeling costs. 

Contact an experienced real estate agent before you make a major remodel if you want to compare your resale value before and after a remodeling project.

Ask the Real Estate Agent is a weekly column by Cheryl Kempenich of Coldwell Banker Burnet, who lives and offices in the Chisago Lakes Area. Submit your questions to All information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For legal assistance consult an attorney.