Saint Paul Real Estate Blog

Happy New Year's Eve, Twin Cities!

It is December 31, 2009, meaning that at midnight we celebrate the start of a new year, January 1, 2010. In fact, we'll start an entirely new decade! Have you picked out your New Year's resolutions yet?

It has been a crazy year in Minnesota, as well as the rest of the United States. A new president. A financial meltdown. A mortgage, real estate, and foreclosure crisis. Don't even get me started on Brett Favre, Al Franken vs. Norm Coleman, or the Christmas storm. And that is just this year! You can reminisce about the Aughts in Minnesota if you take a look at this Minneapolis Star Tribune Decade in Review.  

If you still haven't decided what you want to do, check out the selection of events happening tonight in the Twin Cities from Just make sure of two things tonight. First, keep warm because it is hovering around five degrees even as I write this and it is supposed to stay close to 0 tonight. And second, if you choose to drink, don't drive. Designate a driver. Not only will it keep you and other people on the roads safe, but the Minnesota State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies throughout the Twin Cities are cracking down on impaired driving during the holiday season.

From the team at Barker & Hedges Real Estate & Homes of Minnesota, have a happy and safe New Year's!


Holiday Flower Show in St. Paul's Como Park

About 60,000 people will visit the Holiday Flower Show in St. Paul's Como Park. The show, which runs through January 18, 2010, at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, "brings a wash of indoor color to contrast with the outdoor snowscape," which as you know is particularly snowy right now. Of course, the poinsettia is the star of the show and it comes in more colors than you could imagine, like peppermint twist, cinnamon stick, and even eggnog.

Located right in our backyard, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is a gem of the Midwest even if you might not realize it. Not many cities have been able to maintain buildings such as this. Despite several calamities in its 95-year history, it has survived. It is a rare cultural attraction that draws crowds even in Minnesota's coldest months.

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was first opened in 1915. The conservatory today contains more than 10,000 plants in its permanent collection. Holiday flower shows began at the conservatory about 1925. The combination of special flower shows and the conservatory's "permanant" collection draws nearly 1.9 million visitors each year.

Additionally, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory's history is now featured in a new book, "Jewel of Como," that details the undertaking to create a "botanical temple" to rival those found in cities like New York and San Francisco.

"The building has traveled a long road from dazzling to derelict and back again," the authors wrote. "Annual flower shows entertain and delight, fountains spout and trickle, and the scent of rosemary and jasmine wafts through the air. All who come find comfort in a warm place on a chilly day. Today, Como Park's...

Minnesota: 2010 U.S. Census More Important Than Ever

Though the state gained 35,000 residents last year, bringing its population of 5.2 million, Minnesota is on the cusp of losing one of its congressional seats.

State demographer Tom Gillaspy projected Wednesday that Minnesota could fall just 1,100 people short of what it needs to keep all eight of its seats. A thorough census count next year could be enough to change that. Minnesota last lost a congressional seat after the 1960 census.

Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Minnesota growing more slowly than some western and southern states. Minnesota is among 10 or 11 states likely to lose congressional seats after the census. The demographers analysis puts the state in a dead heat with Missouri, California and Texas for the final seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fear not, Minnesota has one of the nation's best records for counting its population. Even small differences in the quality of counting in rival states could determine who gets the seat. State officials will be paying close attention to counting people who live in college dormitories and other group homes, snowbirds who fly south for the winter, and new immigrants. New parents need to remember to add infants when they fill out the form.

Households will receive the census form in the mail in mid-March and must return it by April 1. The Census Bureau is billing the 2010 form as "10 questions that can be answered in about 10 minutes."

Besides being used to apportion seats in the U.S. House, the census is also used to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts.


Relic of Saint Paul's First Mass-Transit System Found

Crews digging under Fourth Street in downtown St. Paul for the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line unearthed a piece of its 1800s predecessor, the cable car. Officials have decided to preserve the U-shaped "iron yoke" and upon completion of the 11-mile Central Corridor, display it at the proposed Union Depot station in St. Paul.

Unlike electric streetcars or modern light rail, cable cars had no internal power supply. Their systems consisted of narrow-gauge tracks split by an open groove. Under the groove, a single continuous cable ran the entire length of the line, constantly in motion. Cable car operators controlled a device that grabbed the cable, which pulled the car along. The iron yokes sat U-side-up a few inches beneath grade, protecting the cable.

Yes, St. Paul had a cable car system. Though they were invented in San Francisco in the 1870s, they exploded across the United States.  By 1889, St. Paul had two cable car lines operated by the St. Paul City Railway Co. One line ran along East Seventh Street from Wabasha Street downtown to Duluth Street on the city's East Side. The other ran along Fourth from Broadway to Seven Corners, climbed Selby Hill and followed Selby Avenue to Fairview Avenue.

There will likely be more artifacts found. Tracks from streetcars that ran along University Avenue remain and were simply submerged when the roadway was paved over years ago. If the light-rail project moves forward, those tracks are scheduled to be removed once the digging begins.

Cold facts: Cable cars were heated in the winter by small coal-burning stove.


Twin Cities Charities Kick It Up a Notch

As mentioned earlier in this blog, Twin Cities charities have been working hard this holiday season. They've been putting in overtime, really, to try and accommodate the increased food, gift, and financial need.

Despite all the extra work, most charities are reporting a decrease in donations. From the Salvation Army to Toys for Tots, donations are down due to the recession. Though there are some bright spots, like “Operation Christmas Child” just broke a record for packaging 110,000 shoe boxes filled with small gifts, most charities have not been as lucky.

In difficult times, more people lean toward strategic giving. That is, they give money to the places they feel will utilize it most efficiently, as opposed to the more emotional style of donation. That means some charities are seeing bigger decreases in donations while some may even see some increase. In response, the Minnesota Charities Review Council has announced that it is asking the state's nonprofits to start rating their "impact on the community."

One way to ensure you get the most bang for your buck would be to donate to the Twin Cities Salvation Army on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 22 and 23. Donations collected on those days in the Twin...

City of Saint Paul Supported Building Projects Green Up

The St. Paul City Council has adopted a resolution that requires any new building project that uses $200,000 worth of city or Housing and Redevelopment incentives to follow sustainability guidelines. Builders would have the opportunity to choose from several types of environmentally-friendly standards with the goal of reducing costs, increasing energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions.

Among the requirements:

• Three-quarters of solid waste from construction and demolition must be recycled.
• Landscaping must use 50% less water than traditional developments.
• Energy use information must be recorded and submitted to the state.

A group comprising representatives from businesses, government, nonprofits and other stakeholders spent the past two years crafting the building policy, said Anne Hunt, environmental policy director for Mayor Chris Coleman.

"This has been a long time coming," said Council Member Russ Stark. "The next frontier is existing buildings."

Nobody spoke in opposition during the public hearing held this week in Saint Paul.


Minnesota Housing Fix-Up Fund Offers More

With the help of federal stimulus funds, Minnesota Housing is offering rebates to homeowners that make energy saving updates in when they make home improvements using loans through the state's Fix-up Fund. Homeowners may receive an Energy Saver Rebate for 35% of the cost of eligible improvements financed with the Fix-up Fund loan, up to $10,000.

The Fix-Up Fund offers affordable, fixed-rate loans to eligible homeowners to make home improvements. The rebate program is designed to help homeowners with household income up to $96,500 improve home energy efficiency. Owner-occupied single family, condominium, duplex, triplex, or fourplex homes are eligible for the program.

Homeowners may be eligible for rebates by installing select energy-efficient furnaces, boilers, and central air conditioners, replacement exterior doors and windows, and light fixtures. Other improvements including wall and attic insulation in conjunction with attic air sealing and water heaters meeting certain conditions are also eligible improvements for the energy saver rebate.

These funds are first-come, first-served, so contact a participating lenders soon!

Interested homeowners can visit


Mortenson Construction to Lead St. Paul Union Depot Renovation

The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority has picked Mortenson Construction to lead the $150 million renovation of the historic Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. The county's goal has been to restore the depot into a regional transportation hub for trains, buses, bikes and taxis.

The block-long building faces 4th Street and sits between Wacouta and Sibley Streets. County officials estimate the project will bring up to 1,350 jobs during design and construction. Construction is expected to be completed in 2012.

Rail Authority commissioners have also approved giving the Metropolitan Council up to $82,000 for a study of how three additional stations along University Avenue, at Hamline, Victoria and Western Avenues, would affect the areas when the Central Corridor light-rail line is built.

The 11-mile Central Corridor will connect downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis and is expected to begin running in 2014.


2010 Saint Paul Winter Carnival Countdown

The St. Paul Winter Carnival is starting to drum up support for its 2010 festival!

For $124, you can "own" a piece of the "Coolest Celebration on Earth." For the third year,  Saint Paul Winter Carnival officials are selling stock in a block of ice to help support the festival's signature ice carving contest.

Each block is $124 in honor of the carnival's 124th year.  "Stock Holders" get an official certificate of ownership.  The first 124 to purchase stock will also have the chance to march in the Grande Day Parade on Saturday, January 23.

Those interested can buy the ice online at or call 651-223-4700.

Additionally, Winter Carnival dignitaries have unveiled the Saint Paul festival's 2010 button designs.

The buttons depict a bearded Vulcan wielding a torch, the cool blue Winter Carnival royalty, Klondike Kate singing into a microphone, a bouncing carnival-goer in midair and a bright red snow shovel. The buttons are $5 each or $20 for all five.

They were designed by Kirk Lyttle, an illustrator and graphic artist at the Pioneer Press.

(So amused that's a Star Tribune article, by the way)

Buttons are available at Cub Foods, SuperAmerica and other area stores, as well as on the carnival's website. For more information, go to

The 124th Saint Paul Winter Carnival will take place from January 21 through 31, 2010.


Saint Paul Takes Steps Against Emerald Ash Borer

The St. Paul city council introduced an ordinance Wednesday requiring homeowners to remove ash trees infested with emerald ash borer once a city forester discovers them. A similar measure involving Dutch elm disease is already on the books.

The proposed ordinance would allow Saint Paul city foresters to enter private property to inspect trees suspected of being infested with the beetle. Any tree discovered with the beetle would promptly be declared a nuisance and would have to be removed within 20 days — or as few as seven days in an "emergency," such as a season in which the beetle is about to mature, according to the ordinance.

A mature ash tree can cost thousands of dollars to remove. Though the ordinance mentions offering possible financial help for the cost of removing trees to residents, no specific funding source has been identified. The ordinance also states city could cut down the trees of unresponsive property owners and bill them for the expense.

Since the emerald ash borer was first discovered in in St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood in May, 80 infested ash trees have been cut down because of an emergency state order. One Saint Paul neighborhood, Como Park, is even attempting an ash tree-less experiment.

"Eventually, all the ash trees (in St. Paul) are going to be gone. That's the reality. ... I don't think people realize yet what this could mean," Hahm said.

An estimated 20% of St. Paul's trees are ash. Emerald Ash Borer has also been discovered in ash tree-rich Falcon Heights.


Holiday Train is Rolling Through the Twin Cities

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will be rolling into the Twin Cities on Saturday.The train will bring Santa, live music and an opportunity to donate money and goods to local food shelves to four local metro stops.

Treats will be available to help raise money, including coffee from Caribou Coffee, hot chocolate from Tinucci's Restaurants & Catering, baked goods from SuperMom's and hamburgers from Culver's restaurants. About 1,500 free glow sticks will be given to children.

Last year, the train's Cottage Grove stop was the top fundraiser out of 130 scheduled stops across North America. 6,000 donors raised about $51,000.

The four stops on Saturday are:

  • Hastings, 4:15 to 4:45 p.m., at the Canadian Pacific Depot, 500 E. Second St.
  • Cottage Grove, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., at West Point Douglas Road South
  • St. Paul, 7:15 to 7:45 p.m., upper-level ramp of Central Parking System at Kellogg Boulevard and Broadway Street in Lowertown.
  • Minneapolis, 9:30 to 10 p.m., Canadian Pacific Shoreham Yard, 2800 Central Ave. N.E.

Canadian Pacific ran its first Holiday Train in 1999 and added U.S. stops in 2001. In all, about $4 million and about 2 million pounds of food have been raised for food shelves. Go to for more information.


Saint Paul Snow Emergency Information

With the first significant snowfall of the season, let the Snow Emergencies begin! The City of Saint Paul declares a Snow Emergency after snowfalls of “3” or more or with an accumulation of “3” of snow over several days. Snow removal begins on the evening a snow emergency is declared at 9 pm and continues the following day until 5 p.m.

All streets are either Night Plow Routes or Day Plow Routes. Night Plow Routes have a red and white plow route signs. Day Plow Routes do not have plow route signs.

St. Paul officials are sticklers when it comes to clearing the roads quickly, which often results in hundreds of vehicles towed to the impound lot during heavy snows.  It costs nearly $300 to bail your car out, so if you park on the street, pay attention when snow is forecast.

Check out the snow emergency information provided on the City of Saint Paul website. For 24-hour Snow Emergency information, call (651) 266-7569 or (651) 292-6600.

Other cities throughout the metro area have different rules for parking in the winter. Most restrict or prohibit evening and overnight parking on the street after heavy snowfalls so that plows can clear the streets. Check your city's website to learn their specific parking rules.


Community Highlights ~ Blaine MN

Blaine MN is a lively and involved community that's seen an increase in business and residential development in the recent years. The population now standing at about 54,000, Blaine is truly a community in the middle of a growth spurt. Straddling both Anoka and Ramsey Counties, it is in a first-rate location that offers superb access to the greater Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan area.

In 2006, Blaine was named one of Money Magazine's Top 100 Places to Live, and it shouldn't take long to understand why. Blaine, MN has an assortment of real estate and employment options for its residents. The city is a well-planned variety of business, light manufacturing, commercial, retail and residential areas. A handful of large employers are based in Blaine, including Aveda, Dayton Rogers Manufacturing and the Anoka County Airport. Nine universities are located in and around the city.

Great athletic, entertainment, and leisure activities are available for people who call Blaine MN home. The National Sports Center, an Olympic-class training facility, provides top athletes the space to practice and prepare to be the best in competition. The Schwan Super Rink, also in Blaine, is the world's largest indoor rink and it allows children and adults to ice skate and play ice hockey. For golfers, Blaine lays claim to the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities and features a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Minnesota's Tom Lehman. Brunswick Lanes bowling, Foss swimming and pool complex, and over 60 parks with trails, playing fields and courts can also be found here. Finally, Blaine is competing to become the home of the Minnesota Vikings new stadium.

From Blaine's mature, established neighborhoods to newer developments, there is sure to be right house for you to call home. Whether you can afford a multi-million dollar mansion, want to build on an empty lot, seek a pre-owned, single-family home or you just want a cozy townhouse, Blaine...

Mortgage Rates at Record Lows

The average interest rate for a 30-year mortgage dropped to a record low of 4.71%. The rate, published this week by Freddie Mac, is the lowest since the mortgage finance company began tracking the data in 1971. The previous record of 4.78% was set during the week ending April 30, 2009, and matched last week's rate.

An aggressive Federal Reserve campaign to reduce borrowing costs is pumping $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to try to bring down mortgage rates. The goal of the program is to make home buying more affordable and keep the housing market afloat.

The low rates are a boon to first time home buyers who can qualify for a loan. The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low of 4.27%, from 4.29% last week, according to Freddie Mac.

Qualifying for a loan is still tough, though, as lenders have tightened their standards. The best rates are available to those with solid credit and a 20% down payment.

"There are no guarantees that mortgage rates are going to stay at these low levels," said Greg McBride, Advertisement senior financial analyst at

Millions of American families who already have mortgages have not been able to take advantage of them. About 11 million households, or nearly 1 out of every 4 homeowners with a mortgage, owe more on their home loans than their house is currently worth. That makes refinancing difficult.

The federal Home Affordable Loan Modification Program, which aims to stem foreclosures and help more people to remain in their homes, will soon be expanded which may help with some of the trouble. Wells Fargo will also soon be working at a local level to reduce foreclosures in the Twin Cities.

So it's a great time to buy and an excellent...

Twin Cities Charities Need Your Help

Organizers of holiday food and toy drives in the Twin Cities metro area are gearing up to give away more turkeys, food baskets and toys this year than ever before, despite the difficult fundraising climate.

First and foremost, since it is deer hunting season, hunters can easily help the hungry. Minnesota food shelves are eager for venison donations. A state venison donation program accepts whole deer carcasses, complete with the hide and registration tag. Donated deer must show no signs of illness, decomposition or contamination.

Armful of Love, a holiday charity run by the Community Action Council in Burnsville, matches sponsors to families in need. Sponsors are given a list of the client's needs and wants for Christmas, including gifts for children  and help for the parents. The sponsors go out and buy gifts, wrap them and bring them to the Armful of Love warehouse, where the families in need pick them up.

Guests of the Minnesota Zoo during the holiday season can get admission discounts if they bring along a food donation for Second Harvest Heartland. For each donation of a nonperishable food item, guests get a $2 discount on adult admission and a $1 discount on child and senior admission. The most-needed items include meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, boxed meals, grains and pasta, hygiene products and cleaning supplies. The discount runs through December. The discounts are valid only one per person.

Some northern Twin Cities metro programs are looking for help as well. The Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP) in Brooklyn Park, has seen 25 to 45% jumps from 2007 in the number of families asking...

Weekend Holiday Events in Afton & Stillwater

There are two community holiday celebrations coming up this weekend.

Afton Village Holiday

The annual "Village Holiday" in Afton MN is a 3-day holiday tradition event. It starts this Friday and features complimentary horse and wagon rides, strolling carolers, Victorian tree decorating, story time and free events for children, among other activities.

Friday's events run from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Saturday and Sunday events begin at 9 a.m.

Afton is about 20 minutes east of downtown St. Paul. For a complete schedule, see

Stillwater Twinkle Parade

A Twinkle Parade along the St. Croix River and a Hometown for the Holidays celebration will be held Saturday in downtown Stillwater MN.

Children should gather by 4:30 p.m. at the Dock Cafe to receive "twinkle necklaces" and goodie bags. The parade will start at 5 p.m. at the cafe and end at the Lowell Park Gazebo. There, Santa Claus will arrive via fire truck. Additionally, the tree lighting will be from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. at Lowell Park. The celebration there will include carolers, hot chocolate and cookies.

For more information, go to


Air Date for Saint Paul "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

Though construction and filming wrapped up in October, a date has finally been set for the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" taped in Saint Paul. The episode of the ABC show featuring local daycare provider Sandy Morris and her two children, Catricia and Mychal, will air at 7 p.m. on January 3.

The 1896 home at 226 Prescott St. on St. Paul's West Side was demolished and replaced in just 96 hours thanks to thousands of volunteers.

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