Thursday, May 31, 2007

Look Mom, I can memorize stuff!!!

I passed the test!

And look what they did to me:

This better not go on my license, that's all I'm sayin...

HTML testing...

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Some dude totally just hired me to redesign his rental units based upon pictures of my former sixplex...

Huh? So now I'm an interior designer too?!?


Er, except I don't think I have time... shitshitshit.

Did I really say yes to him????

Yes? Yes? When I'm trying to sell a rehab, buy a new house, possibly buy another multifamily bldg, get a real estate license, attend two out-of-state weddings AND travel to Honduras AND Greece all in on summer....?

Did I do that?


I'm so fucked.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Realtor Ranty

In case any of my dear readers are wondering what has happened to my otherwise-prolific blog posting and commenting, I'll tell you:

I'm studying for the MN real estate license exam.


Whew, I haven't had to memorize this many dates and terms since I was in the 9th grade... seriously.

Anyway, Ranty will be officially examined (hee) next Thursday, so Over North content may be limited between now and then, as I submerge myself in the language of Limited Warranty Deeds, Certificates of Reasonable Value, appraisors Essential Elements of Value, and Dual Agency Disclosures.

And so on.

And so on.

And so on.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Peace Across the Northside, and a little bit of irony too

Look at the little cuties!

I want to say this is a Hmong performance they're doing, but honestly I'm just guessing...

Dude on stilts.


More Penn/Bro.

Ranty incognito.

John the Juggler.

And this was pretty cool...

...then I noticed which house it was painted in front of!!!

(2717 Penn)

I guess it would have been more ironic if this one was in front of that house, but hey...

Cynicism aside, it was a fun event. I'm glad we went, even though the Good Scientist and I were beat and dripping from adding tier-two to the front yard retaining wall.

It's nice to see Northsiders venture out from the safety of their homes and celebrate together.

And nobody got shot! Whoohoo!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Security Door Conspiracy

Um, this thing is going to cost me FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS uninstalled???

And I have to special order it because my 84" length, while not "non-standard," is not carried in any store on the planet???

And it's going to take FOUR WEEKS to arrive???

You MUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSST be joking, you evil Menards/Home Depot/Grisham Door bastards, you.


With $450 and 4 weeks of time, I could probably make the effing thing myself...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I should have just kept my mouth shut.

Here's my porch floor, right after I painted it yesterday.

Here are little neighbor Jasmine's telltale shoeprints, left NOT 60 SECONDS after I specifically stated that she was not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to enter my (still doorless) porch and tramp on the wet paint.

She tried to tell me that her little sister Jada did it, but Jada's feet are half this size, and she was barefoot at the time.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

All work no play this Saturdayyyyy

Speaking of crappy yards, we worked on mine today. It's been looking rather wounded for the past week, considering the digging...

Oh yes, that's right, the bloody digging.

Look at this ROOT. There were hundreds like it.

The Good Scientist and neighbor Jada survey the initial efforts.

See how much dirt we had to take out????

(It's now resting in an undisclosed location.)

And we still have to dig MORE!


That gravel was effing heavy to haul. We made two trips to HD today for that crizzap.

Note the landscape fabric. This will evidently keep dirt from penetrating between the timber courses. (Why I care if this happens, no one seems to know, but anyway.)


Sort-of backfilled and THAT'S IT FOR TODAY, KIDS!

I hope that tier #2 is less painful and involves less dirt hauling... but I doubt it.


Friday, May 11, 2007

That Old House... over there, on the corner, with the weedy lawn

I've been trying to organize my thoughts on this foreclosure subject for some time now. Often it seems as if my comments confuse people, and I think that's because I feel so strongly about houses that I trip over my tongue in eager yelping about twenty different aspects of the situation as I see them. So, let's begin with what would seem to be the easy stuff: definitions.

A foreclosure is the repossession (or forced sale) of a property when the mortgagee has breached their contract with the bank by stopping payments on the property. This process often ends in the bank owning the home. Foreclosures are not necessarily boarded, vacant, or run-down, although they sometimes are that as well.

Boarded Property
Houses get boarded up when they are vacant and someone determines them to be "open to trespass." This appears to be done in situations where there has already been theft or squatting in the building, and neighbors may or may not have complained that the house is attracting crime. Owners may also voluntarily board their property, though I'm skeptical about how often it actually happens in this way.

Vacant Property
simply a house that is not being lived in. Many foreclosures are vacant as they await re-sale, but not boarded up.

House that has be repossessed by a bank, ostensibly for a defaulted mortgage. These properties are also commonly referred to as "REOs" which means "real estate owned."

Condemned Property
A building may be condemned when:
  • It is vacant and boarded.
  • It is determined to be unsafe; an inspector cites specific hazards.
  • It is dilapidated; no specific hazards are cited but the inspector has assigned the property a score by ordinance qualifying it for condemnation.
  • Utilities to it have been discontinued.
  • There is a housing hygiene problem (determined by the Housing Inspections Department)
Absentee Landlord
This is a landlord who owns a house or multi-family building but does not live there, instead renting it out completely to others. The absentee landlord may live as close as next door, or as far as another state. Some absentee landlords are great, checking on their properties regularly, maintaining them, and properly screening their tenants. One thing that neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates have in common, however, is a concentration of absentee landlord-owned properties in less-than-well-kempt condition.


Now that we've ironed that all out...

What I find most problematic about these properties is the route they are often forced to take from (perhaps?) absentee-landlordism, to foreclosure, to vacant, to boarded to (in some cases) condemned and perhaps ultimately bulldozed.

There are a few reasons why a house might be foreclosed upon. Perhaps the owners really wanted it, lived there, and simply couldn't make the payments. This is the story we hear most about in the papers and on T.V. We are told that banks are duping poor families with their predatory lending practices, and essentially setting up little old Jim and Sue, (along with their three kids, dog, cat and pet rabbit) to be thrown out onto the streets; dreams destroyed, credit ruined.

I am sure that this does happen. However, I don't think it represents the majority of cases.

As I walk around North Minneapolis, and indeed Phillips on the south side as well, I find a significant amound of REOs (bank owned listings) which were formerly rentals. How do I know? Well, many of them are multi-family, to begin with. Those which are single-family are dilapidated and have dirt yards. I also know because I have lived and worked in these areas for some amount of time, and keep my eye on the housing around me. I can almost predict which houses are going to go vacant, based upon the activity that I see there, and when I know it's rental.

So, this brings me to conclusion #1: foreclosures, at least in the areas that I know best, appear to be affecting absentee landlords more than traditional homeowners.

If this is truly the case, then we have a few more things to talk about. First, all of this crowing at the state legislature over the so-called predatory lending bill means little to me. All it does for my neighbors is make it HARDER for them to realize the dream of homeownership, since more flexible mortgage products are going out the window. Second of all, it raises the question of how so many landlords can afford to just throw away their property, particularly when some of them own several.

Have they made enough money, (perhaps on generous section-8 payments) over the course of their ownership (while ostensibly skimping on repairs and maintenance for the building) that they can simply throw the building away like so much used-up trash?


So then what?

Then we have a vacant, perhaps boarded house, owned by a bank, which sit around.

and sit around...

and sit around...

Why do the banks not market these properties aggressively, in an attempt to pay back some or all of what was initially due to them? Perhaps they have already recouped the cost of the loan over years of interest payments, or perhaps they are a large, secondary-market mortgage holder, and one or two buildings defaulted is an annoyance for them to deal with. Who knows?

I do know that a local realtor told me recently that these homes are, for a bank, an asset on paper, and perhaps thus less of a motivation to unload quickly and efficiently. Interesting idea.

Anyway, back to the house. So it's now vacant and boarded, owned by a bank in no particular hurry to do anything with it.

The grass grows into a prairie in between monthly lawn-service visits.

Pigeons take up residence in a broken attic window.

Graffiti appears on the garage, or perhaps the garden retaining wall.

Beer bottles collect on the boulevard and under shrubbery.

If this continues on too long, the city may condemn the building. They will place it on their Chapter 249 list, and that changes everything for a prospective buyer.

NOW, a person who wants to buy this property must do a number of aggravating things, starting with getting "rehab financing" if they are not able to pay cash for the place. (I'm not sure what rehab financing is, but I do know that I and others like me cannot get it. It's not a conventional loan.) Another thing the prospective buyer must do is show up (with an appointment, don't forget!) downtown and pay $2000.00 to the city as insurance that they will indeed fix the house up. You don't get your money back until the place is completely done and has passed inspection. Further, you must hire licensed and bonded contractors to do almost all the work. (Are you a handyperson? Forget it. You cannot run that wiring or change those outlets yourself.)

Oh, and you can't live in the property until it passes the final inspection.

Now keep in mind that, as noted above, a house can be condemned for something as little as having its utilities discontinued. Nevertheless, if you want that house, you still have to obtain rehab financing and put down the deposit with the city before having the place reinspected and before you can move in.


I have seen condemned houses sit literally for YEARS, because no investor (or potential owner-occupant homeowner) would dare jump into this bureacratic web.

And so, the house sits some more.

The pigeons have now established it as their primary residence.

Neighbors begin to complain that they're sick of the eyesore.

Prostitutes and/or drug users make use of the backyard for their purposes.

Demolition is called for at NRP meetings, and impact statements are drafted.

And it's not the house's fault!

This must be stopped.

I hate it, and it's hurting our neighborhoods. We need to find a way for people to buy these houses, fix whatever is broken, and hopefully LIVE IN THEM.

That is all I have to say... at least until I think of something more, like probably tomorrow. :-)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Letter to the Editor of the Star Tribune

Just in case they don't publish it, I'll rant it out here too. So THERE, Strib!

Re: Foreclosures take a toll on North Minneapolis

Dear Editor:

When was the last time that the Star Tribune published some good news about North Minneapolis? Honestly, the doom and gloom is becoming tiresome. Furthermore, it's discouraging to those of us who live and work on the Northside, and are making a difference.

I feel sorry for good people who lose their homes to foreclosure. At the same, I am perplexed by the overwhelmingly negative and one-sided presentation of the situation. Specifically, why is no one talking about the fact that stabilizing (or decreasing) home prices make homeownership more accessible? When was the last time you could buy a four-bedroom home for under $100,000? Now they are readily available, all over North Minneapolis, and in some parts of the South side as well.

This is a buyer's market, and I sincerely hope (and believe) that savvy individuals will take advantage of the low prices and abundant supply. Many of the foreclosures in this city, as the article noted, are the result of careless landlords' speculative investments. Now is the time in which families can take those homes back and give them the care they deserve. This is how we build community, and it IS happening in North Minneapolis.

Boulevards, Black Beauty, and Breakin' da Law!

This is the backside of a vacant duplex next door to my house. It's bank-owned, and has been empty for at least as long as I've had my place.

Anybody wanna buy it???

Look at the size of this yard! I could fit my whole house in there, easily.

Such a shame to see it go to waste, right? Especially since it gets loaaaaaaads of sunlight.

Neighbor yard on the left, my yard on the right.

Seriously, it's just too tempting for me... like chocolate brownies sitting on the counter next to a tall glass of full-fat milk.

What's a girl to do???

Guerrilla gardennnnnnnnning!!!!

That's what.

Here we have a rogue mini-pumpkin and ornamental gourd planting, just on the other side of the gate to my yard. (I'm hoping they'll creep around the corner and tangle with my Liatris, giving the gate a wildish look. We'll see.)

And here we have illegal pumpkin patch #2. This one consisted of three packs of dollar store pumkin seeds mixed with two packs of dollar store acorn squash. Not the best seed in the world, but that's what makes it ideal for guerrilla gardening, right?

I'm not risking my $3/pack seeds on this side of the fence, dammit.

BTW, the last time I planted dollar store pumpkin seeds they miraculously grew into hubbard squash. Oh well, I still ate it.

Back on the legal side of the fence, we have eggplant flowering all over the place. I think this guy is Black Beauty, but I had some labeling issues back in February when I started the seeds, so it could just as easily be Ping Tung or who knows what else. I give up.

And look at the pretty tulips! These were planted by some unknown predecessor of mine, and I'm very grateful to the neighborhood squirrels for not eating them.

Er, yet.

And here's the boulevard garden. It's a bit sparse yet, but I'm trying to hold back on jamming things in, since I've created plant-havoc by doing that in the past. (Must remember: things get BIGGER as they grow.)

I will mulch as soon as my Liatris are a couple inches out of the dirt. (They're just beginning to poke out now.)

In the next installment of my illegal gardening posts, I will show what I did to the neighbor's front yard. (Can't yet, because nothing has come up!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ahhh, children

Jada and Jasmine live in the house next door. Jada is three and I think Jasmine is around seven or eight. They're cute, talkative, and most of all, VERY inquisitive about everything going on on the block.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that they have ZERO stimulation in their lives aside from Jasmine's school-day. Other than that, Jada sits on the stoop (or follows me around when I'm outside) almost ALL DAY, and Jasmine does the same as soon as she returns home from school.

Today I was trying to paint my front porch (which has no door, sadly) and they would not leave me alone. The stood on my steps, peeking in, and asked about every single solitary move I made.

What's that? (caulking gun)

What are you doing? (cleaning the walls)

Why are you doing that? (so I can paint)

You gonna paint?! (er, yeah)

What you gonna paint? (um, the walls)

Why? (because I want them to look pretty)

Can I pick some flowers? (NOOO!)

Why not? (because then there won't be any pretty flowers to look at)

My cousin picked some yesterday when you were gone. (Fuck. Oops, I mean... don't let him do that!!)

Seriously, after a few hours of this, I wanted to kill them both. I feel bad about gettting angry at them, because it's not their fault that they have nothing to do. It's not their fault that their parents are gone off to who-knows-where, and their grandmother/guardian is too lazy to play with them and basically sees me as a free babysitter when I'm working in the yard. (Who lets a three-year-old hang out alone in the yard with no fence in North Mpls for God's sake??)

Anyway, they run all over the place with no supervision, and I'm totally paranoid about it. Specifically, today I watered the boulevard garden before I left. The girls were quite interested in the hose, the spigot for which is unfortunately located on their side of my house. I did not think to remove it and bring it into the (fenced and padlocked) backyard.

Now I'm worried that they're going to turn it on and flood the yard in my absence.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I think I need a new roof

Anybody know of a reputable roofer in the TC???

This is one job I'd just as soon NOT learn how to do myself.