How do I care for my home while I am gone for the winter? Tips for Minnesota Snowbirds
Heading South for the winter? If you’re one of the fortunate retirees who has smartly chosen to sit out the grueling Bold North winter in a more temperate climate, you’ll want to make sure your home here in Minnesota is thoroughly prepared for your absence and cared for while you’re away. Here are some expert tips on prepping and safeguarding your temporarily vacant home that will give you the peace of mind you deserve while enjoying that warm lush life.
Protect Your Pipes to Avoid Water Damage by Turning Off Your Water Supply
- A burst pipe could cause significant damage. Consider completely turning off your water supply if you will be away for an extended period of time. If your home is heated by steam heat, consult with an HVAC specialist to determine if it is safe to turn off your water supply for your particular heating system. Also, if your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, make sure that you do not turn off the water to this system.
- If you do turn off your water supply, drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets, and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. Many snowbirds pour antifreeze in toilet tanks and bowls to prevent any remaining water from freezing, but if you opt for this, make sure to use non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems.
- You may wish to hire a licensed plumber to complete these steps. The plumber can also confirm that the pipes have been fully drained by blowing compressed air through the pipes.
Take Steps to Protect Your Home from Thieves
- Make sure your alarm systems are working and activated.
- Secure doors and windows with deadbolts, and install slide locks on sliding glass doors.
- Store valuables in a safe deposit box or other secure offsite location.
- Avoid posting your vacation or travel plans on social media sites, as potential thieves can use that information to learn when your house will be vacant.
Keep Your Home and Plumbing Warm
- If you decide not to turn off your water, keep your furnace running to ensure your home stays warm and your pipes don’t freeze.
- Set the temperature at 55°F to 60°F to help keep the interior above freezing temperatures. Leaving cabinet doors open can also help heat circulate and warm the areas where pipes are located.
- Shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are away.
- Turn off hot water heaters (if separate from your boiler).
- Consider shutting off and draining outdoor faucets to prevent water damage due to freezing.
Prevent Your Home From Appearing Unoccupied
- Forward your mail and stop newspaper delivery.
- Arrange for someone to remove snow after storms.
- Put motion-sensitive exterior lights and interior lights on timers and set them to come on at varying times to discourage prowlers.
- Consider using an experienced snowbird property management firm Tradewind Properties who will make sure that issues like mail and package delivery, plowing and shoveling and lighting are managed so that your home looks occupied and active while you’re gone.
Moving to the Twin Cities? What to Know…
If you’re planning a move to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, your first thoughts may include visions of snow piles and crazed Vikings fans, followed by a sincere desire to consult a map to find us.
First, welcome! It’s a great place to live, so rest easy, get a down coat, and read on for what to expect when moving to the Twin Cities.
1. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Weather
With 55 inches of snow per year, you should not be surprised to see snow falling outside your window anytime from mid-October to April. Luckily, Minnesotans come to generally learn to live with the white stuff, and have devised tricks and entertaining ways to enjoy the winter months (For example, both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul have miles of skyways connecting the buildings one story off the ground to escape the weather.).
Minnesota is ranked 8th in the nation for greatest temperature swing over a year’s time. Ranging from an average high of 85° in July to an average low of 8° in January, often getting down to the negative double-digits, we ride those swings for all their worth. (Record high is 115° while the record low is -60°. That’s a difference of 175°!).
Getting around the 6,000 sq. miles of the Twin Cities is generally done by car (preferably with 4 wheel drive), but Metro Transit also runs many bus lines, light rail, and rush hour commuter transportation to and from suburbs. With several additional transitways in the planning stages, this is likely to expand further. Several suburbs also have their own bus systems and/or Dial-a-ride curb-to-curb service, and Uber has a presence as well.
As for traffic, Minneapolis and St. Paul certainly have areas of congestion and moments of pure frustration, and Minneapolis is ranked #35 in the nation for worst traffic. Depending on where you’re coming from, this may be a relief or a drag. But as one author writes, referring to a recent MnDOT report on traffic, “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Goes From Fine to Still Fine.”
One thing to note is the Twin Cities’ devotion to biking. The League of American Cyclists has named Minneapolis a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community, while St. Paul is designated as Bronze Level. Approximately 4,500 Minneapolitans bike to work, one of the highest in the nation. Throughout the cities you will also see “Nice Ride” stations where one can check out a bright green bike and return it to any of the 170 other Nice Ride bike docks for a small rental fee.
If you’re moving to the Twin Cities, chances are good that it may be a career move. As one local headhunter points out, “It’s really tough to get people to consider moving to the Twin Cities, but once they’re here, it’s nearly impossible to get them to leave.”
Minnesota boasts more Fortune 500 companies per capita than all but one other state. 18 locally-based companies are on the list, including Target, UnitedHealth Group, Best Buy, 3M, General Mills, Medtronic, and Supervalu. With a long history of innovation, don’t discount the number of small businesses that bring character and new services & products to the area.
The cost of living in Minneapolis is 7% lower than nearby Chicago, and 32% lower than San Francisco, while St. Paul is even lower (14% lower than Chicago and 37% lower than San Fran).
4. Arts, Theater, and Culture
Former mayor of Baton Rouge once said, “The arts are the best insurance policy a city can take on itself.” In this case, the Twin Cities have a top-notch policy. With nearly 60 museums, visitors can view fine art, contemporary art, exhibitions on history, natural science, cultural heritage, and all manner of discoveries for the kiddos.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and houses an encyclopedic collection of nearly 90,000 pieces. The Walker Art Center focuses on contemporary art, and is considered by Newsweek to be “possibly the best contemporary art museum in the U.S.” The Science Museum of Minnesota and the Children’s Museum will both have you in awe, and many more museums are worth a visit.
Interested in Theater? Minneapolis boasts the highest number of theater seats per capita outside of New York City. From the newly renovated Guthrie Theater overlooking the Mississippi and presenting top-notch productions, to the Children’s Theater, to the nation’s largest dinner theater in Chanhassen, seeing a show is a must on your list.
What about music? The Minnesota Orchestra was recently nominated for a Grammy award, and can be seen at Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, and countless vocal and instrumental groups keep us tapping our toes and loving this city.
For many more examples of arts and culture in the Twin Cities, visit Minneapolis.org and StPaul.gov for great lists.
5. Real Estate
According to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, both pending sales and closed sales reached 10-year highs during the month of June 2015. High buyer activity means that sellers are receiving on average 97.8% of their original list price. The median home sale price in Minneapolis is $229,000.
The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” doesn’t disappoint, with 90,000 miles of shoreline and 929 metro area lakes. From the urban chain of lakes with views of the skyline, to the massive Lake Minnetonka, lakes of varying sizes positively cover the metro area. Summer brings swimming, beaches, boating, paddleboarding, fishing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and water skiing. Winter brings ice fishing, pond hockey, beautiful winter scenes, cross-country skiing on the ice, snowmobiling, and even on-ice art displays.
With more miles of shoreline in Minnesota than in California, and one recreational boat per every six people (the most in the country), get out and enjoy!
Ok, this may not be as life-affecting as career or the arts, but we have to mention… Starbucks is great and all, but it has a serious run for its money in Minnesota. Home of Dunn Bros. Coffee, local roaster Cameron’s Coffee, and the giant favorite with the cabin feel Caribou Coffee, the Twin Cities offers a bit more than your standard green straw. Don’t worry, there is still a café on nearly every corner or every strip mall, it just may be something even better.
Minnesota has the highest number of golfers per capita in the nation. Consider that the golf season lasts only from April (if you’re lucky) to October, and you can see it is another way Minnesotans take full advantage of the warmer months.
9. Location, aka Getting Out of the Twin Cities
When it’s time to get away, luckily the rest of the state offers travel destinations that make it worth a weekend trip. Try to go north on any interstate on a summer Friday and you’ll believe us. That’s because everyone seems to own, or be related to someone who owns, a cabin. Cabin life is as Minnesotan as loons and mosquitos.
“Up North” can mean anything north of the cities, but many times refers to the “North Shore” of Lake Superior. A must-see destination, the largest of the Great Lakes is spectacular any season of the year. Duluth, the state’s third largest city, rests at the southern tip and serves as a gateway to the North Shore’s line of cabins and resorts.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a 1 million acre pristine wilderness area that sees 200,000 visitors a year who come to portage and camp. From the grandiose Lake of the Woods on the border of Canada to the wineries in southern Minnesota, there are plenty of historical, cultural, and natural sites to take in.
From the Experts in this Local Rental Market…
Welcome to the Twin Cities!
Hidden Costs of Homeownership
So, you’ve found the home of your dreams. You’re finally ready to stop renting and start building toward your future. And after crunching the numbers, you determine that the monthly mortgage payments fall within your affordable range. However – before you go signing on the dotted line – there are a number of hidden expenses that many first-time homebuyers tend to overlook:
1. Home Inspection
It’s always a wise decision to have your home inspected prior to purchasing it. After all, this is likely the largest investment of your life. Paying a professional several hundred dollars to assess the property may save you from a hundred-thousand-dollar disaster down the road.
An important part of the process in obtaining a home mortgage is to have the property appraised by a professional. Residential real estate appraisals typically cost around $350 to $400.
3. Closing Costs
Unless you’ve mastered the art of negotiating and have talked the seller into paying for your closing costs, you’re going to have to come to the closing table with some cash. Typical closing costs can be anywhere from 2% to 4% of the mortgage loan amount.
4. Property Taxes and Homeowners Insurance
The mortgage company will want to ensure that the home is insured and that the property taxes are being paid. So unless you plan on putting more than 20% down, your lender will likely require you to have your taxes and insurance escrowed, which will significantly add to the monthly mortgage payment.
5. Moving Expenses
Another cost to consider is the transportation of your belongings. Depending on the amount of stuff you have, the distance traveled, and the level of help needed, such expenses can run you anywhere from a couple bucks to several thousand dollars.
6. Snow Removal
In the great state Minnesota, we all know how unpredictable Mother Nature can be. Waking up to a foot of snow in your driveway is never a pleasant way to start the day. However, you still have to get to work. So unless you’ve got a shovel and a really strong back, you’ll either have to purchase a snow blower clear it yourself, or pay someone else to do it.
7. Lawn Care
Unless your home is part of an association, another cost to consider is lawn care. Whether you’re a DIY’er or you prefer to pay someone else to do your dirty work, it’s your responsibility to ensure your property is maintained (mowing the lawn, raking leaves, cleaning gutters, trimming trees, etc.).
8. HOA and Condo fees
If you purchase a home that’s part of a Homeowners Association, you won’t be saddled with snow removal or lawn care. However, the conveniences that come with living in a HOA development usually come at a pretty hefty price. You’re likely to spend another two-hundred dollars or more each month for these luxuries as part of your HOA dues.
If you’re purchasing a new-construction home, you likely won’t have a lot to worry about initially. But if the home is somewhat older, it’s always a good idea to set aside a cash reserve for maintenance and repairs, such as replacing an old appliance or repairing the furnace. These types of emergencies usually seem to happen at the most inopportune times. So, having a plan in place can save you from major headaches down the road.
Depending on where you live now, your monthly utility bills will likely be much higher when you move into your own home. You may also have to account for additional bills, such as City water and sewer, as well as garbage/trash collection.