Tracy Green for Fargo Area Real Estate
Call 701-306-9521

Houses, no matter what their age, will shift and settle over time resulting in cracks. Cracks may appear in either finishes or structural components. Though they usually have no structural significance, it’s worth some detective work to help homeowners understand the difference between different types of foundation cracks. Here are some visual guidelines:

Shrinkage Cracks
Concrete shrinks as it cures, so a newly-poured concrete foundation may develop small vertical cracks. Known as shrinkage cracks, they are not structurally significant. Characteristics of shrinkage cracks include the following:

·     The crack will be small and vertical, usually less than 1/8” wide.

·     The crack is in the foundation wall only and does not extend up through the structure.

·     Shrinkage cracks usually occur in the middle third of the length of the foundation wall. If it’s located toward the end of the length of the foundation wall, it is probably not a shrinkage crack.

Settlement Cracks
Like shrinkage cracks, settlement cracks are vertical but they extend up through the structure. In block or brick, cracks may follow the mortar joints in a step pattern rather than vertical. Most settlement cracks are caused by short-term settlement. Ongoing settlement is uncommon but can cause structural problems over time. Here are some ways to get an idea of whether ongoing settlement is likely:

Crack size: Settlement cracks more than ¼” wide is more likely to indicate ongoing movement than smaller cracks.

Direction of movement: The edges of a typical settlement crack line up and fit together vertically, much like pieces of a puzzle. If the edges of the crack have shifted, or sheared, so that they no longer line up, the ¼” rule described above does not apply. This type of crack can be a significant structural concern.

Repaired and re-cracked: Unless it is a hairline crack, a settlement crack that was repaired and has re-cracked could also indicate ongoing movement and should be addressed.

Horizontal Cracks – Basement Foundation Wall
In homes with true basements, a horizontal crack in the foundation wall, below grade and running the full length of the basement is likely a sign of foundation failure. For a house with a full basement, the soil outside the foundation wall exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on the foundation wall. Occasionally, unanticipated additional loads exert pressure and cause horizontal cracking in the foundation wall. Do not wait to address this potential issue as it could cause much greater problems down the line, including structural failure.

Contact your local Pillar To Post Home Inspector for further information on these and other home-related issues.

Fargo Teacher Creates Classroom of Givers

Posted on December 24, 2016  

My friend was telling me a story about her son who is a freshman in college. He noticed a peer consistently walking to class without a coat. So he gave him his own.

No fanfare. No conversation or touching exchange of words as the coat was quietly laid on his desk. Just an offering that says, “I see you and I care.”

I have to believe the young man receiving the coat will remember that act of kindness for the rest of his life. Maybe it will be just the nod of confidence he needs to keep on going to create a life different than he had known.

But what about my friend’s son? How does that happen? How do we create kids who are not only willing to do the right thing, but actually notice the need in the first place?

I think we have to teach them to see.

That is exactly what Sheri Jordan is doing at Bennett Elementary School in Fargo.

She’s been taking her class of fifth graders to the Great Plains Food Bank every December for the last 10 years. Parents have always stepped up in abundance as volunteer drivers. Sheri says the experience is so impactful that many of those same parents and children go back and volunteer again with their entire families.

Our world being what it is, rules are often put in place to protect our children. One of those new rules states that teachers can no longer use parents as drivers to transport the kids to the food bank.

No ride means no field trip.

But perhaps that rule is exactly what paved the way for extraordinary kindness.

Every year, a group of women from Fargo are invited to a holiday gathering where they party for a purpose. Each woman brings canned goods or cash donations to fill the food bank pantry.

It was at this event that Sheri ran into Tracy Green, a high school classmate and Fargo area realtor.

When Tracy heard that Sheri wasn’t going to be able to take her class to the food bank this year, she offered to talk to her friend, John McLaughlin, from Valley Bus company.

John offered the bus, Tracy’s realty company paid for the driver and before you know it, Sheri, 27 fifth graders and a few parent volunteers were on their way to the food bank to spread some holiday cheer.

In just one hour, those students had packed 326 backpacks for kids in North Dakota schools.

Sheri says each one of her kids left there feeling like Santa Claus:

“My students, for the most part, are from homes where their basic needs are met or exceeded. We do have some students at Bennett Elementary who receive them, but not as many as most Fargo Elementary Schools. The 326 backpacks that the students created are distributed on a weekly basis to students who may not have food in their homes to eat over the weekend.

It is so powerful for my students to learn that some children are living in homes with that depth of need. Children inherently want to be helpers. I witness such empowerment in them when they are given the opportunity to make a difference in another child’s life.

They come back to the classroom more excited and pleased with themselves than with any other experience I have witnessed. They truly experience the joy of giving.

I think when kids can experience this feeling at a young age it plants the seed of joy in them that continues to grow throughout a lifetime.

If my students can leave my classroom having experienced kindness and the joy of giving, then I have made a difference that extends far beyond elementary school.”

Thanks to some kind adults who have learned to see a need and fill it, Sheri is able to continue creating a whole new generation of givers whose kindness will ripple for years to come.

You can learn more about the Great Plains Food Bank or make a donation at

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at

Preparing Your Home for Autumn: Maintenance Tips for the End of Summer

Posted by Housecall
By Anita Alvarez

family rakingIt’s almost time. Sigh. Summer is drawing to a close, like it or not.

Before the leaves fall and the wind turns chilly, it’s a good idea to do some seasonal maintenance on your home. Here are some things to add to your fall “honey-do” list.

Have your furnace inspected. It’s smart to have your heating system serviced before you actually need to use it. Experts say that as much as 75 percent of the calls they receive about homeowners without heat are a result of not having the furnace serviced and cleaned. It will also keep your heating costs down and help keep the air in your home healthy.

Apply a fresh coat of paint. Interior painting requires good ventilation, so the best time to tackle a paint spruce-up is the time of year when you can open up your windows.

Inspect your roof. You’ll want to check for shingles that are cracked, buckling, or missing. Check for caulking that needs to be replaced, or moss or lichen, which could indicate deterioration underneath. If you don’t trust your own assessment, work with a certified inspector.

Check for mold. The humidity of summer can cause mold to flourish. Check locations such as around leaky pipes, basements, or areas that don’t get good ventilation. You will want to remove the mold as soon as possible. It’s wise to have this done by a professional.

Replace weatherstripping on doors. There could be gaps that you can’t see and that can jack up your energy costs. It’s a simple fix that can be done with items found at your local hardware store.

Check the airflow. Focus on areas like vents, the hood over your stove, dryer vents, baseboard heaters and room fans. Not only is a buildup of dust a fire hazard, but you also want to keep the air flowing and the allergens at bay.

Get control of gutters and downspouts. Clogs in gutters and downspouts can cause the roof to leak, which can lead to a host of other problems. It’s a slippery slope from clogged gutters to water damage in your home!

Look over your siding. You’ll want to look for any areas on vinyl siding that are buckled or warped. If you have wood siding, look for curling, splitting or cracking. Should you find an issue, you’ll definitely want it taken care of before the weather gets cold!

Inspect your insulation. The most important area to check is your attic. You should have the highest concentration of insulation here. See if there are any gaps that need to be filled. You don’t need to check the insulation in your walls unless you notice heating issues.

Make sure your detectors are working. Ensure both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries. It’s smart to test them, also. Both are especially important once your furnace is in use.

Each season brings its own challenges and wear-and-tear on your home. With summer ending and autumn on the way, you can go into the new season secure that your home is in tip-top shape!

Related: The Perks of Buying a Home in the Fall


5 Ways to Increase the Property Value of Your Home

Posted on Jun 9 2016 – 11:08am by Housecall
By Mike Putnam

increase valueNo matter what the real estate industry is doing as a whole, you want to get the most value out of your home when you sell. While you can’t control the housing market, you do have control over maximizing your property’s worth. Here are five ways you can get more money out of your home.

1. Get a Home Inspection

Don’t wait for the buyer to request a home inspection after you’re under contract. Hire an inspector before you list your home to find out about any problems. It only costs a few hundred dollars, and you would have time to fix any issues that could lower your property value. You can ask your trusted real estate agent to recommend someone.

Many hidden problems can lead to serious damage, which will result in a lower price for your home. Hidden water leaks, pest infestations and electrical problems should all be checked out and dealt with before you put your home on the market.

2. Paint the Walls

It sounds too good to be true, but adding a new coat of paint to the walls of your home can enhance the value. Paint makes a room feel fresh and new, and buyers are willing to pay more for real estate that doesn’t require any work.

Select neutrals for your walls to appeal to a larger audience. If you have brightly colored walls, make sure you paint over them to improve the way your home shows to buyers.

3. Improve Energy Efficiency

Buyers like the idea of saving money over the long-term, so they will pay more for a house that is energy efficient. You can find ways to do this regardless of your budget. Install new appliances that require less energy to run. Replace old windows with new ones that are better sealed to prevent air leaks.

You can ask for an audit of your home from your local utility company to find out where you can make improvements. They will show you areas that need to be repaired, enabling you to make changes before you list your property.

4. Work on Curb Appeal

Landscaping can improve your home’s value. This is another area where you can make changes regardless of your budget. Start with trimming overgrown bushes and trees. Clean up your lawn and re-sod any patchy areas. Add interest by planting flowers, shrubs and other greenery.

If you don’t consider yourself a creative person, hire a landscaper to design your outdoor area. They can select plants that are low maintenance and enhance your space.

5. Update the Bathroom and Kitchen

It’s often been said that the kitchen sells a home. A bathroom is also a high priority for most buyers who expect an updated space. Whether you can afford to do a major remodel or only have the budget for a few small changes, these two areas are where you should place your focus.

Even something as minor as updating the hardware on your cabinets can yield positive results. If you can’t afford to replace your cabinets, purchase new doors or paint your current ones. If you’re working with a limited budget, focus on the areas that will get the most attention. This includes the lighting, faucets, countertops and cabinets. A coat of paint will make the rooms look and feel brand new as well.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to increase the value of your home. Focus instead on spending what you can afford wisely. When you make the right changes, you will find buyers who are willing to pay more for your home, and that is key in any real estate market.

Affordable Colleges Online have new options!

Affordable Colleges Online have made some great additions to their site. In addition to their online college affordability information and general student resources, the site now includes resources regarding online graduate degrees, new academic support resources and updated rankings that use their proprietary scoring system.

Visit them at

Here are two of their most popular guides as well. The first speaks to online degrees by subject and their potential salaries, and the second is an in depth guide to students loans.

Online degrees by subject-

Student Loan Guidebook-

New benefit for Minnesota First Time Home Buyers!

Minnesota Housing increases downpayment funding

Increase in maximum down payment and closing cost loan amounts effective 6/29/16

Programs help first-time home buyers in competitive housing market

Minnesota Housing offers a variety of mortgage, downpayment and closing cost assistance for first-time home buyers, as well as qualified buyers that need assistance with a subsequent home purchase.  The maximum assistance amounts effective June 29 are:

  • Deferred Payment Loan: Up to $7,500
  • Deferred Payment Loan Plus: Up to $8,500
  • Monthly Payment Loan: Up to $10,000

Review the Downpayment and Closing Cost Loans Comparison for more information on these programs.

Questions on Minnesota Housing mortgage and down payment assistance?  Contact a participating local lender.

For information about housing incentives in Moorhead, please visit, or call 218.299.5434.

Rent or Buy: Either Way You’re Paying A Mortgage

Rent or Buy: Either Way You’re Paying A Mortgage | Keeping Current Matters

There are some renters that have not yet purchased a home because they are uncomfortable taking on the obligation of a mortgage. Everyone should realize that, unless you are living with your parents rent free, you are paying a mortgage – either your mortgage or your landlord’s.

As The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University explains:

“Households must consume housing whether they own or rent. Not even accounting for more favorable tax treatment of owning, homeowners pay debt service to pay down their own principal while households that rent pay down the principal of a landlord plus a rate of return.  

That’s yet another reason owning often does—as Americans intuit—end up making more financial sense than renting.”

Christina Boyle, a Senior Vice President, Head of Single-Family Sales & Relationship Management at Freddie Mac, explains another benefit of securing a mortgage vs. paying rent:

“With a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, you’ll have the certainty & stability of knowing what your mortgage payment will be for the next 30 years – unlike rents which will continue to rise over the next three decades.”

As an owner, your mortgage payment is a form of ‘forced savings’ that allows you to have equity in your home that you can tap into later in life. As a renter, you guarantee your landlord is the person with that equity.

The graph below shows the widening gap in net worth between a homeowner and a renter:

Rent or Buy: Either Way You’re Paying A Mortgage | Keeping Current Matters

Bottom Line

Whether you are looking for a primary residence for the first time or are considering a vacation home on the shore, owning might make more sense than renting with home values and interest rates projected to climb.

Get More Cash for Your Home With These 5 Upgrades

You’ve cleaned and decluttered your home, sent the pets to Grandma’s for a long stay, and applied a fresh coat of neutral paint.

But you still have room in your home-improvement budget. How do you wow buyers without wasting your money?

We talked to two of Dave’s real estate Endorsed Local Providers to get their expert take on home upgrades that get you a great return on investment.

Curb Appeal

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Home-improvement shows give a lot of attention to kitchens and bathrooms. But if all buyers see when they pass by is a shoddy exterior with overgrown grass, they’ll write you off before they ever make it through the door.

Here are just a few projects where a small investment can have a big impact:

  • Mowing the lawn and trimming the landscaping
  • Painting your front door
  • Replacing tarnished door hardware and light fixtures
  • Adding fresh mulch and flowers to landscape beds

Don’t Ignore Grime

Before you dress up the details, be sure to remove the layers of dirt and grime covering your home’s exterior, driveway, and sidewalks. A good pressure washer can help you tackle the job.

Ericka Lalka, a real estate agent in Richland, Washington, has owned a few pressure washers over the years. “As often as we’ve used it, we would have been better off renting it because we’ve had to replace them,” she says.

You should be able to rent one at your local home-improvement store for less than $100 a day.

Guide to Selling Your Home


Do Replace Dingy Carpet

If you have old, grungy carpet, Skip Geiser, a real estate agent in Pensacola, Florida, recommends replacing it because it makes your home look—and smell—like new. That’s especially important if you’re competing with new construction homes in your area.

Avoid getting too personal with color selections. Neutral is always best. Remember, you’re creating a blank slate so buyers can picture their life in your home.

Don’t Dismiss Affordable Options

Of course, carpet won’t work in every area of your home. If your kitchen linoleum is straight out of the ’70s and you can’t afford to install tile or hardwoods, you can bring it into the 21st century without breaking the bank.

Skip and Ericka both say inexpensive materials like vinyl and laminate have made strides in recent years. Ask your agent to point you toward affordable flooring options that hold value well in your area.


Do Consider Painting Outdated Cabinets

When Ericka bought her home, the kitchen cabinets were dark and unattractive. Instead of spending $10,000–20,000 on brand-new cabinets, she and her husband decided to paint their existing ones. That way they could stay focused on paying off their home.

Skip agrees that painting cabinets and adding new hardware is a great way to transform an ugly kitchen. “That’s probably the number-one thing that will get you the biggest ROI,” he says.

Don’t DIY If You’re a Beginner

Painting cabinets might be a money-saver, but it’s not easy. You can’t just slather on a layer of paint and call it a day. You’ve got to know how to prep and finish cabinets to keep them looking good for years to come.

So how do you know you’re up to the challenge? Prior experience is a great sign that you can handle a big project.

Otherwise, it’s best to call in a professional. “In my area, I can have my kitchen painted for about $1,500, and I have a pretty good-sized kitchen,” Ericka says. That’s small change compared to the big dent a bad paint job could put into your sales price!


Do Check Out Your Competition

Countertops are a big investment. You don’t want to dump a lot of cash into the wrong thing, so see what comparable homes near you have in their kitchens. That will give you a good idea of what buyers in your price range expect.

You’re more likely to see laminate countertops in a $125,000 home and high-end materials in a $500,000 home. If no one else in your neighborhood has granite, your home will certainly sell faster with it. Just don’t expect to get every penny out of your investment if that’s the case.

Don’t Assume Granite’s Your Best Bet

There’s no denying granite counters make a statement in any kitchen. But other, more affordable options have been gaining ground in recent years.

Ericka says quartz is most popular in her area, and a recent Zillow study of home features confirms that trend. Listing descriptions that bragged about quartz saw a bigger ROI than those with granite.

Solid stone is another big contender that tops buyer lists in Skip’s market. That’s because its non-porous surface resists germs and requires less maintenance than natural stone.

Kitchen Appliances

Do Rethink Your Microwave

When you think of appliance upgrades, the big-hitters probably come to mind. But there’s one appliance you could be overlooking. “If you have a smaller kitchen with a big microwave sitting on the counter, that’s an issue,” Skip says.

No microwave over your stove? “If there’s room, I always encourage swapping out the dated hood for a microwave,” Ericka says.

Don’t Splurge Unnecessarily

Upgrading to stainless might look great, but it isn’t always the best use of your money. So how do you know when to invest in all-new appliances?

“If you have brand-new white appliances that look fantastic, I don’t believe they’re going to get money out of it in my market,” Ericka says.

But if your appliances look like they’re on their last leg, that’s a bigger deal. Skip suggests checking out your local scratch-and-dent store or major holiday sales at big-box stores for deals.

Don’t Invest in Upgrades Until You Do This

There’s no point pouring cash into a kitchen renovation if a leaky roof scares buyers away. So make sure the basics work properly first.

“In this day and age, you can assume if something’s not working or needs to be replaced, there’s a very good chance you’ll be asked to do it in the home inspection,” Ericka says. That’s because loans depend on these things.

A pre-sale home inspection can help you identify repair issues—and calculate repair costs upfront—before you blow your budget on beauty. Your buyer’s home inspector may still find things that need to be fixed, but being proactive can help keep big-ticket surprises at bay.

Lean on a Pro for Advice

You don’t have to do everything on this list to get top dollar for your home. Skip and Ericka both say simple changes can make the biggest difference.

That’s why it’s important to consult an agent as early as possible once you decide to sell your home. It doesn’t matter if your home looks perfect yet. A good agent can help your home shine without spending more than you have to.

Looking for an agent you can trust? We can connect you with the top agents we recommend in your area.

How To Flood Proof Your Basement

How to Flood Proof Your Basement

Married and House Hunting: How to Agree on the Perfect Home


Married and House Hunting

Home buying can be a stressful process, but when you throw two different opinions in the mix, it can be downright agonizing. Maybe you’re dying for a cute home in the suburbs, but your spouse loves the idea of lots of land in the country. These disagreements can create roadblocks on your way to arriving at the perfect home.

As popular housing markets experience shorter‑than‑average sell times, don’t let a stalemate with your spouse cause you to miss out on your dream home. Check out these tips to help you get on the same page as your honey and keep your house hunt from turning into World War III.

Make Separate Must‑Have Lists

Your best shot at a compromise is to find out what you and your spouse have in common. When Amber Gunn, an Austin, Texas‑based real estate agent and one of Dave’s Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs), works with married couples, she has each person list out their top 10 must‑have features along with their top 10 wishes.

“I like [for couples] to make these lists separately, independently of each other, and then if they don’t have at least five matching things on the must list, I make them go to 20,” says Gunn. “Just so we can find five common things that are really important to both of them.”

Start crafting your own list, and have your spouse do the same. Compare the lists and identify a handful of home features (location, number of rooms, big backyard) that are important to both of you. These agreed‑upon features will serve as the foundation to your home‑buying discussion. When you and your spouse start the home search on common ground, you’ll be more likely to compromise later down the road.

Take Your Emotion Out of the Budget

House‑hunting couples most often disagree on how much money they should spend on a home, according to a Facebook poll of Dave’s fans. Should you take on a higher mortgage to get your forever home? Or should you go the conservative route and get slightly smaller digs?

Do your best to take emotions out of the equation and look at the facts. Your monthly payments should be no more than 25% of your take‑home pay. Veto any home that doesn’t fall within that price range. Don’t get caught up imagining holidays and family gatherings in a huge, extravagant kitchen. A forever home won’t be yours forever if it’s out of your price range.

Jessica R. fell in love with the highest priced home that she thought was still in her budget range, while her husband favored a home that was about $10,000–20,000 less. They bought the more expensive home but only lived in it for a year before renting it out. Despite being approved for the loan amount, Jessica realized after they moved in that the house payments were too high. As time went on, the house began draining them of every penny.

Eventually she and her husband had to sell—learning a tough lesson in the process. “If our home had been affordable, we may have been able to keep it and, at the very least, enjoyed our first home for more than one year,” she explains.

By removing your emotions from the decision, you’ll be able to choose a home you and your spouse will enjoy (and still have!) years from now.

Be Willing to Postpone the House Hunt

If you and your spouse are butting heads, take a step back from the conversation. There will always be new homes for sale, but digging in your heels over a home‑purchase disagreement will only create a greater divide between you and your significant other. Gunn often advises couples who are having trouble finding common ground to take a two‑week break from the discussion then reconvene. “I do believe their marriage is more important than a house. I would rather them get on the same page than it be a really rocky situation,” she says.

A home isn’t worth straining your marriage. Compromise is key to finding something that will fit both of your needs. When Jenny J. was looking for a home with her husband, she focused on three things during the search: necessities, budget, and partnership. If couples don’t prioritize these things, she says, “You might as well be single again and buy a house on your own.”

So if you and your spouse can’t agree on a home, take a breather. Make a pact that you will not discuss locations, square footage, price, and so on for at least a couple of weeks. Then come back to the discussion with a fresh perspective and outlook.

Let Your Realtor Be Your Mediator

A quality real estate agent can listen to your housing disputes and help bridge the gap between you and your spouse. With their intimate knowledge of the market, an experienced agent can provide sound, unbiased advice.

Gunn has plenty of experience assisting couples who want different things from a home. She jokes, “We are counselors—that’s like our second job!” Gunn explains that she’s able to make sure each person feels heard, ease tensions, and find a solution that works for everyone.

Leigh S. found an agent to be invaluable during her lengthy search for a home. “My [agent] helped me step back from the ledge a few times when I wanted to make some emotional decisions when it was taking too long.” Her agent didn’t have any emotional ties to the situation, so Leigh found it easier to listen to input.

Don’t let a stressful situation like buying a home cause strife with your spouse. Enlist the help of a trusted ELP in your area to find a home that pleases both of you.