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Inside Winona: Breaking down the secrets of Winona’s housing market with Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek

May 6, 2019

Despite a rough start to the year, punctuated by bitter cold and record setting snowfall, Winona’s housing market remains as competitive as ever.

This week on Inside Winona, we sat down with Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek to talk about, among many things, what the recorder’s office does and the unique perspective it gives him on Winona’s often challenging housing market.

The following interview has been edited for both clarity and brevity. To hear Banbenek’s unedited, uncut answers, tune in to Inside Winona at winonadailynews.com or search Inside Winona on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Pocket Casts.

Q: For those of us out there that don’t know, what exactly does a county recorder do?

A: We are the office that’s responsible for the recording, the retrieval, and the permanent retention of records that relate to real estate transactions, real estate property sales, mortgages, and lots of other kinds of documents that can relate to a property. We have a lot of that history on each of the properties in Winona County.

In fact, that began in 1853 and today, we have over 1.1 million permanent records. Most of them are permanently imaged, and they are also available by paid subscription on the computer system.

The process of recording transactions is heavily dictated by state laws, and they range from from special taxes, to ownership, to who has priority and ownership.

Some things you work with on almost a daily basis. Others come up just every once in a great while.

Q: As the recorder, you have a somewhat unique vantage point on the housing market. Tell me about how Winona’s housing market is doing, at least from your vantage point.

A: Looking at the first quarter of 2019, it seemed like at all times there was 8 feet of snow on the ground, but even during that time record cold temperatures and unbelievable snow falls, homes were selling. In fact, in January and February 2019, we were way ahead of 2018. It shows you that there were people out there, and even in the worst of weather conditions, they were all looking at homes.

In March and April we saw sales fall a little bit. I think that reflected the weather. But for the first four months of the year with figures just in earlier this week, we’re still ahead of 2018.

Q: One of the things we’ve talked about a lot in the last few months is the shortage of middle class family homes — particularly those from the $140,000 to $200,000 range. What factors are contributing to this shortage?

A: You can’t build a home for $140,000 to $200,000 anymore.

We had, during one of the Housing Task Force meetings, several builders that were saying that $200,000 just wasn’t a figure that they could meet to build a home. Some people are pushing that up to $300,000.

Those are conventional homes, but there’s some work going on across the country for what they’re calling mini homes or a two-room home. They’re very, very small, very efficient, but it is a signal that all across the country there are challenges to getting a home, especially getting a starter home.

Q: What advice would you give a first-time home buyer looking for a home in that price range?

A: It is almost a given that you need to have a Realtor, but not just a Realtor, you need one that you’re in contact with almost 24/7.

If something becomes available, you need to go look right away. You need to be ready to put an offer in, if you think it will work for you.

The days of thinking about it for three days are long gone. In fact, a home on Harriet Street had eight people that were interested in putting in an offer by noon the first day it was on the market. That’s how competitive it is.

Q: Looking forward, what are your predictions for the remainder of 2019?

A: Anything relating to real estate in Winona County is definitely showing the value, all prices are up, interest is up. No matter what it is, there are people looking, there are people talking, and it’s not that way all over the United States.

Some of the big areas of the country, like New York and Los Angeles, that are starting to see people backing off from homeownership.

Some folks at the national level are predicting a little bit of a slowdown in real estate sales in late 2019. However, in this immediate area there was a big exception.

It started in La Crescent and, came to Winona, then to St. Charles and from Rochester it went north to the west part of Minneapolis.

What we’re really seeing is the impact of the Mayo (Destination Medical Center) project in Rochester.

We’re certainly off to a really good start of 2019.