Why Staging Sells

Staging Matters

At some point in your life, there is a very good probability you will be selling your home. Zillow’s question and answer section will tell you that the average person sells their home every 7-12 years. This means that more than likely, you will need this advice at some point in your life.

As the owners of JS Design Studios, we could be accused of being bias in our opinion that staging is a critical component of selling you home. We could tell you experience has done nothing but validate our position that staging will help you sell your house for top dollar and as fast as possible. We could tell you about the clients who have had their homes on the market for months without any success. Once they made some cost-effective improvements and had their homes staged, they sold within 24 hours with multiple bids. But don’t take our word for it…or even the glowing feedback from numerous satisfied clients. That is simply our experience, and again, we are a staging company so we are naturally bias.

Let us quickly look at a few facts from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). During a recent survey, the NAR found that 81% of all buyers find it easier to visualize a staged home, 45% said staging had positive impact on the value of a properly decorated home, and nearly a third (28%) of buyers are more willing to overlook property faults if the home is staged professionally. If you are not already convinced, 12% of real-estate agents believe proper staging increases the dollar value of the home at least 11%-20%! That means if your home is worth $300,000 today, properly staged you could get an additional $33,000-$60,000 – just by professionally staging your home. Depending on your state, you nearly missed those tax-free dollars!

While this is exciting news and helps you realize the importance of staging, it does not practically help. JS Design Studios is passionate about educating and providing solutions for our clients. We offer everything from working with existing furniture and accessory packages to add pops of color, all the way to complete home staging with furniture rental. We also enjoy working with our clients to provide “tips and tricks” to enhance your home.

One way we educate potential home sellers is through community classes we hold with area realtors. However, most of the time we will come out to your home to consult with you on an individual basis. Our goal is to take the stress out of staging and selling your home. During the consultation, we will do a walkthrough with you of your home and gather information. We will then go back and write up a detailed, yet prioritized and simplistic report that goes room by room for you to follow. Think of it as a roadmap to successful selling. Many times, there will be recommendations such as decluttering your home, assisting in paint color choices, and moving or removing select pieces of furniture. In some cases, there may be minor home improvement tasks we suggest such as replacing flooring or updating trim and bathroom updates. We provide cost effective solutions based on our experience as well as trusted contractor recommendations for each of these suggestions. If you are the DIY kind of person, we also have options for tried and proven enhancements you can utilize – and recommendations on which ones to steer clear from…just do not ask how we know they do not work.

Selling a home can be a lonely and stressful process if you do not partner with professionals. Leveraging the knowledge and experience of your realtor and stager can take the stress out of selling, clarify priorities, and help you avoid the pitfalls of putting money in areas that do not maximize your investment.

We are Johanna and Tim Steffensmeier, owners of JS Design Studios. We specialize in residential design and staging solutions. Our staging offerings range from full home furniture rental, to working with existing furniture. We also write recommendation reports for clients preparing their homes to sell with tips and tricks. On the design side, we perform a wide variety of projects. Something as simple as assisting in paint color selection, to structural changes and completely different layouts. We can also provide 3D renderings of the space.

Johanna has been involved with interior design and staging for over 10 years. Tim brings his expertise in business management, as well as construction experience. We have a passion for creating beautiful spaces and take a “seek first to understand” approach when dealing with all clients to determine which solution best suits their needs. Tim and Johanna can be reached at www.jsdesignstudios.com.

App of the Month


This month we begin a regular new feature called App of the Month. We will look at the popular apps that seek to help make our lives a little better in some way, shape, or form.  So many apps come out every day that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. It’s difficult to determine the best of the best but if you’re getting bored with what you’ve got and want to try something new, check out this regular app feature. This month, the blue ribbon goes to a maps & navigation app called Waze.

Waze, is a GPS navigation software that works on smartphones and tablets with GPS support and provides turn-by-turn navigation information and user-submitted travel times and route details, while downloading location-dependent information over a mobile telephone network. Waze describes its app as a community-driven GPS navigation app, which is free to download and use. The app was first developed and popularized by Waze Mobile, an Israeli company founded by Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar and Uri Levine, funded by two Israeli venture capital firms, Magma and Vertex, and an early-stage American venture capital firm Bluerun Ventures. Waze Mobile was acquired in 2013 by Google.

Cool Features
  • Wazers share real-time road information to bypass traffic and saves precious time off their daily commutes.
  • Waze analyzes traffic in real-time to find you the quickest detours and shortcuts.
  • Simply driving with Waze helps other drivers. You can also actively report on incidents like crashes, hazards, police and more.
  • Customized voice navigation is fun! I like the “boy band” voice. He sings navigation to you as you drive…hilarious!
  • Gas prices – in honor of my father who will drive 5 extra miles to save $.03/gallon this feature is awesome. It will show you the current prices at all the gas stations on or near your route.
Waze vs. Google Maps

When evaluating Google Maps vs Waze, there are a few key differences:

Waze is community-based, Google Maps is more data-based
Waze is pretty much just for cars, Google Maps offers walking, driving, and biking options.
Waze requires a data connection, Google Maps is available offline.
Google Maps includes business data such as menus, hours, and phone numbers, while Waze does not.
Google Maps is fairly basic, Waze offers a high level of customization (including celebrity voiceovers!)

If it is any indication of usefulness, Uber or Lyft drivers overwhelmingly use Waze. My personal take is that Waze is more useful, given the sheer amount of data that the app collects through it’s massive user base. The collaborators are the the key to real-time data. Whenever possible, I don’t want to stop for traffic, hit potholes, or get a speeding ticket.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Google Maps, and I use it when I am driving. I don’t always need to avoid traffic, or don’t necessarily care about avoiding traffic when I have nothing to do.

In summary, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to just get to your destination, Google Maps is probably good enough. But if you’re looking to supercharge your navigation, give Waze a try.

Download the free app by clicking on either of these two platforms:



November Giveaway

Enter to Win a $50 gift card to Love That Olive

Welcome to our monthly client appreciation program! Each month we give away free tickets, passes or gift cards!  This month, one lucky winner will receive a $50 gift card to Love That Olive. This is one of our favorite foodie stores! The perfect gift for anyone.

What is Love That Olive?

Love That Olive (LTO) is a locally owned and operated retail store located in Maple Grove, Minnesota. LTO brings you some of the finest Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars available. They have been tempting local and global foodies along with novice cooks. The excitement continues as they bring you even more specialty gourmet food and gift items in their new expansion. They’re growing to meet the desires of their customers looking for healthy, flavorful recipes to serve their family and friends.

Great cooking starts with great olive oil!

Learn More About Love That Olive >>>

One winner will randomly be selected by noon on Monday, November 20th and contacted via email.

Congrats to October’s winner of the Red Cow Restaurant & Bar $50 gift card, Kerry M.

Click below to enter. Good luck!

Augmented Reality and Real Estate

The Decision

I use my iPhone a lot, and I use it hard. As each new phone feature gets introduced I push the limits of its claimed capability. It’s a business tool and it’s a social device at the same time. For that reason, I’m normally very careful when handling my device. But recently, I had the misfortune of discovering a major crack across the face of the screen. Ugh! I didn’t drop it. Truly. It slipped in between the seats in my car. In the process of me reaching down to fish it out, I must have jarred it too aggressively – enough to cause a crack. Have you ever seen a grown man cry? It’s sad. Now, what do I do?

Faced with this unexpected decision, I’ve been anguishing over my options. My choices are either, a) pay $100+ to get my screen fixed or, b) explore the latest $900+ tantalizing offerings from the Apple cartel. If I choose to repair my screen, will I be going backward in technology time with an almost 3-year old iPhone 6? Will I be a good financial steward if I even consider shelling out over NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS? The hesitation begins. Is this really a vital business tool in my day-to-day operation of my business and personal life? Are these questions just first-world problems that we encounter in two-year phone contract renewal cycles?

It’s true, I am geeked out by all the latest technology and quality of life enhancements that are graciously provided by these personal devices. I am also very impressed and compelled by the litany of features and benefits of the new line of Apple iPhones; iPhone 8, iPhone 8+ and the highly acclaimed and anticipated iPhone X. In particular,

  • Wireless charging
  • True tone ambient light balance display
  • 12 megapixel camera
  • Portrait lighting
  • 4k video capture
  • AR calibrated camera sensors
  • A11 bionic 6-core processor (70% faster than iPhone 7)
  • Face I.D.
  • Glass back

Mostly, I am most especially intrigued by Apple’s introduction of their version of Augmented Reality in ARKit. Could this be the deal clincher? Could this be the ‘one thing’ that pushes me over the indecision bubble?

This is amazing stuff!

With Apple’s release of iOS 11 on September 12, 2017, iPhone and iPad owners will see a flood of augmented reality app titles hit the App Store thanks to Apple’s introduction of ARKit. In fact, look out for an industry explosion of new apps featuring this hot new technology. There are truly unlimited applications in so many different industry categories that it is mind-blowing . Companies are racing to be ahead of this technology. So much so, that a whopping $108 billion has already been invested into this sector.

“Yes, there will be plenty of ARKit games and entertainment, but given the size of Apple’s developer community, coupled with workplace and industry-specific enterprise app development through Apple’s burgeoning business initiatives, the explosion of AR application development should be surprising and unprecedented.”  – David Wilson

What is AR?

Augmented Reality (AR) is mixing real-world images with artificial ones in real time – sometimes also known as Mixed Reality. This contrasts with Virtual Reality (VR) where the entire image is artificial.

“Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.”

AR has been around for literally decades but hasn’t yet become a mainstream technology. Google tried to change this with Project Tango, but this required special hardware and didn’t catch on. The Google AR platform is currently only compatible with roughly 10 million specialized Android devices. All this looks set to change, however, with Apple’s promotion of AR technology.

This technology is not exclusive to Apple. And, all this time while everyone was complaining about how Apple apparently was dragging its feet with virtual reality technology it did a head-fake in releasing ARKit. Combined with the new line-up of iPhones featuring the mighty A11 processor Apple has effectively leapfrogged its competition 100-fold moving “light years” ahead with it version of augmented reality. Sorry Google. Sorry Microsoft.

One thing I have come to learn is that the use of technology in my real estate business is paramount. AR has the potential to become quickly transformational in many sectors, including; retail, manufacturing, marketing, education, transportation and real estate. There are many applications that are both required and helpful in order to best serve me and my clients. The AR world has brought a whole new layer of advantage into my daily world. I recently took time to research this groundbreaking technology and explore see how and if these new apps can demonstratively be useful to me. Maybe through this process, I can finally put to rest my anguish and anxiety over which iPhone solution I will pursue.

Several examples of apps using AR that I see as having a potentially positive impact on my bottom line are shown in the following summaries. I’ve also added a few near the end just for fun.


SmartPicture Technologies has released a very cool dimensional intelligence app for measuring rooms called PLNAR.

Measuring rooms? Who needs that? Umm…I DO! 

As a real estate professional, and more specifically, as a listing agent, we routinely take measurements of residential properties. It is critical to collect and disclose structural information for rooms of all types, including; bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, family rooms, garages, and even foundations. PLNAR is the app that harnesses ARKit to gather these room measurements, including specifications for interior structures like doors and windows, in real time.


Using an iPhone or iPad’s rear camera, users simply point their device at anchor points in a given room to generate accurate digital measurements of any flat surface. Using a simple reticule, users can conduct point-to-point measurements of a room’s floor and walls. Other objects like counter tops can also be measured.

Users can label measured segments to notate key features like walls, doors, windows, openings and more, a handy tool when creating an area blueprint.

Beyond basic dimensioning, PLNAR is able to ingest room measurements to generate area and perimeter calculations, simplifying flooring and other interior design projects.

The app supports multiple projects and room plans, while users can export data as PDF documents for easy sharing.

PLNAR is a free download from the iOS App Store.


Homesnap is already a very useful tool to realtors. This app features a nifty mobile home search interface. Homesnap is powered by the same real-time data used by licensed REALTORS®.

Simply snap a photo of any home to reveal home value estimates, interior photos, beds, baths, taxes, lot boundaries, school ratings and much more.

One of the Homesnap app’s most-used features is the ability to walk property lines using your phone or tablet. With the release of iOS 11, they’ve taken advantage of augmented reality (AR) to make this feature even cooler.
Now when iOS 11 users walk property lines with the Homesnap app, they’ll get a real-time, physical view of the property’s boundaries. It’s truly an unparalleled AR experience!

Here’s how it works: Just fire up Homesnap on your iPhone or iPad, pull up the home’s listing, scroll to the map, and tap “Walk the Property Lines.” As you walk the perimeter of the home, your iPhone (or iPad) will display the property lines on top of a real-time view captured by the device’s built-in camera.

♦Boundary Viewer

Realtors need to locate property lines day in and day out, and clients invariably want to “see” the boundaries of the property at hand. BoundARyViewer is an innovative, easy way to see those property lines through the magic of Augmented Reality (AR)! We’ve all seen the computer generated “first down lines” in televised football games… BoundARyViewer uses this same technology to project publicly available property boundaries into your smart phone camera view. Simply open the app and point your camera!!

BoundARy Viewer seamlessly accesses state or municipal GIS (Geographic Information System) databases for property line information , and then presents this information on both traditional street map and satellite views, and in 3D through your smart phone camera based upon GPS location and device orientation . You can “follow the line” within the display to walk the property boundaries, or simply get a feel for the layout by panning the camera from a single location. From a vehicle one can see where frontage boundaries are on a drive-by, both for the property at hand and others in the neighborhood.

BoundARy Viewer provides a fun and functional means to better understand property boundaries that simplifies the Realtor’s job, and enhances the customer experience. The 2D Mapping function of BoundaryViewer is free. The 3D Augmented Reality requires a subscription. Unfortunately, as of this publication date, the mapping is not yet available for Minnesota.


Leveraging Apple’s new AR technology, MeasureKit makes it really easy to measure different things in the world using your iPhone’s or iPad’s camera. Here’s how it works: point the camera on the object you want to measure, tap to start, and as you move around your device in space, you see the result on the screen. It’s that easy.  There are currently 7 tools available: ChainingTrajectoryMarker Pin, Person Height, Cube, Level, and Angles.

Just like a real ruler, but better. Measure straight lines on any surface, such as a desk or wall. Ruler automatically attaches to detected horizontal and vertical planes for better accuracy.

In my world, as a realtor, we often need to measure things, specifically room size. You can measure straight lines on any surface, such as a desk or wall. Ruler automatically attaches to detected horizontal and vertical planes for better accuracy. Using Chaining Mode, you can quickly link together multiple rulers in one measuring session and see floor area, as well as total distance. Measuring a room has never been easier!

MeasureKit features an advanced internal algorithm for world understanding using ARKit. This allows the app to offer really smooth and accurate measuring experience including on walls and other vertical planes. While most of similar AR ruler apps are limited to measuring accurately only on a desk & floor, with MeasureKit you can easily measure a painting on your wall, for example.

The ruler tool is free, but all other tools are available for a one-time purchase of $2.99.


Housecraft uses your device’s camera and the power of augmented reality to let you place fully rendered 3D models anywhere in your world.

Perfectly plan your future home with your phone! It’s easy to save room configurations and try them out anywhere. Great for apartment hunts, reorganizing a room, testing how new furniture will look, and more!

Feel exactly how big objects are and how they’ll fit. Admire objects from any angle in any light. Save room configurations, try them out anywhere.

Feel exactly how big objects are and how they’ll fit. You’ll hardly believe how accurate the measurements are once you try it. Plus, you can admire objects from any angle, in any light!


Image: Ikea Place

IKEA has introduced a new app called IKEA Place, built using Apple’s new augmented reality ARKit, which includes 3D and true to scale models of everything from sofas and arm chairs, to foot stools and coffee tables. IKEA Place uses ARKit and is compatible with iPhone 6s and newer.

IKEA Place lets you virtually ‘place’ IKEA products in your space. The app includes 3D and true-to-scale models of everything from sofas and armchairs to footstools and coffee tables. IKEA Place gives you an accurate impression of the furniture’s size, design and functionality in your home so you can stop wondering and start doing.

The app lets also you share your ‘place’ with social apps like WhatsApp or Instagram. And ultimately, order your products through IKEA Store. Look out for updates as more IKEA products and additional functionality arriving soon.

Overstock and Wayfair are in development of how to use AR in their marketing as well. Look for them to be joining the AR game soon.


Similar to IKEA’s Place, Houzz has been updated to try out an AR version of its many products in your home before you commit to spending your cash. You’ll also find iOS 11 drag and drop support for iPad.

View in My Room 3D is an indispensable tool for your next home project with Apple’s new AR technology available in iOS 11. Preview 500k+ furniture and decor products in 3D at lifesize scale from the Houzz Shop before you buy. Design your room’s layout by positioning products exactly where you want them and experience the full effect by walking around your room. Hold your iPhone or iPad close to virtual products to see realistic materials, textures, surfaces and more. Products are organized in shopping list making it easy to buy the ones you like. Managing your ideabooks is more convenient with iOS 11 drag and drop. Use drag and drop multi-touch to move multiple saved photos, products and sketches between ideabooks. On iPad, use drag and drop to copy files or photos from Safari directly into ideabooks.

Read more on Houzz AR technology here.


See Cambria® designs on your own countertops, islands, and more with our new Augmented Reality (AR) app. Just use your Apple device to scan the surface, then select the design you want and you’ll instantly see it at home in your own kitchen.

Like many companies who are using Apple’s ARkit to make their products more appealing to consumers, Cambria expects the app will not only increase retail sales, but partnerships with designers and remodeling companies, who previously had to use samples to envision a finished product. Cambria partners with thousands of designers who work in the commercial real estate, residential, food service, sports and healthcare industries.

“It will help them present their remodel and build (business) to the end consumer,” said Brian Peters, chief marketing officer for Cambria. “We’re the only one in countertops that have (an AR app). We’ll grow for sure with more designers using this.”

Just for fun:

Of course, there are many many additional apps flooding the market by the day. I’m not a gamer, but I’ve got to believe that the gaming experience is mind-boggling with the AR technology. Here are a few more cool AR apps you should check out.

♦Fitness AR

Fitness AR launched an eponymous ARKit app designed to visualize rides, runs and hikes on a three-dimensional map using data captured in Strava’s popular activity tracking title.

As an accompaniment to Strava Running and Cycling GPS, Fitness AR requires users link their Strava account and start a new route to get started. Alternatively, previously logged activity can be shared with Fitness AR for augmented reality processing.

Once a desired activity or route is selected, Fitness AR will display the logged data in a 3D environment directly on a table or flat surface. Like other ARKit apps, Fitness AR’s offering overlays computer generated visuals, in this case a 3D map and extrapolated user activity data, on top of real world objects captured by an iOS device’s rear-facing cameras.

The app promises not only fun interactions with Strava Running and Cycling GPS metrics, but provides insight into potential changes users can make to their daily runs. For example, with a bird’s-eye view of nearby terrain, users might find new running paths, cycling routes or hiking treks to try during their next outing.

Fitness AR is priced at $2.99


A French DIY store created ‘Magic Wallpaper’ – their own wallpaper which utilises AR to tell animated stories at bedtime via a dedicated app. A story appears once you scan a character but scan two characters and the characters interact allowing for hundreds of stories. Beyond a smart and fun app experience, the strategy to get multiple brand mentions and exposures is smart and long-term as parents read along with their kids.


Ladies, Perfect Corp.’s YouCam reaches a mega-milestone as its suite of augmented reality (AR) apps has been downloaded globally more than 500 million times, further proving its influence on the customer beauty experience as we know it. Utilizing the world’s leading AR technology, YouCam Apps, including YouCam Makeup , YouCam Perfect , YouCam Nails , and YouCam Nails , continues to enhance every beauty lover’s journey by offering users top trending selfie makeovers, instant skin diagnostics, one-touch selfie editing, and entertaining animated fun filters from the palm of your hand.

Perfect Corp. is transforming the beauty game by marrying the highest level of augmented reality (“AR”) technology with the ultimate shopping experience, completely reinventing the online-to-offline (“O2O”) consumer beauty journey. The brand continues to push the boundaries of AR technology and invest heavily in AI (artificial intelligence), to further develop cutting-edge applications that attract the attention of leading beauty brands, retailers, makeup experts, and media outlets around the world. YouCam works globally with over 150 brands, including Estee Lauder, Yves Saint Laurent, L’Oréal Paris, MAC Cosmetics, and Macy’s. By offering a hyper-personalized mobile shopping experience, YouCam Apps delivers true-to-life in-store beauty trials allowing for a seamless O2O AR makeover experience.

Learn more about YouCam here.

Carrot Weather – is a crazy-powerful weather app that delivers hilariously twisted forecasts. CARROT Weather is a weather and forecasting app for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch that shows you your current weather conditions, as well as highly-detailed forecasts for the next seven days. It also features colorful illustrations to reflect the current weather, along with a healthy dose of snark to give weather reporting a little more personality.

Overflowing with Personality…from spooky fog to torrential downpours, CARROT’s dialogue, characters, and scenery change in… “unexpected” ways. You’ll actually be looking forward to a blizzard just to see what CARROT has in store for you!

The iOS app also comes with an iMessage app that lets you send weather forecasts to your friends.

Giphy World – Fill the world around you with GIFs & stickers in glorious AR powered 3D! GIPHY World is an augmented reality app that lets you communicate in AR. Just add a few GIFs around you and share. You can record a video of your creation to post on the web or even better, share a link to your scene for your friends to explore!

Sky Guide – Sky Guide is one of the coolest apps in the iTunes App Store, and is perfect for augmented reality. The Current version of the app shows an animated sky, and the direction in which the user points their phone will reveal which constellations are there. But it’s still an animated sky. With the new version, it will be the actual sky.

World Brush – is an AR experience where users can paint with brushes on the world around them. Every painting is anonymous and is saved at the approximate GPS location where it was created. Users have the ability to like, dislike and report paintings which hides the bad stuff and showcases the good. We use a scoring algorithm that combines popularity and time of creation to serve up the best content based on your location.

Euclidean Lands – is a beautiful puzzle game with unique mechanics that blends isometric architecture and turn-based movement into an exciting medieval game world. This app experience looks like what would happen if you crossed the beautiful, impossible architecture of Monument Valley with the turn-based action of Hitman Go… and then you set the game on a Rubik’s Cube. It’s a seemingly strange combination, but it works, offering an experience that’s somehow relaxing and challenging at the same time.

AirMeasure – is another measuring app loaded with features. The app helps users measure anything from small distances to far away points and heights. There are also additional tools that aid users with specialized tasks such as calculating a person’s height, previewing virtual furniture in a room, adding laser levels to a wall or drawing in 3D space.


Apple has been positioning its phones and it’s processors to accommodate the ARKit. And, most everyone agrees that Apple, and others, will eventually introduce AR glasses, but for the time being, most people’s experiences with AR will obviously be on iPad and iPhone screens. No doubt the best experience will be on the newest 10th Anniversary iPhone with it’s larger screen and baked-in processor advantage.

I guess I’ve made my decision.

Jon Speich is a licensed real estate professional with JP Willman Realty Twin Cities specializing in buying and selling residential real estate. He is married with three daughters and lives in Champlin, Minnesota. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Twitter @jonspeich.



Read more

Storytelling: My Car Lessons, by Tamara Schierkolk

Applying makeup. Putting in contact lenses. Knitting. Hanging one’s leg out the window. Watching a movie. Shaving. Picking one’s nose.

My eyes widened as I read the online list of things people do while they’re driving. Were humans coordinated enough to pull all this off in traffic? I understood multitasking and seizing the time, but what had become of us? And what would Karl Benz think of how we used his invention?

Pre-motherhood, I had my ideas about car rides and life. “When I have kids, no refined sugar for them,” I said.

But then I had babies, and they sometimes fussed in the thick of rush hour. My lofty intentions plummeted to their death.

“Here, catch,” I’d say, tossing marshmallows to my little passengers in the back seat. They squealed and gulped down the fluffy treats. And I swallowed my pride.

Back then, there was other excitement in the car too. Before Dicka could articulate her feelings, she had a penchant for carsickness.

“Mama, my mouth feels funny,” the toddler would say, her sentence always followed by two short coughs, then The Big Mess.

I learned to carry a bath towel in the car. And I could ball it up with one hand—the other on the steering wheel, my eyes trained forward—and pitch it back to Dicka before she got to the two coughs part.

But the girls didn’t remain tiny creatures who required marshmallows and towels during travel. They soon had other needs. And that period of time—when they were deeply involved in extra-curricular activities, but not yet old enough to drive—called for a parental chauffeur to simply move out of her home and relocate to the car.

Was anyone hungry? Dairy products were in the cooler; non-perishable foods in the tote bag. Anybody chilly? They could grab a blanket from the stack. Any need for a personal hygiene product, first aid item, or wardrobe remedy? The inventory included (but was not limited to) the following: hand sanitizer, bobby pins, Band-Aids, a lint roller, toothbrush, phone chargers, and even an extra pair of black tights.

The job as chauffeur was lowly but unavoidable. It looked like a necessary distraction on the road to something better. But it stripped away my personality and muted my sense of purpose. Was I created for this? I waited and transported. Transported and waited. Transported. And waited some more. While I frittered away my days behind the wheel, I gazed through the car windows at passersby who appeared to take their freedom for granted. Did they know how those of us on the inside felt? I marked notches on the armrest to count down the hours until my release.

But one day, something inside me switched.

What could I do to redeem my time while I wore down my tires? Spotify, Pandora, Audible, Duolingo, and YouTube entered my waiting. The time lag between points A and B became its own legitimate activity. The car morphed from mode of transportation to counseling office for us to grind out the details of life, work out schedules and futures, and soothe the wounds of the day. The vehicle transformed into a sanctuary where I sang, cried, and prayed. And our ride broke down sometimes too, rubbing the temporary discomfort across my rough edges like sandpaper and reminding me my First World issues only looked like problems.

While not as thrilling as kissing or working on one’s laptop while on the move, maybe character refinement during the long hours running up the odometer counts for something.

And maybe my car lessons could be added to the online list too.

Tamara Schierkolk has a heart for the inner city. She’s also a freelance grant writer, writes contemporary fiction, and since 2012, she and her family have hosted twenty-eight children in crisis through Safe Families for Children. She lives with her husband of twenty-five years, their three teenage daughters, and their beloved pit bull in North Minneapolis, a high-crime, low-income part of the city, because that’s where God called them. She writes about her life and adventures in her blog, My Blonde Life in the Hood.


October Giveaway!

Enter to Win a $50 gift card to Red Cow Restaurant & Bar

We are starting our monthly client appreciation program. We will be giving away free tickets, passes or gift cards every month!  This month, one lucky winner will receive free passes to Red Cow Restaurant & Bar.  The winner will randomly be selected by noon on Monday, October 23rd and contacted via email. ENTER TO WIN below.

What is Red Cow Restaurant & Bar?

It’s handcrafted burgers and a whole lot more. Providing a sophisticated twist on the classic neighborhood tavern, Red Cow celebrates finely crafted eats and drinks with a focus on gourmet burgers, craft beers, and fine wine. You can find Red Cow at four Twin Cities locations: Minneapolis North Loop, Minneapolis 50th & France, St. Paul Cathedral Hill, and the newest location in Minneapolis Uptown.

Learn More About Red Cow >>>

Ten Questions, with Jim Damiani

A top performing Twin Cities commercial real estate executive talks about life and success

Jim Damiani has nearly 30 years of experience in commercial real estate, specializing in Tenant Advisory-Office. Throughout his career, Jim has completed over 2,500 transactions for 30 million square feet totaling in excess of $3.0 billion in consideration. Jim and his team utilize Workplace Strategies to help their clients obtain the best economic office lease scenario while creating a workplace that helps them retain and attract top talent.

In April 2017, Jim Damiani and John McCarthy took their 45 years of combined Twin Cities real estate experience and opened a Minneapolis office for the global brokerage Newmark Grubb Knight Frank of New York. Recently, we sat down with Jim to talk about business and his success for our Ten Questions segment.

Q. You recently made a change in firms. Describe that process.

A. I was at my last firm 21 years so the process to decide to leave and start a new venture took some time (8 months). I started by teaming with a good friend in our industry. John McCarthy and I have been great friends for 25 plus years and one day we decided being top producers at our respective firms was not enough. We wanted to take our knowledge and grow a firm with a great nurturing culture. We researched thoroughly our options on who go with and hands down it was Newmark knight Frank based in NY. They had the same vision as us in wanting to build the best firm and not necessarily the biggest firm. They agreed to provide us all the tools that we can use to give the best possible service to our clients. We want to have a place where the culture is the big attraction. During our process, we enlisted team members that we knew and trusted in Maura Carland, Sherry Weaver and Jack Reipke. Together we all agreed on our company vision and direction. We started with 5 people and are building with that solid foundation. It has only been 5 months and we are growing at a very nice pace.

Q. Describe the importance of your professional network for your business?

A. My relationships are everything to me. As far as business goes I had great mentors early on in Sam Thorpe and John Ungerman. That taught me to work tirelessly, be patient and put your client’s needs above everything else. Through this practice I have been able to enjoy countless professional relationships and now most of my business is based on referrals.

Q. How do you recruit and maintain talent?

A. Basically, we have a simple mission statement that tells what we are all about. If someone has the same values as our mission statement we will meet with them and see if we have a fit in our firm that will be beneficial to all parties (employee, employer and most importantly our clients)

Q. How has failure made a positive difference in your life?

A. I don’t like failure. I still remember losing key sporting events over 35 years ago and what I could have done differently to change that outcome. In business, I hate to fail as well but I realize if I do fail it is something that can be learned from and make sure it doesn’t happen again. We learn a heck of a lot more when we fail as opposed to when we win.

Q. How old were you when you had your first paying job?

A. I sold milk at school in 5th grade. Chocolate milk was a penny more but so worth it 🙂

Q. What have you read that I should read?

A. Joy, Inc. It’s a great book about Company culture.

Q. What is your definition of success?

A. No matter you do, if people respect you. You are successful.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

A. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou

Q. Where have you been that I should visit?

A. Iceland, Go and you will see why.

Q. What does retirement look like for you?

A. I am not the type to sit on a beach or dock somewhere. My financial planner asked me the other day how many years until I retire. I said I know exactly the week I am retiring. That is the week I no longer want to get out of bed and go to work. That is probably a very long time from now since I am having too much fun at this point in my life!

Jim Damiani, CCIM, SIOR, is an executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank’s Minneapolis-St. Paul office and designated broker for Minnesota brokerage operations. Mr. Damiani is among the most successful and widely recognized market leaders in the Minneapolis commercial real estate market.  He has represented companies big and small, from U.S. Bancorp and Carmichael Lynch to Jack Link’s and Winmark.  Jim and his wife Brenda live in Plymouth and have three children. Email Jim at Jim.Damiani@ngkf.com.


Read more

Ken’s Crew: Walk to Defeat ALS

ALS (Lou Gehrigs Disease) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is 100% fatal. Ultimately it peels away all of your physical abilities to include eating and breathing. Every 90 minutes someone dies or is diagnosed with ALS. The average lifespan of someone diagnosed with ALS is 2-5 years. The estimated average yearly cost of caring for someone with ALS is over $200,000. The ALS association helps to provide services and equipment for those with ALS in addition to supporting research. This year the first drug in 25 years to help slow the progression of ALS was approved.

This Saturday, September 16th, at Lake Phalen Ken’s Crew will be gathering to raise money for the ALS Association. This year it will be especially poignant as Ken died this past July at the age of 54 after being diagnosed with ALS 3 and a half years ago. Please consider walking with Ken’s Crew and/or donating at the following link >> Ken’s Crew

Patti Brown is a clinical nurse specialist at Nystrom & Associates.  She lost her husband Ken Brown from the horrible disease of ALS in July of 2017. She has two children and lives in Champlin, Minnesota.

What Amazon’s possible HQ2 could mean for Minneapolis Real Estate Market

Who out there would like Amazon.com’s headquarters in our beloved Minneapolis?

Or, we should say, Amazon’s SECOND headquarters. According to the Seattle Times,  on Thursday, Jeff Bezos and company announced plans to spend $5 billion on a second headquarters somewhere in North America. Bezos says will be a “full equal” to their current campus in Seattle. And wherever Amazon decides to build out HQ No. 2, they’re going to bring thousands of jobs with them…as many as 50,000 employees! These jobs are not minimum wage jobs, many, if not most, are $100k plus.

Similar projects attracted other cities to woo large companies like Alcoa, General Motors, Intel, and, Boeing requiring a ton of incentives costing these cities millions. Weighed against expected direct employment, Amazon’s HQ2 project scale dwarfs those earlier projects. “Fifty thousand people…is a big carrot,” said David Sirmon who teaches business strategy at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

And, with those high paying jobs comes development, lots of development. When there is commercial development there is always residential development to go with it. In my real estate world, development equals upward mobility. Upward mobility equals moving and selling, which equals more jobs and more housing! “We are creating a neighborhood…a district,” said John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate, referring to their downtown Seattle campus. In Minnesota speak, that means development!

Additionally, whichever city lands Amazon’s second headquarters can expect street-level retail space to go to local restaurants, in line with what’s played out in Seattle. What would that look like for Minneapolis? Oh my! Our Twin Cities would be a great place for a new Amazon “district.” Our entertainment, shopping, and restaurant quality of life would increase exponentially.

However, as a possible consequence, would we transition into a buyer’s market? The housing market tends to cycle between shortage and surplus. Therefore factors that impact supply and demand influence housing market changes. Factors that have a widespread effect include interest rates, economic conditions, and consumer confidence levels. For example, low interest rates, good economic conditions and high levels of consumer confidence can increase the number of potential buyers. Since housing supply tends to lag behind demand, the result is movement toward a sellers’ market. Reverse those factors and buyer demand will most likely slow. When the market reaches the point where there is an excess of properties, a swing toward a buyer’s’ market generally occurs.

Amazon, in general, continues to expand like crazy, with a workforce quickly closing in on 500,000. And with the recent acquisition of Whole Foods, they’re working hard on the future of grocery shopping as well. Amazon is looking for a city with a “highly educated workforce,” and a “stable business-friendly environment,” which is business-speak for “make sure there are a lot of tax breaks.” Does any city come to mind here? Hmmm.

Amazon needs 8 million square feet of office space. For some perspective, Amazon would need the equivalent of nearly six IDS Centers or about 15 of the new Wells Fargo towers that were built next to U.S. Bank Stadium. Possible sites in the Twin Cities would include:

  • The area just west of Target Field
  • Prospect Park neighborhood
  • Arden Hills Rice Creek Commons site
  • St. Paul Ford plant property
  • Maple Grove Arbor Lakes area

But the move immediately sparked the first action in a bidding war among states and cities eager for a stake in Amazon’s empire. Mayors around the country were quick to tout their cities as a potential destination for Amazon’s expansion. Naturally, Minnesota politicians are jockeying for the headlines. Top city leaders have weighed in, kind of. Publicly, they are muddy on how they would approach this request for proposal.

As of the date of this article, Gov. Dayton has assembled a task force lead by the Department of Employment and Economic Development. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman thinks we can put a competitive proposal together, but was unclear whether we should put  together an aggressive incentive package. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has said nothing (really, Mayor Hodges?). Mayoral candidate and City Council member Jacob Frey is luke-warm at best. He seems to think that because we are so awesome Amazon should come here just because we “have a highly skilled workforce and a growing economy.” That’s all you can say, Mr. Frey?

Another candidate, Tom Hoch, was more cautious in saying, “we should be open to reasonable public incentives.” Ok, that will get us nowhere while competing with Austin, Texas or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The bottom line for the Twin Cities is that it’s not a slam dunk to have enough capable workers, enough real estate and enough incentives to be attractive to Amazon. Especially if we do not have a unified and comprehensive approach from a like-minded political team.  Greater MSP is likely to coordinate a bid that includes the state, region and a local community.

GREATER MSP was created to tackle this exact proposition. Their mission is to accelerate job growth and capital investment in the 16-county region. They want to be a single, coordinated response from a unified metro area. Greater MSP CEO Michael Langley indicates that, “this why Greater MSP was created, to make sure we had a regional organization to respond to opportunities like this.” Ok, guys, let’s get to work and make this happen. The opportunities are enormous.

Will Amazon choose Minneapolis-St. Paul? I’m not seeing much hustle to get this done. If we had motivated and unified civic leaders we might be able to put together a competitive offer. But, from what I can tell, this isn’t in the cards.

Amazon plans to announce a decision next year, and start work on the first phase of a new campus by 2019.

Reporting content from Matt Day of Seattle Times and Nick Halter of Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal

Read more

U2, My Father, Sin, and Redemption

There are some unwritten rules in life. I recently heard this one:

If you are a baseball fanatic, this passion was passed down to you from your father.

This certainly is true for me and my family. My grandfather was a Chicago Cubs fan. My dad is a Cubs fan, so by rule, I had no choice. Baseball is like that. It comes from your dad. It’s a rule.

Baseball is not all I got from my father. I also got my turn-around baseline jump shot, my dashing good looks, and my passion for music. My dad grew up in Chicago (the north side, if you’re keeping score) and he frequented the jazz clubs downtown that featured live music and a cheap meal. To this day. If I tell my dad I was in a certain neighborhood in Chicago, he will tell me about a venue that was in that area and how much he once paid for an evening of music and a steak dinner. Usually around $3.

• • •

When I was growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, it was not unusual for me to find my father alone, in the morning, listening to the radio with a cup of coffee and a donut. I see him in a robe and slippers. The radio would be playing WMBI, Chicago’s religious music station or his all-time favorite artist: Frank Sinatra. Let that sink in for a moment. Gospel music and Ol’ Blue Eyes singing about tramps, witchcraft, and sniffing cocaine. Music that celebrates sin. Music that rejoices in redemption. This theme of sin and redemption was not lost on me and it would shape how I relate to music for the rest of my days.

• • •

I was attending Bethel College in the Fall of 1983. A friend of mine, who was very bohemian, gave me a cassette tape of his latest favorite new band. On the spine of the tape was scrawled “U2 War”. All I knew about U2 was that they had a new song called NEW YEARS DAY, but I had never actually heard it. So I put in the tape. My only expectation was to hear that one track.

What I heard that day for the first time is hard to explain in words. I think Bono describes it best in 2014’s, The Miracle (of Joey Ramone):

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

It was a miracle. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. These ten songs were bombastic anthems. Bono’s vocals were passionate. The Edge’s guitars were noisy and jangly. The drums had a snare drum, a rat-a-tat quality that seemed to call me to fall into formation. When I heard the last song, the benediction simply titled “40”, I knew that this music was anointed. I also saw the familiar theme of sin and redemption. I was a pilgrim on my way.

• • •

In 1953, Frank Sinatra’s career was in a slump. That very year he signed a new contract with Capitol records. Capitol decided to pair the newly acquired Sinatra with a young bandleader named Nelson Riddle. Sinatra didn’t like the idea. He had a group of musicians that he was familiar with from his days at Columbia. Since his record sales were down, he finally agreed to work with Riddle. He had nothing to lose. The new duo’s first effort was, I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING. After hearing it played back for the first time, Sinatra praised Riddle’s work with the exclamation: “I’m back baby. I’m back!”

• • •

Sometimes when my dad was listening to Sinatra tunes he would belt out a line or two in his finest Sinatra voice. Usually, it was the high note that Frank was famous for. Occasionally, I would join him. We were like two bad Sinatra impersonators singing a karaoke duet. After we shared a chuckle, my dad’s face suddenly changed. There was an awkward pregnant pause. He was about to tell me something important.

He said that it was his opinion that Sinatra’s voice together with Nelson Riddle’s band was the perfect convergence of a voice with a band. My dad told me he felt blessed that he was alive to witness this pairing made by the gods, for his enjoyment. It was as if he viewed his specific date of birth as being chosen by God so that he would be alive to witness the pairing of Sinatra and Riddle. A great cosmic timeline, predestined by God, for my father’s musical enjoyment! What a concept. It was one of those moments that a son never forgets.

• • •

There is another rule in life:

All men slowly become their fathers.

My wife and kids notify me when they see this gradual metamorphosis happening. I am becoming more like my father. He felt his life was somehow intertwined on a cosmic level with Frank Sinatra, and I have the same reverence for a foursome from Ireland that I first heard on a borrowed cassette tape in 1983.

Thank you God, for life, love, and music.

• • •

In 1993, near the end of his career, Sinatra actually recorded a duet with Bono for his DUETS project. The song was Cole Porters, I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN. It was the only Sinatra album to be classified as Triple Platinum.

Jeff Velasco is a freelance graphic artist/photo art director and lives in Minneapolis, MN. You can follow him and view his work on Instagram @superjv5His father, Alfred Velasco, is retired and still resides in the Chicago suburbs.




U2 are an Irish rock band from Dublin formed in 1976. The group consists of Bono (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), the Edge (lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums and percussion). U2 will be performing a sold out show on September 8th at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.