Before long, he closed on a spacious 1904 four-square-style house in the Near North neighborhood. He paid $30,000 for the house, which had been in foreclosure, and got a $55,000 rehab loan from Neighborhood Housing Services of Minneapolis to fix it up.
"My perception of north Minneapolis as an unsafe place to live dissolved after walking around and meeting some of the neighbors," he said.
North Minneapolis neighborhood groups, residents and local real estate agents are ramping up efforts to attract such buyers with a grass-roots marketing campaign.
"Get to NOMI" (stands for north Minneapolis) promotes the city's arts, parks, businesses, affordable housing and other amenities. Residents also want prospective buyers to know that many of its 13 neighborhoods, which are bordered by Glenwood Av. on the south, 53rd Av. on the north, Mississippi River on the east and Xerxes Av. on the west, have homeowners that are involved in making improvements.
This branding campaign is also aimed at focusing attention on the positive attributes of the neighborhood rather than on pockets of crime and a concentration of vacant foreclosed homes.
"NOMI is pulling neighborhoods together under a single banner and giving north Minneapolis a valuable identity," said Roberta Englund, who lives in the Folwell neighborhood and is executive director of the Folwell and Webber-Camden neighborhood organizations.
The concept and logo, inspired by North Hollywood's NOHO neighborhood, was designed by graphic designer Desiree Fernandez, who owns a 1923 bungalow in the Webber-Camden neighborhood.
"I wanted to demystify the area," she said. "Once people get to know north Minneapolis, they'll find it's quite lovely."
NOMI's positive message is being spread via a brochure, events, postings on neighborhood association websites and home buyer tours.
The GLBT Northsiders have already held three walking tours aimed at encouraging prospective home buyers to get acquainted with the neighborhood and houses for sale, including foreclosed fixer-uppers that start at $50,000 and upper-bracket houses along Victory Memorial Drive. Information on home-buyer assistance programs is also available on the tours.
"We're using NOMI to give the neighborhood a fresh, cutting-edge and exciting feel," said Joel Breeggemann, a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender group and tour organizer. The group also maintains a website (glbtnorthsiders.blogspot.com) with a list of houses currently on the market, including some featured on the tours. More tours are planned for this fall. (See accompanying article.)
The North Side offers a full range of housing stock, including older houses built in the Victorian, Tudor and Arts and Craft style. There are also plenty of new houses in the Humboldt Greenway development in the Shingle Creek neighborhood.
But it's low prices compared with other neighborhoods that draw many buyers.
"You'll find good value and may pay half of what you'd pay in south Minneapolis, depending on the home and location," said Deb Wagner, a sales agent for Sandy Green Realty, who lives and sells on the North Side.
Through July, the average sale price of homes in the two communities that make up north Minneapolis is $85,117 in Camden and $65,826 in Near North, according to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. By comparison, in the south Minneapolis Powderhorn neighborhood, the average sales price is $143,935.
Sandy Loescher, a Sandy Green Realty agent, said some of her clients are hesitant to house-hunt north because of crime fears.
"There's no doubt we have crime north," said Loescher, who lives in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, which has become an emerging arts community largely because the housing is inexpensive. "If you buy on a block with a strong block club, there is very little amiss."
Thomas Bain, a Coldwell Banker Burnet Realtor who lives in the Camden community, is focusing on another strategy. He's encouraging homeowners and small groups of neighbors to become "block builders" by buying vacant homes in their area, fixing them up and managing them if they become rental property.
Some North Side neighborhoods have been hit hard with a concentration of foreclosures, but this creates opportunities for housing bargains and to help revitalize the area, said agents.
Norby hopes to play a role in that when he gets settled.
"In north Minneapolis, I can afford a nice large home with a huge yard," he said. "I also can make a difference by getting involved and help rejuvenate the neighborhood. That was a big draw."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619