Real estate agent Steve Imhoff aims to prevent teardowns from his office at Rare Form Properties, where his dog Bonzer greets the walk-in traffic and a pillow on the couch proclaims “suburbs suck.”
“We generally go after grandma houses. The ones with the shag carpeting,” said Imhoff, a Kingfield resident.
That’s where partner and interior designer Jennifer Jorgensen comes in, who helps when “houses need a little fluffing up.” She finds lighting and chandeliers that match the home’s era, and works with Residential Relics to rewire period lighting. Her projects include a speakeasy-styled Mill District loft, a bright Nordic room that adapts to low ceilings, and a midcentury modern remodel with walnut floating shelves.
“It’s an extremely personal thing to go into someone’s house and change it all,” Imhoff said.
But you can’t make a young couple fall in love with floral wallpaper, he said. And he said a redesign can help buyers appreciate a home that might otherwise be a teardown candidate.
“Instead of selling real estate, you’re having an effect on the landscape of Minneapolis,” he said.
Rare Form used the same philosophy with their storefront remodel at 35th & Nicollet, where they converted a white box into a space with exposed brick walls and patched wood flooring (a job some thought would be impossible). They commissioned gold flint lettering painted by hand for the window sign.
Imhoff previously worked in corporate real estate jobs, where he said he became disillusioned with weekly meetings that focused on sales volume and closing business.
“Real estate is a lot more personal than that,” he said.
He opened his own business in 2006, starting out as a “coffee shop cowboy” before taking over the former SooLocal storefront on Nicollet.
Imhoff has watched the market change over time. He initially bought a duplex in Kingfield because it was the only way he could afford the mortgage. Now he’s working with clients who wish they could afford Kingfield.
“Now if you live in Kingfield, you’re rich,” he said.
Imhoff holds 20 rental properties, and he helps investment-side buyers acquire properties of their own. He said one client buys a duplex with each pregnancy as an investment for each child.
Staff who work with Imhoff said he’s singular in a few ways. He doesn’t encourage homeowners to tear down walls to create an open floor plan. He has no problem telling people to wait. He may discourage people from buying a house they like, if he thinks it’s a bad deal. And he will strongly advocate for a house if he thinks it’s a bargain on a high-value block.
“What is our position, if we’re not filtering the inventory?” he said. “It gets me into trouble, but I’d rather be direct and honest.”
Rare Form’s design work also applies to buyers who find a deal on a fixer-upper.
“Typically we coach our clients, ‘Don’t buy the polished pearl,’” Imhoff said.
Mortgage consultant Paris Alves, who offices out of Rare Form, said that with 5 percent down and a minimal remodel, new homeowners can end up with significant equity in the house.
“The cost of it was the manual labor,” he said.
The company continually finds similar issues in each Minneapolis house: small closets, small bedrooms and tiny kitchens.
“Everyone shares the same problems,” Imhoff said.
But Imhoff said small spaces can work well. When a kitchen is well-designed, he said, people don’t notice the small size and never ask: Where is the island?
“A kitchen with a door on it is perfect,” he said.
If a kitchen remains hidden, the homeowner can throw dishes in the sink and return to a party without the mess on display, he said.
“A lot of it is making people value the originality of a house,” he said.