What is Most Important to Homebuyers?


If you’re looking to put your home up for sale, there are an array of things to do that can entice a potential buyer. For starters, you can clear the clutter, clean the carpets and try to paint over your kid’s fingerprints on the walls.

But besides making your home as picturesque as it can be, it’s important to understand what real estate buyers are really looking for in the current day and age. Like homes change, so do homebuyers, and now those of the Gen X and Gen Y population are taking the home-buying floor. It turns out they have some pretty high standards, which differ greatly from what previous generations sought in a home.

“It’s critical that real estate professionals understand what embodies a quintessential home for the Millennial generation, which vastly differs from the traditional norms of generations before them,” says Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, which conducted a survey on the essentials of what current homebuyers are seeking. According to the results, a whopping 77 percent of next-generation homeowners would prefer a home that encompasses the technological capabilities they grew up with and have become accustomed to (smart phones, apps, etc.).

“These survey findings allow our brand to continue to best serve the next generation of homebuyers and find homes that can or do appeal to their lifestyles and unique spirit,” says Chris. “Understanding technologies to communicate with this generation is now only one piece of the puzzle for agents; ‘smart’ technological capabilities must now be ingrained into the home itself.”

The survey results proved that technology was a huge part of what next-generation homebuyers crave in their home. In fact, 56 percent said home technology capabilities topped “curb appeal” in terms of importance in a home. What’s more, if a home didn’t live up to their advanced technology standards, 64 percent said they’d rather not live there. One of the most important technology components that participants wanted was an energy-efficient washer and dryer (which 57 percent said they’d like this commodity in a home), followed by a security system (46 percent) and a smart thermostat (44 percent).

Additionally, 77 percent of those surveyed said they’d rather purchase an “essential” home instead of a large, luxurious abode. Forty-three percent even went so far as to say they’d rather the home be less “cookie cutter” style and more customized to their level of practicality. For example, 1 in 5 Millennials surveyed stated they would more appropriately name their dining room a home office, which is what they’d more commonly use the space for. Also, 43 percent would prefer to use their living room as a home theater.

Technology in the home doesn’t end there for this present home-buying crowd. Fifty-nine percent surveyed said they’d prefer more space in the kitchen for a TV (over a second stove), and if possible, they’d like to have a form of entertainment in each room in the house. While kitchen renovations are and have always been a main precedence , now Millennials say the most desirable part of the room are tech updates. And, 41 percent of participants said they’d likely brag to a friend about a home automation system over a newly redone kitchen.

The desire for a technologically-equipped home is not a shock among Millennials, but results that didn’t include anything about technology included that 82 percent of participants said they’d rather invest in a home that needed renovations if given the choice between that and relying on their parents’ money.

In addition, other commodities homebuyers wish for in their home include walk-in closets, home offices and hardwood flooring. With that said, if your current home does come equipped with one or all of these things on current buyers’ wish lists, it may be a good idea to emphasize them in your listing. Also, given how important technology is to current homebuyers, before you list your new home, you may benefit from transforming your home into a “smart home.”

Not sure where to start? Your financial institution is the best place to help with all your real estate needs.

Loans are subject to credit approval. Merchants Bank is an equal housing lender. Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Be Green by Wasting Less Food


If you are searching for new ways to be environmentally friendly, you may have noticed that many options, such as installing solar panels in your home, can require an initial expense that may be hard to manage before the cost savings add up to offset the expense. There are ways to help save the planet that don’t cost anything and can even create instant money savings, however, and learning how to waste less food is one of the easiest and most rewarding.

According to Good Housekeeping magazine, it is estimated that people waste a third of the food they purchase on a weekly basis. This is an obvious drain on your wallet, and nobody likes to waste money, especially when it is continuously wasted for the same reason, week after week.

Not only is it unpleasant to have mystery food items rotting in your fridge, this wasted food can also have a negative impact on the planet. Many people don’t realize that by finding ways to throw away less food, they can actually help reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warning.

“When food is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide,” states the EPA.

If you want to stop spending money on food you don’t use and help fight against climate change, the following tips are a great place to start.

Make a meal plan

When you make a meal plan, you are less likely to end up wasting food. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be too elaborate or take much time at all. For example, if you plan to order pizza one night and know that you typically have one day’s worth of leftovers from each meal, then you should only plan to cook three dinners. This means that you don’t need to buy chicken, pork chops, hamburger and fish, unless you plan to freeze one of those items.

 Stick to your list

Once you’ve made a meal plan for your dinners and lunches (breakfast items typically don’t go bad as quickly and don’t require as much planning) write a grocery list of items you will need. If you stick to that list when shopping you will spend less time lingering in the aisles, which will help you ignore the tempting impulse buy items that are craftily displayed to grab your attention when browsing. Furthermore, sticking to your list will help you avoid purchasing more than your family can eat in a week.

Check your fridge’s condition

Even if you don’t have too much food, it can still go bad if your fridge isn’t keeping it at the right temperature.

“Check that the seals on your fridge are good and check the fridge temperature, too. Perishable food should be stored at 37 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum freshness and longevity (keep your freezer at 0 degrees or just a little lower),” states Good Housekeeping.

Rotate pantry and fridge items

When you bring home new groceries to store in your pantry and fridge, bring the older items to the front of your shelves first. This will help you remember to use up items that are closer to going bad, before breaking into the new packages.

These tips are easy to incorporate into your life and can help you start saving money and the planet today.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

10 Days of Giving 2014 Schedule of Events


Please join us in the following Merchants Bank communities for events to support the 10 Days of Giving (click on a specific location for more information). We’re collecting donations to stock local food shelves.

Cannon FallsCottage GroveHastingsOnalaskaRed WingSpring GroveSt. CharlesWinona

Cannon Falls
December 1-10:
Change Collection – Merchants Bank staff will be collecting your loose change in their lobby with the donations going to Cannon Falls Food Shelf.

Cottage Grove

  • December 1-10 – Cottage Grove will be holding its “10 Days of Giving”  to benefit the Friends in Need Food Shelf. You can bring cash donations or toiletry items to Merchants Bank in Cottage Grove or any participating school or business.
  • December 10, Holiday Train
    Date/Time – Wednesday, December 10 at 5:45 p.m.
    Location – South of the Sieben Bridge, in front of the Youth Service Bureau.
    Don’t miss performances by Home Free and and Kira Isabella. Santa Claus will stop by and there will be entertainment, snacks and refreshments for everyone.


  • December 1-10 – Hastings will be holding its “10 Days of Giving” to benefit Hastings Family Service. Bring cash or food donations to Merchants Bank in Hastings or any participating school or business.
  • December 9Holiday Train
    Date/Time – Tuesday, December 9 at 8:30 p.m.
    Location – Canadian Pacific Depot, 500 E. Second Street.
    Don’t miss performances by Home Free and and Kira Isabella. Santa Claus will stop by and there will be entertainment, snacks and refreshments for everyone.

December 2: Onalaska employees will again be hosting the La Crosse Rotary Lights Event from 5:00-10:00 p.m. at Riverside Park in La Crosse, WI. Please bring cash or food donations that night to the event to benefit WAFER.

Red Wing
December 1-10: Change Collection – Merchants Bank staff will be collecting your loose change in their lobby with the donations going to Red Wing Area Food Shelf.

Spring Grove
December 1-10: Spring Grove will be holding its “10 Days of Giving” to benefit Semcac Houston County Food Shelf. Bring cash or food donations to Merchants Bank in Spring Grove or purchase a pre-packaged grocery bag at Red’s IGA.

St. Charles
December 1-10: St. Charles will be holding its “10 Days of Giving” to benefit Southeastern Minnesota Resource Center. Bring cash or food donations to Merchants Bank in St. Charles or any participating school or business.


  • December 1-10 – To give a gift of food, drop off items at Merchants Bank in Winona, Goodview or Lakeside or any participating school or business. You can mail a donation to Merchants Bank, 102 East Third Street, Winona, MN 55987, attn: “10 Days of Giving.” You can make a donation online by going directly to the Winona Volunteer Services website. Indicate “10 Days of Giving” after entering your name.
  • December 1, Culver’s Night
    Date/Time – Monday, December 1 from 5:00-8:00 p.m.
    Location – Culver’s of Winona
    Culver’s will be donating 10% of all sales from 5:00-8:00 p.m.
  • December 2, Santa Paws
    Date/Time – Tuesday, December 2 from 5:00-7:00 p.m.
    Location – Merchants Bank-Downtown Winona
    Pet lovers, get your pet’s photo taken with Santa for a $10.00 donation and a non-perishable food item.
  • December 5, Elks Fish Fry
    Time/Date – Friday, December 5 from 5:00-7:30 p.m.
    Location – Winona Elks Lodge
    For only $9, you’ll get your choice of batter-fried or broiled cod, choice of baked potato or fries, coleslaw, dinner roll and refreshments. Place your bid in our silent auction.
  • December 6, Holiday Lighted Parade
    Date/Time – Saturday, December 6 at 5:30 p.m.
    Location – 6th Street in downtown Goodview.
    Lighted and decorated barrels will be placed at Merchants Bank in Goodview and the Elks Lodge. People coming to watch the Holiday Lighted Parade are invited to bring monetary gifts or non-perishable food items with them. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be collecting food along the parade route. Christmas cookies and hot chocolate will be served by Merchants Bank staff at the Bank on Sixth Street. After the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at the Elk’s Lodge to greet children.
  • December 7, Holiday Concert for the Hungary
    Date/Time – Sunday, December 7 at 2:00 p.m.
    Location – Winona State University Performing Arts Center
    The Winona State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Donald Lovejoy, and the Winona State University Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Paul Vance, will perform their annual Holiday Concert. Residence Hall students from WSU will be collecting non-perishable food items. Admission to the concert is free with the gift of food or monetary contribution to the “10 Days of Giving” Food Drive.
  • December 8, Rocco’s Pizza Night
    Time/Date – Monday, December 8 from 5:00-8:00 p.m.
    Location – Rocco’s Pizza in Goodview
    Rocco’s Pizza in Goodview will be donating 10% of all sales from 5:00-8:00 p.m.
  • December 9, Holiday Train
    Date/Time – Tuesday, December 9 at 4:00 p.m.
    Location – Winona Amtrack Station.
    Canadian Pacific Railway’s “Holiday Train” will make a stop in Winona. Entertainment, cookies and refreshments will be provided. CPR officials will make a monetary contribution to the Food Shelf at Winona Volunteer Services. Guests who attend are encouraged to make a non-perishable food or monetary donation.

DIY Ways to Prep Your House for Winter


As fall morphs into winter and temperatures increasingly drop, you may notice cooler weather inside your home as well. One reason: Things like cracks in window panes, poorly insulated water heaters and clogged air filters can mean your home is not acquiring its maximum energy efficiency.

You could hire a contractor or other worker to fix a hole in your window letting cold air in, or affix insulation to your attic walls — but that can be a hassle, breaking your budget and butting into your schedule. The good news is there are easy projects you can do yourself around your home to prepare for winter — that will save you time and energy, won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and you can do it on your own time, whenever you please.

Here are some common problems that occurs in homes when winter arrives, and how you can fix them — all by yourself.

1. Seal holes and gaps in walls and windows

Gaps and cracks in your foundation and walls can cause chilly air, and sometimes even rodents, to sneak inside your home.

“It doesn’t take much to get rid of that outdoor draft that comes in,” says Jan Cregier, owner of Interior Expressions by Jan in Bartlett, Ill., and a member of the national board of the Interior Design Society (IDS). All you need to fill the holes are some foam and caulk, which can be found at nearly every local hardware store. Use an adhesive foam around window and door gaps and expanding foam for sealing cracks and pipes. Also try a paintable caulk, which comes off easily if you’re mistake prone (and it will last for years to come).

 2. Add insulation

Insulation’s job? To keep warm air inside and keep cold air out.

“It’s amazing how even a small draught can make a room a lot colder, so if you can cut that bit of air out it immediately makes a difference,” says Claire Potter, an interior designer. Use rolls of foam insulation, which are inexpensive yet still get the job done. Additionally, mineral wool, glass fiber and recycled paper products work just as well to insulate your home. When installing insulation, remember to wear protective face ware such as a mask or goggles and protective clothing.

 3. Give doors and windows an upgrade

The most energy efficient windows are double- and triple-pane. At your local store, look for “low-emissivity” (low-E) window glass that’s been treated with an invisible metallic coating, which saves energy and reflects heat.

“It’s kind of like putting sunglasses on your window,” says Anna Marie Mavrakis, president of Mavrakis Construction and Cottage Draperies & Interiors in Canton, Ohio, and president of IDS. An even easier option is covering the inside of your windowpanes with Frost King, a removable polyurethane film. All you need is a hair dryer to shrink and pull the plastic tight to avoid wrinkling.

4. Fill cracks in flooring

As much as 10 percent of heat can be lost through floors if they’re not properly insulated, according to the National Energy Foundation (NEF). The easiest fix is placing a decorative rug on the floor or installing carpet, but if you’re set on your hardwoods, some filler will do to heal the cracks.

“Floorboards and skirting boards can contract, expand or move slightly with everyday use, so you should use a filler that can tolerate movement,” the NEF recommends. Note: A silicone-based filler is a good example of one that can tolerate movement.

 5. Pay attention to air filters

A dirty or clogged air filter means that central air will have to work overtime to heat your home — and that can be costly. It’s important to change your filters every one to three months, but especially when it gets cooler outside. A great choice of filter is a pleated one, which may capture more dirt. You can do this yourself in a matter of minutes, and filter replacements can be picked up at your local hardware store.

All it takes are a few quick fixes and your home will be warm, cozy, and best of all, energy efficient come the arrival of Old Man Winter.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

5 Ways to Stick to an Exercise Routine


How many times have you penned a workout plan — and then did not follow through with it? You’re not alone. Even when you have the best intentions, motivation can ebb and flow every few days or weeks, according to a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.

But don’t fret; with a few little tricks, you can stick with it, and reap the health benefits that come with it.

“There’s a notion that when you want to start a new fitness regimen it’s all or nothing, but change is a series of different stages with different ways to get you to each next stage,” says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of “A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.”

Ready to get your motivation back? It’s easy with these tips:

Dress the part – Simply putting on your workout gear and lacing up your sneakers can help enhance your motivation to hit the gym. According to a Northwestern University study, when participants wore a lab coat, they were better at tasks that required attention than they were when donning regular street clothes. What’s that have to do with exercise?

“It’s all about the symbolic meaning that you associate with a particular item of clothing,” says researcher Hajo Adam. “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.” Even if you weren’t planning to work out, the right clothing may motivate you to pick up the pace around the house or even take a walk around the block (in other words, it couldn’t hurt).

Keep it interesting – Doing the same fitness routine over and over again can become tedious — and in turn, zap your motivation. So, instead of continuing to walk the treadmill or ride an exercise bike every day, switch it up and make working out more enjoyable. For example, take a walk in the park with the kids, a hike with your spouse, or check out drop-in exercise classes at gyms and malls. Many tend to offer classes like Pilates, yoga, Zumba or strength training — classes that will keep your workout appealing (and best of all, sometimes these drop-in classes won’t even cost you anything to attend).

Be realistic with your goals – Saying that you will complete a two-hour workout at 6 a.m. each morning followed by a yoga and Zumba class may not be very practical. Instead, focus on fulfilling goals you can commit to, like upping your run one-tenth of a mile whenever you’re out for a jog, or losing a pound in two weeks.

“Set realistic goals that include clear milestones, and as you progress toward your goal, you’ll find a ripple effect occurs and things fall into place in your work, home life and health,” says Stacy Fowler, a personal trainer and life coach in Denver. When you achieve a goal, you may be surprised at how much your motivation will increase and you’ll want to continue on the fast track to success.

Be flexible – When plotting out precisely when you’ll work out, it’s important to go easy on yourself. Scheduling exercise time slots three or four times a week is a great way to stay active, but be willing to mix up your agenda when need be, say, when an unexpected work event pops up or you’re feeling under the weather. In other words, if something does come up, don’t let that stop you from getting a workout in at another time.

Get a gym buddy – Having someone to work out with is proven to help you stay committed to fitness.

“In my 10 years of experience evaluating what creates long-term health-and-fitness success, the single most important factor is having a support system,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, cofounder and medical director of Take Shape for Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program based in Owings Mills, Md. Think about it: If you promised your friend or family member that you’d work out with them at a certain time, you’ll be more likely to follow through than if you didn’t make that promise.

“Psychologically, if you feel like you have a responsibility and commitment toward another person, you are more likely to follow through on that commitment,” says Michelle P. Maidenberg, PhD, MPH, clinical director of Westchester Group Works in Harrison, N.Y. Additionally, a study published in “Psychology of Sport and Exercise” showed that the workout habits of people you know can positively influence your own.

Sticking to a fitness plan doesn’t have to be tedious. With these simple exercise-related motivation boosters, you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Five Yoga Moves for Stress


A big work presentation. When a loved one is sick. Deadlines. Bills. Whether big or small, everyone experiences stress as a normal part of everyday life. And while we can’t eliminate stress altogether, evading stress may be easier than you think.

One of the best ways to get a handle on it all: Hit the yoga mat. Yoga, a mind/body exercise that involves stretching and structured breathing, is a proven way to reduce stress and calm your nerves.

“Yoga helps us slow down for a moment and tune into the breath. Simply the focus on one thing — which is the very definition of meditation — allows us to decompress,” Dr. Terri Kennedy, registered yoga teacher and president of Power Living Enterprises, Inc. “The actual asanas [poses] release tension in different ways, and help certain parts of the body.”

While most yoga moves are good stress relievers, specific poses may help more than others. Practice these poses to tame tension and find your inner calm:

  1.  Corpse pose (Savasana)
    How to do it: There are many variations to those pose, but they all begin with laying down on your back with your feed slightly apart, arms at your side with palms facing up. As you inhale, extend your right leg, and then the left, and allow them to drop to the side. Tense your whole body. Then allow your body to sink into the floor. With arms outward, let them rest on the floor. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, allowing your body to relax for five to10 minutes.

    Why it works:
    This pose relaxes your body and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate. That means lowered blood pressure and decreased muscle tension, which are essential to ridding yourself of stress. It also helps clear your head.
  1. Mountain pose (Tadasana)
    How to do it: Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides, with weight evenly distributed to both feet. Press your big toes together and then lift and spread your toes out. Elevate your kneecaps by tightening your thighs. Slightly tuck your tailbone in. Straighten your arms with fingers extended and your palms facing in. As you inhale, lengthen your torso. Keep your neck elongated and eyes forward. Hold for one to two minutes.

    Why it works: This pose works to help you clear your mind and overcome you with a sense of calmness. Smooth breathing and regaining balance are also great stress busters.

  2. Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
    How to do it: Place your palms on the ground and step back one leg at a time, keeping your hands and feet in line with each other. Stretch your arms forward and keep them straight. Lift your backside in the air and straighten your legs, while pressing your hands and heels into the ground. Your head and neck should naturally relax.

    Why it works: Your spine is elongated during this position, which can help you feel and overwhelming sense of relaxation overcome your body. Downward dog is especially helpful if you’re experiencing a tension headache due to stress.

  3. Cat pose (Marjaryasana)
    How to do it: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, creating a “table top” position with your back. Straighten your arms and center your head, with your eyes looking at the floor. Inhale, then exhale and round your spine to create an arc. Let your head drop (but avoid bringing your chin towards your chest). Inhale and revert to the tabletop position. Repeat up to 12 times.

    Why it works:
    The feeling of your spinal cord stretching may mimic the feel of a massage, which can ease stress. Cat pose also benefits your stomach organs and muscles.
  4. Child’s pose (Balasana)
    How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees, with your knees about hip width apart and feet together. Stretch your arms forward and lengthen your tailbone away from your back. Extend your torso and lengthen the back of your neck as you place your forehead to the floor. Place your arms at your sides with your palms facing out. Breathe slowly and deeply.

    Why it works:
    This pose works as meditation to tender feelings of calm by soothing the central nervous system. As your spine, shoulders and neck relaxes, so does your mind.

As stressful as life can be, there are ways to help calm you down and relax. Make sure to say Namaste to your stress levels after doing some yoga.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

3 Financial Tips for Snowbirds


Coordinating your winter travel plans can be chaotic. In the midst of preparing for your trip, keep in mind these three tips to ensure smooth sailing while you’re somewhere warm.

1. Communicate your change of address.

There are several businesses that should be aware of your change of address for the winter season, including Merchants Bank. To ensure you continue to receive important financial, medical or family information or to discontinue specific subscription services, you should contact the following regarding your address change:

  • Your bank
  • The Post Office
  • Your local newspaper (if you have it delivered)
  • Other delivery services

To alert Merchants Bank of your address change, stop in or call your local branch (link to contact us page) to let us know of the change. Please include dates of departure and return as well as the names of other account holders living at your address.

2. Know how to access your bank account information.

Managing your money across a few states or a country is critical to helping you feel at ease during your trip. Make sure you are comfortable with getting information about your accounts and managing your money through one of the following free options:

Or, if you prefer assistance enrolling in any of the listed services, simply contact our Electronic Banking department at 866-496-0522.

3. Be diligent in protecting your identity.

In the course of your travels, there are a number of circumstances that could impact the chance of identity theft. You could lose track of a card, leave financial statements in the mailbox, or post publically on a social media site that you’re out of town, which lets criminals know that your house is empty. Review our security tips to ensure that your personal information is safe.

Click here to view our Snowbird Kit.