Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tag I'm it....or Meme I'm it?

Suddenly I feel like I'm playing a game of tag. Yes, I totally felt like a grade school kid running around the playground when I got memed the first time by, Eric . So I started putting some thoughts together. It's hard to think of things that people don't know about me. I'm an open book. And then I get memed by Geno....I got the hint, so here goes....

1) I'm half Italian and I don't like to cook. I know, I know, you say how could that be, all Italians like to cook? Well, I grew up in a kitchen, literally. My family owned a restaurant in West Dundee and then later moved to Chicago. So what happened to me, I'm not quite sure, maybe overexposure. If you have any ideas, let my husband know, he's hoping the "cooking" genes kick in one of these days.

2) I'm a total animal person, cats, dogs, whales, otters, whatever. Ok, birds aren't high on my list. I have cats now, but used to be a dog person. In high school/college, I lost two dogs back to back, both at very young ages, 1 1/2 and 3 1/2. After that I couldn't bring myself to get another dog, I felt jinxed. So after a few years with just some fish to entertain me, I decided to try cats and haven't looked back. I will admit one cat Puc, thinks he's a dog.

3) I played competitive tennis throughout high-school and some of college. To this day, I'm the only person I know that managed to make tennis a full-contact sport, well with the court at least. I chased down everything and I mean everything. During a doubles match, the other team lobed a ball over my partner's head to the opposite corner of the court. Hell-bent that we would not lose this point I chased down the ball and returned it. The problem was, I couldn't stop and I was heading face first into the court. I curled into a ball and rolled over 3 times before I finally stopped. Needless to say all the matches around us came to a stretching halt. Did we win the point? No, don't get me started.

4) At three years old I was diagnosed with leg perthes disease, which basically means that the ball of the hip joint was not forming into bone properly. Thanks to the doctors at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago I am able to walk without any signs of the disease. The only sign left it that in x-rays the affected hip is more square than round.

5) Ok, most people know I like football, but don't know that I didn't know much of anything about the game until about 12 years ago. My family just didn't watch the games at all, so when I met my now husband Chris, who lived and breathed football from birth, I was bored out of my skull. Tight pants only go so far. Since I wanted to spend Sundays with him I decided that I was going to learn football. I didn't want to just understand that a touchdown gets you 6 points, I wanted to be able to discuss football intelligently. Slowly I started to put all the pieces together. Right now I'm working on how to understand if the offense is showing run or pass and how they determine pre-snap reads. Sorry girls. Don't hate me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chicago ranks #2 on worst city commutes

When I'm out with clients one of the first questions that arise in a location that they're not familiar with is, how close is the bus, the el, or the expressway. Yes, Chicago real estate and transportation, public or private, are connected at the hip. And it's no wonder. According to the US Census Department, Chicago is #2 of the 10 longest commutes by city. Excuse my rant, but how are we possibly ahead of Atlanta and Los Angeles? If you've spent any time in either of those cities, you'd understand. I think it was FIXED! Unfortunately, the results don't necessarily account for lifestyle choices, which I think would have a big impact on the results. I was recently working with a seller who had decided to move to Huntley as they were pregnant and were looking for a lifestyle change. While she would be working in the area, he would continue to keep his current job in Chicago's Loop. As a result, he was anticipating an hour and a half commute one-way, not bad considering that even without traffic, it's an hour drive. So are we stretching our commutes for lifestyle or is traffic just getting worse? Probably a bit of both.

On the humorous side of the issue, the good ole Chicago Tribune had this great article on how much we are irritated by how our neighbors drive and vice versa....our neighbors being Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. While there is no evidence that our driving patterns are different, I don't think you'll convince many otherwise. My husband's family calls Chicago's expressways and highways, raceways, yes, raceways and don't even get me started about driving in Ohio or Kentucky.

Here's some commuting resources, helpful whether you are thinking of buying or have already bought:

IDOT (Illinois Dept of Transportation) just launched a great all-in-one website, drive less, live more, that not only provides commuter calculators, but also a central location for travel updates including Metra and CTA (limited at the moment). Now if only we could actually work from home.

I love the for their great CTA updates and CTA Tattler for their updates and commentary about Chicago's beloved public transportation. And of course you can go directly to the source.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's all about the VIEW....and other requests

I've had several clients this past year whose #1 priority was the view. Forget granite countertops, marble bathrooms, those were bonuses, but what was the view. Chicago real estate offers plenty of view, it just depends on what view you're looking for. Take your pick....lake views, city views, lake and city views, park views, Chicago River views, Wrigley Field views, and less desirable building and living room (when you can watch your neighbor's tv from your living room) views. I even had someone ask about zoo views. I'm not kidding, they wanted to know if there were buildings that looked into Lincoln Park Zoo, not your typical request. For these clients the view is almost priceless.

Here's some other interesting "requests" that I've had....

* Have dogs, need to be near a park, just not a dog park necessarily, dogs love people just not other dogs
* South Loop one bedroom with parking and I don't want to see more than 15 units - we did it in 10
* I want to walk less than 15 minutes to work (55 W Monroe) - thank god for office building converting to condos and how does a half a block away sound to you
* I want a new construction single family without a lower level - forget it, it doesn't exist
* No cats can have ever resided in the condo, I have terrible allergies - can you say new construction

So you could care less about view as long as it's not a garbage dump. Got it. So, what's your #1 "request?"

Photo courtesy of me from 1529 S State

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Recent Headlines

House prices are heating, cooling, freezing, holding - (
As much as the media would like to portray imminent doom of the housing market as a nationwide event, Ken Harvey does a great job bringing reality into the local real estate picture. Some markets have double digit appreciation, while others have the dreaded depreciation, while others like Chicago have a modest & positive 5.2% appreciation

It's all about the pricing for those seeking a timely sale - (
In today's market, and in any market for that matter, pricing correctly will always be key to selling a home, as I've mentioned in previous posts. The last thing any seller wants to have is their property sitting on the market day after day without any interest. This article, in a quick snapshot, touches on many of the same things I discuss with my clients before taking the listing.

Fresh start at Cabrini-Green - (
To be fair they really should say the former Cabrini Green. The few buildings that are left are coming down quickly, dinosaurs of another time, another hope. It will be interesting to see what will become the new face of what was Cabrini Green and if the mixed-income project will continue to bear the burden of the past.

J. Hancock Center gets no love - (
It seems not only do consumers love new construction, but so do businesses, at least that's my speculation since I haven't done any scientific studies. After 9/11 businesses vacated "high-risk" buildings like the Sears Tower and John Hancock, but within a few years the Sears Tower at least was again filling those vacant offices. With the availability of new construction in the Loop, and businesses like IBM abandoning their flagship building, it seems that the John Hancock has also fell victim to this trend as well.
Picture from Tewksbury Borough Council

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New home valuation website enters Chicago market

As if Zillow was ever a "wonderful" valuation tool(I've already share my thoughts on that one!), a new to Chicago real estate tool has entered the market thanks to Altos Research. Altos has begun providing "real-time" market snapshots for five specific geographic regions. "Real-time" is relative as some of the real estate industry sources they use have as much as a months lag time. Overall, I think it has some really interesting tools that can be helpful to the consumer. I particularly like the days on market, market action index, and inventory measures. No, it won't tell you how much your neighbor's house or condo sold for, plus or minus 7%, but it has the potential to provide a gauge of what's happening at a truly local level. Did I say that it's information is updated weekly at the zip code level, yes zip code. The days on market, market action index, median-home price trends and price per square foot tools are all free. And if you're really into the nitty-gritty you can pay $15/month for weekly updates on market conditions.

I am excited to see how accurate their stats are, though on my first try to download the free report, I didn't have much luck. Apparently they're still working some of the bugs out.

Graph courtesy of Altos Research

Friday, December 01, 2006

How to NOT get towed in Chicago when it snows

Not to state the obvious, but the the winter snow season is apparently upon us. When I went into office today, I discovered that my usual parking area was, at least for the moment, an illegal spot. It had one of those lovely "No Parking when snow is over 2 inches" zones. While it was actually debatable if there was actually two whole inches of snow on the ground, I didn't feel like making any contributions to City of Chicago's Department of Revenue today.
The other favorite winter parking ban which year after year seems to come as a shock to so many, is the overnight ban that starts midnight December 1st and ends April 1st. Rain or shine, please god whatever you do, don't park there from 3am-7am. They'll tow you faster than you can possibly imagine, or maybe you can imagine, so feel free to add your own cliche.

1) Check the whole block for signs....the city won't have any sympathy for you if the sign was all the way down at the other corner....speaking from experience here.
2) If there's snow on the ground in a "2 inch" zone, don't park there, period. I personally don't want to leave it open the City of Chicago's interpretation of 2 inches.
3) Just because there are other cars there, doesn't mean you won't get towed. It just means more revenue for the city.
4) Sitting in your car might increase your chance of not getting towed, but that doesn't mean that you still won't get a ticket.....speaking from someone else's experience.

Here's the nitty gritty on Chicago's overnight and snow related parking bans.

Have any horror stories about getting towed in this wonderful city? Please share, I'm sure others can learn from your experiences too.

Photo thanks to

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recent Headlines - Chicago Landmarks

Past and Present: Living in a historic structure may provide perfect touch for home (Chicago - Chicago has been a city with a rich architectural history thanks to Burhnam & Root, Adler & Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, just to name a few. While there's so much new construction out there, it's good to see older real estate beginning a new life.

Behind the Scenes: How to preserve a landmark building ( - My hat off to the nine, yes, only nine people that make the landmarking process go.

Wright man for the job (Chicago - The Frank Lloyd Wright legacy continues.

Chicago Landmarks (City of Chicago)

Photo of the Chicago Board of Trade courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, November 27, 2006

Are buyer incentives all that they appear?

You've heard me say before that it's only a buyer's market if your actually buying, so you're buying right? While we haven't been inundated with them in the Chicago real estate market, I'm sure you've seen or heard more than one ad touting these "great" buyer incentives. And some of them are all that they seem. Hey who won't take a free 42" plasma tv or free assessments for a year? On the other hand, if the incentives seem to be too good to be true, they probably are. Most of the time developers offer the bulk of the incentives, but as of late sellers have been offering them as well. To say the least it always makes things interesting. Recently I had a for sale by owner tell me that they were going to offer a $15,000 credit at closing on a $325,000 property that I had showed to some clients. The caveat was that they were actually raising their asking price to $340,000! I'm not entirely sure they understood the concept of an incentive, never mind that it would have been near impossible for the appraiser to find comparables at that price. Fortunately, my clients fell in love with another property that paid their assessments for a year.

Developers seem to have a wider array of incentives, but the approach is basically the same. The thing to keep in mind is that even developers have a bottom line. They need to get X amount out of a property, but incentives become a problem when the developer inflates the price to ensure they get that amount. There are plenty of developers that offer incentives without artificially inflating the price, but if an incentive sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Incentives are always nice, but I encourage my buyers to not let that drive their decision. The most important thing is to find a home they love, buyer incentives are a bonus.

Key points:

1) Whether you're dealing with an individual or developer knowing the comparables in the area is key.
2) Just because a seller is not offering an incentive doesn't necessarily mean they're any less motivated than one offering an incentive.
3) Use common sense, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.

Here's a great piece on buyer incentives: Buyer beware: some incentives can cost you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Agora? Who or What is it?

Chicago has long been a city full of culture. From the Art Institute to the Field Museum to the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago has something to interest everyone. Even the once controversial Millennium Park, overbudget and behind schedule, has finally given new life to a formally non-descript piece of land. And you can't forget CloudGate, otherwise lovingly known to most Chicagoans as "the Bean."

The latest addition to the Millennium landscape is "Agora," a cluster of 106 9ft steel figures without heads or arms by Magdalena Abakanowicz. The artist says, "it represents, in part, crowds of people walking brainlessly through life."

As with most pieces of art, the reception has been mixed. I myself have not yet seen it, but plan to in the near future. What I have found most fascinating is how each individual has infused their own meaning into "Agora." That, in my opinion, is one of the greatest things about artwork.

I'm interested, have you seen "Agora?" Let me know what you think of it.

Photos Courtesy of David Morgan and

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Please please please use a REAL ESTATE attorney

I think every realtor can tell you a nightmare story about attorneys, and I'm sure the attorneys have a few about realtors. Generally, we play very nicely together. It's also one of those areas in the real estate transaction that seems to get overlooked. In many cases I find that the attorney is an afterthought, not to say it hasn't been thought about, but one of those we'll worry about that later thoughts. Unfortunately, not picking a good real estate attorney can lead to problems later. And can I emphasize REAL ESTATE attorney. Yes, any attorney can do the job, but I firmly believe it is in the client's best interest to use a real estate attorney. They're the expert. They're current on the state laws and it's latest changes, and ensure that the property title is clear among other things. Yes, in Illinois, the law allows any attorney to carry out a real estate transaction, but that doesn't mean it's the best thing.

Also, a few recommendations when it comes to selecting an attorney:
1) Get a recommendation, whether it's from your real estate agent or a friend. It's important to know that they've done a good job for other people.
2) No friends (unless they're a real estate attorney). Zero. Yes, they usually have the best intentions and won't charge you, but if they're trying to stick you in with the rest of their workload, you might get placed on the backburner.
3) Don't pick an attorney, real estate or otherwise, out of the phone book. I was talking to
another agent in my office and his client did just that. Sure the guy was cheap, but the client can't even reach him.
4) Think again, before representing yourself. Sure it might save you a few bucks, but when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, a few hundred for an attorney is worth it. And if there is some sort of headache, do you really want to try to deal with that on top of everything else that is going on (packing, finalizing your mortgage, moving, etc)?

Putting our lives on the line for real estate

I saw this story and laughed out loud. I personally have never been "attacked" by an animal while I was showing a property, but apparently it happens. I rode horses for years and they were a great part of my life, though I do truly believe they can sense fear like other animals do. My mom, who has is terribly intimidated by horses, simply could not get them to follow her commands no matter how hard she tried. I think the last time she was on the back of a horse, the horse literally walked her through a bunch of low-hanging tree branches.

Horse attacks real estate agent

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Real Estate Humor

We all need a bit of humor in our lives, some days more than others. I'm having one of those days. So I'd thought I'd share some real estate humor. These are some old excerpts from an old Mary Umberger article called "Crime and Punishment Real Estate Style." She's a writer for the Chicago Tribune. You know how you have those old emails that you save because they're so funny....well this article was one of those for me.

"A property owner who holds a spot on the Village Voice's list of New York's "10 worst landlords" has told another publication he's tired of being a landlord and is auctioning 48 of his buildings for as much as $250 million.
The New York Daily News says the city of New York has cited the landlord for more than 3200 building code violations. He told the paper that's not such a bad number and that the buildings at one time had more than 30,000 violations.
He said he wanted to sell the buildings to have more time for philanthropy." - And I suppose that's his way of trying get out of the building code violations? Is this guy for real?

"By now it's barely news that home sellers and their real estate agents are trying all kinds of tactics to draw attention to their properties.
We will make an exception for one Florida man's efforts to make his waterfront home more eye-catching: he painted "4 Sale" on its roof in red, 12-foot-tall letters, hoping to grab the attention of boaters who sail by.
The neighbors were not so amused. Nor was the Belleaire Beach, which said the owner was violating a city ordinance that prohibited anything other than the traditional "For Sale" sign in the front yard." - I mean, come on, you can't blame a guy for trying.

"An empty lot on New York's Upper East Side that was recently a townhouse - it was leveled when it's owner, a New York doctor, apparently blew it up rather than lose it in a divorce." - Must have been quite a divorce. Yikes.

And my favorite......

"When you see signs on the streetlamps touting a "home-based business," you'll wonder whether this is what they had in mind: In St. Lucie County, Fla., federal investigators say an enormous marijuana-growing operation revolved around the offer of a free home for two years in exchange for tending the crop.
The investigators say at least 59 homes in the middle-class suburban subdivisions were converted to indoor marijuana farms. The residents, most of all whom moved to south Florida from New Jersey, agreed to live in the homes for at least two years. If they wanted out of the deal at that point, the home would be sold and they would get half of the equity, according to published reports. The growers earned about $1000 per plant, and each home had 34-322 plants, the investigators said.
In late September, the Tribune published a report of about 40 similar busts in Sacramento, where officials said organized-crime figures had chosen homes in subdivisions because it seemed less likely that the growers' activities would be noticed by neighbors." - I mean is this Ripley's Believe it or Not? People really do this? Add another notch to the stupid criminal list.

Cartoon courtesy of

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Recent Headlines

Santa's no helper when it comes to selling your home ( - This seems a we-bit premature, but sorry, it's true...maybe try St. Joseph.

Slowest season for sellers can be a great time to buy (Chicago - Remember it's only a buyers market if you're actually buying.

Chicago in the Year 2010 ( - It's only four years, but new projects including Trump International, Lakeshore East, and the long anticipated Fordham Spire will be making their impacts on the city skyline.

Headache on the Red Line ( - As always another eventful day on the CTA, but seriously this is ridiculous. The planets needs to stop doing whatever it is that they're doing.

Chicago, L.A. appear to be frontrunners for Olympics ( - Too bad for San Francisco, good for Chicago. And if Chicago does get the Olympics, weeks of traffic hell like we've never seen before.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is it time to start looking for your new home?

One of the most frequent questions I get from buyers is, "when should I start looking?" Most people have a time frame in their head as to when they would like to be in their new home, and that's the easy part. Determining when to start looking is the more difficult part.
Actually, it's not all that difficult, but it largely depends on the buyer. Some have leases that are expiring, some need to sell their home first, and others simply want to be somewhere by sometime. In a typical resale, you're looking at about sixty days to close. Don't get me wrong, it can be less. I've done plenty of closing in 30 days, but not every seller can accommodate 30 day close and for our purpose let's think of the 30 day close as a bonus. If your interest is in new construction you could have a close date more than a year out if you buy in a pre-construction high-rise or 120 days for a 6 unit building. And if you want to be able to customize and pick your finishes that's definitely the way to go. If you don't care so much about the finishes you could be back to a 30 day close even in new construction. Still trying to figure out what neighborhoods you like the best or where you can get the most for your money? That's another factor that strongly plays into when to start your search, and I say the sooner the better. And a final consideration is personality. Do you feel compelled to see every property out there or after you see 8-10 properties you want to make a decision?

My recommendation is to start sooner rather than later to avoid putting yourself in a pressure situation. If you're working with a lease deadline, give yourself a closing sixty days plus one or two weeks before your lease expires to allow for delays and moving. And then start looking at least two or three months before that at a minimum. Need to sell your place first? I recommend my clients look at properties and determine exactly what they need, then casually keep on top of what's available until their place sells. When their current home sells they are prepared to make a quick decision because they've seen what's out there. You're into new construction and you want to choose your finishes start looking early, at least as five or six months before you want to move. Most of these properties will not be listed in the MLS. I always have an inventory of non-listed properties that I am able share with my clients and know how to get the information they're looking for. And finally, if you are early in the process and not totally sure what you're looking for, don't worry. Sometimes that can be the best time to talk to an agent. I personally find that opening a dialogue early with my clients makes the process that much less stressful for them and gives them insight into what's out there without having to visit open house after open house.

Photo courtesy of Steve Sant

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Boycotting Macy's

Loved this story from the Chicagoist....If you're boycotting Macy's, it's working! I am one of those people that have been avoiding Macy's and had a good laugh when I received the now infamous $10 gift card in the mail the other day. I have mixed feelings about avoiding Macy's just because I don't want to see the State Street store closed, but they didn't have to change the name. They messed with the wrong city this time!

Photo courtesy of Crain's Chicago Business

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another Sullivan lost

Chicago seems to have a way with fire. First, "Mrs. O'Leary's cow" and now 3 separate fires have consumed the works of Louis Sullivan this year alone. Sullivan was half of the Adler & Sullivan architectural team that build so many now historic buildings all over Chicago. The structures that have been lost include most recently, a home at 600 W. Stratford in Lakeview, the Wirt Dexter building in the South Loop, and the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville. In many ways it's a tragedy to see these glorious structures reduced to a pile of bricks and mortar. While 20 of Sullivan's creations remain, they are even more important part of Chicago's history.

I have often wondered if the competition between the architectural firms of Adler & Sullivan and Burnham & Root, the other prominent architectural firm at the time, is the reason that Chicago has so many wonderful buildings today.

Ok, so you didn't know who Sullivan was until last week or the book "Devil the in the White City?" There's still time to brush up on your architectural history.

Chicago Architecture Foundation - the boat and walking tours are some of my personal favorites...might be a little cold for those right now
Preservation Chicago
Devil in the White City

Related articles:
3rd Sullivan building burns
Architect's Legacy going up in smoke
Fire guts historic building

Photo from Preservation Chicago

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rehabbing in a Historic District

Take my word for it, living through a vintage rehab is a challenge. I spent most of my teenage years living in a 1920's Georgian home that was being significantly updated and I think I've slept on almost every floor of the house. Not kidding. My parents didn't live in a historic district, but many amazing vintage homes are. Whether you're in the city or the suburbs, historic districts abound, rules and all. Who doesn't appreciate those amazing brick and stone homes with oversized fireplaces, one of a kind woodwork and other unique elements. But are you ready to take on potential requirements and restrictions that communities, in particular historic districts, place on home owners in addition to the rehab? If you are, make sure you read in detail the local ordinances that would apply to your rehab and don't assume that if you want to vary something even slightly that it will be allowed. People can be very passionate about historic homes and staying in character with the community. So you're passionate as well, but be sure to educate yourself so you don't have unpleasant surprises down the road. Also, check out this great articles in the Chicago Tribune, Staying in Character.

Will I ever rehab a vintage home? Only if I can someone else to do it!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Carbon Monoxide...Don't forget about it

I was in an inspection the other day and as I'm going through the home with the inspector, we had a little chuckle over the fact that the extremely nice plug-in carbon monoxide detector was laying in a kitchen drawer. I mean the seller actually went out and spent good money on the detector and it had been relegated to the nearest drawer. Truthfully, carbon monoxide isn't a laughing matter. It kills between 500-1000 people a year and makes hundreds more sick. Winter is of course the worst time of year for carbon monoxide poisonings since we're buttoned up as tight as possible in our homes and, have those furnaces and space heaters running overtime. As of January 1st it will be required by law in Illinois that every residence has a carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of every room used for sleeping purposes. Regardless of the law, there is no reason not to have one. They can be picked up Walgreens, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, etc for anywhere from $20-$50 depending on how fancy you get. It's just not worth the risk.

Danger of carbon monoxide hits close to home for family
Help yourself to a healthy home

Monday, October 30, 2006


You might have heard of Zillow, the home valuation website. For many homebuyers and sellers, this has become one of the many stops on their real estate path. My own clients have even mentioned it to me on occasion and asked me what I think about it, including it's accuracy. I've played around with the site a bit out of curiosity and what I found was scary. While some Chicago condo estimates weren't terribly far off, others were clearly out in left field somewhere. I actually saw a three year old South Loop high-rise valued at $100,000 less then the original owner paid for it and it was only $240,000 to begin with. Zillow doesn't claim to be more accurate than plus or minus 7 percent which in real estate terms is a whole lot of money. Let's say that the home you're looking at is $400,000, plus or minus 7% is a whopping $28,000, so the home could be worth anywhere from $428,000 to $372,000. And that's supposed to provide a guideline as to a home's worth? I would be laughed right out the room if I went to a client with that kind of estimate! Another interesting twist to the values is the public's ability to add information about their home. I can see where this additional information would be helpful, but what concerns me is the objectivity of the homeowner, or lack thereof. It will remain to be seen if this kind of information will help or hinder the accuracy of the home values.

I guess the moral to the story is basically consumer beware. Admist it's disclaimers, it states that their Zestimates are not appraisals, but suggests that a buyers use them to avoid overpaying and sellers to arrive at the right price. Zillow could turn out to be a very helpful tool for consumers down the road, but until that day arrives, I wouldn't recommend relying on the data that's there.

Zillow home 'values' rile consumer group

Have you used Zillow? How did you feel about the accuracy of their information? Do you feel their disclaimer is appropriate?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Open Sesame

On a totally different note, check out these great articles on the new take on room dividers and ways to break up those open floors plans. In recent years with the emphasis on open, the living room, runs into the dining room, runs into the kitchen, runs into the office, runs into the bedroom, and on it goes. They can be great given the right space or a bit of a challenge. And don’t lie, I know there are those of you out there that are screaming, “give me my separate dining room.” Is it possible to have your cake and it eat too? I think so. I love the idea of making space flexible, and I’ve done it for years with screens and fabric. Now it’s easier then ever.

Divide and Conquer
High-style, low cost room dividers
(Right up my alley and for those that are “commitment” shy.)

Photo courtesy of Industrial Revolution

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Trumped Again

As if Trump Tower was talked about enough, the Donald makes the headlines again. This time it’s over the kiosk on Michigan Avenue, a ground level sales pitch for the new Trump International. As if it needed one, a sales pitch that is. Since some good gossip never hurt sales, Trump seems to have successfully “trumped” Alderman Natarus over this latest addition.

Can't get enough of Trump’s Chicago high-rise? Feel free to watch it go up via its construction cam. Wake me up when it’s 2009 (the projected completion year).

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Friday, October 27, 2006

Boo Chicago!

Still trying to figure out where you're going to spend your Halloween? Check out these resources for the latest and greatest haunted houses and events throughout the city and the suburbs.

Haunted House Chicago - Search for haunted houses, check out reviews and even preview some local haunted houses.

Haunted Illinois - More haunted houses, hayrides, trails, mazes, festivals, etc. More reviews and the list goes on.

Metromix Halloween Guide - From parties to costume contests, it's all here.

Photo courtesy of Metromix

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Turning up the heat....

So it seems the cool weather is here to stay at least for the moment. Have you turned on your heat yet? I broke down about a week ago when I was working from home one day. It was just downright cold. Ever since then, I've had my heat on and off, well, mostly off, except in the mornings when I just have to get warm. I'm already dreading my first gas bill, though I will say that they haven't been terrible. My husband is pretty handy so he puts plastic on the windows, etc, which seems to make a big difference. Looking for other ways to save on energy/fuel bills? Here's "low cost ways to save on fuel bills." And I love this article on energy myths.

Image courtesy of British Gas

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Conversions: The new hot button issue

I think it's interesting that suddenly condo conversions are suddenly becoming the new political issue. During the housing boom of the past few years, who hasn't seen one rental building then the next being converted to condos. With the rental market being so soft during that same time period, it's no surprise. It was just like when Starbucks began to pop up on every corner, just drive a little farther and you'll find another one, either Starbucks of condo conversion. Take your pick. In my opinion, it was great to see some of these older buildings being converted, instead of just being torn down and replaced by yet another new construction project. I even watched as two new rental high-rises were converted to condos, one of which was still being constructed. It all goes back to the highest and best use that I mentioned in yesterday's post. As demand for new housing pushed prices up, you would always hear in the background cries over the loss of affordable housing in the city. Those cries suddenly have a new advocate in Mayor Daley. According to Crain's, Daley has called for a task force to study the loss of affordable housing in Chicago, and potential ways to limit its loss. Daley told Crain's, "We have to have something to offset condo conversions, at least partially." It's no wonder conversions are the new target. There were a record 3,965 conversions in 2005 alone. What I find humorous about the whole thing is that now rentals are on an upswing along with their prices. Will a city like Chicago ever be truly affordable? And what constitutes affordable? As the city continues to grow, it's almost inevitable that a lower priced area will suddenly become trendy and the prices will increase. It's the nature of the beast. Does that mean we shouldn't strive to keep housing affordable, no certainly not, but we do live in a country were price regardless of the product is driven by demand. With the market rebalancing, it will be interesting to see how affordability will be effected over the next couple years.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The NEW Chicago condo conversion

So are you looking for that perfect home right on the Chicago River? Well you have more choices then ever....Trump International Hotel and Condominiums, Riverview West, Solis Chicago Hotel Condominiums, and the list goes on. But the latest additions are not just new construction projects. It's the latest in condo conversions, and it's not rental being changed to condos. Welcome corporate headquarters to home sweet home conversion. More and more Loop office buildings are being re-zoned residential and being converted into luxurious homes, but don't expect them to come without the same hefty price tags new construction projects have. The latest potential conversion, according to Crain's is One IBM Plaza, or 330 N. Wacker Drive. IBM is moving to a new building on Wacker Drive and without it's anchor tenant 330 N. Wacker is in need of a new direction. Given it's architectural significance, it was designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, and it's prominent location on the river, it certainly isn't difficult to understand that someone will find a purpose for it.

There's a term in real estate, highest and best use. Basically it means that space, land or building if being used in a way that maximizes its potential. With a renewed interest in living in the Chicago's main business district, it's not surprising to see this emerging trend. There has been an abundance of vacant commercial office in the Loop in the past several years. Business have been moving into the latest and greatest high-rises or simply consolidating their existing space, and vacant spaces don't pay the bills.

Sounds cool, but can't afford the price tag? There are a lot of other great options all over the Loop, especially gut rehabs of some of amazing old architecture with all the modern amenities.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Red Alert!

I appear to be on a CTA kick, so I’ll go with it. On midnight, Monday October 23rd, the Washington stop on the Red Line will be closing for possibly the next two years. Yikes! To make a long story short the CTA is modifying the tunnels and tracks that link the Red and Blue lines which will eventually connect them to a planned rapid transit station on State Street. So you’re a big fan of the Washington Street stop, here’s the specific closures courtesy of the CTA.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bus drivers are human too!

Living in a city like Chicago, there are hundreds of thousands of us that rely on public transportation at one point or another during the time that we live here. In spite of its shortcomings, we really have a great system in the city, especially compared with other big cities. In what feels like a previous lifetime, I lived on the bus or the el going back and forth to work day in day out. There were plenty of days that I wanted to strangle a fellow passenger or the bus driver. It happens to the best of us, especially in the crush of rush hour. And I've been out there waiting and waiting for that bus to arrive and then 3 come at the same time. Was I late more then once to work, yes, but often times I knew I was leaving too late to actually make it on time anyway. There were many days were I actually felt bad for the drivers. There was one day on my trusty 156 LaSalle, that the bus made a sudden stop to avoid a car that had gone through a very red light. A sight and hearing impaired woman seated on the bus hit her wrist on the seat in front of her and was quite upset. Several passengers tried to calm her and explain what had happened. Upon exiting the bus a couple stops later, she confronted the driver who offered to get her medical assistance repeatedly. She refused. The bus driver later asked us to fill out a report as witnesses to the incident and to his response for fear that she would report him. I was surprised to see that all but one or two people on the bus voluntarily filled out the form for him. I can't imagine driving a bus day in, day out and while I know there are some terrible bus drivers out there, they're human too. They stress out just like you do and might even hate their job sometimes just like you do. They can't make traffic move faster, they can't control the number of people waiting for the bus, nor can they control the CTA management. Try saying good morning to them every once in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised.

And since as passengers we always get to gripe, here's the bus driver's perspective courtesy of the Red Eye.

Bus vs. them
How to be a better rider

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pricing right the first time

Pricing a property correctly has always been key when trying to sell you home. The right price can get it sold in two weeks, but the wrong price, well, it doesn't move at all. Especially in today's current "balancing" market, pricing the your home right from the start has become even more critical. It's certainly easy to make adjustments down the road, but unless you have the luxury of time, often times these adjustments come too little too late. You might have missed hundreds of potential buyers and don't be fooled by the fact that you are getting showings. If you're getting showings that's always a good sign, but even if you're getting 2nd and 3rd showings without an offer, something is not right. So how do you price your home to get it sold? Well, I can tell you right off the bat if the words that are coming out of your mouth are something along the lines of, "well, the condo/home down the street sold for X in June...." then you're heading down the wrong path. The more important questions are what is your competition asking, what if anything has closed in the past couple weeks, who are the potential buyers and how are those buyers going to view your home compared to the competition? Even if your house has more upgrades and you feel it is worth more then the competition that doesn't mean that a buyer will place the same importance on those upgrades. Pricing wisely from day one on the market can and must be done. If it feels like your three years old again running away from those peas that your mom is about to put on your plate, it's not so bad, remember, there was a day when you realized those peas really weren't as bad as you thought.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Real Estate MUST Read

In today's Chicago Tribune, there was one of the best articles on the state of the real estate market that I have read in recent months. I like it so much that I'm going to be giving it to my buyer and seller clients and practically everyone I know. If you're thinking of entering the housing market as either a buyer or a seller this article is truly a must read. I think one line from the article sums it up. "Just what kind of housing bust is this anyway? With gloom-and-doom purveyors forecasting crashes in dozens of metropolitan areas, how could such key fundamentals as jobs, interest rates and pending sales be trending in the opposite direction?"

Market 'rebalancing' gets caught in the spin cycle

So what are your thoughts and concerns about what's happening in the market?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Latest Chicago News

Yes, if you missed it the first time the Motorola store on Michigan Avenue re-opened today to sell the latest Razr. It's red. Do we have a rainbow yet...silver, black, blue, pink, magenta, gold and now red. I'm waiting for the orange Razr. It's my signature color.

Haven't seen Chicago's logo for the 2012 Olympics yet? Well here it is. Want to know what the plans are? Check out the story in the Chicago Tribune.

And the CTA is at it again. They need more money, $110 million to be exact according to Crain's. Do you feel the need to comment on the 2007 budget recommendations?
The board's next meeting is scheduled for November 8th.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bye, bye Starbucks?

Here's yet another great story on controlling the destiny of your neighborhood. Andersonville, a great neighborhood on the north side of the city, is considering adopting an ordinance that would effectively ban "formula business" like Starbucks and Einstein bagels. The City Council is currently drafting the ordinance which would allow qualifying neighborhoods to ban these businesses in their historic districts. While I understand that having Starbucks on every corner is a bit much an outright ban of these kinds of business was quite surprising. If you've ever driven through Andersonville, it has a quaint, eclectic feel, and proponents of this ordinance want to make sure it doesn't lose that feel. Who can blame them?

The face of Chicago neighborhoods seems to almost be changing daily. While this new ordinance will most likely not be before the City Council for a few months, it will be interesting to see the direction is ultimately takes. Will it be a full ban or will it allow for varying regulations? What are your thoughts? Should the City Council see this measure through?

Andersonville may put reins on retail chains

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Changing Face of Chicago neighborhoods

Since I talked yesterday about the Burling Street controversy I thought I continue down that same vein today. I can't say I don't like to fuel the fire, but even I sometimes have very mixed feelings about some of the changes many of the Chicago neighborhoods are undergoing. The Chicago Tribune recently had two side-by-side stories, one on the loss of single family homes to condos and the other on the new high-rise meca known as Lakeshore East. They really express the dichotomy that exists. Not everyone wants or needs a single family nor can they necessarily afford the single family, so condos are the alternative. In particular neighborhoods, like West Town and Bucktown, there are many workman cottages or bungalows. They're small and often well kept homes, but their biggest drawback is they are small and expansion is limited. Many long time residents also feel that with the loss of these structures that the sense of community is disappearing with them. Then on the other side of the spectrum you have Lakeshore East, a 28 acre parcel located between the Loop and the Lake. It is expected to house a staggering 15,000 residents when it's complete. There has been an effort to create an neighborhood among the pedways, triple deck streets, and the six acre park at it's center. For some it will certainly not fit their definition of a neighborhood, but for an area that was formally occupied by railroad tracks it's certainly an improvement. The common threads through both these stories are that whether it's the city or the aldermans, I think many feel that there is not enough foresight by either group into the long-term results of these changes. There are many residents out there that don't like the change, don't want to see their neighbors that they've know for half their life leaving, and who came blame them. Ultimately, I know that it's all about the lifestyle you desire and I believe that this is what fuels and will continue to fuel the controversy over Chicago's real estate.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Behemoths

You might have seen the article in the Chicago Tribune Magazine this weekend regarding the enormous new homes that some of Chicago's wealthiest families are building in Lincoln Park on Burling Street. And enormous is putting it lightly. They range in size to a relatively modest 3 lots to an expansive 7 lots. It's causing quite the controversy among the neighborhood and even several local architects. Critics of these behemonths say that they are not consistent with the look or scale of the neighborhood. And they don't stop there. Even many of the new single lot homes are criticized for the lack of style including massive columns above a sunken garage and fake flickering gaslights. Many of these houses are also built lot line to lot line, living little room for green space, which in it's own right is a tragedy. Not all that long ago in the East Village, Wicker Park, and Bucktown neighborhoods, developers are no longer permitted to build sunken patios in the front of their buildings because of concerns over the loss of green space.

Tearing down the old to build the new is not something that is new to Chicago, but in certain neighborhoods it certainly has taken on a new fervor. Bigger and bigger seems to be the trend, but is bigger always better? I don't think so, but I'm not building a 20,000 sq foot home either. Part of it is for me, what would I do with all that space? I would love a huge master suite with a closet of equal size, but the rest of the house would be just be a dust collector! This trend has been playing out in the suburbs for a few years now, but it seems some form of that same trend is starting to take hold in the city, for good or bad. I guess only time will tell.

What are your thoughts? Should architects and developers be required to consider the neighborhood? Should there be a limit on how many lots can be combined by one person or a green space requirement?

Photos from Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The future of express trains to O'Hare and Midway

The CTA's vision for 20-25 minute express service from the Loop to either O'Hare or Midway airports has at least temporarily been placed on the back burner. It's a great idea, a whole lot quicker and cheaper then taking a cab. Capital seems to be the big obstacle, approximately $1.5 billion. Ouch. So instead it has been proposed that a $10 a ride "express" service could take it's place. The big difference is that the ride would last the normal 40-45 or 30 minutes respectively, and would managed by a private company. A copy of a report obtained by Crain's Chicago Business, projects by 2010 an estimated 1.7 million riders would take advantage of these dedicated trains with special luggage space. And won't that be a god send, to actually have some room to place the luggage out the the way. Chicago isn't the first city to try this. Singapore and other major cities have successful express link trains. If it takes a public/private partnership to get service improvements, like this then I say go for it. The issue is expected to come before the CTA board for approval as early as it's November meeting. Stay tuned for more information.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Circle of Real Estate life

It's been a challenging fall in the real estate market. Even though interest rates are down, home sale inventory is up, at least for the time being. Open a newspaper, turn on the news, or read on-line media, you can probably find 6 or 8 different theories on why the real estate market is down. One that you don't necessarily hear much about, probably because it's the least sensational reason, but also the most honest reason is the circle of real estate life. Let me explain. We have Seller A who's selling their Lakeview condo. They've been out with their agent looking at properties and have found a few that they really love. Seller A is also Buyer A. So why hasn't Seller/Buyer A bought a new home? They want or need to sell their current home before move on to their next home. So many of these homes on the market are also buyers in waiting. A seller is a buyer and a buyer is a seller. A year or two ago, the housing market had so much momentum that seller's didn't hesitate to have their home on the market and at the same time purchase their new home. So they might have to take out a bridge loan in the interim, but ultimately they were confident their home would sell and sell quickly. More and more sellers have been taking this more conservative route and it's reflected directly in the market. Will it stay this way long-term? Probably not. After the past several years of tremendous growth the market is balancing itself. One thing to never forget, people still need a place to live, to call home, so there will always be buyers out there.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? And if your home is currently on the market, it might certainly seem like that time is here. Now before you hit the panic button, it's important to consider your position and the overall market conditions. According to the media, the sky is falling and I believe them as much as I believe Chicken Little. No the housing market isn't what it was last year, but people still need homes. Let's assume you're in a position were you're not going to buy until you sell existing home and you haven't had any offers. One day that offer comes in but it includes a home sale contingency. The contingency basically states that if buyer does not receive a signed sales contract on their home by a particular date, they can terminate the contract they have with you. It's understandable to just be relieved there's an offer on the table, so you accept the contingency, and move on. Before you sign the dotted line, it's worth taking a minute to consider the pros and cons of a contingent offer and more importantly to consider where that leaves you in the equation. A nice pro is that generally a buyer will offer a higher price to entice the seller to accept the contingency, and you can still continue to market your home, though some buyers agents might be less inclined to show it if there are other similar properties available. The downsides are the big WHAT IFs? What if they don't sell their home and the deal doesn't close or what if you don't get another offer? As a seller, neither of these are in your control and in many ways the details particular to your situation must guide you. One other thing to consider with your agent is the saleability of the buyer's home. If they're in a high-rise with 20 other properties, it might not be wise to accept that contingency because it might be difficult to sell in say 48 days. Whenever I come across these scenario, I believe it's important to consider the different paths the contingency might take a client down and most importantly what their comfort level is with those paths. There is no easy answer, but as I always say, everything works itself out in the end.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

St Joseph to the rescue?

I'm sure most people are familiar with the tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of home and family, in the front yard to help speed up the sale of their home. I remember when I was very little hearing my very Italian, and very Catholic grandmother telling friends and family to bury a statue St. Joseph. So I laughed to myself when I heard the big news that St. Joseph has suddenly been making a comeback. It appears that in the new age of longer market times and markets downturns in certain parts of the country, devote or not, sellers nationwide are buying statues of St. Joseph. Even some realtors have jumped on the bandwagon. A little faith certainly never hurt anyone, but online and local retailers can't get over how well the statues are selling. Online sites are selling thousands and even wholesale distributors are having trouble keeping up with the demand. The practice is dates back to the Medieval Times when an order of European nuns were looking for land on which to build a new convent. They buried St. Joseph medals and asked for his blessing. Others say the practice was started by German carpenters buried the statues in the foundation of the homes they built. Regardless of who started the tradition, it is obviously still out there being passed down in it's varied forms. I've heard everything from burying St. Joseph upside down in the front yard facing the street to lying the statue on its back pointing at the house like an arrow. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that after the home sells, the now previous owner is supposed to retrieve the statue and place it on a mantle or other prominent location in their new home. In need of a St. Joseph statue? Stop by your local religious goods store or check online. And for you high-rise sellers out there...may I suggest try burying St. Joseph in the middle of the night when no one's looking?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Another satisfied client....

I always love feedback from former clients, good and bad. It's one of those things that really helps me improve the services I am able to provide to my future clients and let's me know what I'm doing right. One of the things that I learned early on in this business is that no two clients are alike and you need to be flexible and adjust to the client. Some need lots of guidance and time, others simply know what they want and when they see the right home they jump. Some get up close and personal, while others keep their personal life, well, personal. I think it's very important to respect their needs, wishes and their boundaries.

Here's some feedback I received from two recent and very different clients.

"We came from the suburbs looking for a second home in the city and we had no idea where to start. We met Rebecca at an Open House and were instantly impressed with her professional demeanor and her sincere interest in our needs. She took charge of our home search and a couple of weeks later, we found the type of condo we were looking for, all due to her hard work and research. She continued her top-notch service throughout the escrow process, attended our closing, and really took the time to get to know us. Thank you, Rebecca for helping us find a fantastic condo in the city!"
- Michelle and Pete

"It was a pleasure working with Rebecca on finding and buying my new condo. Rebecca is very responsive, straightforward and upfront. She followed through promptly on all the commitments she made. Most important, Rebecca displayed great energy, but without being "pushy" in any way. Although my experience with her is on the buy side, I certainly
recommend her to anyone interested in either buying or selling property in Chicago."
- Michael

And speaking of feedback...let me know what you think of the information on my blog. Let me know what you'd like to see more of, less of, whatever it is I'd love to hear it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

New concepts in "mobile homes"

I just saw this interesting new concept in "mobile homes," though I don't think you'll be taking this new home to the local trailer park. This new home is called Loftcube, and based on the picture on the left, the name seems to be appropriate. Yes, while this abode is mostly glass, and a cozy 420 square feet, it can also be tailored to the buyer's desires. Pick your colors, materials, blinds (thank god they're included), glass translucence and even customize your layout. And yes, there is a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and you can see the living room. And all this can be yours for the mere base price of $110,000. While, you can't exactly hook a Loftcube to the back of your SUV, all you need is either a freight helicopter or construction crane. No, this is no joke. The Loftcube is the brainchild of Werner Aisslinger, which I believe is a German company. It's certainly one of the most interesting ideas I've seen in housing in recent years and it will be interesting to see where this goes. Maybe it will be the new beach house.

The CTA's Proposed Circle Line

You may or may not have heard about the proposed CTA Circle line. For those of you who aren't familiar with the project, it's objective is to link all of the CTA's and Metra's lines, from 39th to Fullerton and Lake Michigan to Western. The routes still under consideration include an Ashland corridor and an Ashland/Ogden Corridor, so if you live on Ashland this would be of particular interest to you. The CTA is going to be presenting their Screen 2 Alternative Analysis study at three different venues this week. The study examines all possible transit options and ultimately determine a locally preferred alternative.

Tuesday, Sept. 26th - Bucktown/Wicker Park Library 6-8pm
1701 N Milwaukee, 2nd Flr Community Room
Weds, Sept. 27th - National Teachers Academy 6-8pm
55 W Cermak - Lunch Room/Auditorium
Thursday, Sept 28th - First Baptist Church 6-8pm
1613 W Washington - Community Room

It seems like it could potentially be a great new alternative for the CTA and opens up some areas that have little to no el access. For more detailed information on the project check out the CTA's website.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Time for some grub

Don't you love it when you rediscover some long forgotten anything, a picture, a note from your sweetheart, whatever, and you're as excited about it as the first time you saw it? I just had one of those moments. I know you're going to laugh when I tell you what it is, so don't laugh. I rediscovered The website has listings of Chicago restaurants that deliver, including menus. Now I understand this might not sound like anything to get too excited about, but I live a half block west of Damen and none of the major delivery services, CEO Deliveries or Dining In, etc will deliver to me. They only deliver west to Damen and not an inch further. So in those moments when my refrigerator is empty I rely on the few menus that I've collected. Boring! Check out the website, it's got tons of great features, and if you're like me your refrigerator spends more time empty than full!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mortgage rates going DOWN

For the seventh time in the past eight weeks, mortgage rates have been on the decline. Rates are once again under 6.5% for a 30 year fixed and 6.1% for a 5 year adjustable, respectively. I actually just had a client who just closed who locked in his rate because he didn't want to risk an increase on his rate, especially with a close date 90 days out. Who could blame him? At the time the Fed was increasing rates and it just wasn't worth the risk. Well, won't you know it, rates started to decline a week before he had to close, and yes, they were below his lock. While my client wasn't able to change his rate, he still had a great rate and an amazing new home. The moral of this story in not to not lock in a rate, but that mortgage rates are not going to run straight through the roof, like so many people feared. According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac VP and Chief Economist, "with short term interest rates increasingly seemingly on hold, for a while at least, interest rates overall should not experience any big shifts in either direction." Not only is this good news for buyers, but for sellers as well. With rates stabilizing at such low rates, that should keep more buyers out there and sellers who are ultimately ready to make that next move, will be able to sell and then buy their new home. And there you have the circle of real estate life.

Monday, September 11, 2006


So where you when the planes hit the World Trade Center? I don't think I'll ever forget. I was at home getting ready for another day, watching Good Morning America. They broke away because a plane had hit one of the towers and everyone was speculating about what conditions could have caused a plane to fly into one of the tallest buildings in New York, malfunction of plane controls, etc....all the "typical" things. When the second plane came into view there was silence followed by a collective gasp of disbelief when it to flew into the other tower. It was immediately apparent that this was no accident. Do we live in a different world today then we did 5 years ago? I think most people would say yes, but I think it has more to do with perspective then the world actively changing. For me, it has given me a new appreciation of life and a new patriotism that I personally had never felt. Not to sound cliche, but I firmly live by the principal that everything happens for a reason and 9/11 was no exception. There is a lesson to be learned for all of us as individuals and as a country, let's hope we have taken and continue to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Last Hoorah for summer

If you don't have any big plans for the weekend and you don't mind crowds (my husband has a major aversion to them, how he ever came to love the city is beyond me), the 2nd Annual Lakeview East Fine Arts Festival is going on this weekend on Broadway between Belmont and Roscoe. I myself has never been, but with Chicago's long history of art festivals, I'm sure its bound to be good. While it might be smaller then some of the long-running festivals like the Gold Coast and Old Town/Wells Street festivals, they seem to have made some additions to the typical art festival agenda. They will be having an arts and craft tent for kids and yes, its hands on or in, depending on the child. My personal favorite is the fashion show that will be taking place on Sunday. I unfortunately won't be able to attend, but let me know how it was!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Credit cards, credit scores, and mortgages....Oh My!

The average American household has $9000 in credit card debt and more households are spending a higher percentage of their income just to stay on top of their credit card bills. Naturally, this effects their spending in other areas of their life, including home purchase decisions. Not only does the amount you owe effect how much of a mortgage you can get, but also can effect the mortgage rate that a bank will give you. All this thanks to a handy little tool called a credit score. A major component of your credit score is related to your credit card habits and can play a big, though somewhat complicated role when you're trying to obtain a mortgage. A history of on-time payments is nothing but positive and that is an important thing to lenders. It's the signs of financial "weakness" in that history that can hurt. Often it's not a single factor that will hurt your credit score, but the combination of those factors. So if you're thinking of buying a home in 3 months or 3 years, a little preparation can't hurt. One easy thing right off the bat is to not apply for new credit cards for at least few months before your home purchase. Simply put, it makes the lender wonder why you need the additional credit. I've always thought it best not to let lenders wonder....they have very vivid imaginations. The other factor to focus on is your utilization rate. Basically, this means how much of your total available credit you use on each card. For example, let's say you have a Visa card with a $5000 credit limit and you have $4000 charged on the card. Divide $4000 in charges divided by the $5000 credit limit and you get .80 or 80%. This is your utilization rate. In an ideal world it's good to be as close as possible to a 50% or less utilization rate. A final factor lenders consider is your "total expense ratio." This is the sum of the mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance, and any other debt service you have including, but not limited to credit cards, student loans, etc, all divided by your gross income. This number ultimately helps the lender determine how much you can afford. The lower the number the better, but even if your number is higher than you like it only effects the amount you can borrow not your actual ability to get a mortgage.

Also, we just added this amazing mortgage dictionary to our website. Check it out and you too can speak the language of mortgages!

If you want to see what your credit score is, here are links for the three major credit reporting agencies....Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. Or you can pull your entire credit report for free at

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The tearing up of Milwaukee Avenue

As if there weren't enough construction projects going on in the Chicago, the city decided to add Milwaukee Avenue to their list. They are planning on resurfacing Milwaukee from the Kennedy Expressway to North Avenue. The project is slated to start Monday, August 28th, give or take a week knowing the city, and is expected to take 40 days. So in other words, it might be wise to avoid Milwaukee and join the slow procession of traffic down either North or Division. Mind you, I'm only half complaining. I drive down Milwaukee frequently and there always seems to be a new patch or some other bump to help loosen the bolts on your car engine, so while my car appreciates it, my schedule hates it since it's going to take twice as long to get through the area.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The good news with foreclosures?

I'm sure everyone has heard the hoopla about adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) resetting and the anticipation that there could be a substantial increase in foreclosures in coming years. Over the past few years ARMs have become increasingly popular with their attractive initially lower rates and their ability to allow buyers to buy more house. Especially in areas like California where home prices were increasing at exponential rates, sometimes it was the only way people could buy the home they wanted. Whether this was wise or not is a whole different story. Like most other things in real estate, foreclosures will not affect the country uniformly. Not only do foreclosure laws vary from state to state, but local factors including unemployment come into play. But the news is not all bad. According to an article written by Charles DuBow in Business Week magazine, "a new study by RealtyTrac, which publishes the nation's largest database of pre-foreclosure and foreclosure properties, the situation is not all that bad. In their survey of foreclosure rates in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S., the second quarter of 2006 actually saw fewer foreclosures than in the first quarter. While Indianapolis, Atlanta and Dallas saw the nation's three highest metropolitan foreclosure rates, other areas, such as Chicago and Portland, Ore., saw a 60% and 188% decline, respectively, from the first quarter." I can't predict the future, but as I see it, it's a good start.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

ALERT! A Balanced Story in the Chicago Media!

Since I gave the media a hard time in one of my recent posts, Media Schmedia, I thought it was only fair that I give them credit when they actually presented a impressively balanced story. Last night on the 10 o'clock news on ABC Channel 7 in Chicago this miraculous event actually occurred. Not only did they present a national viewpoint but also presented a Chicago specific perspective from local experts! While they are somewhat inflammatory about interest rates, remember 6% is still historically low, I can forgive them this once. For the whole article go to ABC 7 Chicago's website.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Home inspection...don't buy a home or condo without it!

I'm really not trying to sound cliche, but the home inspection is truly an essential part of the home buying process. Now, if you're going to tear down whatever property you buy, then please be my guest, feel free to go without an inspection, but if you're like most people you actually want to live there. Consider for a moment the size of the investment that your making, the average home (including condos) in Chicago is over $500,000, a few hundred dollars for an inspection is worth the piece of mind. A good inspector will check everything from the electrical and plumbing systems to making sure the appliances work properly. And don't think that because you're purchasing in a high-rise building that an inspection is not necessary. I was recently at an inspection with my client who was purchasing a unit in a 1950s high-rise. It was a fixer upper, but during our inspection we discovered that the electric panel in the unit had never been updated and those funny little "plugs" were definitely not circuit breakers, they weere fuses. As if that wasn't bad enough one of the fuses was double-tapped, meaning it had two wires running into a single fuse. This is a potentail fire hazard. And yes, the easy solution is that you can just add another fuse, the key being if they even make this particular style anymore! If the needed fuse couldn't be obtained a whole new electric panel would need to be installed which would likely cost in the ballpark of $1000! We have asked the seller to resolve this potentially issue and he has agreed. What an costly surprise that would have been for my client when it was discovered down the road or when there was a fire.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Media Schmedia

One of the most frequent questions I've been asked lately has been is what I think about the market in Chicago, by clients and non-clients alike. Well, I know it doesn't seem like a surprise to be asked that kind of question, but there has been one specific common thread to all these conversations....the media. The media whether it is print, television or on-line has been droning on about how the housing market is slowing down and oh, no the world's going to end because interest rates are higher than they were 4 years ago! And while both of these are true to varying degrees I believe in many cases the message the media sends is out of context for two reasons. One, the housing market is very much a local phenomenon, but the media largely uses nationwide and regional generalizations. There are so many factors that affect housing and many are specific to that local. There are even differences between Chicago and the Chicago suburbs! One factor is demand. The demand or need for housing is not the same across the country. For example over the past few years demand for housing on the East and West coasts has driven the 20 and 30% price appreciation they had been experiencing, while in Chicago, demand was high and price appreciation was significant, it was not of the same intensity. While Chicago's growth was steady, the activity on the coasts is what fueled much of the talk of the housing bubble and leads me to my second point. Everyone seems to forget that the past five years have been a period of record housing growth fueled in part by record low mortgage rates. Well it's no surprise the market is slowing down, how long can record growth be sustained? Eventually it has to balance out and that's exactly what's happening. Is that a bad thing? From my perspective, no, balance is a good thing especially when it doesn't have to be the result of some "catastrophic" event. On a somewhat lighter note, in such good times, we often forget what "normal" is. Until the past few years 9 or 10% on a mortgage was considered a great rate and there actually was a period about 20 years ago where interest rates were 18%! Gasp!!!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Going Green in Chicago

At one of my open houses this weekend I was asked about what it would take to cover the garage rooftop with grass instead of traditional decking. Having not done it myself or known anyone who had I didn't have the answer for him, but it really peaked my curiosity. More and more buyers are looking for a home with outdoor space, whether it's a balcony or the rooftop of the building they live in, but I have yet to see a grass rooftop. In most cases, garages, which is a "must have" for so many buyers, have practically wiped out what little backyard was there could have been. So why not create a "backyard" on your rooftop? The idea sounded great to me. Like a little kid, I still love the feeling of grass between my toes and having lived in the city for so many years I feel pretty nostaglic about grassy feeling. And no, the patches of grass that line the sidewalk outside my home don't qualify. The fertilizer provided by the neighborhood dogs certainly doesn't add to the appeal. So what would it take to create the "rooftop backyard?" Apparently I'm not the only one that is curious. The City of Chicago set-up the Chicago Center for Green Technology, located at 445 N Sacramento. Not only is it a prototype for green building design, but more importantly the go to place for people with questions about the "how to." Rooftop backyards or gardens are only the beginning when it comes to going green. Bamboo flooring, dual flush toilets, tankless water heaters and the list goes on. If you want more information on going green in Chicago, check out the links below.

City of Chicago Department of Environment
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
Greenmaker Supply Company