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.