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