Friday, June 30, 2006

Price: Your home's value in this market

There has been alot of chatter surrounding home prices and market times lately. Yes, I've just made the understatement of the century. I usually do not beat a dead horse... instead choosing to adjust my game-plan accordingly to shifts, highs, and lows. What the hell am I talking about? Pricing, pricing, pricing.

Here's the deal. It seems that no matter how many front page stories are run about falling home prices, longer market times, buyers' markets, rising inventory- home seller's shut it out. N.M.H. Not My House!

Yes, your house. No matter what happend last season, your home must sell this season. And price cures everything. The $350K condo last year, is $325K this year... why? Interest rates and inventory.

There have been many people, and articles written (find "Overpricing, Overated"), that have explained pricing in the current market conditions better than I ever will. In fact, a Realtor in my office wrote a great piece covering this issue (ask me and I'll link you to it... he is a competitor after all). But the fcate are facts... if you have gotten over 30-40 showings of your place with no offers, you are overpriced to the extent, most will not even take a chance at a low ball.

This has weighed heavy on everyone lately... but to the professional, (that would be me), it is time to speak the truth to the client. But if I get the price needed to sell, I have to back it up with the marketing tools, effort and access. This combo will sell the property.

Sailing Lake Michigan: Another kind of real estate

Thanks everyone for enjoying our first
client sailing event!

Okay, the evening started off picture perfect
before unraveling into a bit of a farce.
But I digress. In an effort to cling to my
clients' loyalty, a couple associates and I
decided it would be a good idea to take them
sailing. It was a good idea. The wine and beer were good ideas too... took the sting out of the
thunderstorm that blew in.

Although we were not able to make the Navy Pier fireworks show, we were treated to some very impressive lightening bolts... you can't pay for that kind of entertainment folks!

Big thank you to Chicago Sailing Club for their accommodating spirit, fun attitude and skills. They were able to get us set on course for a nice sail before having to turn back... but everyone really enjoyed the chance to sail by the skyline. If you have not been out on the lake, I really encourage you to contact Chicago Sailing Club at the link above and charter a trip. Groups may also race each other on smaller boats with the help of a sailing guide.

What can I say... fun night with some great clients.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Find a bar, restaurant, theatre... bar! Interactive map

I was perusing the Chicago blog scene and came across this interactive map at the Chicagoist site. The map allows you to select an "L" stop for a drop down list of amenities. Really cool. I'd be wary of the updating, but gives you a great sense of what type of neighborhood straddles each stop.

It's like that guy on PBS who travels Chicago by the "L"... expect you don't have to watch the whole part about chicago's meat packing history to find a bar in the West Loop. Just click away.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Math we can all understand

My open house was a little slow this weekend, which meant I caught up on a bit of reading and figurin'. Figurin' is my little ways to figure out simple housing and real estate math.

For instance, how much house should you buy? Mortgage lenders usually base your approved loan amount on a borrower's monthly housing expenses/income ratio. There are many other loan products and qualifying benchmarks, but the below definition is for conventional loans that meet the federal/private relationship of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac guidelines.

I paraphrase here from the Modern Real Estate Practice in Illinois, 5th Edition text: To qualify for a conventional loan under Fannie Mae guidelines (the Fed's arm for purchasing loans and re-selling them), the borrower's monthly housing expenses, including Priciple, Interest, Tax, Insurance and Assesment if applicable, must not exceed 28 Percent of total GROSS income. Also, the borrower's total monthly obligations, including housing costs and other monthly payments, must not exceed 36 percent of his or her total monthly gross income (33 percent in the case of 95 percent Loan to Value loans... and I know in Chicago, many of us will have a 95 percent LTV loan).

This amount is how much you will be approved for. However, this may stretch your budget. I just learned about another rule of thumb for determining your budget when starting your house hunt.

Take your total household gross income and multiply it by 2.5 and 3.5, then, find a number you can live with in between. It is similar to the lender's method of debt ratio, but this does not take into consdieration the rest of your monthly debt. But it's a start. In Chicago, you will probably push the multiplier average a little.

For example, if your total yearly gross income between you and your husband, wife, partner... whatever... is 120K, then you would do the following.

120 x 2.5 = 300,000
120 x 3.5 = 420,000

300,000 + 420,000 = 720,000/2 = 360,000

So, you're house hunting budget could be around $360,000... give or take depending on the rest of you're financial picture.

Mortgage 101: Preferred lenders and builder's incentives

We've seen it a million times (and when I say WE, I mean me). Maybe you have seen it. A builder of a new home subdivision, condo building, or new condo conversion offers incentives somehow based on the preferred lender. "If you use our in-house lender when buying our condos, we'll throw in a spice rack and matching pot holders for free!".

This may be an overt promotion, or some guy sidles up to you at an open house suggesting you use ACME Lenders. Yes, the same ACME Lenders from the Roadrunner Cartoons. But their rates turn out to be higher... so you don't want to use their lender and you lose the spice rack and the potholders... and you are sad.

Kenneth Harney's latest cloumn explains the difference between "tie-in" incentives (those incentives offered by a builder only if you use a preferred lender), and regular incentives... which are just fine. Tie in incentives are illegal when they prevent competition.

The preferred lender needs to be defined as well here for clarity. These chaps are okay too. They have struck a deal with the developer and/or brokerage to sit at the open houses and offer you special rates. Sometimes the preferred lender does not have anything particulary special, but just has a solid working relationship with the brokerage- and first crack at those consumers walking through the door.

There is nothing wrong with using a preferred lender for a particular development. Just shop around. The rate isn't everthing either people... you need to make sure the broker/lender is competent... what's their track record? But if things check out okay, the preferred lender can sometimes offer awesome deals, such as $3000 towards your closing costs.

How? One example is a recent new condo conversion at the 4600 block of South Drexel in North Kenwood. There is a TON of action in this area just outside of the historic Kenwood Mansion District and Hyde Park, home of University of Chicago (or Chicago, as they were trying to be called... like Princeton and Harvard and... Cher, Madonna... Yanni. You get the picture).
The developer paid very little for the building itself and is charging better than very little for the condo units. So, they have a little leverage to bring on a preferred lender, who may offer $3000 towards your closing costs. They may be cutting each other deals to better market the property, and you benefit from the competetive incentives.

Note, however, the builder is not offering upgrades only if you use the lender... so make sure when you see one of these "deals", that the builders incentives are separate from the lender's incentives.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Writing a strong offer

Sometimes all you can do is put all your cards on the table. When you are reaching for that perfect property but know you can only afford so much... that's okay. Let's go for it. I'll write a good offer.

But this is no time for screwing around. We're gonna be at least $15,000 under list on a great place that just hit the market. But you want it... so how high can you go?

Great, we figured that number out. So let's put it together, come with your best shot; we'll give them their close date, we'll give them their mortgage commitment date, no sale contingencies, no riders or addendums to the contract, you have a pre-approval from a good lender and a Chicago real estate attorney lined up, and your a nice couple willing to work with the sellers needs. Most important, you'll come with your top sales price and the most earnest money you can come up with.

I'll present the offer and make you look like a sure thing... because you are. But to get that steal, you can't be cute. You must give them your "last and best" and put the decision in the seller's hands.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cell Hell... Phones annoy co-workers

CNN Money reports on the breaking news that personal cell phone ring tones and conversations are an annoyance to co-workers. As a result, many companies are banning them from the office.
What does this have to do with real estate? Nothing. But I hope these perturbed people don't have it mind to become Realtors... Have you ever been in a real estate office for awhile. I mean, wow. There's so many hand held devices going off and ring-tones singing that it's like you hit shuffle play on your cd player for some bizarre mix.

In my boiler room alone, there may be four of us talking on land lines, getting cell calls and discussing real estate with each other all at the same time... in close proximity. Rings are a way of life, babe. Chao.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shorter Bus?

The CTA's answer to those skinny city streets (only took them, oh, 60 years to figure this out) is a 30 foot bus. The Tribune reports on the Mini Me bus:
"The Chicago Transit Authority will begin running new 30-foot buses—the shortest in the fleet—in Hyde Park this summer, making it easier for bus operators to navigate the South Side neighborhood's narrow streets." "The shorter buses will be easier to maneuver through narrow streets, but they have fewer seats. The Optimas will have 23 seats; the Orions have 39 seats, same as the new 40-foot New Flyer buses that will be put in service this year, CTA officials said."
(Photo from the Chicago Tribune)
I've been tough on the CTA lately, mostly due to unpredictable travel times. It's been in the news too, where there are no buses for 30 minutes, then 3 come along back to back. As a real estate agent, I take public trans less and less... but still manage to take the "L" train as often as I can. For instance, I live in Albany Park, but play volleyball at Oak Street Beach a couple evenings a week. So, I work from home those days (or leave my car in a safe spot at the office) and take the Brown Line to the Red Line transfer... then down to the Chicago stop for a short walk to the beach... past some of the most awesome real estate in the city and country.
Not bad... from Albany Park, I'm there under an hour. Seems long? But no hassle and I read all the way. From the office, maybe 20 minutes!
Back to buses. I just wrote earlier in the week about noise and toxic exhaust from the buses... when either walking or driving behind these things it's bad news... period. The Tribune also reports on the NEW features of the buses coming on line:
"The Optimas have several features, such as a trash can and wider seats, that will be included on the New Flyer buses."
Wow... I remember trash cans and wider seats on the Jetsons as a wee youngster... and it has all come true! Nothing about the new buses flying above traffic or featuring... I don't know, maybe electric engines. But you get trash cans and wider seats for the high school kids jumping on your lap as you take the Foster bus to Andersonville.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I bought my home at an Open House

Little story dissin' the effectiveness of open houses. This would be a great forum for consumers and agents to haggle over. All I know is, I bought my home after walking in to an open house located near an appointment I had.

There are pros and cons... but I wouldn't disregard an Open House done the right way... and I'm not talking baking cookies. It's a tool that, when used right, can help move a home.

Fare thee well, maidens... Three Arts Club building for sale

Three Arts Club architectual features above

Crain's and the Tribune both reported today on the Three Arts Club board of directors decision to sell their city landmarked building. The Three Arts Club located at 1300 N Dearborn Pkwy. in the Gold Coast Historic District, was the home to over 12,000 female artists throughout the years... an affordable boarding house that brought painters, writers, actors, poets and photographers together for classes, training and artistic freedom.

Real estate speculators (sound like someone you know?) figure the building will catch 4M to 10M depending on the Iron Fist treatment the buyer gets from the City's Landmarks Commission. If they treat it anything like the Wrigley Field fiasco, the lucky bidders may get to change the light bulbs if their lucky. Ha! But seriously, it's a prime location and the Three Arts could not come up with the scratch to rennovate the building and remain an affordable boarding house.

Why do I care? Well, it's a beautiful building... and living on the North Side you get a little teary eyed when a building may make way for a new red brick ugly. But that won't be the case in this instance due to protections.
Another reason is you hate to see any institution that brings creative women to Chicago stop bringing creative women to Chicago. The Board has announced it will issue grants from now on, so no more boarding house (and fantasies about women's boarding houses).

I once worked at a silent auction benefit at the Three Arts Club as a bartender/server with sponsors, The Four Moon Tavern. Besides hanging out with the owners of my favorite tavern, I figured I'd meet a few girls while there (I was single then and crashed the cafeteria). The facilities in the buiding were excellent for events and weddings for under 100 or so. The main banquet/party area featured an outdoor atrium that "centered" the main room and side rooms/ hallways. I remember that the Second City improv was the entertainment on stage.

Great night, a fond memory and I wish all the artists well. Tis a comic tradegy that the arts will fall to condos once again... I'm all for new condos, but we'll lose a unique institution and multi-use arts facility.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

NYC Curbed = Hilarious

Okay, I know I'm the Chicago Real Estate Local... says so at the top of this page. But I have to draw some attention to the NYC real estate blog, Curbed. It's an honest man who can admit he'll never be as funny and dedicated to a blog as some ... but I'm glad these folks are out there. Considering I'm still in Seinfeld withdrawl, Curbed is my fix of sorts.

To get your out-of-state mojo on, visit my list of national real estate blogs on the right from time to time. I still have not found a Chicago real estate centered blog as cool as many on the list... maybe it will be me some day (maybe if I train hard like young grasshopper... maybe). If you're planning on moving out of state, I make contacts with alot of these great agents writing at the blogs. Let me know and I can put you in touch.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Condo Board Accounting

Once again, Mark Pearlstein, a real estate attorney, selects a reader's terrific question for discussion. As a condo board president, I love discussing these issues with fellow condo associations on my block and find Mr. Pearlstein a "go-to" resource. Some people clip coupons, I clip condo board advice columns.

The above linked question deals with proper accounting, budgeting and transperacy for condo boards. I can't stress this enough... when you buy a condo unit, you buy the whole building. This can be a great thing in that you really have a beautiful building, kick ass neighbors, and adequate management. Nothings perfect in City living (for most of us), but the aforementioned ingredients are a good start.

However, there can be nightmare buildings and mismangement of funds. In the past few days I discussed inspections and how they play into your real estate transaction... I will make a point to gather some of my favorite client tips for condo living (especially new construction purchases and new-conversions) and enumerate them a bit on the blog... for now, you have to work with me for this invaluable education on how to avoid less than well run buildings.

401(k), 403(b), stocks, you and me: Financing your mortgage

Todays Tribune real estate section featured a great article about using securities accounts, 401(k)s and 403(b)s as financing options for home purchases. For instance, one can use these accounts as an equity line with various payback requirements. This is no way condoned by the author of this here blog or the Tribune's contributer Marilyn Kennedy Melia who wrote the story. But it is a valid option, or temptation, for those with much of their equity and net worth tied up in these vehicles. The only cash you have may be in the 401(k), 403(b) or a securities account.

Look, everyone is looking for all kinds of ways to use OPM (other people's money) and paper gains to leverage real tangible purchases. And it's just damn hard for working stiffs to afford Lakeview. But before you borrow from that 401(k) account to put money down on a house... please see a good CPA who is versed in these retirement plans and financial planning in general.

Hopefully, you've read the short story linked above by now and can now imaging the following scenario. Or like me, have been here before. You want to buy your first place. You dilligently contribute 5% of your paycheck to your 403(b) retirement account used in the health care industry (your job). Your allocation of this account is mainly small capital equities and they have performed well. Your company generously matches the 5% contribution. At the same time, you pay $750 a month in rent (your share), half utilities, car payment, party and travel fund (come on, your maybe 27 by now), taking out your girl, guy... whatever your into, clothes for work, cell phone etc... you get the point. You have no cash.

But, you have $30,000K accumulated in your 403(b). It's been five years since you enrolled in the plan and this will be your first home purchase. The rules dictating your account allow you to borrow from the amount you have in the fund for your first home and pay yourself back the principle and interest. The cash will allow you to qualify for a mortgage. Should you buy the condo or house if this is the only way you can finance it?

I'm telling you, there is a lot of people out there faced with this decision. My wife and I decided not to borrow against the account we had. This was due to the fact interest rates were low on the 100% financing products we were qualified for, we felt the employer match plan of the 403(b) we had was performing to well to mess with it, and we had a rightful expectation of increased income in the near future. So, we could skimp by on our first place without borrowing from the retirement account. Fortunately, we were able to pound down the ARM we had with the increased income and were left with 85% of our loan at a great 5 year fixed interest rate. Whew!

Just take a good look at your financial habits with a qualified CPA before you go messing with this stuff. If your values are really geared towards getting you in the right neighborhood and you demonstrate fiscal responsibility, creative financing can work.

As an aside, I can't say enough about the Tribune Sunday real estate section and it's selection of economic articles and condo owner advice (2nd and 3rd page, more so than the front page glam). It's a great resource for consumer ed. I say this with full knowledge that Tribune Co. also owns the Chicago Cubs... losers or 6 in a row at home and a gazillion games behind first place. I should boycott ( a lender buddy of mine has turned to, gasp, the Sun Times for this very reason). Grant me this obsession, the Cubs, but I really can't remember a more pitiful performance. And I remember as a wee youngster watching a Cubs team 37 games behind the Mets.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Never fear North Avenue again

The City will replace the exsiting North Avenue bridge at the Chicago River with a four lane, sleeker style passage. This is a God send for Realtors trying to get from Lincoln Park to Bucktown at 5PM. Now, if they can only replace the bridges at Division, Chicago....

The Tribune reports:
"Chicago, which loves the charming steel drawbridges that dot the city but hates the bottlenecks they sometimes cause, will soon have a dramatic new span that will ease passage over the Chicago River at North Avenue."

City Transportation Department engineer John Yonan shows a drawing of the replacement North Avenue bridge Friday. (Picture, JOHN H. WHITE/SUN-TIMES)

Now, you can shop at the Container Store and Crate and Barrel leave and drive west without packing an overnight bag.

Killer CTA

Late, late, late! Dirty, noisy, insufficient!
What are the adjectives my wife uses to describe me?

No, No. If this were Jeapordy! the answer in the form of a question would read, "How do I feel about the CTA lately. Look, it doesn't do my business any good trashing our public transportation ssytem, but lately I've just had it.

I wrote earlier that I have not really noticed any problem caused by the Brown Line rennovation and expansion. But on two occassions recently, Brown Line trains either stopped running north bound without the CTA people notifying all the paying customers waiting on the platform (30 minutes!) or delays have been nuts... again with no notification. What the hell is going on?

And buses... is it me or are there more of them spitting out nasty exhaust lately? I really need to find a group dedicated to getting these buses to change to electric motors or something. For instance, city buses have no need to reach high speeds... so isn't there an electric engine out threre that can move a bus at 30-40 mph? We have to start phasing these in.
I mean, the smog from buses is such that I cant even open the sun roof when I get behind one of those things. Now that's a tragedy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Home Inspections II

Wow... just finished watching the NBC Dateline interview with Britney Spears. Fascinating.

I began writing about home inspections a couple days ago due to a cluster of closings in the last couple months. I discovered clients were asking many of the same questions and shared the same anxieties- most of which surrounded two areas; the home inspection and the actual closing itself.
Home inspections had been a bit of a sore subject for me personally. When my wife and I bought our first place together we were very busy and just used the inspector recommended to us by our agent. We did not seek out other companies or check into how the inspection would be conducted and how the summary report would look (in fact, there wasn’t even a report issued!). Big mistake.

Because we bought a new conversion, the inspection was very important in creating a punch-list of items that the developer must repair. I mean, some real basic things can be left undone or significantly deficient in a development. In our case, let's just say the inspector was significantly deficient.
That said, we were dilligent in punch-list items on our own, but still did not know if all the systems in the home were installed properly or if there were any code violations.

So, let's talk about good inspections. I have been around awhile now and have sought out a great group of home inspection companies to reccomend to my clients. I'd say about 75% of my clients accept my reccomendation for an inspector. I've settled on these companies for a few reasons:

1. They go about the inspection in a very systematic way
2. They produce detailed, easy to read reports to the client
3. Experience and customer service

I'm the type of guy who likes the whole package when it comes to services. I don't like to cobble everything together, seaching for the very best deal for each component of the process. For instance, I like to find a place to shop that has clothes I know I’ll like and has the cuts that fit me, good service, nice atmosphere, near the house etc… a place like Banana Republic (sorry, no link or plug here, just happen to like the store). I may pay more money on average than if I shopped the “rack” stores or looked for sales often, but I just don’t want to take the time to shop around… the clothes don’t fit as well at some department stores, the employees are not as committed at “cheaper” stores… It’s a pain in the ass.

Another example is building management. If your condo association has a good building management company, they should have a host of excellent service providers you can trust to carry out maintenance or capital improvements.

So, when I have a moment and go buy some clothes or need something done at our condo building, I’m spending time that I’ll never get back and I incur an opportunity cost. I just want to determine what my needs are and and let the service providers and retailers I trust get the job done for me. It saves time, energy, money and sanity.

Now, apply it to real estate and your agent. This is what I do… quarterback the transaction. I learn what you’re looking for, find the realistic property options while you’re working on your own stuff, teach about neighborhoods and quality of life in particular areas, help assemble a team of attorneys, lenders, inspectors, contractors that provide quality service… that get the job done. This way you don’t have to shop around, try to piece-meal the transaction without experience. If you happen to get a great recommendation from close relations, that’s good too… but consider the source and who will be conducting the service.

The key here is trust. If you trust me to do the job based on my record, you can trust the inspector I recommend is good. I’ve weeded out the bad service provider to give my clients a choice of a few competent parties. It saves you time, energy, money (fewer errors along the way), and your sanity.

So, to reiterate the statement I left with in my first column about inspections, my career in a nutshell is about making sure the right type of inspection is scheduled in the correct time frame and results in a positive component of your real estate transaction.

I aslo explained earlier that there are different inspections for different transaction circumstances. I even said (gasp!) that there are times you may not even get a home inspection. You did not! Yes, I said it.

There are two instances that you may not get an inspection when purchasing real estae that will be your primary residence.

1. The dwelling is sold "as is". The purchase is not contingent on the inspection. If you are a handyman, and we decide the legally required seller disclosures look good and the property is at a justified lower than market price to consider the "as is", you might not get an inspection. However, you may still order an inspection for your own knowlege of the condition of the place, but the seller may not allow this before you are "in the deal".

2. You may also waive the inspection as a bargaining chip. Remember, we are negotiating a property here folks. There are customs, but no hard rules on what it will take to get a good deal for you. If the place is a condo, looks very good and the building is in great shape, and the price is below market, you might consider skipping the inspection if it will avoid a multiple offer situation. I'd only suggest this if there is some intelligence on the building in general that I possess.
This is a good strategy for an experienced buyer, because if it gets you a great price, you can always get an inspection later and correct the minor issues. For instance, I might take a real good look at a property on a couple visits and decide I'll skip the inspection if it gets me a great price... it puts pressure on the seller. They will know I'm serious about purchasing the property and will have to make the decison to walk away from a qualified buyer (even though they are not getting the number they want).

Always get a home inspection on a a single family house or multi unit unless your qualified to build a house yourself!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mortgage calculaters and more

I was reading Seattle Rain City Guide contributer Galen, and he offers this link to an awesome array of financial calculators... I hope you have more time to waste than me, because these things are fun! I swear I could not get off this page.

Earth to FED: Your Love is Like Bad Medicine

I just watched the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS (FNO= For Nerds Only) and there was a great discussion concerning the expected and upcoming increase in the feds fund rate to 5.25%... and its affect on certain business sectors, consumer prices and wages. This is a key short term interest rate pegged to the type of borrowing that business needs. The discussion was centered aroung inflationary pressures growing due to high energy costs. Business will sooner or later have to pass that cost onto the consumer and... BAM! Inflation!

Now, I'm paraphrasing a CNN Money article, but the interest rate hikes is "medicine" combating expected inflation comin' around the mountain. This is good. Some economists feel that these hikes, if another were to happen, is too much medicine... and we've all been over medicated. Right? This is bad.

Anyway, the Brookings Institute's Alice Rivlin on Jim Lehrer's show seemed to agree that we should see a a bit of an economic slow down, less inflationary pressures than the doomsdayers think (although there is room for some inflation... just not a huge endless jump), and therefore, the FED can back off a little on the rate increases. Let's hope so.

Why are the FED's short term rates important to home owners and their mortgages?
Well, they are very important if you have an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) or adjustable home equity loan... these short term rate hikes will directly effect the interest on the ARM and HELOC. FED raises these rates, your ARM will raise (get it? raise your real arm way up to grab your new interest rate on your mortgage).

I have an ARM, (two of em'!... be here all night folks, shows at 10PM and 12 Midnight) and HELOC, so I watch this stuff like anyone else. No matter if it seriously effects your bottom line or not, I thinks it's a good idea to curb certain behaviors in light of these hikes... maybe start bringing that sack lunch again.

While some feel the short term rate will hit 6% by the end of the year. But many don't. Me included. But if your not a gambler like me, than you may want to save a larger down payment and get into a 30 year fixed.

The CNN article also suggests there is a camp that feels the FED has been too conservative and already has dished out too much medicine that can tip the econmy into depression... where everyone dumps out of borrowing and business investment.

Bottom line? You're gonna need somewhere to live, and interest rates will also affect other consumer costs (some discretionary spending), so you might as well pay yourself first by buying a place. Try to buy a place that is within your means... so if its' a one bedroom with parking you can afford, rather than two bedroom that stretches you, get the one bedroom and be creative with the space. It beats renting big time and you can always cut out other luxuries in the lean times.

Man, am I glad I took those economics classes in college.

Cubs Chatter II: When Technology Attacks

All day on, talk radio and the news, the Cubs marketing brass slobbered over the fact that Wrigley Field and the Cubs are the first team in baseball to employ wireless technology on the field. The land line phones have been replaced by basic cell phones with two way calling. I guess the irony is, in case you don't have a pulse, being in the Cubs have some of the oldest traditions in one of the oldest parks, yet are the first in this tech category.

So, basically, the bullpen calls will be made with cell phones with two way calling technology provided by Motorola (I know this because it was mentioned 8 million times... think that's part of the deal?).

The Cub's broadcasters on CSN and WGN 720 also interviewed the Cub's John McDonough (I think) who has a lot to do with the gentle changing of Wrigley about the new gizmo (guys.. it's wireless technology, we get it).

The best was listening to Dave Otto and Ol' McDonough wax poetic about being technologically disadvantaged and how cool the little ring tone is that the phone uses.

This is the big story? How 'bout spending the time, energy and and money on some players so we win a couple games. What me bitter?

Home Inspections

With seven closings in the last two months, one picks up on the FAQs of clients. Several re-occurring questions come up concerning home inspections, closing procedures, walk troughs etc… I’ll start with the home inspection. There are many great consumer sites for purchasers and sellers that explain the “in’s and out’s” of home inspections, who to use, how much they are, and what they cover. I’m sure I’ll have some of those great sites linked here in a second or two (um, maybe should have thought of that already).

Remember, this is from the heart people. These are the things we talk about when dragging you all over the city looking for the Holy Grail of $300K condos in Lakeview. Still looking so we have lots of time for education.

I think we can all agree that inspections are a good idea (show of hands?). But, they are in no way a requirement when structuring a purchase offer contract. The home inspection can be waived, and I’ll tell you when this MIGHT be a good idea later.

Usually, a purchase offer for a re-sale condo unit or house will include a home inspection contingency. This basically means the buyer and seller will decide to proceed, or not to proceed, with the real estate transaction based on the results of the physical inspection of the home.

The home inspection usually commences during the attorney review period. So, the parties decide on a market price and closing terms, ship the contracts out to the attorney, cross their fingers during the inspection, and then haggle over the results before concluding attorney review. This can make or break a deal.

So, what makes or breaks a deal? A good REaltor of course! But seriously folks, depends on the parties involved (it always depends on the parties involved-this is why real estate transactions are soooo exciting). The buyer is usually in the right by asking that hazards and code violations be fixed. This can be leaky gas lines, missing banisters, or improper dryer venting. The buyer may also request repairs of material defects… but not so fast buddy, the buyer may not get these.

The point here is, the inspection contingency protects the buyer from the unknown and can break the deal. But, if the place is worth having, then the parties will agree to terms in which they can live with… and the buyer has a new home (well, as long as they get a silly mortgage).
So don’t freak out after the inspection, nothings perfect in this world.

Okay, so you are going to buy shiny new construction or a “new-conversion”. In these cases, developers usually do not allow an inspection contingency in the purchase contract if the unit is purchased before its completion (pre-construction or mid-construction). This is logical considering one would like the unit finished before an inspection… and if you buy one of these units during construction, you most likely will close shortly after the unit is completed, or, “delivered”. The developer can not be expected to take the unit off market for months, maybe even a year or two, and then have you dump out.

Still with me? Well then, why even have a home inspection and how is the buyer protected?

The professional home inspector will help you complete a “punch-list” of items that the developer must repair/correct in a determined amount of time. Many items are warranted and must be repaired anyway…some are cosmetic, such as chips in tub porcelain and floor tiles, and should be corrected (considering the unit is new and not a re-sale).
This type of inspection is considered for your assistance during your “orientation”. I hated when developers’ sales people started using that term… orientation. It’s like Junior High or something.

If the place is a real dump even after conversion, your attorney will go to bat for you armed with an inspection report or two…this is rare because it should not even reach this point if your Realtors any good :-)

How do you assure all this inspecting will happen and in the correct time frame? That’s my job.

Home Inspection Tips for Consumers

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cubs Chatter

For those of you who have not crossed the chalk lines of a baseball field, "chatter " is all the "hey batter, hey batter" stuff you yell at the other teams' batters. Chatter can also include positive reinforcements to your team mates including among others, "Pick me up" (after you have made a mind boggling, heart breaking error or have struck out with the bases loaded), "can of corn" (for a lazy pop flys), and my personal favorite, "two ducks on the pond" (something you yell to your teammate when he/she is batting with two men/women on base).

So this is my new series, "Cubs Chatter".

So, if the Cubs win 4 in a row tonight, how do we react? Just stay quiet and wear the same socks tomorrow.

This may not be a problem, however, as the Cubs are already down 3-0 in the 3rd inning... with bases loaded and no outs for the Astros.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bike to Work

The Tribune reported on the City's plan to string together 500+ miles of bike paths by 2015. I love this emphasis on cycling... and envy those I see riding to work each morning. Although, it would be tough to justify taking my clients around on the handle bars... maybe a tandem bike?

Check out the site for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation for the latest.

Bike to Work

The Tribune reported on the City's plan to string together 500+ miles of bike paths by 2015. I love this emphasis on cycling... and envy those I see riding to work each morning. Although, it would be tough to justify taking my clients around on the handle bars... maybe a tandem bike?

Check out the site for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation for the latest.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chicago City Festival Guide

This weekend really finds the city engulfed in city festivals... There are some lame ones for sure, but you can pick several themes and really soak it up.

This weekend's picks include the Old Town Art Fair , Andersonvilles Midsommar Fest, and Ribfest in Northcenter

I'll be with clients and open houses this weekend... but ribs sound good on the way home from work.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Architecture, Boats and Wine... Oh My!

Great post on Gapers Block blog featuring a wine tasting cruise down the Chicago River, including an architecture guide. Hurry, only a limited number of cruises.

I don't want to say too much... but this sounds strangley like my next wine tasting event in the works...

Fire Sale

My clients just closed today on a terrific two bedroom (plus huge... I mean huge library/ den), two bath penthouse condo. The place has the most magnificent terrace AND rooftop deck I have seen in Ravenswood… in fact, the unit is the entire top floor of a five unit building. It was a great find and very unique place.

But yesterday, we show up for the final walk through and were treated to a little barbeque. Not the good kind with a few beers and a couple shrimp on the “barby”, but a torched deck railing. It seems the downstairs neighbor’s satellite dish wire was attached to his deck railing and shorted out… causing it to burn his railing off the deck!

Fortunately, this did not affect my client’s master bedroom deck that hangs over the bon-fire below… but it could have big time! It was also determined that, due to owner negligence, there would be no claim to the building insurance for the damage. So, my clients don’t take a hit in that sense.

Let’s think about this. Let’s say we come for the final walk through Thursday night (with a closing scheduled for the next day) and my client’s deck has burnt down?? Whose responsibility is it? Do my clients have to close? Is the damage covered by the common insurance policy for the building and will there be a claim on the insurance? Because remember, the deck is a limited common area. Or, because it was caused by the neighbor, does the neighbor’s homeowners insurance cover it?

Let’s say it was an act of God or Mother Nature…. Do the seller’s have to remedy the situation before the closing?

Let’s just hope your agent and your attorney has their respective "stuff" together.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Transportation and Outdoor Space

Everyone wants the same thing in Chicago... two bedroom, two baths, parking, near the train, outdoor space, lots of light, near the lake, low assesment, storage and for $250,000, maybe $300,000. No problem!

When my clients come back to Earth, we try and figure out a few things that will really make living in the city... well... "living in the city".

My picks out of the above list? If you have a car, then you must have parking and outdoor space. Although, some neighborhood parking is not bad if you're a little west of the city. So, parking is a bit of a push.

If you don't have a car, outdoor space and transportation. If you have a great deck and can take the train or bus to all your destinations... you're city living.

If you are not worried about the outdoor space, and do not need parking... then you can get a much larger place. It's like a puzzle people.

Chicago Blues Fest tonight through the Weekend

Chicago Blues Fest returns to the lake front this weekend in Grant Park, at Columbus and Jackson.

This isone of my favorite city festivals for a couple of reasons... the music is actually good and people actually dance. But if you need the blues all year round, I reccomend
Blues on Halsted. Absolutely my favorite Chicago club to bring out of town guests and get my music fix.

Its a great night: dinner at Sapori on the street side cafe and walk down the street to Blues.

CTA Brown Line Progress

The CTA BrownLine improvement/ capacity expansion project was a really hot issue heading into this year. Of course, the main controversies surrounded erroneus statements ensuring business owners and commuters that there would be no station shut downs. Let us not forget the cost over-runs and threats to pull federal funding for poor planning... Whoops.

So, how's it going? I live near the Kimball stop and take the Brown Line from time to time for Cub games or going downtown for events. I'll also hop on the Diversey stop from my office to head downtown for closings. Because I drive most of the time, I have not noticed much difference in schedules. In fact, due to the Kedzie and Francisco stop closures, the ride is a little faster heading southeast from Kimball.

Has the work interrupted your routine?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Square Footage! But who wants your floor plan?

A great little tip for finding the "value" in a home from Seattle's Rain City Guide, the ultimate in real estate blogs. I just love Ardell's columns!

Sellers, beware of the square footage comparative market analysis theory... it doesn't cut it. Just goes to show ya, it only takes that one buyer that says "this is it!". The one that actually writes the contract.

Ravenswood Manor and Albany Park: Neighborhood Resources

With a few closings coming up this month in the greater Albany Park area, I thought I'd post links that the "new comers" will like.

Some "Chicagoans" feel that you fall off the face of the earth (or fall off Chicago at least) when you hit Western Avenue. Their are tons of resources, parks, transportation outlets, quiet pretty tree lined streets, activities, and city centers out here... no kidding.
Get quotes for approved movers and rental companies, use the free address changer, and read up on moving tips
Great source for local neighborhood activities,_Chicago
Albany Park Historic Overview
Albany Park Community Center and Resource Page
North Park Offers great events open to the public…beautiful campus too.
My alma mater! Tons of music, theatre and lectures for your brainy side. Nice quad as well with a terrific statue
Awesome Lincoln Square Resource Page. Just a nice walk from the manner and 5 minute drive from Albany Park

Cheap Housing?

Real estate continues to be front page news... was it always like this??? The Chicago Tribune today ran and interesting story about "America's biggest housing bargains". Right in Chicago's backyard... who would have thought.

Anyway, I can't figure out the angle of this story... maybe the residents of the Danville area will see a spike in their home values! I mean, Tribune Co., whenever you want to run a front page story with pictures about my condo... be my guest!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rogers Park: Links to your neighborhood

I've worked with several clients recently that have purchased in the Rogers Park area.
If your interested in moving to Rogers Park (or I already sold you a home there!), take a look at the following links. I've hand picked them and will add to the list from time to time as cool things come up. Let me know if you find a great new link and I'll post it!

Moving resources:

Get quotes for approved movers and rental companies, use the free address changer, and read up on moving tips

*Wikipedia weighs in on the history, the present and the future of Rogers Park. Great links at this site as well!

* is the altimate source for social life in your hood! Find arts festivals, 24th Police District CAPS meetings, your alderman, bars, restaurants and entertainment at this comprehensive neighborhood site.

*Loyola University anchors East Rogers Park at the lake. This historic private university is a source for continuing education. Loyola provides the opportunity to attend lectures, seminars, theatre productions, and concerts...all on a lake front setting!

*Chicago Public Library Branch

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Condo Board Advice: Assessments and Board Turnover

As a condo board president of a recently converted building, I have a little bit to offer on the subject of running a condo association. I often run into friends and associates who were clueless about the turn-over procedure from the developer of their building, be it new construction or conversion, and paid a price. Equally so, the majority of my clients purchasing re-sale condo units need condo association education... even when it's their second purchase.

I always advise my clients in small and moderate sized buildings to get involved in their condo association. It's the number one way to protect your investment and improve the quality of condo life.

For the past year I've read attorney Mark Pearlstein's question and answer column on condo associations. Read this week about special assessments vs regular condo fee increases

Mortgage: "Reform bill could make FHA Loans more desirable"

Hey first time buyers!!
Great heads up from Kenneth R. Harvey, a terrific real estate columnist, in today's Real Estate section of the Chicago Tribune concerning FHA loan reform. It looks like The Congress can get one right once in a while. And ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS work with a couple reputable lenders, brokers, banks when deciding on the right mortgage product for your budget.

Pretty Penny for Boston Condo

Hanging out in Boston last week is a real "getty up" for a history buff like me (I totally paid a fortune for a copy of "1776" by David McCullough at Logan International Airport because I was so psyched leaving Boston... guess who won the War of Independence).

Hanging out (from top); Marblehead, Boston Common, Harvard Square and firing cannons on the USS Cassius.

But I spent most of the time looking and thinking about real estate, go figure. Check out the the most expensive condo in downtown Boston priced at just under $14,000,000M. This all you got Bean Town?!

Neighborhood Videos

I came across this pretty cool website featuring short films about neighborhoods. It's called turnhere and has a Chicago link.

See if your neighborhood is featured or learn about a new one.

Friday, June 02, 2006

BLOG Update

Finally, a new post below! I've been out of town and managed to keep up on clients... but not the blog. But this is a new thing for me and I get more into this a little bit at a time.

The blog resource will keep improving with more pictures from the field, AudioBlogs, increased links, and market commentary. It will always have a random feel, but I hope to have a resource for anything you are looking for in Chicago.

Keep checking in and happy hunting!

Mortgage Education

I'm a total nut about advising my clients to go see a good mortgage professional before looking at properties. Knowing your budget, product options and strategy for financing your home is huge! Plus, when the right place comes along, you will be ready to make a stronger offer that will ice the competition.

The Mortgage Professor offers excellent tutorials for consumers trying to understand the scariest thing on the planet... deciding on a mortage product.

I suggest you study up with the Professor after your lending professional presents several options to you.