Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sun Times Round-up for 2007 Real Estate

Happy New Year!

Nice little column from the Sun Times to get you thinking about the year to come in Chicago real estate. Thanks to Peter Olson for catching the best stories that I miss.

Oh and the celebration tonight? Sitting on the couch this year with the wife... her pregnant with the flu :-(

Friday, December 29, 2006

Albany Park weighs in on Hussein hanging

Albany Park, here at Lawrence and Kedzie, doesn't make the news too often... usually a building collapses or a dictator is hanged... normal stuff. But the local news was all a flutter, staking out the Iraqi restaurant Mataam Al-Mataam for some immediate local reaction.

I'm glad to say that the patrons of this Middle Eastern haunt for the undergound foodie and native Iraqi were as classy as it gets. CBS aired a little celebration in Dearborne, Michigan, but Iraqi citizens of Chicago gave some perspective on the hanging for the news audience instead.

Amazing... just down the street you can hang with these guys and get a history lesson for one of the hottest spots in international debate and turmoil. Kudos to CBS for seeking out some intelligent commentary on a subject... I expected the local news channels to screw this one up by seeking out a nutcase for a sound bite.

Photo Karbon69

Clark Street development booming in Uptown

Great post today by Barry Pearce of Yo Chicago pointing out the development along North Clark Street in Uptown. The stretch of North Clark from Montrose to Lawrence is shaping up... with rather large new construction condo developments with more pedestrian friendly retail and atmosphere. Let's call it Wrigleyville North!

Several developments already exist and units are available for immediate closings. Others are just starting, while others still- empty lots waiting to rise up (with a few pre-sales maybe...).

I ride this stretch quite a bit and have watched the mini boom of new construction. The post discusses quality retail should boom here as well, joining the wholesalers famous for the area. I think the area could use a mainstream bar and restaurant to help draw attention to the existing spots. It will be interesting to see how the "vanilla box" storefront here draw retailers. The best scenario would be a mini Roscoe Village effect.

In that hood, rather good sized new construction projects sprang up just west of North Seely to North Western Ave., and retail moved in. Roscoe Village retained some existing buildings and existing retail and restaurants, and new retailers moved in with the increased density. I see this possibly happening on the Clark stretch in Uptown, however, you may have a situation of empty retail storefronts in new and existing buildings that we see on North Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Irving Park Rd. The hot spot is north of this area and many businesses have not cut it in this "slow" zone.

For instance, you have the dense area of Wrigleyville bars, shops and restaurants. So, is there demand for a mini hot spot from Montrose to Lawrence? I think there is an opportunity to put in more bohemian shops/restaurants to match the more chill area west of Ashland.

Here's a good comment posted concerning the story. This reader tagged "Eagle" describes the area in the positive light that I think it deserves:

Eagle Said:
"In 2004 I trod the well-worn path from Detroit to Chicago, and I rented near Ashland and Diversey for about a year. When looking to buy in late 2005, I must have viewed 50 condos in Lakeview and Bucktown/Wicker Park. Because the area bounded by Clark, Ravenswood Ave, Montrose, and Irving Park is technically part of Lakeview Township (for property tax purposes), my online searches for “Lakeview Condo" also picked up the few condos along Hermitage and Paulina.

Even though the area was only two miles north of where I was renting, I had never visited it. Right or wrong, for many who first venture into Chicago, exploration often stops north of Irving Park.

In the end I bought in the East Ravenswood area (just east of the Montrose Brown Line stop), and I really love living there. The deep lots (~165 x 30) are truly awesome for Chicago and give the feeling of open space. Most of the homes are from the late 1800’s / early 1900’s, and almost all of them have been rehabbed. When open, the Montrose L stop is very convenient to the Loop (but bring a magazine or book – the trip is about 25 minutes). For the next year I’ll be walking down Hermitage to get to the Irving Park stop, but it is a pleasant walk. Other benefits of Ravenswood include real estate prices that are 15-20% less than places just south of Irving Park. Anyone who thinks that Ravenswood is “sketchy" either a) simply hasn’t walked the area in a long time or b) prefers to live in a homogenous bubble.

Well-constructed houses (older ones) now cost at least $700,000, but there are some pretty large condos that couples can still buy at a reasonable price. And if kids eventually enter the picture, Ravenswood’s parks and tranquility make the suburbs an option, not a necessity. The Chicago public schools will only continue to improve, and the Catholic schools are a bargain at approximately $4k per year per kid. If we consider that most families have two cars in the suburbs, their payments, insurance, and gasoline for two cars likely total $900 to $1000 per month. Catholic school for two kids at $670 total per month doesn’t sound so bad, especially if the family has one 2001 model vehicle in the garage that doesn’t have car payments.

I believe most would agree that the area is safe. Sure, graffiti pops up with relative frequency (last week someone tagged my sidewalk – my sidewalk!, but the city power-washed it within three days), and car break-ins are typical for a city neighborhood. But that’s going to happen in the city. In my mind, the two key safety factors to consider are robbery rates (“give me your wallet") and open drug dealing on the streets. On these measures, East Ravenswood is fine.

I’m glad to see Clark developing between Wilson and Lawrence. After the Brown Line stop opens at Montrose, I expect retail and condo development to take off on Montrose between Clark and Damen. It’s a nice enough strip right now, if a little dowdy. It would be great to have a few more bars within walking distance. There is big opportunity for retailers and developers eying Montrose. It has a convenient L stop and is smack in between Lincoln Square, Clark/Wilson, Wrigleyville, and the Southport Corridor. People who invest near Clark/Wilson and the Montrose Brown Line stop should see appreciation at rates as high or higher than most other areas on the North Side. Ravenswood will probably never be an “it" area, but it will only keep getting better.

Well put.

My favorite Christmas present...

As a season ticket holder for my dear Chicago Cubs, not a year goes by that I don't contemplate buying an authentic Cubs jersey. I'm somewhat practical when it comes to material purchases for myself (but less so when buying the drinks for friends!), so, this was the seasonal anguish I put myself through. I couldn't bring myself to walk in the Sports Corner on Addison and plunk down the BIG chunk-o-change on this luxury for myself.

I had already started the talk this year when the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to play outfield and hired Lou Pinella to manage the team. "If I get that jersey this year, who would it be?" Maybe Derek Lee or Michael Barrett? No, too new. I'm a bit old school, at least throwing back to my days growing up with the Cubs. Maybe Grace, maybe Ryno. That sounds more like it.

And then Christmas day it happened. My wife and mom-and- law teamed up and really surprised me.

Any nice little gifts that kinda got ya? I really didn't see this coming.

Oh yeah, and it's a Ryne Sandberg. Can't go wrong with Number 23 in Chicago. And it fits perfect.

The condo turnover meeting

I frequently post on condo association issues... I feel it will at least get my readers and clients going in the right direction. With a recent rush of new clients out in the field looking for that terrific box to put their new couch they haven't bought yet, the last thing most clients consider is the association. I think the questions start flying (the freak out) when they walk into a place and have that "oh yeah" feeling.

It goes like this; "My 42 inch flat screen will look so freakin' awesome on that wall. What happens when the developer turns the building over?"

A quick guide. I know, I know... I just posted on this subject. Get use to it. Anyway, here's how I answered that question this evening.

My clients are very serious and on the hunt. We've mostly looked at re-sale condos... in fact that's all we saw the first time out. So, earlier this evening I had a couple new conversion buildings lined up. They were incomplete, so neither had a closed unit as of yet.

My clients liked one on the buildings and unit layouts. As we left the top floor they may consider, we entered the model (a higher end, bigger unit) to check out the finishes. From the unfinished units to the model it looked like good work... How do I know? My brokerage, inspectors and fellow agents actually taught me how to know.

Becoming more impressed with the building, the husband turned and asked, "What happends when the developer turns over the building?" Yes, just like above! Anyway, the listing agent kind of paused, and the wife and husband looked at me... So, maybe a little embarassing right? I haven't had that conversation yet. Do I even know? Of course! But geez, second time out... and he just put it out there... I haven't even had a chance to buy them a glass of wine yet.

Calmly, I suggested we can discuss that as we head to the next showing... great question. But I continued:

1. The developer is required to have a turn over meeting when 75% of the building units are sold (there is also various stipulations for a three year time period after declaration of the condiminium or after the first unit is sold etc...)

2. After the first sold unit and conveyance, the developer must pay assessments for each unsold unit and collect assessments from each owner that closed on a unit. Accounting of the collection and expenditures of the assessment monies must be provided. This must be done until the turnover meeting.

3. At turnover, 3 to 5 people will run for the board of the condo Association (an announcement will be made before the turnover meeting and will request volunteers to run for the board). These positions are usually filled by volunteers. A larger building may actually require you to "run a campaign" for election. The 5 elected members than choose who will be President, Secretary, Treasurer and the two voting members.

4. You have created a non-for-profit association with a board of directors and are now responsible for running the building! I outline some of the first and important things to do when this occurs my last post on the subject. Briefly;

A. Decide if you need a management company or will be self managed.

B. Get a structual engineering report of the building to make sure the developer has met his/her obligations. This can be exspensive, but the best investment ever made.

C. Assemble a common area punch-list and present to the developer with a deadline for completion.

D. Make sure the developer is paying the assessment for the unsold units... again, a lot of this will be done by the management company. But, the ultimate responsibility is with the Board... what if the management company is loafing on their responsibilities? What if they are not proactive and advocate on your behalf?

E. Set the assessment at an adequate amount to fund the building.

Knowing what to ask, what to do, and how to follow up is key. But again, if you have a professional on your side for your condo purchase, you will save yourself some pain and hours of research. Make sure they know this stuff.

Like I said in my last post... just invite me to your turnover meeting! I'll make sure you ask the right questions. After that, it's up to you.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Chicago and Regional Economic News

Quite a few important and positives reports are summarized in the Chicago Tribune story below. I've reprinted an excerpt below

Fiscal readings exceed forecasts: Economy showing unexpected strength
By James P. Miller, Tribune staff reporterPublished December 28, 2006, 7:36 PM CST

A key measure of Chicago-area manufacturing activity showed an unexpected rebound in December, a trade group reported Thursday, in a surprisingly solid performance that may augur improved results for the nation's flagging industrial sector. In fact, the stronger-than-anticipated regional reading was just one of three economic reports that topped expectations Thursday. Consumer confidence showed a surprising surge, strengthening in December to its highest level since April. And existing-home sales for November were modestly better than expected, suggesting to some observers that the hard-hit housing sector might be approaching a bottom after weakening through most of the year.

Taken together, the reports hint that the nation's economy, while clearly downshifting in response to higher interest rates, is holding up better than some forecasters have been expecting. Thursday's reports "have contributed positively to the economic outlook as we close out 2006," said Action Economics economist Mike Englund, noting the latest data "put topspin on the outlooks for factories, housing, the consumer and the labor market. "Many economists had been expecting the Chicago purchasing managers index, which has weakened considerably in recent months, to be flat or even drop slightly from November's disappointing 49.9 reading.
Instead, the industrial barometer rose to 52.4. That move is significant. Under the "diffusion index" format used by the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago, a level above 50 indicates the sector is expanding, while a below-50 reading indicates that the manufacturing sector is contracting.

The index is based on a survey of purchasing managers in northern Illinois and northwest Indiana, one of the nation's major industrial centers. The survey looks at a number of factors such as manufacturers' spending, orders and hiring.

Chicago mortgage lending law continues to draw ire

Yo Chicago continues their coverage of a controvesial proposal to require credit counseling for those living in certain Illinois area codes. I don't agree with the legislation that singles out certain area codes. I think if madatory credit counseling is a mandate of the state, it should cover all state citizens. You'll see my reasoning... I weigh in on the comments section. This is important in many ways. But in one way, it may remind us all to check in with experts and plan before making huge decisions.

Chicago Market Predictions for 2007

Hope we are all enjoying a great holiday season. I'm back in the loop... at least writing again... barely legible, but writing.

Good story written by Mary "Zillow" Umberger titled "A market in need of a push: Home buyers and sellers must break stalemate for sector to move beyond post-boom doldrums", in the Chicago Tribune Business section today. If the link goes dead, Google the story. Balanced, but as usual, a little sarcastic bent to the negative.

However, the premise is pretty good and the theory posited has been discussed for the better part of the second half of 2006. Sellers are hanging on to "that last comparable condo/home sold for this much" attitude and buyers on the other hand are looking for the deal of the century. We have short memories... and if you bought almost anything in many of Chicago's neighborhoods in the last 10 years prices appreciated... a lot. So, we remember the "a lot" part. Reason being, Chicago is 100 times better to live in than 10-20 years ago.

But, we hit the "top" for some condos and single family homes and things are balancing. There are winners and losers and this will remain the case. The predictions are all over the board for 2007... some suggesting modest price increases overall and increased sales transactions. Others think it will take another year to see the shake out and correction.

My take is, well, on a case to case basis. Depending on the home, neighborhood, list price, equity of the seller... my buyer clients and I will try to get the best deal. My seller clients will have to look seriously at what I present to them, as far as market competition, and decide if they want to start below the comps or price with them and hang on and see.

For example, I have a listing now that is approaching 90 days. There are not comparables priced lower in the immediate neighborhood, or, in neighborhoods that are comparable in quality. We went on in the late fall, so... the slowest time in the market. Our price and location has attracted a heavy amount of showings... a couple second showings. We are going to hold tight because, even if it takes 6 months, we are confident the buyers will see there are not a bevy of cheaper alternatives for the location.

It's a great neighborhood and condo, and if we went to a "certain" price, the place would fly out the door... and the people who have seen it, have not exactly ran out to buy other places. They'll be back or someone else will snatch it up because leases come up in the spring! So it's worth holding there. The buyers are finally gonna get it... there just isn't a lot of supply in certain great areas to live. If you want to be there, it's costs a certain amount.

Another example is a 6 unit building in the same general neighborhood. The new conversion building priced under the current market for its comparable product and sold out in 30 days! So, the buyers I took there and passed because they didn't believe the numbers I presented them are regretting it. Other units for sale, and there is not a lot, have stayed at the "comp line" and my buyers wait.

But this will play over and over in each neighborhood, on each street, for each unit. Rogers Park for example has a ton of two bedroom, one bathroom condos on the market... most with no parking, limited outdoor space etc... Those who bought similar units two years ago will be lucky to break even due to the competition. This is not the case in Lakeview where very tiny shifts in the last comparable price can sell a unit quickly.

From my personal take on the market, and I've written on this blog, Yo Chicago and other sites, that indeed I see a pick up in serious buyers. And I'm doing all I can do to keep up with their demand and put the best product in front of them, negotiate the best deal, and fit them into a place and neighborhood they will enjoy. Just ask them.

By the way... this story, New home sales rise more than forcast by Bob Willis of Bloomberg News, also ran in the Tribune online with the November numbers. Better than assumed in Umberger's story.

The moral... buy and sell for the right reasons. To move up to the next place for your needs, to plant roots, to improve your own home, to live with other owners that derive social benefits of being in this terrific "club"... and buy a place you can afford so you may build equity, or, make the sacrifices involved in buying a little above your means. But don't buy because you want to make 50K on a two bedroom, one bath condo in a couple years (although, this still happends if you rehab a place to that extent!). If you're investing, that's another can of worms we can open.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Closed" for the Holidays

Wishing you good closings and a Merry Christmas!
And to all... a Cubs World Series!

Quality in Bowmanville Chicago

In our continuing effort to bring you first hand accounts of Chicago's neighborhoods, I will introduce you to the Bowmanville neighborhood located in the Lincoln Square area.

A long-time, but little known by name "sub-neighborhood" of Lincoln Square, Bowmanville has emerged on as a destination for high qualtitly living spaces and surprising proximity to amenities.

Travel north down Damen Avenue just past West Foster to the heart of a Bowmanville. The historic boundaries include the Rosehill burial grounds to the the North, West Foster Avenue to the South, West Ravenswood to the East and North Western Avenue to the West. This central location provides a short walk to Andersonville, Ravenswood and Lincoln Square shops and restaurants without the premium prices asked in these neighborhoods. The Ravenswood Metra Station located nearby zooms you downtown or the burbs ... in minutes! The Damen Avenue "L" stop is close by for your everyday commuter needs around the entire north side and Chicago's Loop.

For the present Chicago dweller, the neighborhood as it is "now" matters. But has this to add on the history of Bowmanville:

"Bowmanville was established in 1850 by Jesse Bowman. Although his claim to the land was later found to be illegal, it did not prevent the area from becoming a bustling settlement. The area became a stopping point for farmers delivering there goods to markets in Chicago. Numerous saloons and taverns sprang up, among them an establishment owned by Hiram Roe, locate on Roe's Hill. The name of the area was later misspelled Row's Hill and Rose Hill, which became the name of the train depot in the community. The name eventually became Rosehill, as it stands now in the name of the burial ground- Rosehill Cemetary."

Of course today, high quality new construction homes offer size and luxury surrounded by tree lined streets- while built to suit the historic feel of the neighborhood. Three, six and eight flat buildings provide hip, totally rehabbed condos in two and three bedroom layouts. The coverted buildings retain famous Chicago architectural details. No high-rise buildings here!

For the professional looking for nightlife at hot restaurants and bars such as Rioja, Spaca Napoli, The Hop Leaf and the classic Fireside Grill, to the the established or growing family looking to be among city life with a bit of a mature spin, Bowmanville warrants a look. I'll see you at Pauline's for brunch, or maybe on the outdoor patio at Joie de Vine...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Funding your Condo Association

I wrote the other day about this piece posted by Peter at Closing Real Estate in Chicago. He gives quick blog posts that send you in the right direction and posits questions to get you thinking.

This is a conversation I'll have with you... that's you the client. Yes, when I start in about condo associations I've seen you're eyes glaze over and even seen you nod off in the car with me. But, I'll still make sure you have the skinny, like it or not.

Peter wrote:
Here's a pretty good piece from the Sun-Times regarding the risks associated with buying into a condo conversion. It's actually a decent piece, I usually think their real estate industry coverage is lacking. My $.02, the first WORST type of real estate to buy is an old property condo conversion. The second WORST type of real estate to buy is a brand new development. That's where 90% of the problems with underfunded associations lie. Your clients might love all the new appliances or whatever, but they're going to pay for them at closing and AFTER closing for years to come (and I don't just mean their monthly mortgage payment).

Here's the little conversation that ensued:

The Tribune also ran a story last weekend focused on condo associations/developer turnover. Much, much more comprehensive and offers a couple resources for associations and board members to check out. Meant to post on it... but the week from hell.

Anyway, I'm a board president for our 12 unit building. It was a conversion of an existing building 60-70 yrs old and we (my wife and I) were the first to buy in. We definately had to check things out with an inspector... and that inspector needs to be good or you're screwed. As an agent, I'm no inspector but can spot most of the tell-tale signs of a dog for my clients on most properties. You make the "worst properties to buy" statement... are the conversions of old buildings and new developments.

Did you mean if things go wrong, these are the worst properties to buy? These developments can have issues, but most are easy to spot for a trained eye (unless purchasing totally pre-construction). This is no way argumentative, but which properties should the consumer buy?

My opinion on the "worst properties" is really based on the fact that you can't see the health of the association pursuant to the 22.1 disclosure required by the IL Condo Property Act. This only applies to "resale" of condo by a private seller. When I work with a Buyer in the conversion/new developer categories I certainly look through the various property reports ect. required by the city/village but I think there's more potential for an under-funded association than what you can get under the 22.1 disclosures.

I agree at the potential for an underfunded association starts at turn-over. If fact, I just viewed an east Lakeview property that was recently converted and turned-over earlier this year. The assessment was only $135 on the listing sheet for this 24+ unit building. I pointed out to my client that this was low and should be raised to at least $175 or so. The showing agent then, to his credit, told us that the board just voted to raise the assessment to $210 (well, for this unit it would be $210 anyway). My client asked why such a large increase and I flatly told him they are doing the right thing. This should provide an adequate operational budget and reserve.

I also added to my client, that, from now on the Board may authorize up to a 20% increase in any year. Anything over that would take a vote by the owners. Consult the condo by-laws for this very important rule.

What Peter is talking about is, an established building will have a financial history- and it's easier to tell if its funded properly or not due to legal disclosure requirements of the seller concerning special assessments, budgets etc...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cage Match!


The Donald vs Rosie.

Are we obligated as Realtors to take The Donald?

Once again... Happy Holidays

This young lady lost out on a property because she didn't listen to her Realtor...

Don't let this happen to you!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Condo associations on my mind

Some wax poetic about women. I get together with friends and muse about condo associations.

I'm a condo board president. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", I always say. So, as I lead our board and owners into increased potential for re-sale value because "it's a well run building", I like to pass on stories and experiences that may one day save you a special. And if you don't know what I mean, you will.

My pal Ben pointed out a Chicago Tribune story from last weekend by Janice Rosenberg... meant to post it Monday too, but you know. The week from hell. I can't find a link to it, but promise I will, somehow. Anyway, the story focuses on the turn-over of the condo building responsibility to the owners from the paternal developer. It is now unto the newly formed not-for-profit, [your building name here] condo board association to take the keys to the Cadillac (or if you're a Realtor in this city-the uniform BMW X5 for the ladies -sorry guys who bought one, but this is a chick car- and the any Mercedes for the guys... I drive a Mazda 6 with clients and a Ford Explorer when hunting projects, whatever that tells ya...).

Turn-over means no more whining to the developer (well, after the warranty period is over). You're on your own now Mr Big Pants. Act like an adult. The responsibilty of running a multi-unit building is like a good swift kick in the pants from "Red" Foreman.

A similar cautious tome in the Sun Times was also posted by Peter at Closing Real Estate in Chicago. I like the information Peter provides but, as Ben also read, he had an opinion concerning buying into a new conversion/new development. I've asked for an elaboration and hope to read it.

So, with those two informative newspaper stories in your brain (except for the Tribune story that I can't seem to find a link too, but really exists) let me briefly provide a few of the basics:

1. If you're my client, bring me to your condo board meeting when the time comes. This is puberty for new associations and you need good advice... much like that loved counselor from Junior High gave you. Wait, that dude/chick had their own problems. I'm not perfect, but I'm more perfect than you on this subject and will help get you started.

If you're not my client, talk to your Realtor. Oh, what's that? They didn't even mention forming the new board....

2. Decide if you want a professional mangement company or if you will be self-managed. Many times this is determined by the size of the building. On average, buildings over 16 units usually use a management company. Some as small as 12 units, but the lower the number of units, the more cost prohibitive it gets to have a professional management company.

If you go professionally managed, you'll want a good company. The developer may have retained a management company at turnover for you, but you should also interview a couple others to compete. It's too late, and I'm too tired to get into the differences, contracts, services etc... of different companies, but like any service, you should pick the one that works best for you.

The management company should work with you to create a budget that funds the basic cost and upkeep of the building. Planting, landscaping capital improvements etc... will be up to the Board in addition to regular services... just ask me later, again I'm tired now.

If you go self-managed, you will have to gather your list of liabilities to pay each month, figure out who takes care of what (including outsourcing tasks), create a maintenance schedule and budget, keep emergency contractors and service people on retention etc... the Tribune story above has a couple great resources that will advise you on this plan. You'll have to arrange garbage pick-up, pay the water, electric and gas bills, collect assessments, open a bank account, file a tax return and project your potential costs down the road.

By funding the reserve properly and going self-managed, you may have your best route financially. But you must stay on top of it! Pray for that awesome, crazy person who really, really wants to take care of the building and make 'em president... then watch 'em! Help 'em!

3. Make sure common area repair issues are the first thing you address at turn over-over from the developer. Again, I defer here to the Tribune story that I can't seem to find a link for. Maybe in the morning I'll defer to me... oh well.

No one told me these things when buying a new conversion/new construction... had to learn it on my own. Your welcome.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I won't be fooled (meme'd) again

Pat Kitano, with his very kind words (although, I've been blogging for a year now!), has put the meme to me once again.

So, Pat, here's a quick 5 more things you may not know about me...

1. Didn't fly until I was 21 years old... now, I fly often but clutch the seat during turbulence
2. I've lived in Illinois (Chicago mostly) my entire life, never spending more than two weeks out of the state (although, traveling often). I do plan on spending extended time somewhere else, sometime before I'm toast.
3. My birth name is Welz and I'm German/Polish. Rojas is my Cuban step-family name... and I legally changed my name just before getting married (almost 6 years ago). My wife and I had to pick a sur-name and "Rojas" has been like a nickname from my friends my entire life.. they never use my first name!
4. I can't see a damn thing without my contact lenses
5. My first car was a '79 Pontiac Grand Prix Coupe The doors would jam, so I broke into it over a half dozen times.

Pat... that terrific plug just got you a permanent link!

Now, I tag our buddy Christine to "out" her into the real estate world.

Second baths... O-VER RA-TED! Clap clap...clap clap clap

Just a quick question... would you drop the second bath for the right location? Okay, I know this is tough for many markets to conceive... so this is more for the city people with good condo markets and lots of choices.

In Chicago, we have the BIG requests... Two bed, two bath, parking, good outdoor space (deck, balcony, patio), in unit washer/dryer, near transportation (the "L" train preferably).
Which one would go first on this list? As it gets tougher to get into choice neigbhborhoods in the city, I suggest, if you can't fit into a certain price point with everything you want... drop the second bath. Of course, you hope to get a double vanity if you only have one bath... but, this is not always the case.

For instance in many condos, the second or half bath doesn't even make sense... should have been a closet! Plus, you do not plan on raising a family there and rarely have more than two people in the home at most times.

So, are second baths over-rated compared to the other must-haves?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Prices and quality up west of Western Avenue, north of Irving Park Road

Recently, I have had several clients looking for two bed, two bathroom units with parking, outdoor space, storage and a large master bedroom. Oh, and over 1200 sq/ft. Oh, and near the "L"! Duh, right. In unit washer and dryer... a must! Sounds like a lot of the young professional buyers that come to Chicago for careers in hordes. My wife, new baby on the way, and I, thank you- young professional hordes.

In any event, the magic number for many of these clients is $400,000. That is, they want to stay under it "we can go over, but it would be great to stay under...". Under it shall be. However, most of these buyers currently live east of North Ashland Avenue, let alone east of North Western Avenue. They want to stay in Lakeview if possible. What does $400,000 get you in a condo in the hood they know?

If you want a small building, updated, new construction or new conversion unit... not much. A typical updated first or middle floor unit in a 3 to 8 flat between Diversey and Irving north to south and the Lakefront to Ashland matching the criteria above will run you $400,000 minimum. And these places will have some kind of issue... I guarantee it. Small bedrooms and baths is usually the largest objection to these bottom priced units.

When these buyers, the ones that do not wish to compromise on the actual unit features and size, hit the Great Wall of Ashland, I take them to a land they have never known... (well first west of Ashland, but when that doesn't work)... the Land of Lincoln Square west of Western. Yes, it's still in Chicago.

In fact, it's kick ass Chicago. There is a new breed of high quality conversion unit, 1500 sq/ft to 1800 sq/ft, popping up north of Irving and West of Western in the old 3 to 6 flats. As you continue northwest in this direction following the Brown Line, several three and four flat conversion buildings have come on the market, offering a better class of housing option to go along with the ten year "nuts-o" growth of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood Manor and even Albany Park (especially the new construction , albeit larger buildings, headed west down Lawrence Avenue).

But back to the subject at hand... I am quick to expand the buyers target area when I hear their desires, if only for their education, by taking them to this UN-hidden gem of an area. Many buyers are taking to it, really enjoying the value and space.

So... my favorite pick for the $400,000 club that wants it all... well, you just read about it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What's in a meme?

In this ever evolutionary world of blogging, I have been presented with a term coined with social evolutions in mind. Meme. Blogging amongst real estate professionals is somewhat a meme (rymes with theme). Well, "blog" may be a meme and "google" is... a phrase, concept or song that can be trasmitted, passed on... but become more than the term or song initially was intended to the generations to follow. Like legs... they didn't start out that way, people.

For instance, there was search engines, searching the web, and search engine optimization before google. But google became the search... the optimization... the liguistic phrase that is deeper than the act of google-ing. It means much and will for a long time as it evolves (or declines to invisibility in an eventual supernova). It evolves and can evole positive to the species or detrimental to the conception.

So, I was tagged by my Sensei Geno to pass the meme of 5 things most people don't know about me...ya know what I mean?

1. Growing up, both my parents passed by the time I was eleven... mom got the job done with me early, so I turned out okay (jury is still out). It sounds sad, but it's really not meant to be. However, most people don't know this fact.

2. I started a three piece punk band after high school, evolved into a 7 piece ska band named The Executives, played drums and sang. We toured the midwest and even hit Toronto and NYC. Quit the band I started 6 years later and never played in a band again. I quickly learned it was a lot harder to get chicks when you're not in a band.

3. Although very independent (and preceived as confident?) in my day to day, I value loyal relationships with friends to a fault. None exist from my youth which was troubling, but I have enjoyed more of them lately while stabalizing a bit over the past several years in marriage and career. When I help people at the office (and when I helped fellow students at the university for that matter), it's an effort towards forging loyal, lasting relationships... which are very enjoyable to me.

4. Numbers...I proposed to my wife after only knowing her for 3 months. We were married in 14 months; I 26, she 23. We moved 4 times in our first 5 years of marriage. Jill's 6 months pregnant (okay, everyone knows this) and it's my 1st child.

5. I have a healthy fear of snow skiing, scuba diving, heights and failure. These traits may have influenced my existence as a land-loving, city boy, Realtor.

This was off the top off my head and the tip of my tongue… only to tag and pass on the meme to the next unfortunate ones:

Rebecca, Ben, Jeff, Dewita, and John.. what 5 things don't we know about you?

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Big Spring in Chicago Real Estate Market

Sellers take note. Home buyers in Chicago are out now. My brokerage has seen an up-tick. Me personally? Clients are coming from everywhere and want to be in a place by early spring... which means they'll be writing offers in January and February. Will your home be ready? The Chicagoist (read my comments at the story) weighs in on the NAR predictions for a big 2007.

Two months ago it was crickets out there... nothin'. But I kept plugging and now it's like a switch was flicked and everyone is banging my door down for showings and consultation. It is absolutely more active than last season at this time.

From the Tribune story:

Fixed mortgage rates have been falling for most of the last four months. The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed loan was 6.11 percent last week, the lowest since January, according to Freddie Mac.

"Buyers, especially first-time buyers, with the combined benefits of seller flexibility and an unexpected drop in mortgage interest rates, have a window of opportunity," said David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors group. "These conditions will persist in many areas until early spring, when inventory supplies are likely to become more balanced."

The one-to-two year fence sitters are back in. Leases are up in March, April May. Asking prices for re-sales are becoming reasonable once again right out of the gate. Interest rates are low and stable. And as far as Chicago is concerned, the demographic for young, educated professionals keeps growing and will be for years to come. This demographic, combined with our immigrant population, will continue to drive ownership.

Big spring in Chicago indeed.

Real estate purchase offer contracts in Chicago

The Chicago Tribune ran a story concerning a preceived uptick in cancelled home purchase contracts. One of the most confusing issues, and the major obstacle for home buyers to become "mentally" ready to offer on a home, is the subject of earnest money and the contract itself.

While most buyers today are concerned about getting a deal, they are skittish about writing purchase offers. How do you get a "deal" without writing an offer... you don't. Purchasers are afraid of losing their earnest money or that they are over-paying. As the story explains, a purchase offer has several contingencies before you buy a home. If you know how to apply these contingencies, addendums, amendments and earnest money appropriately to an offer for purchase, you may try to get that deal without obligating yourself to any financial committment should you not get your numbers.

Today, I'll show property to a new client. When I met her, she explained they lost out on a place already because they did not know they could offer and put up initial earnest money without actually "buying" the home right there. In her words, they "did not have their ducks in a row".

My philosophy in this market is; if we see a great place that seems a little overpriced or out of your range, let's put together a professional offer and take a swing. While negotiating that, you'll still be out looking at other property. Presented and negotiated properly, I may get the contract terms you're happy with without even turning over the initial earnest money check! Your attorney and I will explain each step and the committment involved so you may have the best negotiating position.

But the key is, no deal unless we write a purchase offer. Become a gun-slinger and no regrets.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chicago Open Houses

With many clients out this past week and this weekend, I'll have to be short here:

*4445 N Paulina is open both Saturday and Sunday from 1PM to 4PM (12/9/06 and 12/10/06)

Top floor unit, high ceilings, two bed, two bath, parking, balcony, storage, roof rights... great block near the Brown Line. $315,000, lowest priced two bed two bath with parking in the area... and not vintage! Kitchen with granite, maple cabinets and eat in area... huge living room and dining room.

*1141 Patterson is open Sunday 12PM to 5PM. I will be there Sunday from 3PM to 5PM. 1141 Patterson is located just north of Addison and Racine.

Two and three bedroom new construction units. Simplex and duplex penthouses. Garage parking, roof top decks, terraces, top finishes... 4 left.

See you there or call/email for a showing anytime.

Chicago Open Houses

With many clients out this past week and this weekend, I'll have to be short here:

*4445 N Paulina is open both Saturday and Sunday from 1PM to 4PM (12/9/06 and 12/10/06)

Top floor unit, high ceilings, two bed, two bath, parking, balcony, storage, roof rights... great block near the Brown Line. $315,000, lowest priced two bed two bath with parking in the area... and not vintage! Kitchen with granite, maple cabinets and eat in area... huge living room and dining room.

*1141 Patterson is open Sunday 12PM to 5PM. I will be there Sunday from 3PM to 5PM. 1141 Patterson is located just north of Addison and Racine.

Two and three bedroom new construction units. Simplex and duplex penthouses. Garage parking, roof top decks, terraces, top finishes... 4 left.

See you there or call/email for a showing anytime.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Real Estate Technology in Chicago

This question is slanted to us in the know...considering if you're reading this you are probably on the "good" side of technology. However, Robbie at Seattle's Rain City Guide points out that:

Survey Says...?!

Many Realtors discuss the need for technology, but invest little in it. I suspect, from my experience, many agents don't understand business investment in general and if they do pick up some "toy", they have little drive to learn how to use if efficiently.

This is a HUGE topic and concern at Rubloff. We go nuts over agents lack of understanding and commitment to becoming today's Realtor. Their lack of investment in their business is astounding.

Interesting, this is connected to the low barrier to become a real estate agent. We believe you can learn how to be a killer Realtor if you want it, but we can't teach that "want!" I think the low barrier allows those types that are destined to fail to get in in the first place.

But I digress;

Robbie's post linked above above (and my initial rant in the comments to it) is a reminder that NOW is the time to business plan for 2007... and part of that is figuring out how much to invest in technology; and how will we use that technology to increase leads, conversions and closings.

As an agent with less than two years experience and totally green to sales, I had to be calculating in my investments. Even with no money coming in... I knew I had to spend money on a few certain necesities as encouraged by my broker. My initial investments were:

-Upgraded cell phone
-Smart Phone w/ email (now a Blackberry used as my phone and PDA combo... leads come straight to me and I respond within minutes to a registrant on our site)
-Developing a blog and learing SEO strategy (the blog helps me convert consumers I meet into clients and captures leads on it's own... plus it's free and fun!)
-Working Internet leads like they are gold (they are gold... I include using your company's web site and lead generation in commiting to technology as a whole)
-Posting on free sites like craigslist and commenting on blogs/web sites

*This "blind faith" commitment employing technology to a regimented system over the past year has resulted in clients just appearing out of the thin air... I'm walking along and poof! Someone contacts me on my smart phone from one of these Internet outlets and needs a Realtor. I just stole one from the big dogs with all their costly print ads!

2007 will include:

-Purchasing a lap top (I've identified a lot of time that this would have been useful)
-Pay-per-click campaign (There are entry level plans...easy to track and see if I get conversions from clicks to my site)
-Better database management on my ConnectMLS web based system and reminders sent through my Outlook email for follow ups

Of course, it's the open house skill that gets many of the leads that triggers the effectiveness of the above tools... and the cow jumped over the moon! It's the sales training I get from my mentors that close the conversions. I mean, the time put into each personal email sent to a lead... none of the technology would matter if I sent a form email out!

What's your plan? What do you use now and what do you want to use next year? Do you have a system and what are the main tools in the system? Do you see others rejecting this trend and still do not utilize the Internet on both the buy side and selling side? Do you see the blank stares from agents that just don't get it? Are you an experienced agent that has incorporated and benefitted from technology and now teach the newbies?

Wouldn't it be nice to get leads from open houses, your web site referrals, craigslist,, your blog,,, your virtual tour web site... and have the ability to respond to them? I've done this with very little monetary investment relative to the return... I'm only in my second year people, came out of nowhere.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Buyers: Saving the best for first

Last weekend I met a nice married couple at my open house. This is typical for my business... I work open houses 75% of weekends throughout the year to sell my listings and meet new clients face to face.

After showing the several units in our development, we figured this wasn't the price point they were looking in. After getting to know them a little better, I suggested an off-market property available. It was the last unit in the development, but was not on the MLS. The property was actually in an area a little northwest (in Chicago, this can mean a 7 minute drive and people think it's another country) of where they were looking, but I felt it was a great place, very nice location for their needs, most space for the price etc...

So, I asked them if they would like to see the unit along with others more directly located in their most desired area. Let's do it.

The off market unit has been a favorite discovery of mine. I had brought a few clients to it and even my wife. We actually want it, but the timing is bad with a baby on the way and having only lived in our current home for just under two years. But, with many buyer clients, to me, this place was a no brainer to show and sell. An actual deal.

I meet my clients and we head out to my special, most favorite property in the whole- wide -world. They really like it. It's a new conversion, so they may pick a few things out still. Tons of space, cool lay out, good location for their commutes to work... bam! Could be the one.

But you know how this goes... they have not seen a lot of property, and even though their hearts are racing a little, let's get through the evening's showings.

We head to their more desired locations... no hearts racing. Nice, but eh? We see four homes in all.

That evening, at 10:00PM, I get an email to my smart phone... they are asking the real serious questions on how to proceed should they decide on this place. Timing? Our Lease? Price flexibility? Good for them, I say. No problem, we'll get you in a great position to negotiate and make sure you have a terrific experience. You'll have all the facts and all the considerations in front of you. The huge part is over: You can see yourself living in the home!

Moral of the story: Save the best for first. I always want to bring my clients to the best in my mind that fits what they are telling me, right away... sometimes, they don't even know what they are telling me! But then they see the home that they never even thought of... and wham! They love it.

Most deny this feeling... don't. When you know, you know. Ya know? It sounds like a sales pitch. Take it from me, my wife and I bought a condo after seeing only six places. We just knew (we saw the place on our first day out).

In my career, this has happened a few times... the first one, is the one. Any stories out there of this phenomenon? Did you lose a property because you denied the feeling? It's worse than losing your first love!!

Roundup: Stories that will effect the value of your real estate

It's been nuts at the Chicago Real estate Local. Clients come first, then the wife, then... an argument with the wife :-) But I never miss my morning (early, early morning, mostly til 2 AM) perusing of the Chicago Tribune, Yo Chicago, Rain City Guide, Chicago's Home Weblog, Chicagoist, Inside Chicago Real Estate, The Real Estate of OZ and the many other sites and blogs for the latest...

Valet Confidential
Leave your car with a stranger? It happens every day at restaurants around the city.
Off topic, but...I once swore off valet service... lasted about three months. Did anyone know there is a National Parking Association? This is one more checklist for you to do with your date right before dinner!

Major redesign is latest twist in plan for spire
Less twisty design. I'll call me when you want to talk pre-sale. All condos... 1,300 of em' with no broadcast tower. How will they get the word to the people? says, "Make Me Move!"
Ardell at Rain City guide tries out a new tool for sellers before the rest of us... thatnks for taking the hit.

New home valuation website enters Chicago market
Inside Chicago Real Estate says forget Zillow, let's try this.

Chicagoist discusses falling ice
Matt Wood wonders about the effectiveness of caution signs downtown. I was just on Michigan Ave. last night... several roped off areas. Of course, I never got out of my car. There's falling ice man!

NYC Beats Chicago to a Fat Ban
Look out Milwaukee... your next.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Realtors are funny too. Funny ha, ha funny or...?

Usually, The Chicago Real Estate Local is pretty consumer oriented... but here is one for insiders and outsiders...

My associate Geno Petro created quite a buzz with this post... dealing with both other agents, clients, friends and family. Realtors in our blogosphere network laughed and fawned... this wisdom is an everyday perk for me at the brokerage.

The blog is one of the better reads for the most discerning local Chicago real estate connoisseurs.

Chicago attorney's common sense take on the market

This was an older post below by attorney/blogger Peter Olson, but it goes along with several conversations I've had about overall market statisitics vs. a particular property.

The Illinois real estate market
"Here's a link to the IL Assn. of Realtors release on October housing figures. I don't see a lot of news here...IL median sales prices were off 3.5% from October 2005. What's the best data to gauge housing market strength? We see the various monthly reports from the different home builder and Realtor associations and I find them of little value. What does the fact that median home prices from year to year changed mean? These figures are comparing a diverse housing product to a different housing product the next year, right? We're not comparing apples to apples. It's a different product."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fair and balanced market analysis

Keith Harney wirtes a concise analysis of the housing numbers in this weekend's Chicago Tribune

I wish the local newscasts would report in this complete manner...

Bears beat Vikings... Housing market sacks Rex Grossman

The Bears win Sunday revealed more than just a clinched Central Division Champion...

Median housing prices for Chicago: Up 1.7%

Rex Grossman's Quarterback rating for Sunday: 1.3

Housing Wins!

Real estate advice for parents without a clue

Must have been a slow week in real estate.

I’m going to get the business for this post but I was exasperated reading this. You can make any subject super complicated. No offense to Anne Brennan, author of the front page Tribune story this weekend titled "Family Planning"... but come on. The premise of the advice/story is fine. Take heed when shopping for a house with kids. Don’t take them with. I mean, don’t most parents have a clue about how their own kids' behavior may be in this very adult activity?

But the advice goes way overboard in for our oversensitive, wimpy parenting generation.

"- Let kids have input in decorating.
- To beat boredom, make house hunting a game. Buy little toys and wrap them in comic paper or tissue paper. After each house, say "great job." Each earns a special treat. Part of the excitement for the kids is unwrapping the treat."

I’m sorry… I’m old school. Our parents put us in a car and poof… we were in a new house. And somehow we made it, even without a DVD player and Suzie’s ‘Lil I-POD

Here’s a couple awesome quotes from honest Realtors concerning the kid issue…

"I'll ride with [parents with booster seats] or follow them. I'd rather not have kids in my car. At times, it's unavoidable," Barbrow says.

"A lot of agents have new cars," Goldblatt says. "We hope the other people are going to drive. Kids come in with Goldfish crackers, scuffing seats. Babies are crying--parents say, `please pull over' or they have to change a diaper--and then the car smells, or a child throws up in the car."

Whammo! Tell us what ya really think.

Full disclosure: The Chicago Real Estate Local has his first child on the way… I love kids.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Chicago Christmas Sprit; the movie

Check this little Christmas ditty out... sent from Blanca Cholewczynski (mTeam Financial) and made from photos taken today. Hmmmm, wouldn't you want to live here?

OPEN HOUSE this weekend...

Quick hit due to lack of time this evening...

Call or email me for this weekend's open houses. I have a lot going on... should be a fun weekend with more people out now that the holiday weekend is over.

I'll have 4445 N Paulina open with another agent hosting Saturday and Sunday from 1PM to 4PM. It's a two bed, two bath with parking and outdoor space.

I'll be at 1141 W Patterson in Wrigleyville/Lakeview. Two and Three bedroom units, simplexes, duplexes, roof decks, garages... the works. Open Saturday and Sunday from 1PM to 4PM.

See you there...

Snowmageddon Chicago 2006: Eh?

There is no better sales pitch for this city than the snow removal. I swear, I'm not in any politicians pocket... and if one more family member gets appointed or politico "retires" so another machine member may be hand picked... it sucks. That said, Snowmageddon was no match for the awesome forces of the Chicago Streets and Sanitation trucks and the avalanche of salt.

I never worry. The suburbs though... get off the roads. The long stretches make for a dangerous, sleet and ice covered drivers education movie nightmare. The city in a snow storm every time.

A walk in Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor on a snowy afternoon. I may not paint the picture in words as some, but I highly recommend this experience first hand.

Luckily, I have a 4x4 for such occassions and quite enjoy getting out in the city after a snow storm. Things look and feel different... cityscapes covered in snow are terrific. Here are a couple shots surrounding the T-CREL headquaters. Click on the pics for better detail.

Tree falls down, Hell breaks loose

The Tribune had this little ditty today about a fallen tree in Lincoln Park... Good discussion about this and the inside scoop at Yo Chicago. As the world turns...