Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I'm planning another fun way to thank my past and present clients for their business. It is also a night where those thinking about buying or selling a home may come and enjoy conversation with those who have been through the process.

The last meet and greet I threw was a hit. Imagine a warm September night, gorgeous patio setting, a personal wine sommelier, great Mexican food and interesting conversation. Sounds like a nice vacation for some. Actually, it was the scene of my last wine tasting to thank clients and meet new prospective home buyers and sellers. A good friend of mine donated his entire outdoor patio of the Mayan Palace Restaurant in Lincoln Park. The evening was an excellent chance for people to ask me questions, discuss the buying process with a real estate attorney and mortgage broker, and to just have a fun night out.

I hate to do mailings or use gimmicks to stay in touch with clients or meet new people. I already have a good relationship with my clients and we enjoy the chance to catch up once in a while. This is also the best way I can think of to have people, that are curious about owning, come and ask questions. Most of the fear of working with real estate professionals comes from misundersatnding the services provided and roles everyone plays.

The next event will be held at a close friend's beautiful 4 bedroom duplex condo situated along the Southport corridor. It's a terrific home to entertain deserving guests. An intimate evening of wine, appetizers, and easy going discussion about buying and selling a home in Chicago. Keep an eye out for invites or just give me an email or call if you would like to attend. Space is limited!

Wine Tasting to be held March 22nd, 7PM to 10PM. Call or email for details:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Preparing your home for sale

Great story from Inman news describing prepping your home for sale. Call me to to discuss any of the tips.

Monday, February 27, 2006 Inman News]]> Sellers often underestimate the time is will take to properly prepare their home for sale. For this reason, it's wise to start home-sale preparations months before you actually want to put your home on the market.
For scheduling purposes, it helps to work backwards from the date that you'd ideally like to move. Let's say you want to be in a new home by June 1. There are three big tasks that need to be accomplished in order to make this happen.
One is preparing the home for sale. The second is marketing the home to find a buyer. And the third is to work through contract contingencies and close the sale.
Most homes benefit from de-cluttering, furniture rearranging, cleaning, painting and updating outdated floor coverings and light fixtures. These improvements cost relatively little and offer a good return on the investment.
You can sell a home in any condition; there is always a market for fixer-uppers. However, buyers pay more for homes they can move right into without having to do work. With more competition from other sellers who want to take advantage of a low-interest-rate market, buyers will have the luxury of choice.
A good real estate agent can help you map out fix-up-for-sale projects. Your agent can also put you in touch with reliable inspectors, contractors and stagers to assist with these endeavors. As soon as you figure out the scope of the work, you can schedule a marketing date.
The next step it to figure out how long it will take to find a buyer. Ask your real estate agent to provide you with the listing and pending sale dates for listings similar to your home that recently sold in your neighborhood. This information should be available through the Multiple Listing Service.
The time it takes to find a buyer can vary significantly from one area to the next. Be sure to use the most recent comparable sales information. The market is in flux. In general, it's taking longer for listings to go to pending now than it did a year ago.
The third element of the home-sale process is closing the deal. You have some control over this. The closing date is negotiable.
When interest rates are rising, you could find buyers who want to close quickly in order to protect an interest-rate commitment. Sellers often agree to cooperate with a fast sale in the interest of closing the sale. Sellers who aren't ready to move out by that date should ask the buyer for permission to rent back their home after closing. Although the closing date is negotiable, a typical closing date is 30 days from contract acceptance.
After collecting the above information, you're prepared to schedule your sale. Let's say you estimate it will take 45 days to get your home ready to sell, 30 days to find a buyer and 30 days to close the deal. This means you should start the prep work by Feb. 15 for an April 1 list date, a May 1 pending sale date and a June 1 closing. It's wise to build in a little wiggle room into your plan to account for unforeseen events.
Occasionally a home sale doesn't make it to closing. Often this is due to disputes over who pays for defects that arise during the buyer's inspections. This can set your schedule back while you find another buyer or work out the disputes.
THE CLOSING: You can minimize the risk of a deal falling apart by getting pre-sale inspections before you start the fix-up work. If money permits, it's wise to correct some defects before marketing your home.

Source: Inman News and Chicago Association of Realtors

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

There are Three Words in Real Estate; Price, Price, and Price

As spring approaches, I have found myself on more and more home listing appointments. Any agent will over price your home to satisfy your desire for profit. This is called, "buying the listing". However, seller beware. I'm up front in my philosophy for home pricing and incorporate the experience of my entire brokerage to enhance a timely sale. We discuss the prices that will sell your home and tell you why. Far from an exact science, we look at the market trends, and more importantly, through the eyes of the buyer.

Because, let's face it, it doesn't matter waht I think the home should sell for or what you think the home should sell for. It only matters what that one buyer in the market place-- that will actually purchase your home-- thinks it's worth. Call me and ask me more. But for now, enjoy the column below of which does a nice job discussing the basics of selling a home.

Monday, February 20, 2006 Inman News]]> There are plenty of home buyers intent on buying while they can still lock in a relatively low mortgage rate. So, the 2006 housing market should present good opportunities for sellers who understand how to maximize profit in this new, more balanced, selling environment.

The first step is to start thinking like a buyer, not a seller. Although buyers are anxious to buy before rates rise further, they know that the appreciation rate is subsiding.
When the market is rising quickly, buyers are less concerned about overpaying because they're sure they'll recoup the excess payment within a few months because of robust appreciation. This was the psychology of last year's buyer. Now, buyers are much more concerned about value.

For this reason, pricing is more important than ever, as is property condition. Buyers are less forgiving of defects. So, ideally, you should fix defects before you put your home on the market.
Listings are most salable when they're new on the market. To maximize your chances, your home not only needs to be priced right and properly prepared for sale, you also need a comprehensive marketing plan. You want to make sure that information about your listing reaches as many potential buyers as possible.

So, pick your listing agent carefully. A prospective listing agent should provide you with a marketing plan. Ask to see samples of the marketing materials that will be used to promote your home. Make sure that your home will receive Internet exposure. Over 70 percent of today's home buyers start their home searches on the Internet.
An ad on the Internet isn't enough, though. Buyers don't look at listings that don't have photos. You can gain an edge on the competition if photos of your home are on the Internet as soon as your home is opened up to the market.

It's important to have a good working relationship with your agent. For this reason, many sellers who had a positive experience buying their home decide to list with the agent who represented them as buyers. This is often a good strategy. Just make sure that you find out how your buyer's agent works as a seller's agent. Some agents are equally good at both, but some aren't.

HOME SELLER TIP: In most cases, it's not wise to work with an agent who is from outside of the local market area. Few agents can give good service if they are spreading themselves too thin. A bad marketing effort can result in a lower sale price.
Recently, an agent from out of area listed a property in Oakland, Calif. It was never adequately exposed to the local Oakland market. It finally sold after several price reductions. The buyers got a good deal, not the sellers.
Your aim is to sell for the highest price possible. Some sellers, who are mentally stuck in last year's market, think it's a good idea to list at a price that's way under market value to generate a bidding contest and send the price higher. This strategy could backfire on you this year. If you don't receive multiple offers--and most sellers aren't these days--you will have a hard time negotiating a buyer up from a low price.
Don't list for less than a price you can accept if you don't receive multiple offers. But, keep in mind that overpriced listings won't sell.

THE CLOSING: An agent who's active in your area and whose listings are selling will be able to advise you about an effective list price for your home.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Your Real Estate Team

It's no secret why some real estate transactions go smoother than others. There will always be some un-for- seen bumbs, but your real estate team should be prepared to advocate on your behalf. Ask me about some basics concerning the home search and contract writing. For now, enjoy this well written column about the home buying process.

Monday, February 13, 2006 Inman News]]> Don't underestimate the time it takes to buy a home. Even if you work with a top-notch real estate agent, there are myriad details that need to be attended to if you want to make sure that you buy the right house at the right price.
While on the subject of working with an agent, don't even consider working with someone you don't trust. Mutual respect and good rapport are necessary elements of a good working relationship with a real estate agent. If the chemistry isn't there, find an agent with whom you feel comfortable.
You'll have the best results if you choose your team of real estate professionals carefully--not just your agent, but your mortgage broker or lender, home inspector, attorney and surveyor (in areas where you need them), homeowner's insurance agent, and title and closing officer. Ask your real estate agent or friends who recently bought or sold a home for recommendations.
You should try to work with the best people in the business. This doesn't mean that you need to work with the person who does the most business. Ideally, you want to establish working relationships with people who are reliable, professional, experienced, motivated and trustworthy.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Even though you have a team of professionals to rely on for advice and assistance, never forget that you are the decision-maker. If you can afford to buy a home, you're no doubt busy generating the income to make it possible. Delegating tasks to your team of real estate professionals can ease your workload considerably. But, the decisions about important issues like what you buy, the price you pay, the home inspector you hire, and the kind of financing you use, should be yours.
Educating yourself about the market in the area(s) where you want to buy is one of the most productive uses of your time. There's nothing like pounding the pavement first hand to give you a feeling of confidence about the neighborhood in which you'll live and the current market value of homes in that area. The real estate market is constantly changing. Comparable sale statistics from six months ago may no longer reflect current market values.
Don't be afraid to make an offer in competition. Last year, if you ended up bidding against other buyers, you were almost assured of paying over the asking price. In today's market, multiple offers don't necessarily send the price higher. Set your limit and take a stab. There's more to an offer than price. If the other buyer's offer is contingent on the sale of their home and your offer isn't, you could be the winner even if your price isn't the highest.
Most bad home-buying stories have one thing in common: the buyers didn't complete their due-diligence inspections. It might have seemed like a good idea to buy without the benefit of inspections in the red-hot market of yesterday. How could you lose with home prices appreciating at a double-digit pace?
Some buyers did lose. Now that the home-buying environment has changed, inspections are absolutely essential, as are further inspections, if they're indicated.
Try to avoid buying a home for the wrong reasons. It's tempting to want to buy because that's what all your friends are doing. But, if your personal or professional life is unsettled, it's best to wait until you can make a long-term commitment.
THE CLOSING: The rate of home-price appreciation is likely to wane after many years of robust increases. So, if you have to sell soon after buying, you could lose money.

House Keeping for a Quick Sale

When viewing properties today with a client, we were disappointed to find several condo units generally unfit for showing. Mildew in bathrooms, scuffed walls with nail holes, bad lighting etc... Last week, the same thing happened with another client... we walked in to an unappealing condo and were immediately turned off. Although vacant, the previous owner left traces of their pets, the carpets were stained and the walls marked up. In this case, the unit was only 2-3 years old but looked 10 easy! These particular units all had one thing in common; they may have been candidates if they just had a good cleaning, and perhaps, a fresh coat of neutral paint before the showings began.

What are these Realtors, sales agents and sellers thinking? Marketing studies show time and time again that the majority of the consumer market will be turned off by a dumpy looking unit--no matter if the price is adjusted to properly reflect its condition. But specifically, I'm talking about condos that are in generally good condition, but are $1000-$3000 away from catching a much better price and faster sale. Consumers must leave with a good impression the first time they see the home!

There are several easy fixes that will make a unit show better and sell faster. I'm not talking about the fancy designer recommendations and the army of helpers home sellers get on Home and Garden TV. I'm talking about common sense. As a Realtor, I have to know what improvements will help sell a home, and more importantly, I have to be frank with my client/seller. There is no exact science suggesting what will work in every occasion, but in a competitive market I must demand certain improvements and perform some basic services in the interest of my client.

The basics? Clean carpet and floors, patched and painted walls, CLEAN BATHROOMS, good scent and anything in ones power to leave a good impression. Every situation is different. Some units are vacant and some are fully furnished and will be until sale. But a Realtor must make recommendations in each case if he/she is worth working with. I'll go out on a limb every time with my clients and suggest the improvements before taking a listing, rather than think a buyer will "want to do the changes themselves". It's a mute point, they were already turned off and chose another unit!

A BIG BIG TURN OFF for clients is mildew in the bathrooms. It leaves the client thinking the previous owners did not care for the home. Even if your not selling your place just yet, the following advice will help you improve your bathrooms and kithchens, leaving them more pleasant for everyone.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Inman News]]>

Q: I remodeled my kitchen three years ago, upgrading to granite counters and a stainless steel sink, mounted from below. The contractor put caulk around the sink to seal the gap between it and the counter. Now, there is quite a bit of black mold on the caulk.
What can I do to get rid of the mold? Should I get the sink re-caulked?

A: We think what you describe as mold is more commonly known as mildew, a fungus that appears as a dull black mold, often with a musty smell. It thrives in hot, humid places: your kitchen qualifies.
The best way to remove mildew is to eliminate dampness and improve ventilation. Since eliminating water is impossible in a kitchen sink, the best way to attack the mildew is to kill it.
With any luck, getting rid of the mildew around your sink should be easy. You can kill it by applying chlorine bleach--any brand will do--full-strength to the caulk.
Use a small sponge to apply the bleach and be careful not to get it on you, your clothes or anything else you don't want bleached.
Because you remodeled your kitchen fairly recently, we don't think the mildew has had enough time to penetrate the caulk. It's likely that what you see is superficial. A good dousing with bleach will make it disappear like magic; no re-caulking necessary.
But if we're wrong and you have to replace the caulk, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that a re-caulk job is cheap and you can do it yourself. The bad news is that you have to do it at all after three years.
Dig the old caulk out with a chisel or the tip of a flat-head screwdriver. Once the old caulk is totally removed, clean the surface. Your stainless steel sink won't take kindly to being cleaned with an abrasive like an SOS pad. Use a Scotch-Brite pad.
After the surface is thoroughly dry, it's time to apply the new caulk. The best caulk for use around a sink is a tub and tile caulk. Any hardware store will have it. Caulk comes in different colors. If you aren't able to find one that suits you, consider using clear silicone caulk.
For a professional job, apply masking tape on each side of the joint to ensure a straight and uniform line. Apply the caulk in an even flow. Then dip your finger in water (mineral spirits if you're using a silicone) and run it along the seam to get a smooth finish.
Wait a few minutes until the caulk has set a little, then pull the masking tape away from the joint. The wait ensures that the caulk won't smear. If you let it dry thoroughly before removing the tape, you risk pulling the caulk out with the tape.
Take your time, and with a little care, you'll have a perfectly clean, re-caulked and good-as-new kitchen sink. To prevent having to repeat the process, do an occasional cleanup with chlorine bleach to nip mildew discoloration in the bud.
By the way, chlorine bleach also works great to get rid of mildew in tiled showers. No need for special products. Full strength in a spray bottle is the way to go.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Positive Economic Forecast

A mortgage banker that has worked with several of my clients sent the following story to me. I appreciate all the information I can get. In December, I attended the Chicago Association of Realtors' Economic Forecast that preceeded the story below. We continue to see the Midwestern market as a good investment. More importantly to keep in mind, however, is that Chicago remains a great place to live and work. The decision to buy here should be based more on your lifestyle and values than purely economics (but positive numbers help!).

On Friday CNNMoney.com reported the latest 2006 housing price forecast from Fiserv Lending Solutions for 379 metro areas. This report projects declining prices in several metro areas that experienced huge growth in 2004-2005, including California, Florida, Las Vegas and New York metro areas. These markets saw price increases of up to 40% over the past year. No Midwest metro area is forecasted to experience a decline in prices. The Chicago-Naperville-Joliet metro area is projected to see a modest 0.6% growth in 2006. Projections for NW Indiana, SW Michigan and SE Wisconsin metro areas range between 3% and 7% growth. Here is the link to the full report with the forecast for all 379 areas. Check it out. http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/03/real_estate/

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mortgage Questions

Top 9 questions to ask when applying for a mortgage:

What is the interest rate on this mortgage?
What closing costs will be charged?
When can I lock in the interest rate?
Is there a prepayment penalty on this loan?
What is the minimum down payment?
What are the qualifying guidelines for this loan?
What documents do I have to provide?
How long will it take to process my application?
What might delay the approval of my loan?

Source: bankrate.com
Source: NAR's Information Central.Updated Feb. 2006

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Reflections on Hyde Park

I spent Saturday previewing condos in Hyde Park. The south side neighborhood is roughly located between 51st Street through 61st Street north to south and is bordered by Lake Michigan at the east and Washington Park on the west. Recently, several clients had expressed interest in the area due to the attractive prices and proximity to the University of Chicago main campus. So, a field trip was in order to make sure I was on top of things in this historic neighborhood. I was pleased with my re-acquaintance.

If you are unfamiliar with the area you are best served by surfing existing, excellent descriptions of Hyde Park- so I won't spend much time here discussing its history and evolution. My favorite site for a concise description and useful links is at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyde_Park,_Chicago
Or go to the Hyde Park Herald for news and local events updates at http://www.hpherald.com/
And of course there are many great and relevant student articles to be found http://maroon.uchicago.edu/

There are many varieties of living spaces in Hyde Park. Condo stock is good and competitive, making this a place to be aggressive in negotiation in order to find a bargain purchase.

First and foremost, there is an abundance of large, vintage condos on the market. For instance, I inspected a 1400 sq/Ft, 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo listed at $259, 000 with parking. This came out to only $185 per sq/Ft! It was steps from the U. of C. campus on one of the most beautiful streets I have seen in the city. This unit definitely needed some work, but for the price and location, it could be modernized and still be a bargain. There are many of these opportunities for vintage units-many in move in condition.

I also found newer construction, modern living spaces for very low prices. One particular loft building had great layouts and prices under $230K for 2 bed, 1 bath units at about 1050 sq/Ft. The assessments can look high, but with garage parking, gleaming wood floors, modern kitchens, elevators, gorgeous foyer, exercise room, and concrete construction for terrific insulation-your monthly payment is a bargain. Again, you located only blocks from U. of C. and 20 minutes to downtown.

There is also the full amenity "highrise on the lake" option if this suits your tastes.

Hyde park is dominated by a long standing local population and the University of Chicago. These are both pleasant aspects. The architecture and homes are breathtaking. It also has it's own quaint main drag, full of bookstores, restaurants, shopping and conveniences. It is truly a desirable place to walk and ride a bike rather than drive.

I'll be in Hyde Park quite a bit in the near future. It has become one of my favorite neighborhoods to recommend for first time buyers and current home owners looking for a change. Hyde Park definitely has a unique vibe while offering sophisticated college town living. Situated on the lake, offering affordable living, and boasting an established and refined attitude, Hyde Park is no longer a "secret" option for condo living in Chicago.

For questions about this, or any Chicago neighborhood, feel free to call me anytime at 773-975-2123 or email ERojas@CHEmail.com

The Realtor Deal with Eric Rojas