Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from the North Side

Let's hope we're not all up the river in 2009. See you next year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Premium for Green: Ravenswood Single Family Home on the Market for $1,390,000

One of the solar panels catching some rays on a clear day.

I wrote about this home at 4610 N Wolcott in Ravenswood (and it's cousin right next to it) just a little while back. I had a chance to stop by today and talk about the house with the listing agent Dan Sullivan. Dan was able to discuss the reclaimed materials, local vendors and energy efficiencies that make the home attractive to those concerned about the environment, wasted energy and craftsmanship. The agent remarks on the MLS claim it is "70%-75% more energy efficient".

Poor Dan had to talk to me for almost an hour. At least he had the wet bar to lean on.

My impression is a well built home that does it's best with a narrow, but long, lot. The finishes have a very coherent design... and the materials are great to look at and feel. Small things like a back staircase and mudroom off the great room and a brick garage with wood burning fireplace make the home more appealing to me than other area new construction competitors in the price range.

Check out the developer's web site for the rundown of green building features.
As I wrote earlier, it suffers from the Brown Line train tracks that curve by directly across the street. But I toured the home for an hour and was not disturbed by the passing train that I can recall. Another minus is the buildings to the north and south are not very attractive. Although, the building to the south is a tear-down that has been on the market and should be something more pleasing one day. The price has been reduced to $1,390,000 from it's original list price of $1,550,000.

There is a comparable single family home "fire sale" of a 3 year old new construction single family home for $999,900 on the same block. I'm not a fan of the finishes throughout that house... but you'd have to really want to hug a tree for an extra $300,000.

If you are a single family home buyer over $1,000,000 that likes the Ravenswood neighborhood, I would recommend viewing this home. It is classy, modern but not overly so, and has small features that show thoughtfulness.

Little things...rear staircase and mud room, wood burning fireplace off the brick garage, functional yard and patio, "green" low maintenance landscaping on roof, and a not so little refrigerator.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trump Tower Photos: Views from the Construction Crane

Photos from where no man has gone before him... Really cool shots from Ken Derry, the Crane operator on Trump Tower in Chicago.

I like the impact of the building on the skyline and most of my associates do too.

I found the link from Blair Kamin's architecture blog The Skyline.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Quick Stats: Illinois Home Sales Down 33.9% in November

From my Illinois Association of Realtors updates:

Sharp drop in mortgage rates encouraging sign for housing market. With the recent Federal Reserve Board action resulting in lower mortgage interest rates in the 4 percent range, the Illinois Association of REALTORS® is optimistic this will be an encouraging incentive for homebuyers in the new year, states IAR President Pat Callan in the latest IAR housing report for November 2008 data. Total home sales (which include single-family homes and condominiums) were down 33.9 percent in November 2008 to 6,076 sales compared to November 2007 sales of 9,191. Year-to-date January through November 2008 sales were down 24.1 percent to 100,435 homes sold compared to 132,388 homes sold in the same 11-month period in 2007.

For analysis that matters for your specific situation and location, please call or email me.

One Million Dollar Homes Dominate: North Side Single Family Home Statistics

A recent Lincoln Square single family home sale for $1,497,500.

Just about every day I punch some sort of specific search into the the database resources I have. With the Chicago real estate market activity at a seasonal and current market condition influenced "stand-still", I felt I would take a broad look at single family homes. I work just as hard now to prepare for the traditionally increased sales activity we see from February to June than at any time of the year. It is helpful to know what's been sitting around as new listings start to hit at (hopefully) correction pricing come late January.

With several clients looking for North Side single family homes I thought I'd look at all pending and contingent homes under contract to see what's moving. I'm looking at my specialty neighborhoods going south to north of Near North, Lincoln Park, Northcenter, Lakeview, Ravenswood and Lincoln Square

*In these 5 core neighborhoods, there are 464 single family homes listed for sale in our MRED/MLS system. Prices range from $209,000 for a tear down on a small lot near Welles Park in Lincoln Square to $12,000,000 for a Gold Coast Mansion.

*292 of the single family homes are priced over $1,000,000 (172 under $1,000,000).

*Only 56 single family homes are under contract and heading towards closing. Prices range from $262,000 for a single family home in Bud Long Woods (great deal) to $3,950,000 for a Gold Coast six bedroom home on LaSalle.

*31 of these single family homes are under contract for over one million.

In this round-up of the five specific and desirable areas, the million dollar home seems to have the edge in offerings and contracts. It will be interesting to see if the under one million dollar single family homes will make a big jump in contracts in early 2009. As interest rates remain low and retired folks and career changers want out of their big homes, I suspect we'll see that jump.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Packers/Bears, Soldier(sz) Field and South Loop

Many Chicagoans are in on the joke and exaggerate the "s" with a "z" sound at the end of words and titles... many are the joke. For some reason, Bear fans like to add an "s" to titles of places that have no "s" and drag out the word with a "z" sound. Like going to the Jewel(sz) Food Store. So, welcome to Soldier(sz) Field on a sub zero night, Monday December 22nd, 2008.

With this end of the year being the gloom and doom that is and was, there are certain constants in Chicago which make living in Chicago, with all it's warts (read: taxes and fees), so addictive. One constant is Packers/Bears... at Soldier(sz) Field. Although a lifelong Chicagoan, I'm a Packer fan. That's a long story you can hear when you hire me some day. Regardless, this is still an energized event with mostly good willed fans that I look forward to twice a year like clockwork. No matter how busy we are, friends get together in some nook of the city for Packer/Bears. This year we witnessed it live.

Departing from the Ravenswood Brown Line stop.

These days attending a Packers/Bears game means train ride on the "L" from Ravenswood through the North Side and ending in Chicago's resurgent South Loop. I hop off the Roosevelt Red Line stop, walk around the corner to Wabash and Eleventh Street to meet up with a buddy at his loft condo for a couple "warm-up" nips. Then it's a short walk across Lake Shore Drive to the Museum Campus and Soldier(sz) Field.

Are you ready for some football?

The South Loop is now a destination neighborhood with a cadre of restaurants, bars and retail. Not to mention the lakefront and museums... Millennium Park and Grant Park are walking distance too. Chicago's top professional areas for law, banking and finance are walking distance or a short commute. It offers residential living in hip lofts, modern luxury condos and town homes. I still find the best area to land is within a few blocks of Roosevelt either north or south of the anchor Red Line station. We "enjoyed" the college game day atmosphere of the Wabash Tap after the game.

On this night, however, we were interested the experience of attending a brutal game in equally brutal weather. For some reason this is part of being a Chicagoan for many.

From wikipedia:

"Bears 20, Packers 17 (December 22, 2008) – In the coldest game in recorded Bears history, the Packers traveled to Soldier Field, where a victory against the Bears would have ended their playoff hopes. The Bears had to rally from a 14-3 score at the half. The Bears were able to score after a turnover on a Packers punt return. The Packers were on the verge of finishing a game winning drive when Mason Crosby's kick was blocked by Alex Brown pushing the game to overtime. The Bears took the first possession in overtime and won the game on a 38-yard field goal by Robbie Gould."

Outside the Space Ship.

This Bear Fan was sympathetic to my friends for hanging out with me.

Average Bear Fan

Coldest Bears' and Packers' Game ever. Didn't feel a thing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chicago's Winter Classic at Wrigley Field

Here's a shot while driving south on Sheffield past Wrigley Field. Worker's are creating an NHL ice rink for the New Year's Day Winter Classic featuring the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.

People think I'm nuts to go to the Bears/ Packers game tonight at Soldier Field. If these guys can work every day outside and build an ice rink in a baseball field, then I can handle a few hours watching a football game.

Chicago really has a ton of cool stuff going on. Always something. And it always involves below zero weather for some reason.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jim Cramer is Buying Houses

I don't usually post about the national scene. But here's a nice local analysis on Mr. Guru Jim Cramer's thoughts on CNBC's Mad Money from the Lake Geneva Real Estate blog.
I had just commented on Sam Zell's rosy housing outlook at the other day. Now here's Jim Cramer coming out from under the rock... for homes.

All I know is I'd be in this Chicago market for a primary home for my family if I hadn't bought a place we love just two years ago. I did, however, try to buy an investment property in Chicago... and lost in a multiple offer. Nuts.
And, I didn't have to wait for Jim Cramer to tell me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Damen Brown Line to Open Friday in Ravenswood

The old Damen Brown Line in happier days...

From the 47th Ward Alderman's desk:

Damen Brown Line Station Reopening

Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 8:46am
Dear Neighbors,

The Damen Brown Line Station will be opening for full service on Friday, December 19 at 4:00 am.

While there will be minor punch work at both the Irving Park and Damen Station, the Damen Station reopening brings a close to three years of Brown Line station closures in the 47th Ward and completes most of the impact of the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project to local 47th Ward businesses and residents.

Alderman Gene Schulter

Chicago SnowGate 2008: WTF?

Chicago has about all the breathless drama possible with a President Elect press conference every hour and... well, you know... that guy from Ravenswood Manor.

Now the city decides to limit snow plowing side- streets this season. The one thing we could count on here in Chicago was snow removal since Mayor Michael Bilandic's most famous mishandling of the 1979 blizzard. It is said that it cost him the election that spring to Jane Byrne.

Last evening's horrendous commute times could simply be blamed on the timing of the snowfall during rush hour. But the perception is Da Mayor has arbitrarily cut back on plowing to save money rather than use other available funds for public safety. The timing is bad... declare a cut back on side streets, get the fourth snow accumulation before winter officially starts, and then angry slip sliding side-street residents give the Aldermen a soap box to grandstand on.

Forget dirty property developers and building inspectors. Forget increased property taxes. Forget increased fees etc... Hey Aldermen, let's get on TV demanding better snow removal. Too easy.

I do agree with Alderman Tom Allen on Chicago Tonight looking for TIF money and other resources to keep the public safe. You can all guess which event the stashed money is for. However, how about keeping some of these aforementioned issues in front of the City Council to really make a difference?

One slap in the face was the Mayor's attitude in his press conference when questioned on the snow removal issue today. It's unfortunate how "funny" the Mayor has gotten in his press conferences these last three years. I never remembered him so loony, sarcastic, arrogant, combative and sometimes bazaar before the Hired Truck scandal broke and really changed the Chicago political corruption landscape. Is there an adviser out there that can do some advising? "Hey Mayor, how bout you don't laugh at the questions so much eh'? Make the people feel like you care a lil' bit"

The Hard Truth: How to Handle the Chicago Housing Market made me "Quote of the Day" for something I wrote yesterday. The issue was Sam Zell's somewhat rosy prediction of the real estate turn-around a cometh.

Check out the post and comments at the link above to get a view of how I handle the selling question. There is good debate at times on, one of the few sites I will comment on.

I plan to offer more on this subject, but time is very limited today (nap time is almost over for a certain toddler).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

$7,500 Tax Credit for Chicago First Time Home Buyers

Photo by ickyfingerz

Okay, the Federal Tax Credit applies to all first time buyers... not just Chicagoans. But, I need the key words in my title.

The Chicago Association of Realtors has put together a hand-out you can view by clicking this link.

You need to know that the credit is not permanent. The $7,500.00 deduction, if taken, is paid back interest free on your tax returns over a 15 year period. However, if you put together the current lower purchase prices, current low interest rates and the tax credit; you're looking at a nice incentive package to purchase a home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Steady Nursing Career Offers Home Buying Opportunity

Nurses... tired of your rental's moldy vintage bath? Picture yourself in this!

There is no doubt we're in the worst economic and housing situation that generations have experienced. Normally "safe" investments in the stock market and primary home purchases have led to unpredictable circumstances for many. Some worry about, of have already lost, their jobs.

However, as a Realtor and investor I know when things look bad in the "world" I have to look at my own reality. If I have a good career, steady income and some cash on hand; is this situation bad for me?

My wife is a Registered Nurse with a masters degree and now manages out-patient clinics. Her nursing and management career has paid her well and consistently... and this has made her virtually recession proof. That is, she seems to have an endless employment opportunities in the Chicagoland area that will maintain her current income. Because of this, we have been able to purchase real estate that is right for our family despite any market conditions.

In fact nurses and similar skilled careers like teachers, police officers, firemen etc... now have the opportunity to buy homes that meet their needs more than ever before. If one is actively looking and ready to make a move (understands they're lifestyle, knows the market and has planned their financing), quality homes in good locations are being offered at lower prices than in the past five years. Interest rates are low, mostly well under 5.9% for qualified buyers.

I write this because people naturally get caught up in the over-all bad picture and uncertainty of just about every market today. But I look at this as a way to get a home that meets my families needs. I think a career person like a nurse has the stability, flexibility and income to own a home they will really enjoy. Buy in a good location to enjoy the home and wait out the current storm.

My wife and I put an offer this month on a Chicago condo in foreclosure that was dropped to a ridiculously low price. We lost it in a multiple offer as everyone jumped on it. We were buying it to fix up a little and put back on the market, but could have easily called it home too if we needed a primary home. We did not have opportunities like this in the past when shopping for a primary home; but you do now. It just takes planning and a good eye.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lincoln Square Home Sale Statistics for the Holidays

This tree lot is located on the (usually) outdoor patio of The Daily Bar and Grill. As a guy without many traditions (unless you call wasting my money on Cub's season tickets every year a tradition) I'd be remiss not to see the tree lot guys every holiday season.

I don't know what this guy charges but here's some average home prices within a four block radius of North Lincoln Avenue and West Wilson. This is the epicenter of Lincoln Square due to it's proximity to transportation and nightlife/daylife.

12 Active single family homes for sale in this prime location average over $850,000.

14 Closed single family homes in this four block radius over the past 12 months averaged over $780,000. It's lower than the current average list price, but it also includes some homes that were in pretty bad shape of tear downs.

6 Active three bedrooms, two plus baths condos with parking on sale for an average of $516,000.

6 Closed three bedrooms, two plus baths with parking for an average of $481,000 in the last 12 months for this location.

One thing is for sure at this moment in time; current pending contracts in December are elusive.I focused here on larger type dwellings. For more information on different types of homes in Lincoln Square please email or call me. Some home types and price-points sell very well in the area.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Driving by an East Lakeview Townhome

I drive past this townhome community located on the 400 West block of Wellington a few times a week. Stopped in traffic, I finally snapped a photo. Looking at the MLS, there is one three bedroom, three and one-half bath townhome with parking available for $649,000.
East Lakeview has a terrific mix of buildings... from rare single family home estates to high rise luxury. My pick for the area right now would be one of the eclectic townhomes available.

A small collection of art deco pre-1950s vintage and a handful of funky mid-century modern designs distinguishes this location from other parts of the city. Throw in the lake... and well; I'd live here.
At the moment from the lake to 600 West, and 2800 north to 3400 north, only one townhome is available.

Buying a Home in this Market? New York Times Weighs In

East Lakeview new construction waits patiently for you.

I was reading my fellow blogger's site, Peter Olson (Real Estate Attorney)

and he pointed out this article from the New York Times. Wait to you see how happy the home buyers are in the photo... warms my heart.

Peter offers some analysis on the Chicago market relating to the story. Read my comments under his post for my take too. He says wait 6 months. I say YOUR particular deal may not be there in six months.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rod Blagojevich Slept Here: A Look at Ravenswood Manor Single Family Homes for Sale

Image from

With all the attention on our good Governor my humble blog has experienced triple the hits; mostly for the a variety of search engine phrases dealing with Ravenswood Manor. I've been writing about the neighborhood for years.

The boundaries of the neighborhood are shown here. That's the Chicago River making up the eastern border. Montrose is 4400 north and Lawrence is 4800 north.

I think most people consider North Rockwell or North Western Avenue the eastern border when describing the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. For this post, I'll use Rockwell at 2600 west on the Chicago grid.

We are basically looking at a 4-5 block radius that is dominated by single family homes on leafy lots. There is a good dose of two and three flats. Few large multi unit buildings call Ravenswood Manor home.

Currently, there are 7 single family homes actively for sale on the MLS from $599,000 to $1,450,000. I know of at least three new construction homes that are not listed on the MLS and should be priced in the $1,300,000 to $1,500,000 range.

2 homes are currently under contract and pending. One house under contract on the low end at $450,000 is a half block from the Governor's house. The average sale price for a single family home in the neighborhood is about $800,000 with homes on the Chicago River receiving a premium.
It remains to be seen if all the national and international attention on the neighborhood will bring more interested buyers.


This home shown here is located at the "gate" of Ravenswood Manor. It's a good example of the gorgeous brick bungalows with beautiful tile roofs that dot the landscape.

Illinois Governor Blagojevich Arrested in Ravenswood Manor, Chicago

We smell a rat in Ravenswood Manor.
Photo from a friend of a friend on facebook

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blagojevich Arrested in Ravenswood Manor: How Will This Affect Real Estate?

What can I say? A Ravenswood Manor neighbor has fallen on hard times. Up the North Branch of the River without a paddle? Will it taint our real estate market?

Hopefully it will be a positive thing for Illinois real estate once we get (finally) a competent Governor in office. We need pragmatism when dealing with housing and business in the State of Illinois... not platitudes and bribes.

Look out local Congressman, Aldermen and Cook County Commissioners... people are going down left and right and the public is getting fed up.

The most upsetting thing about this; working with middle class families that pay every new tax and fee that these state and local officials come up with when owning, buying and selling their primary homes. At the same time elected officials and their spouses make money in real estate deals in their districts with developers and donors and claim they have no conflict of interest. Check out the Tribune's series on Neighborhoods for Sale

David Curry on Lake Geneva Real Estate Dish

Most Realtors who try blogging are brutally bad. And they give up quickly. I really want good real estate bloggers to exist because they provide front line information for me as well as other consumers.

I read a few local Realtor and broker blogs; like Fran Bailey's and Geno Petro's. However, getting out of my 15 square mile box, I came across David Curry's Lake Geneva Real Estate blog. Consistent, funny and to the point.

I've always considered Lake Geneva a terrific option for short get-a-ways; but now I feel like I have owned a vacation home there. When this $2,000,000 starts burning a hole in my pocket, I'll call David.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Short Sale Offer Accepted...Now What?

Word on the street... short sales are more common, but still a tough, confusing road for some buyers.

Last week, I represented my clients in an offer on a short sale property in the North Park neighborhood. A short sale is a property offered at less than the owner owes the bank. The bank is agreeing to "sell short" in lieu of foreclosure proceedings on the owner that must get out of the property and can't afford to own it. The owner must show they have no assets to make the bank whole on the loan.
It turned into a multiple offer situation due to an attractive price... and we won the bid with the best overall offer. However, this just means the sellers are accepting the offer with their signatures... only now to send the offer to the bank for approval.

So, when do we have a deal? When do the contingency dates such as inspection, mortgage and attorney review start? For instance, the bank still has to approve the deal.... does that start attorney review? For these types of questions, I get the purchasers attorney involved right away to make sure the buyers know their obligations. In our case, the contract was written to start attorney approval and inspection at time of seller acceptance... and that's how we'll proceed (in addition, I request the buyers attorney contact the seller's attorney immediately).

There are basic things that can take place once you have the sellers accept your offer, and in turn, negotiate for approval from the bank. In this case, I feel we have a pretty good chance of approval as we are close to the short sale offer price and have solid financing lined up.

First, I collect all the legal condo documents possible from the sellers and begin my due diligence on behalf of the client. We'll want to see the condo declaration, the association budget, any meeting minutes and talk to the Board if possible.

Secondly, we can schedule the physical inspection of the property. In most short sales selling well below what is owned on the property, inspection items will not be negotiable or corrected by the seller. They are already in distress and most likely will not have more to bring to the deal. However, my clients can kill the deal should their be any major repair issues with the unit (highly doubtful in this case).

Clients need to plan and make sure they can wait for a response from the bank. The closing date may also be months from bank approval. Purchasers need to be flexible when buying a short sale, and possibly, may need to arrange for temporary housing to bridge anytime they are out of their former place to live prior to their closing date.

North Park Chicago Condo Offers Value, Table Tennis

A few weeks ago my clients and I viewed a three bedroom, one bath condo in the North Park neighborhood priced at around $230K. It was a nicely done six unit conversion with a deck, big storage unit, fenced yard... just right for a small family. The Realtor gave us a nice showing but...

They had me at "table tennis".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Signs of Christmas in Boys' Town to Lincoln Park

I actually enjoy driving around the city on a snowy day. There's signs of the holiday... here's a couple quick shots from the truck;

Carolers were singing in this tent north of Belmont in Boys' Town. The big man keeps watch.

These guys were two of four getting out of a car in front of Hidden Shamrock and Trinity bars in Lincoln Park.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Chicago Real Estate Local in Chicago Agent Magazine

Recently I was asked by Chicago Agent Magazine why I felt our managing broker at Rubloff in Lincoln Park, Darlene Little, was "special". Which brings up a good learning opportunity for real estate consumers considering hiring a real estate brokerage.
You can read my answer by clicking this link

The managing brokers matter.

The managing broker makes sure that sales agents like myself comply with license law. She will also provide advice for complicated negotiations. One thing I do regularly for clients is bring in the advice of many agents and the managing broker when pricing, marketing and negotiating. It helps to have a highly regarded, experienced and ethical professional on your side. I'm not on an island or in a bubble. I want to make an educated decision; collaboration helps to reach that end.

Thanks Chicago Agent Magazine for quote and sheding some light on managing brokers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Conflicting Information on Lincoln Park Condo

This is an exact quote from the agent remarks on a Lincoln Park
condo listing:


At least their trying.
For those of you out-of-towners... the Brown Line is a LOUD elevated train.

Black Toilets in Lincoln Park

I saw, for the first time, black toilets in a condo on North Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park. Thankfully, I do not have a picture to share.

Multiple Offers on Chicago Short Sales, Foreclosures

First snow brings falling interest rates...

It's been several days since my last post... but a lot has been going on besides the Thanksgiving Holiday. Historically low interest rates on mortgages and attractive short-sale and foreclosure homes have sparked first-time buyers and investors. However, the best of these homes are seeing multiple offers.

For example; this week, I have two purchase negotiations going in Ravenswood Manor and North Park. One is a short sale that lowered to a very attractive price in a good location. There are several offers in and the listing agent now must weigh the offers with his client and determine the best for lender approval. The other deal is in Ravenswood Manor on an actual foreclosure... the unit dropped to a low price for the area and the contracts came flying.

Many short sale and foreclosure units, in my opinion, would not make the greatest primary home for most of my clients. Bad locations, bad buildings etc... but this week shows that good opportunities present themselves. Nice unit+nice building+nice location+low interest rates... one must be ready as multiple offer negotiations are occurring.

I have seen deep discounts on the higher end high-rise buildings, $400,000-$1,000,000 units that once sold for $50K-$100K plus more... and the lower end units selling in the $200s that once sold for over $300K.
I have not seen any significant discounts for desirable condos in smaller buildings for Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Old Town, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood. You may find condos to purchase at close to what the owners paid two to three years ago, but very few opportunities to buy at drastic discounts.
It's pretty intense out there if you want a deal on certain types of homes in top tier neighborhoods.