Thursday, May 31, 2007

Me? Jump through hoops? You need 'Cred!'

The Memorial Day holiday weekend was relaxing and enjoyable - just like an early Summer weekend in Chicago should be. We did some work for clients as well; I showed some listings on Friday and took a buyer-client out for a Saturday morning tour. Steve showed our listings on Saturday morning and then we both had the rest of the weekend to ourselves.

One recurring phenomenon we experience on Holiday weekends is the last-second call to our cell phones with requests to show property at odd times during the Holiday - sometimes right on the Holiday.

I know we need to SHOW houses in order to SELL houses, but we also can tell the difference between BUYERS and TOURISTS. I prefer to show houses to BUYERS.

For example, on Saturday I toured a selection of condo's with my buyer, Eric. Eric is a solid client of mine. We have a relationship. One defined by the State of Illinois - I represent Eric as his Buyer's Agent. Eric met me several weeks ago in my office where we went over his criteria for a new home, we spent time looking at properties in the MLS and selected some that he wanted to see. Eric got pre-approved from a lender. Eric will actually BUY a condo from me this summer.

My partner showed our listings to some other Realtors' BUYERS on Saturday, too. We know this because (a) Realtors we know (b) from Chicago real estate firms (c) called with a day or two notice with a request for (d) a specific time (e) during normal real estate business hours.

A couple of requests we did not accommodate included:

One phone call from an agent whose agency is so far out of Chicago that his area code is most commonly associated with farmland. Downtown Chicago is area code (312) and the neighborhoods of Chicago have area code (773). Suburban area codes include (847) and (630). The caller's area code was (815) which includes a region that stretches from the Iowa State Line to 1/3 of the way downstate. His request was for a short notice showing - and this can be an indication to us that he's not really working with a BUYER. A third indicator that this might be a curiosity viewing was that it was for after dinner-time on Saturday night.

This sounds suspiciously like an agent from outside of Chicago coming into the city with friends or family - that might someday be thinking of buying an in town apartment - for the Memorial Day parade, dinner and drinks. Oh, and, maybe a viewing of a condo or two.

Another request came from a young couple who called our office and reached the agent on "floor" - someone there to answer questions during office hours. The couple got the urge to view some properties on Saturday, but already had an agent of their own. Since they didn't plan ahead with their agent, he or she was unavailable. The young couple was calling agencies on their own asking for same day showings of properties they thought might be interesting. These folks might be BUYERS but without any credibility, I don't usually jump through hoops on Holiday Weekends.

Here's how you can build your 'Cred' and get exactly what you want:

  • Plan ahead! People who need to buy houses normally think about planning a house hunting trip a few days in advance. People who don't need to buy a house often get bored at Linens & Things and want to see homes on a whim.
  • Establish a relationship with an agent. If your agent knows you'll buy eventually, he or she will cater to your every wish - including odd times and other hard requests.
  • Choose an agent with his or her own 'Cred'. There are over 30,000 licensed agents in Illinois. I do 90% of our business with the top 500 or so. If an agent I know and respect calls with a request, their 'Cred' counts for a lot, and I will go out of my way to accommodate it.
  • Don't blow your 'Cred'. Setting up a tour of 10 or so properties on a Saturday takes a dozen or more phone calls and an hour of time. If you blow off that appointment, I have to make another dozen or more calls to cancel all those requests. And I've lost a valuable Saturday that I could have devoted to another client. If you cancel a tour without a good reason or blow off a tour without a call, you'll never see the inside of my car again.

Follow these tips and you'll have a faithful and loyal ally in your home search who will move heaven and earth to make sure you get exactly what you're looking for.

Sellers - You'll want to be away during the home inspection

A client whose home sold over the previous weekend recently asked "Any reason why I cannot be present for the home inspection? What sort of inspection tasks will be performed inside the unit for two hours?"

This is an excellent opportunity to go over the reasons why it's a great idea to spend a couple hours away from your home.

At the home inspection, the inspector will test all the systems and appliances in the home. You can expect him to plug a tester into all the wall outlets, open and close all the windows, run all the appliances (dishwasher, washer and dryer included – in case any laundry is inside) operate the heat and the air. He'll also turn on all the faucets, the showers and tubs. Operating all these items, then detailing the results in a report usually takes about 2 hours, with a 30 minute period either way for a fudge factor.

Usually we encourage our home owners to be away as being home can be distracting. You feel like you have to entertain, and the buyers feel awkward poking and prodding your home. In some cases, a buyer won't be able to resist peppering the seller with questions about the home, the area or the building (if it's a condo.)

At this delicate stage in the contract period, the fewer distractions - the better.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

TOUR: Walk around Chinatown at Lunchtime on a Sunny Wednesday

Chinatown in Chicago is more than a tourist destination. The Chinese population follows only the populations of the Chinese communities of New York and San Francisco. Take a walk down Archer Avenue and look down Wentworth Avenue - framed by the most recognizable landmark in Chinatown.

If you're coming for a meal and don't want to fall for the tourist traps, stick to the local eateries inside the walking mall along Archer just west of Wentworth. You'll know you're here by spotting the square featuring Chinese Lions, Statues of the animals of the years and the red and green pagoda. Arial Shot Here.

However if it's trinkets and other stuff you're looking for, then DO stop inside all the gift shops along Wentworth to the south of the Chinatown Gateway. Get lost inside the musty aisles beneath the buzzing shop lights. The sights and smells are authentic - I've been to Hong Kong. And the stuff is the same! No need to travel to the Far East for inexpensive plastic waving cats, rayon kimonos and twisted bamboo; it's all the same right here. On busy Saturdays, even the DVD vendors come out of the woodwork peddling the latest releases (and even some not released yet.)

Mixed in with the ordinary are two outstanding shops. Keep your eye open for the store featuring tons of imported boxes. These decorative wooden boxes are far more interesting than the standard fare at Pier One. Also stop in at Ten Ren Tea Shop at 2247 S. Wentworth. As one of the most popular tea shops in Chinatown, Ten Ren attracts both locals and tourists with its wide selection of items and friendly atmosphere. Prices range from a couple of dollars to more than $50, depending on the kind of tea or ginseng you purchase. Ten Ren carries several grades of the same tea, giving you a choice in price. Again, as good as we found in Hong Kong.

Price Reduction: Get your price in line sooner rather than later!

We've had to have this conversation several times quite recently, so the topic seems to be timely: The Dreaded Price Reduction.

This conversation usually takes place for one of two reasons:

1. Your agent, being pro-active, gives you a call and suggests that things could be going better and tells you that a price reduction is in order.

2. You, an anxious home owner, call your agent to ask what the heck is going on with the marketing of your home. This is a tough conversation because you are probably trying to come up with a good enough reason to fire your agent, but we deflect the conversation into a talk about a price reduction.

  • Why should you consider making a price reduction for your home?
  • What kind of an effect will changing the price on your home have?

There are many good reasons and we'll do our best to outline them all here.

The most basic concept is that you (and your agent) can control the number of showings of your home - like a spigot or a faucet - with price. The lower the price, the greater the rush of people that come through your property.
  • Don't belive us? Perhaps we're only recommending a $10,000 or $20,000 reduction. You wonder what that could do? What if we reduced your price by $30,000? $50,000? $100,000? Do you believe more people would come see your property with these reductions? Good, then we've proved the concept of a price reduction.

How do you know when it's time for a price reduction? There are two indicators:

  1. Your property gets showings, but after 25 people come through, you don't receive a written offer on your property. Our inventory consists of condominiums and townhomes in the City of Chicago. The properties in our inventory usually get a written offer somewhere within the range of 25 to 40 groups of people visiting the property including people that come to open houses.
  2. You are not getting the number of showings that you should. Our inventory is generally located in the same group of neighborhoods, and is often similar in character and price. We can compare the number of showings for one property to another. If your property is not being shown as often, you are due for a price reduction.

If your property is being shown regularly, but doesn't receive an offer in a reasonable time period, then a slight adjustment is quite often just enough to get prospects to choose your house instead of another one.

  • A price reduction in the order of 1.5% to 2% of your current list price might just do the trick.
  • This is inportant: People WILL (with 100% CERTAINTY) use your high price to justify the purchase of a property with a better price. You MUST NOT fall into the trap of telling your agent to tell prospects that you are open to offers. You will not receive those offers; good prospects will simply vanish.
  • In one row of townhomes where we have two townhomes listed and one more with another company for sale. One is $629,900, one is $615,000, and one is $609,000. The owner listed for $629,900 told us to tell everyone that she's negotiable, but would not make a price reduction. Which townhome do you think sold last week? That's right - the one for $609,000.

If your property is NOT being shown regularly, then we're farther off on the price. In these rare instances, we are going to recommend a price reduction of 3% or 5% - which can be a tough pill to swallow.

Another recurring misconception on making a price reduction is that you'll convey some sense of negative motivation - or - desparation. In fact, a regular schedule for making thoughtful adjustments to price conveys several messages:

  • You're a serious seller,
  • You've thought carefully about your list price,
  • You've tested the market,
  • When the market responded with indifference, you took action,
  • And that you have a plan to follow that will get your property sold in a reasonable time period without giving away too much on price.

All the while, you might be thinking: "Let's Go In A Different Direction." This translates into - "We're afraid we made the wrong choice selecting you to be our Realtor, and doing something different means hiring someone different."

If you have hired an agent with these qualities:

  • Works full time,
  • Works for a recognizable real estate firm in your area,
  • Has not just started in the buisines (i.e. has a verifiable track record for success),

and the marketing program for your home includes:

  • Exposure through the MLS,
  • A company website,
  • A personal website,
  • The ability to add your house to, Craigslist, Trulia, Zillow,, your most popular Newspaper's website,
  • Some newspaper advertising,

it is most likely that a new Realtor is not necessarily going to bring any additional exposure to your property for sale. Plus the downtime between when one listing is cancelled and the another marketing program gears up can add an additional month to the time it takes to get you to the closing table.

Don't let time drag on, as time is money and in today's competitive marketplace you don't want to be positioned poorly in response to ever-changing market conditions.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Spend a couple bucks on a FOR SALE sign

I'm always amazed at homeowners trying to sell their homes on their own - but cutting corners. This house is available for over $1-million and yet "the under-a-buck" for sale sign is in the front window promoting the sale. Homeowners - Google 'real estate signs' and spend the $100 on a professionally made sign. This is the most expensive thing you'll ever sell, and you're trying to save tens of thousands of dollars on marketing costs. A well made sign may be the very best investment you'll make in this endeavour.

Friday, May 4, 2007

'Tis the Season: Dining Al Fresco on the North Side

One of my favorite things to do - anywhere in the world, including here at home - is eat outside. Perhaps it's a response to how long the winter's seem here in Chicago, but when the weather is nice, I want to spend every moment outside. Check out a couple of my favorite outdoor cafe's.

This neighborhood joint is called Chicago Joe's and is located at the corner of Irving Park Road and Oakley (just east of Western.) Joe's is in St. Ben's - which is a bit outside of the West Lakeview neighborhood, but reasonably close. Residents that look like they've been part of the landscape for centuries can be found here on warm days at lunchtime and the lack of a crowd allows them to hang out for hours. Joe's is not too noisy for being located on busy Irving Park Road and has a great old-neighborhood atmosphere.

The Daily Grill, located in Lincoln Square, has a slightly larger outdoor space located off the sidewalk in a contemporary garden atmosphere. This location along Lincoln Avenue is in a more high pedestrian traffic area and is superior for people watching. Beware of the long island iced teas here - you'll need to walk home if you indulge.

From the photo, you can see the prep for the summer outdoor season is not yet finished. These guys need to GET WITH THE PROGRAM! The food here is upscale-cafe-style with standard burgers and fries plus wraps and other more original menu choices. All are fantastic. This popular hang out can have wait times of over a half-hour on weekend evenings but there's always space available at lunchtime.