Saturday, December 29, 2007

Now there's something you don't see every day. West Nelson.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More woes from ComEd - sticking it to electricity consumers

Regular readers from the early days of this blog will recall my rant about ComEd and Exelon's hair-brained scheme to auction off electricity to the highest bidder resulting in a projected 24% increase in residential electric rates. Well, the Illinois Legislature stepped up and rolled back those rates so we'd only get socked by a 13% rate increase in 2008.

But in another completely unethical move, ComEd and parent company Exelon have made some slick business decisions which should result in 18% rate increases for Chicago Area consumers in 2009.

In this bone-headed move, Exelon decided that our electricity generating plants should join the east coast power grid (known as the PJM) rather than leaving them connected to the Midwest power grid (known as the Midwest ISO.) The east coast PJM grid does not have enough generating capacity and there is tremendous competition and higher prices for electricity sold in the region. Of course, the nearest states in the east coast PJM grid are Michigan, a slice of eastern Indiana, Ohio and the rest of the eastern seaboard.

Sending electricity generated here in Illinois in plants paid for by Illinoisans is another sharp stick in the eye to Illinois utility consumers. Clearly, Exelon CEO John Rowe lacks any semblance of ethical behavior in his business dealings in directing his company towards ever greater investor return on the backs of his customers.

I repeat my argument from my previous post: Power plants in Illinois were paid for by Illinois consumers. The shenanigans involved in the divorce of the power plants from the distribution system and the subsequent creation of the evil step-parent company now known as Exelon has been a decades-long delicate dance of corporate treachery perpetrated against the consumers of electricity in our state. Regulator's and Legislator's complicity in this unsavory scheme just goes to show how powerful large business interests are in Illinois and the depths to which politicians will stoop in their quest for power, selling out their constituents in the process.

Those plants are ours and we should take them back.

Home prices take biggest dive nationally. Not so bad here.

Survey finds 6.7% falloff in U.S.; 3.2% Chicago-area decline.

With fewer buyers and a bulging supply of newly built houses, residential sale prices fell nationwide in October for the 10th consecutive month, posting the biggest monthly decline since these numbers were first compiled in 1988, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index.

Read the whole article at the Trib.

Even areas that had still been posting modest appreciation are now in decline. And the hardest hit markets are seeing double digit price declines.

Remarkably, your guides have seen an uptick in activity since the second week of December with new listings and even a couple units under contract. With so few homes being sold during 2007, there is absolutely some pent-up demand. Prices may have finally fallen to meet hesitant buyers' expectations. Both units we saw go under contract were aggressively priced units with very realistic sellers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from outside Notre Dame in Paris.

Subdivision in Oedheim, Germany

Friends of ours live in Oedheim, Germany. This little town is located in between a few larger cities like Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Sindelfingen, and Frankfurt. Though this subdivision is out in the country, the homes located in it are located close to each other. It almost appears that in some instances, two homes are located on one large lot - with the rear home accessing the street via a side driveway. Many structures feature two and three houses with shared party walls.

This is an interesting phenomenon considering how far out in the country we were staying, and our hosts assure us that this is common throughout Germany.

This vacant lot across the street from our hosts' home is valued at approximately €160,000.

Gas prices - a time warp?

Looks like gas prices from a bygone era, no?

Unfortunately, these prices are in Euros. Per Liter.

Multiply by four and you'll get the approximate price per gallon. Yikes!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Taxi in Nurnberg, Germany

I'm depressed.

My poor Mercedes in Germany is a lowly taxi cab. At least I have all the toys. This one is hobbled by its 2.0 liter turbo diesel engine. On the other hand, cabs in Chicago would do well to have a tiny diesel engine instead of the ridiculous V8's they run around with.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Paris Metro

The Paris Metro is fantastic. This seems like an appropriate venue for discussing the similarities and differences between the Paris Metro and the Chicago Transit Authority considering the looming CTA meltdown crisis.

The Paris Metro is enormous. The Métro opened on 19 July 1900, its first line being from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot (not surprising it is now the line number 1). Fulgence Bienvenüe was the engineer in charge of construction, the architect Hector Guimard being responsible for the Art Nouveau entrances (see image). The system has 199 km (124 miles) of track and 15 lines. There are 368 stations (not including RER stations), 87 of these being interchanges between lines. Every building is within 500 metres of a métro station. There are 3500 cars which transport roughly 6 million people per day. There are 15000 employees of the métro (1989 statistics).

The national government as well as the city and state heavily subsidize the operation of the system. A ride costs about $1.50 when we bought a book of 10 tickets. It is efficient, clean and the mode of transport of choice for most Parisians. There is not evidence of class on the Metro. Families, students, elderly couples, deadbeats, vagabonds and bon vivants all appear to ride the Metro. Traffic is nightmarish and using the Metro is an extremely fast way to get around town.

Some observations:

  • It is quiet. Many of the trains run on rubber tires. The older lines have older train cars. The newer lines have the newest cars and trains. They do not worry about making sure that the train cars are compatible with all the other train lines. The same trains run on the same lines all the time.
  • During the day, the time between trains is always 2 minutes.
  • Late at night - say at 11:30 pm - the time between trains is only 5 minutes.
  • The Paris Metro can occasionally smell like pee. I guess it's universal.
  • There are TWO pink lines - dark pink and light.
  • Railway workers will go on strike for a variety of reasons such as extending the length of the work week or messing with retirement benefits.
  • The Railway workers were on strike the day before we arrived, and had been on strike for two weeks in November.
If the CTA ran the trains as efficiently as in the Paris Metro, all their problems could be solved. In its current state, I will not ride the train into the Loop - even blowing $25 on parking rather than risk the nightmare that a ride on the Red Line can turn into.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Greetings from Paris

Regular readers will note the absence of posts for the last few days. Your guides chose a perfectly awful week in Chicago to fly off to Europe. We started out in Paris on Thursday. So far, we've managed to hit the Marais, the Champs Elysees, The Louvre, the contemporary exhibitions in the Pompidou Centre and Paris' best selection of crepe stands and cafe's.

Paris is breathtakingly expensive. The dollar strengthened against the Euro in the last couple days, but it's still weak. A most modest lunch can easily run $60 for four people and be careful - $200 dinners are the norm after the exchange rate. Yikes!

From the real estate magazines, it seems comparable to Chicago, but with a higher high-end. You can still locate hotel-room sized studios in good neighborhoods for 150,000 euros. But only a few $4-million homes in Chicago change hands each year - here that's not out of the ordinary. One thing you don't find are a lot of Chicago-style three-flats or townhomes like we have in the western edges of some popular neighborhoods.

Most of the residential buildings seem to max out at 6 stories. This is apparently the upper limits of how high people are willing to climb. These 200 to 400 year old buildings mostly don't have elevators.

Dog lovers, take note: you can bring your pup nearly anywhere in Paris. We've seen dogs inside the department stores, on every street, and even on the Metro (the subway.) Look out on the sidewalks, though. Parisians do NOT pick up after their dogs and there are stinky land-mines everywhere.

We'll try to post again if any interesting photos seem appropriate. We're off to Germany on Tuesday.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

To cancel or not to cancel

Hmmm. I scheduled open house at a development today from 1:00 to 4:00. The temperature is hovering in the mid 20's and the gas has been disconnected in the building. Ouch. I don't think I can take it.

Visit www. to take a tour from your toasty warm apartment.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Figures for the week ending December 4

Rising inventory.

Fewer closings.

House prices down.
Condo prices up. A ray of sunshine!
2 to 4 flat prices down.

Figures are from the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois for the entire region, not just Chicago.

Handmade Market this Saturday at the Empty Bottle

It's only one day away! Get your shopping list in order.

Please join us for the December Handmade Market. Buy handmade for the holidays. Something for everyone on your list.

The Handmade Market is an event to connect the makers of beautiful things to people who appreciate the unique and handmade. There will be 32 fabulous sellers at the Market selling jewelry, purses, knitted items, clothing, paper crafts, and more!

The Handmade Market
Saturday, December 8th
noon to 4:30
free to the public
at the Empty Bottle
1035 N. Western Ave.
21+ or with a parent

See all the details and a list of our sellers at

The Market will be holding monthly events on the second Saturday of the month from December to March. Mark your calendars now.

December 8th
January 12th
February 9th
March 8th

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Questions and Answers

A few weeks ago, your guides began posting a lot of questions and answers. Questions were submitted by readers; not necessarily clients. We're delighted to be of help whenever we can and certainly appreciate the suggestions for blog posting topics.

From a couple weeks ago through this week, the nature of the questions appears to have changed. While your guides are always eager to share knowledge about Real Estate, how transactions work, and Chicago in general, it is always in the back of our minds that the blog is a way of reaching out to customers in the hopes of working wtih them as clients.

We hope to post on topics that readers find interesting. We hope those readers come to consider us experts in the field, and perhaps utilize our services in a transaction one day.

Certain types of questions coming to us make us uncomfortable with answering them for a couple of reasons. Let's look at some of examples, first:

I recently entered a contract to purchase a preconstruction condo. The developer signed the contract, but now I've been told that the developer sold the land and the development plans to another developer so my contract is no longer valid. Can they get out of the contract with this sale?

Does anyone have any information about Catalyst condos, to go up at Washington and Desplaines in Chicago? Also, R & D 569 condos? Thank you very much!

I bought a unit in a pre-construction condominium building. The cielings in the model were finished. I was recently informed that the cieling will be unifinished and in order to obtain finished cielings I must purchase an upgrade. Is this type of practice common? Should I press my agent to negotiate on this point?

Do we know anything about X/O condos in the south loop?

I am thinking of buying a condo 100 E. Walton. Any comments on this property?

These types of questions seem to be falling into one of two categories.

Questions an attorney should answer.

Any questions that has the word "legally" in it should immediately cause readers to seriously addressing these concerns with their attorney. And if the reader does not already have an attorney, then should consider hiring one. Very often, the services of an attorney will be needed since often times the question addresses an issue that appears to cut and dry, but an attorney must take the action to guarantee the desired outcome.

Questions that your agent can and should answer. Sometimes asked too late.

Your guides very often have knowledge that would be ordinarily shared with someone in a agency relationship with us. We have past experiences with developers, knowledge of reputations of builders and firsthand experience with many of the projects inquired about.

Unfortunately, the time to ask these kinds of questions is before a deposit is left, or a reservation agreement is signed. The person to ask is your Real Estate Agent ~ not by anonymous posting on an advice board.

Since we're not in an agency relationship, it's actually against the law to give this sort of advice and counsel. Only after formalizing a client-agent relationship by agreeing to the terms of a Buyers Agency Agreement can an agent give advice such as: reasons not to buy, point out other properties that might work better, protect your best interests, share confidential information about the other party in your transaction, and other duties under the agreement.

Plus, asking a pro for advice after the decision has already been made about pursuing a particular property or development means that you're basically asking for valuable advice for free. We would be happy to share all our in-depth knowledge with you if we are representing you as our clients. But asking for opinions after you've already found the property means that we're already cut out of the transaction.

In almost all of these instances, the services of your Buyer's Agent would also be free of charge to you. Sellers in Illinois and here in Chicago are most delighted to have you represented by your own Real Estate Pro. It makes their job a whole lot easier and frequently the commissions are paid for by their seller or their developer.

So if you're out there in the market, get your Real Estate Pro on board with your program sooner rather than later. The benefits are plainly evident by the questions posted above.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

First snowfall of the season

About 6 inches. With Lake Effect snow. It looks great today. I'm dreading the gray slush that this all inevitably turns into.

Standing Guard in West Lakeview

Standing outside the Army Navy Surplus on Lincoln Avenue just north of Barry (south of Belmont.) You just don't see many Army Navy Surplus stores anymore. Inside, the stuff seems to be pretty authentic. They do have a selection of items that clearly
try to evoke the feeling of being Army or Navy Surplus - such as the line of women's fitted tees and children's outfits, mind you.

Your guides had meant to post a long tour of North Lincoln from Wellington northwards to Melrose, but the photographs taken during the daytime did not turn out terribly well. I will be sure to take this walk again one evening soon as the new collection of stores popping up along this stretch of Lincoln look fascinating and charming when lit up at night.

The proliferation of intersting stores is a welcome addition as this stretch of Lincoln seems to have been colonized by various Carpeting Cabal families and many of the buildings house a large number of carpeting stores. Some of the storefronts sre even covered over with paper as inside the building owners are using them as storage for giant stacks of giant rolls of carpeting. Crazy when you consider that Starbucks is payuing over $25 a square foot for retail space on the same block.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hidden Chicago - The Gold Coast from Olive Park

This spectacular photo of Chicago's North Lake Shore Drive was not taken from a boat. Few Chicagoans and even fewer visitors realize that you can walk out on a promontory that affords this amazing view. The location is called Olive Park and it's located next to the Jardine Water Filtration Plant. The way you get here is to start at Navy Pier and head west on Grand Avenue - but only a few hundred feet. Before passing the back of Lake Point Tower, take a stroll through the small park just north of Grand. As you head towards the water, you'll see a gated archway that leads to a long narrow parkway that extends out into the lake. Walk a hundred yards or so to a scenic overlook and start taking pictures. Anyone who sees your photos will be amazed at the vantage point you've discovered.