Friday, February 29, 2008

Bad real estate photos - a continuing series

From what appears to be the Titanic of real estate. "Hold On... We're going over!"

And for this photo:

it seems the photographer couldn't be bothered to walk around to the actual front of the property. Or perhaps a feature: Bunker Buster Bomb Proof - perfect for maniacal dictators!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My second prediction for Chicago Real Estate in 2008 comes true

In a post in January of this year, I went out on a limb and made three predictions about Chicago Real Estate for 2008. Of course, right away, one of my predictions came true with uncanny accuracy.

Well, Miss Cleo has got some killer competition with me and my razor sharp intuition.

I predicted that there would be fewer home foreclosures in Chicago in 2008 for a couple of good reasons. I predicted that interest rates would fall a bit. And that government would intervene on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure due to rising interest rates on adjustable mortgages.

From Wednesday's Sun Times comes word that the Chicago area held up against foreclosures better than many other parts of the country as the number of homes seized by banks fell 3-percent in January from the year ago number, while nationally, they jumped 57%. This is according to a new report from RealtyTrac Inc., a mortgage research firm.

Some Chicago area counties saw sharp increases, however. Kendall county was up 78%; Grundy up 34%; DuPage up 22%. Illinois was up 1.65% from a year earlier and down nearly 21% from December.

Chicago developer Terrapin Group facing foreclosure and dissolution

Your guides are saddened by the news that local developer, Terrapin Properties LLC, is facing some tough hurdles in the coming weeks as the first major condo developer to lose control of their operations due to the slowdown in the local real estate market. A foreclosure suit against Terrapin over a project in Kenosha, Wisconsin, indicates that the company could be dissolved.

Back in the day, the principals of Terrapin, and your guides, fresh faced and new to the business worked in neighboring storefronts in Old Town on Wells Street. Each of us on either side to Topo Gigio. The guys who eventually founded Terrapin had their own small law office, specializing in real estate transactions. Greg, Dave and Michael were the go-to guys for real estate deals in our office, and often came to Habitat Company office meetings to share advice.

I always envied the guys for making it big while we stayed on in residential sales; helping clients one-at-a-time or occasionally a developer with a small condo conversion. Now we hear that Indymac Bank is pursuing them for $13-million is past-due loan debts, perhaps our wanderlust was misplaced.

In 2007, Terrapin landed on the Chicago Sun Times' list of the top 50 builders in Chicago, with 292 sales in 2006 totaling $103.3-million. Now, enough sales to keep the creditors at bay are hard to come by.

In any case, we wish our old friends the best.

Cook County President Todd Stroger still pushing for huge tax hike


Shopping in Chicago is going to get more expensive ~ again ~ under a plan under consideration by the Cook County Board. Already with one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation at 9.25%, County Board President Todd Stroger is still pressing for an increase in the Cook County portion of the sales tax from 0.75% to 2.0%.

This would raise the sales tax in Chicago to a hefty 10.5%.

To hear the County Commissioners squealing, each quarter percent increase would only raise $106.5-million annually, while the budget deficit in Cook County is $283-million. Poor things. Of course, now we have to listen to County President Stroger's bombardment of negative publicity screeching about how the county will be forced to cut essential services.

Cook County has been awash in tax revenues during the first half of this decade, along with federal funds pouring into the county health care system by way of a loophole in Federal funding programs for county health programs. Unfortunately, a double whammy has occurred: the economic slowdown has area residents spending less and the loophole in the Federal program is now closed. But rather than save for an economic rainy day, the size and scope of the county bureaucracy has ballooned into a massive $3.245-billion (yes - billion, with a B) empire.

Though the deal to raise the sales tax by the full 1.25% seems unlikely, commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) is all for it. "This country was built on taxes," Sims said.

If you're as fed up with the crazy tax hike fever that seems to have gripped Illinois, Chicago and Cook County politicians, please look up your County Commissioner and let him or her know what you think.

Not so fast, Tribune, I don't see the plunge in Chicago Home Prices

I hope our regular readers will forgive my posting paucity this week. I have been busy. This feeds into my rebuttal to Mary Umberger's article in Tuesday's Tribune entitled "Chicago home sales plunge."

Mary quoted the Illinois Association of Realtors report that Chicago "Area" home sales were off 34% compared to January, 2007. I'm afraid that these statistics include the collar-counties, where I believe there is still sluggishness in the market. But as this blog is all about Chicago, let's set about putting the record straight for our local market.

In a post last week, I listed the number of contracts written for the Lakeview neighborhood. Today, let's examine stats for Uptown, Lincoln Park, The Gold Coast (Near North) and the combined numbers for all of Chicago's north side neighborhoods. The chart shows the number of contracts written in those neighborhoods for each week since the beginning of the year. These neighborhoods are dominated by condominiums, and the stats in the graph above are for condominiums only.

From Lincoln Park to Uptown, sales started the year out at a healthy clip. Sales in each neighborhood grew steadily to a nearly frenetic pace peaking during the week of February 19 for most neighborhoods, and the week ending February 26 (the most recent week available) for The Gold Coast and all of Chicago's northern neighborhoods combined.

Quotes of real estate agents feeling the greatest sluggishness invariably were from suburban locations such as Glen Ellyn, McHenry County, and Lake County. I think the Trib would do a service to its readers to verify these figures or examine our markets more carefully.

Remember, the headline for the article was "Chicago Home Sales Plunge" which, in your writer's opinion, is misleading when stats are for a nine-county region including towns as far flung as the Wisconsin border, as far west as DeKalb and south to Joliet and beyond. Shouldn't the headline say "ChicagoLAND home sales plunge?" During negotiations on two separate properties in Chicago this week, agents used this Tribune article as ammunition to argue for a bid price as much as 15% below asking price on listed properties.

And I had to spend hours defending my position that, indeed, prices have not plunged precipitously in Lakeview and Buena Park (Uptown) as this article could have you believe. Successfully, I might add.

Open House - the weekend of March 1 & 2

Sunday, March 2

The Greystone on Fairfield - open Sunday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
942 North Fairfield
Chicago, IL, 60622
Condominiums from $275,000
Duplexes from $325,000

The Mansions at Leland Hall
3100 - 3106 West Leland
Chicago, IL, 60625
Two bedrooms from $200,000
Three bedrooms from $300,000

Monday, February 25, 2008

Series: Getting started with Chicago Investment Property. Part 2

Part 2: Marketing

These steps might be a bit simplistic for a larger property owner, but using these tools and implementing this plan has served property owners with as many as 20 units in their portfolio.

If you own several multi-unit buildings with several dozen or more apartments, you’ll probably want to simply hire an apartment finding service to handle your marketing.

Get a Gmail email account

For marketing, you probably don’t want to expose your personal, or your business email address to the public. Also, after you have a tenant, you might simply decide to only give them your Gmail address, but have a system in place that either (a) forwards it to your regular email or (b) you diligently check it.

Get a Postlets account

Go to Here you can generate an attractive web page for your rental with a thorough description and photographs. You’ll be given the HTML code you can drop into other websites you choose to advertise on.

Get a Craigslist account

You can easily market your apartments yourself using Craigslist and not have to spend a penny on advertising. Seriously – nothing else.

Go to and set up an account. Having an account makes it easier to review ads you have already posted, delete them, and update them.


When you’re fielding phone calls, the volume of requests can be overwhelming at times. It’s perfectly acceptable to encourage prospective renters to come to view the property when you intend to hang out for a couple of hours. For example, Friday evening for 1 hour, Saturday morning from 10 to Noon, or a similar schedule for the afternoon or on Sunday. Don’t worry if a prospect complains that they can’t make your showings. You’re simply interested in moving as many people through the apartment as possible in the most convenient period of time.

If you are not going to take pets, feel free to be firm when turning down prospects on the phone. Say “Sorry, no thanks.” Or even better “Sorry. This building doesn’t allow pets.” And if they persist, you can be slightly less friendly while pointing out that your ad clearly indicated No Pets and that you resent having your time wasted.

Guide to articles

Part 1: Identifying potential property
Part 2: Marketing
Part 3: Taking an application and lease
Part 4: Move in day

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why it matters when mortgage guidelines change

Many thanks to Dan Green's Mortgage Reports for this insightful video!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not going anywhere soon?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sellers, heed this advice when prepping your home for sale

The Tribune published a fantastic article on prepping your home for sale in today's sluggish market.

One plausible idea is to pull $10,000 or less out of your savings account to make your place a stand-out in the eyes of would-be purchasers - - what real estate agents call a "cream puff." This is a home so attractive and well-kept that prospects will usually choose it over similar houses in the neighborhood offered at the same price.

"The cream puff is so alluring, it seduces buyers subliminally. It's a very well-groomed property," says Sid Davis, a seasoned real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide for Selling a Home."

I cannot stress enough how important this idea of transforming your home into the "creampuff" of the neighborhood. This also reminds me of the old joke about two guys lost in the jungle. It appears that they are being stalked by a tiger. One of the guys stops to lace up his tennis shoes.

"I don't think the tennis shoes are going to help you outrun a tiger!" the one guy says to the other.

"I don't have to outrun the tiger. I just have to outrun you!" is his reply.

With so many competing properties available to buyers, you want to outrun your competition. This means accommodating more showings, making sure your house is cleaner than the others, needs less to fix up than the others, and is at least as competitively prices - if not lower - than the others.

Get these basics right, and you could see your property go under contract in a reasonable period of time - as quick as 30 days in popular Chicago neighborhoods.

Sales activity in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

This chart shows the number of contracts written in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood for each week since January 1. It's interesting to note the trend upwards that peaks in late January, holds through February 5, then dips. I'm pleased to see that although the number of contracts is down from two weeks ago, there is still twice as much activity than in early January.

More fun charts on other neighborhoods and the city as a whole coming soon.

Bad real estate photos - a continuing series

Hmmm. What's for sale here? This beat up old Honda? The Yukon Denali? The listing does highlight the three-car garage. But does this show it off to its best potential?

Chicago City Council sticks it to home owners - again - even if they DON'T buy the house

The Chicago Tribune reported this morning that the Chicago City Council is trying to figure out a way to make buyers pay the Real Estate Transfer Tax - even if they don't buy the house!

"Remember what I said about Bea Reyna-Hickey," said Ald. Bernard Stone (50th), invoking the name of the city's revenue director with whom he has clashed. "When there is a corpse lying in a casket she'll shake it to see if any change falls out of its pocket."

Under one proposal now in draft form, City Hall would require the transfer tax to be paid even when the buyer forfeits the down payment, which sometimes happens when a buyer backs out of a deal. Under a second proposal, the requirement to pony up would be triggered immediately when there is an installment agreement--a contract in which the buyer pays the seller over a period of months but does not receive title to the property until the last payment is made.


The article continues on containing quotes from officials at the City Revenue Department justifying their opinion that they be entitled to collect the tax in these non-sale situations. However, one question looms in my head:

If the property returns to the market and is successfully sold, and the next buyer pays the tax, too, isn't this double taxation?

Oh, and since I know that a staffer from my Alderman's office regularly scours the internet for references to his name - this is for you:

32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack - you voted in favor of the tax increase. I am a very vocal resident of the 32nd ward. I am a very vocal member of the Chicago Association of Realtors. I have an email database of all my neighbors. I intend to remind everyone that I can that you helped stifle the only bright spot in the U.S. economy at the moment. And that you dealt a harsh blow to my business.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Open House - the weekend of February 23 & 24

Saturday, February 23

The Buena Flats Condominiums: Open Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00
4022 - 4024 North Clarendon
Chicago, IL, 60613
Three beds from $279,900

Sunday, February 24
1753 W. George Street
Chicago, IL, 60657
Wellington Park Townhome
Three beds, three baths, listed for $555,000

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Series: Getting started with Chicago Investment Property. Part 1

A client purchased her first investment condominium this week. Besides helping her as her identify and purchase her property, I will be getting her started on her way becoming a responsible landlord. Since I have to create these materials on her behalf, I though the topic would make a great series of blog posts.

Phase 1: Identifying your potential investment property.

Get together with your real estate pro. May I suggest ->me<-? You should have a lengthy discussion about kinds of properties, goals and objectives, and finally your finances.

Kinds of properties: Would you like to own a two, three or four flat? Will you live in it? Would you prefer a condominium? Do you want one that you can fix up and sell for a profit? Or one that's already in good condition? Or do you want to find a larger building with six, a dozen, or even more units?

Goals and objectives: Will you buy and hold? Or buy, fix and flip? Are you betting on appreciation? Or do you need the property to cash flow? Do you need to shelter other income?

Finances: How much money are you putting down? Have you spoken to a bank yet? Do you know what interest rates are on investments? Are you aware of making exchanges? How's your insurance? What's your tolerance for risk?

After answering all these questions, you should then begin looking. This step can take a day or many months depending on your unique needs. I have a great checklist of steps to take in order to get comfortable selecting a property and making an offer. It's several pages - too much to share here. Give a call if you'd like to receive this; it's part of my investment handbook.

After you identify your desired property, you'll write a contract on it. You'll negotiate out your terms and your price, and if you're successful, you'll be under contract. But the process isn't over yet.

Take the time to do your discovery, or due diligence. For a condominium, you'll be given all the condominium documents. For a multi-unit building, you'll be given copies of all the leases, reports about expenses and copies of some of the bills.

Another part of your due diligence is to have an inspection.

If this all goes well, you'll be well on your way to closing on your investment property. Your attorney will handle most of the details and you'll be given instructions on when and where to go for closing, and how much more money to bring.

Before Phase 1 ends, however, it's wise to begin implementing Phase 2: Marketing your condominium or apartments for rent. Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment.

Guide to articles

Part 1: Identifying potential property
Part 2: Marketing
Part 3: Taking an application and lease
Part 4: Move in day

Friday, February 15, 2008

One of my predictions for 2008 Chicago Real Estate comes true

One down. Two to go.

In a previous post on predictions for 2008, I predicted that there would not be as many foreclosures in 2008 as there were in 2007. I predicted that one of the reasons for the fewer number of foreclosures would be programs mandated by the government to restructure loans that are in danger of entering foreclosure. The details of the first of these kinds of programs are being released this week.

Governor Rod Blagojevich announced the Homeowners Assistance Initiative program today. With $200-million in funds from four major mortgage lenders, the program is aimed at trying to ease the rising tide of home foreclosures. The program will offer 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, set at 8%, guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA.) The interest rate is capped at 8% and is limited to loans with a maximum amount of $417,000. The loans will not have pre-payment penalties and no income requirements for borrowers.

To qualify, borrowers must attend credit counseling and have a credit score of 580 or better. This is much lower than for traditional mortgages.

I'm batting 33%. I should retire.

Chicago Diversion - tour the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Virtual Reality

A virtual design of the 1893 Columbian Exposition at the World's Fair held in Chicago is up and running at the Museum of Science and Industry. Visitors can ride in a simulated canal boat or be taken on a walk along the famous promenade down the middle of the White City.

Leading tours will be Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson along with Lisa Snyder who is the project manager for the university of California at Los Angeles' urban simulation team. They have been using architectural drawings, photos, maps and other historical documents to create this virtual environment.

The computer generated model of the fairgrounds is projected on a movie screen in the museum's auditorium and allows the guides to move the screen's point of view to any place in the exposition instantly.

Limited dates and times. No advance reservations. Tickets on a "First Come, First Served" basis. This should be a really hot ticket.

Presentation Dates and Times

Friday, February 15, 2008
10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 16, 2008
10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, February 17, 2008
11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

Monday, February 18, 2008
10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chicago - Diversions for this weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend? Some of your guides' best suggestions for beating the winter blues include:

Thursday, February 14 - Happy Valentine's Day! X your EX at Metromix' party starting this evening at 7pm, Victory Liquors, 2610 N. Halsted. Put that evil EX behind you starting tonight. Bring a photo of your EX and shred it at the door, then come inside and enjoy!

Every day through Sunday, February 17 - the Chicago Auto Show. Besides about a zillion new cars, meet Chicago Blackhawk stars Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews, meet Benny the Bull and South Paw (Bulls & White Sox mascots), and a whole bunch of live broadcasts for B96 and WGN Radio.

Comedy: Allah Made Me Funny, Friday, 2/15, 7pm, at Dominican University, 7900 W. Division, River Forest. An African-American, a Palestinian and an Indian walk into a bar... (

Chicago Trib says "Housing Misery to Linger" - not so much in the city

A couple excerpts from the Tribune's article on the state of the Chicago condo market for 2008.

Most analysts now agree that if Chicago had one construction market that would be considered in a bubble, it was the condo market," the report said. It used the word "dive" to describe condo construction starts this year.

And also

A trio of economists told the nation's beleaguered home builders Wednesday that housing probably will continue its slide through much of 2008, until a painful but necessary drop in new- and existing-home prices -- 15 percent or more in some parts of the country -- helps find a turning point.

A reality check:

I took a client out looking at condominiums yesterday - Wednesday, 2/13. I pulled the selected condos from the MLS database on Tuesday morning - demostrating that I was not holding old data. I called ten listing agents to request showings. Four of the ten agents reported that their listings were already sold.

At the end of our tour, we decided on a modest one bedroom condo located near the lake in southern Lincoln Park, and by the time we were able to deliver our offer to the listing agent, there were two other offers on the property. This does not sound like a stressed-out market. Many agents also commented that the last seven days felt like it did back in 2002.

More anecdotal evidence:

At the ever-popular Buena Flats Condominiums, I have received six offers on the condominiums in the last 10 days. Not all good, mind you, but there ARE buyers out there in the marketplace.

Chicago's Buckingham Fountain to undergo $25-million restoration

This post really is simply an opportunity to post a photo of Buckingham Fountain. A photo of a Summertime Diversion here in Chicago sounded like a great idea to me as I gazed at the weather forecast for tomorrow that contains another plunge into the single digits.

But I digress.

The Chicago Park District approved a project to undertake a $25-million restoration project for Buckingham Fountain on Wednesday. The project will be the most comprehensive restoration yet undertaken on the 81 year old landmark.

$8-million of the cost will come from the reserve fund set up as part of the original endowment for the fountain by its benefactor - Kate Sturges Buckingham. Wasn't she smart to leave enough cash to pay for the perpetual maintenance and upkeep of the landmark that bears her name?

According to the Park District, renovations would start shortly after Labor Day this fall, and last until Memorial Day, 2009. Hopefully they would have the fountain in order by the normal opening day - but are leaving themselves some wiggle room. Normally the fountain runs from April to early November of each year.

Expert Advice from our property manager - Steve West

A regular reader asked a question via a comment post on an earlier entry, but I thought the topic was so interesting that I felt it deserved its own post.

Can a condo association require a separate security deposit for renters? My building has six units. In our house rules, it states that only one condo at a time can be rented out. It also states that a security deposit equal to one month's rent must be given to the condo association. Is this legal? I doubt that I am going to get any renter to give me an amount equal to two months rent (one for me, one for the association.) Thanks.

Our resident property management expert, Steve West, from Evolution Real Estate replied:

First let me do the disclaimer - I am not a lawyer and what I'm about to say is based on my years of management experience and not intended as legal advice.

Now to your question: It is my understanding after having asked several lawyers over the years questions very similar to this that the practice of treating Renters (or owners who rent) different from all other owners is illegal. The basic jist is that an association can not create "separate classes of ownership" (ie - one set of rules, regs & fees for resident owners and a different set for investment owners).

However, if you association charges a deposit for ALL owners regardless of status, they might be able to get away with it.

I'd question your board. If they insist, you should suggest to them that before they try to enforce it, they should run it past the association's attorney in order to save themselves some expensive problems.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dumped by Trump II - local publisher sues the Donald

We previously reported that Donald Trump had been canceling contracts at Trump Tower for "Friends and Family" during pre-construction sales.

The Chicago Sun Times and Crain's Chicago Business are reporting that former Chicago Sun Times publisher David Radler is suing Trump for refusing to sell him a condo in the new Trump International Hotel & Tower for a discount.

Not the most clever move in the current real estate climate, no?

Chicago buyers feeling the pain of Chicago's new Transfer Tax

Check out the great article in the Tribune over the weekend on the impact of the new Transfer tax on Chicago homebuyers.

My favorite quote from a potential homebuyer whose transfer tax will INCREASE by $7,000.

Hopefully, by November, when I close, they will have figured out that sellers should also contribute -- but I am a seller, too, so I am going to get hurt either way.

The thing that still gets me: what does bailing out the pension system of the CTA have to do with Real Estate? Of course, the real answer is that this tax affects so few people in any given year, it was simple for the legislature to shift this tax onto them as they're not an organized voting block. I hope Chicago Aldedrmen remember that although Chicago home sellers are not an organized voting lobby, the Chicago, the Illinois and the National Associations of Realtors are.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Buyers - our first meeting won't be at the property you found on the internet

I may have lost a potential buyer this week. Although this might not be correct. The customer who contacted me was interested in starting the buying process, but I am not convinced he could have actually followed through.

A customer - Mr. B. - e-mailed me introducing himself as a renter who lives in one of my past client's buildings. He's been a great tenant for Mr. P. for a couple of years and is now ready to try to find a property of his own.

This is a great introduction! But a bit farther in his e-mail, he stated that he'd like to start by looking at a certain property - and sent me a link to a property he found on the internet.

I gave him a call and we chatted for a moment. I tried to make an appointment to get together with Mr. B. suggesting a few dates and times he could come to my office. During the conversation, Mr. B. didn't have his schedule with him and told me a little bit more about what he was looking for. We agreed that he would email me with his availability.

A day later, Mr. B. e-mailed me again to tell me that he was available after 5 pm most days this week, busy this weekend, available after 5 pm all next week and had some free time the following weekend. He included some more information about his qualifications, how much he wanted to spend and how he planned to obtain financing - through a V.A. loan. Again, he asked if I would show him the property he saw on the internet.

I wrote back and cheerily offered a couple of evening appointments but suggested again that we would meet at my office to start with.

In a third e-mail, Mr. B. let me know that he didn't think that I was paying close enough attention. He had a particular way he wanted to conduct business and I was clearly not listening to his request as this was the third time he had to ask to see the potential property. I wrote back to clarify why we had to see each other first in an office setting before viewing properties, but rather than helping set Mr. B's mind at ease that our first meeting would probably lay the groundwork for us to be far more productive on subsequent property searching trips, Mr. B. wrote me back to tell me off.

There are a variety of reasons why I would not meet Mr. B. at the first property, and I thought it would make a great Blog entry to talk about why. Plus I get to let off some steam.

First, there are is a difference between being a "Customer" and a "Client." Everyone out shopping for real estate should learn the nature of their relationship with the agent that they are standing in a house, condo, or 2-flat with.

Mr. B.'s first e-mail indicated to me that he was interested in becoming my "Client." He desired an advocate on his side who could show him properties and represent him in the transaction. In order to form this kind of relationship, some stuff needs to happen. I need to tell you some legal stuff about representing you and what my duties are. I need to tell you about how I intend to get paid. Then I need to learn more about you and your needs and your qualifications in order to find the best property for you, for the best price for you, and for the best terms for you.

In addition, following these steps assures that in case someone accuses me of negligence, or of a Fair Housing violation, I can defend myself by demonstrating that I followed a certain procedure in forming our relationship, and that I repeat this same process exactly the same way for EVERYONE that becomes my client.

I also meet lots of "Customers" during the course of business. Right now I am posting this article during a break between "Customers" while sitting at an open house. While I am here at open house, I am representing my "Client" who is the seller of the property. Folks who happen to come to the open house because they are interested in this property are not represented by me. They are "Customers." I have an obligation to treat them fairly and honestly, hand out forms if asked, and answer questions about the property. But I am not an advocate for the best interests of that "Customer."

But there were a couple indicators that Mr. B. really would not be a good match for the property he was interested in viewing, and I am not in the habit of taking people to see properties that they can not buy.

The property Mr. B. was asking about was a two flat in Wicker Park. It had been foreclosed on by a bank and was sitting vacant. It did not have any renters in it, and was in nearly an abandoned condition. There was no electricity, or heat, or other utilities. No one was maintaining the property or shoveling the snow or making sure the sidewalks had all the ice removed. It was on the market for very close to the value of the land. Now I'm all for the concept of "Buy a lot - get a free house!" but this presented challenges that I don't think Mr. B. was aware of.

First of all, Mr. B. had indicated during his first conversation with me that he wanted something a little nicer than the building he currently lived in as a renter. I sold that building to Mr. P. seven years ago for $365,000 and it was recently appraised for close to $700,000. I know I could sell it for well over $600,000. It is located in a neighborhood not all that different from where the building Mr. B. was interested in. So from my perspective, Mr. B was asking to view a property that would not meet his expectations.

Then, let's say for the sake of argument that I could choose to meet Mr. B. at the first property to view it AND cover the questions and answers, the disclosures, and the other topics I would ordinarily cover in our first meeting. This is possible and I have seen agents do this before. But the property in question was a vacant foreclosed property in nearly abandoned condition. And Mr. B. wanted to meet in the evening. A dark Chicago evening. In the winter. With no lights or heat. Or furniture. You can imagine that this is not an atmosphere appropriate to conduct business. I am not exploring a dark, cold, treacherous property unless I have a real solid idea that this is a property that is interesting to my prospect. In fact, for my investor clients, I usually instruct them to drive by an investment property like this before I take them inside just so they are sure that from the outside of the building and the surrounding area that this is the kind of thing they are looking for.

Lastly, remember Mr. B.'s statement about his V.A. financing? Veteran's Administration financing requires that the PROPERTY also qualify for this loan program - not just the buyer. Though Mr. B. was diligent about beginning his mortgage qualification process, his V.A. loan officer did not tell him about the obstacles set out on the property and its seller. Property subject to V.A. financing must pass a stringent inspection that the property is suitable to be a home for the buyer. V.A. inspectors have been known to demand that gutters be in perfect working order, that peeling paint be re-painted, that the roof be in good condition, that the heating and air conditioning be in good working order and that the kitchens and baths be perfectly suitable for move-in. And these demands are usually placed upon the seller.

The property that Mr. B. identified was a distressed and foreclosed two flat. It was not even clear whether all the appliances were still in the building or had been stolen by previous tenants or the old owner. Certainly the heating systems, the kitchens and baths, and the exterior components of the building were in a state of disrepair. The current owner of the property is a bank and the property is listed "AS-IS." This property would not pass an inspection by a V.A. inspector for certification for ownership by a V.A. loan candidate.

Visiting this property could not only be a waste of time, but could also be perilous considering the weather and un-maintained state of the property.

Buyers, refer back to my previous post on “cred” to refresh your memory on establishing a relationship with an agent. Once you’ve got that established relationship going, then you can ask for the world – and your agent – myself included – will try his (my) best to accommodate just about any request. But without it, exploring in the cold and dark is more than you can expect.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Windy City Humor

After staring bleary eyed at a variety of statistics and charts detailing the number of active units and sold units throughout Chicagoland, I decided I would post another Chicago joke. The last joke was months ago, and was about Real Estate Agents rather than Chicago, but the Sun Times ran an article on the best jokes about Chicago a few weeks ago, and my favorite is still on my mind.

Besides, agent jokes are as easy as Lawyer jokes.

So, the Department of Homeland Security wants to know which is the most effective police force in the nation, and has been conducting tests on various agencies across the country. They've identified the three best law enforcement agencies in the US and have devised a test to really determine which should be recognized as superior.

The test is deceptively simple: A rabbit is let loose in a forest, and each agency is tasked with retrieving the rabbit.

The CIA goes first. They lay waste to the forest with a top-secret atomic weapon that vaporizes the forest and the entire state that the forest is located in. Afterwards, they declare that the rabbit never existed.

The FBI goes second. They set up loudspeakers and blast all kinds of rock-n-roll heavy-metal music into the forest for days and weeks on end. When no rabbit emerges, they declare that the rabbit is too intelligent, and can't possibly be found.

Three Chicago Policemen enter the forest last. Less than an hour later they emerge from the forest dragging a bloody, battered bear by his feet in handcuffs. The bear is screaming "Alright! Alright! I'm a Rabbit! I'm a Rabbit!"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chicago City Council passes transfer tax increase

The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance raising the City Transfer Tax from $7.50 per $1,000 to $10.50 per $1,000 of the sales price of property in Chicago. The tax increase takes effect on April 1 of this year. The increase in this tax will make up the projected $100-million shortfall in the CTA budget not covered by the sales tax increase.

During spirited discussions at City Hall yesterday, Mayor Daley made vague threats to dissenting Alderman about the CTA bypassing their wards. About the only voice of reason seemed to come from 50th ward Alderman Bernard Stone who spoke passionately about the US Congress trying to stimulate the economy and the City Council working at exact opposite goals.

Visit to use the handy property tax calculator to see how much extra the new increased tax will cost you on your new purchase.

Update: From the Chicago Tribune - some of the Alderman who opposed the tax increase listed below. It is safe to assume that all other Aldermen voted FOR the increase, but I will post a full roster when available.

Stone was among those who voted against the measure. So did Ald. Brian Doherty (41st), who termed it "a property tax increase" and complained that the council "was bamboozled by Springfield."

The others who voted no were Alds. Robert Fioretti (2nd), Sandi Jackson (7th), Sharon Dixon (24th) and Rey Colon (35th).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Affordability increasing nationwide

According to the survey of Realtors nationwide released by Bank of America today, the index of affordability is rising.

Affordability tends to drive sales activity; mortgage rates are critical. We believe that affordability is the key determinant of sales and that the downturn in sales activity since mid-’05 was driven by the lack of affordability as home prices and mortgage rates both increased and limited the pool of potential buyers. We think the improving affordability will translate into better sales activity as the year progresses, but acknowledge that it is significantly dependent on mortgage rates.

Here in Chicago, when interest rates dropped, we saw a marked increase in contracts written companywide which should drive the sales figures for the months of March and April.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Election Day in Chicago

It seemed appropriate to try to write a witty article about the Primary here in Illinois. But it seems to be a forgone conclusion that Illinois is a Barack Obama state - the results seem to be running 2 to 1 in our Senator's favor. There's not much to comment on - politically. I run with a diverse circle of friends. Dear friends with whom we dine regularly are absolutely convinced that as our next President, Mr. Obama would lean only marginally to the left of Richard Nixon. Of course, my in-laws in Minnesota - near North Dakota - believe that under President Obama the country will be headed in the direction of Socialism. Polite French Socialism, at least, rather than full blown Marxism. Odd, since they're so close to the border that we consider them Canadian.

No, the real races to watch are your die-hard Chicago and Cook County Democratic Party Machine races. Historically, here in Cook County, the Party Machine chooses the candidates who will run in the general election, and in the primaries, only one candidate appears on the ballot. A major hiccup in the machinations of the Machine stymied party officials and no clear anointed-one appeared. Witness, then, the race for the Democratic Nomination for Cook County State's attorney. Six different candidates are actually running a fair and balanced campaign to win the votes of Cook County residents - an unheard of possibility in elections past.

The races for Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk ran pretty much the way they always have. Candidates were pre-selected by party fathers based on loyalty and past performance. These don't sound like terribly glamorous positions, but beneath these posts are thousands of jobs just waiting to be filled by loyal campaign workers, family members and generous contributors.

If you don't believe me, just ask yourself why the Cook County Assessor, the Cook County Treasurer, and the Cook County Recorder all have separate offices along with their respective armies of bureaucrats toiling in living wage jobs with generous government health plans and retirement benefits.

Do I hear another quarter-point sales tax? Anyone?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Bad real estate photos - a continuing series

The condo that contains this bedroom is on the market right now. As in 2008. Wow.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Update on how the "Big Game" influences phone calls and visits to properties this weekend

For those that are interested, here is an interesting Superbowl Sunday traffic update.

Since Friday through right now (Saturday at 5:10) I have received 14 short notice requests to see listings. Most of these requests were either from customers directly, or request from Realtors that captured prospects from website leads.

Coming in at #1 with the most number of calls – Dreamtown.
Coming in at #2 with the second most number of calls - @properties.
Tied for 3 and 4 with one call each – Jameson and Coldwell Banker.

I would be curious to hear whether you all think this is due to (a) buyers bored during the snowstorm while snowed in their homes or (b) compressed demand that would otherwise be spread out over the week but instead tried to squeeze all their showings in a short period of time because of the Superbowl.

Friday, February 1, 2008

No BBQ today