Keeping up with Chicago's North Shore Real Estate Market!

Contact Ann

call or text me: 847-691-1111 or email:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Home for the holidays

As 2010 draws to a close, the Illinois Association of REALTORS® offers five reasons why buying a home continues to be a good investment
IAR Buzz...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How about a green Christmas?

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, Americans throw away a million extra tons of garbage each week, including holiday wrapping and packaging, according to Robert Lilienfeld. Lilienfield is co-author of the book Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are.
So consider these holiday green tips: 
  • Recycle wrapping paper: Lilienfield says that if every family reused just 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
  • Consider giving experiences: "Think back to your three favorite holiday memories," Lilienfeld said. "I'm willing to bet that they all involve time you spent with your family and friends." By giving gifts that can be experienced, like tickets to a baseball game or a homemade dinner, you can minimize wrapping and still win points with the receiver.
  • Recycling fresh trees after Christmas can make a huge difference in reducing holiday waste. Instead of taking up space in the landfill, trees can be ground into wood chips, which can be used to mulch gardens.
  • According to one U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LED, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month.
Think Green!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beware of the shadow...

Have you heard the phrase, shadow inventory?  It's a term that is being used with increased frequency.  It refers to housing units that are not currently listed on the market, but will probably be listed sometime soon. CoreLogic, a provider of consumer and financial data and services, defines the shadow inventory as properties that are seriously delinquent (90 days or more), in foreclosure, and real estate owned by lenders that are not being offered through multiple-listing services. They usually release a periodic report that indicates what is happening with the volume of shadow inventory.  Here's an interesting article from Barron's about this issue.

But the term can be broadened to include all properties that are waiting in the wings to be put on the market for sale.  For example,  homes that are currently being rented with the intention of being sold.  This includes the "accidental landlords" who rented their properties and who will try to sell as soon as the market improves after the current tenant's lease expires.  Personally, I have four clients who find themselves in this situation.  They want to sell -- but -- they don't really want to sell an asset in a depreciating market. 

To me, a bigger unknown in our market may be, what I like to call the hidden inventory.  I know a number of homeowners, who want to sell their homes to downsize or to retire to a continuing care facility or to move to another part of the country, but are hesitating to put their homes on the market and are waiting for a more opportune moment.  As the baby boomers begin to retire in greater numbers, this could become a more challenging factor to getting some of our larger and older homes sold.  Even today -- in just Lake Forest -- we have on the market over 7 years of inventory of houses that are priced over $3M. 

Shadow inventory is something that we can't do much about -- other than remaining aware of it.  If you're thinking about selling, understand today's market value of your home and price accordingly.  Try listing your house at times when the inventory levels might be lower due to seasonal adjustments -- for example -- the next three months, the inventory levels usually go down.  Some sellers take their homes off the market because the aren't interested in having them on during the holidays... but it can be a window of opportunity to list your home.  While there may be fewer buyers, those who buy in the winter months are usually people who HAVE to move for one reason or another and sales often come together more easily during these months.  

If you're thinking about selling, keep informed about the projected shadow inventory levels in your market.  Your Realtor should be able to provide you with some of this information.  While it's a difficult number to quantify completely, there are various websites that can, at least, provide information about distressed properties.  Here are a couple of sites that I found just by doing a quick search.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So what is a short sale?

I can't tell you how many times people have asked me, "What's a short sale?"  It was a term that was rarely used 5 years ago and yet, my quick scan of the MLS would indicate that there have been, at very least, 330 short sales on the North Shore in the last 12 months.  So what is a short sale?  Quite simply, the sale price is less than the mortgage due on the house.

House sold in 2005 for $1M, buyer borrowed 80% (LTV) or $800,000 and owes about $795,000 today.  The house comes on the market in 2010 and is listed for $850,000, but sells for $775,000.   To pay off the mortgage and cover the deficiency, the seller would need to bring to the closing table, $20K. 

There are probably a lot of homes on the North Shore -- particularly people who bought or refinanced in the 2004-2006 time frame - where the loan amount is greater than the market value of the home.  It's not a significant problem, unless the owner needs to sell the home and doesn't have the financial resources to cover the deficiency.  That's when things get sticky, because the lender needs to get involved.  

The process of foreclosing on a property is both lengthy and costly.  For many lenders, a short sale is preferred solution.  Both the seller and the lender need to consent to the short sale process.  It allows them to avoid foreclosure, which involves hefty fees for the bank and poorer credit report outcomes for the borrowers.  One thing to keep in mind.  Agreeing to a short sale,  does not necessarily release the borrower from the obligation to pay the remaining balance of the loan.

If you find yourself in this situation and you need to sell your home, personally I would recommend that you hire an attorney with LOTS of experience dealing with short sales.  There are a number of excellent lawyers in our market who have gone through this and can help streamline the process for you. 

Here are a few other resources that might assist you in moving forward with a short sale:

Monday, November 22, 2010

REALTOR® Magazine-Daily News-Tips for Getting Vacant Homes Ready for Winter

REALTOR® Magazine-Daily News-Tips for Getting Vacant Homes Ready for Winter

My life in real estate: making a living

For those of you who don't know me, I had a 20+ year career as a consultant.  The work was stimulating and very interesting, but required long hours and a lot of travel... so I took a break to create a new life.   I wanted a life where I was self-employed, could have a reasonable income, never have to travel again and have some semblance of normalcy.    I've always enjoyed architecture, seeing neighborhoods and I like client service work, so starting a real estate business felt like a good fit.

Before I went into real estate -- like many others -- I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward job.  I mean, really, how difficult can it be to bring buyers to look at houses or to list a house for sale?  Now that I do this for a living, I have a very different view.  And one thing that has been really interesting is to see how most people really don't have a clue how hard the job really is and what efforts are required to make a living. 

The biggest myth that exists is: Realtors make a lot of money for very little work.  I have found the reality to be quite the opposite.  Typically the most successful real estate agents work all seven days of the week and all hours of the day and night.  Much of the work is not visible to others: quiet time on a computer: reading, studying, analyzing, writing to clients and prospects, etc.  But there is also a lot of phone work (often at odd hours), meeting people, networking, touring properties, showing homes, preparing pricing analyses, sitting open houses and working "floor duty" at the office.   While some days may require working only a few hours, my work week usually averages pretty close to 48-60 hours depending on the client load.

While a few, very successful agents make a nice income, in actuality, the vast majority of real estates agents make relatively little.  According to Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2008, the median annual wages, including commissions, of salaried real estate sales agents were $40,150.  The middle 50 percent earned between $27,390 and $64,820 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,120, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,860. 

I would venture to guess that these numbers have dropped considerably since 2008.  During the last two years, the volume and value of sales have been down significantly.   I know of many agents, who had to abandon their real estate businesses all together, in order to find full time or part time salaried employment.  Since most agents in our market have no salary, commissions are their income.  In just Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, there are around 300 licensed agents.  While some rarely work on a regular basis and just maintain their licenses, many work full time.  This year there have been about 330 real estate transactions in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.  Given these numbers, it would mean that there are a significant number of agents who have had little or no income from commissions this year. 

So I thought I would take a moment and explain the realities and the economics of being an agent in the real estate business.

What does it cost to become a Realtor?
Pre-licensing classes.  To become an agent, one has to take 120 hours of classes from a pre-licensing organization.  These classes run anywhere from $600 - $1000.  After one has successfully completed the classes, they need to get a state license.   The cost of taking the test in Illinois is $25.  Every two years, an agent needs to take continuing education classes (that's about $400) and renew their license with IL (another $100).  

What does it cost to be a Realtor?
OK, now you're a licensed real estate agent.  What's next?  You need to find a sponsoring broker who will provide you with a desk and/or telephone, an email address, marketing capabilities and one initial set of business cards.  In exchange for that sponsorship, you agree to give them 50% of any commissions you might earn.

Membership Dues - Also required,  you need to join the National Association of Realtors, the Illinois Association of Realtors, and pay annual dues for them and the local board.  This costs about $450 annually.  Quarterly, you have membership fees to be able to use the Multiple Listing Service.  This is about $415 a year.
Insurance - An agent also needs to have errors and omissions insurance which costs anywhere from $300 - $700 a year.  Since the agent will be using their car on the job, they need to increase their liability coverage on their car.  As a self-employed contractor, they need to provide for their own health insurance.  (Some agents have other options: they can be insured on their spouses health insurance policy.  For those of us who are single, we need to find an individual policy, which is extremely costly - particularly when the premium prices go up 10-15% per year.)

Personal marketing costs - Most agents have some additional costs to maintain their businesses.  Monthly fees for personal websites, costs associated with printed or online advertising,  personal brochures, etc.

These are just the upfront and annual costs associated with being an independent contractor and licensed real estate agent.  So before one even makes a single commission, a real estate agent has, at least, an initial outlay of about $2,000 and an annual outlay of at least $1,750. 

[Brokerage costs - The real estate brokerage company obviously has a whole series of costs as well.  They have on staff: marketing, legal, finance, and information technology departments.   They also have operational broker managers who are responsible for recruiting agents,  managing a local office and local office administrative personnel.   These local office employees process the paperwork, handle the logistics a local office (appointments, processing listings and sales, agent support activities, etc.).  Like so many other industries, with the advent of the Internet, the technology requirements and costs that real estate brokerages need to maintain in order to stay relevant have been driving many of the changes in the real estate industry.  With the downturn of the housing market, many brokerages have either merged with other companies, consolidated offices, been bought up or gone out of business all together.]

Costs associated with working with clients
Now that you are a licensed agent, who has found a sponsoring broker, you need to find clients.  That requires personal marketing.  Those costs can be as little as working floor duty and hoping to get a phone call; making lots of phone calls, writing letters, sitting an open house and hoping to find a buyer who might work with you.  But there may also be an ad in the Pioneer Press ($150-$300) or joining the Chamber of Commerce, sponsoring events, etc.   There are so many ways to incur costs for personal marketing.   It's very clear the most effective way to bring in clients is through referrals from previous clients.  Great agents generate their business strictly by client referrals and testimonials.  But as a new agent, you really have to hustle to bring in business.

I was actually pretty lucky my first year in the business, because I knew a few people going through transitions.  I ended up being Rookie of the Year in my office with a total of five transactions. But often agents aren't in that same place.  I had colleagues, who worked full time as real estate agents for over a year, before they made their first commission.

That first year, I had a met a few people who were moving and one asked me to be their agent during the first month I was in the business.  I was so excited to get that listing.   I ended up marketing it for over nine months before a deal finally came together.  My clients had actually received an offer the first month, but they didn't like it, so I continued to market and advertise the house for 8 additional months.

Since my clients were not living in the house at the time, I needed to go to the house to turn on and off lights, monitor repairmen, etc.

So, for that first listing, these are my estimated costs.

  • At least 4 broker's open houses (18 hours)
  • Showings (assume 35 showings at 1 hour each -- 35 hours) 
  • Inspection, the walk-through and a few other miscellaneous times (repair men, etc.) -- assume 15 hours.
  • Monitoring and providing status and updates to my clients (assume 2 hours a week x 38 weeks) - assume 76 hours.
  • Negotiations and pre-closing activities (assume 3 contracts -- the first contract probably took 10 hours, the second contract took about 3 hours of time and the last contract was about 15 hours).
  • Touring and understanding competitive listings within the area -- assume 25 hours
  • Preparing for and attending the close -- 3 hours
  • If you add that all up, I would estimate that I spent about 175 hours on that first listing.  Assuming I were to bill out my time at anywhere from $35 - $75 an hour, that would amount to about $6,125 - $13,125 of just time put into that one listing.  
Out of Pocket Expenses
  • With two of the broker's open houses, I served lunch.  That was about $150.
  • Each trip to the house was about 8 miles.  Assume I made 40 trips, that would 320 miles.  Assume that I can charge about $.40 a mile, that would be about $128.
  • Advertising.  I think I did 3 ads in the Pioneer Press.  Each of those cost about $300 each or $1500)
  • Miscellaneous out of pocket expenses were probably around $100.
  • Out of pocket costs on this particular transaction were close to $2000.
Income for the transaction
  • The house sold for $805,000.  The seller's commission was 6% or $48,300.  Of that amount 50% went to the cooperating (buyers') broker.
  • Of the remaining $24,150, 50% went to my sponsoring broker to cover their costs, which left me $12,075.  I remember looking at that check and being so dismayed -- Nine months of working all that time and all those expenses and that's all I had to show for it?   
That commission check went to paying myself a little salary, taxes, FICA, etc. and a little went back into the business.   While I totally understand that sellers only see the big number, agents see only their portion of the commission.  By the time everyone takes their share, the agent's commission can feel pretty pitiful!

Of the five transactions that first year, some of the commission checks were less -- some more.   That said, the more work an agent has, the more things improve: less has to be split with the sponsoring broker.  But of course, more costs come as well.  It can be pretty expensive to have 20 listings and each one needing advertising, care and attention.   

Real estate agents also work with buyers.   Some buyers are fantastic -- they look for one day and make an offer.  But these are really unique buyers.  In my real estate career, I think I've had two like that.  Most buyers go out for days and sometimes years looking at properties.  People relocating from out of area want to see the whole North Shore or all of Lake County before they make a decision.  For example, I worked one couple a few years ago.   I think I put about 500 miles on my car showing them properties from Evanston on up the shore to Lake Bluff over a 2 month period of time.  We saw a lot of houses and I spent probably 80-100 hours of time working with these people.  They were lovely and I liked being with them quite a bit, but we really couldn't find a house on the North Shore that they liked.  Eventually they purchased something in Hinsdale with a Hinsdale agent.  Income from that transaction?  Net loss: countless hours and out of pocket losses of around $250. 

I'll concede that some transactions are easy.  The buyer selects house and makes a deal that comes together in a week.  Or the house sells in 4 days.  Sometimes you work with clients who are utterly fabulous and make sure their house is perfect for every showing.  I consider these the angel transactions.  Unfortunately, they don't happen very often, but when to do, you love every minute of them -- they're blessings.

Not every prospect turns into a client -- many are just asking you to do a market analysis to get a second opinion -- they've already selected the listing agent.  Or sometimes buyers are just thinking about moving, but aren't ready to actually move.   I always try to figure out the probability of a prospect turning into a client, to make sure that my time is well spent.  But that is not always possible; because every time you meet or work with someone, they could turn into being a client and I want them to know the quality of my work.

The most painful kind of transaction is one where you work with a seller for months, spend countless hours and dollars marketing their homes and they decide they want to try listing with a different agent.  So they cancel the agreement, list with another company -- almost always at a lower list price -- and the house goes under contract quickly.  Ouch.  I think it has happened to just about every agent -- it's so discouraging and costly.

The second most painful situation is when you work with "relocation" buyers, who don't want to move to the Chicago area.  They usually know very little about the suburbs or schools, so they want to see everything.  Inevitably, they bring their kids with them and no one is happy in the car.  These types of situations can make for very long and sometimes unpleasant days.   By 3:00 in the afternoon, everyone is a wreck; the car is a mess and you know it will be just like this all over again until a home is actually purchased.   If you've had to relocate, you know how house hunting can be really exhausting for everyone.  With moments like these, you feel like you should be getting combat pay -- instead, in these instances, the agent has to refer back over 30% of their split of the commission to the relocation company.  

But the one situation that really stings is when a client asks you to throw in some of your commission.  It's an attitude that suggests that an agents' time and efforts are not valued.  It doesn't happen to me very often, but when it does, I feel like saying: "Sure, I'll give you a % of my salary, if you'll give me a % of yours."  One agent I met along the way had a pat answer to this situation.  "I'll be happy to put in some of my commission, as long as you add my name to deed.  After all, you're asking for me to help pay for the house!"

It's a strange business -- I can't think of many businesses where you work for nothing for months on end, invest your own money and then have no guarantee that you will be compensated for your time and expenses.   Gold mining? Oil drilling?  Sometimes it feels like gambling.  I often like to envision a different business model -- more like that of other professionals with monthly bills or retainer fees, etc.  But that would require reinventing the whole industry.  To me this work is about delivering value and client service.  Hopefully my clients recognize my time and efforts, and don't feel any qualms about compensating me.

Regardless, in spite of some of the challenging and discouraging moments, I really do enjoy this work quite a bit.  And while the income may not be anywhere close to what I was making in my prior career, I love that you get to share in peoples' lives and in one of their major life decisions: buying or selling a home.  You see the moments of both joy and sorrow;  you get to really know people and how they operate as a family.  I love seeing how different people live and making new friends along the way; watching their children grow up.   It's real life and there is something personally satisfying about it; something, that I never felt with consulting.   

Besides, there are rewards in this business that aren't financial.  Like: being able to come home to have lunch or being able to take my dogs for a walk in the afternoon.  Or not having to spend time being stuck in traffic on the Kennedy trying to get to the airport, or waiting in a line to check into a hotel room!

Update: January 3, 2014
Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal
Can Selling Real Estate Make You Rich?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lake Forest celebrates 150 Anniversary

The 150th anniversary of Lake Forest will be kicked off at this year’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 26.   The trees in the Square and a special Holiday Tree will sparkle with lights, the air will be filled with holiday song and a sesquicentennial banner will be strung from tower to tower.

Follow all the events this year on their website

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

5 Foreclosure Myths

1. Foreclosures happen fast
2. Buyers can't get clear title or title insurance on foreclosed home.
3. Buyers should wait for the shadow inventory to be released.
4. If you're looking for a deal, you're looking for a foreclosure.
5. Having a foreclosure on your credit history means it will take years before you can buy again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

10 ways to reduce your utility bill

I just found a very useful website: Money Crashers the winter months are approaching here's a recent article that's timely, 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

My life in real estate: So what's a broker?

Before I got into real estate, I would hear a lot of terms bantered about interchangeably to describe someone in real estate - i.e., broker, real estate agent, Realtor, etc.  While they are assumed to be the same thing, they each actually mean something different.  

So, in case you're wondering...

Illinois has a Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.  The Department's mission is to oversee the licensing of professionals in nearly 100 industries.  They license everything from barbers to banks and architects to veterinarians.  They also license the real estate industry -- there are over 10 types of real estate licenses that the department issues including:  real estate broker, real estate leasing agent, and real estate salesperson.  Consumers can look up the licenses of any agent by going to the IL Division of Professional Regulation site.  It's actually kind of interesting, because it can tell consumers whether the agent is active and whether they have ever been disciplined by the State.

The vast majority of agents within our area have real estate salesperson licenses.  I would venture to guess in each local office, maybe around 15-20% of the agents have a broker's license, the rest have the salesperson license.  The difference between the two is the amount of educational classes each person has taken and the types of things the license allows the person to do.  For example, each office manager must have a broker's license and there must be a broker within a real estate office in order for the office to be in compliance with the law.   These individuals are sometimes called the office manager or office managing broker.   A real estate professional cannot work independently or set up an office without a broker's license.  Also, each real estate salesperson must have a sponsoring broker.

All commissions are paid directly to the sponsoring broker.  So for example, my sponsoring broker is Prudential Rubloff.  Any commission is paid to them.  Only the sponsoring broker can pay the salesperson.   

Every licensee needs to renew their license every two years with about 30 units of continuing education.  Maintaining ones real estate license is considerably more stringent then, for example, maintaining a driver's license.

The other term one often hears is Realtor.  This is actually a subset of Illinois agents and brokers.  A person can have a license, but not be a Realtor.  Only real estate licensees who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® are Realtors. Realtors subscribe to a strict code of ethics and are expected to maintain a higher level of knowledge of the process of buying and selling real estate than the individual states.

This standard is known as the Realtor Code of Ethics, which consists of 17 articles that outline a Realtor’s obligations to clients and customers, the public, and other Realtors. Each article is further broken down into several standards of practice that outline conduct expected of a Realtor.   In our area, this is enforced through the North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors (NSBAR) to ensure the interests of clients and the public are protected.  Anyone can charge a Realtor with an ethics violation, and there are procedures in place to determine if the code has indeed been breached.  The violations are taken seriously and adjudicated by NSBAR.

As a salesperson within my company, I am expected to keep my license in good standing and to become a member of NSBAR, the Illinois Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. 

The law has recently been changed in Illinois.  By 2012, the salesperson designation is going to be eliminated and all real estate professionals with this type of license needs to upgrade their license to a broker's license.  Concurrently, brokers who are managing offices need to upgrade their licenses to be a managing broker's license.  This law will be taking effect in the couple of years through a transition period.  

So when some says they are Realtor, it means that they have memberships at the national level and have additional standards and training with that designation.

Ever wonder what CRS, GRI, ABR, etc. mean?  I'll save that for another time....

Friday, October 1, 2010

My life in real estate: Memories of Wendy

Before I got my license, I really didn't appreciate how real estate offices worked.  What much of the public doesn't understand is that real estate agents are independent contractors.... not employees.  They can move around and change brokerages as they like.  Brokerage offices vie to get the top agents and to add new agents to their ranks.  It's actually somewhat competitive between the various brokerage office managers as to which agent they can bring in to represent their particular company.

Understandably, leading a local real estate office is not easy -- it's a bit like herding cats.   Each agent has a contract with the brokerage and runs their own business, so they often have different marketing materials and approaches as to how they manage their own businesses.   Theoretically, you can have more than two agents in an office vying for the same listings or trying to work with the same buyers.   It can become challenging -- sometimes the office manager can even end up being a referee between agents within their own office.   Every agent I know, who has worked with multiple brokerages, would tell you that the most important factor to their selection of a brokerage was the personality and leadership qualities of the office manager.
This week was a particularly difficult time for all my colleagues in our Lake Forest office... dare I say, for most of the Realtors in Lake Forest.  Our beloved office manager, Wendy Bergseth, passed away.  You can read something about her.

When I first went into real estate, the only broker I interviewed with was Wendy.  After spending an hour in her office, she said something like, "After you speak with the other brokerages and are making your decision where to work..."  I didn't let her finish her sentence.  I told her, I wasn't going to meet with any of the other companies -- I wanted to be on her team.  While the decision was instinctual and hardly well-informed, it was one I never regretted. 

To know Wendy, was to love Wendy.  She was larger than life: loving, caring, loyal, tenacious, smart, joyous, enthusiastic, warm, generous -- magical.   Wendy did everything in a big way -- even her signature would take up two lines.   Once you became part of Wendy's team, you stayed with her.  Agents may leave the business or leave Lake Forest, but they would not leave Wendy.

If you had a particularly difficult transaction, you could sit in her office and she would listen, help you to strategize as to how to meet the challenge and then follow up with you later to see how everything went.   She would join you on listing presentations and notice something nice about the house to complement the sellers whether a rug, a picture, a room -- whatever.  She would hug your buyers when they bought a house; hug you if you had a tough day or lead a loud cheer when you sold a house.  She took great pride when lots of agents had sales -- she didn't think an office with just a few superstars was healthy -- she wanted every agent to be successful.   As Stephen Covey would say, she had "an abundance mentality."

In 2006, her Lake Forest office was the highest producing office in all of Lake County.  In February of  2007, she left that office to start-up a brand new Lake Forest Prudential office.   It came as a shock to many of the agents in her former company and some didn't take the news very well.  Having had a corporate background, I didn't find the move particularly shocking or difficult to accept.  I called Wendy and asked, "When do I start?" For me it was not that difficult to change brokerages.  I had joined an office to be on Wendy's team, and that's where I wanted to stay.

When Wendy began the journey of creating the Prudential Lake Forest office, it started with her vision.  She was going to create a beautiful space and a loving and supportive atmosphere.  She was going to recruit agents who would work hard, play hard and share and support each other.  Slowly, lovingly and with amazing tenacity, Wendy created this beautiful place for us to work.   For her to make this dream a reality, she had to push through so many obstacles from reluctant landlords, city bureaucrats and commissioners, false rumors, unkind and even vindictive behavior against her.  She never wavered. She focused on the vision.   She created an amazing office from nothing.   The night of our grand opening party was fantastic.  She hired a band and we danced. 

Within three years,  she built an office with over 50 agents and we are now ranked the #2 office in Lake Forest. Pretty amazing track record.  Even in the midst of this difficult real estate market, it has been nothing but a joyous experience to be part of her team.

Wendy was often underestimated by her competitors.  I'm not sure they realized how really smart she was.  While I loved her effusiveness and enthusiasm, it was her intelligence that I really admired.   While she was warm and loving and supportive, she was also a brilliant marketer, strategist and business woman.    As a consultant, I worked for a lot of different people throughout my career -- some good, some bad and some great.  That said,  Wendy was one of the best leaders I've ever known.  She knew how to surround herself with a wide variety of people and personalities and bring out their very best qualities.  To say that our office -- actually our company, because her reach was far greater than Lake Forest -- is going to miss her,  is a gross understatement.

She was unique.   She will be in my heart always.  I doubt that I will ever see the likes of someone like that again.    With Wendy now in heaven, I know the world is going to start moving in a whole new direction.  I love you, Wendy.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Looking for some interior design help?

A friend and colleague, Keri Cook Falls, just launched her website.  I've worked with Keri on a few staging projects with clients.  She does beautiful work.  Consider her the next time you're trying to figure out what color to paint a room or how to arrange the furniture to make things look more sell-able!

Check out her site: Ciel Studio Design

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Selling your house getting you down?

via Mary Umberger in the Tribune,  I just read about a new blog for house sellers...
so I checked it out... it's great and I encourage discouraged home sellers to take a look...
House Selling Blues

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Not Okay to Skip Out on a Mortgage - Kiplinger

I find that I always agree with Knight Kiplinger....

It's Not Okay to Skip Out on a Mortgage - Kiplinger

Do you know this place?

When I first started exploring Lake Forest, like most people I headed East on Deerpath off of 41 toward Market Square.   That's Lake Forest, right?  

When I was house hunting, I saw an ad for a pretty house that had a West Deerpath address.   As I crossed Waukegan Road, I entered a neighborhood I'd never seen before.  It was wonderful.  While the trees were mature, the light was great and properties had these large sweeping lawns.  I was struck by this subdivision and drove around it for a while until I came upon a funny little set of houses on the cul de sac, Hathaway Circle.  It felt like I was in the middle of the fairy tale, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs.  Obviously, I was intrigued... these little houses seemed so out of place with the '50/'60s styled homes in the area.  So I went to find out more and learned that this area was called Meadowood and the little buildings were the remenants of the Meadowood Farm.   

Lake Forest is rich with history and the little neighborhood of Meadowood is no exception.

Early in the 1920’s, Clifford Leonard bought 100 acres of farmland in Lake Forest to fulfill a dream. After falling in love with a Normandy Chateau while in Europe, this American owner of a construction company set out to create his own French dairy farm and chateau.

In 1923, Leonard commissioned Ralph Varney, a well-known estate architect, to draw up plans for a residence, an operating dairy and a substantial man-made lake for boating and fishing. Seven buildings were completed: three barns, a chicken house, and three cottages for farm hands.

Upon completion of these several buildings, a Certified Milk Dairy was installed and operated under the name Meadowood Farm. (The name Meadowood Farm was suggested by one of Mr. Leonard’s friends at Quaker Oats.)

The milk and eggs were delivered by Meadowood Farm’s own trucks and employees. Eggs were individually stamped, marked, and sold by Meadowood Farm, by the dairy drivers, and also by the Lake Forest grocery then located in Market Square. They were priced higher than the regular grocery store.

Eventually, the cost to run the dairy operations exceeded the money the farm was making and it was discontinued. The main chateau was never built. And for more than 20 years, the barns and chicken houses were empty. But today, each of these buildings has been converted into the private residences we now see on Hathaway Circle.  Today the Meadowood Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has achieved Lake Forest Landmark Status.

Tomorrow on September 12 at 2:00, the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation is hosting “Exploring Lake Forest Neighborhoods - Meadowood Farm” at the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest. A reception and tour of four cottages will follow a slide-show presentation. 

p.s. I bought the house and now live in Meadowood -- and still love the wonderful light and mature trees.  Many of us who live here, think it's the best kept secret in Lake Forest!  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Foreclosed Properties

The presence of a foreclosed property within a distance of 250 feet depresses a home's price by about 1%, according to a study led by Harvard economics professor John Y. Campbell....

read more

For sale, cheap | Harvard Gazette Online

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My life in real estate: buyers are liars

The very first time I heard the expression, "Buyers are liars," was shortly after I started working as Realtor.    I was annoyingly surprised that someone would actually say that.  So cynical.   Buyers aren't liars, they just know what they like...  or so I thought...

Then I started working with buyers.  One buyer told me emphatically, that they would only look at new construction.  I showed them all the homes that were new construction within their price range.  The challenge was finding the right house in the perfect location:  most of things they could afford were on small lots or located near a busy street.  Or the houses, themselves, were poorly constructed.  They were discouraged and kept expecting me to miraculously find them that perfect new construction home.

I finally convinced them to broaden their search.  So we started over.  I began showing them renovated homes.   As I suspected, they fell in love with a 100 year old house that had been updated and was in a terrific location.   Obviously, it didn't take new construction to meet their needs.

Actually, I was the same way when I was a buyer.  While looking for my last condo, I was very clear with my agent.  Most things were negotiable, but two things were non-negotiable:   I wanted a place that had parking in the building and a washer/dryer in the unit.  My agent was fabulous.  For six months, we went out every weekend looking for my next home.  She showed me the whole north side of Chicago -- modern, vintage, two-flats, co-ops, and even a few single family homes -- anything in my price range that had these two non-negotiables.   We were both frustrated, because nothing seemed right to me for one reason or another.  I couldn't envision myself living in any of these places -- they didn't feel right.  

Then one weekend we were walking down Pearson Street and asked her about a particular building -- why hadn't we looked at apartments in that building?  She told me they didn't allow washer/dryers in the units and there was no parking in the building.  In that there were a few units in the building for sale,  I asked her if we could go look at them.   I walked into my next home and fell in love with the unit I bought.  Why?  The master closet was extra large and I could see the lake from the living room window!  

There are two forces at work when buyers purchase a home: the practical and the emotional.   My practical side said I needed to have parking, but my emotional side loved the look of the vintage building and the graciousness of the apartment.  Disciplined buyers will sacrifice their emotional needs for the practical needs.... but very few buyers are disciplined.  Most buyers will instinctively KNOW when they have found the home of their dreams -- and it often has nothing to do with what they outlined as requirements to their agents. 

While good agents learn to understand their buyers and begin to identify which houses are going to work and which ones aren't, it's never full proof.    Buyers are attracted to the strangest things: the color of a room, a chandelier, a beautiful front door, a nice bathroom -- it could be anything.   I had one buyer who liked that she could see both the front and back yards from her kitchen windows... could keep an eye on her kids playing.  I didn't even notice that feature -- but she did.  Another buyer picked a house because the owners had pictures of three children, that looked just like her three children.... it was sign that it was the right house!  The emotion they felt overruled any objections to the house.  

Buyers just know what they like and what they don't like and as an agent, you can't always be certain what that is.   I can tell when a buyer doesn't like a home -- it shows in their body language and with their expressions. I can also tell when they like something. They start talking in possibilities -- "We'll put the flat-screen TV there." or "This will be Sam's room."

Often when I have a listing, my sellers understandably get frustrated when the showing ends quickly and the feedback unsatisfactory. Can't the agents do a better job of screening their buyers? The answer is, unfortunately, not really. If the agents eliminate a house and don't show it, buyers sometimes insist on seeing it.   More importantly, sometimes the buyers themselves don't really know what they like until they see it... every showing is a new opportunity for a seller and should be welcomed.  Even when the buyer doesn't seem a likely candidate to purchase the home -- you never really know.

Buyers are liars?   No, that's not the word I would use.  Buyers are intuitive and often unaware of what they really value and need -- they have to see it, to know when they've found  home!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Do you know this place?

When I was a young child, after Sunday School I would climb up along the stone wall that ran from the Kenilworth Union Church along the corners of Kenilworth Avenue and Warwick Road. My dad held my hand and I loved walking along the wall in my patent leather Mary Jane shoes. In those days a little girl might have been wearing in a gathered smocked dress, little white gloves and a Sunday hat. At that time the little garden next to the church was the Charles Ware Memorial Garden. Sometimes we would jump off the wall and just run around in the garden.

The Ware Memorial Garden has been around for many, many years and it has since moved across the street from where I used to walk on the wall. It continues to be a lovely garden that is maintained by the Kenilworth Garden Club, and is one of the few open spaces within Kenilworth. I didn't really know too much about the garden; it was just there next to our church for us to enjoy.

Since joining in the garden club a few years ago, I have taken renewed interested in Ware Memorial Garden. My club members loyally continue to plant and weed and beautify its lovely space. It has a rich history that I think is worth sharing. The following is taken from a pamphlet about the garden that was written in 2000 by my friend, Louellen Murray.

In 1938, Kenilworth, like the rest of the country, struggled to recover from the financial strains of the Great Depression. The Kenilworth Union Church was a case in point. It decided to sell off its adjoining playground on the northeast corner of Warwick Road and Kenilworth Avenue. One of its parishioners, Mrs. Charles Ware (Fannie), recognized this as an opportunity to both help her church and honor her husband. She agreed to acquire the property in order to establish a garden.

Mrs. Ware and Mrs. Stanley Ball, both active members of the Kenilworth Garden Club, worked closely with landscape architect Donald Gray of Cleveland, Ohio. They desired to create a space that would reflect the beauty of all seasons. Their selection of 45 fruiting, flowering, deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs and rose were installed... the garden was formally dedicated on June 11, 1939.

Charles Ware was one of the pioneers of Kenilworth and his life was part of the history of the Village. He and Mrs. Ware moved to Kenilworth in December 1892 ... Mr. Ware served as a member and President of the Kenilworth Village Board for a number of years...

After Fannie Ware's death, members of the Kenilworth Garden Club assumed responsibility for the continued maintenance of the garden.

By the 1970's, the Kenilworth Union Church had grown and prospered. There was much interest in reclaiming the corner property to create a memorial park.... if the Board of Trustees could acquire another property of equal or similar value, the Park Board would agree to an exchange. Such a property did exist, right across the street.

There was a house at 241 Kenilworth Avenue that that had been abandoned and became known as "the Haunted House." Eventually it was razed in 1940. In 1952, the land was acquired and it was adjoined to the property of 257 Kenilworth Avenue. I remember it as being a wooded and unattractive lot surrounded by a huge black iron fence.... actually it wasn't very attractive. Finally in 1973, the vacant lot was purchased by someone who wanted to build a new house. Eventually, he decided to build a home in the country instead. He agreed to donate the property to the village so that it could become a new Ware Memorial Garden.

By 1980, landscape designer Catherin Cole Church had laid out the plan for a park consisting of natural woodland with adjoining lawn, border by flowering trees, shrubs and ground cover....

The new garden was created and the old garden was formally dedicated as a memorial garden in 1981.

In 1997, as Kenilworth celebrated its centennial year, the Ware Garden became the beneficiary of a gift from the Centennial Gift Committee -- a beautiful fountain. The fountain was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1996 with the comments, "The goals of the Centennial were to celebrate our first century as a village, to meet new friends and neighbors, to gain recgonition of our history, and to dedicate a gift that would be enjoyed by the village for the next hundred years..."

Like any good garden, the Charles Ware Memorial is an organic entity. It grows and changes over the years, nourished by the connectedness the residents feel toward one another in time and space.

I love this little garden for a lot of reasons... it reminds me of the gentle time and place where I grew up. It is natural, serene and a peaceful place to reflect and think. It's like a little oasis in the village -- Kenilworth has so little open spaces, that it is indeed a special place. Take a walk through the garden; it's beautiful.

Update from December - 2013
The Garden Club of America published an article by Lenore Macdonald in their most recent bulletin.   I've included here:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wild turkey finally captured in Lake Bluff -

Alas, the "Slick" turkey has now been captured and removed from Lake Bluff.
Wild turkey finally captured in Lake Bluff -

Do you know this place?

When I was at New Trier, I was part of group that held an annual treasure hunt. It was great fun reading the instructions and trying to figure out where to drive to get the next clue. Since we were from all the various New Trier towns, some of us had a leg up on different places in each town. But when the clue read, “God’s orange juice squeezer,” we all knew the answer – The Bahai Temple. I know it sounds a bit sacrosanct, but that’s what we called it.

For those of us who grew up on the North Shore, the Bahá'í Temple was a familiar landmark. For me personally, when I saw the building as my folks would return from Chicago and drive North along Sheridan Road, I always knew we were getting close to home. It’s a building that I pretty much took for granted until visitors from out of town would come and visit. It was always a “head turner” as they were stunned to see this amazing architectural structure in the midst of the quiescent North Shore suburbs.

The Bahá'í Temple (officially known as The Bahá'í House of Worship) was brought to the site by Nettie Tobin. Construction was begun in 1921 and was eventually completed in 1953. There were delays during the Great Depression and World War II. It is the largest and the oldest surviving Bahá'í House of Worship. Known by Baha'is as the "Mother Temple of the West" and formally as the "Bahá'í House of Worship for the North American Continent", it located on Sheridan Road near the Wilmette Harbor. The exterior is white Portland cement concrete with both clear and white quartz aggregate. The building has received numerous design awards, and in 1978 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The principal architect was Louis Bourgeois, but the interior cladding was designed by Alfred Shaw of Shaw, Metz, and Dolio. Engineering plans were prepared by Allen McDaniel of The Research Service of Washington, D.C. The general contractor was George A. Fuller, Co. Both the pioneering exterior and interior cladding were fabricated and constructed by John Joseph Earley and the Earley Studio.

On April 30, 2007, the Bahá'í House of Worship was named one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism representing the Chicago metropolitan area.

The building is open to visitors every day of the year. Currently, devotional services are held at 9:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. daily.

Stay tuned, as we continue to tour the North Shore and see how well you know its places!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Do you know this place?

I was so lucky to grow up in the ‘50s, when our parents didn’t hover over us or actually seem to be very concerned with safety belts, life jackets or helmets. (Of course, they also didn’t have to contend with the ubiquitous technology or frivolous lawsuits of today.) 

For example, my folks on occasion would have my brother’s birthday party at Riverview Ramble. Can you imagine? They would just let these little 10 year old boys loose in a Chicago amusement park and tell them what time to meet back at the entrance. The little boys always seemed to make it back in time: flushed with excitement and chocolate stains on their T-shirts. Because of this liaise faire attitude our birthday parties and daily life were a little less safe and a lot more fun. Ah, the ‘50s – they were grand.

One of my friends always had these fantastic birthday parties. I think her dad just got such a kick out of planning fun experiences for his daughters - he never us down. I suppose by today’s standards, some of these parties may seem a bit ho, hum or even corny but to us they were amazing.

The one party I will never forget was a treasure hunt that he arranged for us at the Skokie Lagoons. He rented several canoes and we were given a starting map to get us to the next clue. We would navigate between points. At each point we would pick up the next clue that would lead us on our way. The treasure was buried at the end of a series of clues. It was a chest filled with candy and other treats – we had to earn our “goody bags” in those days! I think there were about 4 canoes with these little girls paddling all around the lagoons … it was a sensational party and so much fun.

I suppose because of that memory and others, when I am driving in northwest Winnetka, I always like to drive along Forest Way Road and through the Skokie Lagoons. If you haven’t made that drive, I encourage you to check it out. My out of town clients are always a little amazed to see this forest like area in the midst of suburbia. Even as it was when I was young, there is often at the corner of Tower Road and Forest Way a Good Humor truck. (If my dad felt like it, he would sometimes stop at that truck and get us to an ice cream delight – what a treat!)

Before the lagoons were dug, the area was the site of a marsh, known by the Potawatomi name Chewbab Skokie ("Big Wet Prarie") or Skokie Marsh. The marsh was partially drained by local farmers, leaving a peat bog. During spring floods it became a lake that inundated adjacent property and roads. Even today, some of the lots that border the Skokie Lagoons are in or near a flood plain, so buyers and sellers of real estate need to be aware of that.

Between 1933 and 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) executed a plan that would help bring the flooding under control. Several thousand workers moved four million yards of earth to form the land, creating the artificial lagoons of today.

Over time high waters erode the shoreline, filling the lagoons with sediment and damaging the fish habitat. From 1995 to 1999, the Chicago Audubon Society began a program of shoreline restoration. Plants were added to the shoreline to help limit erosion. Once it was realized that most of the plants in the southern, downstream lagoons were lost during high water, restoration efforts were concentrated on the upstream lagoons. Efforts were made to clear invasive species such as garlic mustard and buckthorn, and replace them with native plants and grasses like goldenrod, tall coreopsis, and echinacea.

The Skokie Lagoons is a nature preserve in both Glencoe and Winnetka that is owned and managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Within the park, there are seven inter-connected lagoons totaling 190 acres. Water flows southward from the Chicago Botanic Garden through the lagoons to the Skokie River.

Check out this place – there are lots of recreational opportunities at Skokie Lagoons including biking, fishing, boating and birding. Here's a map of the Skokie Lagoons.
Stay tuned as we continue to check out the places along Chicago’s North Shore.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do you know this place?

Shortly before I moved to Lake Forest, someone told me attend a class at “Gorton.’’ I had no idea what they were talking about, but quickly learned. Since 1972, "Gorton" has meant "the community house" to Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents, but its designation as a local landmark dates back to 1901, when it opened as the Central School, Lake Forest's first consolidated K-12 school.

The Central School, renamed in 1912 to honor long-time Lake Forest mayor Edward F. Gorton, became known for its nurturing environment and motivating atmosphere. The learning experience must have been memorable, for many former students visit Gorton each year. In June 1971, School District 67 closed the Gorton School. The City of Lake Forest for many months sought a single community group to take over the building. When such proved impossible, the City Council passed a resolution to demolish the building. The resolution galvanized the community into action.

Gorton Community Center is a place that pulls on your heart strings. I think it has to do with its history. Organizations and individuals rallied to save the building for use as a community center. Jackie and Brooks Smith spear-headed the public effort leading the City Council to establish the Community Center Committee as a privately-supported agency of The City of Lake Forest. In December 1972, Gorton made its debut, with volunteers providing the labor and materials needed to bring the building up to code.

From its founding, the operations of Gorton Community Center have been privately funded. No property taxes support Gorton's operations. While the city maintains the site and the exterior of the building, Gorton is an independent Illinois not-for-profit corporation that handles operations. It is one of only a few privately-funded community centers in the United States.

The building itself was designed by James Gamble Rogers and remodeled in 1907 by Howard Van Doren Shaw, who also designed Market Square. In 1935, Anderson and Ticknor created an east addition, including an auditorium. Ralph Millman oversaw a 1953 renovation of the building. The Stuart Community Room was added in 1985, and the Baggett Auditorium was renovated and restored in 1992. The Gorton building was completely renovated in 1999-2001 to bring its users new and improved program space. Included in the renovation were a new Children's Drop-In Center, Fine Arts Center, Performing Arts Center, Youth Activity Center, and Nonprofit Center. The Gorton building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Gorton's operations, improvements, and programs are funded entirely through user fees and the generosity of area residents and businesses.

Gorton provides a home for a number of not-for profit organization such as LEAD, Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), the Deerpath Art League and Mother’s Trust Foundation. These are worthy organizations that needed a cost effective place to conduct their operations and Gorton provides that for them.

Gorton has a number of really special programs that are true assets to the community. For example, the Gorton Children's Drop-In Center is a non-profit, part-time, child care program serving children from six weeks through five years of age. The purpose of the Drop-In Center is to provide "as needed," quality child care for parents needing time to volunteer in the community, to make an appointment, to attend a meeting, to spend time alone with another child -- even to shop! The Gorton Children's Drop-In Center, established in 1986, is licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and complies with all of its standards.

Stay tuned, as we tour the North Shore and see how well you know its places!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I admit it. I’m a dog person – can’t stand cats. I love my dogs, Bert and Lew (AKA, Robert and Lewis). They are two very cute Welsh Corgis, even though Bertie’s ears never went up, so he looks more like a mutt, and Lewie annoyingly barks at everything. I must love my dogs – why else would I put up with all the shedding that comes with this breed? Or why would I put up with the scratches on the doors.

With a pet, I find that you overlook their shortcomings and love them no matter what….until you need to sell your house. Pets can be a real challenge for sellers. I dread the day when I will put my house on the market, because I can see that I will need to vacuum hourly to keep up with their shedding.

Like all dog owners, I’m a little defensive when someone comments negatively on my boys. I find it’s the same when I when I work with sellers who have pets. I tread lightly when I give out pet instructions to sellers. But I have to say, if you want to sell your house, don’t let your cat or dog get in the way.
Odors – huge issue. The sense of smell is such a major component to house selection. When something smells “off,” buyers often walk out the door. Consider professionally cleaning all the furniture or rugs where your pets have slept and keep those spots off limits until the house is under contract. If your dog has rolled in muck or whatever, get him bathed and smelling sweet again soon, so he doesn’t bring that odor into the house. While you’re marketing your house, vacuum frequently, open windows, and get some fresh air in. Draperies also hold odor, so think about having them professionally cleaned.

Stains – look terrible on rugs, etc. There are a number of pet cleaning products, which can eliminate the stains. Make sure nothing looks unsightly. If you can't eliminate the stains then consider removing the rug or replacing it.

Do not have your pets in the house during showings. I was marketing a home several years ago. My clients had this amazingly sweet little dog – gentle as can be. The buyers were a family. They walked in and one of the children completely freaked out. They never looked at the house, because their child was hysterical. You never know who is looking at your home and some people are simply terrified of animals.

I had another client, who is also a friend. Her allergies are so bad, that she won’t set foot in my house. She gets even worse with cats. I was working with her to help them find a new house. At one place we toured the cats were roaming the house and the odor was awful. I'm slightly allergic to animals as well and I couldn't stand it. For her it was even worse. She was inside the property for less than a minute and eliminated it from consideration simply because she knew how difficult it would be to get the cat dander and odors out of that house.

As a selling agent, I hate it when pets are there during a showing… particularly if my clients are bringing in their children. I’m always worried about the safety of both the pets and of us. Consider how stressful it is for the pets to have strangers coming in and out of their home. While I don't think they should be there at all during showings, at the very least, the pets should be contained in crates so that there is no chance of them getting loose or hurt when buyers come into the property.
Also put away all tell-tell signs: their food dishes and toys and beds, crates, etc. Remove the kitty litter box. Make sure the buyers can walk the yard without stepping in dog doo. Sometimes those indicators turn off potential buyers – for no other reason that a pet has lived in the house.
Recognize that if a home has suffered damage due to your pets, it may be devalued in the marketplace. The only cure is taking action to eliminate the problem before your home goes on the market. Agents talk and you don't want your house to get the reputation of having a problem.

So when your agent tells you the pets have got to go, listen to them. Like me, they may love their own dogs – BUT -- pets can definitely make it more difficult to sell a home.

Houzz Pets Survey: Who Rules the House -- Dogs or Cats?