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

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do you know this place?

If you love to eat out and are always looking for nice places to wine and dine, I would suspect that you would recognize this familiar North Shore structure. This is the water tower and surrounding barracks at Fort Sheridan just south of Lake Forest in Highwood/Highland Park.

When I was growing up on the North Shore, all the communities, with the exceptions of Skokie and Highwood, were "dry" (including Evanston!). As a result, lots of liquor stores --- and other interesting types of businesses that might spring up near a military outpost -- were in Highwood. But also, wonderful restaurants were available for great dining - which continues on today.
Designed by the Chicago architecture firm of Holabird & Roche, Fort Sheridan occupied over 600 acres along Lake Michigan from 1887 to 1993. The land had been purchased in 1887 by the Commercial Club of Chicago and donated to the federal government with the hope that the army would use the gift to create a military post near the city. The purchase was motivated by the Haymarket Riot in 1886, when members of the Commercial Club had supported the use of the army as a national police force for the protection of property and the suppression of labor unrest. Apparently there was some fear that unrest might move out of the city and be directed toward the personal property of the city's business leaders.
The plan was supported by Civil War hero and commanding general, Philip H. Sheridan. After Congress accepted the gift, construction began in the spring of 1888. Eventually the fort was named after this general.

Troops from Fort Sheridan responded only once to labor unrest, in 1894 during the Pullman
strikes. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, Fort Sheridan became a mobilization, training, and administrative center and continued to house these functions through World War II, when over 500,000 men and women were processed through military service at the fort. From 1953 to the 1970s, Fort Sheridan serviced and supplied all NIKE antimissile systems in the upper Midwest. After 1973 the post again housed administrative and logistical support services. In 1988 Fort Sheridan was among those slated for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and in 1993 the army post was closed.After Fort Sheridan was slated for closure, residents of the area formed the Fort Sheridan Joint Planning Commission and developed a reuse plan with public participation. Ninety-four buildings, including 64 designed by Holabird & Roche, are situated on the 110-acre Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984. An Army Reserve base continues to use about 90 acres.
Coming out of the plan was The Town of Fort Sheridan. It is the first new residential community on the North Shore in 100 years. While it is situated in Highland Park and Highwood, it is a town unto itself with architecture and amenities that are not found elsewhere. Fort Sheridan is a blend of new homes as well as restored historic structures. For example, the barracks are these fabulous one of a kind condos. The officers' quarters have become terrific single family homes near the lake. Fort Sheridan has its own train stop for traveling into the city.

One time I was showing homes to someone, who was relocating from out of area. As we drove through Fort Sheridan, he shared with me a story. Apparently his father had been in the military. At one point, during his career he had been stationed at Fort Sheridan. His father loved the assignment so much, that when a career advancement opportunity presented itself, he turned it down, because he didn't want to leave Fort Sheridan.
It really is a stunning site for a military base with a bluffs and ravines and 3/4 miles of shoreline -- untouched by development. Today it is owned and managed by the Lake County Forest Preserve. The beach is accessible to the public via a paved path from the public parking area at the forest preserve. If you come, meander down to the beach -- there are fabulous walking paths.

Fort Sheridan is part of the fabric of the North Shore. With the advent of this residential community, Highwood has become a terrific town with some wonderful stores and shops. If you haven't yet, come visit this interesting historic spot on the North Shore.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Fort Sheridan

Friday, February 18, 2011

Universal Design - Homes That Help You Take Aging in Stride

Why do I need an agent?

Every once in a while, I will work with a buyer or seller who wants to skip the real estate agents and talk directly to the other party.  I get that.  Sometimes its frustrating to work through intermediaries -- particularly when you are trying to negotiate a deal.  

Regardless, both buyers and sellers are working with agents for a reason.   It's important to realize and respect that the other party is more than likely using an agent, so that they don't have to talk directly to the buyer/seller of the home.   It's particularly true with sellers.  Every once in while a buyer will bypass the listing agent and call the seller directly.  It happened once to me.  My clients were both offended and annoyed when the buyers contacted them directly. In their minds, it felt like aggressive and unwanted behavior. 

Buying and selling homes can be a very emotional process.  I have found that many sellers don't want to ever even meet the buyers, much less talk to them.  They want to be out of sight for inspections and have their attorney's represent them at the close.   They have their reasons.  Maybe the move is a painful move: divorce, death, relocation, etc., and they don't really want to sell their house.  Or maybe it's as simple as they don't want to have the "money discussion" with strangers.   If they wanted to deal directly with the buyers, they would have sold their house by owner.  They hired an agent to represent them and that's what their agent is being paid to do. 

Further, agents often provide a buffer zone between the parties.  Sometimes I've had my clients get angry with me when negotiations are taking place, when all I am doing is communicating the other party's negotiating point of view.   I have to remind myself that it is better that they lose their tempers with me,  then yell at the other party directly and have the negotiations collapse. A good agent communicates their clients' point of view in a calm and rational manner -- not with lots of emotion and drama. 

If you're buying or selling a home and you hired an agent, then let them do their job and represent you and your interests.  It can be a risky move, and might be perceived as very provocative to contact the other party directly.

So how do you know you've got a good negotiator working for you?
  1. Do they have a reputation for integrity among other real estate agents?  That's actually very important, because if they don't -- other agents might be reluctant to do deals with them.
  2. Ask for references.  Find out how they have negotiated for other buyers and sellers.
  3. Look at their track record and ask what their list/sales ratio is.  For example, during the last 12 months, the average list/sales ratio for houses in Lake Forest is 88%.  As a buyer's agent, you'd like your agent's ratio number to be under 88%.  As a seller's agent, you'd like your agent's ratio number to be greater than 88%.  (This is not hard and fast because every deal has a story, but it can be worthwhile to look at their track record.)
  4. If you're a seller, how did your agent handle the commission discussion?  Did they cave in if you asked for a reduction in the commission rate?  Or did they negotiate with you?   If they can't even negotiate for themselves, then you have a clue as to how hard they will push for you.
  5. Are they firm, but also pleasant?  Some of the toughest negotiators, with whom I have put together deals, are the nicest people you can imagine.  It's their resolve that makes them good negotiators -- not their temperament.  A lot of clients think they need to have a "cutthroat agent" to get the job done.  Don't kid yourself.  Negotiations with unpleasant agents usually create hard feelings and can often lead to the deal collapsing... or... can make for a "rocky road" on the way to a close.
  6. A good negotiator seeks to find a win-win solution so that both parties are OK with the deal and come away feeling that it was fair
Every once and while, I have found that some agents can get in the way of a sale.  There have been occasions when I have wanted to bypass the agent altogether and talk directly to their client -- some agents say and do things that feed their own egos rather than meet their clients' needs and wants.   But a good agent works to achieve the goals of their client.

So if you've chosen to hire an agent to represent you, then choose a solid agent with a strong track record, that you know will do a good job for you.

Then let them do their job.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How to Analyze a Neighborhood Before You Buy - My Money (

Good article

How to Analyze a Neighborhood Before You Buy - My Money (

Renting versus Buying

Happy Valentine's Day

Do you remember Valentine's Day when you were young?  I know at Joseph Sears we would bring a shoebox from home and decorate it during class and then leave it out our desks for deliveries of little cards.  It was always traumatic for some of the kids, because some mothers (unlike mine) would allow their children to be selective as to who was to receive a valentine and who wasn't.    (My mother would never let me do that -- if I was going to give cards,  they needed to go to everyone in the class!)   Occasionally, I would wander into another classroom to deliver for special friends, who weren't in my class.  I always felt a little sorry for some of the kids, who received a less cards than others. 

The Botanic Garden has instructions for making an eco-friendly Valentine Day card.  I'm old fashioned.  I like the traditional paper Valentines.

Valentine's Day is a special holiday -- it's just about friendship and love... what other day is quite the same?  Ever wonder about the origins of Valentine's Day?  I did, so I did a little research on Wikipedia...

Saint Valentine's Day, commonly shortened to Valentine's Day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 500 AD. ... The day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished....

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities the figure goes up to 1 billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines. 

Hope your day is filled with love and friendship!! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Do you know this place?

Look familiar?  For those of us who live near the Middlefork Savannah in Lake Forest, it's probably easy to recognize.  But enter the doors of this restored Elawa Farm building and you'll be quite surprised to see all sorts of critters.  This is Lake Forest's Wildlife Discovery Center.

The Wildlife Discovery center (WDC) is a nature center, wildlife sanctuary, museum, and biological station featuring high-quality displays of live reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds including raptors, and a bobcat. 

With the help of over 150 resident animals, the WDC host interactive displays and educational programs with an emphasis on wildlife conservation and education.  Specifically, WDC offers:

Education programs for all ages
  • Chicago land's finest public reptile exhibits one of the largest public displays of rattlesnakes in North America 
  • Outdoor raptor exhibits 
  • Flying raptor demonstrations 
  • Youth wildlife conservation classes 
  • Creative school field trips 
  • Eco based summer camps 
  • Group presentations at the Center 
  • Traveling animal presentations at off-site events 
  • Wildlife birthday parties 
Patch - Lake Forest has been profiling the center with a series of videos if you would like to learn more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow is coming....

I heard on the news that we are going to be having a snow storm that has been likened to the storm on 1967.  The storm was viewed as the greatest disaster for the city of Chicago since the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  I know I am dating myself, but I actually remember that storm very well.  I was a sophomore at New Trier East in Winnetka.   A few days before the storm, we had had beautiful weather in 60s.  The storm came on Thursday and according to Wikipedia:
The snow fell continuously on Chicago from 5:02 am on Thursday, January 26 until 10:10 am Friday when 23 inches had fallen. The storm played havoc with commuters, stranding thousands of people and leaving an estimated 800 Chicago Transit Authority buses and 50,000 automobiles abandoned on the city streets and expressways.  

I don't remember exactly why, but we had Friday off from school -- teacher's conference day or something.  It was sort of a disappointment because, we knew that there was no way we were going to be able to get to school... it took me an hour to walk to a friend's house and she only lived two blocks away.  The big news came on that following Monday.  For the first and only time growing up on the North Shore, school was closed for a snow day. 

The roads were impassible.  "Uncle" Jim (friend of my parents) had recently bought a Jeep to take up north for summers in Michigan.  At the time, it was a real novelty and we thought it funny that he had bought such a vehicle.  He had the last laugh.  He was the only one able to maneuver through the snow and became a lifeline when we needed groceries, etc.  

My Mother was so relaxed about things -- when she finally was able to drive the car out on the streets, she let us tie a rope behind the car and ski around town while she drove.  Crazy when you think about it, but was it ever fun.   

I remember the 1967 storm as something of great fun and a real novelty.  It wasn't until the storm of 1979, that I thought of blizzards with less enthusiasm... now that one was no fun.  

We already had a build up of snow from in January, so snow was already an issue.  As you may remember the single day record of 16.4 inches for January 26th was broken when 16.5 inches fell on January 13th.  I was living in the city at the time.  Getting to and from work was impossible -- I remember stepping off the curb and having snow come up my skirt to my waist.   The pitiful response by Mayor Bilandic's administration brought us a new mayor with the election of Jane Byrne... ah, memories.

It will be interesting to see if the weather forecasters have it right this time -- stay warm!!!