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

Contact Ann

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Computer Recycling at Your Front Door

The At Home Computer Pickup Program provides SWANCC-area residents with a convenient recycling option for old electronics and computers.

For $30 you can recycle up to 6 items. Additional items are $5 each with a maximum of 15 items. No individual item can exceed 50 pounds and televisions are limited to 27 inches. You can easily schedule and pay for a pickup by calling (847) 724-9205 ext. 203. On the pickup day, simply place your items by the front door tagged with SWANCC's receipt. It's that easy!

To be eligible to participate you must:
Live in a SWANCC member community
Have street level access to your front door (no condos or apartments)
All materials will be dismantled domestically and recycled by an ISO 14001 and 9001 certified contractor. Due to these recycling efforts, natural resources and energy are conserved, materials are recovered or disposed of in a safe manner as well as landfill space saving.

For a list of accepted electronics eligible for this program, visit

Call (847) 724-9205 ext. 203 schedule an At Home Pickup today!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Texas and the housing bust

Interesting Read in the New York Times
Texas Lending Law Shielded Many Homeowners From Housing Bust

Texas required any homeowner seeking to refinance a mortgage or take out a home equity loan to have at least 20 percent equity after taking out the new loan.

Frustrations and hope with HARP 2.0

New York Times
Hope and Frustration in New U.S. Effort to Help Homeowners

Despite some problems with lenders, a new version of the HARP federal refinancing program offers less restrictive rules — but the success of the program remains to be seen.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Renewal: It Starts at Home - The Bath

"Kitchens may be the hearth of the home, but baths are an even more popular target for remodeling.

Nearly a third of Americans, or 31%, want to remodel their baths compared with 25% who seek the same for their kitchens, according to a December survey of 4,000 readers interested in buying or renovating a home by Better Homes and Gardens magazine."

The Bath
USA Today

Monday, May 21, 2012

My life in real estate: Condos

When the power went out last summer, I started to panic as the back-up battery on the sump pump started beeping. I began bemoaning my current home and reminiscing how much easier it was to live in a condo. Why did I sell my apartment? Owning a house is nothing but headaches. Is the basement going to flood? My thoughts focused on the downside of owning a house.
Before moving back to the North Shore, I owned three condos: one in the Gold Coast; one in Lakeview and one in Streeterville. I loved the last one a lot -- it was on Pearson Street -- terrific location near the Water Tower.
While the convenience factor is certain in a condo, the benefits of owning your own house are pretty substantial. Living in a condo is like a group grope with management by committee. Everyone seems slightly irritated most of the time.

In my last condo, I was coerced by my friends (??) to serve on the condo board. After a year I was made president. I know somebody had to do it, but it is truly one of the most thankless jobs around. When I stepped into the role, I was surprised to learn that a number of maintenance issues had been deferred for years. Not surprisingly, no board wanted to face the wrath of the other owners to deal with some of these issues that would cost a fair amount of money to fix. I will be probably be remembered as the president who dealt with the "sewer situation." It was certainly not something I wanted to address, but somebody had to step up to the plate.

Buying a condo is going into business with a lot of strangers who have different tastes, values and goals. Understanding the building and the people that live there is probably a good idea before buying into a partnership with a lot of strangers.

I have three suggestions before you buy a condo:
  • Sit in the lobby of the condo for a while and watch the people that come in and out of the building. See how they interact with each other and the staff. I've found that you can tell a friendly and cohesive building pretty quickly by people watching. 
  • Google the building. See if there is a website about the building that you can read. And also see if there have been incidents reported in the news. For example, a few years ago there was a condo building in Chicago in the news because it needed to be fumigated for bed bugs... clearly that's something I'd like to know before I buy into a place. Your real estate agent should also know some of the history and facts about a particular building. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, much can be learned by reviewing some of the legal documents that come with the purchase. 

When you decide to buy a condominium, there are three documents that you expect to receive and should review before you commit to the purchase: the By Laws, the Financial Statements and the Rules and Regulations (and if available, I'd look at the condo board meeting minutes as well). If you don't know how to read financial statements, then ask your friendly accountant or friend with a finance degree to interpret them. Some of the questions that should be asked include:
  • How much and what's included in the monthly assessments? Some include heat, water and scavenger services -- some don't. 
When I was president of my condo board, the single largest expense was payroll costs. We had a building supervisor, a custodian and several doormen to pay. When the assessments seem high, ask for a breakdown and understand what's included.
The other big ticket item is the cost for common insurance. If someone falls in front of the building, the condo association could be held liable. 
Personally, I would walk away from a condo building that has high assessments with no clear rationalization for the amount.
  • How much is in the capital reserve fund and how much is added to fund annually? Is there a minimum balance? This is the one question, that most buyers really need to understand. When something needs be repaired or replaced in a condo building, it can be pretty costly. For example, tuck pointing of an apartment building can be as much as $100,000, by the time the scaffolding is erected. 
I would also try to learn if the condo board has a plan for how the capital reserves are going to be spent. A responsible condominium board has outlined the capital reserve plan. For example in 2013 we're going to replace the roof, in 2015 we're planning to put in a new heating system, etc. 
One of the condos I lived in had lower assessments and wasn't funding the capital reserve fund. We had a major problem with one of the walls and roof and there were insufficient funds available to make the repair. As condo owners we ended up with a huge special assessment. My share was something like $7,000. That experience put me in the camp of allocating a portion of the monthly assessment amount to the capital reserve fund and letting it build up to a sizable amount. I had a friend on a condo board of high rise in Lincoln Park. He told me their capital reserve fund was close to $2M. When I asked why so high, he said to replace one elevator cost over $1M. They had three in the building.
  • Are there any contemplated or pending special assessments? 
This is a really important question. Sometimes the owners of condos learn that a special assessment is being planned and they try to sell their unit before it is assessed. Knowing the status of special assessments may require some investigation by reading condo board minutes.
If a special assessment is planned, make it a negotiating item on the purchase of the condo. Who is going to pay it: the new owner or the old? It also gets back to the balance of the capital reserve -- there should be sufficient funds to handle minor repairs and a balance building up to handle major repairs.
  • How is the association managed: professionally or self? 
Having lived in both professionally managed buildings and self-managed buildings, I would opt for a professionally managed condo. My one experience with a self-managed building was pretty negative. Basically you're expecting a co-owner to make decisions about the maintenance of a building and sometimes the decisions they make are self-serving. An independent company is often a better solution. Much of this depends on the number of units in a building. In a four flat, for example, it may make more sense to be self-managed with each owner being responsible for different aspects of the management.
  • Are there any outstanding legal issues with the condo? 
I found out after I had already moved into one of my condos, that the building had just gone through a major lawsuit with one of the unit owners. The owner had a potbelly pig and had refused to remove it from the building. While the condo board won in the lawsuit, the legal bills depleted much of the capital reserve fund. By the time I moved into the building they were on their way to replenish the fund, but it was a problem that condo had to deal with over time.
  • What percentage of the building is owner occupied? Are you able to lease your unit? 
This is very important point. Lenders are interested in this number. If a building is less than 70% owner occupied, some lenders will not lend you money for a mortgage. As a general rule, the higher the owner occupancy level, the better the condominium building. Often renters -- and for that matter, their landlords -- don't care as much about how well the building is being tended.
The flip side is also important. Our condo board tried to implement an owner occupancy requirement and it was rejected by enough owners that the requirement didn't pass. The owners just didn't want that sort of restriction placed on their property.
  • What's the condominium fee delinquency rate? 
Budgets are based on a certain income -- when unit owners don't pay, there is going to be shortfall... the rest of the owners need to fund the difference. 
  • Do you actually own certain common areas such as porches, decks, storage spaces and parking spaces, or are they use rights? 
  • The master insurance policy, what does it cover? 
  • What are the specific rules of the condominium? 
There are two rules that stand out -- what rights do you have about owning pets and leasing out your unit. Both of these rules can limit an owners' ability to sell the unit when they are ready.
Look for other rules that might be contrary to the lifestyle that you want to live. This building will be "your neighborhood" ... is it the place you want to call home?
Do I miss living in a condo? Yes and no. I definitely miss the easiness of it all. If I had a problem with something, I just called the custodian and he fixed it. I miss it when I have to worry about my lawn being mowed or the driveway being plowed. I miss the economics of it -- I'd rather pay a monthly assessment than hire a lot of people to help me with my house....

But I sure don't miss the "management by committee." If I want to paint a wall in my hallway, I don't need to get the approval of the decorating committee.

And I definitely don't miss having to deal with eccentric neighbors. I remember one neighbor who put a bird feeder on the fire escape. As you would expect, it's against the fire code to have anything on a fire escape and the building can get sited for a code violation by the Fire Department if the fire escapes are cluttered or unclear.
Not withstanding the law, who in the world puts a bird feeder on a building in the heart of a city? As you might suspect it only attracts pigeons and other undesirable critters. The neighbor living below this eccentric co-owner was not happy and expressed his anger to the condo board. As president of the board, I had to spend a good 10 minutes of one meeting trying to explain to this irrational neighbor, why she had to remove her bird feeder.
It finally took drastic measures to enable my resignation from the condo board. I bought a house and moved to Lake Forest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Renewal: It Starts At Home - Week 3

"As the economy improves, many homeowners are showing a renewed interest in renovating their kitchens without breaking the bank."

The Kitchen
USA Today

Buying a home

"Tired of renting? It could be a great time to buy your first home. In many cities, home prices have bottomed and rents have risen. Mortgage rates are still super low. In fact, homes haven't been as affordable since 1971. On the downside, in many cities buyers have fewer homes from which to choose and more competition for the best houses."
Kiplinger: What it Takes to Buy a Home

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's a beauty contest!

Facts about the housing bust

"What if the conventional wisdom about the mortgage crisis is all wrong?

That’s the implication of a new paper from economists at the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Boston that’s bound to spark debate because, if their premises are correct, it sharply undercuts the justification for much of the new regulation that’s been erected over the past two years...."

The Wall Street Journal

No place like home

"Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like a rented apartment.
That may be the mantra of U.S. households for the next three years, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Demand Institute division of the U.S. Conference Board. Most Americans still hope to own a home, the study found — but that home will be smaller than the MacMansions of the housing boom."

Wall Street Journal

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Delays in Refinancing

"When Craig Foyer called Bank of America Corp. in March to ask about refinancing the mortgage on his Oconomowoc, Wis., home, a saleswoman told him the company was "swamped with business" and that it would call him back in 60 to 90 days, he says.

"That doesn't do much for someone interested in the market right now," said Mr. Foyer, 46 years old, who works in software development.

Wall Street Journal
Borrowers Face Big Delays in Refinancing Mortgages

Renewal: It Starts at Home USA Today - Weeks 1 & 2

"Glitzy is out and comfy is in as Americans take a simpler approach to home renovation.

With real estate values still in the doldrums, people are seeing their houses less as investments and more as — well — homes. Since they're staying put, they're taking on targeted — rather than extreme — makeovers aimed at livability.

Choosing a Contractor
"Everyone's heard the horror stories — the contractor who rips out the back of a house, has a nervous breakdown and disappears, one day before the homeowner leaves town for vacation. Or the builder who never shows up on time, does poor work and overcharges...."

Owning Real Estate In Your IRA

"Are you tired of treading water in the stock market? Looking to “opt out” of market volatility as much as possible? Many smart investors are looking for insulation by upping their allocation to asset classes that have little or no correlation to the equity market."

US News and World Report

Home Prices Aren't Coming Back

Investing in real estate

"Investing in real estate most likely won't produce the get-rich-quick results promised by many a late-night infomercial. But for investors willing to do some homework, make a good purchase and properly manage a piece of property, the rewards can be substantial."

Market Watch

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Native Plant Sale this weekend

Join the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO), the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission and Lake County Forest Preserves at its spring time rain barrel and native plant sale. Using rain barrels, practicing backyard composting, and planting native species are all sustainable and environmentally sound practices that will not only be good for your pocketbook, but for your home, community and beyond. There are so many wonderful benefits including:

Using rain barrels reuses stormwater from rooftops and diverts water from storm drains decreasing the impact of runoff to streams and minimizing sewer overflows during heavy rainfall.
In addition to creating a nutrient rich soil for yards and gardens, composting at home means residents will dispose of less material in their waste, diverting a large percentage of materials from our landfills.  Compost can also reduce the amount of water needed and helps improve resistance to both plant diseases and insect pests.

Planting native species in your yard can reduce the amount of water needed for gardens, can eliminate the need for fertilizers and chemicals.  Native plants also support local wildlife, providing food, water and shelter to songbirds, butterflies and other pollinators, as well as other native wildlife.

For more information regarding the Native Plant Sale visit the Lake County Forest Preserve or call 847- 367-6640.

Rain Barrel Composting Bin and Native Plant Sale Event Flier

Study on appraisals...

"In the recent economic crisis, commercial landlords and lenders discovered myriad ways to find themselves on the brink of financial disaster. Excessive purchase prices — many based on faulty property appraisals — were a major factor, specialists say."

Interesting read in the New York Times:
Accuracy of Appraisals Is Spotty, Study Says

Monday, May 7, 2012

Market Ready

"Q. My bedroom has worn carpet. Should I replace it with a hardwood flooring before trying to sell my home?

...nobody wants a worn anything..."

From the New York Times

Friday, May 4, 2012

For the home office

"Whether you're running a business out of your living room or splitting time between your home and the office, setting up a reliable, well-connected home office should be at the top of your "must-do" list."


Thinking about renting?

"...Check these things off your list as you go through your potential home and you’ll be sure you know exactly what you’re getting."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Do Buyer's Agents Get Paid?

"Question: How Do Buyer's Agents Get Paid?

A reader asks: "My wife and I have been looking at homes .... Last week he told us we had to sign a buyer broker agreement but my family told me not to sign it. Now this agent won't show us any more properties. We don't understand. Doesn't an agent's company pay them? How do buyer's agents get paid?"

Answer: Many buyers are confused about how buyer's agents get paid. Like you, some buyers believe that the buyer's company pays them ....

When you ask a buyer's agent to show you property, you are implying that you will eventually write an offer through that buyer's agent. If you have no intention of ever writing an offer with that buyer's agent, you are taking advantage of that agent...."
Good explanation in