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

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Green Tips - Cleaning up after holidays

Looking for some ideas how to make it a greener holiday -- try these:
  • Use your real Christmas tree as a shelter for birds in your yard. Then in the spring, you can also use the tree as mulch or wood chips.
  • Save the foam and packaging from Christmas gifts to use later for shipping or mailing.
  • Recycle your used holiday lights.  Check out SWALCO or  SWANCC's website.
  • Compost everything possible. Live decorations such as cones and berries are compostable.
  • Give old or unwanted Christmas gifts to charity.
  • Keep Christmas cards to cut up and use as gift tags next year or cut them in half, write a message on the back of the picture and send as a Christmas postcard.
  • Keep gift bags and wrapping paper for wrapping gifts next year. Unwrap presents carefully and neatly fold the paper to store until next Christmas. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable, so it will all end up in the garbage if you don't reuse it.
  • Recycle wine bottles and glass liquor bottles.
  • Start talking now about what you could do differently next Christmas such as donating to charities or giving gift certificates or vouchers for your time (eg. babysitting) instead of buying gifts.
source: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

From my home to yours...

Merry Christmas!

(Lewie and Bert, too!)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Loan Street Blues

Recently I received a copy of a letter from an attorney.  It arrived at around 5:00 on the day before we were scheduled to close on a property.  The buyer was requesting an extension of the mortgage contingency date.  The letter said something like "we're planning on closing tomorrow, but we still haven't received confirmation from the lender." 


I would like to say that that letter was an anomaly and that 99.9% of the lenders deliver as planned.  Sadly, it's not.   I've had five sellers and a least one buyer in the last two years, who have had sleepless nights worrying whether the lender was going to get the money wired in time for the close.  

Three times -- they didn't.   We waited one, two, three and even four weeks for the lender to get their act together.   Three of my seller clients had moved mountains and paid a premium to get out of their homes, in order to meet an aggressive close date - only to find that the buyer hadn't received confirmation of their loan.   

A buyer, who needs to get financing, will rarely make an offer without a mortgage contingency -- and they will not waive their mortgage contingency until the loan is "clear to close."  Sellers are finding that they need to deal with this reality.  

It's a Catch 22 for the sellers.  Once they have vacated their property, they can't really put their home back on the market -- it's empty and doesn't show well.  The balance of the earnest money is in escrow.   They've already had attorney review and inspection.   But they find themselves carrying two homes -- albeit briefly -- which was something they didn't want to do in the first place. 

For buyers it is equally as frustrating.   In some cases, they have vacated their homes; their furniture is sitting in storage and they are living in a hotel waiting for their lender to deliver.   They have produced every form, notice and affidavit that was asked of them.  They have spent countless hours on the phone dealing with voice recordings trying to get a straight answer.  They've got their attorney on speed dial at this point waiting, waiting, waiting....

My colleagues and I commiserate about the current state of mortgage lending -- we've all been there.    We understand that the 2008 financial melt down was a game changer.   (Did you see The Big Short?)   But getting a mortgage has been such an ordeal today.  The "system" has been over-corrected.  When buyers present a cash offer -- sellers take notice and will often take a lower cash amount, and a sure thing -- rather than dealing with the uncertainty of the buyers' financing. 

It has been my experience that the bigger the bank, the worse the service.  There are now four lenders on my Enemies List.  When I see that one of them is the lender, I groan.   

My personal advice:
Buyers -- think twice before going to the big bank mortgage lenders.    The smaller guys deliver -- the big ones will probably give you nightmares and have you dealing with people,  who don't know what they're doing.  

Sellers -- all things being equal -- a cash deal is something to get excited about -- consider it seriously every time!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Sweet Spot

I got a phone call last week from someone thinking about selling their home.

The question I asked was, "How long will it take me to sell my house?"

My answer was, "Well, that depends..."

As of today, there are 550 homes for sale in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. In the last 12 months, 434 homes have gone under contract. [note: numbers and days are from 2011 when article was originally published.]

While the math would seem to indicate that it takes at least a year for something to sell, that's rarely the case. Some homes have been on the market for well over 1,000 days. Some homes have gone under contract in one day. There is no precise answer to this question.

It depends -- it depends on whether the home is priced at the "sweet spot."

The sweet spot -- that's the price that gets buyers excited. That's the price when offers start appearing. Did you know that the median days on the market for Lake Forest houses that have found their "sweet spot" is less than 35 days? That's means when the house is priced right -- it sells fast. Even the most unlovable houses have a sweet spot -- it's just a matter of finding it.

If a home has been on the market and it hasn't gone under contract within 90 days at a certain price, what makes a seller think the next 90 days are going to be a lot different? Sure that elusive buyer may show up. But why wait? In a declining market, houses that sell quickly usually sell at a higher price than those that linger waiting for a buyer.

Want to sell your house? Find the sweet spot and it will sell!

Originally published in Patch Lake Forest, June 28, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How's the Market as of December 1, 2016?

December already? Where did the year go? November was such a memorable month -- the Cubs won the world series and a reality TV star is elected president.  Amazing. 

And how about real estate on the North Shore?

The first report shows units sold, the second presents the median prices.

The months of inventory on the first chart is a better way of measuring progress. Anything less than 6 months is considered a sellers' market -- anything more than 8 months is considered a buyers' market.  With the exception of Lake Forest and Kenilworth, most of the North Shore looks pretty good.   Some of this is seasonal.  Often sellers take their homes off the market during the holidays, thus lowering the inventory levels.  

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community. The highest sale this month was newer home with over on almost 1acre of property in west Highland Park at Churchill Lane. It sold for $3,650,000.

There are currently 201 houses for sale on the North Shore that are priced greater than $2M. During the month of November, 6 houses closed in this price range:
Sold This Month
# for Sale
Highland Park
Lake Forest
Lake Bluff
Next month I'll give my annual market wrap-up for 2016.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a most joyful New Year.

Source: MRED (Midwest Real Estate Data) Multiple Listing Service

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Green Tip of the Month -- Be Grateful for the Environment

Thanksgiving can be a time for gratitude for the environment and all that it provides for us. Try following these tips:

Feast on local, seasonal foods: Fruits and vegetables in season for the late fall don’t need to be trucked around the country, and your purchases support your community. 
Use natural decorations: Forgo craft store supplies for beautiful, biodegradable decorations you can find in nature. Pinecones, gourds, leaves, and acorns are just some of the materials that can add seasonal ambience to your dining room. 

Purchase a heritage turkey… Most commercial turkeys are raised with hormones to force them to gain weight very quickly – so quickly they can hardly move.  Heritage turkeys, in contrast, are similar to their wild cousins: they’re slower growing, smaller, tastier, and treated more humanely.

Don’t forget about the leftovers: Americans waste almost 40% of all edible food, much of it through improper storage.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Source: Earth Share

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Do you know this place?

When I was a kid, I saw a Disney movie called The Miracle of the White Stallions. It was the story of the evacuation of the Lipizzaner horses from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna during World War II. Watching the movie, while interesting to me, was a little difficult to really understand. Like so many of their contemporaries, other than using The War as orientation for a time period within their lives (as in, "before The War"), my parent never discussed The War or anything about it. I didn't fully appreciate how special these horses were or why they were in need of protection.

The ancestors of the Lipizzan can be traced to approximately A.D. 800. The earliest predecessors of the Lipizzan originated in the 7th century when Barb horses were brought into Spain by the Moors and bred with native Spanish stock. By the 16th century, when the Habsburgs ruled both Spain and Austria, the powerful but agile horse was desired both for military uses and for use in the fashionable nobility of central Europe. The Lipizzan breed dates back to the 16th century, when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility. The breed takes its name from one of the earliest stud farms established, located near the Karst Plateau village of Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia. The breed has been endangered numerous times by warfare sweeping Europe, including during the War of the First Coalition, World War I and World War II. They are amazing horses that are agile, strong and long living.

Like many others, I had always assumed that the horses could only be seen on tour or in Vienna. When I was in high school, I lived in Austria one summer on an exchange program. We toured the school, but the horses weren't there at the time, so I never saw a performance.

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to see this amazing breed of horses perform.

And guess where?

Right here in Lake County at Tempel Farms. Tempel Farms in Wadsworth is the only place in the United States where the rare, white Lipizzan stallions are bred and trained, then perform.

In the late 1950’s Tempel and Esther Smith attended a performance of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. They were incredibly impressed with these beautiful animals and started a venture that would change their lives forever. Tempel Smith felt that he should bring these horses to the United States and start a school of riding modeled after the Spanish Riding School. Both the horses and the art of classical riding, or dressage, was virtually unheard of in US. 

In 1958 the Smiths imported twenty horses to Spring Grove, IL. Over the next ten years the Smiths recruited the help of many professional breeders, veterinarians, and riders to grow their herd and to maintain the quality of the herd and the riding. In 1969 the East Good Luck Stables in Wadsworth, IL was purchased where they still perform today. For the past 27 years, the farm setting has been backdrop for the 90-minute performances in the tradition of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  They perform during the summer months.  Look for their schedule; it's well worth a visit.  You can also rent parts the farm for special group events like weddings, etc.

But there is even more to Tempel Farms.   Tempel Farms Organics is a diversified, certified organic vegetable, cut flower and egg farm located in Old Mill Creek, Illinois.  They practice sustainable agriculture that enriches the soil to provide for high quality vegetables, cut flowers, eggs and more. Their pasture grown hens are raised on certified organic corn and soy based vegetarian feeds with no antibiotics or medications.

Their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program provides 200+ families with freshly harvested vegetables and fruit from early June through the end of November. 

My visit to Tempel Farms was amazing.   It was well worth the time for the visit -- and who knew?  

Right here in my own back yard!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Make Them Buy My House

I was having a conversation with one of my clients not too long ago. My client was frustrated because they had had over 20 showings and no offer. We were all over the place talking about location, condition of the property, pricing, etc.

It's my personal feeling that when a home looks fantastic and is in a fabulous location, then the buyers just can't get their minds wrapped around the asking price.

It's hard for sellers to understand that their home is no longer their home: once it's on the market, it's just a commodity. Their home is being compared to hundreds of other homes on the North Shore. So I tried to suggest that perhaps the buyers just didn't see the value.  Trust me, this is never an easy discussion.

Out of frustration, my client said to me, "You need to make them pay at least $... for my home."

I almost started laughing, but realized that wouldn't help. My client gave me way too much credit -- no agent has the ability to make a buyer like a house or make an offer or pay a certain price. Wouldn't it be fabulous, if we did?
Buyers are fickle and finicky and demanding these days... they can afford to be. After years of acquiescently giving in to seller demands, the buyers know they call the shots. And buyers don't always make a lot of sense.

I had one client who repeatedly told me that they wanted a house that had several key features. Out of the blue, they called up to look at house that was 180 degrees opposite of that.  Go figure?

I have found that often buyers -- while they talk about price, location and features -- are really looking for just the right home. We can all relate. When I was looking for a new home, I would often find a place that was 95 percent there -- theoretically and on paper.

But it just wasn't right. Buyers don't often know what they want ... Until They See It!

So sellers, sorry, unless someone is uninformed or emotionally in love with your house, they will not make an offer or pay a certain price unless they want to.

Originally published in Patch Lake Forest,  July 19, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote Today

I always think of my mom on election day.  She loved politics and was usually an election judge.   On election day, she would be up early and out of the house; we'd have to get ourselves to school.  She'd come home later in the evening when the all the votes in the precinct were counted and then be glued to the TV until she knew the outcome of the election.  
My mother loved this country with all her heart -- flew the American flag year round.   As much as I miss her, I'm glad she's not here to see this election.   It would break her heart. My hope is that we can come together as one nation after this election is over.  

Whether her candidate won or lost, my mother always respected the Office of the Presidency - regardless of who was sitting in it.  Taught us to do the same. 

 I can hear her voice telling me:
"You've got to vote -- it's your civic responsibilty."  So, Mom,  I'm off to vote!

Today is Election Day.  Not sure where to vote?
Polling Places Look-Up

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How's the Market - November 1, 2016

November is the month to reflect and take time for gratitude. For starters, with this roller coaster ride of an election, I will be thankful when it is over!

While the season is slowing down a bit, there are still buyers out there looking for the right house… and there are a lot of great houses on the market.

So how was the real estate market in October?
The first report shows units sold, the second presents the median prices.

I suppose the most notable statistic -- there were NO sales in Kenilworth during the month of October. As you can see, in general sales slowed down in October as compared to last year. The months of inventory on the first chart is a better way of measuring progress. Anything less than 6 months is considered a sellers' market -- anything more than 8 months is considered a buyers' market. As you can see, it's somewhat inconsistent on the North Shore. Most of the communities are doing pretty well. Lake Forest and Kenilworth continue to struggle a bit.

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community. Lake Forest had the highest sale with an elegant neo-classical home was designed by renowned architect John Volk.

There are currently 221 houses for sale on the North Shore that are priced greater than $2M. During the month of October, 5 houses closed in this price range:
Sold This Month
# for Sale
Highland Park
Lake Forest
Lake Bluff

The market continues along. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Source: MRED (Midwest Real Estate Data) Multiple Listing Service

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Green Tip of the Week -- clean your refrigerator!

Clean the coils on your refrigerator....
Refrigerators are notorious energy guzzlers and they're always on.  They use about 5 times the energy used by TVs and more than twice as much energy as dishwashers or washing machines.

Check your refrigerator's electricity consumption: Dust or pet hair on the coils at the back can cause your compressor to have to work harder and may increase energy use by 30% (dirty coils can also cause your refrigerator to shut down completely). 
Clean the coils every 3 months.  Keep the inside clean, too.  The more jam-packed the fridge, the harder it is for the cold air to circulate.

Source: 365 Ways to Save the Earth by Philippe Bourseiller

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I love, love, LOVE this time of year. I was driving down Alden Lane in Lake Forest last week. The sky was that perfect cool blue. It was in the morning and the eastern sun was dancing magically through the trees – the leaves were a multitude of colors. I was simply awed by their vibrant foliage.

There is something about autumn on the North Shore that conjures up so many memories… mainly wonderful ones.

I remember our Halloween parade at Joseph Sears. I wonder if they still do that? All the children would line up in their costumes and parade outside around the school for the mothers to take pictures. Some of the costumes were amazing – it depended totally on the creativity and enthusiasm of the mother. I still remember the kid who was dressed like a tube of Crest toothpaste!

My mother was not really into Halloween so our costumes were never memorable.

One of the parents in town would turn their house into this amazing haunted house. I was always too afraid to go inside, so I never went to that house for trick or treating. I heard that one year Mr. Karp, the junior high social studies teacher, leaped out of a coffin – to the screams of all the kids.

When I was really young, I would go trick or treating with my friend and her dad, “Uncle Charlie.” I think he enjoyed it more than we did. He’d get dressed up in a bear coat and when the doorbell rang, he’d jump out of the bushes and be quite dramatic. One time he grabbed the pillar on someone's house and inadvertently pulled it off its base!

I remember on weekends how our whole family would be out raking the leaves and forming great piles. My brother and I would run and jump in the piles – much to the chagrin of my folks as the leaves scattered out everywhere. Then there was the the smell of smoke all over town as every family would burn their pile of leaves.

Sadly those memories have been replaced with incessant din of leaf blowers.

Do you remember memorizing Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “I think that I shall never see…

Today, as I look around my yard, I can barely see the lawn – the maple leaves have covered everything. It reminds what is around the corner…. I need to get the gutters cleaned and put the pots away for the winter and …

I'll think about that tomorrow.

Today, quite simply, I LOVE fall.

Originally published in Patch Lake Forest - October 22, 2012

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The D word

People buy and sell homes for all sorts of reasons. I love working with buyers and sellers who are going through interesting transitions in their lives -- downsizing and selling the family home; upsizing because the kids are getting older and they need more space; suddenly single and the house seems too big; getting out of the city and moving to the 'burbs.

All these events can be so much fun, liberating and/or exhilarating and, if not joyful, at least exciting and hopeful.

But as a real estate professional, there are other types of transitions that can be stressful, sad and difficult. Children selling their parents' home comes to mind as something that often causes friction and concern.

But probably one of the most challenging types of transactions is working with clients who are selling the "marital asset" in a divorce situation. Representing a divorcing/divorced couple during a the sale of a home puts real estate professionals in the unenviable position of referee and confidante. Sometimes you end up feeling like a marriage counselor -- which is strange for me, since I've never been married!

Maybe because I've never been married, I've had to deal with quite a few divorce situations through the years. Couples figure out that I don't have a bias one way or the other.  While each situation was different -- some were easier than others -- most were fraught with land mines and issues. There was a reason these two people were no longer married to each other. I have found that sometimes one spouse or the other (or both) is looking for an ally in their marital drama.

As a real estate professional, I am accustomed to negotiations that are generally driven by dollars and timing, not emotions. Unfortunately, that is not always the case with divorce. One of my divorcing couples wouldn't speak to each other, so I needed to be a go-between them and try to build consensus during the negotiations -- it was a challenge to say the least!

Here's one story from the Wall Street Journal that can illustrate some of the challenges:

When a Paperweight Nearly Wrecks an Apartment Sale

Sometimes one party wants to keep the house and the court has decided that the property needs to be sold. The party living in the house can make it pretty difficult for the agent. Sometimes they won't agree to showings or when they do, the house is a meSometimes one party is fixated on a certain amount of money coming out the sale. It's not easy to sell something for more than market value.

I'm certainly not a divorce attorney, so I will not give legal advice. With that in mind, I found a few sites that I thought be interesting and helpful for those of you who might be dealing with selling the house during this difficult time.

Should we sell the house?
Selling the House When You Divorce
Selling Your House When You’re Divorcing
Breaking up the mortgage after divorce
Keep or Sell the Family Home During Divorce?

My only advise is to select a real estate professional who is neutral and business-like. Personally, if I were in that situation, I would shy away from hiring close friends or friends of friends.  It can be an emotional situation and it's best to have an agent,  who can look at the situation unemotionally and has little personal involvement.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

New vs Used

Not too long ago, I got a call from a couple, who were moving from the city.   As has become the norm, the first thing they said was, "We only want to look at new construction."  

That can be a tough request.  The towns along on the North Shore have been coveted for over a century because of their proximity to the lake, their great schools and the ease in commuting to the Loop.  Finding new construction is not always easy.   Also during the housing collapse, few spec homes were built, so new construction became even rarer.  

In this particular situation, it only took one tour to show them all the available new construction within their price range.   New construction comes at a premium price and anything that was new and in their price range was either too small or in an undesirable location.  

It was at that point, that they reluctantly began to look at "used" homes. 

As someone who grew up in an older home and always purchased vintage condos, I'm a little perplexed by this fixation with new construction.  While I get it -- it's a lot easier to have the newer appliances, finishes and features -- but new is just new and not necessarily nicer or better.  An older home has history and character.  New construction looks all the same to me - with the same kitchen/bathroom finishes/colors, features and rooms... boring.  Besides, there are so many fabulous "used" homes on the North Shore.   

I think the real question should be, is this newer home going to be a better long term value than this older home?

The answer to that question is oblique.   It's not as simple as a yes or no response.  One needs to look at each house individually. 

Some of the used homes are phenomenal – beautifully constructed with quality materials, real plaster and lovely hardwood floors. They are in older and established neighborhoods -- often closer to town, the beach and schools.    While they may need some updating or renovating, they are still wonderful homes.   
They have withstood the test of time.  One of my favorites was a listing I had a few years ago at 215 Maple Court in Lake Forest. 

This house had its original character retained, but my clients had updated it to perfection with a new kitchen, family room and master suite.  While it had an unusual floor plan and a so, so basement, the location was phenomenal.  

Granted, there are also a lot of older homes that are functionally obsolete or in terrible condition and should probably be razed.   So even if the initial price seems like a “great value,” is it really a good value, if the house turns out to be a money pit?

Conversely, while it’s enticing to buy a “new” home, some of the new construction homes are ghastly. The materials used are cheap or substandard and the designs lack imagination. They command a premium because they are “new,” but new construction does not necessarily mean better construction or better value.  

Let's get back to Real Estate 101: "...location, location, location..."

The value of a property begins with the value of its location.  
An old home in a desirable location is going to have a greater value and long-term resale capability than a brand new home located near the toll road.   Just as with a new car, new becomes used the first time you "put some mileage on" the house and that premium price will never return.  That new home will eventually become an used home and will probably depreciate in value because of its less than optimal location.  

Case in point:   I was just looking at the "hot sheet" of recent activity of sales, etc.  Reported was a house that just went under contract.  The sellers bought the house for $3.2M about 10 years ago when it was brand new.   Ten years later, they are selling it for less than $2.2M.   Some of this decline is market driven, but I can't help believe, that if the house was in a better location it would sell for a lot more.  

I have found that today, the hardest houses to sell are the ones that were built about 20 years ago and in marginal locations.   Many of them are selling for less than their original (premium, new construction) sales price!!!  Why? Because they are not new and they are not in highly desirable neighborhoods. 

I would encourage every buyer to keep their minds open to both older and newer homes before they make a decision. 

Remember, long term value is not necessarily a function of the age of a house. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How's the Market as of October 1, 2016?

How was the market in September?

This chart shows units sold, the second presents the median prices.  

Sales seem fairly strong as compared to 2015.  In general more units closed during September than last year.  

I study inventory levels to really have a sense of how local markets are doing.  I highlighted in green, red, and blue.

Green = sellers' market

Blue = balanced market
Red= buyers' market

There appears to be a real shortage of inventory in Evanston, Northfield and Wilmette.  With the exception of Winnetka, Kenilworth and Lake Forest, the North Shore is looking great for sellers, although it's a little more challenging for buyers in these other communities.   What I find interesting is the total number of units that have sold.  With the exception of Kenilworth and Lake Forest - the number of units sold this year exceeds the number of active listings.  With Lake Forest, the number of units sold is significantly lower year to date than current inventory.  

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community.  The highest sale was a 1913 Georgian Revival, lakefront home in Evanston. This six-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot house sold for $4.9 million, the highest sale price of any house in Evanston history.

There are currently 236 houses for sale on the North Shore that are priced greater than $2M. During the month of September, 7 houses closed in this price range:

Sold this Month
# for Sale
Highland Park
Lake Forest
Lake Bluff

Have a beautiful fall!

Source: MRED (Midwest Real Estate Data) Multiple Listing Service

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