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Friday, February 26, 2016

My life in Real Estate: Lessons learned at a conservation meeting

I recently had the opportunity to attend The Garden Club of America's (GCA) National Affairs and Legislation (NAL) Committee annual meeting in Washington DC.  The NAL keeps the GCA membership current on federal policy initiatives that relate to the GCA's mission and it identifies advocacy opportunities based on the GCA's policy positions.

It was a terrific meeting and it got me to thinking about how some of the these GCA initiatives can be applied to real estate and real estate issues.    Many of their initiatives relate to things that we can all appreciate: clean air, clean water, protection of the National Parks, etc.   

While lobbying Washington and asking for changes in public policy is admirable, I really think the lesson I took away from this meeting is that real change happens at home.  

The question to ask is, "What can we do as individuals to do to make a difference for the future?"

Climate Change

I have somewhat followed this, but after listening to various speakers and seeing the increase in the flooding that is occurring on the North Shore -- I believe this is a serious issue.  Experiencing a January thunderstorm in Chicago was a first in my lifetime!!!  (Seas are Rising at the Fastest Rate in last 28 Centuries.)

Large corporations (e.g., Walmart, Coca Cola, etc.) and major insurance companies believe that global warming is real and they are focusing their corporate initiatives to deal with this.  For homeowners,  it comes down to figuring out ways to create opportunities for greater energy efficiency.  For example:

- keep furnaces maintained and cleaned

- install smart thermostats, insulation and keeping your temperatures lower
- open windows in summer -- use less air conditioning
- drive energy efficient cars; walk and bike more; use public transportation
- reduce the amount of water used in our gardens
- consider rain gardens and recycling rain water
- replace obsolete appliances and windows with energy efficient ones

One GCA garden club organized a city wide initiative called Bedford 2020.  They even had a car show to highlight energy efficient cars!

Preservation of Native Plants: 
Viewing the Endangered Species Act as one of America’s landmark pieces of conservation legislation, the GCA supports measures to protect the nation’s rare, threatened, and endangered species and their habitat and to create workable science-based recovery programs. 

We had several terrific speakers talk about the endangered plant species.  While there have been success stories with endangered animals, the vast majority of endangered species are plants.  What can we do?

Protection of  Our Public Lands

It's the 100th anniversary of our National Parks.   One stat that really highlighted for me the dire straight of our National Parks was the amount of funding that goes to this treasure we have: 1/15 of 1% of the Federal Budget.  This amount doesn't even cover maintenance and unfortunately 50% of the their budget last year was spent on fighting forest fires.  They assume that number is going to go up.

What can we do?  Consider volunteering.  

  • Introduce your teens and college aged students to the SCA - The Student Conservation Association.   It's a fabulous organization started by Liz Putnam (a garden club member!) in 1953.  She came and spoke at the meeting and it was wonderfully inspirational.
  • Participate on Public Lands Day - September 24  (In 2015 approximately 200,000 volunteers and park visitors celebrated our public lands at 2,520 sites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.)
  • Become a volunteer at a park.  Some friends of mine began volunteering the summer months after retirement.   He was CEO of a small company in New Jersey.  Every summer they spend conducting tours etc.  So far they have worked at Yellowstone, Cape Hatteras, Statue of Liberty and Bryce Canyon.  Sounds like a great way to spend your summer vacation! 

Check out this TED Talk.  Mac Stone was one of the presenters and his photographs were utterly amazing -- as was his story.

This is just a sampling of some of the things I learned at the meeting.  It was a wonderful experience: 2 days of informed and interesting speakers including our local representative from the 10th District, Rep. Bob Dold.  I came away from the meeting inspired and motivated.   

I also came away with the message -- each of us needs to make a difference in our communities and homes.   What are we doing to make the earth a little better for the next generation?

So, I'm glad I drive a Prius.  What are you doing?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Green Tip of the Month - recycle paper

Recycled paper saves 60% of the energy that unrecycled paper requires to process.

More than 30 million forested acres are lost each year, nearly 4 million in the U.S.  

Consider ways to reduce your use of paper.

Besides emailing documents, we can print on both sides of the paper - and encourage others to do the same, whether for a school assignment or drawing/coloring.    Use the second side of a scrap paper to take notes or jot a list or phone message.   Consider ways to use that piece of paper another time before putting it in the recycling pile.

Recycled paper, once considered to be of poorer quality than virgin paper, is now up to par.  When searching for that next pack of computer paper, look for PCW or the percentage of recycled content indicated on the label.  Although recycled paper may not be as brightly colored as virgin paper, it holds up just as well and has many more global benefits.  Recycled paper saves 60% of the energy that virgin paper requires to process, and using a ton of recycled paper opens 3.3 cubic yards in the landfill.

Source:   National Geographic "Green Guide"

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It's Not Personal

It’s interesting with this job because we get to see such a personal side of someone’s life.

We often learn about the harmony and discordance within a marriage. We get to know the children and the pets. We meet the parents and the in-laws. We see the highs and lows of our clients’ temperaments. We learn some of the financial realities of their lives.

We see the bright red walls or the flamboyant wallpapers. We see the photographs, artwork, diplomas, certificates, and other memorabilia of peoples’ lives. In some cases it almost feels a little voyeuristic. Working in residential real estate is very personal.

So is buying homes. We look in closets and open drawers to understand the space. We analyze their furniture and how it’s laid out.

Will our grandmother’s dining room table fit? Will the ceiling be tall enough for our armoire? We flush the toliets to make sure they run properly. We try to envision ourselves living in the space. We ask ourselves, "Will this property work for the way we live our lives?"

It's all very personal.

But selling a home… now, that’s different. It’s not personal. It’s business. It’s about merchandising a product and making it as desirable as possible to the vast majority of buyers.

I often say there are two types of sellers. Those who want to sell their home and those who want someone to buy their home. And there’s a huge difference.

The sellers who want to sell their home will do anything and everything to get their home sold. They understand that it’s not personal. It is business and they are selling a product. They will take down the wallpaper; paint those red or purple walls beige; lay new carpet; put up a new mailbox, put away personal memories; organize closets; and put out beautiful planters.

I’ve even had clients install new bathrooms and put on new roofs to make their “product” the most merchandisable. They get it. They see their house in competition with all the other homes on the North Shore and they want to win. They want to be best in show; to be the house that gets the next offer. They want to sell their house!

The other kind of sellers: those who want someone to buy their home, just put their home out there - as is - and then say to themselves, “My house is special. Everyone is going to love it.”

Sadly, that’s rarely the situation. These sellers are constantly disappointed and angry when they don’t receive the complements they are expecting. I remember a very high-end, beautiful home for sale a few years ago. As I walked through the house I admired the gorgeous wallpapers and the beautiful wool carpets.

I could see the excellent quality of materials that were used for decorating. But, it was also very clear to me that the list price was not about the value of the house. The sellers had priced their home in such a way that they might get reimbursed for their decorating costs. It was so personal – no business logic at all.

Rarely do buyers pay for decorating – some do – but most could care less. When making an offer, they mentally deduct the costs associated with removing the wallpaper or changing the colors in the rooms. For them, they want it to be "our house" not "your house."

So, while they may appreciate the lavender colored bedroom, they don't think their teen-age son is going to like it very much. Most buyers want to buy a house that they can move right into with little effort and will work for their family.

So what kind of seller are you?

If you want to sell your house, try to remember, it's not personal.

Originally published in Patch Lake Forest - June 20, 2012

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What’s Your Home Worth?

What’s Your Home Worth?: Wonder what your house is worth and want an easy way to figure it out? A new tool allows people to quickly estimate the value of their ...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Do Open Houses Work?

Do open houses really work?

That's a question that I'm often asked by my sellers.

Interesting question.   
Speaking from my own personal experience...

When I was moving out of the city, I was studying real estate listings on the Internet very closely and was considering properties from Evanston to Lake Forest. I knew what I was looking for, so I didn't want to bother an agent. I wanted to check out the houses by myself. I intially toured my house at an open house. I liked the agent, so I eventually used her services to help me buy my house.

Did the open house work?   I suppose it did.

But the reality is, I would have seen this house sooner, known more about the house and would have had an agent who ONLY worked for me during the negotiations and inspection.

I believe today, that if I had had my own buyer's agent, I would have felt better about the transaction and its aftermath.  I ended up having issues with the house when I first moved in -- issues that both the agent and the inspector should have seen and alerted to me.

I think if I had had my own buyers' agent, I would have been better off.  As nice and helpful as she was, my realtor was working as a dual agent.   As the buyer, I can't help but believe that her first loyalty was to the sellers and was pushing things through for closing on the house.

As a real estate agent, I take a very different perspective on Open Houses.
Open houses are a great way for realtors to drum up new business. I have met a number of eventual clients by hosting open houses, so in that respect, I like doing open houses.

However, in all the years that I have been doing this work, I have had only one buyer come through an open house and subsequently purchase the property.  The buyer actually had an agent, but the agent just sent his client off to look and didn't even come with him! 
I don't particularly like hosting open houses, when the owners are still living in the house. It's disruptive to their lives. The bigger the house, the more conflicted I am.  It's hard to watch over everyone coming through to tour. I know of a number of situations where things (i.e., prescription drugs, jewelry, credit cards, etc.) have gone missing after an agent hosted an open house. And then I read stories like this one, and I shutter.   I prefer open houses when the property has been vacated.

The advantage of hosting an open house, is that your house gets more marketing exposure.   
Maybe the person touring the house is a buyer like I was -- going it alone without an agent.   
Maybe the person coming through thinks the house might be perfect for their friend. 
Maybe agents aren't showing the house because they don't personally like it.  Sometimes agents project their own values onto their buyers, and don't show a house.   
I've had listings in sub-par locations, which don't get shown as frequently.  These homes make great candidates for open houses. 
But that exposure can also be a disadvantage.  If you want more privacy and security with your property, don't have an open house.  Rarely do we open up our homes to complete strangers -- and that's essentially what you're doing, when you have your agent host an open house.

If you're on the fence about having open houses, then let your agent know. 

Based on my experience, it's a long shot for you to really get your home sold this way.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What's the Internet Strategy for marketing my home?

In the last few years, a number of new weekly and even monthly publications have hit the North Shore.  Some are weekly newsprint; some are beautiful colored magazines.  I enjoy looking at them -- perhaps you do as well.  

Lately it seems like they contain about 10% meaningful content and 90% real estate ads.

I rarely advertise in these publications.   Maybe I should more often.   I might get greater name recognition like some of the more frequent advertisers.   

How an agent chooses to spend their marketing dollars varies by each agent.  Some like to do extensive print ads.   Personally, I like to market my properties on the Internet and spend the bulk of my marketing dollars to do this.  

Which leads me to my point.  

Home buyers look on-line; not at print ads!  

This is particularly true for the younger buyers. 94 percent of millennials and 84 percent of baby boomers used online websites in their home search.

The reality is this: Real estate ads are for the Realtors -- not for the home sellers. Real estate ads provide the agent a forum for personal image campaigns -- not necessarily a forum for marketing a property.

The facts consistently show that the vast majority of buyers begin their search on the Internet using sites such as,,, etc.  
"While not all consumers use the Internet in their home search, a growing number are first finding their future home online. Forty-three percent of buyers first found the home they ended up purchasing on the web; that number was just 8 percent in 2001. In 2001, nearly half (48 percent) of buyers found the home they purchased from a real estate agent; today that number is 33 percent."
See the full article, Home Buying Process Involves Greater Technology, Realtor® Use

Next time you hire a real estate agent to market your home,  I would suggest you ask them how they plan to market your home on the Internet.   

That's where the buyers are looking.