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

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Green Tip of the Month - Plant a Tree

The website, TreePeople, provides a list of 22 reasons why you should plant a tree including some of the following obvious and less obvious reasonsL

  • Trees combat climate change
  • Trees clean the air
  • Trees provide oxygen
  • Trees cool the streets and the city
  • Trees provide food, etc.

I'm a big believer of planting trees -- I've counted at least 10 trees that I have added to my property and I love every one of them.    I picked some out by going to the Morton Arboretum and seeing the trees in their full maturity and in the landscape.

Kentucky coffeetree
If you're thinking about planting a tree, check out the programs that the North Shore has.   For example, I planted my Kentucky coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioicus using the Lake Forest parkway program.  Plant a tree!

Municipal Programs:

Lake Forest
Lake Bluff

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Inspections - Ugghh!

Working as a real estate broker has its ups and downs.   Nothing is more fun than helping clients find just the right home or learning about their lives.   Watching them move into their new home -- seeing the changes they make as they settle into a different rhythm -- it really is wonderful.  

But there are aspects of this work that are challenging.   Every agent has their annoyances.  Some agents hate preparing competitive market analyses.  Other agents don't like telling their clients that they need to consider taking a price reduction on the list price of their home.   Some agents dislike negotiating multiple offers.  

For me, the part of this job that I truly find distasteful is the home inspection process.   In years gone by, the inspection was meant to be informative for the buyers.   Were they buying a home that was in good working order?   In general, when an inspector said a window needed to be replaced or the roof was getting worn out -- that was instructional to the buyers... they would need to add these considerations to their maintenance checklist once they owned the home.   

As I bought each of my new homes, it never occurred to me to ask for anything from the inspection.   I walked away from one deal, because I didn't like what the inspector had to say -- but I never thought to ask the seller to fix anything.  It was going to be my home now.  Caveat emptor.

Times have changed.  Somewhere along the way, the buyers got it into their heads that the inspector's job was to provide a punch list of maintenance issues for the sellers to address before the close.  Sellers have found themselves on the receiving end of pages of inspection issues -- at the very time when they are ready to say good-bye to their home and disinclined to put any more money into the property.   The inspection process in recent years has become conflictual and sometimes actually very unpleasant...

Examples I've experienced with some buyers and sellers:

What did 
the inspector write 
in the report?
What did 
the buyer ask for?
How did 
the seller respond?

The plumbing is a bit dated - water flow could be better.

Replace all the plumbing in the house with new pipes.


The inspector found 30-40 issues -- very few were health and safety related.  Most were maintenance related. 

The buyers asked for a $45,000 credit.  

The sellers were stunned -- after all -- their house was only 10 years old.  But they really wanted to sell and move on.   After much negotiating, they dropped the sales price by $12,000 and gave the buyers an $8,000 credit.  

The windows and doors were dated and eventually were in need of replacement. 

All new windows and doors.


The electrical system is original and should be evaluated.  

Rewire the house with a new electrical system.


There is water seepage in the basement.   

Reduce the sales price of the house by $55,000.

Sellers were willing to do the work that would divert any water from the downspouts and replace the gutters as needed. Since they had disclosed there was seepage in the house, the request seemed unwarranted.

Radon levels were elevated. 

Remediate the radon.

Remediated the radon and retested the levels.

The windows have considerable wood rot and  need to be replaced.

Replace the rotten windows or provide a $30,000 credit.

Split the cost of new windows and provide a credit.  

This is just a sampling of some of the requests,  I have seen by buyers.   All but one of the above contracts stayed together; but none of the discussions around the requests were straightforward or easy.   In some cases, the buyers and sellers were pretty hostile to each other, by the time we got to the close.

3 Reasons Home Inspections Kill Deals

The real estate contract is pretty clear: 

"Buyers agree that minor repairs and routine maintenance of real estate do not constitute defects...The fact that a major component may be at the end of its useful life shall not render such component defective... The home inspection shall cover only the major components of the real estate... A major component shall be deemed to be in operating condition if it performs the function for which it is intended, regardless of age, and does not constitute a threat to health or safety."
Some sellers are pretty resistant to accepting the terms of the contract.  Others want the buyers to love their home as much as they do, so they will deal with any and all issues that are on the inspection report.  

Some buyers are relaxed about things on the inspection report and ask for nothing.  But unfortunately, some buyers today see the inspection report as another bite at the apple -- an opportunity to renegotiate the purchase price.   

What I tell my clients is this -- the home inspection is not meant to be a laundry list of issues for the seller to repair.    

That's not to say that all my clients listen to me.   Some buyers have asked for outrageous requests -- much to my embarrassment.  And some sellers have been downright stubborn, when buyers have made reasonable requests.  

In my opinion, the only question should be this: 
Does this problem constitute a threat to health or safety?   

If yes: 
Sellers don't argue -- just make the repair or provide a credit.   Or better yet -- do a pre-listing inspection and repair items up front, so you don't find yourself in this situation in the first place. 

If no: 
Buyers -- it's your problem now.  Either deal with it or look for a different home. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Do you have a favorite smell?

When I was a kid, we had lilac trees that grew just below my bedroom. In spring, I would open my window and soak in the odor. To this day, I’ll go out of my way to wander near lilac blossoms whenever I see them, just so I can experience that fragrance again.

Lately my favorite smell is viburnum. I planted one by my front door. Sometimes when I go out to get my mail, I’ll linger by the front door to catch the whiffs of that delicious spice-like smell.

Olfaction – there is actually word for it. Not only is there a word for the sense of smell, there are words for abnormalities with the sense of smell. Like anosmia: the inability to perceive odors. Or dysosmia: things smell differently than they should.

Did you know that when a human nose is working well, it can tell the difference between 4,000-10,000 smells?

Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I know what he means. To this day, whenever I smell Dial soap, it brings back memories of the home my childhood friend, Alison. Alison's mother put a Dial soap bar in every bathroom and the smell permeated the house. I have great memories of playing over there, so that odor always makes me smile.

I mention all this because the smell of a house has more to do with its sale, than just about any other sense.

For example, when a house smells like cigarettes, it’s the kiss of death. I had one client who wouldn’t even walk through the front door when they noticed that distinctive odor at the threshold.

Dampness has an unpleasant smell as well. It can be a very problematic odor. Buyers start to conjure up visions of flooding in the basement, leaks in the roof, ice damns dripping into the walls and on and on. All those images drive fear into their minds ... and thoughts of buying the house - out!

Pets can be another smell that turns off buyers. Love me; love my dog may be the expectation with personal relationships. Don’t count on it when selling your house.

Think about the smells that elicit great memories. Think about odors that are universally pleasing. For me it’s the smell of lilacs, viburnums, vanilla beans or apple cider. What is it for you?

Create beautiful smells in your home, if you plan to sell. Use the delightful odors of fragrant flowers (in clean water!) or freshly baked bread or even boil some apple cider. Room deodorants can often be a big turnoff to some buyers -- it's almost always better to have natural smells.

If you have systemic smells that are imbedded in the carpets and drapes, get everything cleaned and/or rent one of those heavy duty smelly-air eliminators for a few days. If you don't notice anything, bring in a ruthlessly honest friend to give you their sense of the smell... we often get used to the smell of our own homes and don't notice unpleasant odors.

Unless you're lucky enough to have a buyer with anosmia, smell may make the just the difference as to whether your house sells - or not!

Originally published in Patch Lake Forest, May 14, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering September 11th

I imagine that anyone of a certain age would clearly remember where they were and what they were doing on that unforgettable Tuesday morning in September.  

I was driving north along Lake Shore Drive.... it was a gorgeous day.  At around 9:00, I turned on my radio and heard Dan Rather speaking on WBBM Newsradio 780.  I was confused and couldn't figure out why he was on the radio in the morning.  It became painfully clear as more information followed.   

Like everyone else, I couldn't believe it... the lake was beautiful, the sky was a stunning azure, the day was remarkable for its perfection.  That such an imperfect, horrifying and grotesque thing should happened on such a beautiful day was unfathomable.

After that tragic day, I didn't like living in the city in a box in the sky.  I wanted to touch the earth and be closer to family.

Moving to Lake Forest seemed like the comforting thing to do.   I'm glad I did.

It's hard to believe it has been 15 years since that horrific, tragic day.   I like to remember the unity of the nation and the sheer acts of kindness that happened in the weeks after 9/11 and hope that at some point that sentiment returns to our daily interactions.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Do you know this place?

If you don't recognize this statue, it's no surprise! Until I drove around to find a picture, I wouldn't have recognized it either.

It's called the Pathway to Learning by sculptor, Erik Blome. It can be found outside The Bannockburn School in Bannockburn.

Before I moved to Lake Forest, I had only vaguely heard of Bannockburn.  City Hall and The Bannockburn School are located on Telegraph Road. The commercial area of Bannockburn is located at the intersection of 43 (Waukegan Road) and 22 (Half Day Road).   

Bannockburn is approximately 30 miles north of Chicago. Landlocked between Deerfield, Lincolnshire and Lake Forest, technically Bannockburn is not on the North "Shore" but approximately 4 miles west of Lake Michigan. Regardless, it is clearly one of the more beautiful and unique northern suburbs of Chicago.   

The first settlers to the area where Bannockburn stands today arrived in 1835 from County Meath, Ireland. Michael Meehan built a log cabin near what is now the northwest corner of Hilltop Lane and Telegraph Road and gradually acquired a total of 283 acres.

Bannockburn was founded by Scottish real estate developer, William Aitken, who planned a community of country estates on 110 acres. Aitken was born in Scotland and used the name "Bannockburn" for his own home and in the names of his subdivisions. The village began construction in 1924 and was incorporated in 1929.

Initially there were 30 families in the community—on Meadow Lane, Robin Road, Aitken Drive, Telegraph Road, and in the Wilmot Road/Sunset Lane area. Early residents were very active in developing and shaping the community that they loved, serving as trustees on the village board, organizing the Bannockburn school, creating zoning ordinances, and organizing a garden club and numerous charitable activities.

Aitken's original plan for Bannockburn featured large lots to imitate country living. His original vision continues -- in fact, the original 1-acre minimum on home lots has been increased to two. Some of the streets are simply country lanes with beautiful estates surrounded by gorgeous ponds, fields, woods and gardens.

Gradually, Bannockburn expanded its boundaries to its current 1,318 acres. There are fewer than 250 households with a population of less than 1,600 residents. Approximately 200 students attend the Bannockburn School which covers grades K-8 and there are only 1-2 classes per grade. While public, it's small enough to feel like a private school.

Bannockburn's municipal services expanded slowly in an effort to limit taxes, but it established a police department in the 1970s and built a village hall in 1992. They share city services such as a fire department and the high school with Deerfield.

A number of well-known sports figures including Phil Jackson, Ron Santo and Mike Ditka have called Bannockburn home.

Niche, a company which offers rankings and statistics on every neighborhood and city in the United States to help people find the best places to live, visit, and raise a family recently ranked the Village of Bannockburn as the #2 Best Place to Live in Illinois!  (see rankings)  

Today there are nearly 30 homes for sale in Bannockburn (plus land) ranging in price between $650,000 - $3,000,000. Check out my wonderful new listing on one the original streets of Bannockburn ( The property is utterly spectacular!

Bannockburn is a gorgeous, tranquil enclave on the North Shore.  For those people looking for "country living," few villages can surpass it.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

How's the Market as of September 1, 2016

As I look out today, I remember why I love this month -- how gorgeous a day can you get?

September is also the time when real estate picks up again for a mini-fall market before the holidays... let's hope it is a busy month.

So how was the market in August?

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

The units sold in August were mixed across the North Shore as compared to 2015.   What's interesting to me is that while median prices are fluctuating, sales continue to go up in certain communities.    

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

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.   

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community.  The highest sale was a lakefront home in Winnetka. 

There are currently 235 houses for sale on the North Shore that are priced greater than $2M. During the month of August, 14 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