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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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