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

Contact Ann

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Year in Review

As a blogger, I like to see what people enjoy reading.   It's always a bit of hit and miss -- I'm often surprised at things people love versus the posts that have little readership.  I thought I would do a scan on the stats and highlight my top posts for the year!

10. Without helmets - my take on how buyers and buyer values have changed

 9.  Rocking the Ages, redeux - an update to my 2014 generational series, Rocking the Ages

 8.  What's your type?  Which broker works for you?

 7.   Several of the Green Tips posts ranked very high, specifically, Valentine tips for the eco-friendly, One People - One Planet, and Hot Products for the Luxury Green Home .

 6.  My life in Real Estate: Remodeling

 5.  On to the Next Chapter - notes to the Baby Boomers

 4.  Financially Savvy Home Improvements

 3. Demonization - I always like to think win-win!

 2. Disclose, Disclose, Disclose.   My words of advice to sellers!

 1. The Rules and The Rules Continued.   I got more positive feedback from these posts than from any others that I have written in the last five years.   The affirmative response was heartening!

And the Grand Winner is always my annual biggest hit, 
How's the Market? End of Year Recap for 2016

Stay tuned.   I'll be getting you my end of the year recap for 2017 within the next week!

Friday, December 15, 2017

To pay or not to pay....

My tax accountant suggested I prepay my property taxes... so I did.   Maybe you might want to check with your tax advisor...

I thought this article was helpful

Prepaying 2018 Property Taxes by December 31, 2017 - DHJJ: With both the House and Senate tax reform plans calling for a $10,000 limit to the property tax deduction, it further strengthens prepaying property taxes before 12/31/2017 for those who would receive a tax benefit. Each taxpayer’s situation is different, so please check with your DHJJ CPA at 630-420-1360 with any questions. Property Tax Prepayment... Read more »

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How to lower the value of your house

I write this tongue in cheek -- but really, there are dozens of articles about what can increase the value of your home and tips for selling.  But has anyone ever spelled out things that will really devalue your home?

Buyers today come with their calculators when they are evaluating a house.  They will quickly deduct from the purchase price, if they don't think these issues are factored into the asking price.  

Do any of these things stand out with your house?  

In our market, garages are pretty important.   In general buyers prefer an attached garage with a minimum of two spaces.   Anything less than that may be perceived a real negative.  Not only that, most people want the additional storage space that a garage can provide.  

If you fall into this category of "less than," look for ways to add value.  Make sure the garage is well-organized and de-cluttered to, at least, give the illusion of more space.   

Consider adding an additional "landing pad" for that extra car.  One technique. that I have seen that is environmentally friendly, is brick blocks with grass growing in between.  

Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are tricky.   Having a pool can be a mixed blessing.  In our climate, buyers rarely consider a pool an increase to the value of the home.   In fact, for some people it will devalue your home.   Think twice before installing a pool at your house. 

Tired Roofs
In the last several years, I have found myself with a roof being a major issue from the home inspection.  Buyers will rarely pay a premium for a new roof, but they will often devalue a home with an old roof.  Sellers, if your roof is at the end of its useful life, I would think seriously about replacing it before you put your home on the market.  

Limited Storage
Buyers today want good storage and great closet space.   Look at your house with an objective eye and figure out ways to improve storage.   If you need some ideas, check out my Pinterest board on storage and closets

Dated Appliances
Nothing dates a kitchen or house faster than old appliances.  Buyers are putting out a lot of money to purchase they house -- they don't want to have to continue to put out money to buy new appliances.  New appliances are relatively inexpensive and they can make a world of difference to a buyer who is looking homes.

Problems of a Health and Safety Nature
As you may know, I recommend pre-listing inspections.   Inspectors may point out issues like asbestos, mold, radon, poor electrical connections, etc.  If you think you may have these problems, get them addressed early -- before you put your house on the market.  Trust me when I say, that they will surface during the inspection phase and raise red flags to buyers.

Deferred Maintenance
If your home has too many things wrong from squeaky hinges to torn screens, it can be a real deal-breaker for many buyers. Unless they’re specifically looking for a project, they aren’t interested in taking care of your maintenance issues.

Exterior Problems
You may be saving money by ignoring exterior paint jobs and tree trimming, but you’re also decreasing the value of your home right upfront.  Nice curb appeal is critical and that means a clean paint job, polished hardware, tidy mailbox, excellent yard clean up and trimming, clean gutters and foundations that are not pooling water -- good drainage away from the house.  

Bad Location
Location is everything in real estate.  When buying a home pick your location carefully.   The Neighborhood Features That Drag Down Your Home Value—Ranked:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

America's finest: 6 luxury home improvement products made in the U.S.

It's Pearl Harbor Day.   I thought I would post something memorable in honor of that momentous time in our history -- something American.   I came across this article and thought I would share it...

(BPT) - Peruse any home improvement media and you may get the impression you just can’t build, renovate or decorate a quality home without relying on foreign-made products like granite from Italy for countertops, cherry hardwood flooring from Brazil or textiles from India. However, you don’t have to sacrifice quality and luxury in order to buy American for your home; some of the finest home decor products originate right here in the U.S.

Here are six of America’s finest domestically made products for the home:

ANN SACKS — Every tile in the company’s 14 MADE by ANN SACKS collections is handcrafted and produced in its Portland, Oregon, headquarters. Founded in 1981 by Ann Sacks, the company’s tile and stone products in unique patterns, shapes, sizes and glazes are favorites of homeowners and interior designers seeking top-quality luxury and beauty for their home designs. In addition to a repertoire of standard tiles, the company also has partnered with famous designers to create innovative luxury lines. They even create custom designs to help homeowners achieve a truly one-of-kind look in their homes.

The company is also a pioneer in another aspect of American culture: the focus on sustainable business practices. The company recycles all excess raw clay, uses only lead-free glazes, filters production waste water and uses only recycled and recyclable packaging for shipping products.

Stickley — Founded in 1900 by the Stickley brothers, the luxury furniture brand continues to conduct all its manufacturing in its Manlius, New York, factory. Their furniture is known for its beautiful wood construction, durability and meticulous attention to details.

Robern — Rooted in the belief that “your everyday routine should never feel ordinary,” Robern has been making innovative medicine cabinets, bathroom mirrors, vanities and lighting since 1968. From smart medicine cabinets with features like touch-dimmable task lighting, magnetic storage and integrated USB outlets to wall mirrors with lights, audio and defogging capabilities, all products are still made in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Bloomsburg Carpet — Founded in 1976 to produce quality, luxurious carpet, Bloomsburg Carpet weaves all its carpets in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. Third-generation weavers produce Axminster, Velvet and Wilton carpets under one roof. The company weaves with raw, sustainable fibers that it describes as “ecologically friendly and readily renewable.”

Viking — Founded in 1987, Viking produces professional-quality ranges and refrigerators at four manufacturing facilities in Leflore County, Mississippi. The company’s products are favorites of both professionals and home chefs.

Thomasville Bedding Company — The company that began over 40 years ago in a one-room building now occupies 36,000 square feet of factory and showroom space in Thomasville, Georgia. In addition to offering a wide selection of mattress styles, the company is also one of the few remaining bedding makers who will manufacture a custom set to fit any size bed.

You don’t have to sacrifice the pride of buying American to find the luxury, quality and customization you desire for your home decor. Purchasing quality American-made products is an investment that can deliver high returns in beauty, durability and satisfaction.

Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2017 7:01 am | Updated: 3:33 am, Fri Oct 27, 2017 on Brandpoint (BPT)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How's the Market as of December 1, 2017?

Oh my goodness. December already? Where did the year go?

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

As you can see, the units sold were somewhat different from last year -- there were both ups and downs. The months of inventory on the first chart is a better way of measuring the market. Anything less than 6 months is considered a sellers' market -- anything more than 8 months is considered a buyers' market.  It continues to be inconsistent on the North Shore, however most communities are in pretty good shape. It appears that high-end homes are moving more slowly than those that are more affordable. The median sales price is going both up and down in the communities so there doesn't appear to be a pattern. 

One caveat: sometimes the numbers are a little distorted this time of year.   Sellers often take their homes out of the MLS during the holidays, so often there are more homes available for sale than show up in the computer system.

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community. Wilmette had the highest sale with an amazing 1941 lake front property. 

There are currently 169 houses for sale in the MLS 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

The market continues along. Enjoy the next few weeks. As the year comes to a close, I think about other holiday seasons and memories of times past.  It has been a remarkable year with an amazing cross-country adventure, wonderful times and new beginnings.   I'm looking forward to 2018 at my new @properties office and hope to see many of you in the new year.  

Wishing you all the best during this holiday season.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Exciting announcement

I have changed my brokerage affiliation.   
My new contact information is:

Ann Jones
600 N. Western Avenue
Lake Forest, IL 60045

I'm incredibly excited to be joining the fastest growing brokerage firm in the Chicago area. As a locally-owned, independent company, @properties is deeply committed to supporting the communities and clients they serve. 

Established in 2000, @properties was built around the idea of providing brokers and their clients with the highest level of service in the industry through cutting-edge sales and marketing programs. What I really am excited by is their corporate culture which values innovation, relationships as well as a strong local focus.

In less than 10 years, @properties became the #1 brokerage firm in Chicago. Today @properties is one of the top 11 residential brokers in the U.S. by sales volume, the #1 real estate firm in the city of Chicago, and the second largest brokerage firm on Chicago's North Shore.

I'm looking forward with great enthusiasm to this new affiliation. 

I thought this might be a good time to make one more change. 
My website address is now

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Green Tips - Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Let me say this -- Happy Thanksgiving.    I came across this article worth sharing:

12 Ways to Green Your Thanksgiving

As Black Friday approaches tomorrow, consider this: Choosing eco-friendly gifts is not only possible, it's affordable. Here are some green gift giving ideas will help guide you through your shopping over this Christmas season.  Being gentle on the earth means also giving from a place of generosity and care.
Scale Down
Americans tend to spend hundreds of billions of dollars just during the holiday season.  Just imagine how much of that ends up in the trash within a few months or becomes obsolete. Much of what we give or receive is just not needed or wanted in the first place. Most of us buy out of obligation, without really considering our impact on the environment or our wallets.

Shopping for eco-friendly gifts starts with these questions: Who do I really need to buy for? How much do I really need to spend? Do the presents I'm buying have a purpose or meaning?
Buy Local
Search craft shows, swap meets, local listings, etc for a one-of-a-kind and locally-made eco-friendly gifts.
Quality, Not Quantity
When purchasing gifts, forego lots of inexpensive and poorly made items and opt for fewer quality items that will last longer. The lifespan of the item will soon outweigh any initial cost.
Don't Buy New
Used, secondhand, vintage, it what you will.  Some of my very favorite Christmas gifts were items that my mother had in her home and passed on to me as a present.
Can you paint, crochet or knit, take nice photos, make awesome crafts or display some other talent through your holiday gift giving?
Green gift giving doesn't have to include anything complicated. Homemade cookies, cakes, and pies are always appreciated by those wishing to cut back on unnecessary gift giving.
Sustainable Materials
As hard as it may be, eco-friendly gifts should avoid plastics, polyesters, hardwoods or any other non-sustainable materials. Many of these materials are not easily renewable and/or may produce toxins either in their manufacturing or during use. Opt instead for cotton, bamboo, wool, etc.
Put a spin on green gift giving: Instead of just buying things that are green, try buying things that teach green. Perhaps a vegetable gardening book with a few garden tools, or some shade grown coffee or give someone a class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  They have some wonderful youth and adult programs.  
Give the Gift of Charity
Any impossible-to-buy-for people on your list? Donate money, plant a tree, support their favorite charitable organization in their name. Organizations like  or are a great place to start.   My family did that last year and it was wonderful -- we learned about different charities and there was no wrapping paper clean up!
Give the gift of time
In our busy days of rushing around, maybe just spending an hour with your kids playing cards or visiting older friends at in a nursing home can be a wonderful present.   Our undivided and focused time is often the most precious gift we can give someone.  

and finally Start them young enjoying our National Parks 

Adventurers, explorers, historians, Junior Rangers, and everyone in between have grown to love the classic Passport To Your National Park since its introduction in 1986, using the little book to log visits to National Park Service units across the United States.

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." - Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tech trends

Annually, the National Association of Realtors hosts its convention and expo for its over 1.5M members from the US.   The venue varies, but this year it was in Chicago, so I went for the first time to see what it was all about.  It was at McCormick Place, so as you might expect the crowds were tremendous - I met realtors from Montana to Tennessee. 

One session that was quite interesting was a presentation about new technologies endorsed by a sub-group called, REach®.   Some of the tools were really for brokers more than consumers, but there were a couple of technologies that I think consumers might find useful.
Thought I would pass along the information:

Centriq is an inventory management system for your home.  It's much more sophisticated because you can use it for ongoing home maintenance as well.   To learn more, you can see information here.  

Pearl’s certification system can help you create the home you want: comfortable, healthy, safe, and energy efficient.  To learn more, you can see information here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How's the Market as of November 1, 2017?

Did you have lots of trick-or treaters last night?   I had my share.   Love seeing their little faces and their cute costumes.   Reminds me of my days at Joseph Sears and how we wandered the streets at night - looking for that house that had Hershey Bars or Snickers.  

Halloween is sort of an ending point for the North Shore real estate market.  That's not to say that we don't have activity in the next few months... it just gets a little quieter as people prepare for the holidays.   Often the inventory levels get a little distorted as people remove the listings of their homes from the MLS to take a break from showings during the holidays.  

So how was the market in October? (click on chart to see at full size)

This first chart shows units sold, the second presents the median prices.  
We had a pretty good month in October.  In general, units sold were up from last year.  Inventory levels are decreasing.   

The continued uptick of sales in Lake Forest was very encouraging...   Median prices are tending to remain constant or decreasing.    

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 Lake Forest, the North Shore is looking great for sellers, although it's a little more challenging for buyers in some of the other communities.  In Evanston, Lake Bluff, Northfield and Wilmette there is actually a shortage inventory.   All the communities are doing better this year and we're seeing more sales and a healthier market.  

In the next chart, I show the high-end sales for each community.  The highest sale was a the so-called "Pabst Mansion" on Sheridan Road in Glencoe - a gated residence set on 2+acres with a pool, spa and sport court - 8 bedrooms and 8.4 baths.

There are currently 188 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

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

As we come to Thanksgiving, I'm reminded how utterly blessed we are to live in this beautiful area in this amazing country.   I came across this lovely blog post that I will share with you. 

What if we are just grateful?

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.   

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Green Tips - Plant a tree

I think that I shall never see...

Fall is a great time to plant trees.  
Most deciduous shrubs can easily be planted in fall.  Trees that can be successfully planted in the fall include alder, ash, buckeye, catalpa, crabapple, hackberry, hawthorn, honey locust, elm, Kentucky coffee tree, linden,maple, sycamore, pines, and spruces. Get some tips from the Morton Arboretum.  

"Advocates knew intuitively the importance of trees, but had no way to prove it. Now, though, thanks to software tools developed by the U.S. Forest Service and studies by social scientists.. the data tell the story: Trees are infrastructure. They cool the air, soak up climate change-inducing gases, protect against flooding, reduce people’s stress levels and raise property values. Studies even show that shoppers spend more money at stores on tree-lined streets."  source: Money Growing on Trees

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Rules (continued)

In April, I shared with you Jones's Rules of Real Estate.

After careful reflection and conversations with fellow agents, I decided add to my original list of 15 Rules.   I am now adding Rules 16 - 21, to create Jones's 21 Rules of Real Estate.

Rule #16 - New construction doesn't stay new.
New construction turns into a used home, so buyers beware.  There is a premium price for new construction... but - just as with a new car - once you "put some mileage on" the house, that premium price erodes. The value of a property begins with the value of its location.  An old home in a desirable location is going to have a better long-term resale capability than a brand new home in a marginal location.
Rule #17 - The house sells the house. 
Agents don't sell homes.   Their role is to facilitate the marketing and sale of a home, but the house has to sell itself.  Buying a home is not only a practical, financial and strategic decision -- it's also an emotional experience for buyers.   They have to envision themselves in a home before they will buy it. 
So sellers, stop looking to your agents to "sell your home."  Your agent may be great at getting people in to see the house; negotiating a contract and assisting with the details of the sale.   However, all the marketing, encouraging and pushing will not make a buyer buy something they don't want.  If agents had the power to make a buyer buy your home at the price you want, trust me -- they would.   Agents simply don't have that kind of power.   
Rule #18 - A home is a place to live -- it's not an investment. 
If I had a dollar for every time a seller said to me, “I have $XX invested in this house and I’m not going to sell it for less than what I have in the house,” I would be a very wealthy agent. 
  • Everything in your house depreciates with time.   That new kitchen, which was installed ten years ago, is not new.   "Newer" construction that is 30 years old is not new.   
  • Maintenance expenses are not capital improvements.   
  • Landscaping improvements help with marketability but rarely increase the value of the house.
Any money you've put into the home historically is somewhat irrelevant.   The value of a home is driven by the market.  Yes, often you will make money on the sale of your home, but don't bank on it.   Just remember a home is no substitution for retirement savings.    
Rule #19 - More often than not, when it comes to figuring out the fair market value of a home, the buyer usually knows best.
Sellers, I know you don't want to hear this, but it's usually the case, that buyers know best. They are out there going to open houses, touring properties, studying the comparables in the MLS and familiarizing themselves with the market.   They know when a house is a good value... and they also know when a house is overpriced.   
That's not to say that there isn't wiggle room in negotiating or some buyers don't know best.  But sellers think seriously before you "test the market" or before you let a buyer walk away.  The next buyer may not be so forthcoming or willing.  
Which brings me to... 
Rule #20  "The first offer is usually the best offer."
Rule 20 is actually a classic real estate adage.  There are exceptions and a seller might get more the next time around, but the probability is slim.   The market is littered with sellers who rejected an early offer, only to find the next offer less desirable.    A general rule of thumb:   The longer the market time, the lower the offers become.
 Rule #21 - Take the long view. 
I've seen buyers and sellers quibble over cents, when there are literally thousands of dollars involved.   Keeping a house empty or maintaining an expensive property can be like throwing money away.  Yet I've seen sellers do just that, when they could have accepted a reasonable offer.   Walking away from a purchase over a few thousand dollars only to kick yourself later is both penny-wise and pound-foolish.  
Sellers: Consider this, "What is the value of 'done'?"   
Buyers: Consider this, "If you really love the house, think of those extra dollars as something that will be amortized over time."
Look at the big picture.  There is always middle ground and it's worth trying to find it.  

Like I said before -- if everyone understood The Rules, this business would be so much easier!

So here is my list of rules for now -- although like Gibbs, I might keep adding to the list. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

But everyone else is doing it...

Buying a home -- it's the American dream, right? 

As someone who has owned four properties and rented at least four places, I'll take ownership over renting every time. You don't really have to answer to anyone and can change things the way you want them. There is security in knowing you have a roof over your head that is yours and not someone else's.

So, as someone whose bills get paid, by a job of helping people buy and sell homes, I'm a little reluctant to endorse renting, too.  But sometimes leasing a property is the better option.

So if you're thinking about buying home -- ask yourself these questions first:

#1  - Am I buying this home because I want to, or because it seems to be the thing that everyone else is doing?  
I confess -- that was the reason I bought my first home.   It was impulsive and hardly well thought out... all my friends were buying and I wanted to own a property too.   If I had to do it over again, I would have waited a few years and really studied the market and learned more about buying and selling real estate.   I'm glad I bought something, but I would have probably bought something different for a much better price, if I had really given it more thought and spent some time educating myself.

#2 How much debt do I have?  
If your bills are consuming up to 50% of your gross income every month, you may not be able to afford a mortgage payment on top of expenses. Lender guidelines have changed since the financial meltdown of 2008.  Your debt ratio will need to be low or you will never get through underwriting. Pay off your student loans and credit cards before applying for a loan.

#3  What's my credit rating?
If your credit score is below 620 might, you also might find it difficult to get a loan.  If your credit rating is so so, consider waiting, and make changes to your spending habits to improve your FICO score.

#4 If I'm buying a home with someone else, how secure is my relationship?
A home is a major asset and it can't be split in half.  If your relationship with that other person is shaky: financially and/or emotionally, what will happen if you break up?  Through the years I've dealt with a number of divorce or divorcing situations.  Trust me when I say, it's hard enough to co-own a home, when your relationship is on the rocks -- try selling a home with someone you don't like anymore.

#5 How secure is my job?
If you have any doubts about the security of your job, do not buy a home.  (..unless, of course, you can pay cash for the property and don't have to worry about mortgage payments...)

#6 Do I like to move a lot? 

Buying a home is a long-term commitment. If you are one those wander-lust people, home ownership may not be your gig.   I used to travel a lot with my job and had apartments in many cities -- but I always kept my home in Chicago.  Some people really don't want to be tied down like I did -- they want more flexibility.  If that is the case, rent.

#7 Is the market declining or improving?
So many people got swept up in the booming housing market before 2008 only to watch in horror when property values tanked.    You really can't time the market, but be thoughtful and understand where prices are heading.

Sometimes renting is truly the best option.   There are all sorts of calculators out there that can help you with your decision.  This article in the New York Times is pretty helpful:
Can I Afford to Buy a Home?