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Friday, January 27, 2017

More Americans Favor Contemporary or Transitional Kitchen

KITCHEN & BATH INDUSTRY SHOW, ORLANDO (January 10, 2017) — Contemporary-styled kitchens have overtakenTraditional to become the second most popular North American kitchen design, according to the 2017 Kitchen & Bath Design Trends Report conducted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). Based on this member survey, the NKBA expects to see the following top 10 overall kitchen trends this year:
  1. Clean lines, built-ins and simple door styles dominate kitchen designs. Contemporary- styled kitchens overtake Traditional to be the second most popular design after Transitional. Emerging: Industrial and Mid Century Modern. Mountain Modern and Coastal are variations on Contemporary. ​
  2. White and gray painted cabinets dominate kitchen color schemes and show no signs of slowing down, especially gray. Blue painted and high gloss cabinets are emerging. For overall color schemes, blue as well as black are emerging.
  3. Two-toned kitchens are gaining in popularity. Also mixing it up: materials and metals, across surfaces and as accents.
  4. While wood cabinets dominate kitchen designs, metal --currently a small segment of the cabinet market -- appears to be emerging. Metal cabinets are most frequently specified by younger and male designers.
  5. Furniture-look pieces, rollouts and pullouts and under cabinet lighting (LED) are among the most popular kitchen cabinet features. Use of crown molding is declining. Rustic and reclaimed woods were frequently mentioned.
  6. Quartz is the most popular kitchen countertop material, and trending up. Granite, the second most popular countertop material, is trending down.
  7. Induction cooktops and convection ovens are trending higher, and microwave drawers are outpacing freestanding or built-in microwaves. Steam ovens still represent a small segment of the market, but are also trending higher.
  8. Use of technology in the kitchen is increasing. About one third of NKBA professionals included wiring and pathways for future tech integration. Also trending upwards: more Internet connected appliances and docking stations.
  9. Interior barn and pocket doors in kitchens are trending up.
  10. Accessible and/or universal design features continue to trend up for kitchens.
According to respondents to the 2017 Kitchen & Bath Design Trends Survey, two-toned colored kitchens are on the rise. NKBA members reported that white and gray painted cabinets dominate kitchen color schemes they proposed to their clients, and show no signs of slowing down, especially gray. Blue and black toned cabinets, as well as high gloss finishes are gaining popularity.

“Clean lines with no fussy moldings or trims,” underscored one survey respondent. “White kitchens are never going away, but I’ve recommended mixed countertop materials, mixed cabinet colors and frequently use lots of light/dark materials for contrast.”

From a materials standpoint, wood cabinets continue to dominate kitchen designs while metal, currently a small segment of the cabinet market, appears to be emerging. Younger and male designers most frequently specify metal cabinets. The emergence of metal cabinetry and the use of reclaimed woods falls is consistent with aforementioned reports  of kitchen designers using different combinations of materials and metals, across surfaces and as accents.  

According to Bill Darcy, NKBA CEO, designers are “specifying mixed color palettes and mixing materials, especially for countertops.”

Survey respondents also reported that technology in the kitchen is increasing, a trend which was highly anticipated by Darcy, who noted that about one third of NKBA professionals included wiring and pathways for future technical integration. NKBA members also reported recommending kitchens designs that offered Internet connected appliances and docking stations.

“Homeowners want power strips under cabinets to eliminate outlets in the backsplash,” explained one NKBA professional about the increased demand for tech amenities in kitchens. 

Like technology, accessible and/or universal design features are growing in popularity among our members to make kitchens more functional. Darcy stated,  “Universal Design is commonplace among NKBA members, who serve clients by specifying spaces that are safe, as well as beautiful. They design for users of all ages and abilities.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Rental

Looking for a short term, executive rental?   Check out my new listing at 1482 Christina in Lake Forest.

Green Tips - Valentine ideas for the eco-friendly

For those of you who are planning ahead, Valentine's Day will be upon us shortly.  Looking for heart-warming sentiment that is a bit more eco-friendly?

Give Eco-Friendly Chocolate. Find Rainforest Alliance Certified chocolate (and other products) here. The Arbor Day Foundation also sells a line of shade grown organic chocolates in their online shop.

May not be quite as romantic, but send an eCard instead of paper.  If you feel a paper card is in order, use recycled paper goods.

Did you know that the manufacture of an average gold ring creates more than 20 tons of mining waste?  Consider buying any jewelry from one of the 90 retailers who have committed to ending destructive gold mining through Earthworks.

Love Your Honey (Bees). Bees are in trouble. In the U.S., they’ve been dying off at alarming rates which spells trouble for our whole food supply. Check out this website from Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network to help protect bees from harmful pesticides.

Let Nature Inspire Your Valentines. For some special V-day craft projects, check out these nature-inspired ideas from National Wildlife Federation.

Rethink Generosity. This February 14, you can also share the love through simple acts of kindness, consideration, compassion, and sharing. Click here for “Random Acts of Kindness” ideas.

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be another day of "stuff."  Sometimes just taking the time to be together quietly is enough!  Think about taking care of our earth as a way to share the love!

complete with your personal message.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Financially Savvy Home Improvements

A conversation I often have with clients goes something like this:
"I'm not selling my house, but I want to make sure I do the right things to get the best value from my home. Can you give me some ideas?"
It doesn't need to cost and arm and a leg to keep your house looking fresh and marketable. There are many easy updates that can make a huge difference when selling your home. 

Start with painting. 

It's amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do for a room, a cabinet, a door, trim, etc. I've seen rooms that are blah and unappealing come alive with a fresh coat of paint. Paint your home to meet your needs, however, if you are thinking about selling soon and want to repaint -- remembers: colors come and go. 

Ten years ago, newer homes were painted shades of taupe and beige. Today I see hues of grey. Visit new construction to see how those homes are being painted. Consider bringing in a decorator to help pick out paint colors before painting -- they usually know what is selling. 

Regardless, clean, fresh and neutral are always in vogue! 

Consider trim and crown molding

Chair railing, trim and crown molding can make a room look a little more finished.   Houses that went up quickly after the War often had little crown molding.   Just by adding that touch to each of the rooms can really make a difference.   If the ceiling and crown molding are painted with white or even a little color, it can make the ceiling look higher, too.
Update bathroom vanities

Nothing dates a home faster than bathroom vanities that are old, dated and 30" high. Even a pedestal sink looks better than a really dated vanity. I had one friend, who didn't really want to remove the vanity. It was so clever: she had a carpenter add a 6" border to the top of the vanity, painted the vanity a fresh white color and then replaced the top with natural stone. The makeover was amazing and it was relatively inexpensive. (tip: I've seen really beautiful new 36" high vanities at Studio 41 in Highland Park in their seconds room that are incredibly well priced and in terrific condition.)

Making this one change in the bathrooms can make a huge difference in how the room is perceived.

Replace light fixtures

One more thing that can really date a house are certain light fixtures.   I sold some friends a house and the dining room chandelier was straight out of a 1960's Las Vegas hotel room.... totally out of character with the home and in my opinion pretty ugly.  They changed it out and it created a complete makeover for the room.   I know fixtures are personal, so when in doubt replace with recessed lighting -- they usually work in any room!

Consider hardwood floors

If you have so so carpeting with hardwood floors underneath, consider pulling up the carpeting and letting your hardwood floors be the focal point. I don't know many buyers, who want wall to wall carpeting these days. In fact, most of the people want hardwood floors.

The stain of the hardwood floors can make a huge difference in how a home is perceived. There was a time when blond, or whitewashed floors were in. A few years ago, I saw a lot of homes with shades of very dark floors. Personally, I like a classic color like medium brown because it always seems to look good with any decorating. Regardless, whatever shade is used, make sure its kept even, buffed and clean.

Replace hardware

Believe it or not, simply replacing the hardware on doors and cabinets can make a huge difference in how a room is perceived. The expense of this change that can add up pretty quickly, depending on what types of hardware is selected. Simply replacing knobs can been pretty cost effective. I had a client who had brass knobs in her kitchen. Before they listed their home, she bought inexpensive brushed nickle knobs and room had a makeover at a fraction of the cost of changing things out. 

Look at this picture and how different the cabinet is perceived:  just by changing the hardware. The one on the left looks like something from a 1950's home - while the one on the right looks more contemporary.

Again, hardware styles come and go. Keeping the hardware current makes the room look more up to date.

Do Almost Any Energy-Efficient Upgrade

A National Association of Home Builders report that surveyed homebuyers across the nation: Nine out of 10 potential buyers would select an efficient home with lower utility bills over a less efficient home priced 2% to 3% less.

Replacing windows and furnaces are expensive, but something that can make a huge difference in utility costs and resale value.  Creating an energy efficient home are improvements that can be made over time.  For example, if you need a new appliance replace the old one with an energy efficient one, etc.

Adding insulation in attics and crawl spaces can make a world of difference to the warmth of a home in the winter --- and the utility costs.

One energy-saving home improvement project that saves energy is converting a wood-burning fireplace to a gas one. Gas fireplaces have energy-efficient ratings as high as 77%, compared with wood-burning fireplaces that convert only 15% of wood’s energy into useful heat.

In fact, 39% of homebuyers say a gas fireplace is an essential or desirable feature of the next home they purchase. So when it comes time to sell your home, more than one-third of potential buyers will be looking for a gas fireplace.

Think energy efficient whenever making an improvement to your home!  ComEd has a great set of ideas about where to begin on their website.

Add Storage
I don’t have to sell you on the value of storage and built-in organization. Since when have you heard someone complain about too much storage?  Adding storage can be fairly simple, but it does take a little creativity to find your home’s hidden storage.
Here are a few ways to think outside box:
  • Open drywall to create storage cubbies between your wall’s studs.
  • Install platform storage that hangs from your garage ceiling.
  • Even stairs can give you more storage.
I'm always posting ideas on my Pinterest site.   Check them out!

Work on the exterior

The exterior of the home is the first thing that people notice when they are touring. I've actually had clients who have wanted to skip homes, because they didn't like the exterior. There are so many simple and not terribly expensive modifications one can make that will improve appearances.

the front door
When I first moved into my house, the front door was actually two medium-sized doors, that were painted black. I believe it was a popular style in the 1960's. Seeing the front door was difficult when someone walked up to my house. My foyer was very dark because there was no natural light. I replaced my two black front doors, with a single door and window panels on either side and then painted the exterior of the door a color that would pop from the street. It's amazing the difference it made to both the interior and exterior of my home.  The front door was more visible and it also provided more light to the foyer.

I found this picture through Pinterest from someone else's blog post. Just look at the transformation. The door on the left looks like something from an age gone by, while the door the right is classic and timeless.

Painting the door a fresh or contrasting color improves things tremendously.

It's an easy fix and can make a world of difference. 

the mail box

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen homeowners ignore their mailboxes. It's often the first thing buyers see and it says a lot about how the home is managed. If your box is falling down or broken or leaning over, fix it. Paint the post to look fresh and clean. It sends a great first impression of your home.


Adding trees doesn’t instantly come to mind, when you think of adding value to your home. But trees are moneymakers that get better with age. Those of you who read my blog, know I'm a big fan of trees... in fact I think I've planted probably a dozen on my property. There are so many pluses to having trees -- especially mature trees. I planted some trees maybe 12 years ago that were 5-7' high. They are now getting close to being pretty mature trees and looking like they have been there forever.

A mature tree could be worth between $1,000 to $10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. A 16-inch silver maple could be worth $2,562, according to a formula worked out by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. A recent study of home sales by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of Portland showed that street trees growing in front of or near a house boosted its sale price by an average of $8,870 and shaved two days off its time on the market.

There’s more; trees also:

  • Save in energy costs 
  • Prevent erosion from downpours and roof runoff 
  • Protect your home from wind, rain, and sun 
Some tips for adding trees:
  • Follow the sun. Plant shade trees on the south side of the house where the sun beats strongest and longest. 
  • Follow the wind. Plant windbreak trees, which can lower winter energy costs by 30%, on the north and northwest sides of your property. 
  • Don’t plant too close. If you do, branches can scrape roofs and siding, causing expensive damage. 
  • Rule of thumb: Don’t plant trees any closer than the tree’s mature height plus one-fourth of that height. So, for example, if a tree reaches 40 feet, it should be planted at least 50 feet from any other trees. 
While there are always big ticket items that can definitely improve the value of your home (e.g., new kitchen), these are some of the less expensive things that homeowners can do to really improve the value of their homes.   

If you're thinking about listing your home in the next year, visit new  construction.  See what "is in" in terms of paint colors, floor stains, cabinets, hardware, etc. Your house will need to compete with new construction and it helps to have it looking fresh and current. 

 Also, I always get some great ideas at

Thursday, January 12, 2017


I'm always amused when a seller says to me, "That offer is insulting." or "These buyers are trying to steal the house."  

No... they're just making an offer.  The sellers may not like the offer, but there is no such thing as an insulting offer -- of all the houses they could choose, they picked yours!   The buyers are not trying to insult anyone.

I've also had sellers also get angry after receiving inspection reports.   Not too long ago, I was working with a seller whose house needed some work.  The inspection on his house pointed out a lot of issues and the buyers were asking for a fairly hefty credit.    When I looked over their requests, they seemed pretty reasonable to me.  The inspection report had dozens of issues, but these buyers were only asking for basic health and safety issues.  

My seller wanted me to be on his side and fight for him, so he was pretty upset with me when I shared my opinion.   At that stage he began doing what I call "demonizing the other side."  In his mind the buyers were scum, who were evil and greedy.   

I wish it was that simple.  One side is good; the other side is bad -- but that is rarely the case. These particular buyers couldn't have been nicer...  I think I've only had a few situations where one side is totally unreasonable, a bit greedy or selfish.  But more often than not, both parties are just trying to do what makes sense for their own families.   

In general, I like to look at buying and selling homes as a win-win proposition -- after all, the sellers want to sell a house; the buyers want to buy a house.   I try to figure out what the other side is thinking and then respond in a way that makes sense for both parties.  I try to look for common ground and find a solution that achieves the objective of getting the house sold for fair market value.

I remember once when I was young, coming home from school, crying to my mother about some kid in my class. My mother must have known that that girl's family was going through a rough patch, because she asked me to think about how "sad" that girl must have been, to have been so mean.   In simplistic terms, my mother was trying to help me to think with empathy. 

The most effective real estate transactions that I've seen is where my clients think with empathy.  It's where they try to understand the other point of view.  Without fail, those deals come together beautifully -- everyone works together to make it a success!

Demonization of the other side serves no one in real estate.   There should be no losers -- everyone can and should win!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Disclose, disclose, disclose....

You're listing your house.   Your real estate agent gives you a number of forms to complete.  One of the more important forms is the Illinois Residential Real Property Disclosure Report, which lists a number of statements for which there is a  yes or no answer.   For example one of the statements reads,

"I am aware that the property is located in a flood plain or that I currently have flood hazard insurance on the property."

This form becomes part of the final contract and it is really important to thoughtfully fill it out accurately.   I often see a lot of sellers go through it with little thought and just check everything NO.

Big mistake.  This is a legal document and can come back and haunt you if it is improperly completed.

A good example might be the statement,

"I am aware of flooding or recurring leakage problems in the crawlspace or basement."

The sellers answer NO.  Sure they had a small leakage problem in the spring of 2013, when we had that massive 500-year flood -- but that was anomaly, right?

They don't usually have leakages problems, so NO seems like the right answer.

Or maybe the statement,

"I am aware of material defects in the walls, windows, doors or floors."

Sure there is one window in the attic that is little foggy and has a crack in it -- but it's never had any problems, so it shouldn't be an issue for the buyers, right?

The natural inclination of all sellers is to say NO to every statement.

 The reality is this - often, the better answer is YES with an explanation.

Every buyer is different.   I had some significant problems with my house after I moved in -- things like the soap suds spilling out to the backyard, because the sellers improperly disconnected the sump pump before they moved out of the house.   I could have gone after the sellers and sued them for a number of things, but that's not the way I operate.  Let's just say, these sellers were less than honest when they completed the form, and they were incredibly lucky that I was the buyer of their house.

Other buyers can be very quick to litigation.   What if there is a rain storm of significant magnitude three weeks after the buyers move in?  Trust me, they are not going to be happy if they have water issues in their basement.

But there is another reason for full disclosure.  Consider the window issue.  If you've told the buyers that there is a cracked window in the attic, then it becomes a factor in the negotiated sales price.   They can't come back after the inspection and ask for a credit for repairs, when the broken window shows up on the inspection report.  They already knew about it and factored it into their asking price.

My recommendation?   Read each statement thoughtfully and carefully.

When in doubt: disclose, disclose, disclose!!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

How's the Market? End of Year Recap for 2016

Happy New Year! 2016 was certainly a year of surprises – the most exciting, of course, was the Cubs winning the World Series! As I was watching that last game, I wondered, if this really was their year. And so it was.

I hope your 2016 was a year of blessings and much happiness.

Once again, I am writing my end of the year recap for our local housing market on the North Shore ...These charts present data as of January 1, 2017.   (A caution: sellers often take their homes off the market in December, so inventory levels are generally lower during the winter months and start to go back up in the Spring. These numbers are absolute and not seasonally adjusted to reflect this reality.)

The housing market held its own in 2016. It varied quite a bit along the North Shore, as the following charts would indicate.

There are a couple of numbers that I like to study, when determining how the market is performing. Are we selling more or less properties than last year and what is happening to the median prices?

Every community has its own story and you can analyze the numbers to draw your own conclusions.   The one thing I did notice, in the towns where unit volume increased, the median prices seemed to go down.    This would suggest that sellers are dropping their prices to get their properties sold.  

I was particularly struck by the absolute sales in each community.   For example, the absolute number of units sold in Lake Forest went up in 2016, and yet inventory levels remain high.   

Which leads me to the next chart.  The numbers that most Realtors like to follow are the inventory levels. Inventory is measured in months. What a "month's inventory" means is this: if sales were keeping pace with new properties coming on the market, how many months would it take to sell the outstanding inventory? It's a better way of interpreting the unit count, because it reflects how quickly certain price points are moving or stagnating.

A healthy balanced market is around 6-10 months of inventory. An unbalanced sellers' market is about 0-8 months of inventory. And a buyers’ market is considered anything over 8 months of inventory.

So while the number of sales increased, so did the number of new listings.  Until the market can keep pace and absorb new listings, the inventories will remain high.   The only communities that have a real surplus of detached homes are Kenilworth and Lake Forest.   The rest of the North Shore is fairly balanced -- or even a buyer's market.   Attached housing is tight throughout the North Shore.   These charts only present the numbers in aggregate. Various price points have higher or lower levels of inventory.

According to the Multiple Listing Service, the highest sale in 2016 was a lake front property in Winnetka on Hoyt Lane.     The following chart shows the highest sales in each of the communities this year.

source of data for the charts: Midwest Real Estate Data

While overall levels of inventory are pretty stable, the North Shore continues to have a surplus of high end homes.  The chart below shows how many homes priced over $2M that we currently have active on the market and how many sold in 2016. 

Currently Active
Under Contract
Sold in 2016
Month’s  Inventory
Highland Park
Lake Forest
Lake Bluff

The National Association of REALTORS put forth their Housing Forecast for 2017. It's their opinion that the 2017 housing market will be slower, moderate growth.

With the new administration in Washington and and Illinois's fiscal realities one hates to predict what's going to happen in 2017 – there are just so many outside variables that will determine how the housing market will play out on the North Shore this year.

Various groups present their forecast for the housing market.

Inman News, a real estate industry watch group, released their 2017 real estate industry outlook. The key points from the report were as follows:

  • There is solid optimism about the housing market in 2017, with 27.43 percent of respondents saying they are extremely optimistic.
  • More than half of this survey's respondents (52.21 percent) expect President-elect Donald Trump to have a positive effect on the U.S. housing market.
  • A strong majority (71.24 percent) of respondents have plans to expand their businesses next year.
  • Nearly 50 percent of respondents think unit sales will go up in 2017, and 75 percent of those surveyed think that prices will go up.

The Illinois Association of Realtors also prepared their forecast for the state.   If you would like to see the report, click here.  

Basically the IAR forecast positive gains in Illinois, but not so much in Chicago area.  The negative growth rates are likely driven by the trend of declines in the foreclosed sales. 

Forecasts are all very interesting, but the statistic I like to watch is the job market and as it relates to the North Shore, wage growth.  Without a healthy business community, our towns are impacted probably more than much of the rest of the state.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation report, the national unemployment rate edged down to 4.9% from 5.0% a year ago (as of October), while according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the Illinois unemployment rate fell to 5.6% from 5.9% a year ago and 29,500 non-farm payroll jobs were created. While professional and business services led the job growth (31,400), manufacturing experienced the largest loss (-10,000).  We still have a higher unemployment rate than the US overall -- although I'm encouraged that professional and business services show job growth.  

I tend to believe that if Illinois created a more business friendly environment, we would see the housing sector take off like is happening in other parts of the US. 

There are trends afoot that make the sales of our homes on the North Shore a little more unpredictable. The biggest question mark to me - does our current inventory match our current demand? Other local agents may have a different perspective than I do, but it’s my feeling that we have a surplus of dated, high end homes and a lack of newer and more moderately priced homes. Many of my clients are looking to downsize and are finding the options wanting.   Many of the younger buyers want newer, more modest homes.  

People often ask, what do today’s buyers want? What are the current trends? BUILDER recently asked real estate professionals to share their thoughts about the top design trends their clients are currently requesting. According to their survey, here are some of the top design trends that real estate pros say are in demand:
· Open layouts
· Neutral color schemes
· Multigenerational floor plans
· First-floor master suites
· No dining rooms
· White kitchens
· Extra-large garages
· Big closets
· Finished basements with 9-foot high ceilings
· Barn sliding doors
With my clients, I haven’t seen the big demand for no dining rooms or barn sliding doors, but I would have to agree with other items listed. If you’re thinking about selling your house, you might want to review this list and see if you can get your house to at least appear to have some of these features. (e.g., purge items from closets, neutralize decorating, remove pieces of furniture to provide a more open feel, etc.) Lately, I’ve noticed a number of sellers have painted dated kitchen cabinets white – the kitchens are looking amazingly fresh – especially in the photographs. Something to consider…

The National Association of Realtors publishes an annual report about home buyers and sellers. This info graphic summarizes some of their findings.   (click on the chart to see it enlarged.)

* * * *

Regardless of the health of the market, my hope for 2017 is that people move and change homes based on what is in the best interest of their own families. I’m a big believer that decisions should not be driven by fears or uncertainty -- if getting a bigger house or if downsizing are the right answers, then I think today is best time to move on. Waiting for tomorrow only delays the inevitable.

As some of my readers know, I publish a monthly newsletter, How's the Market? If you'd like to be on my mailing list, I encourage you to sign up. (You can always opt out at any time.)

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank my clients who have helped to make 2016, a successful year for me. As the saying goes, "Home is where our stories begin." As a real estate broker, there is no greater privilege than to have the satisfaction of knowing, you’ve made a difference in peoples' lives and helped clients with their stories.

Wishing you and yours all the best in 2017!

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”
– Oprah Winfrey