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Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Road West

I had good intentions of writing my impressesions daily on this trip... alas, between exhaustion in the evenings, late nights and marginal technology... I arrived in Santa Monica without a more detailed travelogue.

I thought I would share my thoughts about housing instead. From Illinois to California, the style of housing was unique to each part of the country. Some highlights:

Chicago - I was amazed at the development of the west Loop — there were a wide range of modern apartments that weren’t tall apartment buildings.  They seemed more cozy and less imposing.

Carlinville, IL - Sears & Roebuck created kit homes and sold over 70,000 in the United States. Around 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville, IL ended up with 156 of these homes that were offered in eight different models.  The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years.   We toured Carlinville and it remains the center as the largest center for the remaining kit homes.   It was interesting to see how they had been customized and expanded through the years.    The kit homes were a way for people to have a “modern” home but at a reasonable price.  

Small town America — All along the route we saw homes in disrepair and really desperate condition.   It was so clear that so many small towns were impacted by the Interstate Highway system.   There were bungalows in need of paint and homes with broken windows.   I wondered about who lived in these homes and the struggles they must face on a daily basis. 

Tulsa — Greenwood Avenue.   There was something so incredibly tragic about this story and what happened to this thriving and prosperous neighborhood.   

Taos and Santa Fe - There are countless examples of the adobe structures in the Southwest.  The one that was quite amazing was Georgia O’Keefe’s home in Abiquiu.   She transformed the traditional Southwest home, by putting in walls of full length windows for maximum sunlight.   It was really an amazing place.

Native American housing — I was amused to see Teepees on Route 66 in Holbrook Arizona.   Teepees were housing for the Plains tribes.  I saw the traditional Hogan throughout the Navajo reservation.   Today there were also a lot of trailers and smaller houses.    I stopped at the boarding school where I lived for two years.   It was like a ghost town .. my apartment was in shambles.   Such a strange feeling to see the remenants of the BIA boarding school that had been my home so long ago.

Ranches and Ghost Towns — One of my favorite stops was Oatman, AZ.   A winding — dare I say a bit treacherous — road leads you into Oatman.   The wild burros still wander the streets, although they are pretty tame because of the tourists.   So interesting to see the wood planked sidewalks.

Hollywood and Beverly Hills — the contrast was stark to all of sudden see the unbelievable and dare I say obscene wealth — of these homes from poverty in other parts of the country.   It left a huge impression with me. 

America is such an amazing country of contrasts.   Amazing trip — one I highly recommend!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Oklahoma City to Tucumcari, New Mexico

Yesterday was a driving day and long one at that.  We were in three states: Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.   I confess, we got off the Mother Road and drove primarily on Interstate 40, but much of Route 66 runs parallel so it sort of felt like we were there.

Our first stop was in Clinton, OK.   This is a must see museum for anyone, who has any interest in this journey.  Best museum ever.... The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum tells the history of the road and all the inventions that needed to be created to accommodate the automobile — like the fillin’ pump.  They had cars, pumps, and many other artifacts, plus excellent historic analysis of the decades of travel in America.   I really loved this museum.

We drove straight through to Amarillo to the Cadillac Ranch (Graveyard).   Such a crazy thing stuck out by the highway.   It was hot and long walk to see it, but you can’t drive Route 66 without checking this out.

What struck me about the day was the expansiveness of the Texas panhandle.  The terrain changed and you can see across the land straight to the horizon without any houses or buildings.   Everything was big in Texas — even the rest stop had a huge vista — hard to describe.

By late afternoon we reached Adrian, Texas and stopped for a photo op.   We’re half way to Santa Monica!

We drove further on into New Mexico and immediately felt the difference at the rest area... an adobe structure ... now on Mountain time and it just feels different.   As we came around the bend we saw the mountains.   I feel how we are now in the southwest.   It just is different — the structures are lower.   Taller buildings are unusual in this area.   Our iconic home for the night,  The Blue Swallow Motel, feels like something out of the movie, Cars.  We even have our own garage.

As the sun set and we settled for the night, we sat outside and watched Route 66 turn into a strip of neon lights.   The air is hot and dry, but there was a beautiful breeze.   It was a wonderful way to end the day....

Today we get off of the traditional route and take a detour to Taos.   Stay tuned.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tulsa to Oklahoma City

We spent the night at a classic hotel on Route 66 -  The Campbell.  My room was decorated in gray -- what is it about gray... color de jour!  It honored musician Leon Russell.

We got a fabulous tour of the city with Kelly Gibson of Tours of Tulsa.  Tulsa is known for its stunning Art Deco architecture.   One of the more amazing buildings was Boston Avenue Methodist Church.   As someone who loves Art Deco, Tulsa is a treasure.  

The other part of the city that I wanted to see was the The Greenwood District. It's a tragic piece of Tulsa, and for that matter, American history that few know about.   I think I had heard about the riot on The American Experience or some other show and really wanted to see the area known as Black Wall Street.  Kelly did a great job explaining what happened and the tragic consequences that the city still is coming to terms with.   Seeing the lay of land helped make it all more real to me.

We left Tulsa and worked our way across the state to Oklahoma City.   Saw some Route 66 landmarks like Arcadia Round Barn Arcadia Round Barn.   As we left Tulsa and approached OK City the soil became red -- really red -- clay like.  Interesting.

We arrived in Oklahoma City and went to see the memorial from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 of the Murrah Federal Building.   It was beautiful and moving and really quite heartbreaking.

Good day -- saw interesting buildings and some beautiful architecture.  

Lake Forest to Tulsa

I had great plans of writing daily, but have found the journey so intriguing and the evenings relaxing...finally found some time this morning.

Hard to believe that we have been on the road for three days.   We have covered about 700 miles so far in our Ford Escape and loving the car... Each day we see the sights and scenes along the way --- some days we're running late and leave the historic Route 66 to get on the Interstates like 55 or 44.   But the days are full and I feel like I am really seeing America -- rather awe inspiring to see each little town along the way.   Yesterday we drove through a town -- population 300.

We left Lake Forest on Sunday and drove right to start of Route 66 at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson.   Immediately had to go around the block to Adams or we would have headed straight into the Lake.

The trip heading west on Adams and then on Ogden through Chicago to Berwyn was fascinating.  I had lived in Chicago for over 25 years and never seen that part of the city.   The houses were smaller; less density, so the sunlight was amazing.   There was a gorgeous park -- I need to look it up when I get home.  The near west side of Chicago has really taken off and it is like a whole new world to me.  

Our first stop was in Wilmington where we saw the Gemini Giant.  This is typical of "muffler men" which were once plentiful across the American landscape during the 1950s-1960s.   This particular muffler man was made into an astronaut.  We saw one later in the day in Atlanta, IL who was holding a hot dog!

We stopped for lunch in Joliet.   Joliet is best known for its prison and they make a big deal about The Blues Brothers, so you see statues of them around town.   While the little museum was sort of interesting,,, we really enjoyed touring the museum in Pontiac... It was a lot better.

Arrived in Springfield later afternoon.   Dinner at a historic house.

We spent a few hours touring the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.   I had heard it was an amazing museum - and it was.   Very educational but compellingly so -- I feel I learned a lot about Lincoln and the times in which he lived.   It's interesting that some of the issues he confronted, we are seeing in our current day politics.

Had lunch at the traditional Route 66 stop, Cozy Dog Drive In, then took off for Missouri.

So many little towns to drive through in Southern Illinois.  What was striking was how many of them were boarded up and really looked kind of depressed.  I got the sense that many of these towns sprang up and were supported by the tourism of the highway -- when the Interstate system was built... these towns lost their livelihood.   Many remain clinging to the reminents of Route 66 and the nostalgic tourists like us.

One town that was really pretty was Carlinville.   It looked like a movie set and you could see that they had a more vibrant town and activity.

We pretty much bypassed Saint Louis -- did see the Arch, but drove straight through to Cuba, Missouri where we spent the night at the iconic Wagon Wheel Motel.    It was "charming" although my room was about the size of a closet.  Everyone was so amazingly friendly and helpful.   My sister knew we were in a different part of the world when we were in Missouri.

Breakfast at Shelleys down the street and then we went further south to Fanning, Missouri where we saw the World's Largest Rocking Chair!

We detoured slightly to go see Fort Leonard Wood.   Brought back memories for me.   My grandfather had something to do with securing the land for the army and we used to go to the commissary on the base when I visited my grandparents.   Granddaddy was a retired general in the Army.

Next Stop - Joplin Missouri -- still getting our kicks.  As we meandered through Galena Kansas and then drove through Mickey Mantles home town in Spavinaw OK..

The day was slipping away so we hopped on the expressway and just made it to the Will Rogers Musuem in Claremore, OK.  Worth a revisit, but the museum closed.

Last stop - The Blue Whale in Caloosa, OK.   And then tow our traditional Route 66 hotel in Tulsa.... more later.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Route 66: America's Original Road Trip

Getting our kicks

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you.” ~ Walt Whitman
I admit it.   Today is my 66th birthday.   I've lived everyone one of those years, so I'm not going to hide that fact from anyone - I'm going to celebrate it!   I've wanted to do this for a long time, so here I go with my beloved sister -- ROAD TRIP -- Route 66 for my 66th.
Route 66.  The Mother Road.  The road immortalized by a song, a TV series, a Pulitzer winning novel and even the inspiration for Disney cartoon movie, Cars.  In its heyday, Route 66 was paved from Chicago to Santa Monica, crossing eight states and three time zones.  It was the first continuous road between Chicago and the west coast.   It made the West truly accessible to millions of people for the first time in our history. 
Route 66 opened up opportunities and dreams.  It recalls journeys on motorcycles and classic cars breezing through towns filled with neon signs and open spaces.    I'm hoping to capture pictures and images of a bygone era -- hopefully houses too!  Watch this blog for my impressions from The Mother Road.  

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

It's a matter of style

How many of you remember the TV show, Designing Women?   It ran on CBS between 1986 - 1993 - hard to believe more than 30 years ago!

I loved the show.  I thought the show was so much fun to watch with these four pretty, very outspoken women so stunningly dressed... it was so befitting of the times really: the excesses of the '80s and the surge of the '90s.  I was working in corporate America at the time, so I coveted their beautiful wardrobes of brilliant jewel tones and big shoulders.

Not too long ago, I was channel surfing and came across a rerun of the show.  I was actually a little stunned to revisit it.   I couldn't get over how over the top their styles were.   I didn't remember feeling that way about them when I originally watched the show.   Did they really wear their hair so, well, big?   Were their clothes really that bold?   At the time they seemed so typical and in style.

That's the point.  Styles come and go.   For that era, their style was just right -  so it was emulated and copied.   It worked.   It was how people dressed and how they decorated their homes.

A lot of our McMansions, particularly in Lake Forest, were built during that era.   Homes often reflect the times and those homes do as well with their high ceilings, large rooms,  brilliant colors, big furniture, etc.   Sometimes when I tour a home from that vintage, I wonder if Sugarbakers were the decorators.  Ha!

One of the challenges of this work, is helping sellers understand that what works for them, doesn't necessarily work for the buyers of today.  While there is nothing wrong with their style,  it's just not what the buyers want.

Styles comes and go -- today what seems to be in vogue are grey hues, sleek lines and minimalist furniture with a high-tech look.   That beautiful oil painting over the fireplace has been replaced with a big screen TV.



Of course, more dated decorating can be modified to reflect current trends and styles.  So, this is the conversation I find myself in with so many sellers.   

They ask me, "Why can't the buyers just decorate it the way they want?" 

Sure, buyers can make the house fit their style.  

And I do understand how they feel.   I don't have any grey rooms in my house -- I love my bold wallpapers, classic antique furniture and Persian carpets.... that's the style I like!  

But then again,  I'm not selling my house.  

If a buyer can choose between two homes where one is neutral or more typical of today's style, and the other more stylized to another era, the buyers will tend to purchase the house that will require less effort and expense to decorate.  

There is nothing wrong with your home -- it's a great home and it has YOUR style.   It's exactly the style YOU want it.   It reflects the way YOU want to live.   

BUT -- keep in mind, you don't want to LIVE in this home anymore.   You want someone else to make it their home.   That means, it would sure help if your home reflected their needs and styles.   

Anything you can do to make the house more neutral can only help!   As disheartening as it may be, consider removing your style and turning your home into something the next buyer might want.

Styles come and go... 

After all, I haven't worn any clothes with big shoulders for a long time! 

Friday, September 1, 2017

How's the Market as of September 1, 2017

Boy do I love September.   I can't think of a prettier  place to be than here on the North Shore during this month.  A day like today, well, I just wish I could put it in a bottle and bring it out in January!

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

So how was the market in August?

This first chart shows units sold, the second presents the median prices.  
The units sold in August were mixed across the North Shore as compared to 2016.   The uptick of sales in Lake Forest was very encouraging... we saw a corresponding decrease in the inventory levels!   That's good news.   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 healthy market.  

In the next chart I show the high-end sales for each community.  The highest sale was a new construction home on Private Lane in Winnetka. 

There are currently 194 houses for sale on the North Shore that are priced greater than $2M. During the month of August, 15 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

Have a beautiful September!