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

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Thursday, October 25, 2018


I find it interesting to walk my neighborhood these days.  Many of the lawns are staged with fake tombstones and ghostly figures.   Halloween brings out such interesting decorations.  

Which leads me to talk about one of the more interesting aspects of real estate: the use of land for cemeteries. In Lake Forest and Calvary Cemetery, just south of Evanston -- prime real estate is being used to house our ancestors.  If I'm really honest, I've always wanted lakefront property -- maybe in death I'll have it!

My dad loved to visit cemeteries -- he loved genealogy and he found cemeteries very informative.   On our vacations, we often detoured out of our way in order to tromp through some cemetery to find tombstones from some distant relative.   My mother was just as curious.  I suppose that sounds odd to some people, but that was the way it was in our family.
Austrian cemetery
European cemeteries are amazing to visit.  They are frequented often by relatives, so there are an abundance of flowers, gardens and mementos.  I was told once, that due to the shortage of land, plots are reused -- so the occupants tend to be the fairly recently departed.  

With Halloween coming, I find autumn a wonderful time of year to walk through a beautiful cemetery and appreciate not only the scenery, but also the tombstones, and sometimes even the final resting places of famous historical figures.   Graceland in Chicago is an amazing place -- as is the Lake Forest Cemetery.  

Some people find them frightening, while others purposely seek out graveyards.  My grandmother's cousin(?), Lilburn Kingsbury, was an authority on Missouri cemeteries - his records remain a goldmine for local historians.

Here are 20 cemeteries worth seeing -- I think I've seen three of them.    And in honor of those departed souls who wanted to get the last word, I enjoyed reading 50+ Brilliant Tombstones By People Whose Sense Of Humor Will Live Forever.

Here's one interesting story in the New York Times: Family Cemeteries Bind Generations, for Remembrance and Tax Reasons

As you can tell, I'm not one of those people who finds cemeteries disturbing -- in fact, I enjoy seeing them from time to time.   I even went on a school outing to visit the historical and gorgeous Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston.

But what about buying a home near a cemetery?   How does it affect property values?

Well, there are pros and cons.  


You are guaranteed quiet neighbors.  You never to worry about all-night parties or loud construction going on nextdoor. You will enjoy unobstructed and sometimes even beautiful natural views.  Some cemeteries have extraordinary gardens and monuments and many are on the list of National Historic Places. 


I've had buyers who are fearful or superstitious so they find the idea of living near a cemetery a deal breaker.  Then there are buyers who seek out a feng shui lifestyle, which means living near a cemetery is a nonstarter.   Re-sale of your home needs to be a consideration. 

Yes, the neighbors are quiet, but a cemetery is sometimes a problem for some buyers. In fact, the National Association of Realtors found that the presence of a cemetery nearby drags down property prices by 12 percent.
But an analysis of sales by another real estate firm came to the opposite conclusion. It discovered homes closer to cemeteries fetched more money per square foot than those farther away. 
Who knows?   It really comes down to personal preference I suppose.   

What do you think?  Would you buy a property next to a cemetery?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Housing Horoscope: Is Your Dream Home Written in the Stars?

Bungalow or high-rise? Loft or Queen Anne? Vintage walk-up or new construction? With so many housing choices in Chicago, we thought it would be fun to match up home styles with horoscopes. Of course, you’ll want to consult a Realtor before you start your search. But let’s just imagine what your sign might say about your ideal home sweet home.

Bold, assertive, independent Aries appreciate simplicity, value and practical comfort. Aries would be right at home in a mid-century single-family home with clean lines and bold design. A mid-century home suits their disdain for chaos and makes a strong statement with its open design.
This classic, patient, warm hearted earth sign would be right at home in a classic Chicago two- or three-flat. The iconic Chicago homes, the majority built between 1900-1920, once made up a quarter of the city’s housing stock. A Taurus would appreciate the practicality of owning a two-flat, allowing them to live in one unit and rent the other for extra income.
Fun-loving, versatile and social Geminis might be right at home in a mixed-use development. The latest in condo developments offers a mix of residential, commercial and cultural areas providing Geminis plenty of opportunities for a change of scenery, dinner with old friends or coffee with new neighbors.
Emotional, imaginative, and cautious, Cancers aren’t looking for something flashy. Chicago’s courtyard buildings built in the early 1900s suit Cancers’ traditional, classic style. The spacious U-shaped buildings offer protected green space, plenty of light and privacy as each condo building has its own front entry and stairwell leading to no more than six units.
Generous, creative, enthusiastic, regal, majestic lions who love to roar are the perfect match for a Queen Anne or Victorian home. Leos will be right at home as the center of attention in a beautiful painted lady in all its splendor – from dramatic entrances and wraparound porches to colorful detail.
Modest, meticulous, practical, perfectionists, Virgos appreciate quality over quantity and classic over trendy. Naturally, they’re a great fit for a classic Chicago bungalow. The modest 1.5-story brick single-family homes were mostly built in the early 20th century. They can be found across the city and in a stunning display in the city’s “bungalow belt”.
Diplomatic, easygoing, sociable Libras appreciate simple beauty. Libras will find the calm elegance they adore in a Greystone. The stately homes with limestone facades come in all sizes from multi-unit buildings to spacious single-family homes with backyard space and gracious garage-top decks for entertaining
Passionate, compulsive, resourceful Scorpios with a need for action and an eye for detail will find plenty of options amid the city’s luxury mid-rise and high-rise condo buildings, offering breathtaking views and every amenity — from pools and meditation rooms to community spaces and dog runs. Styles range from new sleek and shiny high-rises to neo-classical vintage apartment buildings.
Freedom-loving, optimistic, excitement-seeking Sagittarians could be a perfect fit for a Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The latest in condo communities designed to eliminate the hassle of cars and parking offers easy access – usually a short walk – to public transportation, work, dining, and shopping. TODs offer the flexibility Sagittarians crave to go wherever their free spirit takes them.
Practical, ambitious, disciplined, Capricorns are natural-born leaders. Goal-oriented Capricorns will appreciate a new construction single-family home that suits their sophisticated style and practicality, offering both form and function with professional kitchens, custom closets and backyard space the earth sign will appreciate.
Inventive, independent, humanitarian, creative and cool Aquarians are a great match for Adaptive Reuse homes that fit their unconventional flare. In addition to converted industrial spaces, there are reimagined schools (chalkboards included) and historic churches finding a second life repurposed as luxury condos and stunning homes. They’re not for everyone, which is exactly the point.
Imaginative, sensitive, compassionate, kind and social, open-minded Pisceans will appreciate a great loft space offering a great canvas to make it their own. Whether converted from a 1900s warehouse or industrial space or newer construction designed for loft living with exposed brick and wide open spaces, the city offers many options just waiting for a little imagination to make them home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Are we there yet?

Watching the market can become a fulltime preoccupation with real estate agents. It's essential to understand a local market conditions both for pricing a prospective listing and for helping buyers make offers. We've got all sort of indicators and reporting that helps us figure out whether the market is Hot or Not.  While the reports are useful and informative, there are other signs to watch... here are a few others:

Market Time - It's been my observation that market time is really a great cue to whether the housing market is doing well or not. In general, if a home is priced correctly it should go under contract in less than 90 days -- in a slow market. In a hot market, it usually is under contract in than 10 days. Buyers move very quickly in a hot market, because they know the property might not be there, if they don't. When the market tanked and nothing was moving, market times -- even on fairly priced homes -- become prolonged. But then I had a listing a few years ago: two offers on the property for full asking price the day BEFORE we listed it in the computer... clearly a hot market.

Scarcity of great homes - I remember in the boom years how certain houses were just not there (e.g., reasonably priced homes in East Lake Forest).   I remember working with buyers in 2004 and it was incredibly difficult to find nice properties - at all.   This happens when a market is hot.

Multiple Offers - you know the market is heating up when many homes are receiving multiple offers.   I remember a few years when it seemed like every deal I was working on had multiple agents involved... Multiple offers are incredibly stressful, because someone always loses.  That is pretty clear sign that the market is getting warm. 

Surprising Sales - While unusual, sometimes properties sell for higher prices than you expect.  There is no rhyme nor reason for it -- but if you look at the market as a reflection of the economy at large, maybe things are improving... a new company has come into the area and has added new buyers with different income levels.   Maybe it's a sign of a healthier market -- or maybe it's an anomaly.   In either case, it's something to watch.   

Inventory Trends -- If you read my monthly reports, you know that I believe watching inventory levels and understanding the months supply of property is the best way of telling the health of a market.   When the inventory of available properties increases, prices go down   and market time tends to increase .   The reverse is true when inventory levels go down.   When pricing your home, try to understand the inventory levels in the key price point.   For example, say you have house that has a estimated market value of $775K - $825K.   
Inventory levels in your market:
$700K-$750K - 4 months supply
$750K - $800K - 8 months supply
$800K - $950K - 12 months supply

Given that scenario, I would be inclined to price my own home around $775K... see if I can't get someone to stretch into that price range, where there is a shortage of supply -- I definitely wouldn't price my house over $800K when there is already a surplus of available homes.

So are we there yet?   Is the market hot?  Look for the signs -- they are certainly there!