Archive for March, 2009


The Best Chicago Real Estate Blogs

One of the best ways to get a taste of a neighborhood you’re looking at is to look at some blogs from real estate professionals in the area.

Real estate agents are getting savvy about using the blog to talk to you – people who are interested in moving to their community — about the community. At their very best, these blogs are like local newspapers, without the obituaries or scintillating reports from the local public utilities commission.

Of course, the agents would LOVE to eventually represent you in a sale, but they also know that if they’re too salesy in their blog reports, you’ll bolt. The hope is that if you like the blog and find it a valuable resource for learning about a neighborhood, then you’ll like the agent as well and maybe want to talk business.

So we’re going city by city to find the best real estate blogs. I try to find sites that have a low sales quotient, and give you a good insight into the community that agent represents. The more ‘insidery’ the better.

First up: Let’s look at Chicago and the best blogs in the Windy City (in no particular order).

Robert Darrow’s Your Windy City Guide excels in all the types of information that’s important to new residents: some numbers and analysis of local real estate market with some good insight for buyers, and with just the right amount of local color – interesting stories and great pics.

He also does a very nice job of discussing a variety of neighborhoods and then making it easy for you to search them with precise tagging (that’s not something you’ll find on all of the Chicago blogs).

Definitely worth your time if you’re looking to move and buy in Chicagoland.

Fran Bailey’s Chicago Metro Real Estate is also first-rate, and she has some good war stories from the Chicago real estate biz — personal stories like these help you get a feel for a real estate agent’s personality and knowledge.

As you read these blogs, think about whether you could mesh with them as you go about your real estate hunt. I’ll ignore the post on ‘5 Good Reasons to Buy a Home now’ — agents, please avoid the obvious pitches on buying a home; if I’m on your site, just assume I’m already pretty serious about buying a home.

However, bonus points for her post on finding Chicago rentals, a classy post that shows she wants to help people moving to Chicago, not pitch her listings.

Chicago Real Estate Local from Eric Rojas offers a really good insight into life in Chicago with a good overview of the types of property in Chicago and some amusing insights on properties and neighborhoods, as well as discussion of the overall real estate market in Chicago and in particular neighborhoods. It’s the kind of stuff that gives you a feel for the city and some insight into where you might be looking to live. is also a good blog about life in Chicago. Check out its neighborhood lists for some good insight into various Chicago neighborhoods. The Real Estate Lounge Chicago is good, but I’d like to see more information about neighborhoods in there.

Jennifer Ames’ Live and Play in Chicago is probably the best-looking blog in this group, and has a lot of good information on neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago if that’s an area you’re interested in. Definately should be on the list of blogs to check out if you’re interested in Chicago.

Closing on Real Estate is more about the financial side of the equation, but the lawyer-author does a really nice job of focusing on issues that a first-time buyer might face. Here’s an example:

“I represented a buyer earlier this week at a closing and we used this to sock away $5k just in case there’s a special assessment in the next six months. In my particular situation a review of condo board minutes over the last year suggested a couple big projects may be happening soon so I just wanted to protect my client. But in a soft real estate market, why not use this as the default position on the Buyer’s side. Protect your client for another year.”

This is good stuff to know if YOUR real estate agent isn’t thinking about stuff like this. Bonus points for not using legalese like ‘pursuant.’

Finally, Arc Chicago isn’t a real estate site, but it’s an interesting compendium of real estate architecture in Chicago and some of the interesting architecture by neighborhood. Not that you should pick your new neighborhood by the archicture, but it could be a factor.

Any I missed? Of course there is! So why not help out our community and leave some other Websites that are worth a perusal?

— Tim Johnson, Editor


Take Off the Gloves to Compete With Foreclosures

Suzanne Grace is a licensed real estate agent in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Foreclosures are the bane of any home-seller trying to sell their home. We’ll give you some tips on how to cope if your home is competing with one. 

1. Know Your Enemy Most banks are very eager to sell, so they’re creating an underpriced competitor – you’ll need to be just as aggressive.

First off, find out if your neighborhood has some foreclosed properties, and wait until they are sold before listing your home (if that’s possible).

Second, figure out how to price it. When determining comparisons, appraisers no longer care if the home next to yours sold as a foreclosure — a comp is a comp is a comp! The risk factor when buying a foreclosure is no longer considered as high.

Either way, the buyer will be able to do their due diligence, and they contractually have the time to have inspectors view the property; in the event there is something wrong with the home, making the purchase risky, the buyer can still back out of the deal.

So you need to price competitively with foreclosures. And even then, you might need to go the extra mile. Buyers are very cautious about overpaying. Once you choose the price at which to list your home, keep in mind that you will need some flexibility.

As a real estate agent, I work with the comparables of sold homes to help set the price of your home. However, all it takes is a neighbor to significantly drop their price or for a foreclosure to come on the market and the comparables have now changed.

2. Stay Put Buyers appreciate a home that is well taken care of and loved. A vacant home typically feels cold and empty while one that is still occupied has a warm, cozy feel, attracting more buyers.  This gives you a leg-up over foreclosures – and it’s something to play to the hilt when preparing your home for showing.

3. Keep It Neat Be sure your home is always presentable. With so many foreclosures on the market today, buyers are seeing homes at their worst. If your home is presented in a neat and clean way, it will attract more positive attention – particularly against that cold foreclosed home down the street. 

4. You did what to your home? Homeowners always update, upgrade and remodel their homes according to their own personal taste. It’s easier to sell a home if the decor and paint colors are neutral, allowing the buyer to visualize their own style in the home.

You also have a leg up on foreclosures here – they don’t come with disclosures. If the kitchen was upgraded, there is no way to know when it was done or how – although some cities do require permits for this, there are many others that do not. Keeping updated records, photos, and permits handy for your buyer to review will make them feel much more confident about buying your home.

5. Get real about price Buyers today are also watching the days on market and tend to be much more aggressive in their bargaining and negotiating if a home appears to be sitting for any length of time. Don’t be insulted by a low offer; work with that buyer and see if you can meet them halfway on price and terms.


If Move Falls Through, Figuring Out Your Living Situation

I recently got an email that perhaps reflects a situation faced by many people. Her home sale had fallen through, even after she had lined up all the movers and was ready to get going in a new community.

She was conflicted — should she sign a lease and just rent for awhile? Or should we put her stuff in her storage and look for a home real quick-like? There’s really no way easy way to answer, and much depends on your personal situation.

A: Move into an apartment while you wait to buy a house.

Let’s assume you commit to being there for a year. Although some people feel any money spent on rent is a waste, the real estate and mortgage market is in a great deal of flux and you’ll have a better idea of what’s a ‘good’ deal in a year or so.

You’ll also have a better idea of what kind of help the government is going to give you. As part of the stimulus bill, the government’s granted an $8000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers. However, if the housing market doesn’t get back on its feet pretty soon, I could see politicians rushing out another incentive to spark the housing market. In other words, waiting might pay off.

Will you miss out on price appreciation? I don’t know where you’re moving, but real estate prices don’t seem poised to take off any time soon, so I doubt you’ll miss much any appreciation. (Actually, I don’t think it matters where you’re moving — the market’s probably gonna be pretty moribund for at least another year.)

If you rent a year, you can get to know the area better, and really look at all your options. If you put your stuff in storage assuming you’ll buy pretty quickly, you might feel an itch to buy a place and get done with it — and make a poor decision.

The downside is that you’re moving twice. You’ll get settled in at your new place, and all of a sudden you’ll be looking to move. Even for people who move a lot, it’s a quick turnaround. You might spend a year living out of a box. For some people, that sounds like fun – for others, it’s torture.

B: Put your stuff in short-term storage while you hunt for a house.

The advantage to this option is primarily financial: you’ll save money on moving and rental costs. (You didn’t say where you’d be living while you look for a new home – I assume you’re crashing with friends or relatives or some other cheap, non-rent-paying option.)

The bigger question is whether you’re comfortable with living with just a few of your items while the bulk of your stuff is in storage?

Also, as I mentioned above, if you’re assuming you’re going to find a new home quickly, you might rush to buy a new home and make a bad decision. If you rent for a year, you have time to think things through.

The financial breakdown:

Option A: You pay rent for a year. You move twice (although your second move will be cheaper because it’s a local move, I assume the first one is long distance moving).

Option B: You purchase storage for a short period of time, while you hunt for a home. Talk to the moving company who moves you about them putting stuff in storage for you – it’s easier and you might get a better deal on storage from them, rather than a self-storage facility (although you probably won’t be able to get your items EXACTLY when you need them – it will depend on the moving company’s timetable for when they have moving crews and such to pull your items from storage). Also check out PODs.

So option A is more expensive, but there’s a lot more to this question than just dollars and cents.

You also have other options if you only need space for a short amount of time. One of those is corporate housing, which is generally used by employees who are on work assignment away from home and need a place to stay. A Website that helps people hook up with this kind of housing is Corporate Housing by Owner.


An Alternative View of Your Mortgage

When I look at my assets these days — and it’s a quick look, trust me, I think I can look directly at the sun longer — I don’t even consider the value of my home.

Why not? Because I don’t even see it as part of my investment mix. Sure, when I sell, I hope I see a gain. But when I bought the home a couple years ago (yep, I nailed the top of the market, please keep your comments to yourself….) I looked at it as a pure financial decision: over the course of 10 years, even if we lost money on the house, would we pay more in rent, or pay more for the mortgage?

Unless I’m forced to load up the jalopy and head out West ‘Grapes of Wrath’ style, I think the answer is that I’d pay more in rent.

The thing is, I’m just not good at timing the market. Even with stocks, I buy high, sell low. That’s why I put my investing on auto-pilot and make regular investments, and do the same with selling positions that run a little hot.

I try to have the same clear-eyed view when considering housing. I knew the market was overheated and likely to come down, but I didn’t know when. And with a new Johnson on the way, I knew I needed more space. Going from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom in New York is shockingly expensive, and doing the math, buying instead of renting made more sense (as did moving to the suburbs from the City).

So when I hear the debate about whether now’s a good time to buy a house, I think the same thing:

If you can afford it, preferrably keeping real estate costs to less than 30% of your take-home pay (yes, take-home).


If you would pay less on housing costs over 10 years than you would pay in rent,

Then buying a home might be for you.


More Volunteers for Tennessee Living

Despite the economic turmoil swirling in much of the country, Tennessee will likely continue attracting newcomers to the state, our research has found.

We analyzed nearly 500,000 requests for moving services in 2008 and found that 58% of all interstate move requests for Tennessee involved people who wanted to move to Tennessee from another state; 42 % involved people who wanted to leave Tennessee for another state.

 Three major Tennessee cities showed similar numbers over the two-year span of 2007 and 2008:

 Nashville: 56% of all interstate moves involved people moving to the city; 44% involved people moving out of the city.

 Knoxville: 53% of all interstate moves involved people moving to the city; 47% involved people moving out of the city.

 Chattanooga: 55% of all interstate moves involved people moving to the city; 45% involved people moving out of the city.

 The only city bucking that trend was Memphis: Of interstate moves, 62% were requests to move out of the city to another state; 38% were requests to move to the city.

For more information the study and to see how other states and cities ranked, check out this article.


Sell Your Home Now? Why It Might Make Sense to Wait 6 Months

This blog post was written by Suzanne Grace, a real estate agent in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and a contributor to

The drumbeat of negative news just seems to keep rolling on for the real estate market.

But does that mean you shouldn’t try to sell your home? This blog post will take you through the issues to consider when mulling over whether to wade back into the game.

And I’ll tell you why, at least in the community where I’m a real estate agent, it makes sense to wait 6 months before putting your home up for sale — and why you might want to consider it for where you live too.  

1. How much equity do you have? If you bought prior to 2003, chances are you have some pretty decent equity in your home. But if you bought between 2004-2006, and used a 100% financing option, chances are you don’t.

So pre-2003 buyers who have a decent amount of equity might find it beneficial to sell if you have good reasons for needing to do so.

2. Why are you selling? If you can no longer afford the payment, it may not be in your best interests to sell. Many banks are now working with homeowners to modify their loans, essentially lowering their monthly payments to an affordable level.

While I cannot advise going one way or the other (we’re still early in figuring out how the loan modification program will work), it beats foreclosure. And if you are selling for a reason beyond your control such as a divorce, you may want to meet with your CPA to determine the tax benefits of buying out your partner, or see if you can come to an agreement that allows you to sell later.

There is nothing worse than being forced to sell in a downward-trending market.

3. Where do you plan to move? If you are staying in the area and plan to rent, you might be paying the same if not more than you are currently paying for your mortgage, particularly when taking into account the tax benefits of owning. Rents have increased over the last year to keep pace with demand as people leave foreclosed homes.

4. Are you trading up? If you are selling because you want a larger home, whatever you ‘lose’ on your current home will be realized in the gain of your new home, which has also taken a dive in price.

Wait Six Months?

Whether you sell now or later depends on where you live, of course, but I think my community of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is instructive about what much of the country might be seeing in the next six months.

Thousand Oaks has certainly seen its share of foreclosures, and an average 30% decline in home values. However, homes ARE selling. If you price your home aggressively (ie, at the same level as any bank-owned properties in your area), it will sell – and in most cases it sells within a week.

In fact, we are actually seeing a housing shortage in some areas – yes, a shortage. (Sounds strange in this market doesn’t it?)

However, maybe it’s not so strange.

Six months ago we saw a pre-foreclosure list of approximately 50 pages; today that list is down to 15 pages. I expect that within 6 months, it will be even more beneficial for a seller with equity to sell – we will be entering the peak season, the foreclosure rate will have dropped significantly (if the Stimulus Plan rolled out this month takes effect as planned), and the market will have settled after the changes the election brought forward as well as the Homeowner Stability Plan will have been given a chance to take effect.

The bottom line is this: While only you can decide whether it’s the right time to sell, President Obama’s $75 billion Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan will help struggling homeowners by providing incentives to lenders, servicers, mortgage holders and borrowers to help modify mortgage loans.

This will definitely keep foreclosures off the market, decreasing the number of homes available – and the lower inventory may actually help bring the price of homes back up.


Montana Continues to Attract Movers

Montana is likely to continue attracting newcomers to the state if it sticks to recent trends, our statistics have found. analyzed nearly 500,000 requests for moving services in 2008 and found that 59% of all interstate move requests for Montana involved people wanting to move to Montana; 41% of moving requests involved people looking to move out of the state.

So for every 100 people looking to move out of Montana, 145 were looking to move to Montana. The number is consistent with 2007 data, when 62% of moving requests for Montana involved people wanting to move there, while 38% were looking to leave the state. Our statistics cover roughly 3% of moves made anually in the U.S.

Click here for more information on the survey and which states continue to attract residents.