My blog has moved!

My blog, Home to Chicago, has moved to www.hometochicago.com

HOME TO CHICAGO HAS A NEW HOME! After nearly a year of blogging, I have moved to a new site at http://www.hometochicago.com. Please come visit me there!

I just launched a new and improved site for my blog, Home to Chicago. It’s got better graphics,  more information for buyers and sellers, new ways to embed video, more memory and all kinds of great stuff. So please visit me there, at http://www.hometochicago.com.

To limit search engine confusion, I will soon be deleting the content from this wordpress site. But don’t worry, all my archived articles can be found on the new blog, which has a search tab to help you find what you are looking for.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your comments on my new site!

Case-Shiller and Chicago: Home prices drop 7.2% in 2009

Even as home prices nationwide continued to inch up for the 7th month in a row, the news was less rosy in Chicago. From November to December, Chicago home prices had the sharpest decline of 20 metro areas tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller home Price Index.

Chicago home prices declined throughout 2009, ending down 7.2% for the year, according to Case-Shiller. Still, the drop was only half as bad as what we saw the previous year, when home prices in Chicago plunged more than 14% in 2008.

“As measured by prices, the housing market is definitely in better shape than it was this time last year, as the pace of deterioration has stabilized for now. However, the rate of improvement seen during the summer of 2009 has not been sustained,” David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s, said in a statement accompanying the report.

It seems that the impact of the government’s $8,000 and $6,500 tax credits for home buyers may be wearing off. If this is how the Chicago housing market fares when buoyed by government support, what can we expect prices to do next? It’s as if the boom never happened: As of the 4th quarter of 2009, average home prices across the United States are now back to 2003 levels, according to Case-Shiller.

For the year, just 6 out of 20 cities saw steeper price drops than Chicago in 2009: Las Vegas (down 20.6%), Tampa (11%), Detroit (10.3), Miami (9.9%), Phoenix (9.2%), and Seattle (7.9%).

Tax credit countdown: Chicago home buyers have only 2 months left

Chicago home buyers, time is running out to claim your $8,000 tax credit!

TIME IS RUNNING OUT: First-time home buyers must have a property under contract by April 30 to enjoy their $8,000 in free government money.

Congress has already extended and expanded the $8,000 first-time home buyer’s tax credit once, and it’s unclear that lawmakers have the appetite to do so again. So if you are still considering buying a home, you now have about two months left to scoop up thousands of free dollars.

This is a great deal for buyers, but many of them aren’t quite ready to act. Here’s why they should:

1) First-time buyers (who earn up to $125,000 as a single person or $225,000 as a couple) can get $8,000 back on their taxes. This is free money, one of the primary ways the government is helping regular people rather than banks and other corporations. Buyers who have already owned homes can now qualify for a $6,500 tax credit if they purchase a home they intend to occupy.

2) Interest rates are phenomenally low right now. I just had a buyer lock in a rate of 4.83% on a 30-year loan! But we will not see rates of 5% and below for much longer, because the government has already announced its intention to stop buying the mortgage-backed securities that are keeping rates artificially low. Many experts predict mortgage rates will rise half a point to a full point this year, beginning at the end of March.

3) There are tons of real estate bargains out there right now. More foreclosures are hitting the market, holding down prices across the board, and even new condo developments in trendy neighborhoods like River North, Gold Coast, Streeterville, West Loop and the South Loop have seen dramatic price reductions in an effort to attract buyers.

Remember, to qualify for the tax credit you must sign a contract to buy the home by April 30 and close by June 30.

The great Chicago condo divide: new vs. vintage

Older means bigger, in the world of Chicago condos.

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: My buyer recently purchased this 2-bedroom vintage condo, which features a front and rear sun room and separate dining room, for $248,500. A new condo at this price would have central air, an in-unit washer/dryer, and new kitchen and bath -- but it would be much smaller.

If you are thinking about buying a condo in Chicago, one of the main decisions ahead will be whether you prefer new (and small) or old (and big).

In many neighborhoods like Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Uptown, Andersonville, Edgewater and Rogers Park, it’s as simple as that: The same amount of money can fetch you a new (or, more often, gut-rehabbed) condo or an older, vintage condo with more space. Many buyers want a new kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, so the sleek new developments that feature such amenities (along with new marble-tiled baths with jacuzzi tubs) hold a lot of appeal.

Who can blame them? By the time they’re ready to buy, lots of Chicago dwellers have spent years living in vintage apartments. They have had enough of drafty wooden windows and creaky floors, clanking radiators and outdated kitchens. They don’t want to buy a condo that looks just like their rental apartment. They want something new.

I would say that the majority of condo buyers feel this way, and that’s why Chicago developers have spent the last decade merrily snapping up 90-year-old apartment buildings and converting them into newly-rehabbed condos. But developers are out to make a profit, and the more units they can fit in a building, the more money they make. This is why you rarely see much basement storage space in newer developments; the developer carved up most of the basement into “garden” units (otherwise known as condos in the basement). And even the condos above ground, while they may have lovely fixtures and finishes, are often rather small. The kitchen and living area are often combined, there is no separate dining room, and the second bedrooms are tiny.

How long do you plan to live there? How many people will live there, and are you planning to have children? How big is your furniture, and if it won’t fit are you willing to get rid of it? These are some important considerations when buying a newer condo. I can’t tell you how many times realtors sell a new 2-bedroom condo to a single person who calls them back in three years because now their girlfriend and two dogs have moved in, and they’ve already outgrown it.

So if space is important, consider a vintage condo. There aren’t as many of them out there anymore, but those that remain often feature separate dining rooms, sun rooms, and larger bedrooms. If you want a renovated kitchen, you can always upgrade the interior of your condo.

Still, in most older condo buildings it may be hard to add central air or a washer/dryer to your unit. So before you start condo shopping, think about what is more important to you: amenities or space. Because in the world of Chicago condos, that is often what your decision will boil down to.

A Walgreens in Andersonville?

A Walgreens may be the next big thing to hit Clark Street in Andersonville.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Thybony Paint (shown here in its original 19th-century storefront) may be leaving Andersonville this year, making way for a Walgreens pharmacy on Clark Street.

Goodbye, Thybony Paint. Hello… Walgreens?

That’s what Crain’s Chicago Business is reporting, at least. The rambling paint and wallpaper store anchoring the corner of Clark Street and Catalpa Avenue in Andersonville is soon to be replaced by a Walgreens pharmacy.

Andersonville, thus far, is largely free of ubiquitous chain stores (with the exception of Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Jewel-Osco and a couple other shops.) Will a corner Walgreens, right across the street from the aforementioned Jewel-Osco, give our mom-and-pop city neighborhood more of a suburban big-box flavor?

The store is slated to open this fall, a spokeswoman for Deerfield-based Walgreen Co. told Crain’s. The existing 16,000-square-foot building will soon be remodeled to accommodate its new occupant. It is not known whether the family-owned Thybony, which was founded in Chicago in 1886 and now has another location at 3545 N. Kedzie Avenue, plans to relocate its Andersonville store.

But in the meantime… does Andersonville need another pharmacy? There are two literally right across the street: the Gordono Pharmacy (and sandwich shop) on the other side of Clark Street, and the Jewel-Osco across Catalpa Avenue. Meanwhile, there are three other Walgreens located within roughly a mile (at 5625 N Ridge Avenue, 1500 W Wilson Avenue, and 4720 N Marine Drive).

But a century-old paint store? Now that’s something every realtor (and her home-buyers) could use.

Developers slash prices on downtown Chicago condos

Starved for buyers, developers are slashing prices on unsold Chicago condos.

DOWNTOWN DOWNTURN: Some developers have cut prices as much as 30% to sell a glut of downtown Chicago condos. The bargains include new units like this one at 565 Quincy.

After slogging through two years of sluggish sales, many local developers seem to be finally getting the message and deeply cutting prices on downtown Chicago condos. The downtown area was rapidly overbuilt during the boom with thousands of new condo units hitting the market each year, and when demand suddenly stalled developers were left with huge numbers of spanking new, but unsold, condos.

The Chicago Tribune ran a story about the trend this weekend, pointing out that from 2008 to 2009 there were 7,750 condo units built downtown, an area that includes the Gold Coast, River North, Streeterville, Loop, West Loop and South Loop. About 2,200 new-construction units are still available for sale by developers. And that doesn’t count the 3,000 or so downtown condos on the market that aren’t brand new, but are resales.

“The market presents an excellent buying opportunity, certainly unmatched by anything we’ve seen recently,” Gail Lissner, vice president at Appraisal Research Counselors, told the Tribune. “For anyone with a job, who feels good about their employment, this is a great time to buy. There are some outstanding values in the market.”

Many downtown developers have recently cut prices by up to 30%, leaving Chicago condo buyers with plenty of bargains to choose from. These properties include 565 Quincy, where prices on a 1-bed/1-bath condo dropped from $312,900 to $219,000, including indoor parking.

But, as always, buyers must be careful! No matter how awesome the “Dramatic Price Reductions!!!” trumpeted on the sales brochures seem, your realtor needs to do her/his homework and research how many short sales and foreclosures are already cropping up in any given building. The massive price cuts do have a dark side, since they chop the legs out from under any early buyers who may have paid much more for a similar unit in the same building. Those buyers — the ones who paid $150,000 more than today’s lucky buyers — are in trouble.

And if there are too many of them in any given building, soon the building is going to be in trouble, too. Do you want to live in a development that will soon be filled with dozens of short sales and foreclosures as those owners try to get out?

I’m not saying that these downtown condos aren’t great deals — many of them are. I just want buyers to remember that however sparkling the sales pitch, they should make sure the building they buy into is stable before signing that contract.

Great 2-BR condo back on the market in Lincoln Square: 2250 W Argyle #1

Beautiful, spacious 2-bedroom Lincoln Square condo

HEART OF LINCOLN SQUARE: This recently-rehabbed condo has 2 bedrooms, plus an extra family room, 2 full baths, and a large rear deck. It is listed at $299,000. Call me now to see it!

This modern 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo was quickly snapped up by buyers when I listed it in the fall. It was only on the market for about three weeks before it went under contract. But the buyers had trouble getting their loan, and the deal eventually fell through.

Now this Lincoln Square condo, a duplex with two floors of living space, is back on the market. It’s a great unit with exposed brick, hardwood floors, a beautiful kitchen, lots of light and a family room downstairs. Because it’s an end unit, it’s especially quiet.

Located at 2250 W Argyle, it’s just blocks from Winnemac Park or the restaurants and boutiques of Andersonville and Lincoln Square. The 10-unit building is professionally managed and well-run, and there’s a beautiful backyard for relaxation. My sellers loved living here!

And if you’re a first-time buyer, there’s still time to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit. This government perk is set to expire on April 30.

If you’re interested in seeing this property, or any other Lincoln Square condos, please give me a call at 773-816-1788. Thanks!

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