Archive for 2012

Wolf Point Receives Blessing and Takes Shape

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

The controversial $1 billion, three-building skyscraper at the coveted Wolf Point plot has received blessing from Ald. Brendan Reily—a decision that has alienated some residents and bucked the popular neighborhood vote. The project must now pass inspection by a city panel before ground can be broken.

This River North project has been under consideration from the alderman of the 42nd ward for over a year; recently, the developers behind this project—the Kennedy Family and Hines Interests L.P.—have scrapped their original plans in order to make Wolf Point more “neighborhood friendly.” Some of these concessions include more open spaces in the development as well as funding to improve congested traffic areas surrounding the project. However, these proposed compromises have done little to curb the dissatisfaction of the collective neighborhood group.

The primary argument from residents is that the project will create too much traffic in an already densely populated area.

With Alderman Brendan Reily already in their pocket, the Kennedy-Hines group expects a relatively smooth ride from this point on as they come up against the Chicago Plan Commission and eventually City Council. The plans will be discussed as early as November 27th.

Though he has not provided any further public comment. Ald. Reily sent a reassuring email to his constituents that highlight his content with the project and praise for the developers giving their attention to the special needs of neighborhood residents. Furthermore, he went on to say that after a year of negotiations, analyses and consideration of the opposition, the development group has made all the necessary accommodations and he, in turn, pledges his unwavering support to the Wolf Point project.

One dissenting neighborhood group, the Friends of Wolf Point, isn’t as convinced as their alderman. They feel the developers have done little to address the density issue the community faces. The group has vowed to seek support and council from other prominent city agencies to make the point that the project is simply too big.

The proposed plan includes building three structures on a 3.9-acre parcel of land where the north and south branches of the Chicago River merge. The 525-ft structure on the west side of the plot will feature 510 residential apartments, while the other towers will extend 750 and 950 ft. respectively.

The talk coming from the development group is that they anticipate to get approved from the City Plan Commission this month and anticipate breaking ground on the project in early 2013.

How Chicago Real Estate Is Changing

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Recently it feels that every headline, sound bite and byline regarding the real estate market has a positive spin. The national numbers signal a changing of the guard and buyer/seller optimism is growing in spades. And as the number of condos and homes sold, as well as average price, continues to rise throughout the country, the effects are also being felt along the lakeside.

Consumer confidence is surging throughout the country as Americans feel more confident in the economy as a whole. In fact, the latest Fannie Mae National Housing Survey revealed that respondents expect home prices to increase an average of 1.5 percent within the next year. Of those survey, 19% also agreed that now is a great time to sell; this represents the highest level of confidence since the inception of the survey. And for the most telling stat: 69% of those surveyed stated that they would absolutely buy if they were in the market to move.

While all indicators point towards consumer confidence, Fannie Mae’s economists say the proof is the pudding. They’re expecting a prominent increase in home sales—roughly nine percent this year from a year ago.

Home and condo prices are going to take their seasonal dip this winter, but it’s widely believed that they hit the proverbial rock bottom earlier this year. Fannie Mae predicts that more consumers are being lured into the market with record-low mortgage rates and the Federal Reserve’s latest round of mortgage-backed security purchases.

Fannie Mae predicts that sales will reach 4.98 million this year and will eclipse the following year as numbers are predicted to reach 5.19 million units. Prices are projected to rise as well, by approximately 2.9 percent by years end and 1.6 percent next year.

On the local front, these trends hold true. According to data from the Illinois Association of Realtors, sales in the Chicagoland area for the month of September are up 24% from a year ago, and the median price has jumped $20,000 from January of this year.

The city has experienced similar results with a 23.2 percent year-over-year home sales increase in September 2012. The number of homes has increased from 1,498 in September 2011 to 1,845 in September of this year. Similarly the condo market in Chicago experienced a 32.2 percent increase from a year ago.

While the temperature starts to cool down in Chicago, the real estate market continues to heat up. If today’s market is any indicator, the time is now to start searching Chicago condos for sale.

Holiday Shopping for Chicago Condos

Friday, November 16th, 2012

The holiday season is upon us, with trees and Santa hats and candy canes already all over the place. So of course, it’s time to start making that holiday shopping list. And while you’ve had your eye on that new set of golf clubs and have been contemplating picking up Bulls season tickets, what about making a more substantial purchase this holiday season?

With mortgage rates still at historically low levels and home prices depressed from years past, now is the best time to purchase a new Chicago home or condo. In fact, the number of Chicago condos sold in the month of September has increased from 855 in September 2011 to 1,130 in September 2012. These numbers signify growing consumer confidence as Chicagoans flock back to the market and take advantage of the favorable conditions.

As the condo market heats up, the amount of quality inventory begins to shrink. Potential buyers need to prep themselves for the realities of today’s marketplace and position themselves to take advantage of low mortgage rates and prices.

An example of the condo market gaining traction is the success of 68-unit Lake Park Crescent in Chicago’s Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. This Draper and Kramer development has completely sold out and only has the two remaining model units available. There is a two-bedroom penthouse for $239,800, which includes a 400-square-foot rooftop terrace, and also a simpler one-bedroom unit for $99,800.

Both units feature open floor plans, granite finishes, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors throughout and marble in the bathrooms. Parking is included with both units, as owners are given an indoor parking space in addition to a tandem outdoor space.

The final selling point is this: Lake Park Crescent is one of a few developments that are participating in the Find Your Place in Chicago grant program, which provides qualified buyers with up to $15,000 toward their loans.

While you’re gearing up for the holidays, consult with your loved ones and seriously consider if you can afford not to buy in this market. Contact one of Dream Town Realty’s seasoned veterans and get your search underway.

Hancock Tower Condo Board Under Scrutiny

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Chicago’s most recognizable address is now the epicenter of a heated dispute between the condo board and its residents. The Hancock Center may boast a rooftop bar with the best views in the city, but according to two of the building’s residents, it also happens to be a hotbed of favoritism and rule breaking.

Orthodontist Neil Kay and fellow plaintiff David Huang, both residents of 175 E. Delaware Place, have opened a lawsuit against the condo board at Hancock Tower, citing allegations that board president Michael Stickney and his wife are turning a blind eye to an otherwise strictly enforced rule by operating a specialty foods brokerage out of their unit. Board member Laura Moehlman is under similar scrutiny for running a sales and marketing business from her condo. Both Stickney and Moehlman, alleges the suit, are in direct violation of rules prohibiting non-residential units in the Hancock Building.

The lawsuit comes after a string of clashes between the condo board and disgruntled residents of this world-renowned edifice.

According to Kay, the board all too frequently uses building rules as a weapon against some residents, while callously ignoring them in their own lives. As evidence, Kay cites the numerous incidents of the past couple months in which several condo owners in the building have been fined for various minor code violations, such as late notice on a lease renewal. When juxtaposed with Stickney’s and Moehlman’s apparent disregard for the rules in their own lives, it amounts to gross misconduct and an abuse of the system.

Kay’s wife complains of a class divide—or a “two-tiered system of enforcement” as her husband says—spurred on by rampant favoritism, which keeps some residents down while elevating others. “A small little group seems to be serving their interest and coming down hard on other people, and it’s just not fair,” she said.

By all accounts, this alleged divide between the board and the residents of the Hancock Tower seems to be driving the lawsuit more than the actual rules violations. Indeed, according to Chicago lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, many condo associations prohibit business uses for residential units in their buildings, though more often than not these violations go unnoticed or ignored as more people do their work from home.

If you are a Chicago condo owner facing a conflict with your board or another resident of your building, make sure to educate yourself as much as possible on your rights. For more information on the Illinois Condominium Property Act visit: www.condorisk.com/content/condoact/property_act.htm, or for more specific questions visit http://www.illinoislegalaid.org/index.cfm.

Hopping Through Hoops for Chicago Condos

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Are you looking to buy amongst Chicago condos for sale? Are you self-employed? While affirmative answers to these questions may not have disqualified you from a mortgage before, they certainly have the ability to do that today.

Fannie Mae is responsible for setting the standards for a large part of the home loan market, and they’ve changed a number of their requirements for new mortgages. Chief among them are changes to condo buyer requirements and qualifications, and changes in requirements for self-employed borrowers.

For Condo Buyers
Fannie Mae is implementing a newer version of its automated underwriting system, called Desktop Underwriter. This new system will require condo buyers who put less than 20% down on a new home to fill out a questionnaire about the homeowner’s association’s finances and provide information about its savings. In the past, applicants were only required to submit this info if they put less than 10% down on a property.

The reason behind the change? Fannie Mae wants to be confident in the stability of the homeowners association. So the mortgage lender will now review the association’s budget, including individual line items, income and expenses. This thorough review is meant to examine whether or not replacement reserves and insurance deductibles can be funded.

For Self-Employed Borrowers
In the past, self-employed borrowers were only required to supply one year of tax returns. Now, these borrowers will need to pony up two. The reasoning? The housing crisis has made the lender more cautious about who they lend to and they’d like to ensure that the borrower can actually afford the loan for which they’re asking.

Critics say they could be stifling housing market growth, but Fannie Mae maintains that they just want to make sure borrowers are able to sustain the loan over the long haul.

The Chicago Condo Rental Market Is Booming

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

In 2007, real estate took a nose dive towards oblivion and homeowners in Chicago, much like the rest of the nation, were forced to confront new realities of home buying, selling and ownership. Prices dropped precipitously and many owners scrambled to keep their heads above water. But homeowners weren’t the only ones struggling to find their way.

In Chicago, a new sub market emerged amidst the fall out and the condo rental business was born. With so many condo owners facing financial difficulties, (e.g., job loss, newborn children, job relocation) many couldn’t afford to take major losses on their condos.

Chicago condo owners are a pragmatic bunch; they’d rather lose a couple hundred dollars a month as opposed to losing $25,000-$50,000 in the event of a sale in this depressed market. Condo owners figure they’ll ride out the market and wait until prices come back. In the end, the rent collected from temporary tenants gets applied toward paying down the mortgage and owners continue to build equity in their condos.

While everyone’s situation differs, Chicago real estate agents have found that owners are willing to rent their condos if they’re going to lose or earn a couple hundred of dollars in the process. Obviously, if it’s a situation where an owner stands to lose $500 a month ($6,000 on the year) the circumstances change. At that point many owners will simply try to sell and take the best deal on the table. If there is a higher loss involved then some owners will opt for foreclosure.

Unfortunately, an individual owner’s financial situation doesn’t dictate the market price of his or her condo. Sometimes owners can’t rent their units for the dollar amount they need to cover their mortgage, taxes and assessments.

More and more condo owners are turning to rental agencies to help them find tenants. The convenience of having qualified professionals screen potential tenants takes out a lot of uncertainties for condo owners. Potential tenants have their credit run and verifications followed up with. Owners have the peace of mind that they’re getting a quality tenant. The general fee for these services is one month’s rent and a monthly percentage of the rent. Many of these rental agencies provide their own maintenance crews and handle service calls for the owners.

The Chicago real estate market has always been cyclical and when one door closes another opens. The condo rental market is currently the soup du jour, allow one of the qualified agents at DreamTown assist you list a condo or place you in one.

Saving Chicago Condos In the Downtown Loop

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Nationally, the housing market is slowly coming back from the brink. But in Chicago, we are still facing a few trouble spots. The most glaring stain on our housing market metrics? Downtown condo sales.

Since the collapse of 2008, downtown condo sales have been on a steady decline. The number of unsold new condos fell to an all-time low of 1,478 units in Q3 of 2012—a far cry from the nearly 6,000 unsold units that were available in 2007.

Developers managed to sell 154 units downtown in the third quarter—down from the 182 units sold in the second quarter of this year, and the 229 units sold in the third quarter of last year. Although condo sales are looking bleak downtown, other Chicago areas, such as Streeterville, are doing quite well, as Chicago homebuyers take advantage of record-low interest rates.

So what’s the problem with downtown? Most Loop dwellers prefer renting over buying, and as the market makes a pivot to accommodate this new reality, condo developments are falling by the wayside. Developers are moving to rent out condos, as opposed to keeping them on the market unsold.

Interestingly enough, nearly 500 of the market’s 1,478 unsold units are in three failed South Loop developments. New York-based developer Related Cos. is taking over the project, hoping to jump-start sales through a partnership formed with the lenders who initially financed them. This bold deal is the biggest distressed condo deal since the onset of the collapse in 2008.

So how is Related Cos. planning to ensure that they’ll fare better than other condo developers? The firm plans to reposition the three condo projects, spurring interest with high-end finishes and fixtures, sprucing up common areas and adding extra amenities, like dog grooming and dog walking.

Though downtown developers sold just 770 condos last year, average condo sales are usually around 2,700 units annually. New developers are confident we can get back to those levels soon.

New Hope for Downers Grover Condominium

Monday, November 5th, 2012

After facing years of construction problems, an office-condominium complex in downtown Downers Grove has finally attracted a reliable developer. Now that the Downers Grove village council has approved a plan to redevelop the building, helmed by Greenscape Ventures, LLC, village officials are hopeful that the Charles Place building will be complete by next summer.

The building has had a tumultuous history reaching back to 2005, when it was known as Hart’s Garage and the village first sought its overhaul. Due to its prime location—just a block from the bustling downtown area and adjacent to a multi-story parking deck—the village council resolved to revamp it as an office space, signing a contract with Three Lights Development in 2006.

Construction on the building tinkered on until 2011, when Three Lights filed for bankruptcy. The building was left largely untouched until that May, when Greenscape took over, requesting a restructuring of the original terms of the arrangement.

The new contract requires Greenscape to lease or sell 90 percent of their space by July 31, 2013. This should prove a less-than-Herculean task for the developers, considering the building, which was more than half vacant when they inherited it, now boasts a less than 20 percent vacancy rate according to CEO Ken Neumann. At their current rate, Neumann expects the contract to be fulfilled by the end of the year.

The largest—and most controversial—discrepancy between the Three Lights contract and the newer contract with Greenscape hinges on how much of the 29,700 square-foot complex should be set aside for retail businesses. Whereas the old contract required at least 70 percent of the first floor be reserved for retail, the newer one makes no such stipulations, although according to council members, a 50-50 split between retail and non-retail commercial space is expected. For now, the council remains equally split about whether to ramp up their efforts to attract new retail prospects to the building or simply leave it be and let the market dictate how to move forward.

In any case, Charles Place should prove a boon to the village of Downers Grove, as well as another step towards the recovery of Chicago’s condo market.

Find A Chicago Condo or Apartment That Fits Your Lifestyle

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Chicago has no shortage of inventory when it comes to quality condos and apartments. However, before starting a search or making a purchase, consumers should compile a list of necessary amenities and must-haves that help accommodate individual lifestyle.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of an “it” neighborhood or a talked about building. But in the end, personal lifestyle is more important than prestige. Consumers need to consider their current life cycle and if they foresee major life changes in the near future. This is the best way for an individual to find the best condo or apartment for them and ensure their happiness.

The three elements most important while searching Chicago condos or apartments include: location, property features and resale value.

Location is always the top priority for Chicagoans. There are a series of questions that consumers need to ask themselves: what neighborhood is the best fit for me and my family (potential family)? What can I afford? Where do I want to live?

Whether you’re in the market for a two-level, two-bedroom apartment with patio access in the extremely trendy Wicker Park area, or a three-bedroom condo with roof access in the traditional Lakeview area, it’s vital to know what’s going to be the best fit.

Consumers most concerned with resale value want to consider a traditionally-regarded neighborhood such as Lincoln Park or Lakeview, as these neighborhoods retain value because of the strength of their proven history. The quality of school districts is another huge factor when finding a home. Not only can you guarantee your children a bright future, but you can rest assured that when (and if) the time comes to move, your home will retain its value.

Property features are critical to purchasing any new Chicago home. Whether you have children or are planning to start a family, it’s advisable find a property with bedrooms on the same floor as the master. The thought being, parents generally like to be on the same floor as young-children. This is an example of a small nuance to consider when looking for a new home.

If you’re in the market to buy, now is the time. With prices still depressed and the housing market starting to turn around it is foregone conclusion that prices will be on the rise shortly. Take advantage of the current market conditions and make sure you’re searching for a condo or apartment that suits your lifestyle.

Rent Savvy in the Chicago Market

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

With renting in Chicago on the rise and downtown apartment rents surpassing their pre-recession peak, it’s clear that more Chicagoans are choosing to rent versus rather than buy a home.

The economic downturn has driven people away from condos, and with construction underway on five new apartment projects that will offer 1,700 new units to satisfy the ever-increasing demand, it’s important that you, as a renter, know how to navigate the shifting Chicago real estate market.

The most important fact for you to internalize as you look for a new place to rent may come as a bit of a shock to your system. Ever hear the old adage that says the most important factor in the cost of real estate is “location, location, location?” Do yourself a favor and forget it.

Seriously. Wipe it from your memory.

New data from a study conducted by Lucid Realty suggests that the correlation between rental rates and location is minimal, at best. Common wisdom when it comes to Chicago’s real estate market says that the farther west you go in a given area, the cheaper your rent will be. But after comparing rents and square footage for properties in Lakeview versus properties in Roscoe Village, Lucid Realty found that rents drift down only about $.25 per square foot the more you head west. That’s not really a huge margin when you consider the credence many people give this theory.

So what does this mean for you?

You’ve now got to zero in on the factors that really do make a difference in rental rates—amenities and the single-most important influencer of rent, square footage. And truthfully speaking, if you shop around hard enough, you’ll be able to find an affordable place in any neighborhood you deem to be “better” than where you are now. It’s all up to you and your ability to apartment hunt and negotiate.

Currently, the top five Chicago neighborhoods for renting include Lincoln Park, Lakeview, South Loop, Gold Coast and River North.

And don’t think that just because you’re looking to rent, rather than buy, means you don’t need (or can’t ask for) the help of a licensed Chicago real estate agent. Check out the rental properties listed on ChicagoApartmentRentals.com and get in touch with a qualified broker who will help you find the perfect rental.