Happy one year with BRG, Maggie!

I simultaneously feel like it has been 10 years with Maggie on the team, and also can’t believe it’s been a whole year already! Maggie is such an amazing addition to our team. She has great original ideas, and with Maggie, you always know you are getting the truth. Here’s to many more years of success, Mags!

You have only ever worked in real estate! How did you know it was your passion
It’s a bit of a circuitous route actually! I double majored in communication and business in college, and shortly after graduating, I ran a successful marketing campaign for a well-known restaurant. It wasn’t until a friend reached out trying to recruit me into real estate that I gave it a thought. I have always had a passion for Chicago’s architecture, but this is when I realized that I found my niche! 

What is your favorite part of working in real estate? 
I love constantly meeting new people, hearing their stories and helping people through a sometimes difficult time in life--it feels good!

What does your typical day entail?  
Typical day… HA! One of the reasons I enjoy real estate is that each day is something new! 

What is your favorite part of working at BRG?
How close we are as a team, hands down. I think we are one of the most collaborative teams in the city. I like that we hold each other accountable, but we are also all great friends outside of work! 

What was your big ah-ha moment on the team this year? 
I would say my ah-ha moment was realizing that many of my friends and family are more able to buy than they think! With interest rates being so low, you can own a home for the same amount as you currently pay in rent! 

What are you most excited about in the coming year? 
I am very excited to start a home search of my own! The tough part will be narrowing down which neighborhood to live in! 

You know Chicago architecture inside and out. What is your favorite:

Building: This is a tough one, so I am going to choose two!  The first would be Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Ave. I love the Victorian Gothic exterior and the ornate medieval detail of the interior. The other would have to be S.R. Crown Hall. This building was done by my favorite architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, and I love the simplicity and openness.

Neighborhood: Lincoln Park! I love being walking distance to the beach and all the amazing restaurants the neighborhood has to offer.

Street: Lake Shore Drive--you are surrounded by spectacular views! 

LIGHTNING ROUND FROM THE TEAM:

Jane:
What is you favorite part of working with Maggie?
I love how much of a “yes” person she is. She is always willing to do what she can to help anyone on the team as well as her clients and uses creative solutions to make it happen. 

What is one funny thing Maggie's clients don't know about her? She may kill me for saying this but – she still goes to her pediatrician! (I don’t blame her!)

One word to describe Maggie: Fun!

Julie:
What is your favorite part of working with Maggie?  Having a millennial’s perspective as millennials are the biggest buying group at this time. 

 What is one funny thing Maggie's clients don't know about her?  She eats Caesar Salad every single day and almost every single meal, including breakfast! 

One word to describe Maggie:  Unfiltered. #nofilter

Kenya:
What is your favorite part of working with Maggie?
 She’s always up for the challenge! No matter what it is, she’s always on it! 

What is one funny thing Maggie's clients don't know about her? She still goes to her pediatrician.

One word to describe Maggie:  Entertaining!

Liza:
What is your favorite part of working with Maggie? Her sense of humor! Even through a situation like having her car get towed (because the no parking sign was hidden in a bush!), she can easily crack a joke and not get discouraged.

What is one funny thing Maggie's clients don't know about her? She can fit a LOT in her car!  I’ve seen tables and chairs for staging, boxes of office supplies, and tall lamps that seem to grow as she pulls them out of her back seat.  Maggie does a ton of behind the scenes work for her clients, and having that magical car helps!

One word to describe Maggie: Can I pick three?  Fun, helpful, and sweet.  😊

Pamela:
What is your favorite part of working with Maggie?
She is always very helpful and available to lend a hand.

What is one funny thing Maggie's clients don't know about her? She attends the Renaissance Faire and dresses the part! 

One word to describe Maggie: Straight forward

The BRG team expands: Please welcome Ali Rozina!

Here we go again...the BRG team is expanding once more! Honestly, there’s really nothing I love more than welcoming a new powerhouse broker to our team. What it means is new ideas, collaboration, and of course more hands on deck to help serve our ever-growing client base. 

I kind of feel like I “won” Ali because she was recruited by several of the city’s best brokerages, and for good reason. Ali has experience, integrity, but most of all she is an amazing person. Filled with wisdom beyond her years, and a great attitude. With Ali on our team, I feel like we are truly unstoppable, and I am so grateful she chose us. Welcome to the team, Ali! Find more information about Ali’s background here.

What did you do before starting in real estate? 
Before I began my career in real estate, I wanted to be the next Erin Andrews. When I quickly discovered that ESPN wasn’t going to hire me right out of college, I went into advertising and worked as a Planner in print, TV and radio media. I then crossed over to the sales side, working for MTV Networks and the San Francisco Giants. After ultimately moving back to Chicago and searching for an apartment for myself, I crossed paths with an old college friend who had started his own Real Estate company in Chicago. He put the full court press on me to consider foraying my sales and marketing skills into real estate, and I found my true passion and career path. Seven years later and I haven’t looked back.

You started your real estate career in the luxury rental market, and you blew up immediately! What do you think is the secret to your success? 
I think the secret to my success is passion, and leading with my heart. Real estate is a very fast-paced industry, and it’s easy to lose sight of how important this decision is to your clients. It’s their home, the space in which they cook dinner, make memories, dream and unwind. It’s a true expression of who they are so the little details like natural sunlight, open kitchen concept, and even an outdoor space for a chair to sit and enjoy nature are so important to making them feel at home. I never want to lose sight of those little details that mean so much.

What is your favorite part of working in real estate? 
My favorite part of working in real estate is finding the perfect match! I love the look on my clients’ faces when we walk into a home and you just get that feeling of “this is the one!” The search is over and I got to play matchmaker. 

What does your typical day entail? 
I wake up every day with a positive attitude and ready to take on what lies ahead. I usually take my rescue dog, Yogi, for a nice long walk and then I do an hour of yoga at Zen Yoga Garage. It’s such a great way to wake up the body and find your center before tackling the todo list. 

Afternoons are usually booked with showings and being out on the field. At night I love to cook and try out new recipes from scratch. I try to practice piano once a day and then hang with my dog and answer emails at night. On the weekends I am often at open houses and on tours, but I also love to travel and go to church. Staying active keeps the blood flowing.

You are a hot commodity and were recruited by several teams! What drew you to BRG? 
I fell in love with Julie’s positive attitude and energy. I can tell that she is passionate about what she does, and so is the entire BRG team. I love working with a strong group of women that can balance work, family and fun because they are all so important. They have a system set up for success when you triumph, and support when you fall--therefore you cannot fail.

What was your big ah-ha moment in your real estate career thus far? 
I had a past client write a review and say how genuine and sincere I was in a very “involved” real estate transaction. There were some major hurdles to overcome, but truth and sincerity will prevail when you have someone’s best interest at heart. I have carried that with me throughout my career and will continue to do so in the years to come.

What are you most excited about in the coming year? 
Starting with Compass and BRG! The possibilities are truly endless!

Where do you live in Chicago, and what is your favorite neighborhood? 
I just moved to West Town after living in many neighborhoods over the years including Lincoln Park, Old Town, Gold Coast, Streeterville, West Loop and Near West (hey, I’m a Realtor and I tend to get real estate envy). My favorites have changed over the years but I appreciate parks and restaurants and Lincoln Park has both. I have been recently exploring up-and-coming neighborhoods like Avondale and North Center so you may catch me there in the near future!

LIGHTNING ROUND:

You are a crazy amazing athlete, what is your favorite:

Workout - Kayla Itsines BBG! It’s an app that gives you three, 28 minute workouts a week. It’s perfect for the hardworking diva that doesn’t have much time.

Gym in Chicago - West Loop Athletic Club, Zen Yoga Garage, Soul Cycle. 

Best workout tip! Balance! I like to work out a ton, but I also listen to my body. I do lots of different workouts like run, bike, swim, play volleyball and do tons of yoga. But if my body needs a rest, I’m also good at the sport of doing nothing for a day or two to let my muscles recover.

What is your biggest athletic accomplishment? 
My biggest accomplishment athletically was the half Ironman. I trained 6 days a week for 8 months to conquer a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. Two weeks before the event I pulled my calf, but knew I had to push myself to participate. It was a tough race, but I made it to the finish line nonetheless.Through the 6 hours it took me to complete, I said to myself, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t...either way, you’re right.” I knew I could ;)

The BRG team expands: Please welcome Susan Panozzo!

The BRG team is expanding, and it is the best news ever! A huge part of the BRG brand is a desire to push the envelope when it comes to client service. One aspect of continually realizing that goal is to not only expand our skills, but also the team itself. As our dreams get bigger, so does the team!

Susan Panozzo joining the team is a huge step forward in offering the best to our clients. Susan joins with tons of real estate experience, particularly in the luxury rental market since she managed one of the biggest portfolios of luxury rentals in the city. Aside from that, she is generally amazing. An incredibly hard worker, Susan managed a multi-million dollar fashion brand while still in college, and went on to climb the corporate ladder in record time before making the switch to real estate. Her “get it done” mentality is what initially drew me to her, but it’s her work ethic and personality that really made us all fall in love!

To celebrate Susan’s entry to the team, we put together a fun Q&A since she’s such an interesting and knowledgeable lady. Welcome to the team, Susan! We are SO lucky to have you (and so are you, clients)! Find more information about Susan’s background here.

You are quite the overachiever, having run a multi-million dollar clothing brand while still in college! Where do you find your drive to succeed? 
I am innately a very hard worker, and happiest when busy! I was working part-time while going to college and slowly worked my way up. I was somehow able to balance both and by the time I graduated college, I worked my way up to store manager. 

Can you share a little bit about what it took to run a huge brand at such a young age? 
Being adaptable in high stress situations definitely helped me work my way up the corporate ladder at such a young age. I managed a staff of 80+ employees, so I was constantly learning how to work with different personalities and communication styles. I find myself leaning on these skills all the time in real estate because no two clients are the same. 

What parallels do you see between fashion and real estate? 
Retail management and real estate actually have a lot of parallels. They are both customer service-focused industries where the main goal is to make your customer’s experience the best it can be. And as an added bonus, I was already used to being busy with work on nights and weekends!

What fueled your desire to make the switch from fashion to real estate? 
After eight years in retail management, I found myself continually thinking about real estate, but I wasn’t sure how to get started. As a first step, I started with rentals and immediately fell in love with the industry! I got my license just a couple months later--it just felt natural!

What is your favorite part of working in real estate? 
Making buyers and sellers happy is the absolute best feeling. I also love when a referral comes from a past client because it means they trust me. There is truly no better compliment! 

What is your favorite part of working at BRG?
The dynamic between the team members is incredibly unique, and not something that every team can achieve. We constantly put our heads together to help each other succeed and come up with new ways to make our clients happy. We all have different skill sets and specialties that are a huge bonus to our clients. 

What is a typical day like for you? 
No two days in real estate are the same, and my entire day can change in the blink of an eye. Ideally though, I try to get a workout in the early morning. Next I devote an hour or two to answering emails and calls. From there, the biggest chunk of my day is devoted to taking clients out to see homes, monitor an inspection, or attend a closing. By the end of the day, hopefully I end up meeting friends or clients for dinner at a new spot! 

What are you most excited about in the coming year? 
Much success with the BRG team!

LIGHTNING ROUND!

You are super adventurous! What has been your favorite vacation/adventure so far? 
Vietnam has been my favorite adventure so far. I was lucky enough to travel throughout the country with two of my best friends. We did everything from ride motorbikes through the crowded streets of Ho Chi Minh City to taking a relaxing 2 day cruise through Ha Long Bay. The food, culture, and people were amazing. Italy is by far my favorite vacation spot. I have family there and recently was able to meet them! It was a great experience. 

Favorite Chicago neighborhood
My hood--West Loop! It is so much more than just “Restaurant Row” now, and has become a very livable neighborhood. I love trying new restaurants, and West Loop is the mecca for that. I’m also a huge Chicago Sports fan, so being close to the United Center is also a plus. 

Favorite neighborhood for shopping:
West Town--there are some great boutiques on Chicago Avenue.

Favorite fashion brand
It’s hard to choose, but Free People, Anthropologie, Zara, and Vici are my brand go-tos. I also try to shop locally at boutiques as much as possible. 

Favorite restaurant
La Scarola in River West. There’s something so homey and comforting about the vibe, and the food is always phenomenal. 

6 repairs you should make before you list

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Getting your home ready to sell can feel overwhelming. How much do you repair? When do you stop? Which repairs give you the biggest bang for your buck? Trust me, these are questions I spend hours thinking about on a weekly basis because I get it--the stakes are high! You want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward before you have dozens of buyers traipsing through your home checking under every rug! And you also have the inspector to consider. The truth here is that every inspector is going to find something different. It’s your job to make sure their list is as small and inconsequential as possible. 

To sort of cut to the chase, I’ve put together my go-to list of the repairs I think every seller should at least consider, and more likely go ahead and make. These are the super basic, no brainer-type repairs, so…take note!

  1. Water stains: You should not have ANY water stains anywhere throughout your home. Many times you will fix a leak, and then leave the stain. This is totally fine if you’re not selling your home. If you are selling, then every water stain should be reassessed to make sure it is still dry, and then patched/painted so it is clear there is not active water.

  2. HVAC: My tip here is to have your HVAC serviced just before your list your home. It gives the notion that your home is well-maintained--which it is--even if your unit is old. Inspector always love to see a recently-serviced unit!

  3. Gas fireplace: Make sure it is in working condition and you have the gas key accessible. 

  4. Garage: Make sure the garage door works and you have the garage door keys accessible. 

  5. Lighting: Make sure all lightbulbs throughout the home are functioning. This may sound silly, but a buyer and/or inspector might think there is a major electrical problem when a light bulb is just burnt out. So, don’t even let that notion cross their minds. Plus, you always want your home to be as bright as possible.  While I love mood lighting when entertaining, for showing property, buyers want to see the home as bright as possible.  It makes them feel like there is a lot of natural light. The newer LEDs can sometimes be considerably dimmer, and also take a few minutes to get to full strength brightness so I recommend going with incandescents. Definitely go back to LEDs for everyday life though--the environment thanks you! 

  6. Plumbing: Leaking sinks and constantly running toilets should be fixed by a plumber prior to an inspection. 

A note on accessibility: Make sure your mechanicals room has a clear walkway and that all the mechanicals are easily accessed without storage/boxes in the way. This is a good idea to address for showings and inspections since buyers like to see that there is sufficient storage space without having to store things in random boxes. 

At the end of the day, I always tell my sellers to think of the inspection like their most important showing. You want your buyers to walk into your home and think, “Yes, this is why I bought this home!” Cue feelings like this with clean floors and counters, vacuumed rugs and a generally tidy home. I will also say that without fail, all of my best inspections are at the cleaner homes.

Jane got her real estate license! A fun Q&A with all the details.

We have some exciting news here at BRG! Our incredible Director of Operations, Jane, just got her real estate license! We are so proud of her and excited for all the new skills she will share with clients—though the license itself is really just an added bonus since she already does ALL THE THINGS here at BRG! To celebrate the news, we did a quick, fun interview with Jane to get the full down low on the past, the present, and all that’s in store.

You have major foodie tendencies, and had a big career in hospitality prior to starting in real estate. Where did you work?
 I graduated from Kendall College with a degree in Food & Beverage Management. From there, I worked for Boka Restaurant Group at Girl & the Goat, Boka and for Boka Catering. I was doing a combination of event planning, on-site management, hosting, and administrative work. I loved seeing Boka grow so rapidly and learned a ton, but really wanted to dip my toes into hotels. I ended up getting a concierge position at the Four Seasons in the city and it was such an amazing opportunity.  To work in a five star, five diamond hotel was definitely a learning experience. I was handling requests of all types, and it was also a way for me to learn more about what Chicago has to offer on a very specific level.

You must have had some pretty interesting requests while working as the concierge at the Four Seasons. What was the funniest request you ever got from a guest? 
Oh man! Yes, I definitely got some requests that blew my mind – but of course, accommodated to the best of my ability! A good one I got was someone asking to take a cupcake tour of the city entirely by horse. I thought he was joking when he first asked me to help, but I quickly realized he wasn’t. I had to explain to him that he could only take a horse so far…because it’s a horse. He didn’t love that answer, but I ended up meeting him in the middle with a cupcake tour (on a bus!), and then a carriage ride by horse at sunset. It ended up being a great night for them, and I was so happy I could make it work!

Why did you decide to make the switch to real estate? 
It actually kind of fell in my lap. I was at the Four Seasons and got a call from a recruiter for a position on a large real estate team at Coldwell Banker. The job was handling all the scheduling requests for the listed properties. I interviewed with my now best friend, Micheal, and it seemed like a nice change of pace from what I was doing at the hotel. I decided to take the leap and see what would happen. I was able to rotate into a few different roles during my 2+ years with that team, and realized that real estate is my niche! About two years ago I joined Julie, and helped build what Busby Realty Group is today.

What commonalities do you see between your hospitality experience and working in real estate? 
Too many! Ultimately, the goal is the same: get the client what they want by using my skills, resources and experience. Another big aspect is the emotional similarities. Buying or selling a home can bring up a basket of emotions whether it’s sadness, excitement or nervousness. The same goes when someone checks into a hotel or sits down for dinner. I never know what someone may be going through at that time, so I need to adjust my communication to match the client’s situation.

What were you doing at BRG prior to getting your license and what is a typical day for you now? 
I am so excited I got my license after working in real estate for the past few years, but my day-to-day job is staying pretty much the same. Right now, I am the Director of Operations for our team of six. I do a bit of everything, including helping to list properties, and make sure we never miss a detail or deadline throughout the sales process. I also help the team with trainings and ongoing projects so that we are always moving forward. I wanted to get my license so that I can help my friends and family when they are ready to sell or buy. My team is more than capable and willing to help my referrals, but I wanted the opportunity to be there first hand, and really assist with the process from beginning to end.

What is your favorite part of working in real estate? 

I really enjoy seeing people’s homes. Where you live can reveal a lot about a person and I like having the opportunity to see so many different sized and priced homes in so many of Chicago’s neighborhoods. I have learned over time to never assume what a home looks like inside from the outside, and I love that about real estate. A home is literally a blank canvas to make it your own, and it’s always interesting to me to see what people do with the space. I like walking through a home during an inspection with the buyers and hearing about all that they plan on doing and then being able to see it a year later to see how it all turned out—it makes the job really fun!

LIGHTENING ROUND!

So many foodie questions for you and for your husband James, Chef at The Chicago Club!

1) What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago? 
This is honestly the hardest question! I am the type of person who has different favorites depending on what I am looking for in a particular meal. My favorites also couldn’t be more different from one another. I love Gibson’s – classic Chicago steakhouse, perfect for a steak and martini. I also love Kai Zan, a modern take on Japanese food with a focus on sushi. It’s really unassuming from the outside, but inside it’s warm and inviting, and we always like to sit at the sushi bar and interact with the chefs. It’s also where we went on our first “fancy date” and then later got engaged, so it definitely holds a place in our hearts.  

2) What is the best thing James makes for you? 
I get this question a lot! We love cooking together, and I often call him MY sous chef in the kitchen! There is one dish that he doesn’t let me help him make though, and it’s his version of Pad See Ew. It’s crispy chow fun noodles with tons of fresh veggies. He goes to the Vietnamese markets in Uptown to get fresh, hand-cut noodles with an array of vegetables. It’s sweet, spicy and sour and is perfect no matter what the weather is outside. 

3) What's your favorite baby-friendly restaurant in Chicago? 
We discovered a great place in Uptown called 3 Squares Diner about a year ago and have since been a bit obsessed. We started going there when I was pregnant with Harper and it was actually the first restaurant we took her to after she was born. It has a cool history to it, as it was actually a diner back in the 1920’s in the same building – the Lawrence House. It’s super art deco meets modern, and same goes with the food. They make literally everything from scratch in house, and it’s beyond delicious. Whenever we go in there, they are always super accommodating with Harper and they love watching her grow. There is always a nice mix of people in there, ranging from singles at the counter, to families stuffed into the vintage looking booths – I highly recommend!

Favorite Chicago neighborhood: 
Andersonville! I love how it feels like a suburb within the city. It’s nice all year round and definitely has that community vibe. In the summer especially, we always find ourselves in the neighborhood walking around and checking out the antique stores and locally owned businesses. Plus, there are some awesome restaurants lined up along Clark that are perfect for an afternoon snack on the patio (awesome people watching!).

Fastest close: 
Cash transactions are always the fastest! We did one where it went from active to closed in just about 10 days!

Favorite home decor store: 
I love Home Goods! I always end up coming home with yet another basket or jar that we definitely don’t need, but somehow make it work in our condo. They also unexpectedly have a really big pet toy selection, so I usually grab a toy (or two…three) for Daisy.

Favorite part of working at BRG: 
My team – 100%! We are definitely a tight knit crew. We have become super close over time and tend to hangout on nights and weekends as friends, not just coworkers. Julie has become one of my closest friends, and is always there for me whether I am calling about a client question at seven in the morning, or if it’s ten at night and I need advice on something having to do with Harper. I love that I work on a team of strong, independent women, and it definitely shows in our work ethic. I feel so blessed! 

Favorite client -- kidding! 
I plead the fifth on this one!

Cutest thing Harper is doing right now: 
This is such a mom answer, but it’s smiling! She has these tiny two teeth along the bottom of her mouth that stick out every time she cracks a smile. I literally cannot get enough. I feel like a crazy person doing anything I can to get her to smile and I think she knows that, so she let’s me dance around and tickle her as much as I can until she finally gives in.

Thank you, Jane! Truthfully, Jane hit in on the head—our team is everything here at BRG. There is nothing better than watching our team grow and flourish as we work to be the best real estate brokers in Chicago!

What does ''good bones" mean anyway?

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More and more, we find that buyers are looking for a perfect home requiring literally zero updates—countertops, light fixtures, flooring—all the exact types and colors of their dreams. Since this scenario is next to impossible (though I wish!), there are two ways we can go about recreating the dream: The first is buying a new development pre-construction. However, with new construction, there is a premium to pay as you are buying a home that has never been lived-in and has all new finishes.  

The second option is for buyers with a knack for design and/or time to manage a project (whether big or small). We fondly call this option a “fixer upper.” Buying a fixer upper is usually a way to get more bang for your buck, because you are putting sweat equity into the home.  

And, a “fixer upper” doesn’t always mean a gut-rehab, and doesn’t necessarily mean something old. A great option for many buyers could be a property built 10 years ago, so most the mechanicals are working well, and all you have to worry about is the finishes. These sometimes tend to be a win-win scenario as the remodel won’t be as extensive (more cosmetic than structural), won’t take as long, and the buyer still get the home exactly how they want it.  

With buyers interested in some sort of fixer upper, we inevitably stumble onto the phrase that everyone kind of loves to hate: “good bones.” We throw it around all the time, but what does it actually mean? After putting a good deal of thought into it, I’ve written down the list that previously only existed in my head. It’s the checklist I always use when helping buyers vet fixer uppers, to make sure they make financial, logistical and practical sense. Here goes!

“Good bones,” definition by the Busby Realty Group:

Location: If you are going to invest in a fixer upper, this is honestly the most important ingredient. If you are going to invest money into rehabbing a home, you want the best upside potential, so location is key.  Things to consider are neighborhood schools and in the city, you absolutely should be within walking distance to the L.  I would also recommend not being on a busy street.  You will seriously hurt your resale potential if you over invest in a property that is not in a great area. 

Age: Vintage is always going to be harder to update than something from the 90s on. This isn’t a deal breaker for all buyers, just know that if you buy something old, you are almost always going to be updating plumbing and mechanicals. Read: additional time, money, and logistical consternation. Also, more recent builds generally feature less walls, so if you are looking for open concept you have less to deal with here too. 

Kitchen: The kitchen is a great place to invest, so I actually love finding properties with bad kitchens. You pay less upfront for the property, and then spend even $15-$20K to make it great. 

Flooring: While hardwood floors are always my first choice, if you aren’t planning on living in the home forever, do what makes economic sense for you. Carpeting is easy and cost effective to replace, so gross carpeting is far from a deal breaker. If you end up installing new hardwoods, I usually recommend white oak as it is not a costly wood choice and it is versatile – it can be re-stained numerous times and also stained almost any color you want without any undesired undertone.  

Windows: People always remember to check on the state of the roof, but sometimes forget the windows--don’t! Replacing windows can be a huge undertaking and expense, and should be factored into the sales price of a home. If you do end up buying a home that needs new windows, consider expanding the size when you replace. You will never regret the extra natural light, and big windows are great for resale too.  Consider black frames on windows too, those can make a big impact. 

Water: Last but not least, you and your inspector should be on your hands and knees checking for any potential water issues--stains, mold, moisture. Again, I’m not saying that if you find something it’s an automatic deal breaker, but you should know what you’re getting into and how your precious budget dollars will get allocated once you’re the proud owner. 

So there you have it. It’s not a glamorous list, but hopefully a helpful one as you embark on some big decisions. Buying fixer upper is kind of like the opposite of making sausage: you want to know EXACTLY what is going in, so you know exactly what you will get!

Your next big real estate opportunity is calling

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The recent investment and expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk has been fast and furious, and my proprietary “investment radar” is going off in a big way. I’m constantly asked what the next big real estate opportunity will be in Chicago, and I think the River is where it’s at. I dug a little deeper to see if my radar feeling could be backed up with data, and it was actually unbelievable to see all that is happening in and around the River. Take a look: 

NEW ATTRACTIONS ALONG THE RIVER:

Dining: Thursdays and Fridays are now a scene along the river. Huge yachts will park so people can grab a drink, and enjoy happy hour aboard. City Winery also has beautiful views of the River. A full rundown of dining options is here--and it’s expansive! 

Retail: Have you ever seen a more gorgeous Apple Store than the one on the River? Chicago retailers take note! 

Programming: Art on theMART is possibly the coolest art installation in Chicago! Have you seen the giant digital art projected on the side of the Merchandise Mart? It’s truly amazing. Check out the website here. 

There is also the potential for increased Water Taxi Service to accommodate the increase in usage of the River. 

A new art installation called Weather Station is also in the works by Chicago-based artist Inigo Manglano Ovalle. The piece will feature seven 117-foot stainless steel poles with wind vanes and anemometers on top. It will be completed in fall 2020. 

Events: The stone amphitheater adjacent to the Southbank park can host events and concerts. More here. 

312 RiverRun: Expansion along the River is also happening further north in Roscoe Village, where construction on the 312 RiverRun just broke ground. The new project includes three parks connected by a path that stretches two miles along the River, from Belmont to Montrose. More info here. 

NEW DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES ALONG THE RIVER:

Some of these haven’t broken ground yet, and other opportunities are ready now.

Renelle on the River: New construction by Belgravia

Triangle Square: New construction in East Bucktown by Belgravia

Lincoln Yards: A huge new development by Sterling Bay with multiple types of housing options

The 78: Related’s new construction in the South Loop

Single family homes in West Lincoln Square: There are some very beautiful homes along the River further north in Lincoln Square. As the cache of the River increases, so will property values along the whole River. 

Townhomes in west Lakeview: There are some great deals right around Diversey and Western Ave that would be great for first-time buyers or as investment properties.  

Depending on what you are looking for, any of these opportunities would make a great investment. My prediction is that property values will continue to increase, especially over the next 7-10 years. When you see investment like all that is happening at the River right now, it is a good indicator that property values will follow--remember what happened with the 606? Same thing here. Contact us if you are interested in more information!


What we can learn from the 2019 market, halfway through the year

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We’re halfway through 2019, and it’s already been a whirlwind. I sort of feel like I have whiplash given all that has changed in the marketplace, and just how fast we’ve seen the shakeup. In 2016 we couldn’t keep up with the market’s demand. Properties were flying off the shelf, into the hands of highly motivated buyers. Sellers could command upwards of 10% over market value, and bidding wars were a fact of life. Where are we today? The opposite situation in so many ways.  

I put together the biggest trends we’ve seen thus far, and also an outline of what we’ve learned so that we can all take a minute to reflect and gear up for the rest of 2019. I guarantee it will be a wild ride!

Shifting to buyer’s market
Most notably, we are in a shifting market place and have landed squarely in a buyer’s market here in Chicago. As a result, market time has increased substantially. Usually when we see market time increase so much the market as a whole feels sluggish and stagnant. But, because interest rates have also remained so low, we’ve seen more of a plateau than a downward trend. Basically, the high market time has been equalized by the low interest rates and we are in a holding pattern.

The other symptom of the shifting marketplace is the lack of inventory we still see in Chicago, counterbalanced by buyer’s lack of motivation. We just don’t feel the shortage like we did, even this time last year, because of this new buyer mentality.

Buyers: don’t lose focus on the big picture
Buyers are pickier than ever in our new market. They are looking for a perfect fit, and most don’t want to do any work. From their perspective, properties should be pristine--painted, latest finishes, and up-to-date everything. Sometimes selling at market value is seen as over-paying to some buyers, especially given the mentality that anything less than up-to-date needs work.

 My advice to buyers is two fold: first, the market doesn’t really allow for deals. An under-market listing will generate a bidding war because there are still plenty of buyers out there. And second, because there are so many buyers, stand at the ready. There are still plenty of well-priced homes selling quickly, and you don’t want to let “the one” slip through your fingers because you weren’t ready.

Sellers: initial pricing strategy is crucial
This one is pretty simple: if you want to sell your house, you have to price it to sell, right out of the gate. There’s no room for experimentation or luck in this market. If you are motivated to sell your home, I recommend you price it at or below market value. This is literally the only way to generate the necessary sense of urgency. I know what you’re thinking, “But Julie, I’m scared to leave money on the table.” My response to this one is also simple: the market doesn’t allow for money left on the table. If a home is priced below market, buyers are going to take notice.

 That is the other aspect of our current buyers to remember: they are well-educated. They’ve been bouncing around this market for months and have a very good sense of value at this point. If there’s a deal, buyers will come running and bid each other out. We just had this happen with a listing last month.

My last advice, for both buyers and sellers, is negotiate, people! I wrote this article a few months ago about this trend we are seeing with buyers and sellers not negotiating, and it is such a mistake. Read the whole thing here.

The rest of 2019: values will continue to decrease
So where do I see the rest of 2019 going? Honestly, I see more of the same. I think the buyer’s market will remain, and we will continue to see values decrease. So far this year we’ve seen values go down 1-1.5%, and by the end of the year I think we may be at 3-4%.

The hardest part of a shifting marketing is that values are a moving target. You HAVE to stay on top of the market to get anything done as a buyer or a seller. If you are serious about either, I would be looking at comparables on a regular basis to stay in the know.


Chicago's best restaurants and summer activities according to the BRG team

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Let’s get out there and enjoy the summer, shall we?! While I love everything about my team, one of my favorite parts of the little group we’ve put together is that we each happen to live in a different part of the city. I love how we each have a different perspective and experience, and truly believe that it makes us better real estate brokers. Between the six of us, we have nearly every square inch of the city covered! Today we’ve each put together our favorite local restaurants, outdoor activity and parks in our respective neighborhoods. Hopefully you can use our recos during the long weekend!

Julie Busby, Founder
BUCKTOWN

Restaurants:
Las Palmas, Club Lucky
I love Las Palmas because the food is amazing! It’s Mexican fusion, and my favorite meal there is fish tacos with a coconut mojito. If you go, try to sit in the “glass room,” which is a room of all windows--perfect for a cold winter day since it always feels like summer in there!

Club Lucky is a local favorite, and has been around forever. We go as a family and have a great time, and for date night because it’s so versatile. I also love to go with friends for a martini!

Outdoor activity: Ravina, Millenium Park Summer Music Series
I love listening to music outside in the summer! I love that both of these venues are BYO food and wine!

Park: Holstein Park
We love to go to the pool and splash park, and they even have a baby pool area too.

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Liza Balistreri, Selling Partner
LAKEVIEW

Restaurant:
PR Italian Bistro
There are so many reasons why we love this place! First:  the owners. Such a lovely couple. Stefano, the Venetian-born chef, and his wife, Juliana, are always there running the kitchen and the front of the house. The home-made pizza crust is To. Die. For. And they have a delizioso wine list.  Every time we go, there’s a mix of date night couples, groups of friends, and families with kiddos. On a side note, we will never forget walking by the restaurant with our daughter one day after a coooold Cubs game, and Stefano opened the doors for us before the restaurant was even open and offered us tea while we waited for an Uber!

Park: Gallagher Way at Wrigley
This isn’t actually a Park District park, but this newly developed open space is a hub for community activity. On any given day you can swing by and have an adventure with their action-packed calendar:  farmers markets, live music, family movie nights, kids music classes, and workout classes… just to name a few! Even when there’s no official planned event, the splash pad is always full of kids and families spread out on the turf with picnics and games. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee (or a drink, if the beer tents are open!) and just hang out for the day.

Outdoor Activity: Montrose Bird Sanctuary
This is such a quiet, secluded part of Chicago that so many people don’t even know about.  Just past the Montrose boat harbor and right next to Montrose Beach, the sanctuary is full of little trails for bird watchers but also a great spot for kids to explore or for photographers to grab great shots (I’ve personally done a shoot there and it was such a great location).  Plus it’s right next to the best beach bar in the city, The Dock, which makes you feel like you are on vacation every time you are there!

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Jane Lintelmann, Director of Operations
BUENA PARK

Restaurant:
Tac Quick
I love the super traditional thai food at Tac Quick. We always get the Crispy On-Choy salad along with a few other things, and of course a cheap beer or two--all for under $40!

Outdoor activity: Ribfest, Greek Fest
One of the best parts of summertime in Chicago is all the streets festivals! Rib Fest and Greek Fest are our favorites because of the food, duh!

Park: Buena Circle Park
I have a dog and a baby, so this park is perfect for me because the dog park and playground are right next to each other--a win win.

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Pamela Moran, Selling Partner
GOLD COAST

Restaurant:
Avec
I love literally every single menu item at Avec, you cannot go wrong!

Outdoor activity:
There is nothing better in the summer than exploring the city by foot with my dog. I will grab a cold drink, and walk through the city streets for hours.

Park: Montgomery Ward Park
The new River Walk is such an amazing asset for the city, and Ward Park runs along a good portion of the River Walk so you get great water and green views. There’s also a great dog park area.

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Kenya Saldierna, Client Concierge and Marketing Manager
WICKER PARK

Restaurant:
Toast, Quartino
BYOB for the win at Toast! Bring a bottle of vodka for brunch bloody mary’s and get the chorizo benedict. And though it’s not in my neighborhood, I can’t not mention the bolognese or penne alla vodka at Quartino because it is truly out of this world!

Outdoor activity: 606 Trail
I love to walk the 606 all the way to another neighborhood in the summer--such a fun way to see something new.

Park: Churchill Park
I love to spend time at Churchill Park, especially when they run their free movies in the park programming.  

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Maggie Yandel, Selling Partner
LINCOLN PARK

Restaurant:
The Lakefront Restaurant in the Theater on the lake building
I love the atmosphere and the great food! It’s a nice place to go for brunch, dinner with friends or a glass of wine to wrap up the work day with a beautiful view of the skyline and lake Michigan. I am stuck between their biscuits and gravy and their cereal milk French toast every time I go for brunch, and usually end up getting the French toast ,which is covered in maple butter, Fruity Pebble custard, and pebble dust. I have a bit of a sweet tooth. My favorite drink on the menu is the Undertow (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Fernet Branca, Honey Syrup, Lemon, Bitters, Ardbeg Rinse), but there are so many good ones to choose from!

Favorite outdoor activity/ park: Running through Lincoln Park
I like to run on Lake Shore Drive and I get there on the paths through Lincoln Park. I also usually walk through Lincoln Park to get to my soccer games on the Lincoln Park South fields off of Lasalle and LSD.  The games at the beginning of the season are always freezing cold with the wind off the lake! I also love walking to North Ave. beach and hanging out with friends in my free time!

3 easy ways to add curb appeal and value

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When landscaping is done right, it can take the most vanilla home and instantly transform it to the most beautiful on the block. It’s like a new coat of neutral paint--never underestimate the power of landscaping and paint! With the nice weather finally here, let’s talk about quick and easy ways to add curb appeal (read value!)--whether you’re selling or not! Who doesn’t want their home to look its best?!

Think year round
It is easy to get distracted by all of the gorgeous flowers (which are usually annuals), but remember to use a mix of annuals and perennials, plus a good amount of evergreens. All three ingredients are important for different reasons: annuals are usually the most colorful flowers that are in the stores right now. These are important to add your points of interest in these earlier spring months.

Perennials are important because these will continue to grow in size and fill in your garden through the years--and also buyers love to hear about a garden full of perennials! And of course because you don’t have to constantly replace them, perennials are a good cost savings as well. Evergreens are important because we live in Chicago! Ha, but really, evergreens are really the only plants that can withstand our cold winters and still look green year round. My favorite evergreens are boxwoods and arborvitaes. We use boxwoods along the front of our house because they still allow a good amount of light to filter through the basement windows they cover.

Don’t forget your parkway!
Does everyone know what a parkway is? It’s the space between the curb and the sidewalk that as a homeowner you don’t actually own, but have the pleasure of maintaining! This is a great space to clean up because so many parkways around the city left kind of forgotten--which I always think is so weird since this is the first thing people see when approaching your home. We recently reimagined our parkway space, and I love how it turned out. The main thing to remember here is dogs. To avoid dogs constantly turning our grass brown, we opted for planters along the perimeter of varying, asymmetrical sizes. The perfect spark of interest that is totally dog-friendly. We also added a bench so that Justin and I have a comfortable place to watch the girls ride bikes and play with chalk.

Texture is your friend
You know when you approach a house and it looks totally inviting, but you can’t put your finger on exactly how and why? The answer is usually texture. A mix of different materials and colors will add depth and a well-rounded look. In the front of our house we have wood, metal, concrete, rocks, and brass--it sounds like way too much, but you have to trust me that it works! A fence is a great opportunity to introduce a new material or two.

Because I know everyone will want to know, my two landscaping recommendations are Kemora and JW Landscapes.



Market trend: What happened to negotiating?

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We are in uncharted territory with today’s market: post-recession but still recovering; interest rates are historically low; and our political climate is unstable on a day-to-date, even hour-to-hour basis. As a result, the market sometimes reacts with trends that I’ve never encountered before and it becomes a learning moment for everyone.

The trend I have seen emerge over the past several weeks is a near complete and utter rejection of negotiation on both sides--buyers and sellers. For me this behavior is unprecedented! I’m not entirely sure where it stems from, but I think it is a combination of the factors above in addition to the moderate amount of inventory we have currently--this at least explains buyer’s avoidance of the matter.

One of two situations has played out several times in the recent past. In the first scenario, I write a strong offer for buyers, and submit to sellers in hopes of making a deal. When we hear back from sellers, their offer is down just a few thousand dollars from list. My buyers, frustrated by the lack of real negotiation, walk away from the deal entirely.

In the second scenario, I receive an offer for one of my listings. I present the offer to my clients, and we respond with a strong counter-offer, again in the spirit of coming to a meeting of the minds. The buyers come back and reject our counter, retroactively claiming that their initial offer was their highest and best. What happened to old fashioned negotiating?!

My advice to buyers and sellers:

Buyers: Two pieces of advice here. First, properly label your offer. If it is indeed your highest and best, state that upfront so that sellers have solid footing on what they are reacting to, and also don’t waste time coming up with a counter offer. And second, unless sellers are actually calling for highest and best, this is not a good place to start. I always recommend leaving room for one round of negotiation at the very least. Most of the time when you submit an initial offer, you are doing so “blind.” You have no idea what is motivating the seller to sell--is it a fast close they are after, or no inspection? You have no idea. Give sellers a chance to tell you what they want, so you can decide whether or not you are willing to agree.

Sellers: Our market right now is filled with very price-sensitive buyers. They know their budget, and have blinders on to anything higher. So, when you are listing your home, price to the market--do NOT over price. The price-sensitive buyer would sooner not look at an overpriced home than negotiate. There is a general lack of urgency to the market right now, so the only way to stir up activity is to price conservatively. And, you have to stay on top of your price. If you live in a condo building and other units are listing under your’s, unfortunately this means you need to quickly adjust.

At the end of the day, I totally get it--negotiating can be exhausting. But, it is also the means to an end in the truest sense, and it really shouldn’t be avoided as a matter of course.

Buyers: Are you considering all the neighborhoods you should be?

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One of my favorite aspects of Chicago is our neighborhood-centric downtown, and just how vastly different each neighborhood is from the next. Of course, it’s the same formula that makes up each area--houses, streets, trees, rinse and repeat, but somehow the end result can feel entirely different even with half a mile difference. I think a lot of it stems from the age of our city, and the cultural background that each neighborhood stems from. Chicagoans are big on maintaining tradition and I think this has paid off in spades with the diversity of housing options.

As a real estate broker, I relish in the diversity, and think of “neighborhood education” as a big part of my job. A very short story that occurs nearly every weekend: Mr. and Mrs. Buyer are dead set on Lincoln Park, but after showing them five to ten properties within their price range, we are stuck. They want more square footage, but can’t afford the hefty price tag. I then swoop in with a number of options--Bucktown, Lincoln Square, Ukrainian Village are my current favorites--and they are all shock and amazement by how much further the dollar goes. Busby Realty Group to the rescue!

Are you in a similar situation? Education never hurt anyone, right? That’s why today I’m sharing my thoughts on these three neighborhood gems, and why they should be on your consideration list!

Bucktown: Ok yes, I may be totally biased because I live in Bucktown with my family, but it really is such a wonderful neighborhood. In terms of inventory, Bucktown has it all: condos, duplexes, and single family homes--and right now there is a decent selection in each category. Also, for those with more modern leaning tastes, most of the new construction here leans in this direction. The retail out this way is amazing, even rivaling Southport Corridor. And in lieu of the lake we have the 606 Trail, so there are still tons of outdoor activity options.

Lincoln Square: Lincoln Square is a small neighborhood north of the city that has it all--amazing local restaurants, the Brown Line and Metra, cute shops, good schools, a great library, and also close to the highway. The feel in Lincoln Square is very suburban-leaning, so a great compromise for those who want proximity to the city with more green space. For families, many of the city’s best child-oriented businesses also happen to be located in the area: Little Kickers soccer, Goldfish Swim School, and Old town School of Music. There are tons of single family homes in this area, but also a decent amount of condos.

Ukrainian Village: I’ve been watching as more and more single family homes go up in this area, and it’s very exciting. What is amazing about Ukrainian Village is the location. For those who need the highway, it is close, but not too close. There are also more and more parks and restaurants popping up along Chicago Ave. I love the diversity of housing options here too. Lots of exciting new construction, but also cute old cottages, and plenty of nice condos too.

If you are currently looking to buy, but things aren’t flowing like you hoped, sometimes I think the best thing you can do is take a step back and try a different way in. Maybe it is that your dream home is waiting for you, it is just in a different location than expected!


My typical day, and how this working mama keeps it all together!

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As a working mom of two, my days are all about balance. The goal is to give 100% to my girls, and 100% to my clients. I know that math doesn’t add up, but goals are goals! My secret to success is making little moments count big. Over the past few years I’ve developed a few tricks that make all the difference, so hopefully they help you too. And if you have a tip for me, I am all ears! We are in this together, right?!

Starting the day
Our morning is driven by the start of school for my three-year-old, Siena. I actually get both girls ready earlier than necessary just so they have a few minutes to play together before school. I like them to have even 5-10 minutes to interact since they are going to be apart for most of the day. The girls have no concept of this morning time being just a few minutes, and they love it.

Tip: If I let her, Siena would spend an hour eating breakfast. She chews a few bites, then gets distracted with something, and the meal totally derails. To allow for that sister playtime, Siena eats breakfast in the car on the way to school. We pack a cereal bar and a piece of fruit, and then spend the 20 minute ride singing, looking for the Sears Tower and eating breakfast.

During the day
My days are crammed. Our client service model is very high touch, so my days are back-to-back phone calls, appointments and showings. I eat lunch in the car, and pack in as much as I can each day--and my team does the same.

When my schedule allows, I work from home. I will allot myself 5-10 minute breaks (I’ll sometimes even add them to my calendar!), to go check on baby Sloane and play for a few minutes. These breaks are like a breath of fresh air, and a good reminder of why I work so hard to provide for my family!

Tip: If I work late, I will pick Siena up from school early so that we still have time together. Siena’s favorite things are Starbucks scones or “squishy doughnuts,” so we might throw in a surprise trip to Starbucks, or even a manicure! It’s a fun 30 minutes together, and it brings her such great joy.

Dinner and bedtime
Ha, does anyone really have this time of day mastered with little kids? One thing I really love about our au pair is that she makes dinner for the girls on weekdays. It’s a little thing that makes a huge difference because it frees me up to actually spend time with the girls. We chat, play and decompress.

Tip: Now that baby Sloane can sit up on her own, the girls bathe together! This is a serious game changer because it saves time, and the girls love it so much. We put Sloane in this bath chair so that she’s safe, and we love it.

Sloane goes down after bath time, and Siena gets another hour of mommy/daddy time before bed. We love playing games as a family, and Siena’s current favorite is Curious George Matching.

It’s not a glamorous life, but I wouldn’t trade a thing. I’d love to hear how other working moms tackle their days--send me a note on Instagram and let’s help each other out!


Your home hasn’t sold yet, now what?

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Picture this: we are in the heart of the Spring Market, which has more activity than anticipated and yet your house is still sitting. Is this you? The spring market is such a pressure cooker, and I know it is stressful for buyers and sellers alike because the stakes feel so high. BUT, fear not. There is still time to make the adjustments that will make the difference. 

The advice I give sellers in this situation isn’t necessarily the easiest, but it is the most effective. And since I am in the business of selling homes, this is the advice I offer. And trust me when I say I have tried EVERYTHING--this is my list of the tried and true, get the job done-type stuff. 

Paint: I am shocked by the power of paint every single time we repaint a room for a client. Wear and tear disappear. Imperfections--gone! Dark corners are no more. Bad smells? Erased like magic. All of this with just a bucket of paint and some time. In 100% of cases, go with a shade of white or very light gray for the walls, and bright white for trim work. 

Light fixtures: If your light fixtures are outdated or intricate, it pays to update with something on-trend and simple. Right now lighting is trending toward minimalistic, modern designs with clean lines. Go to West Elm or CB2 and buy a set of complementary fixtures for at least the living areas and kitchen. Also, don’t forget to take a look at the color of light emitted from your light bulbs! Avoid anything that looks too blue, and instead look for more natural or warm in tone. Home Depot has an incredible selection of bulbs to choose from.

Create designated spaces: This is all about maximizing space. If your home doesn’t have a designated office or playroom, create the look through staging. Move a desk to the corner of a guest room. Put all the toys in one area of the family room. Stage your home so that buyers can see the vision rather than having to imagine it themselves. Make buying your home easy!

Rearrange furniture: Just because you’ve lived with a room setup one way for ten years, doesn’t mean that this is the setup that best highlights the room to a buyer. 99% of the homes I enter I am able to find at least one piece of furniture that should be put away. Buyers like to see big open spaces. It’s not necessarily how we live day-to-day, but it is what looks best in photos and in showings. 

And last, but not least, consider your pricing. No amount of paint or organization will sell a house at the wrong price. It just won’t happen. There’s an old real estate concept called the Four P’s: Product (your home itself), Place (the location), Promotion (i.e. marketing - our team definitely has this covered!), Presentation (i.e. staging, as discussed above) and Price. If the first three Ps have been addressed, then you have to look at price. If your house has sat on the market for anything over 45 days, it’s time to consider a price adjustment. If you are in this situation, time is of the essence--we usually see the spring market start to taper off and the end of April.

Chicago’s real estate market: 4 big reasons for optimism

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Let’s talk about some exciting things going right in the world of Chicago real estate! Sure you can read tons of news articles about all that is wrong in the third largest city in the country. But I find so often that there is a lot of positivity buried beneath all that negative news and commentary. And I for one see a lot of positive indicators right now, and on top of that, my team and I are busier than ever! From Millennials finally hitting the market, to corporate relocation, here are my top four reasons to be excited for a strong 2019.

1) The trickle down effect of corporate relocation to the city
2018 saw the relocation of four huge corporations to downtown Chicago: McDonald’s to the West Loop, ConAgra to the Merchandise Mart, GE Healthcare, and Gogo to the West Loop. McDonald’s move alone effected 2,000 employees, many of whom will buy real estate closer to downtown versus the suburbs. Additionally, new and better jobs will be created for urban dwellers. According to PayScale, Gogo’s average salary is approximately $90K. With so much daily professional traffic, the subsidiary businesses around the West Loop and Merchandise Mart -- restaurants, pharmacies, etc. will only continue to grow and flourish.

2) Millennials are finally starting to buy
Even with 2018’s lackluster market, Millennial home ownership increased 5.3%. On top of that, 41% of Chicagoland Millennials already own real estate--which is on par with national averages all according to Realtor.com. In fact, in one West Loop zip code, nearly 75% of residents are Millennial! That’s the highest concentration of Millennials in the country. And while a large percent currently rent, projections show that almost half will purchase within the next few years. And, this trend shows no signs of stopping since Millennials will continue to head to Chicago after graduating. As this article alludes to, Chicago is THE Midwest hub for Big 10 graduates. We’ve waited so long for Millennials to buy real estate, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the time is now.

3) Mortgage rates aren’t as bad as everyone said
As of the writing of this post, conventional rates were around 3.87% for a 5-year ARM, and conventional 30-year loans were at a fixed rate of 4.45% according to Freddie Mac. This is actually lower than where we were last year. Coupled with the modest home value increases we have seen in Chicago the past few years, affordability is there for buyers.  

4) More people are applying for mortgages nationwide
The first week of January in 2019 we saw the highest amounts of new mortgage applicants since 2010. Buyers were prepping for the spring market, and happy to see the lower interest rates, which increasing housing affordability, and will add to the amount of buyers out there in the field.

While there will always be factors out of our control, good jobs + vibrant neighborhoods + increased affordability is a great equation for a strong real estate market. All we need now is some nice weather, and we will be ready to take this market by storm!

How my au pair saved my life + my top tips for finding the right one for you

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A few weeks ago was one of the scariest days ever. Let me set the stage: my husband was out of town and I was not feeling well at all. I went to urgent care, where they immediately told me to go to the emergency room for further testing. I am OK now, but it was all so scary and so fast. Without my au pair, my three-year-old and seven-month-old would have made the trip with me first to the clinic and then to the ER. Can you imagine?

For those that don’t know, an au pair is a young adult from another country who lives with your family and provides child care for a maximum of two years. It is a cost-effective childcare option, that is a government-sponsored program. When people find out that we have an au pair living with us, I am bombarded with questions. We truly love our au pair so much, though there is a lot to learn along the way. Today I am answering all of my most frequently asked questions because us mamas have to stick together!

Are there organizations you work with to find an au pair?
There are multiple services out there for finding an au pair. We used Cultural Au Pair, and it seems like most of the people I’ve talked to in Chicago use it as well.

What does Cultural Au Pair do?
They facilitate the screening process for the American families and also the certification process for the au pairs.

What is the certification process?
There is an approximate six month certification process for the au pairs before they are eligible to work. This includes English training, CPR certification, and an optional infant care certification.

What is the screening process like?
This process is different for every family. I have friends who interviewed au pairs for six months until finding the right fit. We interviewed three and chose the first one we met. I did a lot of filtering up front so that when we interviewed people, we were already very familiar with them. My friend Shannon Norwood, the popular mommy-blogger behind Graytmama, was also a huge resource in guiding me through the process.

Once you are in the screen phase, Cultural Au Pair’s website becomes like Match.com. You are able to filter around their family status, driving skills, allergies, experience, etc. After you’ve made your selections around who you would like to interview, we started with a video with just my husband and me, and if that went well, then we did a video with the kids as well. This was the best way to gage the connection with our kids.

What did you look for in your au pair?
This is a very personal part of the process, but here is the list of criteria we used in making our initial selections:
* My most important criteria was to find an au pair about to start their second year. Au pairs are legally allowed to stay for two years. My goal here was to find someone who was already acclimated to living in the US and had already received their driver’s license, social security card, etc. I lead a very busy lifestyle, so having all of this done already was important to me. The downside to this setup is that we only get our au pair for one year, but for us the pros outweigh the cons.
* At least 21 so they are able to enjoy going out in the city and create a fun life for themselves here
* Since we live in Chicago, it was important to me that our au pair have experience driving in snow. This is a great question to ask during an interview!

When is the best time to look for an au pair?
While you can certainly start the process at any time of year, I have seen some general seasonality trends. Families seem to hire au pairs so that they start right around the beginning of the school year. If this is the timing you are going for, then start the screening process early for the biggest selection.

What is it like having someone live with you full-time?
I 100% understand that this setup isn’t for everyone. But for our family it works very well! With my husband’s travel schedule and my late hours, we need someone with flexible hours (which sometimes means late night assistance). We also love having an extra hand around the house, plus the idea that there is another adult in the house if we have a last minute work request. Our au pair has become part of our family! It will be very hard to say goodbye!

Have you considered hiring an au pair? I would love to hear about your experience!


Sellers: Is your home prepared for the spring market (it’s already started!)? Here are my top 5 tips to get ready asap.

While it certainly doesn’t feel one bit like spring in Chicago, the spring market is very much here! Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that simultaneously the spring market in Chicago is starting and ending earlier. We used to say the Super Bowl was the the official start of the spring market, but for 2019 I believe it really started in January!

If you’re reading this and panicking because you were thinking of listing your home for the spring market and thought you still had plenty of time, take a deep breath. We can still make this work! Your goal for going live should be March, or April at the very latest since this is when the most amount of serious buyers are out there. “Second home markets” like Streeterville and Gold Coast are slight exceptions to the rule since those markets are a bit more evergreen.

To hit the goal of a March go-live date, here are my top tips for getting your home in order, asap. After reading this, the next thing you should do is call me!

  1. Keep an eye on the weather for exterior shots! An exterior shot is actually a legal requirement to list your home because it must be the first photograph anyone sees. The first time it rains and some of the dirty snow is washed away, call your broker. I work with the best photographers, and they are always able to run over to at least snap a few outdoor shots.

  2. DON’T worry about the weather for interior shots. For interiors, we are able to “create” a nice day by adding in blue skies during editing. So don’t fret! Spend your energy instead on making your home look it’s very best.

  3. Baskets are your friend! Seriously though, baskets make organization so easy. Use baskets to house all of your “everyday life” clutter (dog toys, paperwork, exercise equipment) so that spaces appear open, clean and airy. A good rule of thumb is to put away half of your decor--more is not more here, less is more! Store whatever you put away at the top of a closet. I love the basket selection at The Container Store or Target.

  4. Touch up paint is a must. Everyone has at least one spot in their home that could use a tab of touch of paint. Check your baseboards, moldings, doors, etc. to make everything look as fresh and new as possible.

  5. Don’t forget the closets. My rule of thumb here is to clear out any clothes that our out of season. An emptier closet is definitely the goal here, so also remove any of those plastic dry cleaner bags.

I can’t count the number of times my team and I have prepared a home to list in four days! Are you thinking of selling? Now is definitely the time to start making some calls--and buying some baskets!


This will be the most important spring market to date, and here's why

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“What would Warren Buffett do?”

I have decided this is going to be my mantra in 2019! If you read about real estate news and projections for the coming year, things don’t look great. But, I’ve done my own research, and all I see is opportunity—just like our friend Warren, who has built much of his fortune during down markets. But I’m not one of those real estate brokers that sugar coats the situation. As with all things, there is an upside and a downside. I feel it is my job to educate my clients so that they are fully aware of the larger situation.

The downside

  • The larger Chicago economy is down: Generally, predictions are based around the idea that the Chicagoland housing market will echo the larger Chicago economy, which is not forecasting growth.

  • Taxes are high, and negatively impacting growth: Property taxes are high, which is lowering the maximum home values that people can afford.

  • Mortgage rates aren’t helping: Mortgage rates are increasing, and while they are nowhere near as bad as they have been historically, in Chicago in particular, higher home values and taxes are exacerbating the problem.

The upside!

  • For buyers, now is the time! While Chicago has never been known for real estate “deals,” properties are not appreciating as quickly as they were a few years ago. The value is there for buyers, but that also means buyers need to be quick on the uptake and ready to make a move. There are plenty of frustrated buyers still out there waiting for the spring, so I anticipate there being a good amount of competition. Plus, rates are still decent, and only looking like they are increasing after spring. For buyers, this also means you should do your best to capture the momentum of the spring market.

  • Adjusting to the market still works: We are no where near close to the 2007 recession. For one, average market time in Chicago is still about three months. For sellers serious about selling, if you price your home strategically right out of the gate it WILL sell—especially with interest rates holding through the spring. What does strategic pricing look like? It is a delicate art (not a science!) that takes into account comparable properties, the condition and location of your home, and the market at large.

  • Chicago continues to evolve: There is still tons of growth throughout the city, and it shows no signs of stopping. In Lincoln Park, Lincoln Yards continue to solidify and finalize plans, there is still buzz around Elon Musk’s high speed train project, new construction popping up everywhere, and there is also P33—a collaborative effort between Chicagoland leaders to make Chicago a tech hub by Chicago’s bicentennial in 2033. They city is giving people a great reason to invest in living here, which is always a good thing for the market!

In summary

It’s all about the larger picture, and playing the long game with well-timed and strategic decisions. When in doubt, ask yourself, “What would Warren Buffet do?”

A big announcement!

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Big news! We are thrilled to announce that we are joining the Compass team! It has been a wonderful 12 years at Coldwell Banker, but it was time for a change and we were fortunate enough to be handpicked by the Compass CEO to join the team. We are absolutely thrilled about the move!

We are moving for our clients
We chose Compass for one simple reason: Compass is the future of real estate. Our sellers will get access to the latest marketing technology and service. Our buyers will gain access to the most user-friendly, intuitive and results-driven mobile apps created to date. For example: so many of our buyers have such a hard time searching for homes within a certain school’s boundaries. Compass’ apps are set up with school searches from the get go!

Compass’ amazing and innovative new ways of working
For sellers, Compass is in the business of lifting barriers. To help ease the financial barriers around getting a home ready for the market, Compass will lend sellers a deposit of up to 3% of the projected sales price upfront to fund staging, painting, fixing up…whatever projects are necessary. For others, the barrier may be a desire or necessity to sell before buying a new home. In this case, Compass offers clients a one year interest-free bridge loan. Once our homes are listed, Compass’ marketing capacity is unparalleled. One of the coolest tools we use is their proprietary predictive algorithm that tracks people’s online real estate searches. These are just a few examples I am most excited about (call us for more details on how it all works!).

Compass is constantly innovating. One of my favorite tools is their Collections tool. Within the tool, I store all the comparable listings for properties, and status changes will update in real time. And, all of the tools look as amazing as they work. The marketing team at Compass is made up of designers, strategists and producers from brands like L’Oreal, Conde Nast, WeWork, Twitter and J. Walter Thompson.

An incredible foundation
All of the corporate team at Compass is incredible. Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin are the two founders. Ori was a Director of Engineering at Twitter after selling his company to the company in 2011. His first business was acquired by Google, making him the first to have companies acquired by both Twitter and Google. Before founding Compass, Robert worked at Goldman Sachs as Chief of Staff to the President following five years working in the firm’s private equity arm. In 2005, Robert served as a White House Fellow and special assistant to the Secretary of Treasury. Most recently, Joseph Sirosh, the former CTO of Microsoft, joined the team.

We are always looking for the next best way to maximize our client service, and I truly believe that joining Compass takes our business to the next level. It is going to be an exciting 2019!

We sat down with Chicago's top schools consultant, and here's what we learned

I could talk about Chicago’s school system all day long if I had to. And sometimes I actually do. I work with so many clients with young families, that I am constantly reaching for the latest, greatest information. A few months ago we hit a point that we were working with so many young families, that it only made sense to host a dinner to chat schools all together.

We invited our friends at Chicago School GPS to field the questions since this organization was literally formed to help Chicago families navigate the school system! It was a fun evening—great food and informative conversation—what could be better on a school night?! (By the way, we host events like this often. If you would like an invite, please shoot me an email!).

Here are some of my own biggest take aways from the night:

The application process:

  • Preschool:

    • Start thinking about schools if your child will be two years old by September

    • Check chicagoearlylearning.org to see which CPS schools offer preschool

  • Elementary + High School:

    • Chicago residents have the option to enter the lottery for schools outside of their neighborhood school and can select up to 20 schools.

    • There is no application fee to apply to your neighborhood school or the lottery.

    • School boundaries rarely change. If they do change, your child will be grandfathered in to your old neighborhood school. If you sell your home, your buyer will not be grandfathered in to the old neighborhood school.

    • When applying to neighborhood magnet schools, there is a proximity consideration for students who live within 1.5 miles of the school.

    • Don’t be afraid to make a switch, CPS schools are free to apply each year.

Thanks again to all of our friends and clients who attended. If you weren’t able to join us this time, email me and we will get you on the list for our next one!