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By Carol Duran | Broker in Chicago, IL
  • If You Were Selling Today, Would You Have the Home That Buyers Want?

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Chicago, Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago  |  July 9, 2014 4:18 PM  |  12 views  |  2 comments

    Two new surveys about what homebuyers want have me feeling pretty smug about my own home choices. Maybe you'll feel the same.

    Privacy from neighbors remains at the top of the most-wanted list (important to 86% of buyers), according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’® "2013 Community Preference Survey." Privacy is no doubt the best feature of my mid-century ranch home, since I can only see one neighbor’s house and it’s a couple hundred feet down my driveway.

    It may not be practical to move your neighbors farther away (although I’m sure many people wish they had that superpower), but you can increase your home’s privacy (and therefore its resale value) by planting a living privacy screen of trees and shrubs or by physically screening off your patio.

    Related: Trees Contribute to Property Value, Energy Savings, and More

    3 More Takeaways for the Next Time You Remodel

    1. More and more generations are living together. Another NAR survey, the "2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers," found 14% of buyers purchased a home suited to a multigenerational household due to children over the age of 18 moving back into the house, cost savings, and the health and caretaking of aging parents.

    I did that back when my parents were still alive, and it worked out great for everyone. I didn’t have time to let my infant daughter nap on my shoulder all afternoon, but my mom did. She couldn’t drive to church meetings at night, but I could take her. And neither of us liked cleaning the gutters, but my husband didn’t mind that chore.

    Even if you’d rather live in a cardboard box than with your mother, you might want to consider the multigenerational living trend when you’re remodeling. For instance, opting for a full bath when finishing the basement could offer more convenience for you now and boost your home’s resale value by making it more appealing to a multigenerational family.

    2.  On average, homeowners live in their home for nine years. That’s up from six years in 2007. Since you’ll be in your home for a long time, it makes sense to remodel to suit your taste but also with long-lasting marketability in mind. After all, you don’t want to have to redo stuff. For instance, you can go for trend-defying kitchen features, like white overtones and Shaker-style cabinets, which work with a variety of styles.

    I feel compelled to caution against going so far out of the norm for your neighborhood that it’ll turn off potential buyers even nine years from now. (It never hurts to get your REALTOR®’s opinion on your remodeling plans.)

    Related: Home Upgrades with the Lowest ROI

    3.  Homebuyers love energy efficiency. Heating and cooling costs were "somewhat" or "very important" to a whopping 85% of buyers. If your home could use an energy-efficiency upgrade, go with projects that have a solid return on investment, like sealing your air leaks and adding attic insulation. You’ll save money on your utility bills now and when you’re ready to sell, your home will appeal to buyers looking for efficiency.

    By the way, to take back your energy bills, you need to do at least four things. One to two fixes won’t cut it, thanks to rising energy costs.

    About two-thirds of survey respondents also thought energy-efficient appliances and energy-efficient lighting were important. Tuck away your manuals and energy-efficiency information when you buy new appliances and lighting. When you’re ready to sell (in nine years) you can pull those out and display them where buyers will see them.

  • How to Organize Your Own 4th of July Neighborhood Parade

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Chicago, Entertainment & Nightlife in Chicago, Parks & Recreation in Chicago  |  July 2, 2014 7:39 AM  |  48 views  |  No comments

    It’s fun to watch a Fourth of July parade, but it’s even more fun to be in one. And it only takes three things to create a fabulous parade memory for your children:

    • A closed-off street, such as a cul-de-sac, dead-end, or alderman-approved street closure
    • A dozen or so friends and neighbors with kids young enough to be easily impressed
    • Streamers and other decorations for bikes and wagons

    Preschoolers live for this kind of event; early elementary schoolers enjoy it if they can decorate their bikes; older elementary kids can lead off the parade by carrying the flag. And if you’ve got the kind of dog who’ll wear a patriotic T-shirt or bandana, you’ve got a mascot.

    Encourage your friends to wear a patriotic costume or T-shirt and bring any musical instruments they own, like kazoos, tambourines, and drums. Lure the childless neighbors into being spectators with free beer (at your house after the parade).

    Gather everyone together in the morning before it gets too hot and make a party out of taping streamers to bike handles, painting faces, and dressing up the kids and the dogs. Pass out the kazoos, line up the kids, and march your parade down the street.

    When you’re done, head back to the yard for a cookout and a neighborhood photo.

    Want a Bigger Parade?

    If your kids are too old for a one-block parade, you can organize a real parade using this checklist from Barbara Russell, whose family has organized an Independence Day Parade in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Columbia, Md., for the past two decades:

    • Pick your route. Make it long enough to be fun, but not so long that the kids get pooped before the end. A circular route is nice because everyone ends up back where they started.
    • Ask your city or county for a special events permit to hold a parade. In many jurisdictions, the police department issues permits.
    • Call the police department to get the parade route blocked off.
    • Ask the fire department to send a truck to lead the parade and the junior firefighters to march.
    • Find a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout troop to be the flag bearers.
    • Make and post flyers inviting people to march in the parade.
    • Send the local paper a note about the parade.
    • Invite someone to be grand marshal and official “Good Neighbor” of the year.

    If you really want to blow it out:

    • Email the high school band director to see if the marching band wants to play.
    • Invite local politicians to walk in the parade. Most will leap at the chance to get their names in front of the voters.
    • Ask community groups like the American Legion, Kiwanis, or Civitans if they’d like to join the parade.
    • Contact the Chamber of Commerce if you want businesses to put floats in your parade.

    Liability Issues

    Russell isn’t much of a worrier, so she doesn’t ask anyone to fill out a waiver before joining the parade, and she doesn’t buy a liability policy to cover the event, either. 

If you’re more risk-averse, you can spend just under $400 to buy a commercial general liability policy, says Brigitt Whitescarver, a vice president at Gales Creek Services, which sells parade insurance nationally.

    Whitescarver says there’s one catch to parade liability policies — they don’t cover automobiles, but they do cover golf carts, electric scooters, and ATVs in parades. Adding on a general liability policy for hired and not-owned automobiles will run you another $650 — ouch! At that price, I’d stick to bikes, trikes, and foot power, and use golf carts or ATVs to pull the floats.

    Related: Ideas for Flying Old Glory on July 4th

    Are you up for planning a little Fourth of July parade around your neighborhood? Tell us how it went and share pictures of your event here.

  • Renovated NE Corner Unit!

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, Investment Properties in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  June 25, 2014 12:18 PM  |  95 views  |  No comments

    Contemporary renovation completed in 2012. North East corner two bedroom, two bathroom unit with expansive windows. Beautiful Lake Michigan, park and city views. Fabulous natural light. Kitchen is open to the living room/dining room area. Espresso cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms. Wood laminate floors in main areas. Newer carpeting in both East facing bedrooms and abundant closet space throughout. Attached, heated, first floor garage parking space included. Well maintained building has a roof top pool and sun deck. Desirable, pet friendly building features an on-site manager, evening, overnight and week end door staff. Plus additional storage.

  • Tips for Improving Your Credit

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, Financing in Chicago, Credit Score in Chicago  |  June 11, 2014 8:36 AM  |  169 views  |  No comments

    Getting the loan that suits your situation at the best possible price and terms makes homebuying easier and more affordable. Here are seven ways to boost your credit score so you can do just that.

    1. Know your credit score

    Credit scores range from 300 to 850, and the higher, the better. They’re based on whether you’ve paid personal loans, car loans, credit cards, and other debt in full and on time in the past. You’ll need a score of at least 620 to qualify for a home loan and 740 to get the best interest rates and terms. 

    You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Access all three versions of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Review them to ensure the information is accurate.

    2. Correct errors on your credit report

    If you find mistakes on your credit report, write a letter to the credit-reporting agency explaining why you believe there’s an error. Send documents that support your case, and ask that the error be corrected or removed. Also write to the company, or debt collector, that reported the incorrect information to dispute the information, and ask to be copied on any materials sent to credit-reporting agencies.

    3. Pay every bill on time

    You may be surprised at the damage even a few late payments will have on your credit score. The easiest way to make a big difference in your credit score without altering your spending habits is to diligently pay all your bills on time. You’ll also save money because you’ll keep the money you’ve been spending on late fees. Credit card or mortgage companies probably won’t report minor late payments, those less than 30 days overdue, but you’ll still have to pay late fees.

    4. Use credit carefully

    Another good way to boost your credit score is to pay your credit card bills in full every month. If you can’t do that, pay as much over your required minimum payment as possible to begin whittling away the debt. Stop using your credit cards to keep your balances from increasing, and transfer balances from high-interest credit cards to lower-interest cards.

    5. Take care with the length of your credit

    Credit rating agencies also consider the length of your credit history. If you’ve had a credit card for a long time and managed it responsibly, that works in your favor. However, opening several new credit cards at once can lower the average age of your accounts, which pushes down your score. Likewise, closing credit card accounts lowers your available credit, so keep credit cards open even if you’re not using them.

    6. Don’t use all the credit you’re offered

    Credit scores are also based on how much credit you use compared with how much you’re offered. Using $1,000 of available credit will give you a lower score than having $1,000 of available credit and using $100 of it. Occasionally opening new lines of credit can boost your available credit, which also affects your score positively.

    7. Be patient

    It can take time for your credit score to climb once you’ve begun working to improve it. Keep at it because the more distance you put between your spotty payment history and your current good payment record, the less damage you’ll do to your credit score.

    Other web resources

    How FICO scores are calculated

  • Steps to Take Before You Buy a Home

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Chicago, How To... in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  June 4, 2014 8:08 AM  |  198 views  |  No comments

    Most potential homebuyers are a smidge daunted by the fact that they’re about to agree to a hefty mortgage that they’ll be paying for the next few decades. The best way to relieve that anxiety is to be confident you’re purchasing the best home at a price you can afford with the most favorable financing. These seven steps will help you make smart decisions about your biggest purchase.

    1. Decide how much home you can afford

    Generally, you can afford a home priced 2 to 3 times your gross income. Remember to consider costs every homeowner must cover: property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable, as well as costs specific to your family, such as day care if you plan to have children.

    2. Develop your home wish list

    Be honest about which features you must have and which you’d like to have. Handicap accessibility for an aging parent or special needs child is a must. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are in the bonus category. Come up with your top-five must-haves and top-five wants to help you focus your search and make a logical, rather than emotional, choice when home shopping.

    3. Select where you want to live

    Make a list of your top-five community priorities, such as commute time, schools, and recreational facilities. Ask your REALTOR® to help you identify three to four target neighborhoods based on your priorities.

    4. Start saving

    Have you saved enough money to qualify for a mortgage and cover your downpayment? Ideally, you should have 20% of the purchase price set aside for a downpayment, but some lenders allow as little as 5% down. A small downpayment preserves your savings for emergencies.

    However, the lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for, and if you still qualify, the higher your monthly payment. Your downpayment size can also influence your interest rate and the type of loan you can get.

    Finally, if your downpayment is less than 20%, you’ll be required to purchase private mortgage insurance. Depending on the size of your loan, PMI can add hundreds to your monthly payment. Check with your state and local government for mortgage and downpayment assistance programs for first-time buyers.

    5. Ask about all the costs before you sign

    A downpayment is just one homebuying cost. Your REALTOR® can tell you what other costs buyers commonly pay in your area—including home inspections, attorneys’ fees, and transfer fees of 2% to 7% of the home price. Tally up the extras you’ll also want to buy after you move-in, such as window coverings and patio furniture for your new yard.

    6. Get your credit in order

    A credit report details your borrowing history, including any late payments and bad debts, and typically includes a credit score. Lenders lean heavily on your credit report and credit score in determining whether, how much, and at what interest rate to lend for a home. Most require a minimum credit score of 620 for a home mortgage.

    You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports annually from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Order and then pore over them to ensure the information is accurate, and try to correct any errors before you buy. If your credit score isn’t up to snuff, the easiest ways to improve it are to pay every bill on time and pay down high credit card debt.

    7. Get prequalified

    Meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter that says how much house you’re qualified to buy. Start gathering the paperwork your lender says it needs. Most want to see W-2 forms verifying your employment and income, copies of pay stubs, and two to four months of banking statements.

    If you’re self-employed, you’ll need your current profit and loss statement, a current balance sheet, and personal and business income tax returns for the previous two years.

    Consider your financing options. The longer the loan, the smaller your monthly payment. Fixed-rate mortgages offer payment certainty; an adjustable-rate mortgage offers a lower monthly payment. However, an adjustable-rate mortgage may adjust dramatically. Be sure to calculate your affordability at both the lowest and highest possible ARM rate.

    More from HouseLogic

    Learn how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages can help you save on financing

    Learn more about the costs of homeownership

    Other web resources

    Homebuyer counseling resources

    Get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus

  • The Fordham

    Posted Under: Market Conditions in Chicago, Home Buying in Chicago, Home Selling in Chicago  |  May 28, 2014 12:43 PM  |  242 views  |  No comments

    Spacious, upgraded three bedroom, three bathroom home located in the prestigious Fordham building. Expansive South and West views. Hardwood floors throughout. Open living room/dining room area with bay windows, a gas fireplace, built-in cabinetry and leaded glass doors that lead to one of the two balconies. Kitchen has Sub Zero, Thermador and Miele appliances. Laundry room with side by side washer and dryer. Professionally organized closets. The third bedroom has built in cabinetry for an in home office space. Including two parking spaces and a wine cellar! All this in a highly desirable, full amenity, pet friendly building. 

  • Outdoor Projects You Can Do With Your Kids Read more: http://members.houselogic.com/articles/ideas-kids-projects/preview/#ixzz

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Chicago, Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  May 21, 2014 7:00 AM  |  301 views  |  No comments

    If you’re looking for ways to unplug your children and get them some fresh air, try these engaging outdoor projects. You’ll introduce them to a little pride of home ownership while adding some finishing touches that’ll ramp up your home’s curb appeal.

    When making stuff with kids, remember the Keep-It rules:

    • Keep it safe. Use gloves and safety glasses when necessary.
    • Keep it simple. They’ll come away with a sense of accomplishment if it’s a project they can handle easily.
    • Keep it under an hour. Kids’ attention spans are short.

    1. Making stepping stones

    This classic kids’ project never gets old — it’s gooey, messy, and arty. You’ll make the stones using ready-mix concrete or mortar; a 40-lb. bag makes 3-5 stones. Make your own forms with wood, or use old pans, aluminum cake pans, or anything that’ll create a 2-inch-thick stone.


    While the concrete is still wet, decorate with beads, tiles, marbles, and polished pebbles. Wait 48 hours until the concrete is dry to remove it from the form.

    Cost: A 40-lb. bag of ready-mix mortar is $6.

    2. Painting your mailbox

    Put a little sizzle in your snail mail when you let your kids paint the mailbox.

    Un-mount the box and clean it first. When dry, give it a coat of metal primer, then let your kids’ muse take over. Inexpensive craft store stencils help keep designs on track. Take the kids to the store and let them pick out designs. Don’t forget to include house numbers.


    Cost: Primer, $5; acrylic craft paints, $20-$40 set of 10 colors; plastic stencils, $1-$2 each.

    3. Planting a shrub that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies

    There’s some delayed gratification with this project — the payoff doesn’t happen until the critters find the shrub — but the fun factor is high when they do.

    Keep the digging to a minimum — one or two plants are plenty. Make a generous hole and have the kids fill it with outdoor potting soil, and put them in charge of watering as the plant roots in. Hold a contest to see who spots the first wildlife visitor.

    Nectar-producing shrubs that attract hummingbirds include Hibiscus, flowering quince (Chaenomeles), and Lantana. Butterflies like butterfly bush (Buddleja) and Potentilla.

    Cost: $10-$30 per shrub; a bag of potting soil is $9.

    4. Building a garden gate arbor

    It’s easier than it sounds. You’ll find simple DIY kits at home improvement centers that you and your team can put together in 1 to 2 hours. If that challenges younger kids’ attention span limit, let them wander away for a bit, then call them back when it’s done. They’ll love carrying the finished arbor to the garden and setting it in the ground.

    Cost: $150-$250 for a wooden kit.

    5. Adding solar lights

    This is one of the easiest projects. Gather up some solar walkway lights — the kind mounted on a stake — and have your kids put them along your sidewalk, paths, and at the edge of garden beds. When the sun goes down, they’ll get a kick out of seeing the lights switch on.

    Cost: Outdoor lighting comes in all styles and prices, but you’ll find an 8-pack of solar stake lights under $50 at your home improvement center.

    6. Stacking a tipsy-pot plant tower

    Here’s a great optical illusion that kids will really dig. Stick a ½-inch diameter wooden dowel or piece of copper pipe firmly into the ground or a big pot. Put clay pots of various sizes onto the pipe, threading the pipe through the drain holes. Fill the pots with soil and tilt them at crazy angles — the rod holds all the pots upright. Plant easy-care impatiens or petunias.


    Cost: Copper pipe is about $3 per foot; an 8-inch-high clay pot is $4.

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