I’m asked often “When is a good time to list?” when talking about the spring market. Or when is a good time to start looking at houses? Some of my clients will think the spring market is literally just that, in the spring time. Others will think it is when the weather warms up which in Chicago could be June or even July. But the reality is the “spring market” has been starting earlier and earlier in Chicago for years. This has nothing to do with the weather. Surely, we all know the weather is not getting any warmer in January or February, at least if last year was any indication. So when does the spring market really start?

I advise all the agents on my team to be ready for the spring market January 2nd. January 1st people are still hungover from the night before, but January 2nd people start making moves on whatever they talked about over the holidays. You know this. Walk into any gym on January 2nd and its packed. A similar mindset takes place in real estate. However, that mindset can quickly change, just like New Years resolutions fade into memory so too can the idea of moving. However, with real estate there are a few additional influences that will cause the spring market to start in January this year and why you should be ready as a buyer or a seller sooner rather than later.

Low Inventory Inventory continues to remain low throughout the city, especially good inventory. There is some junk on the market, sure. Especially a good handful of places that have not been updated in 15/20 years but are priced too high to justify rehab work. But for the most part, good quality inventory is limited. Therefore, the old saying “the early bird gets the worm” comes into play here. You have to be ready early. Hence, January 2nd.

Low Inventory Might Not Last Too Long… This year I think we will see low inventory numbers but we will start to see a slightly increased influx of inventory sooner rather than later. Last year for instance in January we saw a lot of pocket listings that were coming to market at the end of February or March, but were not actually on the MLS. Under new NAR guidelines, such pocket listings (unless only marketed in-house) are now illegal as of January 2020. Therefore, if someone wants to get early exposure to the whole market they have no choice but to list on the MLS. So while inventory levels will start off low I do think we will see an increase because of this new regulation. With this being said, it means that instead of just competing against a handful of buyers for a “pocket listing” you’ll now be competing against the entire market. Be ready!

If you’re looking to list your home it means you need to be ready sooner. As a pocket listing we can get away with no photos or imperfections because the listing is “special,” it is “exclusive” so buyers will go out of their way to see it because they feel like they’re privy to information no one else has. When you have to go live on the MLS you better have all your ducks in a row.

Social Media is more powerful in the real estate business than ever before. Real Estate brokers cannot wait to post what they have put under contract. We’re a fragile bunch. We like our egos inflated as much as possible. But here is the thing…sales forecast for this upcoming year are relatively flat for the overall market, even chicago expects a small decline in sales with less than a 1% growth in prices in 2020. This means Realtors are going to be networking harder, posting more on social media, and doing more to drum up business to compete with last years numbers. I think this year Realtors will come out of the gates running earlier than ever before and I do believe this will have an affect on the start of the spring market.

Lease End Dates Over the past 5 years more and more landlords have refused to take leases ending in the winter time and have pushed tenants to take longer term leases or odd lease lengths in order to end in the spring time. There are more leases now ending in March, April, and May then we ever have had before. This means if you want to purchase and close on a home before the end of your lease that end in April, you really should start looking at the start of the year. Listing agents know this and are starting to push sellers to list early because of this, especially with properties that are attracting first time homebuyers.

Now I’m not saying January 2nd we’re going to see an influx of inventory or lines at open houses. What I am saying is that now more than ever you need to be PREPARED early for the spring market. Be ready to jump on what you like if you’re a buyer and if you’re a seller make sure you start making arrangements in your home. Get those improvements made if you’ve been putting them off. Make those small repairs. Figure out your plans and where you want to move next.

Paul Blackburn is an Illinois Licensed Realtor and Broker with @properties in Chicago. He can be reached at anytime via e-mail at Paul@PKBlackburn.com or visit www.PKBlackburn.com


Do you have to disclose if a home is haunted in Chicago?

So you believe the home you’re selling is haunted. Or maybe a death occurred on the property…do you have to disclose it in Chicago, or in Illinois for that matter? Or just as important, should you disclose?

John Wayne Gacy Home prior to demolition
courtesy of Alamy/Daily Herald/dailyherald.com & TMZ

The legal answer is quite simple: in the State of Illinois you do not need to disclose if you believe a home is haunted or if the property is stigmatized (death in the property, murder, etc.). All you need to disclose in Illinois are physical defects to the property and if the home was ever used for the manufacturing of methamphetameme (thank you Walter White!). The main reason for this is because things such as hauntings / ghosts are subjective versus a physical defect such as a leaking basement or bad electrical wiring can be seen and truly known.

In some states, ANYTHING affecting value must be disclosed. California for instance, known for their extremely tough consumer protection laws is one of those states. If a home is haunted or had a death it must be disclosed. Should Illinois have these laws? In my opinion, absolutely not. In my opinion these laws do not at all protect consumers they only protect the legal industry and increase frivolous litigation. Furthermore, if a law like this were sporadically enacted it would negatively affect homebuyers who bought under the presumption that disclosure was not needed. It would mean going forward they’d have to disclose and potentially affect their property value. The law would in essence create a value issue in a state where there really wasn’t one before. Disclosure for physical issues make sense since these issues affect the property physically and will need to be fixed. The fact that someone died in a property has no material affect on the property, only in people’s minds.

Now there are some circumstances that one could argue disclosure needs to take place. For instance the John Wayne Gacy house. Now information about this property is well known and can easily be found on google. While the acts that took place on the property don’t material change the property, the new owners may have an issue with quiet enjoyment. Imagine living there and having random people coming up to take photos of your home or selfies on your front porch. An argument could be made that disclosure in these instances are warranted because they could disturb the ownership rights of the property (quiet enjoyment). But this could easily turn into a slippery slope…would “ghosts” be the next thing to block quiet enjoyment? Then how do you prove a ghost exists? Do we call up Ed and Lorraine Warren?

Thankfully we are in a state where these disclosures do not need to take place so we don’t have to worry about it. But, if you are someone who believes in ghosts or does not want to live in a home where someone died…you better start doing some research!

Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed real estate broker and Realtor with @properties in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. He can be reached anytime via e-mail at Paul@PKBlackburn.com

So how are sales going at Trump Tower Chicago?

Trump’s development company finished selling the final units at Trump Hotel & Tower in Chicago years ago, but his name sits prominently on the building and therefore, given the current…political climate…the question I am asked often, and I mean truly often, is “how are sales at Trump Tower?”

Trump Tower Chicago 401 N Wabash

Currently there is a little over 2 years, roughly 26 months to be exact of inventory on the market. Currently, there are 43 residential condos available for sale and only 20 have sold in the past 12 months with 17 selling in all of 2019 so far. Before we get into anything farther, the real question is how does this compare to the market in general and other luxury buildings?

Currently in Chicago there is roughly 4.6 months of inventory available according to current statistics. So we can make the quick argument that Trump Tower has more than 5 times the amount of inventory than it should. But that really would not be fair, instead we should compare it to some other luxury buildings in Chicago. Now there are few luxury buildings that can compare to Trump. I’m not saying this because the building itself has better services or views, but given the number of units, date built, and location it is difficult to compare it to others. But lets do our best shall we?

Ritz Carlton Residences at 118 E Erie has only sold 5 units in the past year…yes only 5. Now the building is much smaller, at 89 units total. However it currently has 18 units available. So using some quick reverse math Trump is looking pretty good compared to the Ritz since the Ritz is sitting on almost 4 years of inventory!

Now lets downgrade a bit in building and switch neighborhoods to The Aqua building in Lake Shore East. I’ll use this building because it is connected to a hotel just like Trump and has very nice amenities, though from a luxury standpoint I don’t believe it compares at all. The Aqua has 8 units sell in the past 12 months with currently 11 units available meaning there is a little over 16 months of inventory available. That definitely beats out Trump.

Lets look at 55 E Erie This is a luxury high rise in River North and while some of the finishes are dated, its location, upper floor views, and overall quality of construction does compete (even though it is more…traditional in nature). 55 E Erie is blowing Trump out of the water with 18 condos sold in the past 12 months and only 10 currently available meaning there is a roughly 6.5 months of inventory on the market in the building.

Park Tower, located at 800 N Michigan it is connected to the Park Hyatt Hotel and is considered a premier building in Chicago. Park Tower has seen 5 sales in the past year with 8 currently on the market meaning there is a little more than a year and half worth of inventory on the market.

Alright, lets look at one more and that is the Pinnacle at 21 E Huron. The Pinnacle has seen a whopping 17 units sold in the past year with only 9 currently available units meaning there is just a little over 6 months of inventory on the market.

Now there are a lot of variables at work here and things are not just black and white. For instance Trump Tower has a great deal of investors in the building. This was due to multiple reasons in part of its location to the loop, its high number of 1 bedrooms, the Trump name that appealed to investors, etc. Investors love to “test” the market and have no problem leaving their units on the market for a months on end while they use the property as an in-town. Some other buildings mentioned have more stable residents. Less investors, more full-time residents or residents using the home as an in-town with the plan to use it full time down the road.

The other issue is pricing. Is pricing down in Trump? Compared to other luxury buildings yes. Both on the sales and rental side. A separate blog I will write this week will go into specific detail comparing Trump to other buildings in Chicago. The one thing that has kept Trump prices from falling further is the fact that the residents are in a good place. They don’t NEED to sell. There have been no major “fire” sales in the building like the fire sales we were seeing in 2009/2010. Now, if we are talking about the hotel-condos in the building then that is a totally different story for another day.

But if we cut to the chase we can discuss the question “Does Trump’s name affect sales in the building?” The answer is a resounding yes. There are residents in the building that would love to see his name removed if they could have it done (no thats not a possibility). There are some residents that say they live at “401 N Wabash” and refuse to call it Trump Tower. Those who rent their units out in the building have probably been hit the hardest. Pricing is down across the board since Trump entered the political arena and very much so in the couple of years. This is not meant to be a political blog by any means, it is just meant to discuss the elephant in the room. If you’re looking to make a purchase and you’re contemplating Trump tower or you’re using Trump tower as a comparable building to understand pricing of another building then you should know what is affecting its value. It is the name. The building is as clean as can be. The building is operated very well, with excellent security and spotless common areas. Most of the views are phenomenal. If Trump sold off his naming and hotel rights to say the St. Regis or Shangri-La you’d likely see values increase 15 to 20% overnight. It’s just that simple.

Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed real estate broker and Realtor with @properties in Chicago. He can be reached anytime via e-mail at Paul@PKBlackburn.com

How a “Discount Broker” can kill your deal, even if you didn’t hire one!

Discount brokers are not new. They’ve been around for a while. Many of you probably know who the largest discount broker is…don’t you? They have ads up all over advertising low listing fees. They have a sleek cool app and website to bring in business for their agents. They offer to give you money back at closing if you’re a buyer. On the surface this may seem pretty cool. But buyer (and seller) beware, it is not what it seems.

My career is made up of two facets. I work with buyers, sellers, and renters. I also mentor, train, and manage new agents. The other day one of our top agents on our team forwarded me communication on a deal that fell apart. The communication was text message conversation between himself who represented the seller and a discount broker who represented the buyer. The issue centered around the end of attorney review where the buyer and seller were negotiating inspection items and credits / repair requests relating to these inspection items. The agent who works for our team was reaching out to the buyers agent to inquire if the buyers agent had spoken with his client regarding a few items. The buyer’s agent said no, he was too busy during the day but said he would reach out right away. The next day my agent still hadn’t heard anything back. So he reaches out again. Again, he receives a similar response that the agent is swamped, out all day with clients, and hasn’t had time to talk with his client. My agent presses more, but again the response is the same. This goes on for a few days with the buyer’s agent saying how busy they are, how many other offers they need to write for clients and that they will do their best to talk to their client….until the deal eventually dies. When my agent comes up with a potential solution that the buyer may be happy with the buyers agent simply says his client has made up his mind to not move forward with the deal.

At the end of the day we all live in the same world. More specifically we’re in the same state and typically in the same city. We all pay taxes, we all have some basic expenses, etc. So when a broker has to work for half or even less than an average broker that means they have to work more to make the same amount of money. Instead of working 40 to 50 hours a week they’re working 80 to 100. Or they simply work the same amount but devote less time to each client. This is basic economics and when someone works for much less they typically will not strive to work as hard for each individual deal. Instead they will focus on quantity instead of quality and the clients all around get less service.

The problem a discount broker faces is most of them make a fraction of what a full service broker does. They get business that is funneled in off of a website and lots of it. Therefore, they get a smaller piece of the pie from the head brokerage. They also then kick back a chunk of commission to their client or discount the listing fee substantially. This means that the average discount broker must close twice or three times the amount of deals to make what I make on one deal. At the end of the day it is near impossible for a discount broker to offer the same level of service that I can.

At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with discounts right? We all love them. I’m the first person to go to Nordstrom Rack to try and find some great deals on shoes. I’ll pick around down the aisles looking for a great deal and a good amount of savings. That is perfectly fine when you’re buying a pair of shoes or a blazer but should you be using this method of thinking when you’re looking for a home? When you’re looking to make a major financial decision do you want someone that gets business for the sole fact that they’re discounting their services? Think about what you do for a living. If you overnight had to take a pay cut and then double your workload could you provide the same level of service you currently provide in your profession?

As the spring market heats up we will all be very busy. If you’re a buyer or seller in the middle of a transaction beware of that broker who might be extremely overwhelmed and not able to perform his or her duties correctly. Keep this mind when you’re in the middle of attorney review. The long wait times or incorrect responses might not be the fault of the buyer or seller but instead the fault of the other broker.


Why your Realtor may be the biggest threat to you….

When I first obtained my real estate license in 2007 the real estate market was a very interesting place. The real estate market was teetering on the verge of collapse after a decade of record year over year gains in almost every market in the country.  If you had asked someone on the street if they knew a Realtor chances are they were one or someone standing right next to them was. Once the market crashed one of the best things happened to the real estate business; lots of real estate brokers got out. Many of these brokers were part time and couldn’t put enough deals together to pay their license dues let alone make a living. They went back to whatever jobs (or hobbies for the part time folks) they held before real estate boomed. The days of sitting one open house and picking up 5 new buyers were over. Reality quickly sunk in.

In recent years we’ve seen a resurgence in the housing market throughout the country; some markets stronger than others. We’ve also seen a resurgence in new real estate brokers. Shows such as Million Dollar Listing not only make the business look easy and lucrative, but they make it look “cool.” It has never been so “cool” to call yourself a broker. Everyone wants to pull up to lunch in a new Range Rover to meet a client. Sit outside on a Wednesday afternoon, sip a martini, and discuss the real estate market with a potential client. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Not only do I want to do that, I actually do it. I’ll also be frank. This business is relatively easy and lucrative. It has it’s fair amount of stress but that is what two martini lunches and happy hours are for. But at the end of the day there is a threat to our industry, to the real estate market, and to you the homeowner; that threat is some of us. Real estate brokers. The only reason why some of us may call the business “easy” is because we know what we’re doing.

Too easy to get licensed…

The barrier to entry into the real estate business is quite minimal. You take a class, you take a test, you pay some fees, and you’re in. Actually being successful in the business takes much more work but being good not in terms of sales volume, but in terms of protecting and advising your clients, takes experience, knowledge, and the ability to understand market forces that most people don’t possess.

I’ve seen countless people on social media dive into the real estate business. They then spend money on on-line advertising, magazine ads, and even someone to manage their social media profiles. They’ll start posting articles such as “What Today’s Fed Actions Mean for the Mortgage Market” but if you asked them what it meant they’d stare at you like a deer in the headlights. When you ask them about the real estate market they’ll quote something our association has sent out as a talking point “Next year Chicago is projected to be up 3%” but when you ask them specifically about the two bedroom luxury condo market in the Gold Coast you might get that deer in the headlights look again. They’ll talk up the real estate market to you and tell you why now is a wonderful time to buy, despite the fact they may not know what area you’d even be interested in buying in. Every day they’ll post photos of a new property they visited on a brokers open talking about how wonderful it is and how it is “gorgeous, stunning, amazing location” even though it might be on a desolate street bordering an industrial complex. These people are a threat to you.

You might be thinking these agents can’t survive in this business. They won’t make enough to sustain themselves and they’ll die out and move on to other things. But let me ask you this, how many people do you know who have bought homes actually interviewed their buyers agent? Conversely, how many people who have listed their homes for sale interviewed multiple agents? Why do people insist on interviewing listing brokers when they’ve already acquired the asset and the sales price is essentially set by the market, yet when it comes time to acquire an asset (their home) they’ll let almost anyone help them? After all, as the old saying goes,  you don’t make money when you sell, you make it when you buy.

So why do I mention all this and take the time to write about it? Am I against new brokers? Absolutely not. We all have to start somewhere. As a matter of fact part of my day to day job is training new brokers and mentoring existing ones. What I am against is stupidity. I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’m against people who quite frankly do not have any business being in my business. I’m not saying this because I’m afraid they’ll take business away from me personally. I’m saying this because their stupidity and apathy hurts you, the consumer which in turn tarnishes the Realtor brand and what we stand for and believe in.

As a broker it is our responsibility to educate ourselves to the fullest to protect our clients. It is our responsibility to be honest with our clients and not repeat sound bites we’ve heard only to make ourselves appear much more educated than we really are. Some of the clients we deal with are wealthy and their home is a small asset to them. However, most we work with, their home is their largest asset. It will be the largest purchase they make in their lifetime. The money they make from their home (or lose) may determine what age they retire, what college they can afford for their children….or bigger yet, how much stress they’ll have in their lives. We cannot control market forces, but we can do our best to educate our clients to help them make the best decision with the information available. That is what we’re here to do. That is our obligation above all else.

So if you’re in the market to buy or sell, or even to rent, be sure to work with someone who knows what they’re doing. A new agent may be a completely fine person to work with, but make sure they have the backing of a team or a partner with experience. Make sure they’re committed to their job, to understanding the market, and understanding economic forces in general. If you’re looking to buy a new home, interview multiple brokers just as if you were interviewing someone to sell your home. Because at the end of the day how you buy your home today will determine how good of an investment it really is.


Will mortgage rates rise because the fed raised the federal funds rate? If you’re speaking to a real estate broker who is completely inept when it comes to the bond market, then their answer will likely be a resounding YES! However, the true answer is much more complicated than that. The truth of the matter is that the “fed funds rate” that the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) influences actually has very little affect on mortgage rates and they are most definitely NOT directly correlated.

I will try to keep this as simple as possible, since this material can definitely get quite dry,  but it is important to understand a few basics. The “federal funds rate” is simply the overnight rate that banks charge each other. Why do banks do this? Well, the law says that each bank must keep a certain percentage of deposits on reserve at all times. Obviously each bank wants to put their money to use so they try to keep their reserve deposits to the absolute minimum. Well, at the end of each day some banks may be a bit short and some may have excess reserves. The bank with excess reserves will simply lend “overnight” to the bank with a reserve shortfall. The fed funds rate is essentially the “overnight rate.”

There are some interest rates that consumers experience that are directly correlated with the fed funds rate but these are typically the shortest term loans / credit. For instance credit card interest rates for instance are typically tied the “prime rate” which typically hovers a few percentage points above the fed funds rate. These are considered short term loans. Car loans typically range from 3 to 6 years and therefore can be exposed to greater influence by the fed funds rate.

But what about mortgage rates? If you really want to follow mortgage rates then you need to follow the bond market. The bond market is an interesting animal and while it may react in the short term to a fed funds hike the bond market is much more interested in what the fed has to SAY versus what they do. Mortgage rates are tied to what bond investors need, versus what the fed’s target rate is. Let me give you an example and I’ll thank Bankrate.com for providing the following information in such a simple manner. “Starting in June 2004, the Fed raised the federal funds rate 17 times in two years. And what happened at first? Mortgage rates fell during the summer and fall of 2004. Back then, the Fed’s rate hikes caused investors to become less concerned about inflation, so mortgage rates fell.”

Now, let us think back to 2017. In 2017 we had three fed rate hikes, but what happened? Rates remained relatively flat. It wasn’t until the start of this year that we saw an increase.

What does all this mean? Am I saying that rates are not going to go up? No, I am not saying that. All I am saying is that there is not a direct correlation between the fed funds rate and mortgage rates. The answer is a bit more complicated than that. The fed may exert some influence over mortgage rates, but that influence can work in either direction!

The reasoning for writing this blog post is because when I opened my Facebook app this evening I saw almost a dozen posts from fellow real estate brokers shouting about how the time is NOW to buy because rates will SPIKE! Some even called for 7% interest rates by the end of the year! To those consumers reading this, I apologize on behalf of these brokers for they do not know what they are talking about and are only using fear mongering in order to obtain your business. That is wrong.

To my fellow real estate brokers posting that the FOMCs decision today will immediately hike mortgage rates, I implore you to educate yourself on how the bond markets work. You look stupid and do a disservice to your clients and your industry with your blatant ignorance. As real estate brokers it is our responsibility to properly understand market dynamics and inform our clients with such knowledge so they can make an informed decision. Anything less is the equivalent of malpractice.

Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed Real Estate Broker and Realtor with @properties in Chicago, IL. He can be reached anytime via e-mail at Paul@PKBlackburn.com

To learn more about FOMC and Mortgage rates here are a couple helpful links.

Bankrate.Com’s 7 Ways A Federal Reserve Decision On Interest Rates Affects You

The Mortgage Reports: How Mortgage Rates Connect to the Fed Funds Rate

Why you should be careful when Realtors give you stats about the market…

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning I woke up and went about my morning routine. I made some coffee, grabbed my laptop, and crawled into bed and turned on the news. On the news this morning was a segment with two real estate agents speaking about the 2018 real estate market in the Chicagoland area and what we can expect the market to look like throughout the year. Naturally I was curious if their views would align with mine so I made sure to put aside my laptop and phone when the segment began to give it my full attention.

The talking points were the usual talking points you’ve probably seen on social media recently “Inventory is low” “The market is hot!” “Prices are up 5 to 7% year over year” “We are still far from peak prices during the boom. The market has more room to grow”

It was those last two statements that made my head hurt and quite frankly embarrassed to call myself a Realtor. What was upsetting was not the fact that the brokers were stating these “stats” but they were using them as justification for why now is a wonderful time to buy and why you should buy instead of rent.

I’m sure many of you are friends with multiple brokers on social media. If you’re reading this chances are you follow me as well. Being in the industry I follow many, probably near a hundred in total. After hearing the above statements on the news it also had me thinking about the amount of times I’ve seen other brokers make these statements on Facebook, Instagram and the like. Sharing of articles from random real estate groups, posting outlooks from brokerages, posting random statistics that make you feel like you’ve lost out on an opportunity so you better jump into the market now. All these statistics, while factual, are being distorted and not explained properly. There is a difference between a broker being a salesman (or saleswoman) and being your consultant. A good broker is not in sales, but instead is in consulting. They are there to guide and advise you. Once your home is listed for sale, then they turn into a salesman on your behalf. So without further delay let me quickly explain why I despise fellow brokers who spew the last two stats as justification for buying that I saw on the news.

The Chicago market is up 5 to 7% year over year.”

First off I would have loved to have known where this information was gathered. Lets ignore the fact that there is a 40% variance in the above range, but lets talk about the word market.  What market is up 5 to 7%? Chicago market? OK….where in Chicago? Gold Coast? Lincoln Park? Englewood? Roseland? What types of properties…Single Family homes, Condos…Two flats? What about land? What about new construction condos? Is this year over year average / median price data derived from total sales or are we only comparing exactly like units such as taking a sampling of the same buildings, same blocks, etc in certain areas? Now I know what you’re thinking…Paul this data is only meant to give you an idea of the market trajectory. I would agree with you. But if you’re making a large investment in a condo in the Gold Coast, wouldn’t you want stats that specifically focus on what you’re buying? Wouldn’t you like to know that market times and prices for higher end 1 bedrooms for instance is actually down year over year versus two bedrooms? And if we are going to talk about the entire Chicago market being up or down…shouldn’t you have a specific number? Why such a wide range?

“We are still far from peak prices of the 2006/2007 market. The market has much more room to grow”

This literally made me nauseous; I could feel my morning coffee start to come up as I listened to this comment. Why? Because it’s generalized statements like this made by either 1) Completely ignorant and stupid people in my industry or 2) People who are purposely trying to deceive consumers (I’m not sure which is worse) which is what contributed to the real estate bubble and crash we saw a decade ago.

The blanket statement is right, over the entire Chicagoland area we are not near the peaks of 2006/2007. However, in many areas and buildings we are BEYOND the peaks of those years. This “data” is contrived by looking at the entire area. During the peaks areas on the south and west side of Chicago along with a handful of suburbs were rampant with fraud. I saw it first hand. Burned out three-flats selling for $300k two days after selling for $200k. This propped up pricing in many low income areas of the city. What are these properties doing today? They’re less than 50 to 75% of those prices. We also need to factor in other areas that saw massive spikes due to random “investors” buying that drove up prices. These areas will take well over another decade and in some cases multiple decades to return to 2006 numbers.

Many areas of the city are at the peak or above the peaks. There is nothing wrong with this. Many areas are seeing tremendous growth and for very good reason. There are multiple areas that I believe will continue to grow very well and will be excellent investments. But I’m sorry, the continued spread of “we’re still far from 2006/7 peaks” is by far the worst data you could use as a reason to buy. The Chicago market is highly localized. It is localized down to neighborhood, down to certain blocks in that neighborhood and even certain buildings.

What data should you look at and listen to?

First off, find yourself a broker that you trust and that when you talk to them they have some basic understanding of the Chicago market as a whole. If they start spewing some of the generalized stats above of why it’s a great time to buy…run! Run like Forest Gump or like you just saw a clown in the woods in the middle of the night. Find yourself someone who is not going to sell you. Find someone who is going to listen to you and truly wants what is best for you. Find someone who truly understands the market place.

Your Realtor should be able to sit down with you and explain the market stats in the areas you’re looking and in the price point / size range you’re looking in. There is nothing wrong with buying a home that is selling for more than it did last year or selling for more than it did during the boom. But you want to make sure you have all the information so you can make a truly informed decision. Avoid generalizations that some brokers give you. Avoid generalizations that websites such as Zillow and Trulia give you. Get down to specifics and focus. You’re about to make a massive investment don’t you owe it to yourself to work with someone who is not only intelligent about the market place but also has your best interests at heart?





Since the passage of the new tax bill for 2018 I have had a handful of clients reach out to me concerned about how the market here in Chicago will be affected by the new tax laws, specifically the tax laws pertaining to home ownership. In the months running up to the new tax bill you may have seen posts on social media or even received e-mails from Realtor friends and the National Association of Realtors (plus local associations) speaking of the detriments of the 2018 tax bill. I thought this would be a good time to have a quick, clear, and honest write up about my personal thoughts on how the tax bill will affect the Chicago real estate market. Please note that I am not an accountant or a tax attorney and you should ALWAYS seek professional advice when it comes to any tax obligation or deduction.

I can only speak to how the tax bill will affect the Chicago market, specifically the downtown, near west, near north, and north side markets. These are the areas I specialize in and the areas where I have the most intimate knowledge of the market and the mindset of the homeowners, buyers, sellers, and renters.

First let us quickly outline the changes in the 2018 tax bill as it pertains to home ownership.

Mortgage Deduction Changes

For NEW home purchases the limit on deducting interest on a mortgage has changed from a mortgage value of $1 million to $750,000. Homeowners with existing mortgages over $750,000 up to $1 million can still deduct their interest up to $1 million. Furthermore, those homeowners can refinance and still deduct interest up to the old $1 million provided that the new mortgage is not greater than the refinance amount. The above holds true for 1st and 2nd homes.

The 2nd home interest deduction is NOT going away. First proposals of the bill had this provision but they were removed. If you are looking to purchase a second home the mortgage deduction may still apply to you provided that the combined amount of the mortgages on your 1st and 2nd home does not exceed $750,000. If you already own two homes with mortgages then you’re grandfathered in up to the old $1 million amount.

Home Equity Loan interest is no longer tax deductible. Previously this was deductible for a home equity loan / line of credit up to $100,000 in value. This is going away for both new AND existing home owners. HOWEVER, the interest of a home equity loan MAY still be tax deductible if the proceeds are used to “substantially” improve the home.

Property Tax Deduction 

The new bill limits state and local municipality tax deduction to a maximum of $10,000 per year. This is what concerned most people because it is not just your property taxes, but a combination of your property taxes AND state income taxes that you pay. No one is grandfathered into this tax law change. Previously this deduction was unlimited.


So as it pertains to real estate the above is a list of the most notable changes to the tax code for 2018. So the question on everyone’s mind in the real estate industry is how will the new tax plan affect home values.

The interest deduction changes do not concern me in the least. They grandfather in current homeowners and they still allow for a healthy deduction of up to $750k and they still include second homes. Our current market is fueled by primary home buyers. It is not fueled by investors like it was over a decade ago. We’re not seeing a bunch of condos going up targeting second home buyers that would push then over the $750k limit.

What does give me some pause for concern is the limit on state and local tax deductions of $10k, specifically because this is a TOTAL amount of tax which includes your state income tax as well.

The $10k limit will apply some slight downward pressure on the housing market, there is  no denying that. Limiting the amount of tax deduction, even if the overall bill ends up a net positive for your pocketbook, in theory does lessen the “reason” to purchase a home.

Will this downward pressure be enough to change home values in Chicago? No, I do not believe so. Keep in mind I’m discussing the markets I work in. I’m not talking about south suburbs, etc. I am talking about downtown Chicago, the north side, the west loop, etc. It has been my experience that those who own in these areas own because they believe in the neighborhoods and they love the neighborhoods. They have children in school and would not uproot them to save some money. More importantly, I don’t see many of these home owners and would be home buyers in a financial position where they would be drastically hurt by the $10k limit on state / local tax deduction.

With the above being said I do believe there are a couple other factors that we should discuss that could bring the property tax deduction into play. By itself I do not believe it is enough to move the market at all. However, I want to discuss two other items.

Multi-Family Overbuild 

We’re seeing a TREMENDOUS amount of building in Chicago of new luxury apartment buildings. In the past year we’ve seen occupancy rates decrease overall in class A luxury apartment buildings. Newer buildings are offering even more concessions and we will see these continue into the spring market as more buildings come on line and even more in 2019. With these concessions in BRAND NEW luxury buildings it is just one more obstacle to get first time home buyers to purchase as long as they don’t need to (having children for example might create a “need”). If they’re single or a couple with no plans for children the rent concessions of these beautiful buildings does provide downward pressure on the housing market. These are typically well to do individuals who pay a large amount of state tax and would be looking at homes, even if a one bedroom that have healthy property tax bills.

At the end of the day, I do not believe we will see any major market shifts across the board because of this. We may see it in certain areas of the market, One Beds priced from 400 to 550k for instance in the downtown market. But for the overall market I do not see much of an effect in Chicago. However, it is something to watch.

Fear Mongering 

Leading up to the passage of this bill and the many versions of it those in the Real Estate industry were posting on social media left and right about how you need to call your congressmen and congresswomen and urge them to vote down this bill. Posts would read “This will lower property values by over 10%” and the like. The National Association of Realtors and the Illinois Association sent me countless e-mails urging me to “take action!”

As much as I appreciate those in our industry looking out for the best interest of our clients and my profession, we sometimes do more harm then good. Think back to the crash. Enough said.

If this fear mongering continues it can be enough to unintentionally scare the market. It was posts like this which lead some of my clients to reach out to me worried. Most of these posts didn’t explain all the changes to the bill. When they did explain the changes they did so in a slanted way. I’m not trying to advocate for this bill, instead I’m just trying to give information and let cooler heads prevail. Frantic social media posting without giving consumers substance does no good and only confuses and panics people. What happens to markets when people are confused and panic?

In Summary…. 

At the end of the day the only way we will know how the market will adjust will be to watch it. From talking with clients and those in the industry, I do not see the Chicago market decreasing in home values. Our inventory is low. Buyers in recent years have been extremely well qualified and continue to be very well qualified. Those who want to buy are not changing their minds. Sure those on the fence may have some pause, but I don’t believe the tax bill will be enough to push them off the fence. If anything it will be other factors that may do so.


Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed Real Estate broker and Realtor with @properties in Chicago. He can be reached at Paul@PKBlackburn.com 

Why Rent Control Would Hurt Chicago

As some of you may have read Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-39th, has sponsored a bill that would remove the Illinois ban on local municipalities instituting rental control laws. While this removal would not put rent control into place it is a slippery slope that may lead to city councils, specifically the Chicago city council, passing rent control laws. While I do believe Mr. Guzzardi is trying to look out for his constituents, I do believe his logic and understanding of basic economics is flawed. I try to avoid political debates or political opinions in my blog, however, I do not look at this as political but instead as economical. I think it is important that rent control and its disastrous outcomes are explained.

First, let us quickly discuss what rent control is. Rent control is when the government puts a max price (a price “ceiling” if you will) on what a landlord can charge tenants. There are various ways in which this is implemented. Now it is important to note that rent controls must cap price levels below the prevailing market in order for them to have any effect. Otherwise, the cap would never be reached and the rent control law would be pointless. Therefore, rent control sets a rate of rent below the current market level. In Chicago, as with most areas where rent control is a topic of discussion, the goal that is looking to be achieved is to allow low income and middle income residents to stay in neighborhoods and not get “priced out.”

When rent control is in place prices are capped at below the prevailing market and several things happen.

  1. Landlords stop investing in their properties. They do so because they have less cash to invest but also because they will not see increased returns. Therefore conditions of properties deteriorate. I do not mean that they become inhabitable, but the overall the conditions of items that are not 100% essential end up deteriorating and therefore hurting the value of the property.
  2. New investment becomes less. If rents are capped below market value then there is little to no incentive for new rental units to be built. Therefore, supply does not increase. In a normal market, rents increase and therefore profits for landlords increase which entice new investment. The increased supply then helps balance the market.
  3. Existing tenants do not move. Tenants enjoying rent control have little to no reason to move out of their current place. Therefore, only those lucky few take advantage of rent control. The on the market supply shrinks. Because of this, landlords can become very picky. Since they can’t raise rents they might as well be as strict as possible and since supply has decreased they will have countless of applications. High credit scores and higher income requirements will become the new norm. Therefore those with less than perfect credit will be left in the cold.

We will also see a spillover in other neighborhoods that do not have rent control. The excess demand that typically would have been satisfied by increased supply in rent control neighborhoods will not move to other neighborhoods. However, these neighborhoods that do not have rent controls will still likely see less supply. After all, rental developers are not stupid. They know rent restrictions may be placed on them too so they in turn will have less an incentive to invest and therefore supply would become restricted in these markets as well. Therefore, since these markets are unrestricted we can expect to see rent increases greater than normal in these areas and in turn making these areas less affordable.

The reason why any price is exists is due to a supply and demand relationship. When the government tries to “cap pricing” what they end up doing is inadvertently lessening supply while demand remains the same. Therefore, those properties not affected by the rent control will increase dramatically in value. Both NYC and San Francisco have forms of rent control.

We would also see a black market exist among landlords and tenants. “Key money” is common in New York and other areas with rent control. Tenants will pay additional move in fees up front in order to help increase the overall effective rent. Tenants who no longer want to live in an a building or neighborhood, but do not want to give up their amazing rent control place will end up subletting their place. The market will always try to return to normal It is like putting up a damn. You may stop the river in one space, but somewhere else it will flood. The one thing that will not change however, will be a lack of supply as investors will not want to invest in real estate when they are dictated by the government what rents they can charge.

With landlords with less cash there will be less money to pay taxes with. There will be less money to make improvements with thus tradesmen will suffer. The upper middle class market will suffer as well as we will see a spillover into these rentals too as I mentioned before. Rents for those making good six figured salaries will increase. Don’t care about them you say? Well, they will have less money to eat out thus bartenders and waiters will make less tips. They won’t shop at that new mom and pop boutique down the road so that store may close. That cleaning person that came every week? Well, now they’ll cut that out of their budget. The worst part about all this is it will not be due to the free market system, instead it will be due to the disruption of the free market system.

According to the Library of Economics and Liberty, 94% of economists believe rent control not only does not work but is a terrible idea. The agreement cuts across political parties and economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (who are on the “right”) agree with Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal (who is on the “left”). Myrdal stated “Rent control has in certain Western countries constituted, maybe, the worst example of poor planning by governments lacking courage and vision.” I could not agree more. According to Crain’s Chicago Business the executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization wrote ” One in five Chicago renters pays more than half their household income on rent.” Instead of fix the systemic issue that we have 1 in 5 renters paying half their income towards rent, politicians think the solution is to pass rent control? Why? Because fixing the systemic issues takes time, planning, and thought. It does not happen in one election cycle. So instead, politicians with zero understanding of basic economics, or worse their indifference to basic economics, try to move forward legislation that sells a dream to their constituents that will simply never be realized.




Trump Repeals FHA Premium Reduction – Here are the FACTS

If you’ve opened up CNBC or checked your Facebook wall, you may have seen articles and messages about President Trump repealing the reduction in FHA premiums. While some articles simply explained this fact, most articles have been presented in such a way that you might think anyone getting a FHA mortgage is left out in the cold. One of my agents even called me worried about how this might affect her client who is getting ready to close with an FHA loan. In order to put the speculation and worry to rest I thought I’d write a short blog explaining what happened with regard to President Trump and the FHA mortgage premium.

First let me give you a quick run down on what an FHA loan is. A FHA loan is a home loan that is insured by the FHA, Federal Housing Administration. Borrowers pay an insurance premium to FHA which protects lender from a borrower default. Typically FHA loans have less strict requirements than other loans and in many cases allow for a smaller down payment. However, borrows must pay a mortgage insurance premium on a monthly basis.

On January 9th a reduction in FHA insurance premiums was passed lessening the insurance premium by 0.25%. This was set to go into place on January 20th. President Trump instead repealed this and froze the current premiums in place.

The NAR along with other organizations said that in 2017 roughly 40,000 would be home owners may no longer be eligible for an FHA loan because this decrease was repealed. Many news organizations and online columnists have since written articles with headlines and opening paragraphs that make it sound as if there were 40,000 people under contract for homes and now they won’t be able to purchase. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

For anyone considering an FHA loan that might be freaking out right now…don’t worry, relax! Calm down. Here are the facts.

The FHA premium reduction would have saved the average FHA borrower $500 per year which works out to roughly. $42 per month. If you want to equate it to loan value, the premium savings on a $200,000 loan would have been $29 per month.

However if you were quoted a FHA loan price your payment is not going up. The FHA premium reduction was not set to take place until January 20th. Underwriting was not being used to qualify people under the new guidelines. If you were set to close on a home you’re still OK because you were quoted at the old price.

Reporters and columnists can argue all day long whether or not the FHA should lower premiums. However, writing articles especially with catchy headlines to imply many people can no longer purchase homes is down right unethical and detrimental to our industry as whole. Understanding the facts of this change is what is most important and not furthering a political agenda or increasing readership a website.

If you want to know more about the cost of a FHA loan simply call a Realtor or a great mortgage broker. In addition to FHA loans there are MANY great FHA alternative programs that can be even cheaper with similar down-payment and qualifications. Don’t let all these online media sources scare you away from looking into purchasing a home.