Should I Buy or Should I Rent?



Ah, the age old question in real estate. Should I buy or should I rent? Well, if you ask any standard Realtor they will tell you BUY! But, if you haven’t figured it out yet I’m not your standard Realtor. I try not to drink the Kool-Aid and instead give you unbiased and practical advice. So in this quick blog I’d like to ask you some questions to help YOU figure out if you should Buy or Rent in Chicago.

Do you know where you want to live for the next 2 to 3 years?

This may sound like an obvious question, but it is a question most people don’t ask themselves. They may want to buy for the purpose of buying, but may focus more on what they can afford versus where they truly want to live in the next 2 to 3 years. So the question I ask you is, where do you want to be? Can you see yourself living there for the next 2 to 3 years? If so, then you’re at least one step closer to buying.

Can you afford home ownership?

Some sales people may say “You can’t afford NOT to buy!” Umm…yeah, whatever…that’s not the right answer. What I mean by, “Can you afford home ownership” is after purchasing the home will you at least have some sort of a financial cushion in the event there are any issues with your home. This can be small things like needing to replace an appliances to larger items such as roof repair on a single family home or a special assessment in a condo building. As long as you have some sort of cash cushion then you’re again one step closer to buying.

Is your family situation stable?

OK, this sounds like an odd question so let me explain what this means. Are you in the process of getting married and thinking of having kids in the next year? If so, then you might want to be looking to buy a place larger than a studio! Sounds like a silly question but you’d be amazed at how some people jump into things. Take your time to consider this. Let me give you good example of clients of mine who did the right thing.

I had a couple contact me off my blog about 4 years ago. They were an absolute delight to work with. We got along extremely well. They were looking at 2 Bedroom condos in River North / Streeterville for up to 375k. However, as we were looking over a month or so, they also started thinking more. They decided to put the search on hold for a bit to decide what they wanted and needed for themselves. A year later we were back on with our search and this time they were married and planning to have a child. Their search criteria now changed to a 3 Bedroom with lots of living space in the areas of Lincoln Park and Lakeview and now they upped their budget. They simply took some time to think about their situation and then they made a wonderful purchase where they will definitely be happy for at least 5 years.

What are you willing to do with your property in the future?

I’ve had some clients who have purchased a property knowing that in the next year they’ll likely move out of town. They still wanted to buy because they planned to rent out the property if they moved and planned to keep it as an investment. If you think you might be moving soon then buying might not be for you, or it might be if you have different goals for the property you are buying. However, if you are thinking of buying and renting out your property then you need to make sure you plan accordingly and purchase accordingly.

What tax laws will benefit me?

The interest deduction is a major factor for many buying today. The ability to write off interest (please consult your tax advisor as everyone’s situation is different!) on your home mortgage is a motivating factor for many. How much will you actually save if you buy? For many this could help make or break the decision in whether or not you should buy.

What is going to make you happy?

Making money on your home is a wonderful thing but focus on where you will be happy living. Look for the maximum value, but remember your happiness is a big part of that value consideration. Would you rather live in a property where you make only 1 to 2% appreciation a year and be extremely happy or would you rather live somewhere that is not your ideal location, but instead have a great chance of return down the road. Everyone is different, but only you can answer that question for yourself.

In some instances people can only be happy if they can remodel their kitchen and make their home exactly how they want it, which is something you cannot do if you rent. So again, if this is you, you’re one step closer to buying.

It is only a decision you can make

It is not a decision your Realtor can make for you, or your friends, or your mother. It is only a decision you can make for yourself. Take all of the above into consideration and make an informed decision.


Paul Blackburn is a licensed Real Estate Broker and Realtor with @properties in Chicago. Paul has been selling real estate since 2007 and is a broker and trainer for the Skowron Group which has sold in excess of $100 million in 2016 alone. For further information or questions please feel free to contact Paul directly at



The Chicago rental market has been on an upward swing since 2010. Downtown Class A rents are up 36% (on a per square foot basis) since 2009 according to Appraisal Research Counselors. But is the end near? I don’t know about you, but every time I speak with someone in multi-family or read an article regarding an apartment sale, I am feeling reminiscent of the 2005 and 2006 sales market. Before I go into a rant regarding the current state of the market, let us back up and discuss the rental market in Chicago over the past decade.

Rental prices sharply declined toward the tail end of the first decade in the 2000s for several reasons. When the economy was still ticking along rental prices remained flat or only saw nominal increases (in some cases decreases) due to the fact that mortgages were not only easy to come by, but cheap to get. Factor in increasing property values and the ability to gain quick equity and everyone and their dog was buying a condo. It made more sense to buy at the time and home ownership in Chicago was at an all time high (71.2% in 2006). Less renters and more buyers meant lower or flat rents and more vacancy in rental buildings. Once the economy started to soften at the end of 2007 and then drastically so in 2008 and 2009, we saw rents decline even further. The other item to remember is during the 2000s very little new construction apartment buildings were built. ALL developers were focused on condo buildings. In addition, some existing supply of apartment buildings were converted into condos (10 E. Ontario, 440 N. Wabash…think American Invsco and Crescent Heights). Now the year is the end of 2009 and 2010. People either 1) cannot afford to buy, 2) cannot get a mortgage or 3) are still hungover from the crash of the market and are afraid to buy. These people then are forced to rent. Remember what I just said about no new construction of apartment buildings in the past 10 years? Remember what I just said about apartment buildings converted into condos? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened – supply on apartments were low but demand was now high. Home ownership was dropping for the first time in decades and therefore rents started spiking.

Rent prices in 2007 and 2008 were quite low in Chicago. The rent increases of 2009 and 2010 and even 2011 were simply making up for lost time. Recovering back to where they should have been had the mortgage market not been flooded with such toxic mortgages that ended up contributing to not only the decline in rental prices but the collapse of the entire financial system. But then something strange happened…rents continued to increase and developers took note. Developers could not get a construction loan to save their lives to build a condo building, but if they wanted to build a 500 unit apartment building backed by secure rents…it was like stealing candy from a baby. Financial institutions could not wait to lend money to developers and developers could not wait to get back in the game.

Why would developers want to become landlords you ask? Are they not in the condo game? Don’t they want to sell? Well, here is a secret – developers are not in the landlord business. They have ZERO interest in being so. Once developers saw the increase in rents and what institutional investors were paying for these apartment buildings they knew they could build a building, with cheap money, partially fill it and then sell it off. Guess what – that is what almost all have done in Chicago. EnV (161 W. Kinzie), 111 W. Wacker, North Water Apartments…just to name a few, were all flipped for a big profit. Developers simply went back to what they knew how to do: build and sell.

The Chicago market LOVED it. After all there had not been any high end rental buildings built in quite some time and renters craved new construction. Each building that opened up after the next had better amenities and better finishes. Renters hopped from building to building and had no problem paying the exorbitant rents. Prices were increasing double digits year after year. Then more developers rushed in and we are sitting where we are today. The question we must now ask ourselves is “Is this market sustainable?”

Is this market sustainable? That is a good question to ask don’t you think? This was a question asked to developers in 2005 in which nearly 100% responded with “Yes….” and then gave some bullshit answer derived from misconstrued facts and skewed data. But, what about now? Will we see a market crash in rentals like we did before? Well…lets check out some facts.

Here is a list provided by Appraisal Research Counselors of new rental units added in downtown Chicago. Keep in mind we are only talking about downtown Chicago and only talking about top tier buildings.

2013: 2,750 units     2014: 2,000 units    2015: 3,100 units and projected in 2016 an additional 3,500 units and in 20017 an additional 4,500. 

This is only downtown Chicago. This does not count north side markets and this certainly does not count any suburbs.

Rents have continued to increase even as new supply has come on the market. There are many reasons for this. Millennials continue to rent as opposed to buy. Baby boomers are coming into the city and renting second homes or selling their home in the burbs and making their rental in the city their primary residence. Job growth in Chicago is steady (it is doing well, but not amazingly well) and lets face it, people love new construction. Home ownership has declined back to 1999 levels in the city of Chicago as well. These are all great factors and reasons why the market has done well, but this is not the only data that we should consider. The most important item to consider is the following: VACANCY. Vacancy is the ultimate determining factor. During the real estate boom of the 2000s the major factor that would have let you known the market was cooling off way ahead of a decline in prices was market time and number of homes on the market. We saw market time increase and number of homes on the market start to increase 1 year before pricing actually peaked. 1 full year…it goes to show you how slow the real estate market is to react to change. There are many reasons for this but the main reason is because most investors and many of us brokers in sales love to have blinders on and simply focus on only the good and not the bad. No one likes the bear in the room.

So, here is a fun fact for you. Apartment occupancy rates on a national level decreased for the first time since 2009 last quarter. Specifically in Chicago Class A (top tier luxury rental buildings) occupancy rates went from 94.2% in the 3rd quarter of 2014 to 93.7% in 2015. This may not seem like much of a change, only half a percent but it is drastic. In 2006 for instance, due to many apartment buildings being converted to condos, occupancy was at 97%. In 2007 and 2008 we saw occupancy dip to 91%. We are really only dealing with a small percentage range of occupancy between the lowest occupancy we’ve seen in a while and the highest. Therefore, a half a percent year over year is something to take note of.

So we have looked at occupancy and we saw it decline a nominal amount. What else should we be considering? Well, let us consider new units projected. Perhaps, if not many new units are coming online then the market will be fine.

Well, in 2016 and 2017 a total of 8,000 new units will be coming to market. This is more than 2013, 2014, and 2015.

During this winter I’ve seen more buildings offer concessions than I have in several years. I’ve seen rent prices at some buildings in downtown down 20% from their summer prices PLUS 1 month or 2 month concessions offered. Some will say “but prices always decrease in the winter.” While this may be true; what I would like to note is the amount prices have decreased this winter is more than years prior and the level of concessions have increased more than years prior.

Continue to bear with me here!

Restaurant Theory:  Pretend a new hot restaurant has opened up. During the “Hot” time of 6:30pm to 9:30pm getting a table is impossible. But you really want to try this restaurant so you go at an off peak time, maybe 5pm or 4pm or 10pm. You walk in and you notice how crowded the restaurant is during that off-peak time. You think wow, this restaurant is doing very well! Once that restaurant starts to loose its luster and is no longer as desirable any more, the first sign would be 4pm diners will stop dining. People will no longer wait until 10pm to eat dinner or want to start at 4pm because either 1) They don’t feel that inconvenient time is worth it or 2) They’re able to snag  reservations during peak times. Now, if you were just looking at the number of tables full between 6:30pm and 9:30pm you might think that restaurant is doing very well. You might think that the sky is the limit and this restaurant needs to expand! But what you’ve failed to realize is that there is already a sign right in front of you that demand is starting to taper off and that would be the fact that less diners are there during the less desirable times. If you only looked at the peak times then your understanding of the restaurant would be mistaken.

Obviously the rental market is very different from the restaurant business, but basic observations of supply and demand can be looked at in the same way. It is important to understand the leading indicators in the rental market. These leading indicators are occupancy rates (vacancy rates) and rent prices and concessions during the slow months of the year.

My Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far thank you for reading through my long winded blog. I’ll keep my thoughts short. The rental market party is over, plain and simply. It may take another 3 quarters for us to start to see price adjustments in the downtown market, but we will see price adjustments eventually. As occupancy rates continue to slide, especially among buildings that are now owned by institutional investors, they will have no choice but to lower rents or increase concessions to attract renters. I believe this will be most prevalent at the end of 2016 / beginning of 2017 as we head into next winter and see the new 2016 supply hit the market. Overall, I do not see a CRASH in rental pricing, but I do see a decrease on the horizon and I would not be surprised if we see rents decrease in Class A buildings by 10% over the next 2 years.


North Water Apartments is located in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood; east of Michigan avenue and just north of the river at 340 E. North Water. North Water is connected to Chicago’s Loews Hotel which makes North Water Apartments Chicago’s first building to have only rentals and a hotel in one (The Aqua has rentals and condo). What makes North Water unique is residents enjoy private amenities and do not need to share their amenities with the hotel guests. However, you have many benefits from being connected to the Loews hotel which I will explain shortly.

North Water Apartments & Loews Chicago

North Water Apartments & Loews Chicago

I am going to give my review of North Water Apartments from my perspective of not only a Realtor, but also a resident in the building. I moved into the building at the end of April, 2015 only a few weeks after the building opened.

North Water Apartments is a fully amenity building. We have a phenomenal gym, cycle room, outdoor heated pool (they always keep it at 85 degrees) with sun deck, outdoor grills with eating area and outdoor TV.  We have a free coffee bar 24/7 and business area / conference room. There are two indoor lounges, both complete with kitchens, TVs and fireplaces. The lounge on the 50th floor can be reserved and the 50th floor also has a roof deck. Door staff is 24/7, dry cleaners / tailors are in the building and additional storage and bike storage is available as well. All of the above amenities are for residents only and hotel guests have zero access to them. That is the best part and is what differentiates this building from other hotel / apartment concepts not only in Chicago but in the country.

As the building fills up we will soon be able to order from the hotel’s room service…this can get addicting! You can access the hotel without walking outside which means you have access to 3 bars and a restaurant. Trust me, this can get quite addicting as well!

The units themselves are outfitted with what you’d expect from a higher end rental building. Wood Flooring, Quartz Countertops, SS Appliances. A few nice pluses: All the cabinet drawers and doors are self close. There are more outlets than you will know what to do with, including in the hallway closet! I am in an 08 tier which is the “J” unit. My unit has a HUGE walk in closet which is one reason we were attracted to this unit. We were moving from a condo with a 6 x 10 walk in closet and I’m happy to say this closet fits everything we have and then some.

I’m a big fan of the hallways in this building. Even though you are not in a hotel, the hallways make you feel like you are. It is always as disappointing feeling when I step into what looks like a nice building from the lobby, but the hallways disappoint. Here, no expense was spared.

Views, Views, Views!

There are 2 “main” views in the building as the building runs length wise north and south, meaning the majority of the units face either East or West. If you face east you get perfectly clear lake views no matter what floor you are on. Watching the fireworks at Navy Pier is not a problem at all, nor is watching the sunrise in the wee hours of the morning. The west views offer incredible city, river and sunset views. What is important to note, however, is that this IS A VIEW BUILDING! LITERALLY ALL THE UNITS have a great view. We opted for the west view. I love looking down the river early in the morning when I wake up and the view is even more stunning at night. See below!

North Water Apartments

                     North Water Apartments


Service, in my opinion, is just as important as the aesthetics of the building or the amenities inside. The door staff at North Water Apartments goes above and beyond to take care of anything you need. From packages brought up and put inside your unit while you’re away, to hailing a cab in the rain to helping you get stuff out of your car…the list goes on.

Our building manager has also arranged to many different events in the building. We’ve had “Move in the Pool” night when management arranged to have a giant blow up screen and movie play at the pool (complete with popcorn, cotton candy and floating pool chairs). We’ve had brunches and cocktail hours so we can get to know our neighbors and we’ve even had cooking classes.

About Me

If you’ve read any of my blogs in the past about rental buildings or renting in Condo Buildings versus Apartment Buildings, you know I have ALWAYS been biased toward renting in condo buildings. I’ve recommended them for a multitude of reasons including better finishes, better kept building, etc. However, in this case, I personally have moved into North Water Apartments because for the money I have yet to find a condo building that can compare or another rental building that can compare. Now I know there are many new rental buildings opening up in 2016 and 2017, but at the current time, in my humble opinion, North Water Apartments is one of the best places to rent in the city.




Luxurious Gourmet Kitchen

Luxurious Gourmet Kitchen

The above photo may look like a property in Chicago’s River North or hip Wicker Park / Bucktown neighborhoods, but it is not; it is located at 6900 N. Sheridan in Chicago’s Rogers Park community. 6900 Sheridan was purchased a few years ago by a developer that did an extensive luxury renovation on the property. The developer attempted to sell the units as condos but had no luck. Instead, he ended up selling the building off a whole, to my client who has decided to rent out the units. The building is comprised of a total of 6 units. Four 2 Bedroom / 2 Bathroom, One 3 Bedroom / 2.1 Bathroom and One large 4 Bedroom / 2.1 Bathroom Penthouse unit.

Exterior of 6900 Sheridan

The building is located in a great area of Rogers Park. It is a short walk to Loyola, only steps from the lake (literally only steps) and a short drive to Evanston / Northwester University.

Living Room Inside 6900 Sheridan

Living Room Inside 6900 Sheridan

The finishes of these apartments cannot compare to anything on the north side of Chicago. The quality is truly astounding and would shock and awe anyone regardless of where they are looking; from a high rise in Chicago’s Gold Coast to a sleek modern building in Bucktown.

Some Features Include:

– Skyora Cabinetry

– Quartz Countertops

– Exotic Porcelain and Marble Baths

– Freestanding Soaking Tubs

– Steam Showers

– Heated Bathroom Floors

– Thermador / Wolf / Miele Appliances

– Modern Fireplaces in all units

– Full Size Front Loading Washer / Dryer

The list goes on!

So, now the real question, what about pricing? Well, prices start at $2,600 for our 1250sf 2 Bedroom units and go all the way up to $5,500 for our penthouse unit. Parking is available as well. The property is fully complete and move ins can start right away. We are currently holding units for 60 days, meaning we can accommodate a September 1 lease start date.




North Water Apartments, located at 340 E. North Water in the new Loews Hotel Chicago development, is finally open for business! The apartment side of the Loews Hotel boasts a total of 398 units from studios to large 3 Bedroom units. There are a great number of Convertible and One Bedroom units with varying floor plans and views. The finishes are what you would expect from a higher end rental building in Chicago including SS Appliances, Quartz Counter Tops, Hardwood Floors in the living spaces, Floor to Ceiling Windows and modern bathrooms.

Many new rental buildings in Chicago have tried to lure potential renters with a full list of amenities. Many rental buildings use this to justify their higher rent price than comparable condo buildings. In my opinion there are few buildings that truly offer a full list of amenities, but North Water Apartments definitely offer that and more.

The Amenities available to the renters at the Loews building offers the following:

Outdoor Pool with Sundeck

Outdoor Grills

Lounge area with bar space, fire place and seating

Full Gym and Aerobics Room 

50th Floor Roof Deck

50th Floor Party Room with Full Service Kitchen

24hr Door Staff

Heated Garage Parking and Storage available at extra charge

Residents will also have access to hotel amenities and will be able to take advantage of perks such as Room Service, Maid Service and a Concierge as well as Dry Cleaning on site. The apartment section has its own set of amenities which means the residents will not need to compete with the hotel guests to enjoy their gym or outdoor space.

The Loews Hotel is a 4.5 star hotel which will still aim to compete with the 5 star hotels in Chicago. The building itself houses an Argentinean steakhouse called Rural Society by famed chef Jose Garce. The lobby bar is a great open space serving their own twist on classic cocktails along with a simple, but inventive food menu. Come warmer weather, however, the biggest attraction will be the massive roof deck (on the 3rd floor) which Loews claims will be the largest rooftop bar in the city of Chicago.

Personally, I am slightly biased and must admit that I just leased an apartment at the Loews. I was considering multiple buildings in the area such as The Parkview (505 N. McClurg), 240 E. Illinois, 340 E. Randolph and pure apartment buildings such as 500 Lake Shore and 111 W. Wacker but found the quality and amenities at this building to be a combined, overall win.

I do not want this blog post to sound like a sales pitch for the building, since if you’ve read my blogs you know I try to stay very middle of the road, but I must say I am very excited to move into this building. On Monday March 2nd, the hotel was officially open for business so I stopped by the hotel bar after work and had a couple of drinks. The bar area was mostly full which was great to see. The lobby was large and open, but the bar space had a very nice cozy feel to it. I chatted with our bartender Tracy about the building and it is clear that the staff is just as excited about the building and concept as I am (that is always a great sign)! If you happen to stop by the bar be sure to see Tracy, she makes great drinks and is a pleasure to talk to! My Belvedere Martini and Old Fashioned were $12 each which is normal by Chicago standards but actually a bit cheap in comparison to hotel standards (think about the pricing for The Witt or Trump, etc.). But I must stop reviewing the bar and stick to the building.

At the end of the day, the residents at North Water Apartments will be able to access all bar and restaurant areas of the Loews hotel in addition to a Starbucks without walking outside. The views from every unit are fantastic. We snagged a nice, high floor, large One Bedroom facing west with incredible views of the skyline and the river. Very soon we will be moving in!

Pricing. Pricing is of course subject to change for the building so I do not want to mention it on this blog, but feel free to reach out to me for the most up to date pricing.

If you have any questions about this building or others in the area please let me know. If you’d like to tour units of this building or others I can arrange that for you and help you with your search.

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

Chicago Condos Still Selling Fast!

Buyer demand, in Chicago’s “hottest” neighborhoods, has continued this spring and will likely continue throughout the summer and fall. Inventory levels remain low throughout Chicago’s best neighborhoods such as Streeterville, River North, Gold Coast, West Loop, South Loop, Lincoln Park, Lakeview…need I go on?

We are seeing many first time buyers enter the market, but they are not the same first time buyers we saw years ago. The last real estate crash scared many away from buying for a significant period of time. Therefore, we are seeing many first time buyers that have established families and excellent income levels. Many think when we say the “first time buyer market” is hot, we are only talking about cheaper condos priced between $100,000 and $300,000. This is no longer the case. Many first time buyers are now couples with children who are purchasing larger units throughout the city at, and even well above, $500,000.

In-Town buyers are back again in full force as well. What we thought may have just been a fad when interest rates were at 3.5%, second home buyers continue to pick up property in Chicago. To clarify, what I mean by “In-Town” buyers are people who have their primary residence elsewhere and are purchasing a home in the city to use on the weekends and holidays, etc. These buyers are not just purchasing small studios, but instead are purchasing everything from high level, large One Bedroom condos (think Trump or The Pinnacle where 1 Beds sell for $525,000 on up) and even single family homes!

If you follow national on the real estate market you will see random stats such as new home starts are skyrocketing but at the same time builders confidence level is decreasing. Some stats are showing that there are less first time home buyers than a year ago. I can see this being true, but after all we had so many people sit on the fence for several years that it would only make sense we would see one year (last year) with an abnormally high amount of first time home buyers. We can’t compare every year to last year! Though, economists always love to do that.

In conclusion, what should you take away from this? The condo market in Chicago is very healthy. Supply is low, demand is high across the board from various types of buyers and buyers that are interested in various types of products. This means the market is healthy; it is as simple as that.

New Rating System for Condo Associations? Could this catch on?

When buying a condo the biggest concern you should have is the state of the condo association. You are not just buying a property to live in, but you are also buying into an association which manages the common grounds of the property, pays bills for the property, among other things. During the last real estate crash we saw many condo associations in financial difficulty due to mismanagement of funds, poor management companies (or complete lack of) and inexperienced board members who had no business being on a condo board in the first place.

When you purchase a condo in the state of Illinois you are entitled to certain things. You can gather all the information from the condo association such as the meeting minutes, the budget, their bylaws, rules & regulations and a form called a 22.1. A 22.1 form is a standard form that asks questions of the condo association such as “Is the association involved in any litigation” or “Are there any special assessments planned?”

Some buyers take the time to review this information but others do not. In my opinion, this information is extremely critical. I always review these documents for my clients and stress that they review them on their own and direct any questions they have to myself and/or their attorney. A new company, founded here in Chicago, is out to standardize how condo associations are evaluated. They have developed a system, similar to the FICO Credit Score system that evaluates condo associations based on numerous, numerous factors. They then assign a numerical score to the condo association. Their thought is that such a score is much easier understood than evaluating all the condo docs that a buyer may receive. Their thought is “this way, a buyer can look at the score and know immediately the general health of the building itself.”

From a pure business perspective I think the idea is brilliant as it definitely fills a need and want in the market place. From a practicality standpoint, in the real estate industry, I am a little worried about some problems that may arise from such a system.

One of the concerns I have is that buyers will start to simply rely on only the rating. The problem is, with any rating system, no matter how forward thinking they may be, the rating is only good for a current point in time. It does not look forward or help predict problems that may arise in the future. While it may provide valuable insight into a condo associations current health it also takes the work away from the buyer. The buyer may say “great, I don’t have to read all these documents now” but the buyer will also then be less educated as to what is going on with their association.

What about condo associations on the rebound? As many of you may have experienced there have been associations that have had financial problems in the past. What about those that are on the mend? What kind of rating will they get? Could a low rating due to problems in the past keep them down and delay their recovery?

Does this now add to the already expensive process of buying and selling a home? Will this become the new industry norm that not only buyers will use but banks may use during their underwriting process as well? Could this eventually mean longer wait times for mortgages or could it mean lesser wait times because the banks will now only have to look at a score given by this rating agency?

The biggest concern I have, however, are those that will now look at such a rating agency as a replacement for their own due diligence. It was this attitude that spurred the credit bubble we saw just over a half decade ago and it is something we cannot afford to see again. I believe the concept of Association Evaluation is phenomenal and can be a wonderful tool for buyers, sellers and condo associations. But again, it needs to be just that, a tool and not a replacement for Realtor’s, Buyers, and Lenders own due diligence.



How do you choose a Realtor (Real Estate Broker) in Chicago whether you are looking to buy or sell? What should you look for?

Real estate brokerages would love you to believe that it is difficult to become a Realtor. I’ve been in the business for 7 years and I can easily tell you, based on the experiences I have had with other agents, that almost anyone can enter this business. Whenever the barrier to entry is low, no matter what the field is, you are bound to attract…..idiots. The fact remains that many people in the real estate business, should NOT be in the real estate business. A Real estate broker is helping you with the purchase or the sale of one of your largest assets, if not THE largest asset you will own. So what should you look for when choosing an agent? How do you pick out the idiots from the heard so you know to avoid them?

An agent that Shuts Up:

An agent should not try to talk your ear off right away. Instead, they should shut up and listen to you. They should listen to your needs and your wants. They should ask you questions and just as important; they should know what questions to ask you. Your agent should not be there to SELL you, instead, they should be there to advise you (and sell your home if that is what you hired them to do).

An agent that is all-knowing:

Surely, an agent can’t know everything and any agent that says they do is a load of crap. What I mean by “all-knowing” is that your agent should UNDERSTAND all aspects of the business. They need to understand how mortgages work, from application through the underwriting process. They should understand the basics of real estate law and contract law. They should understand basic accounting so they can help you evaluate the financials of a condominium association. They do not need to be experts in these fields, but they need basic knowledge in all these fields.

In each transaction it is my job to act as a facilitator. I am here to make sure the attorney is doing things properly, to make sure the mortgage broker is doing things properly, to make sure the condo association is turning over the proper paperwork to my client, and to make sure the agent on the other side of the transaction is doing things properly. Your agent is likely not an attorney nor a mortgage broker, but they should strive to learn as much as they can about these topics. They need to be your advocate throughout the entire transaction.

Knowledge of the market

Real estate is extremely localized and in Chicago there are neighborhoods, within neighborhoods which influence everything from pricing to schools to the overall “feel” of the neighborhood. Your agent needs to know these neighborhoods like the back of their hand. If they don’t, then they should not be working in that neighborhood. They should be able to give you at least rough pricing off the top of their head. While specific pricing may require your agent to look up comparable sales; your agent should be able to at least give you a price range for sale or if you’re a buyer tell you if something is over priced off the top of their head. If they cannot, then they do not know the market well enough.

Not a side job

Your agent cannot be part time. I am sorry, but these agents just piss me off. Helping someone with such a large purchase or sale is NOT a part time gig. If you had $100,000 to invest would you go to a “part time” financial adviser? If you were sick would you go to a “part time” medical doctor? No you wouldn’t, so don’t go to a part time agent.

Your agent needs to be on time

Your agent needs to be on time. If your agent is constantly late, they don’t respect your time. But more importantly, if they can’t manage their time how can they manage anything else? Precision and details are important in this business. If you are buying a home for $500,000 do you want your agent to do things with precision?

An agent that discounts themselves

There was a trend a while back, which is thankfully going away, where agents would greatly discount commissions and kickback large amounts of their commissions to buyers. I will not name the services in this blog, but instead, all I will say is you get what you pay for. The most successful and knowledgeable agents in Chicago do not need to discount their services. Would you trust a doctor that advertised a $25 physical exam? I’m thinking not so much. Same is true with the real estate profession. By the same token, however, hold your agent to high standards. Understand that they are getting paid to represent you and you should expect nothing but the absolute best from your agent.


First Time Home Buyers always have a lot of questions. Listed below are some of the most common questions and concerns I hear working with home buyers in Chicago.

What Neighborhood in Chicago is the best investment?

Chicago is extremely diverse with so many different neighborhoods each offering their own “feel.” The old saying is real estate is “Location, Location, Location.” This saying continues to be very true, but not just for your pocket book. If you are buying a home to live in, then YOU need to enjoy the location. Try not to get too wrapped up in “How much will this area appreciate in the coming years” but instead focus on “What will I enjoy about this neighborhood while I live  here?” Many buyers don’t give themselves enough credit. The things in a neighborhood that you love or hate, are likely the same things that the next buyer will love or hate as well. Focus on what you will love about the neighborhood first and then focus on what appreciation you may see in the future. After all, if you don’t like the location, then are you really getting your money’s worth?

How much space do I really need in Chicago?

Do you want a two bedroom or a one bedroom? What is more important to you: Space or Quality? Sure, it is great to have both but if price remains the same quality will decrease as space increases. Many people may say “One Bedrooms are not good for resale” In some areas this may be true, but overall I do not find this to be the case. Instead, you need to ask yourself the question “OK, this is only a One Bedroom but what do I like about it over some of the Two Bedrooms I have seen?” Chances are the quality is better, the living room space may be larger, the view may be better. Are these things important to you?


How close are you to Transportation? Do you use the CTA or no? While that six block walk to the red line may seem wonderful in the summer time, it will feel like hell in the winter time so keep that in mind. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t mind walking a mile to the train in the freezing cold then your options can be much broader. If you are like me a despise walking even two minutes in the cold then your options will need to be more constrained.

Stay within your means

You may love the amazing condo that is pushing your budget but what good is it if you can’t afford to furnish it properly or enjoy the wonderful restaurants and bars down the street. Be conservative with your budget. Sometimes you can spend less money on a purchase and then some money on great renovations or furnishings and end up with a place that is perfect for you.

New Apartment Buildings Still Going Up In Chicago!

Well, the craziness continues. Another apartment developer just acquired a piece of land in the west loop on Jackson and plans to break ground by November on a new apartment building. Buildings that broke ground at the beginning of the rental boom are now finally open and filling up quickly but the question still remains how long will this craze last?

Personally, I’ve seen market times increasing for rentals in Chicago. I’m observing this from my own personal listings only and have not run my own data analysis but I would assume market times are slowly increasing across the board. Prices increased a great deal over the past couple years but I cannot see any large year over year increase in 2014 as thousands of new class A rental units hit the market.

What I find most amazing are the amount of developers who continue to push forward and investors who continue to acquire large scale apartment projects as cap rates continue to decline as prices rise….when will it end? Many apartment developers continue to use to the phrase “apartment demand is sustainable” but for those of us who have a half way decent memory we heard this phrase plenty of times from developers in 2005, 2006 and even at the end of 2007 when the condo boom was coming to a screeching halt. Will we ever learn?

Smart Money: I saw smart money move over a year ago from apartment buildings back into condo development. Right now they’re sitting pretty selling out even before completion of their small projects.

Sure, there will always be demand for apartments but if there is one thing the real estate market has taught me, it is that when demand is for 2,000 units developers love to build 4,000.