Chicago Real Estate Market Update!

 Chicago Market Update

I am sure you have seen market updates in the news and in the paper over the past months speaking of the positive trends in the real estate market. While these market reports can be very valuable in understanding the current market conditions, however, I prefer to write my own to explain in my own words with regard to what is taking place in the current real estate market.


Buyer traffic has increased dramatically not only for my own business but for that of my colleagues. When the market first started to stabilize we saw first time home buyers primarily driving the numbers up. However, in recent months we have seen an increase in second and third time buyers as well as those purchasing in-town and vacation properties in Chicago.

While individual markets within Chicago are highly localized with respect to demand levels, we have seen increased demand throughout Chicago’s most popular neighborhoods.


Believe it or not the largest challenge currently facing the market place, from the Realtor perspective, is the lack of inventory. While great deals can still be had and property prices are phenomenally low, demand has gobbled up excess inventory in most markets. This decrease in supply levels has caused multiple offer situations and some properties to sell in excess of the list price.

Investors Getting Back Into the Market

We have seen a tremendous amount of investors get back into the housing market, which is more than likely due to the low return in other areas such as treasuries and equities. Foreclosed properties, particularly in the downtown market are often selling for well above list price and are receiving multiple offers within hours of hitting the market.  This has greatly helped the market overall as it has started to increase prices in some of Chicago’s most troubled buildings such as 10 E. Ontario, 440 N. Wabash, 345 N. LaSalle, etc.

We are even starting to see areas that were dramatically over built during the boom, such as the South Loop, regain excellent traction. Specific areas within the South Loop (short walking distance to Roosevelt & Michigan/State) have seen a great Increase in buyer demand. These buyers have depleted inventory in several of the South Loop’s most established buildings.


Some seller’s are under the assumption that since the market is picking back up they can now obtain the price they paid years ago. This is definitely NOT the case. While the market has picked up significantly we are only seeing marginal increases in pricing at the current time.  While demand is strong it is not strong enough to sustain excess levels of price increase or interest rate increase.


Financing has eased slightly and is heading in the right direction but obtaining a mortgage still requires good qualification on the part of the borrower. We have, however, seen increased lending options for investors as well as owner occupants in “troubled” buildings. These financing options are definitely more expensive as the lender must take into account the increased risk, but we are starting to see a glimmer of hope for some buildings that were impossible to finance years ago.

Is it a Good Time to Buy?

It is actually a great time to buy! Currently this market requires patience, as inventory levels are low. The positive side is that interest rates and prices are still extremely low.  Builders are slowly starting to enter the market again and are delivering High Quality product that in 2007 would have cost anywhere from 20 to 50% more.


Rental Market

The rental market in Chicago remains strong and we have seen double digit rent increases over the past several years. As the job market recovers we are seeing increased demand for rental property as young professionals seek housing in the downtown market place. However, developers are quick to answer that call and currently have 15 high rises under construction in downtown Chicago which will add over 5,000 units to the market in the next year.

My concern for the rental market is with interest rates low and a stabilized housing market we will see a decrease in demand growth for rental property. While I do believe that rental demand will increase in the coming year it will do so at a slower pace than expected and I do believe that developers are outpacing demand with supply for 2014.



What is QE3? What is the Fed doing? How will QE3 affect the housing market or mortgage interest rates?

Lets start with the basics and explain what QE is. QE stands for Quantitative Easing. It is a tool used by the Federal Reserve Bank when their traditional monetary tools are ineffective or have been exhausted. When the Fed engages in QE they purchase financial assets from banks. The goal of QE is to put a specific amount of money on the balance sheets of banks, more specifically around a certain asset. Why is the Fed doing this? The Fed has already brought their target rate down to Zero by purchasing large quantities of treasuries. With a target rate of zero already in place the Fed needs to step outside the box of traditional monetary policy in order to inject money into the system.

How is QE3 different from QE1, QE2 and Operation Twist? With the previous quantitative easing the Fed had a predetermined amount of money that they were going to inject into the system (700billion, etc). The best way to put this into perspective would be to compare it to a doctor shocking the heart of a patient to get it beating again. Typically QE is a large sum of money that has been predetermined and is injected into the economy over a specified period of time (3 months, 6 months, etc). What is unique with QE3 is that it is open ended. The Fed said that they will be buying $40 Billion in MBS (Mortgage Backed Securities) each month until they see employment numbers return. Again the best way to explain this is it is similar to a doctor giving you medication until they see the symptoms of your illness go away.

Will QE3 have an affect on mortgage prices or the housing market? It is difficult to say. The HOPE behind QE3 is that it will push interest rates lower for mortgages and therefore help spur the housing market further. How or why would this work? If the government purchases Mortgage Back Securities the idea is that prices of the average MBS will rise. This in theory will encourage banks to lend more money so they can package the mortgages and sell them making quicker profits. The banks will say “hey we need more loans to sell off and we have all this cash, lets lower rates to make more loans.”

Problem #1: There is no one telling the banks to loan lower or to loan more. The basic forces of supply and demand may encourage them to but there is no definite answer.

Problem #2: The underwriting departments of many banks are currently backlogged. Lender let much of their underwriting staff go and shrunk the size of their mortgage departments during the recession. If the banks cannot handle the increased business then they simply cannot increase their output of lending unless they hire more staff. The question is will the minor increase in profits from QE3 be enough to encourage banks to hire more staff? We don’t know, we will have to wait and see.

Problem & Benefit: The Fed has said that QE3 has no deadline. They said they will continue QE3 until they see improvement in the economy, specially in jobs numbers. If you’re a lender and you need to hire increased staff to handle the increased business from QE3 you’re going to be hesitant to do so because you don’t know how long the Fed will continue with the program. While you can look at economic forecasts and estimate you still don’t have a definitive answer.

Will mortgage rates go lower because of QE3: The answer to this is clearly dependent on how the above problems I posed work themselves out. There have been a few different estimates. Currently 30yr fixed conventional mortgages are hovering around 3.8% APR. Some analysts have said that we could see mortgage rates drop to 3.5% while other see them going even lower to just above 3%. We saw results from Operation Twist push interest rates down roughly half a percent. No matter what it is that we will see, it will definitely happen slowly over time as the money (40 billion a month) is being injected into the economy slowly, over a period of time.


Has the market bottomed in Chicago? Is the real estate market in Chicago on a rebound? Where do I see the condo market in Chicago? These are questions asked to Realtors on a day to day basis. Unfortunately we are not fortune tellers but we do know the market quite well and understand its pulse. I am happy to say it does have a pulse, a good one! Here are my thoughts on the market and whether or not you should be a buyer right now or a renter!

My overall feeling of the condo market in Chicago is positive. When I am speaking of the condo market I am speaking of the most popular areas to purchase a condo. Everything from South Loop up north to Edgewater and as far west as Wicker Park and Bucktown and everything in between.

If you are a renter right now you will see that inventory is scarce. More people are renting now than buying and this has pushed prices up. Over the past 10 years we did not see any new construction for apartments. We saw the opposite; condo conversions. This lessened the supply of rental property. Now that the economy has rebounded and those out of college have employment again we are seeing increased demand for renters. We then add into the fact that much of the public were afraid to buy over recent years, or could not obtain financing, and we have a perfect storm for increasing rental prices.

However, since the economy has stabilized so has consumer confidence. We couple this with increasing rent prices and BAM! People want to start buying again! Investors and first time buyers started entering the market (on a more consistent basis) about 2 years ago. Most notably, in the past 6 to 9 months buyers have been coming out of the wood work and eating up all the excess inventory. Renters have finally become fed up with paying high rents and also having the lack of places to choose from. It is one thing to pay high rent prices but it is another to pay high prices but not have any GREAT options. This has forced many to BUY.

Inventory levels of condos in Chicago have dropped to record lows (record since the crash). The challenge is that quality inventory for purchase is actually scarce, at least condos priced properly. If a condo is priced right it will easily sell with in 30 days in today’s market. Versus 3 years ago when exceptionally priced properties still took months to sell.

So what does this mean? Is it a good time to buy? Yes and no! If you know where you want to live and plan to be there for at least 3 full years before you need to put the property on the market, then yes I would say it is a good time to buy. I also recommend to all my buyers to look at their property as a true investment. Instead of asking the question “What can I sell this for in 3 to 5 years” ask the question “What can I rent it for?”  Why do I say rent it?

Prices won’t be skyrocketing anytime soon! While prices have stabilized they won’t be increasing at “normal levels (3 to 5% a year)” for a while. Sure, you may snag a great deal and your return may be great, but the overall market is going to recover slowly. Here is why:

Remember how I said inventory levels were low right now? The reason inventory is low is not because people LOVE their homes and refuse to sell. Inventory is low because many people still don’t want to take a hit on their homes. Many people may be under water or near the edge of the water. What we will see happen is the market start to tick up and then some sellers unload their property because they finally can cover their mortgage or put enough in their pocket where it is worth them selling. This doesn’t mean the market is unhealthy nor does it mean that it is not the right time to buy. It simply means the market is walking slowly in the right direction.

Lets say the market just had leg surgery and is in physical therapy. It is walking again and moving forward…just at a very slow pace and every one in a while it will need to rest for a few minutes. Eventually, however, the market will return to normal. We are on the right path and I’m happy to say we can finally breath again!!

Paul Blackburn is a licensed Illinois Realtor and associate Broker with @ Properties in Chicago. He can be reached via e-mail at  For more information about purchasing a home in Chicago please visit


What are the problems someone should look out for when buying foreclosures in Chicago? Is it easy to buy a foreclosure?

As the real estate market in Chicago is heating up we are seeing increased amount of investors getting back into the market and taking advantage of foreclosures. When I speak of foreclosures I am talking about bank owned properties, NOT properties that are “going into foreclosure” or have yet to be officially taken over by the bank.

If you are looking to buy a foreclosure what are the challenges that you may be facing throughout the process?

Competition: In the past year I have noticed that most foreclosures are priced so greatly under market value that they not only elicit multiple offers, but elicit offers are ABOVE list price.  This means that you must go in with your highest and best offer right off the bat.

Timing: Fannie & Freddie owned properties typically have a 15 day clause in the listing not allowing investors to purchase for the first 15 days on the market. This means that only Owner Occupants can purchase within the first 15 days. This does not mean, however, that the bank must negotiate with your offer. Many times they will wait the full 15 days in order to get an offer at or above list price. If you are an owner occupant and want to get the property above an investor you must still present the bank with the “perfect” offer in order for them to accept it and take the property off the market before opening up to investors.

Sold AS-IS: While the basic foreclosure addendums used by most banks allow for an inspection, the banks will NOT make any repairs to the property and will typically NEVER offer you a credit for such repairs.

Cash is King: At the end of the day the bank will net the same amount of money regardless if you are taking out a mortgage or paying cash. Where cash becomes very important, however, is when you are buying properties that are not finance-able. Many people think these are only the burnt out single family homes that we see for $5,000 on Realtor.Com but the truth of the matter is that this issue exists for many condos throughout Chicago. If a condo association has a high rate of rentals and/or litigation financing can become almost impossible. Therefore, if you are buying a property in this type of situation you must ALWAYS come in with a Cash offer.

Remove Contingencies: A great way to move your offer to the top is to remove contingencies in your offer. Remove mortgage contingencies and inspection contingencies in order to lessen the opportunities you have to back out of the deal. This does not mean you cannot inspect the property or cannot obtain a mortgage. It just means that if you are unable to get financing or if you uncover a problem with the property you do not have a legal way out of the contract.

Be Patient: While foreclosures are much quicker than short sales, responses from banks can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks depending on the system they use to submit and review offers. The banks will move at their own pace and there is nothing you can do to “hurry them up.”

Backed Assessments: You will receive clean title when you purchase a foreclosure but you may be responsible for some costs. Backed assessments can become your responsibility due to an Illinois law that is a couple years old. This law says that the new buyer may be responsible for up to 6 months of backed assessments. Be sure to review all financials for the property and include this into your budget when considering your offer price.


Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed Realtor and associate Broker with @ Properties in Chicago. He can be reached via e-mail  For more information about buying condos in Chicago please visit


Many first time buyers in Chicago start their search on the internet and come across some “great deals” that beg the question: Why are these condos so cheap? What is wrong with them? Well, first the buyer must know that each neighborhood in Chicago is different. However, if we narrow down into some of the most popular neighborhoods, such as those surrounding downtown, there may be instances where units in a particular building are much much cheaper than a neighboring building. Why is this? Why is one building 50% less than a building next door when features and amenities are almost identical?

One of the largest negative factors in today’s market are poorly managed or run condo associations or associations that have special assessments or litigation. The association manages the common space of the building. It also controls the daily duties of maintenance staff, door staff, etc. Most times the associations hire a professional management company but all the costs or issues pertaining to the building still fall on the association.

We’ve seen several common problems with some associations over the past few years. Some of these problems can adversely affect the ability of buyers to obtain financing and thus make it difficult for sellers to sell.

Here are some of the common problems:

Special Assessments due to poor construction: While this problem can manifest itself all over Chicago it has been most prevalent in the South Loop. The South Loop saw buildings fly up over night and such quick building can often lead to construction defects. Most buildings in the South Loop DO NOT have problems, but some do. When a building has a major issue…lets say the facade is cracking throughout the structure or water is leaking in off each balcony into the unit…the problem must be corrected. If the building is newer the association will typically sue the developer in order to have the developer correct the problem or pay to correct the problem. In the case of some buildings that have these issues the developers have either filed for Bankruptcy or are well protected enough that such lawsuits would take forever to bring money to the table.

With all this being said how does it effect values? Some buildings have had to levy massive special assessments in the ranges of $14 to $20 Million. Huge special assessments such as these are typically paid over time. The association gets a loan to fix the problem and then increases the monthly assessments on each unit in order to pay back the loan. The assessments are essentially what is used as collateral for the loan. In some cases assessments can jump from $300 to $800/mo. These high assessments will scare away buyers and the special assessment still on the books for the association may make it more difficult for someone to obtain financing. This can drastically decrease values.

Timing: The timing of construction of some buildings can be integral in whether or not values have sustained or fallen in recent years. Buildings that were completed in 2007 and 2008 have an unusually high foreclosure and short sale rate due to the fact that many buyers bought at the height of the market. The more buyers that “overpaid” for their units the more chances there are of owners walking away from their properties or short selling. Since short sales take much longer than traditional sales the pricing on shorts are typically less than a traditional sale of the same type of property since less buyers want to wait around for a short sale.

Litigation: Banks never like to see associations involved in litigation. Some litigation is not a big deal. If an association has completed work on the building and is simply suing a developer or a contractor to RECOVER costs then it isn’t that big of a deal. However, if the association has NOT completed the work and is suing a developer or contractor for money then this basically means that the work is CONTINGENT upon the outcome of a lawsuit. Either the developer/contractor pays if the association wins or the association loses and then is not only on the hook for attorney fees but also for the work which must be completed which means a special assessments. Banks just as much as buyers do not like “NOT KNOWING” the future. This means that not only is financing more difficult but less buyers are interested in these types of properties.




RELATED MIDWEST TAKES OVER MUSEUM PARK! 1201 Prairie, 1600 Museum Park, 1901 Calumet

One Museum Park West, located at 1201 S. Prairie, is one of those buildings in the South Loop that has mostly black windows at night and it is obvious that the majority of the units remain unsold. There was great concern over the past year, especially for those who bought into Museum Park West that the remaining units may become rentals. Crain’s Chicago has announced that Related Midwest (currently responsible for building apartments across Chicago) has teamed up with lenders to take over 238 units in 1201 S. Prairie (Museum Park West) as well as 98 condos in 1600 S. Prairie (1600 Museum Park) and 157 condos in Museum Park Place South located at 1901 S. Calumet.

The Good News? Related plans to sell the units! Related does not plan to turn these units into rentals. The first question that comes to mind is: “Will these units be fire sold?” The answer is actually no. While Related has yet to release pricing they do not plan to “drastically” reduce prices according to Crain’s. Instead, they plan to upgrade units with higher quality finishes and appliances along with adding new and more expanded amenities to each building.

A price reduction will be needed to move these units, however, a minor reduction in conjunction with upgrades and new amenities can definitely be enough to spur sales. While the South Loop has very high inventory levels at the current time, there is a shortage of quality inventory. Specifically 1201 Prairie will probably see the most interest due to its location and quality of amenities. The two bedroom plans I believe will be the most desirable as they are small than other 2 beds in 1211 S. Prairie, Museum Parks most prestigious building. The lower price point of these two beds due to smaller square footage will definitely attract buyers especially if finishes are upgraded well to compliment its sister building 1211 Prairie.

This type of acquisition is definitely a positive sign that the market is rebounding. This doesn’t mean prices are increasing but it means that stability is returning to the market place. Stability is key is pushing those on the fence to the buy side. It will be interesting to see what the pricing strategy is for Related on their new purchase!!!

Buyers are back in the Chicago Real Estate Market!

What is the state of the current real estate market in Chicago? Well, if you’re a buyer you may be happy with low prices but not crazy about the selection. Right now I am working with several first time buyers as well as some repeat buyers and inventory is actually low! Overall inventory has dropped but still remains high. However, inventory of quality condos in Chicago continues to lessen which is great news for sellers sitting on desirable properties but also slightly frustrating news for buyers.

I have recently seen several properties go under contract in the South Loop before my clients could even see them. These were not foreclosures or short sales either!

I also have another client who simply can’t find anything she really likes. While she knows what she wants she really isn’t being that picky however. So our solution to this problem is simple: We are going to direct mail owners of units she likes hoping we find someone who may be looking to sell in the near future. Do you remember when people were doing that during the boom?

The market is still not what it once was but it is starting to return to health. Values are still depressed but buyer activity is increasing heavily as rent prices continue to tick up. This is why today is the PERFECT time to be a buyer. The timing of record low interest rates and home prices is fueling this market.


Paul Blackburn is an Illinois licensed Realtor and Broker with @ Properties. He can be reached via e-mail at

RENTAL RESTRICTIONS (Rental Caps) and Financing

It is truly a sign of the times. A great deal of condo boards in buildings across Chicago are arguing whether or not to impose rental restrictions, known as “Rental Caps,” in condo buildings across the city. Such restrictions would limit the amount of rentals in a building. Some believe that a lower percentage of renters mean financing is easier to obtain for both buyers and current owners seeking to refinance; thus helping sustain values of the units in a building.

Recently mortgage lending has eased and the following is now true:

There are now no limits on the amount of rental occupied units in a condo building for Conventional, Owner Occupied mortgages.

If we are discussing investor mortgages (a mortgage taken out by someone who never plans to occupy the property and only rent it) these limits are 49% Rental Occupancy, meaning that 51% must be owner occupied

Non-Conforming Owner Occupied Loans (Typically talking about Jumbo Mortgages here, $417,000 +) the percentage will vary from lender to lender but will typically bounce around 30% give or take. Typically lenders that are more relaxed on rental restrictions will charge a slightly higher interest rate for the sole purpose of supply and demand (there are less lenders with the relaxed restrictions thus they can charge a higher rate and such investors holding this paper demand a higher rate).

The question is, with the above information should buildings institute rental restrictions? I’ve written about this before so there is no need to start mentioning all the fine points again. However, I will say that the laws of economics are clear. You cannot force the market and you cannot change it. If the market has said that X amount of units in a building need to be rented then the passing of rental restrictions  WILL decrease the value of the units in the building if a significant number of units that were previously rented can no longer rent.

Rosie O’Donnell’s Home Back on the Market! Rosie Leaving Chicago?

Not sure if Rose is leaving Chicago or not, but her home is back on the market OFFICIALLY! As much as I try to stay out of the gossip in writing this blog it is hard to resist making this quick comment. So many of you come here searching for info on Rosie so here it is! Her home was just listed today, March 5th for $2,500,000. She closed on this home last year for $2,250,000 (The List Price when she bought it was $2,500,000).

Well that is the update folks! I don’t have anything else for ya regarding Rosie!

National Mortgage Settlement Details – What Does It Mean?

The National Mortgage Settlement has been in the news recently and that is because the settlement has finally been agreed upon and released to the public. Here are the basic details of the settlement.

Banks Involved: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo

States Involved: The Federal Government and 49 States (Oklahoma being the exception).

Total Dollars: $25 Billion


The largest portion of the $25 Billion dollar settlement, some $17 Billion, must be used for principal mortgage reductions and other mortgage modification programs. This is only to be used for borrowers who cannot afford to pay their full mortgage. It appears that these dollars (17 billion) are only for borrowers who are behind on payments or in some sort of default stage.

For those borrowers who are current on their mortgage but under water, $3 Billion has been set aside to assist with refinancing these mortgages.

For borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure, roughly $1.5Billion will be distributed to these borrowers. In total there are about 750,000 borrowers who will receive some sort of distribution.

How long will all this take? The federal government is estimating that this settlement will be executed over the next 3 years. The government is currently working with the 5 banks on putting administrators in place to help execute the settlement and identify qualifying borrowers.

It is important to note, however, that loans owned by Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac are NOT affected by this settlement.


The $25 Billion settlement will do very little to help the market. It is a positive step and the settlement amount and the way it is implemented shouldn’t hurt the market any, however it is only a drop in the bucket in the huge pool of borrowers that are in default status or underwater on their mortgages. It is nowhere near large enough to have any substantial affect on the market.

The largest affect we might see, could be negative. This is not due to the amount of the settlement or the way it is implemented, but by the 5 banks holding off on foreclosures in the past year. These banks, including others watching the settlement were hesitant on the outcome. Therefore, they slowed down their foreclosure proceedings which has created a backlog of foreclosure inventory now commonly known as “Shadow Inventory.” This shadow inventory can have a negative impact on the market, as the banks will now push forward with all the foreclosures they were previously idle on. When these properties hit the market we may see a surge in supply.

I don’t believe that the shadow inventory will hurt the real estate market on a broad, national level. However, I do believe there will be some markets where supply levels will be affected. These markets will mainly be in judicial states where the 5 banks primarily held off on foreclosures awaiting the settlement. This is where the largest backlog of foreclosures are.

Should this change your plans to buy?

I don’t believe it should change your plans to buy. I do, however, recommend buyers continue to proceed with caution and heavily analyze not only the property they’re buying but the inventory in the area. You want to continue to monitor the health of buildings where foreclosures and short sales are prevalent. If you are able to buy in a high qualify building for record low prices you’ll still be making the right decision by buying, all things being equal.


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