The New Reality of Real Estate in Chicago

The housing market in Chicago has taken a dramatic turn from where it was a couple years ago. Condos and Single Family Homes in Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods are moving fast in all price ranges. Where is the sweet spot? The hottest section of the market is currently between$300,000 and $500,000 but we are also seeing higher end properties sell in only a matter of days.

Over the weekend I put a 2/2 loft under contract. My clients had to pay more than $7,000 above list price. We put an offer in after the property was only on the market for a day. Our goal was to get the property under contract by the weekend. We were up against one other buyer but we knew if it dragged into the weekend we could easily be up against multiple buyers. This property was in Bucktown.

Another property down the street in Bucktown had 22 showings in a 2 hour period last weekend. My buyers looked at this property on Sunday (the first day of showings for this new listing). On Wednesday they e-mailed me saying they wanted to make an offer. Unfortunately it already sold. Of the 22 showings the property received 3 offers from buyers. More than likely it sold for above list price as well.

A colleague of mine was showing a home in the $600,000 to $700,000 range in Old Town. She was one of 6 agents with buyers submitting offers. Her clients went $30,000 above list price….guess what? They didn’t get it. While we don’t know the exact sale price it has been eluded that it likely sold for almost $50,000 above list.

The most obvious question people may have is “What the h*ll is going on?!” Is this sustainable? Well here are my thoughts on the subject.

Currently in Chicago, in the more desirable neighborhoods, we have an inventory problem. Inventory has decreased to all time lows and buyer demand has increased dramatically. Lets start with demand, however. Why has demand increased?

The Hangover Effect: After 2008 everyone had a hangover in the real estate market. Just like in real life, when you wake up with a hangover the last thing you want is another shot of tequila that you had the night before. This hangover lasted in the market for several years. People simply wanted nothing to do with the market. Granted, many people did not have the finances to buy and many were worried about their jobs and lending (the bars) were not very open.

Now the “hangover effect” has mostly lifted. The economy is rebounding and consumer confidence in the housing market is back. During this hangover period many people rented and saved cash. Now, as they have seen the market stabilize we are seeing a rush of buyers into the market. With increased confidence we are also seeing record low interest rates and property values are back to normalized levels.

It is important to note that in distressed areas most of the demand is made up of investors. However, in prime “Class A” areas the majority of demand are first time, Second time and second home buyers who plan to use the property.

Where is all the supply? There are a couple reasons for low supply. First, we haven’t seen any new construction for condos or single family homes in almost 5 years. Only now is construction starting to pick up again and it is doing so at a slow pace.

The largest reason supply is low is due to many homeowners still underwater on their values. Many “would be” sellers simply cannot afford to sell their homes. Many homeowners are still refinancing using HARP and similar programs and some are still completing mortgage modifications. These homeowners are not selling anytime soon.

Who is selling now? I’ve noticed that many current sellers were buyers back in the early 2000’s before prices ran up. Some were buyers at the peak in 06 but put more than 5% down so they can at least walk away from the sale with some cash.

What is most interesting are tenant occupied properties selling. Many of the condos I have been showing in Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North, etc. have tenants in them. These are not standard “investment” condos for the owners but instead were their primary residences they could not sell back in 08, 09 so they rented them. They are now able to unload them for what they feel is a “decent” price.

What does the future hold? The inability for developers to obtain financing on large buildings is a good thing. This will help supply remain low. Interest rates will likely stay low for a while. The FED is talking about slowing or limiting their purchase of MBS however they will likely continue for a short while. The MBS market is in recovery mode especially with treasuries at record prices (low yields).

At the end of the day interest rates should remain low through 2015 and supply will likely remain low. This will start to push up pricing in your better markets which will slowly allow those who could not sell before to start to sell. The hope is that supply will be introduced slowly into the market.

Chicago Housing Market – Spring Market Update!

2013 Spring Market Update!

Inventory is at all time lows and demand has surged as new buyers have entered the market. The pendulum has swung the other way and we do not have enough properties on the market. Do you want to sell? Now might not be a bad time. With demand so high and inventory so low the question then becomes: “Why are more people not selling?”

I hoped that we would see more properties come to market this spring but we have not. The main reason is that many homeowners are still underwater on their homes. There are also those who do not want to sell because they cannot get what they WANT for their homes.  This has lead to many multiple offer situations and properties selling within only a few days on the market if priced appropriately.

Have prices increased?

Yes and no. It depends on how you measure price levels. Some foreclosures sold at very cheap prices in recent years. So if we are comparing current sales to distressed sales then yes prices have increased. However, if we look at the market as a whole, year over year prices have only increased a small amount.

Aren’t investors the main cause for demand?

If you’ve watched the talking heads on CNBC and all the “real estate analysts” you may have the impression that investors are the main cause of increased demand. This may be true in certain markets and may even be true in certain buildings in Chicago but as a whole, in Chicago’s more desirable neighborhoods, investor demand is not driving the market. First time and second time home buyers are what currently make up demand.

What are the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago?

The Near North side is doing very well which includes Streeterville, River North, and Old Town. However the hottest areas have been Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Loop and even the South Loop. Areas such as River West and West Town have also seen a great deal of demand.

If demand is so great why aren’t developers building condo buildings?

Financing is next to near impossible to obtain to build a large condo project. But, it is very easy to obtain to build apartment buildings. This is where developers have been focusing their energy especially with the rents increasing throughout the country. There are still developers building condos but they are doing so on a smaller scale focusing on 4, 8, and 12 unit style buildings. Some larger projects, up to 40 units are in the plans for areas such as the West Loop. Chances are they will do fairly well.

What about rentals? What is going on with rent prices?

Rent prices remain in an upward trend. While they are not increasing by double digit gains they are increasing steadily. We will probably see a 3 to 5% year over year increase in 2013 and perhaps slightly higher in the downtown / near north side market. Rental inventory remains low but may spike soon as roughly 5,500 Class A rental units hit the market between now and the end of 2014 in the downtown area.

My recommendations

If you have been holding off on selling and want to “test” the market, now is a good time to list your home, as you will get instant feedback on the pricing and desirability of your home.

If you are looking to buy it is still a great time to buy, as prices haven’t jumped. However, you must be prepared to view places as soon as they come on the market. You also need to be working with an agent from a large firm that has access to “off market” properties as these are some of the better deals that are transacting.

Still pay particular attention to the condo association you are buying into. While most have recovered from the issues of the crash there are still some broken associations dealing with repairs from poor construction to poor management. It is extremely important to understand when you buy a condo you are also buying into the association.

The Chicago Housing Market – No Inventory, No Inventory!

The Chicago Housing market has changed dramatically, at least in Chicago’s most desirable neighborhoods. In areas such as the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Lakeview and yes, even the “over built” South Loop, inventory has almost all but disappeared. The problem facing buyers today is one that we haven’t seen in years. The question that many people have is “Why can’t we find what we’re looking for?” Why is inventory low?

The first and most obvious reason why inventory levels are low is because we are seeing a large amount of buyers, many first time home buyers and empty-nesters buying second homes, entering the market. These buyers have nothing to sell and have quickly soaked up excess inventory. Investors have also come into the game and have picked up the less desirable properties even in problem buildings where financing is difficult. These investors are flush with cash and most foreclosures in the desirable areas of Chicago are seeing 10, 15 or even 20 offers in a matter of days.

Rising rent prices and low interest rates have spurred first time home purchases while low yields in other investments has spurred investors to throw cash into the housing market. So this covers the increase in demand but what about supply? Why is supply not keeping up with demand?

While demand has increased prices have only slowly started to rise. Many home owners are still either under water or cannot sell their home for the price they feel is “fair.” Many “would be” sellers are simply not putting their home on the market because pricing has not reached the level is needs to be at for them to feel comfortable selling their home.

What does this mean for the future of the market? As long as interest rates remain low prices will slowly start to increase. As pricing increases we will see those sellers sitting on the side lines start to list their homes. It will be a very slow process but it will be a healthy one.

Will developers get back into the market in Chicago? Developers have already entered back into the market but not on a large scale. We probably won’t see any new high rise condo buildings anytime soon since financing for such projects both on the construction loan side as well as on the buyers side is still very difficult. Instead, we will see smaller projects (3, 6, 8, 12 units) built in high demand areas. We are also seeing developers entering the single family home market. They’re not building spec, but they are building to suit.

I see all these buildings going up in Chicago, what are they? Chicago is filled with construction cranes once again but NONE of these are condo buildings. They are, instead, rental apartments. With rental prices at double digit % gains year over year, developers are jumping into the market. Some may say all these buildings seem excessive. These people would be right. Naturally developers over build. If there is a demand for 3000 units, they build 6000. But that is a conversation for another day.

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.

Buyers

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.

Inventory

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.

Sellers

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

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.