Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blogging: For Beginners, by a Beginner

The following article was written by yours truly for Chicago agents. It currently appears on ChicagoAgentMagazine.com and in the February 25th print edition--the magazine's 100th issue--with Ivanka Trump gracing the cover.

Recently, a tech-savvy neighbor, Peg Corwin, dropped by to help me with a computer problem. When finished, Peg, a counselor at SCORE Chicago, smiled and said, “Let’s set up a blog for you!”

Having once sat in on a blogging workshop for agents, I knew what a blog is: a personal journal (or log) on the Web that, in most cases, allows visitors to comment on the posts, fostering conversation and community. The panelists had recommended that an agent use a blog to demonstrate his or her expertise in a geographic area, the smaller the better. “Hyperlocal” is the buzz word.

I’m not an agent; I’m an editor-turned-entrepreneur who serves agents. Considering the constant challenges confronting my Web site, ChicagoCondosOnline.com, I had no desire to become slave to yet another terrifying tech tool.

But, with Peg in the driver’s seat, in an hour and for zero dollars, I had a blog, one that aspires to be “Chicago’s Best Condo Blog.” My blog was bare, and Peg left me to populate it, which was actually fun. By 4:30 a.m., I had posted four articles with images. It wasn’t too hard. In two weeks, I posted 12 items and, with help from ads on Tribune.com, drew 800 unique visitors.

After visiting three dozen blogs on Chicago real estate, I agreed with the national expert who stated, bluntly: “Most blogs stink.” (For some local blogs that don’t, see the list at the end of this post.)

To help you decide if you want to dive in, here are answers to 10 basic questions about blogging:

How does a blog differ from a Web site? The key difference: blogs are free. Many agents create blogs to establish a presence online without having to pay the cost, in dollars and time, to create a Web site. But a true-blue blog is dynamic, with frequent updates and ways to participate.

How much does it cost to create a blog? In dollars, nothing. There are no set-up or monthly fees for blogs. Do consider the cost of the hours it will take you to gather and post content and to market the blog.

How easy is it to set up? If you can follow simple directions (I usually can’t), it takes about an hour. Just visit the sites Blogger.com or WordPress.com and sign up. Be sure to disable your pop-up blocker. For design, pick a template and click to customize. Here’s a tip: black type on white is best.

How long does it take to populate? That depends, of course, on how fast you write and type. If you have it in a Word file, you can copy, paste and post content in minutes. Start with two posts: One stating your purpose and focus and the other giving real value to your audience. Set a goal to post at least one item every week.

What is its purpose? Determine your purpose, then list your goals to achieve it. Examples of goals include: attract and incubate buyers, build relationships, close one extra deal, enhance your brand, demonstrate expertise and increase traffic to your Web site.

What content works? If content is king, consumer-centric content is God. Include news; actionable information, particularly on properties and neighborhoods; practical advice; insight and analysis; photos and videos; and fun. All of your content should be delivered in a voice that reflects your personality. Can any canned material, or at least give it a personal twist.

How do you measure effectiveness? Set measurable, modest goals for your blog. In the first year, for an investment of perhaps 150 hours (three a week), aim to generate, say, 1,000 unique visitors, three listings and one closing. Use the blog to strengthen all relationships.

How do you attract visitors? Initially, don’t expect many visitors. Chicago alone offers more than 200 real estate blogs. Promote to your mailing list and add a hyperlink to your blog on your e-mail signature and all marketing materials. Successful agent bloggers we contacted said they attract 500 to 5,000 visitors a month. But even they emphasize that contacts and conversions (closings) are what really count, not visits.

Should you blog? One coach of agent bloggers estimates that less than one agent in 10 has the ability to create a blog effective enough to reduce other marketing expenses. If you believe you can be one of them, dive in. If not, wade in slowly.

If you’re undecided, consider Rubloff’s Eric Rojas, author of ChicagoRealEstateLocal.blogspot.com. In 2007, his second year of blogging, Eric converted $2.5 million in transactions from those contacting him directly from his blog. This year, from blog visitors, he already has two listings and a buyer for $1.4 million.

Where can you find more help? To request an eBook on agent blogging or to indicate your interest in attending a Blogging Meet-Up, e-mail Ric14@ChicagoCondosOnline.com. Also, visit this blog for future posts on blogging. Here, you will be able to find more tips and post questions and comments for others to read and respond. Finally, contact Eric at erojas@rubloff.com to inquire about his class on agent blogging.

Top Agents’ Favorite Blogs By Other Chicago Agents

Bob Darrow, @properties: ChicagoHomeEstates.com/agent_view/topic/the-agents-perspective
Eric Rojas, Rubloff: ChicagoMetroAreaRealEstate.com and ChiTownLiving.com
Francesca Rose, Koenig & Strey: WindyCityGuide.blogspot.com
Jeff Kerr, @properties: GenoPetroCHE.blogspot.com

For more on blogs, go to Technorati.com or Blogger.com and search Chicago real estate.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Advice: 4 Tips for Picking Right Realtor for You

In Swanepoel Trends Report 2008, national real-estate expert Stefan J.M. Swanepoel offers these suggestions for consumers to think about when interviewing prospective agents:

* Ask for the names and contact details of the clients they have worked with in your neighborhood during the last six months. Contact them and ask directly about the agent's performance, timeliness and overall experience. Don't forget to ask if they would use the agent again.

* Ask them about their real-estate qualifications--especially their designations and certifications. Ask about their training and if they have a coach. All of this will show how serious they are about their career. Visit redesignations.com and learn about each qualification and the skills it represents.

* Visit qualityservice.org and check to see if the agent is Quality Service Certified. Not many are but those who are allow for an independent satisfactory service evaluation feedback from home buyers and sellers after each transaction.

[Editor's Note: The site lists more than 200 QSC agents in Chicago. The vast majority of them are from Rubloff, Prudential Preferred or Koenig & Strey. Among those with perfect Customer Satisfaction Ratings (5 of 5 points) are Rubloff's Judy Pielet, Jill O'Grady, Lisa Borelli and Michael Prendergast.]

* Look up the agent's name on google.com and do research. You'd be surprised how much information you can find. If nothing comes up, be concerned that the agent may not be utilizing the Web effectively.

The annual report from which the above tips are excerpted is aimed primarily at brokers and agents. We highly recommend this authoritative and well-researched book for those who really want to know what's happening--and will happen--in the industry.

Top 10: Agents With Most Transactions

Condo Superstars!

That's what we're calling Equity Marketing's Michael Holtorf (left) and the other agents who made our Top 10 list for generating the most transactions of Chicago condos in 2007.

Before the drumroll, the list and the Oscars, some context: Behind each of these Superstars is a story, one, with their help, we will tell in future posts. Most of these names are familiar to us from previous years, so they are not one-year wonders.

Some of these Superstars were skilled enough, or lucky enough, or both, to serve as the exclusive marketing representative for a developer and thus received credit on the MLS for every unit sold in a building or buildings. Others almost certainly received credit for units their team members helped sell.

Neither group is comparable to the typical agent, who must recruit sellers and buyers, one by one. By next year, with your help, perhaps we will figure out a way to create a list that has the maximum meaning for the most people.

Whatever their secrets, these Condo Superstars moved mucho condos. For that, we offer each of them our con(do)gratulations.

Combined, these 10 agents participated in 2,640 transactions, 7% of the city's total. For now, each of them can bask in unfootnoted glory. In future posts, we'll drill down deeper into the numbers, and add the fascinating footnotes.

As always, our information is based on transactions of condos in the city that closed on the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI).

Drumroll, please, and sound the trumpets!

Agents, Most Transactions* for Chicago Condos, 2007

1.Michael HoltorfEquity Brokerage681
2.Leila ZammattaMagellan490
3.Chris FeurerKoenig & Strey323
4.Matt GarrisonColdwell Banker228
5.Art CollazoKoenig & Strey199
6.Scott Graden@properties178
7.Mario GrecoRubloff142
8.Jeffrey LoweC21 Sussex & Reilly138
9.Joe Zimmerman@properties135
10.Dana DiPasqualeBaird & Warner126

Monday's Top 10: Agents With Most Dollar Volume

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Father of Chicago's Condos

At the start of still another real-estate season, let's pause to reflect on local history and to salute one of its unsung heroes.

Q. When was the first of 12,000-plus condos in Chicago completed and what is the name of that building?

A. This city's first condo, Fountainview, was completed 45 years ago, in 1963. The address: 6347 and 6359 N. Ridge, near Devon Avenue in the Edgewater area.

It has been reported that Fountainview--one word, but consisting of two, nearly identical, three-story, brick buildings--may have been the first condo in the United States. But other sources claim that the first U.S. condo was the Greystoke, built in Salt Lake City in 1962. So perhaps Chicago has one more reason to be known as the Second City.

According to Herb Rosenthal, the developer, and then-owner of Dunbar Builders, the 28, 880-square-foot, one-bedroom units at Fountainview sold for $12,999, or $15 per square foot. (The 6347 building also has two, 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom units.)

In a friendly phone conversation from his home in California, 85-year-old Herb told us that 22 of the 30 units were sold in the first weekend. Most buyers were in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The appeal: their monthly payments, including mortage and maintenance, were less than the rent they had been paying elsewhere. (Assessments today are just $180 a month, not including utilities.)

When asked how he came up with the name of the condo, Herb laughed and said: "We needed a name, so we built a fountain in front, designed it so that the fountain could be viewed from every balcony and named the condo Fountainview!"

The tiny fountain can still be viewed today, as proven by this recent photo:

Fountainview, with frozen fountain (foreground) in February

Imagine how different our city's history would be had Herb decided to name Chicago's first condo Mountainview, or even Oceanview.

How good an investment was Chicago's first condo? The most recent sales price on the Multiple Listing Service, in August 2006, was $136,000 ($155 psf). The highest MLS price, in April 2005, was $142,000. According to Jerry Nocek, board president, one owner sold a unit in 2006 for $150,000. Even using the most recent, 2006, MLS price of $136,000, the total appreciation is an amazing 1,060%, or 25% a year!

From 1963 to 1981, Herb says, he built more than 100 condos. Among them: Thorndale North at 5901 N. Lake Shore, Thorndale South at 5855 N. Lake Shore, 1212 N. Lake Shore, 201 E. Chestnut, Malibu at 6007 N. Sheridan, Malibu East at 6033 N. Sheridan and, his final one, 1418 N. Lake Shore.

That, in our view, earns Herb Rosenthal the title, "The Father of Chicago's Condos." This season, the 8,000 agents and brokers likely to split $300 million in condo commissions, and the 18,000 owners expected to collect $6 billion selling their units, may want to join us in saying, "Hats off to you, Herb!"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Advice: Buyers, Watch for Coming Auctions

If you’re eager to buy a new, mint-fresh condo in downtown Chicago and grab the best value for your dollar, watch for upcoming auctions by developers.

That’s our take-away tip from the annual presentation and analysis of new-construction condos and townhomes in downtown Chicago by Appraisal Research Counselors (ARC), a highly respected firm that works closely with local developers.

Says ARC’s Gail Lissner: “New projects are outpacing sales and the gap is continuing.” Her prediction: “We'll see more auctions as an exit strategy."

Where to find out about condo auctions? One such place is SheldonGood.com, the Web site of an auction house that works with many local (and national) developers to unload unsold inventory. CEO Steve Good agrees with Lissner that, "without a doubt," there will be many more condo auctions this year. (More on how to buy a condo at auction in a future post. Meanwhile, you can start your education with this article from the Chicago Tribune.)

ARC defines downtown as roughly the area between Cermak Road and North Avenue and between the Lake and I-94. Since sales of new-construction condos account for roughly only one-third of all condo sales in the entire city, ARC’s “downtown” market comprises a small, but important, section of that one-third.

We’re basing the ARC comments and figures on media reports, because the firm firmly refused our requests for information, claiming its report – even a summary – is for “clients only.”

Bolstering Lissner’s outlook for more auctions was this insight from the firm’s Ron DeVries: “The weakening (local) job market is likely to dampen 2008 sales. Job growth will slow to about 32,000 new positions, down from 43,000 a year ago.” Such a decline of 26% would be a key indicator since in real estate, we're told, the rate of job growth has more impact on sales than does the rate on mortgages.

Another insight: For now, prices of new-construction downtown condos are holding their own. “Condo prices have maintained themselves,” Lissner was quoted as saying. Sellers, presumably developers, “are just holding out,” she added. A recent media report described various give-backs by developers, so maybe that is another reason prices are holding.

Bottom line: Buyers, if you’re looking for a newly built condo in “downtown” Chicago, 2008 might be a good year to buy. Then again, 2009 might be an even better year. If you do buy in 2008, don’t plan to resell the unit anytime soon. Based on ARC figures, it may take a couple of years, or more, for demand for that particular product to equal supply. See chart below:

New-Construction Condos in Downtown Chicago*
(Cermak Road to North Avenue, Lake to I-94)

YearUnits FinishedChangeUnits SoldChange
20085,900 (est.)+37%NANA


*Based on ARC numbers reported in local media. Units sold include those closed or under contract.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Worried About Overbuilding? Blanche Isn't

In Realty Times, its award-winning editor, Blanche Evans, shares some reassuring news and valuable insights on condos, both nationally and in Chicago:

Whatever you think you know about condominiums, you're probably wrong. Don't be rattled by the overbuilding of condos in certain areas, there's plenty of market for them across most of the United States.

For one thing, density is a certainty. The U.S. Census projects 450 million U.S. residents by 2050. We have 300 million now. Since 2006, single heads of households have outnumbered marrieds, and only 40% of homebuyers have children under 18.

Condos are a lifestyle choice where residents can skip the yardwork and use the fitness center without carrying the overhead. It's the perfect step between apartment rentals and detached single-family homes. Condos serve workers--they tend to be built near jobs, amenities and attractions.

That's why condos continue to defy the housing downturn. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), condominium and cooperative prices in 59 key metro areas show the national median existing-condo price hasn't dipped. Of those metros, 33 showed increases in the median condo price.

Chicago is one of the metros celebrating density and the condo lifestyle. Figures from the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI) found that sales of condos and townhouses (attached homes) were equal to, or higher than, 2006 levels in 55 suburbs and 29 [of the 77] city neighborhoods [census areas] in 2007.

That's pretty good considering that total sales for all types of housing declined over 21%.

Condo owners move approximately every four years, while detached homebuyers tend to sell after six years, says NAR. Why would any practitioner not want that business?

Think of condominiums as what they really are--neighborhoods, and you should have no problem recommending them to any buyer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Advice: Agents' Secrets To Selling in 30 Days!

"Want to sell your house in 30 days? Click here to find out how Movoto can help."

When we spotted that ad on Movoto.com, a real-estate Web site in California, we found the title so compelling that we decided to ask some top-producing local agents what a seller in Chicago would need to do in this market to achieve that ambitious goal.

On Presidents' Day, hoping to catch a few devoted agents who couldn't pull themselves away from their computers even on a holiday, we e-mailed this question to a few of our agent friends at several brokerages: What advice would you give a condo owner who asked you, "What is the most important single thing I need to do to sell my condo in 30 days?"

Within minutes, the replies rolled in:

Rubloff's Eric Rojas: Price, presentation & paint. Everyone will say price, but if your unit is not in tip-top shape, you are taking a risk of turning off buyers who do not want to start out making repairs. A Realtor needs to have the guts to tell his clients what they need to improve, and then help make it happen. I have many examples of less-than-30-day sales this year already, primarily because the places looked great for their market placement.

When asked how much below fair-market value one should list to sell quickly, Eric added: There is no guarantee, but you definitely have to go on at, or lower than, the best comparable you find (especially if the market time on that was decent enough). The main point is having it show-worthy and not leaving the simple fixes to chance… just get it done and paint the unit!

To illustrate, he offered this example: For instance, I sold a 2BR/2BA South Loop condo in 22 days at 1631 S. Michigan. The place was flawless due to painting and small updates by my clients and showed great. I realized there were no 2BR/2BA South Loop units at 1400-plus square feet that looked this good and had huge windows and exposures in both bedrooms and along the whole living room. (Most larger units there have “crappy” second bedrooms or masters or second bedrooms without windows.) I priced under $400K and we closed at $387K with no other concessions. That’s with South Loop averaging big market times.

The sellers had bought the unit for $370K eight months prior, put $10K into the place, decided they wanted to move to a luxury building, and we sold it for $387K.

Koenig & Strey's Francesca Rose: Top-Notch Representation. I was going to say, "Bottom-line pricing, drop-dead staging, top-notch representation and seller pays buyer's closing costs." But you asked for the single-most thing, so I would say, top-notch representation. A top-notch agent will obtain the other three criteria. This market is no time for amateurs, discount brokers, or part-time agents. I use the doctor analogy: When you need open-heart surgery, you don't entrust your life to your dermatologist. When your condo needs fast selling in a down market, you get the best specialist available.

Rubloff's Joe Schiller: Spend to stage. Staging is very important and will probably include investing in paint, plants and accessories, along with renting a storage locker. Spend money to make money.

Rubloff's Jill O'Grady: Price. How much, if any, below fair-market value would you set the list price?, we asked. There is not one answer to that question. I wouldn't list below the comp [market value], but at the low end of it.

Editor's Note: Surprisingly, selling a condo in 30 days is apparently not a particularly difficult feat. When we checked the MLS data, and, at the suggestion of one agent, excluded new-construction units, we discovered that the average market time of the roughly 9,600 re-sale units sold in 2007 was 107 days. But roughly 2,600 of those units (27%) were sold in 30 days or less. (We don't know how reliable those numbers are, but, without insight from some of you experts, that's the best we can do.)

BTW, when you click the ad on Movoto.com, you are asked to register so agents can share with you their secrets to selling in 30 days. Among them: "tailored marketing" and "effective market analysis." That's California, and this, my friends, is Chicago.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Top 10: Brokerages, Highest Sales Volume

For 2007, Coldwell Banker earned the No. 1 ranking as the brokerage with the highest sales transaction volume for Chicago condos, with nearly $1.4 billion.

Total transaction volume for city condos was $12.7 billion (twice the actual combined value of sales*), so Coldwell Banker's share was 11%.

With 799 agents in its 13 city offices, Coldwell Banker has the second-largest number of city agents (after Century 21, with 1,069).

Coldwell Banker edged out @properties, which has 604 agents and was No. 1 in transactions (units sold), by $29 million, or 2%. Koenig & Strey GMAC, with 505 agents, was a close third, with $1.1 billion in condo sales.

Combined, the Top 10 brokerages closed $7.3 billion in total transaction sales, representing 57% of the city's total.

RankBrokerageSales VolumeMarket Share
1.Coldwell Banker$1.38 billion11%
3.Koenig & Strey1.119%
4.Baird & Warner756 million6%
5.Century 216915%
7.Keller Williams4804%

*Transaction volume is roughly twice actual combined sales, because it counts each unit sale twice. If Coldwell Banker agents represent both the seller and the buyer of one $300,000 condo, CB is credited with sales transaction volume of $600,000. If the unit is represented by agents from two different agencies, the listing (seller's) broker receives a $300,000 credit, as does the sales (buyer's) broker.

The exclusive report above was compiled by ChicagoCondosOnline.com, from the database of the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI). It includes only condos in the city closed on the MLS in 2007. Companies that are primarily developers or marketers are excluded from the rankings. With a credit and/or link, you are welcome to reprint this post

Monday's Top 10: Agents With Most Unit Sales

Fun: If Sam Cashed In His $6-Billion Net Worth

In a recent Sun-Times column, Jay Mariotti reported, among other, even-more-fascinating facts, that Tribune CEO Sam Zell (at right) is estimated, by Forbes, to have a net worth of $6 billion. That would make him the 52nd-wealthiest person on earth (and likely in the universe).

If that estimate is correct, Sam could have cashed it all in last year and paid cash for almost all 18,120 condos sold in the city in 2007. Their combined sales price: $6.3 billion. (Sorry, FSBOs, you are not included in that number. You'll have to find another buyer.) Interesting coincidence of numbers, at least to us condomaniacs. Sam does own at least one condo, we're told, on Michigan Avenue. How many more is anyone's guess.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Advice: Determining the Value of Your Condo

If Zillow.com were right--and, having invested zillions of dollars in creating the nation's largest real-estate database, it darn well should be--you could own this view from my condo for $278,000. Dream on! And read on.

As a condo owner, I am constantly curious to know how much my unit is worth. Each year, I compare the fair market value to previous years and to similar condos, especially in my building.

Because, like most real estate, condos historically appreciate, this annual check-up makes me feel good about one of my largest investments. It also gives me needed perspective, usually reassurance, whenever the media report various "crises" battering the real-estate market. If the value of condos in Miami has plummeted 35% in the past year, why should I worry--if my unit has appreciated 5%, or even depreciated 4%?

Another good reason for a yearly check-up: If my unit, or building, or neighborhood is not keeping pace with others, I may want to consider selling or taking other action, such as upgrading my unit. For example, one agent estimates that by spending $5,000 or so to install a washer and dryer, I could increase the value of my unit by $15,000 or more. But, to do so, I'd have to rip up my bathroom and give up significant closet space. For now, I've decided not to act on her advice.

When I calculated the appreciation of my unit this past December, I was disappointed. For starters, its market value is lower than it was the previous year. And that's not all.

Over the seven years I have owned the unit, its total appreciation is more than $82,000. That's an impressive-sounding 25%. But that averages to less than 4% a year. As an investment, that's not good, especially when you consider inflation and the $12,000 I invested in upgrades.

Luckily, before I bought my condo, I thoroughly researched the unit's fair market value, including the cost per square foot compared to other units in the building. Armed with that valuable information and the negotiating skills of my agent, Debbie Maue, I was able to negotiate several thousands of dollars off the asking price. When I sell, that will be my saving grace.

For now, my greatest consolation: enjoying this magnificent view every day. (Okay, so it's not this sunny in Chicago every day!)

Appreciation of My Condo From 9/2000 to 12/2007

DateMarket ValueOne-Year AppreciationTotal Appreciation

The total cumulative appreciation for my unit at the end of each year is shown in this graph, created by Aimee Kirkconnell:

If you aren't already doing so, start giving your unit an annual check-up.

How can you determine the value of your unit? Here are three ways, along with my personal, biased rating for each:

1. BAD: Go to Zillow.com. You can go to Zillow.com and, as millions have, get a Zestimate. That is the worst idea of all. Why? Because Zestimates can be highly inaccurate, even dangerous. The site recently claimed to have decreased its margin of error, but condos are another matter. Seeing your Zestimate can give you a good laugh, if it didn't hurt so much.

When I checked mine (a 1,087-square-foot, 1BR/1BA at Lake Point Tower, for which I paid $327,500 in 2000), the Zestimate was $278,000! When I looked at the details, the year of the most recent sale in Zillow's database was January 2003, for $186,000. No comparable unit in my building sold for that low even back then. I have read many other accounts from people who have experienced similar shocks. (Let's call them Zhocks!) In five years, Zillow may have created a valuable tool. For now, avoid it. Zestimate for 1BR/1BA at Lake Point Tower: $278,000.

2. GOOD: Visit ChicagoCondosOnline.com. On the Web site I created for buyers and agents, you can find the median sales price of your unit type, based on sales in the previous year. This is especially effective if you live in a high-rise, in which many units of the same type are sold each year. On the Super Search page, enter your address. On the Building Profile, find the name of your unit type and find the median sales price.

Although this is a good place to start, it's just that. The median sales price doesn't take into account the condition of your unit, upgrades, views, or the number of units of that type sold in the previous year. Ours is superior to some comparisons I've seen online that compare your unit to those in buildings in other parts of the city. And those units are often a different size. Square footage is vital in determining value. 2007 Median Sales Price for 1BR/1BA Diplomat at Lake Point Tower: $426,250.

3. BEST: Ask an agent for a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). Without incurring any obligation, you can ask any agent for a Comparative Market Analysis, aka CMA or "Comp" (for Comparable). The agent can quickly run the numbers on the Multiple Listing Service, searching for prices of solds and actives (for-sales) of units like yours.

Some agents are better at choosing units to compare to yours than are other agents. An agent who has recently sold units in your building might have an edge, because he or she may have been inside comparable units and know their condition and upgrades, which will have affected the sales or the asking price.

At minimum, ask the agent for a list of all sales and actives in your building, so you can examine them. From that list, you can calculate the market value per square foot. If the agent preparing your CMA doesn't ask about the condition of your unit and upgrades, go elsewhere. If the agent gives you a range, pin him or her down by asking: If I list my unit today, to sell within 120 days, what price would you recommend?

My experience. In December, I asked three agents for an estimate. It was like pulling teeth. One still has not responded. In several e-mail exchanges with the other two, I received snippets of information, some of it inaccurate, some misleading. I finally gleaned enough information to settle on a conservative estimate of $410,000. CMA estimate for 1BR/1BA Diplomat at Lake Point Tower: $410,000.

Don't feel shy about asking at least one agent for a CMA once a year. And don't feel that if you get one, you are obligated to list your unit with that agent. Agents offer free CMAs as a standard, and effective, marketing tool. They should be happy to help you.

Sure, they would appreciate your business, but when it comes time to list your unit, pick the best agent, not necessarily the one who spent 15 minutes preparing your CMA. In the process of getting a CMA, you'll learn a lot about the agent's knowledge and professionalism.

Hire an appraiser? Not worth the expense. When you're ready to put your unit on the market, there's a fourth option, of course: Pay $350 to hire a professional appraiser. But there's no reason to do that for an annual check-up. And my experience with appraisers isn't all that good. More about that in a future post.

Ideas for condo managers & directors: As part of your responsibility to improve the value of your property, consider calling in one or more agents (or an appraiser) each year and asking for a CMA for the units in your building, perhaps for the entire building. Decide which buildings in your neighborhood are "comparable." Then, establish a benchmark value and track it each year to see how you're doing.

While you're at it, ask the agent (or appraiser) for suggestions on how to improve the value of your property. Agents get great feedback, both from prospects who buy and from those who walk away and buy elsewhere.

Idea for agents: If I were an agent, I would offer that service (establishing benchmarks for condo associations, tracking values and appreciation annually, and advising associations how to improve values) to any building I farmed, or wanted to. Wouldn't that be a great marketing tool? If any agent has tried it, please let us know.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Top 10: Brokerages With Most Transactions

For 2007, @properties has emerged as Chicago's No. 1 condo seller. The brokerage closed 3,960 transactions, 11% of the city's total. (Each sale is counted twice: once for the buyer side, once for the seller.) Founded in 2000, @properties has 604 agents in four offices.

For condo sellers and agents, for now, @properties is where it's @.

Combined, the Top 10 brokerages closed 20,272 transactions (10,136 units), 56% of the city's total.

Of the Top 10, only three agencies saw increases over 2006: Dream Town (+18%), @properties (+7%) and Keller Williams (+6%).

Four of the 10 were down by double digits: Jameson (-20%), Century 21 (-15%), Coldwell Banker (-13%) and RE/MAX (-10%).

Citywide in 2007, condo sales were down 7%. Transactions totaled 36,240 (18,120 units sold).

2.Coldwell Banker3,840-13%
3.Koenig & Strey2,676-6%
4.Century 212,117-15%
5.Baird & Warner1,939-2%
6.Keller Williams1,429+6%
9.Dream Town859+18%

This exclusive report was compiled by ChicagoCondosOnline.com from the database of the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI). It includes closings of condos in the city of Chicago. With a credit and/or link, you are welcome to reprint.

Monday's Top 10: Brokerages With Highest Dollar Volume

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Penthouse Fever: $4,000 Per Square Foot

In the Chicago Tribune, Leonor Vivanco writes about ten top penthouses, including Chicago's highest, and highest-priced, condo unit, ever:

The Chicago Spire is touting a 10,000-square-foot, two-floor penthouse unit near the top of the 150-story twisting tower. The customizable space, which takes up floors 140 and 141, will offer 360-degree, floor-to-ceiling views of the city and the lake. The two floors could be connected by a glass staircase. The price tag: $40 million--about $4,000 per square foot, the most ever for a Chicago condo. The penthouse is set for completion in 2012.

At the 92-story Trump International Hotel & Tower are nine penthouses. The largest, a 14,000-square-foot space that takes up the 89th floor and has 360-degree views of the city, has no disclosed price tag and isn't on the market yet. The other eight, on floors 86 to 88, range from 2,350 square feet to 6,850 square feet and are priced from $3.3 million to more than $9 million [roughly $1,400 psf]. Half of these units have been sold.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Breaking News: 36% Drop in January Sales

The silver lining that city condo sales represented at year's end seems to have disappeared behind a dark cloud.

Reflecting an earlier downturn in the overall housing market, both local and national, after showing relative strength last year, unit sales of condos in the city in January were down 36%, compared to January 2007.

Year-over-year sales had been down 7% in December and 5% in November, but were down only 7% for all of 2007.

However, Jim Kinney, president of Rubloff, and a member of our Advisory Board, offers this soothing perspective: "Historically, January is a weak month for closings and a small section sample can swing big with a few aberrations. Conversion units at 1400 N. Lake Shore Drive last year stuffed the ballot box, so to speak, and there is no mass closing of a project to go up against it this January."

After checking the numbers, Jim added these details: "There were many closings for 1400 N. Lake Shore and 474 N. Lake Shore last year. New conversion/construction accounted for 704 units in '07 and only 403 this year--that 301 units missing accounts for a big swing for the month." So the cloud covering the silver living begins to disappear.

Year over year, new listings during January were down 30%. Average days on market increased 6%. Median sales price for the 697 units that did close was up 13%. The supply of existing (re-sale) condos is currently at 8.2 months.

Those statistics, and others, were compiled by Jill Landers of ChicagoCondosOnline.com from January sales reported on the Multiple Listing Service. For details, go to Market Overview.

To post your thoughts on this news, click Comments below.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Advice: Why Now Is the Perfect Time To Buy

To help get the 2008 season off to a tremendous start, we invited agents, brokers and loan originators to tell us why now is the perfect time to buy a condo in Chicago. Perhaps because they were too busy preparing for Opening Day, only three agents responded, so we'll do our best to answer for the rest.

In the tradition of David Letterman, we list our Top 10 reasons, some of them tongue-in-cheek, in reverse order. Because . . .

10. Your interest rate will be near 40-year lows. This was cited by both Francesca Rose, at Koenig & Strey, and Jeff Kerr, with @properties. They are right: Mortgage rates are hovering near their 40-year lows. Won't rates likely be lower a few months from now? Said Jeff: "We can only hope so." With 20% down, you can get a 30-year, fixed-rate mortage in Chicago for less than 5.7%.

9. You won't be buying at the top of the market. "I can say that with absolute assurance," Francesca assured us. But might not prices be even lower in the future? That, of course, is the $64,000 question. If they are, you can always buy another unit.

8. You could help Mayor Daley win his bid for the Olympics. And, if he succeeds, you could earn a bonus in 2016. The rent you receive during the games could probably pay your mortgage for a year. (If we're not mistaken, both Da Mayor and Tribune owner Sam Zell live in condos. Why shouldn't you?)

7. You have so many units to choose from. Although slightly below where it was at this time last year, active inventory of existing (re-sale) condos on the Multiple Listing Service is about 12,200. The quality (condition) of these units, says @properties' Diana Turowski, is higher this year. But the supply of new-construction units is 50% higher than a year ago. Of the 6,300 new units scheduled for completion in 2008 in the downtown area alone, 1,300 are unsold.

With highly motivated sellers, you can take your time, be more selective, be more likely to find exactly what you want, negotiate a lower price and, with new construction, get free upgrades, pre-paid assessments or taxes, even help with your mortgage. "Truly motivated sellers are more willing to accept such creative financing options as rent to own, lease-purchase and contract for deed," says Diana.

6. Your unit will appreciate dramatically when the Cubs win the World Series in October. (As a long-time Cubs fan, we didn't say which October.) And when, if global warming continues, the unit you bought west of Michigan Avenue becomes valuable lakefront property.

5. You might help keep some professional home-sellers from becoming homeless. Nationally, in good times, the median income of Realtors is less than $47,000 a year. With sales of single-family homes in Chicago down 27% last year, you don't want to see agents and loan originators living in cardboard boxes, surrounded by wrought-iron fencing, in Millennium Park, do you?

4. You can now buy a home without leaving home. With the Internet, you don’t have to go out in the cold to buy a condo. You can find one, and close on it, without ever leaving home. (Does anyone know of anyone who has actually done this?)

3. You may be able to move in immediately. If you buy an unsold unit in a new development, you won't have to experience the long wait typically endured by buyers of pre-construction.

2. You might keep someone from being fired. With 30% (100) of the condo-hotel units at the Trump International Hotel & Tower left to sell, we Chicagoans must act. You don’t want to disappoint The Donald, or risk having him fire someone, do you? (With this link to his fantastic Web site, we're doing our part.)

1. Well, just because. It's time to turn on the Big (Giant) Game to see which local developers bought ads, so you'll have to click Comments below and fill in this one yourself.

Now aren't you sorry you didn't submit your own reasons? Blame the really bad ones on the writers' strike.

Top 10: Census Areas With Most Units Sold

Today begins a series of weekly postings of Top 10 lists on Chicago condos. (Use the Comments link below to post your suggestions for Top 10 lists or e-mail them to: Top10@ChicagoCondosOnline.com.)

Our first list ranks the census areas in the city with the highest number of condo units sold in 2007, along with the percentage change from 2006. All figures in this series are calculated from the database of the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI). Not included are condos sold by owners (FSBOs), which represent less than ten percent of total sales. All percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

As you will see, only three of the ten areas show an increase. For the city, units sold were down by 7%. (See news release at bottom of this blog.)

RankCodeArea'07 SalesChange
1.8008Near North Side2,805-2%
3.8024West Town1,355+3%
4.8007Lincoln Park1,202+12%
5.8028Near West Side1,181-17%
8.8033Near South Side862+23%
10.8001Rogers Park643-29%

To share your insights and opinions on why these areas are up or down, click the Comments link below.

For a list of 2007 unit sales in all 77 census areas, e-mail your request to: Top10@ChicagoCondosOnline.com.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Your Host

As an editor-turned-entrepreneur, founder of Condominium Enterprises and creator of ChicagoCondosOnline.com, my mission is to make it fun to buy, own and sell condos. Yes, fun!