Thinking of becoming a landlord?

New laws add complexity to going at it alone

by Urban Real Estate

This past November, the Cook County Board of Commissioners adopted a set of rules known as the Just Housing Amendment, which went into effect December 31, 2019. Essentially, the tenant screening process is two-steps: First, the assessment of the tenant’s ability to pay – then, their criminal background check. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the ordinance will open the door to people with criminal records who apply for housing.

The board voted to approve the new rule 12-4, which is an amendment to the county’s existing housing ordinance. “Now, apartment owners will not be able to consider criminal backgrounds of applicants until after they already have qualified through a credit check or other screening,” reports. The new effort does not apply to sex offenders, who still can be rejected.

“Renting out a home requires a prospective landlord to abide by federal, state and local laws, often which they are not familiar with,” says Michael Emery, senior partner and broker with New Eastside real estate brokerage Urban Real Estate. “Fair housing laws serve as reminders and requirements that everyone be treated equally. The cost of not doing so can be catastrophic to the average homeowner trying to go at it alone and save a brokerage fee, rather than have a professional manage the process.”

Laws change regularly, as do penalties. Reminders of this come from such as the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) which not only prescribes what the penalty for not paying a tenant interest annually on a security deposit held is (and how it legally should be secured) but also what the interest rate is, and when it should be paid out. 

“Being a landlord in the city of Chicago has its benefits, but the ultimate value comes in retaining the services of a real estate broker to manage a process that can be tedious, cumbersome, and ultimately have legal and financial ramifications if handled poorly,” adds Emery.

Contact Urban Real Estate today, at or call us at (312) 528-9200 to help you prepare for an upcoming rental, or help evaluate your current leasing situation.

Now is the time to buy, sell, invest or rent

by Urban Real Estate

The time to move is now. The interest rates are low. The New Eastside  neighborhood is hot, although the temperature outside is not. If you are thinking of buying, selling, investing or leasing, think now.

According to a recent report, “Low mortgage rates, ris- ing household income, and a surge in  household formation among Millenni- als have significantly boosted demand  for housing over the past year,” said Mark Fleming, First American’s chief economist. 

“If you are considering buying, interest rates to finance your mortgage are  the lowest in 10 years. There are many mortgage options,” said Lynn Brahin, a broker with Urban Real Estate. “You no  longer need much money down. To- day, home ownership is more economical often times than paying rent.” 

The New Eastside longtime resident, investor and broker also recommends something she often discusses  with her clients—diversify. “Renting is a lifestyle that affords individuals to have the freedom to move easily—  but the equity earned in homeownership can afford the same resident  the opportunity to be a second-home investor,” Brahin adds.

Currently, the 60601 residential property inventory has a wide sale price range from $199,000 to more  than $11 million. Most of this neighborhood is condos. Places range in  size and condition.

Recent MRED data shows: 178 homes for sale, median sales price $260,000. Median list price $454,000, with 106 average days on the market, and 17 homes sold in in a snapshot during October and November.

The National Association of Realtors  statistics show people are now choosing less space and a shorter commute,  over a larger home far from work. People like walking to the grocery store, local restaurants, and shopping. No other  neighborhood offers the privacy of a cul-de-sac community with immediate  access to the natural wonders of Chicago: Lake Michigan, the Chicago River- walk and Chicago’s famous parks—all  steps away from world-class museums, entertainment, arts and culture. 

The average 30-year fixed mort- gage rate fell 7 basis points to 3.89  from 3.96 a week ago. 15-year fixed mortgage rates fell 7 basis points to 3.25 from 3.32 a week ago. (Current Mortgage Rates-Mortgage Interest  Rates Today, @Natalie Campisi, November 20, 2019) 

Wondering what your place is worth? Curious as to what you can afford to buy? Perplexed with all the choices around you? Trying to simplify your life? Contact your trusted advisor at Urban Real Estate at (312) 528-9200 or visit  

Development reshaping city’s skyline

by Jacqueline Covey

Several skyscrapers marching upward in New Eastside and  Streeterville will soon add thou- sands of square feet of residential,  hospitality and retail space. Vista  Tower, sisters Cirrus Condominiums and Cascade Apartments,  Tribune Tower and an upcoming hotel and apartment tower in a  location dubbed Site O will trans- form downtown Chicago’s east- ern border. For local residents  living amidst the daily hum of construction, completion of these towers is just around the corner.

Vista Tower

363 E. Upper Wacker Drive

Expected to open in 2020, Vista Tower will be the third-largest  building in the city and the tallest designed by a woman—Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang. Another first for the city is a blow-through  on the 83rd floor that helps alleviate wind pressure. The building  topped out in April and currently interior work is being completed. The 101-story structure will house 400 condos and a luxury hotel.

Cascade and Cirrus

197 N. Harbor Drive and 225 N. Columbus Drive

These sisters of Lakeshore East are still in the first of two phases, as the dirt has barely settled since the dual-groundbreaking on Sept. 18. Ted Weldon, executive general manager for Lendlease Development in Chicago, said the first stage of construction  consists of Cirrus Condominiums and Cascade Apartments,  in addition to Cascade Park. Residents will also see work being done to the pedestrian and bicycle path that connects the development to Lake Michigan under Lake Shore Drive. There’s  been interest in Cirrus since pre- sales for condos began in spring,  Weldon said. Visit or call (312) 469-8090 for an appointment.

Tribune Tower

435 N. Michigan Ave

Unveiled April 2018, the redevelopment and new construction  project at Tribune Tower began  in 2016 after Golub & Company and the Los Angeles-based  CIM Group purchased the  Gothic landmark and surrounding buildings for $240 million.  The complex will be converted to 162 condos and update the stores below.

The team also hopes to build the second-largest building  in the city. At a Nov. 19 community meeting, Streeterville  Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) and Alderman Brendan Reilly offered details of the plan after residents raised concerns about traffic congestion. Crain’s reported developers have added a  passageway connecting the south and west sides of the building. The through road will mainly serve the hotel, with drop-off lanes and short-term parking.

Site O

Nestled between Aqua and 300 E. Randolph, parcel O is expected to see action in the coming months. Plans include a 33-story luxury apartment building and a 20-story tower that will host two hotels.  

How to sell a home in the winter

by Sheetal Balani

Winter is coming. Whether my “Game of Thrones” reference made you smile, the chill of winter can translate to a challenging real estate market.  But life doesn’t stop between Thanksgiving and February. In all twelve months of the year, job changes occur, families grow, and unanticipated changes arise, and all require people to buy or sell a home.  

Spring generally is the most popular time of year to sell a property, with crowds of buyers aiming to settle into a new home before the school year begins. But housing inventory is crowded during that time of year, meaning there is more competition for buyers’ attention. Alternatively in the winter, fewer homes for sale means less competition—and winter tends to bring out the serious buyers. As a real estate broker in the Chicago residential market for nearly 16 years, I’ve had some of my best months in real estate during the holiday season. These key approaches can help home sellers maximize their chances of success.  

Clear the way. This is more for single-family homes and townhomes than for full-service condo buildings. Shovel a clear path through the snow. Be sure to take extra care to clear off the exterior stairs and distribute a layer of salt.  

Assure that the interior of your home is warm and well lit. Chicago winters are frigid, dark and dreary with short hours of daylight. Make sure the interior of your home feels bright, in stark contrast to the weather outside. Don’t turn off the heat, even if your property is vacant. Any less than 68 degrees in a cold Chicago winter could mean a less-than-ideal showing experience.  Aside from risking an expensive burst pipe repair, you could also be wasting a great showing opportunity because an otherwise interested buyer was too cold to notice your freshly updated kitchen or spacious floorplan. Consider heating your home a couple of degrees warmer than usual, and then set the temperature at normal. This will prevent the heat from kicking in during showings when the buyer is present, especially if your HVAC system is loud and noticeable.

Get your home professionally staged. Creating that home-like feeling can be difficult to do when the interior is empty, especially in the colder months. Not only does a clean, beautifully staged home signal to potential buyers that the property is well cared for, but the right staging can also help them better visualize the property as their own future home. Fire up the fireplace. If you have a fireplace, now is the time to show it off. Turn it on before the showing, for a quick and easy way to add some cozy ambiance to your place.

Price the home correctly. This is perhaps one of the most important tips for selling a home in the winter. Work with your Realtor to understand the marketplace and set a fair price for your home. Selling in the winter can be a challenge, but with the correct tools in hand, it can be a rewarding and stress-free experience.

Pumpkins at the Park Event

By Sheetal Balani

October is here.  Autumn in Chicago means days will soon be flush with fallen red and orange leaves that crunch satisfyingly underfoot.  The temperatures will cool and we’ll respond iwith chunky sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes in hand. We’ll watch The Chicago Bears defeat the Green Bay Packers and attend Oktoberfest events across the city.

Anticipation grows for the upcoming holiday season – in my opinion, among the best holidays of the year: Halloween and Thanksgiving!  

Last month, I wrote about fun events in and around Chicago to commemorate the arrival of Fall.  In the spirit of community and to celebrate the changing of the seasons, I invite you to come to get a free pumpkin, enjoy some seasonal treats, and meet your neighbors on Saturday, October 19th from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm outside at Mariano’s 4th Floor patio.  

My team and I look forward to meeting you.

Survey: It’s a good time to buy, what does that mean for you?

Urban Real Estate

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) last month released a consumer survey showing that more than half of those polled believe that this market presents a good time to buy. The Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey indicated optimism was abundant, and as income brackets increased, so did the impressions of the current market. 

When respondents were asked whether now is a good time to purchase a home, according to the organization’s release, “Of those with an income under $50,000, 54% answered “yes.” Answers in the affirmative increased as household incomes increased. In the $50,000 to $100,000 bracket, 64% said now is a good time to buy a home, and among those polled who have an income of $100,000, 72% said that it is a good time to buy.”

Michael Emery, senior partner and broker with New Eastside’s Urban Real Estate, agrees consumers are more measured in their buying decisions, for a multitude of reasons.

“While there are great opportunities on the market, locally, there are consumers who can afford to buy but still choose to rent for the flexibility it offers, as well as the ability to more easily make lifestyle or job changes,” Emery said. “We also have clients who remain cautious of the future of our economy, and aren’t as quick to initiate a change from one home to another.” 

New Eastside continues to be a draw as would-be residents relocating find a private neighborhood in the heart of the city attractive for its proximity to the lakefront, parks, transportation and shopping. Multinational companies continue to invest in downtown Chicago, and new construction paired with existing real estate, makes the neighborhood even more unique for its residential options.

If you have considered buying or selling your home, or are interested in investment opportunities, connect with your neighbors at Urban Real Estate to review your options at (312) 528-9200 or visit

Falling for Chicago

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Sheetal Balani

The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of adventure in Chicago

Monday, Sept. 23 means the end of summer. 

But don’t panic. 

For some, this transition from summer to fall can be bittersweet. The warmest days of the year are behind us, school is back in session and the Chicago rooftop scene will soon announce their dreaded last call.   

But there are a lot of positives too. For those that are team #PSL, pumpkin spice everything will ubiquitously pop up on menus everywhere.  

And with that, I share my list of favorite activities in and around Chicago this time of year, as well as what I’m looking forward to this Fall in particular:

  • Bengston’s Pumpkin Fest officially opens its doors on Sept. 13. Choose the perfect pumpkin, eat hot apple cider doughnuts, get lost in the corn maze, and take a wagon ride.
  • Fall Fest at Lincoln Park Zoo — If you can’t make the trek out to Bengston’s, I recommend Fall Fest. Fridays to Sundays from Sept. 27 to Oct. 27, watch live professional pumpkin carvers sculpt 400-pound pumpkins into elaborate goblins and ghouls.
  • Chicago Gourmet celebrates all things food and entertainment.  Chicago celebrity chef cooking demos, mixology seminars, book signings, and lots of amazing food and drinks in Millennium Park, from Sept. 24 to 29.
  • Highly anticipated RPM On The Water is slated to open fall of 2019.  This newest installment from the RPM team will deliver panoramic views, in addition to their seafood-centric menu, on the Chicago River … yet another reason to love The Chicago Riverwalk!

For me, this transition to fall simply means back to the structure.  As much as my family and I enjoyed every bit of the summer, we all are looking forward to getting back to our routines — the anticipation, and excitement of moving forward with the new season.  

What to consider before selling your condo

(Published Aug. 1, 2019)

By Sheetal Balani

Last year, as I was preparing to list a River North condo, I discovered a problem. 

The condo was facing major litigation and the homeowners association (HOA) was bleeding cash fighting the lawsuit. Its reserves were dwindling, so to bring in some revenue, the HOA levied a $1 million special assessment—essentially a one-time fee to condo owners and potentially any new buyers to bring in revenue—and overnight, every lender I contacted backed out of financing the purchase.

Since the HOA was in poor shape, only cash buyers could purchase in the building, drastically limiting the pool of buyers. 

This was bad news for the sellers and unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon. The fact is, selling a condo isn’t as simple as selling a house. Condominiums have their own advantages and challenges and sellers should know a few things before they explore the market. 

First, your condo is only as good as your HOA. HOAs charge each unit owner a monthly assessment as part of the association. This  fee covers maintenance of the building’s exterior and any common areas, as well as a master insurance policy for the building, door staff, building engineers, maintenance and a property manager. The fee also possibly pays for some utilities such as water, gas, internet and cable. Each HOA is also responsible for maintaining a cash account, called reserves, to cover future operating expenses, as well as special projects such as tuckpointing or a new roof.

Why does this matter? If your condo association does not have sufficient money in reserve and a major capital expenditure arises, this could mean residents must pay a special assessment—extra fees to cover the cost of repairs that exceed the current budget. 

If there is a special assessment due when you are selling your condo, the buyer may expect you to pay for it, or they may decide to simply move onto a different building. It’s important to be aware of the financial health of your HOA before you decide to list your home.  

More than likely the buyer will need to get financing. The buyer’s lender will do their due diligence and examine your HOA documents and the association’s financial records, any pending or current litigation and the percentage of owner-occupants versus renter-occupants. All of these factors are critical for a successful loan. If the lender determines the reserves are insufficient, uncovers pending litigation or discovers the ratio of renters versus owners is unfavorable, that could mean the buyer’s loan is declined.

These are just a handful of issues the seller has to consider before getting the property on the market. However, if the seller works with an experienced real estate advisor, all of those challenges can be overcome with experience and skill.

Getting to the ‘finish line’ — decorating and upgrade tips

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Urban Real Estate

Deciding how to invest in a condo remodel is always a balance between the improvements made for your own enjoyment and those made with the expectation that they will positively increase the value of a home.

High-end finishes and appliances are a great way to start, however, not everyone will pay for your gold toilet or you pink granite. Others may see your finishes as a detriment, costing you more at the closing table.

So what’s the right solution? Michael Emery, senior partner and broker at Urban Real Estate, recommends having a plan, and sticking to it.

“If you are trying to make your house your home, be bold and invest smartly in finishes, flooring, molding and appliances. That will add value, but also make you feel like your home is your palace. Any time you have a thoughtful color scheme, top-notch touches and a home that looks stellar, you will do well,” he said.

The New Eastside brokerage recently signed a contract for a new listing at 400 E. Randolph Unit 2119 that is certain to break records.

“This particular listing is done right and is a true palace in the sky,” Emery said. “There is not a single detail left untouched in this two bedroom, two bathroom, 1,250 square foot residence. Everything from its oversized entrance, to the crystal wall sconces, paired with its ceiling moldings and perimeter lighting, this home is show-stopping in every way, a true hidden gem in the heart of our neighborhood.” 

The home also boasts hues in gold leaf and crepe antique, an open plan kitchen with thick marble, an elegant breakfast bar, a handmade mosaic glass wall in the master bath and a redesigned layout with hidden features for unusual—yet clever—storage areas.

“This home is the perfect example of class, finishes and appliances which all will help bring in top dollar for this home,” Emery said. 

The listing price is $715,000. For more information on this incredible residence, contact Michael Emery at (312) 528-9288 or email, or visit for 400 E. Randolph, Unit 2119. 

Top Three Factors To Consider Before You Buy

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Sheetal Balani

In the Summer of 2002, my husband and I purchased our first home together, a gorgeous brick loft in the heart of River North. Though we didn’t necessarily need a two-bedroom place just yet, we decided to stretch the budget and purchase a larger place so that we could stay longer, as our family grew. We lived there for six years; several years longer than if we had opted for the one-bedroom.  

Planning for a family and purchasing a home to create long term wealth is a top motivating factor for many prospective buyers entering the real estate market. When you pay rent, you don’t actually own anything. When you pay a mortgage, you increase your percentage of ownership with every payment you make. If you don’t currently own your home, the concept may seem daunting.  Honestly, it’s all about knowing where to begin.  

At parties, in the elevator, and on my walk across the park to Mariano’s, I often get asked

“When is the best time to buy?” My answer: when it’s right for you. But what does that mean?

Simply put, you should first consider three essential factors: personal, financial, and professional. I’ll elaborate.

Personally – Are you single? In a relationship? Starting or growing your family? Do you plan on living in the same city for the next 3+ years? You’ll want to consider these factors before you purchase. 

Financially – Have you saved enough for a down-payment? Well qualified buyers typically put down 10-20%. Have you spoken to a lender and been pre-approved for a mortgage? Do you have a solid understanding of how much home you can afford? Do you understand what to expect in terms of closing costs? Often I’ll sit down with a first-time buyer to discuss the buying process, and the scenario unfolds something like this: excitedly, the prospective buyer pulls out his/her cell phone to show me the myriad homes they’ve been flagging online. My immediate response is typically the same: Have you met with a lender yet? It’s best to meet with a lender sooner rather than later, so you can hone in on properties that meet your parameters.  

Professionally – Do you have a stable job that allows you to pay your mortgage every month? If you’re on a solid career path and are planning for your future, now may be a great time to consider buying your first home, and reap the many rewards of home ownership.  

After all, you are always going to be paying to live somewhere. You may as well pay yourself, and accumulate wealth along the way.  

Sheetal Balani is a senior broker at Compass, with over 15 years experience in residential real estate. Contact her at (312) 863-9555 or

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