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 UrbanRealEstate.com.

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.  https://pumpkinfarm.com/
  • 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. https://www.lpzoo.org/fall-fest
  • 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.  https://www.chicagogourmet.org/
  • 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!  http://rpmrestaurants.com/rpmonthewater/

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 Michael@urbanre.com, or visit UrbanRealEstate.com 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 Sheetal.Balani@Compass.com

Urban Living – Urban Giving focuses on community, giving back, making a difference

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Urban Real Estate

New Eastside real estate brokerage Urban Real Estate has continued to grow and expand its areas of giving through its “Urban Living — Urban Giving” initiative. In May, the Urban team proudly spent the day cooking lunch for families staying at the Streeterville Ronald McDonald House (RMH).

“There is no greater gift than being able to bring even the smallest sense of joy to families away from their homes, their lives, and dealing with the heartbreak of a sick child,” said Matt Farrell, a managing partner with Urban Real Estate. “We all felt privileged to spend time with these incredible families, along with the staff and volunteers, who run an awe-inspiring operation.”

Organizations or groups can request to sign-up for an RMH near them, along with the meal they wish to prepare, hosting around 60 people for lunch, and more for dinner, depending on the weather and the schedules of patient’s families. The Urban team had the opportunity to take a tour of the facilities, bringing awareness of all that RMH has to offer to the many coming from across the map.

Michael Emery, senior partner, believes every local group should make the commitment and get involved. “Our team wanted to do something meaningful and impactful. As brokers who help people find homes, we also have a duty to make a difference in the communities we serve. The RMH in our own backyard is deserving of every resource that can be sent its way.”

“The Urban Living — Urban Giving initiative is a reminder that one of our core values is giving back where we live, work, and play. As a partner in our community, we have every intent to continue to make a difference in any way we can, and hope we inspire others to do the same. The New Eastside and surrounding downtown neighborhoods have been pinnacle to our success,” adds Farrell. “And we try every day to show our gratitude by paying it forward to our neighbors and friends who need us the most.”

April snow showers haven’t brought May flowers to Chicago’s housing market – What next?

(Published on April 29, 2019)

By Urban Real Estate

Chicago’s weather has historically played a role in the health of the local housing market. Better weather has created more desire for buyers to get out and see what’s out there — and, by contrast, snowstorms and colder temperatures have kept buyers indoors and out of sight. This season has been no different.

The Chicago metro area saw 8,122 homes sell in March, up over 5,600 homes sold in February, however down 10 percent from the same period last year, according to a monthly report from the Illinois Association of Realtors. The city of Chicago had a greater dip, of more than 13 percent.

“Continued poor weather into the final days of April will indicate a stalled spring market,” says Michael Emery, senior partner, Urban Real Estate. “Chicago remains a city where buyers seek out specific neighborhoods, amenities, and transportation access based on their own professional, investment or second-home needs.”

Many argue whether or not continued low interest rates may also lead to a less aggressive buying market. “Buyers not threatened by the idea that their money may get them less house in the imminent future can oftentimes be less incentive to get off the fence. In the housing market nothing is certain, however prices will likely continue to go up in more Chicago’s desirable neighborhoods, and that impact is amplified where new construction offering smaller units will also cost more,” Emery adds.

“If selling is on your mind, have a game plan as to where you would go if you sold. Be ready to prepare a home that is camera-perfect and priced compellingly, especially in the New Eastside and surrounding areas, and the right offer at the right time will come,” notes Emery.

For more on local trends, if now is the right time for you to buy, or to discuss what pricing your home might look like, contact your neighbors at Urban Real Estate for a full consultation at (312) 528-9200, or visit us UrbanRealEstate.com.

Mega companies coming to downtown Chicago leads to opportunities in housing market

By Urban Real Estate

A new year has brought a wait-and-see attitude as the national climate, interest rates and a major local mayoral election bring some pause to buyers and sellers looking to make their next move. Chicago City Hall, the future of the city’s pension plan and property tax proposals all have people watching to see what the next Chicago will look like.

Multinational companies, however, have bigger bets set on the Windy City and that might be the key difference to our future over any other market.

Matt Farrell, managing broker of Urban Real Estate, sees this as the opportunity that makes downtown neighborhoods desirable even when the national and local climate may differ.

“Each of these companies has hundreds of employees who are also making their move into the city. Some are renters, others are prospective buyers. They all need a place to live, and there are few communities like the New Eastside that offer an immense level of convenience, privacy and beauty, all within steps of the hustle and bustle of the city.”

Chicago has a great deal to offer, both to companies and residents.

“There is really no surprise as to why this city continues to draw investors and businesses from across the globe,” Farrell added. “We may have our winters, but the access to public transportation, universities, museums, medical systems, an unrivaled lakefront setting, paired with O’Hare’s planned expansion, make Chicago the perfect fit.”

“The best advice we can give our seller clients is to do everything they can to make their homes look as pristine as possible. Beautiful, updated homes will always do better than a home that hasn’t been tended to. Consider your own personal and financial goals, and plan whether this may be the time to sell your home or to seek a second home at a great price,” Farrell said. “The market pace may have stabilized, but Chicago has and will continue to find its way to continued growth.”

The things in your home really should bring you joy

By Urban Real Estate

Winter in Chicago is the perfect opportunity to stay inside and tidy up. With the popularity of organizer-extraordinaire Marie Kondo’s Netflix hit “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” many are turning closets inside-out with the goal of finding happiness while decluttering.  

In real estate, decluttering ensures that a prospective buyer can “visualize” themselves in a space, so that a buyer is less focused on your life, and more focused on the home. The bonus is that living in a residence that looks and feels great is a win, all the way around.

Kondo’s six-step method is both a physical and emotional journey. The importance of loving your space isn’t just about the walls you live in – but also the momentos that share your home, as well. Michael Emery, senior partner and broker with Urban Real Estate, sees clients who struggle with what to do with belongings.

“When we are preparing a home for sale, all things will need to go at some point, so we recommend starting that packing process before we bring buyers in the door,” Emery said. “The goal behind bringing joy to your home is compounded with emotionally being prepared to remove a loved one’s belongings who has passed, clothes that simply don’t fit or you will never wear, or items from your children that simply need a new place other than your front closet,” Emeray adds.

As you declutter, think about how you want to use the items in your home. Some things you might want to keep, but it may not be necessary to keep them in your home.

“That’s what storage facilities are for. Think about what could go where, what you might keep for a second home or investment property, or what could be better used by someone else you know, and proceed confidently,” Emery added.

Contact us at Urban Real Estate for a consultation on the resources we have for organizing and staging, or for your next home. UrbanRealEstate.com or (312) 528-9200.

[Winter is a great time to declutter a home. Photo courtesy Urban Real Estate]

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