Who Was Vivian Maier?

Vivian Maier was an unknown Chicago photographer who would have been a famous artist had she shared her work. I love black and white people photography and this story blew me away when I read about it 6 months or so ago and now WTTW our PBS channel in Chicago has a piece about it on Chicago tonight.

There is also a chat with Jeff Garlin the comedian who was also on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jeff is from Chicago and a native of Second City which produced almost all the cast of Saturday Night Live. People from John Belshi, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, John Candy, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Mike Myers just scratches the surface but that is not what this post is about.

This woman Vivian Maier went around for years and took pictures and basically kept them to herself. She was a nanny in Chicago and took photography in her spare time. Upon her passing a Realtor found 30,000 negatives and some prints and they are amazing. I could go on and on but this story thrills me so I am gonna keep it short and let you play around with this on your own if you are interested. I promise you will like all this material.

Finding Vivian Maier 

Her site

Even a little more for the curious



Vacant property ordinance considered in Chicago

Chicago City Council is proposing an ordinance that would help clean up those vacant properties affected by foreclosure in the city.  We’ve all driven through neighborhoods only to see boarded up homes, graffiti, broken windows, and unkept lawns.  Bank of America, Wells Fargo, PNC and JP Morgan Chase helped develop the ordinance along with the city.

What is proposed is to have the banks better maintain these properties that are awaiting foreclosure or were left vacant because the bank took ownership after a foreclosure.  They would have to take responsibility for winterizing properties, putting up metal if the plywood was removed twice, and keeping stairs to the entry secure.  If it was found that they weren’t maintaining the properties correctly according to the ordinance, they could be fined each time.

They’re hoping to make this ordinance take effect statewide by proposing it before the State legislature.  For both the State and the banks, they’re also hoping to lower the amount of time it takes a property to go through foreclosure.  Cook County is averaging about two years currently, and they’re hoping to get that down to six months tops.

According to this Chicago Tribune article, “The mayor wanted to be sure we were able to uphold the important maintenance requirements in Ald. Dowell’s ordinance, so we brought the banks to the table to work toward a solution,” said David Spielfogel, chief of policy and strategic planning for the mayor’s office. “In addition to the compromise ordinance, we are working toward a solution in Springfield that will ensure regulatory certainty for municipalities and banks.”

And if everything passes as everyone hopes, the ordinance should take effect by the end of this year.

What are your thoughts?  Good or bad?  I actually like that the banks helped to develop it, especially considering they’re the ones that would be fined if they don’t follow through.  It really holds them responsible and keeps the city from looking like an awful mess.  Leave me a comment or visit me online.

Keeping closing costs low

With mortgage rates ridiculously low these days, what better time than to refinance or purchase a new home?  This past week, the 30-year fixed rate was at 4.44%, the lowest it’s been since Freddie Mac tracked the rates starting in 1971.  Even last week’s rate, 4.49%, is extremely low.  For the 15-year fixed rate, it was 3.92%, the lowest since Freddie Mac started tracking it in 1991.  So first things first – pick up the phone and call your mortgage lender now to talk about a possible refinance or purchase.

So if you are planning to refinance or purchase, you still have to worry about closing costs.  Here’s some tips on saving money during this process.

1. If you’re planning to refinance, contact your current mortgage lender/broker.  They already have your information so they won’t need to charge you again for an application fee or an appraisal fee (if it’s relatively recent.)  If you’ve refinanced recently, you also might be able to save on the fees for a title search.  Ask your lender about a reissue rate, which they can request for you.

2. Everything’s negotiable.  If you’re purchasing from a homeowner or builder, consider asking for money towards your closing costs in the price of the house.  You might be able to add $1,000 or $2,000 towards the purchase price and have them pay up to $5,000 of closing costs on your behalf. 

Fee-ed Up?
Here are just some of the costs of closing on a mortgage.

Fee  Average cost* 
Application  $272 
Appraisal  $310 
Credit report  $28 
Document preparation  $206 
Processing  $288 
Recording  $86 
Underwriting  $236 

 *Based on a $100,000 loan. Not every lender surveyed charges all of these fees.
 Source:  HSH Associates December 2003 survey of lenders

3. See if you can save money by providing your own reports.  For example, many lenders might charge you $30 for a credit report and $25 to FedEx documents.  While those numbers seem small, they add up quickly.  See if they’ll accept a credit report you provide that you’ve gotten free or allow the lender to pick up the documents to save on the cost of shipping.

4. Ask to review the HUD at least 24 hours prior to closing.  Your attorney can also do this for you.  Compare it to what you were quoted initially in your good faith estimate, and point out any differences to your lender.  Make sure everything is added up correctly (a mistake a little too common) and that you’re not charged twice for the same thing.  I’ve also had mistakes made where taxes were calculated wrong in the seller’s favor, rather than the buyer’s. 

5. Make sure you purchase homeowner’s insurance ahead of time.  Closing agents will need to see proof of insurance at the closing table.  If not, you might be forced to purchase the lender’s policy at a rate way over the typical charge.  Ask your lender and your Realtor for a list of essential items to take care of before closing so you don’t get stuck paying extra for something or for anything you don’t need.

If you have any more questions, please visit me online.

What’s most important in selling your home

I read a great article this morning in the Chicago Tribune. It talked about why sellers might be upset that the home they’re selling isn’t going under contract and why their neighbor’s home might be.  It listed some good points as to what will help get buyers through the door to get a sale.  Given the current housing market, homes aren’t selling as quick as they used to.  Market times are up, but given the right conditions, these tips will hopefully get your home to sell faster.  I want to go over a few of them.

1. Price.  This is the absolute most important reason why a home is not selling.  If you’ve had 30 buyers through the door and don’t have an offer yet, this is a good reason as to why not.  It’s probably overpriced.  This is not the right economy to “test the water” and list higher than market value for your home.  It will just lead to your home sitting on the market for longer and becoming stale for buyers.  If you need to sell quickly due to a divorce or relocation, for example, you will need to price your home below market value.  Make sure you discuss comparative properties with your Realtor as to what a good price should be.

The article also made a good point that you shouldn’t list your home for $299,900, thinking it will look better than $300,000.  You’re missing out on all the buyers who are looking for homes from 300-350 or 300-400K.  If you have a buyer looking from 250-300, your house will get noticed on both lists.

2) Curb appeal.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.  There’s a home in my friend’s neighborhood that just went on the market.  It looks like a jungle in the front yard where it’s impossible to find the front door.  It doesn’t take much time or money to trip the trees, rip out the weeds, and mow the lawn.  If I were a buyer looking for that home and I drove up for the first time, I wouldn’t even bother going inside.  So make sure your lawn is mowed, you have easy accessibility from the street or driveway to the front door, and even plant a few flowers with bold colors to make the front pop. 

3) Clear the clutter.  I’ve mentioned before how I’ve shown homes with dirty dishes in the sink, dirty laundry on the floor, and so much clutter in one room that you can’t even walk through it.  If you’re selling your home, now is the time to cut back.  Put some belongings in storage.  Clean out half your closet.  Make sure to remove family photos from the walls.  And do the simple things: put your dishes away, set the table, take your lotion and contact solution off your vanity and put it in a cabinet or drawer.  The less stuff of yours showing up, the better.

4) Internet marketing.  Make sure your home is being shown in the places where the buyers are looking.  It might be important for you to make sure your open house is showing up in the newspaper and there’s a big photo of your home there, too.  This is not where the buyers are looking anymore.  You want to make sure your Realtor is advertising on the proper sites: Zillow, Craigslist, Realtor.com, etc.  Ask any agent before you hire them what they do in terms of advertising and how many buyers will see it.  Find out how quickly the sign gets placed in the front yard.

These tips will help you sell a lot quicker.  If you have questions about if your home is ready for the market, please visit me online.

Your best local fireworks displays

Since this blog was so popular last year, I figured I’d return to it over the holiday weekend to let you know where you can catch some of the best local fireworks displays in the Chicagoland area.  I hope you’ll all be able to get out to view some of these fantastic shows. 

Evanston: July 4th at 9:15 pm at Clark Street Beach (Clark Street and the lakefront).  Palatine Concert Band will be playing from 7:30 to 9:10 pm at Dawes Park.  View Evanston’s site for more info. I have to say, even though I do work in the Evanston area and am probably a little biased, that this show is absolutely fantastic year after year!

Glenview: July 5th (it’s Monday!!) starting at 7:30 pm at the Glenview Park Golf Club at 800 Shermer Road.  View the park district site here.

Skokie: Skokie is planning a 3-D fireworks display and the first 10,000 visitors get a free pair of 3-D glasses.  The show is at dusk on July 4th at Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton Street.  Their rain date for the show is July 5th.

Wilmette: Aside from Chicago’s fireworks tonight at the Taste of Chicago, Wilmette is also planning their fireworks display tonight, July 3rd.  The show is at Gillson Park at Lake Avenue and Lake Michigan and starts at 9:30.  Starting at 4 pm today, Wilmette is having a Tastefest and carnival rides for the kids.  View their Web site for more information.

Buffalo Grove: You’ll be able to view their fireworks from four locations starting at 9:15 pm July 4th.  You can see them at the Buffalo Grove Golf Course, Lake Cook Road & Raupp Boulevard, Rotary Village Green, or Willow Stream Park.  Starting at 7 pm, the Buffalo Grove Symphonic Band will be playing a concert at the Rotary Village Green.  More details here.

Libertyville: Fireworks begin at dusk on July 4th at Butler Lake Park, located on Lake Street west of Milwaukee Avenue.  In the Butler Lake Band shell, the Libertyville Village Band will play a concert at 7:30 pm.  View their site.

I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday weekend. Visit me online if you need anything!

Evanston tops foreclosure list on North Shore

A new study done by the Woodstock Institute puts Evanston at the top of its list for the most foreclosures on the North Shore for the first quarter of 2010.  Evanston has had 85 foreclosure filings since the beginning of 2010, up two from 83 filings in the same period of 2009.  The total 2009 count was 336.  I’m not surprised at the number of foreclosures.  Obviously, many homeowners these days are struggling to make their mortgage payments.  What I’m surprised by is that Evanston beat out other affluent suburbs on the North Shore like Wilmette, Highland Park, and Lake Forest.  Maybe it’s just that there’s many more homes in Evanston than those towns, which would push their numbers up.

For the first quarter of 2010, Highland Park had 37 foreclosure filings.  Lake Forest posted 15 and Wilmette posted 19.  Highland Park and Wilmette’s numbers have decreased since 2009.  Just Lake Forest and Evanston have an increase in their numbers. 

The suburb in the Chicagoland area with the highest number for the first quarter was Aurora with 572.  Naperville was extremely low compared to that number with 123.  Joliet had 414.  High numbers in Lake County included Waukegan with 265, Round Lake Beach with 154, Vernon Hills with 53, and Gurnee and Grayslake tied for 50 each.

When you compare numbers by county, Cook easily blows the rest away.  Cook County had 10,449, Suburban Cook County had 5,454, and Lake County had 1,715.  McHenry came in at the lowest with 842.  All of those numbers increased since the same time period in 2009 except for Cook, which was down 4.7% overall.

When you look at completed real estate auctions for the first quarter, Evanston already has 54.  Wilmette had 6, Highland Park had 16, and Lake Forest had 5.

So what do you think is the reason Evanston’s numbers are so high?  Do you think it’s because there’s so many more housing units and because the city is larger than the others?  Are residents from Evanston having more unemployment issues than those in other areas?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

Evanston creates jobs to help with HUD financing

It’s been a couple of months since I mentioned that Evanston was to receive about  $18 million in government assistance through grants that would take care of some foreclosed and vacant property.  Well, now Evanston is working with HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development) to figure out the process to qualify eligible workers and businesses to help with the rehab and development of this property.

There are about 100 housing units considered foreclosures or now vacant that will be part of the rehab project.  Brinshore, a Northbrook developer, will assist with the project.  Evanston plans to make these units available for rent or possible sale, after a rehab, of course.

So now the city is looking for contractors to work on the units.  The government expects that residents of Evanston be used as much as possible.  Evanston City code requires that at least 25% of contracts go to Evanston-based contractors, minority-owned, or women-owned.  Projects can range anywhere from roofing to painting to HVAC to complete rehabs.

Subcontractors can bid directly on work at the city’s Web site.  As work is needed, the city will post the opportunities online.  So they’re asking workers to check the site regularly for new opportunities.  Workers will need to be licensed and will need to provide information on years in the business, past work, etc.

While some may think that 25% of the work needing to be done by Evanston-based, minority-owned, or women-owned businesses is too much, I think it’s great.  Who better to help beautify the city than residents of the city?  They’re the ones with the deepest roots here and have much more to gain.  It will help bump up employment rates, too. 

I am also a fan of the fact that they’re spacing out the bids with new opportunities popping up as needed.  This gives everyone a fair shot at bidding on projects, rather than having lost opportunities for those with slower Internet access or busy on a job one day. 

Do you think this is a step in the right direction for Evanston?  Please leave a comment below or visit me online. Also, thanks to the Pioneer Press for a lot of the information.

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day!

Coldwell Banker’s plan to extend the tax credit

As an agent of Coldwell Banker, I wanted to talk about what my company is doing to continue to stimulate the housing market.  With the tax credit expiring last week, starting on Saturday, they announced a Buyer Bonus Sales Event.  Since many agents had buyers who would have missed out on the credit if it had really expired when it was supposed to in November, Coldwell Banker decided to do something about it since it did expire on Friday.

Sellers participating in this event will offer a credit of 3% (up to $8,000) for buyers at closing.  The contract has to be signed prior to July 31, 2010, but right now there is no set deadline on a closing.

Jim Gillespie, the president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC said, “Without restrictions such as household income caps, the Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus Sales Event allows for greater participation for all homebuyers.  And our sellers have a unique opportunity to allow their home to stand out from the competition in their marketplace.”  So no one is limited by this event.  Anyone (first time buyers or repeat buyers) can take advantage of this bonus.

To find a home participating, you can go to the Coldwell Banker Web site and check the box labeled Buyer Bonus Properties in your search criteria.  As you drive around neighborhoods you’re looking at, you can also see those that have a special rider on their yard signs.  Feel free to call your local office to find out if the property you’re interested in is participating.

Sellers planning to sell their home and want to participate, be sure to let your agent know.  You’ll get the benefit of national television advertising, promotion on the Web site, as well as social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is a great chance to get some money back if you were unable to participate in the government’s program.  If you’re interested in selling or buying, please be sure to visit me online.

Possible water bill increases for Evanston residents

Evanston, IL residents may be faced with a dilemma in the near future, and no matter what, it could equal an increase in water bills, sewer bills, and even property taxes.

Because residents have been great at conserving water over the past few years, the city is left without much of the revenue it normally generates from water bills.  Evanston had a City Council meeting this past week to discuss the options to generate more money for the city.  All of the options included a property tax hike and either an increase in water or sewer bills.  Based on the last fiscal year, water usage was down 19% from what was used back in 2005.  And the 2005 year is what they based the current budget on.

So what are the possible outcomes to this?  How would residents’ bills increase?  The first scenario would only increase property taxes by less than 1% each year over a three-year period.  This wouldn’t begin until January 1 of 2011 and it would also include a hike in the sewer bill of 6, 7, and 8%.  So you’d be paying an increase of about $160 over five years in your tax bill and around $300 in your sewer bill.

The second possibility is to leave the sewer rate as it is now, with no increase in the immediate future.  However, they’d bump the property taxes by less than 1% over four years instead of three.  If costs are added to property taxes, they can all be deducted.  In terms of water, the most expensive option would cost a homeowner would be around $192 in property taxes and $158 for water.

Evanston currently charges Skokie, IL and other cities like Buffalo Grove and Palatine in the Northwest Water Commission for water.  They’re looking to expand this service to be able to make more money off of other cities.   Thanks to the Evanston Review for this great information. 

You can always visit me on my Web site for any real estate related needs.  Have a great week!

Tips to ensure first time buyer tax credit

Just a reminder that the deadline to be under contract on a home to still obtain the first time buyer tax credit is April 30th.  This is up to $8,000 in tax credits for any buyer who hasn’t owned a home in the past 3 years.  Of course, move up buyers are also eligible for up to a $6,500 credit.  Since that’s not very far away, I know that many people have just signed contracts or are still looking for their perfect place.  The property must close on or before June 30th.  And that April 30th contract must be signed by both the buyer and the seller, or one of their representatives, to make it legal and binding.  I wanted to give you some other tips to make sure you got through this process without a hitch.

1. Use your contingencies wisely.  In Illinois, you’re allowed an attorney review contingency, mortgage contingency, and home inspection contingency.  You’ll most likely want to take advantage of all three.  But don’t use them as just a stall tactic to buy more time.  Make sure you meet your deadlines.  Get the contract to your attorney as soon as its signed – give them as much time as possible to review it.  Order a home inspection upon signing it, too.  You don’t want to have to ask for extensions because you want to be able to close in time.

2. Don’t wait for better weather to go out looking.  You’re already in a serious time crunch, so delaying something even further could mean the home that’s meant for you is already sold or off the market.  Schedule appointments if it’s snowing if you need to find something quick.

3. Make sure you’re pre-approved before you go out looking. You don’t want to find out after you’ve finished negotiating that there’s a problem with the purchase price because you won’t qualify for a loan.  Make sure your mortgage broker has all of the documentation they need from you (tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, etc.) well ahead of time.

4. Be wary of short sales in this situation.  The process to hear back from the lender could be a very long one, and you don’t want to risk losing your credit because of it.  At this point, that may not be the best way to go.

More great tips can be found here.

Let me know if you’re still looking.  I’m happy to help you find your dream home.  Visit me online.