Blog Archives

Don’t Forget 2018 Holiday Curb Appeal: Chicago Real Estate

During the 2018 holidays or any holiday no matter the year, your curb appeal needs to not only spread holiday cheer, but attract the right message to guests and potential home buyers. If the outside of your home is not appealing, you may leave a not so great lasting first impression before anyone even experiences what the inside has to offer. Many real estate professionals and home stagers have found that hints of holiday colors and decorations on the outside of your home can create a warm and inviting atmosphere for all that cross the threshold. With so many poor examples of proper outdoor decorations, it is hard to know what is appropriate for decorating the exterior of your home. REALTOR® Magazine  provides guidelines to create holiday curb appeal the right way:

1. For a classic exterior look, home stagers recommend twinkling clear, white lights.

2. Hang a festive wreath at the front door that will look great and create a nice smell when buyers enter your home.

3. Add some seasonal flowers to your front entryway to add some holiday color.

4. Show off your windows with battery-operated candle lamps at primary windows.

5. Leave outdoor lights on after 5:00 p.m. to give all a clear pathway as they enter your home.

6. Think winter and not a specific holiday…avoid placing religious-themed decorations outside your home.

7. Make sure your home is in home staging shape with nicely trimmed bushes, fresh house paint, etc.

Since your home will be looking its best, take a photo that you can use to create a special holiday card or flyer to be used as marketing material through the holiday weeks.  With these tips, you will be on your way to leaving good vibes with visitors, guests, and potential home buyers.


3 2018 Housing Trends Buyers-Sellers Should Know This Spring: Chicago Real Estate

The summary of hot housing trends going on right now this spring 2018: Potential Chicago-Lincoln Park home-buyers may find that if they were waiting for mortgage rates or house prices to hit bottom, they may have delayed too long. Expected mortgage rate increases will serve as a warning to borrowers who thought the low rates would last long term. Good news: mortgage rates are still at historic lows.

Good news: Chicago home purchases have picked up considerably, many are ready to buy. In addition millions of current borrowers will have the opportunity to refinance their mortgages through two government programs that make the refinancing process easier and cheaper.

Top 3 Chicago real estate trends you should expect to see for spring 2018:

Homebuyers are expected to get off the fence

Attractive mortgage rates, low home prices and rising rents make the current housing market the perfect opportunity for Chicago and surrounding area buyers and investors.

The price gap is closing between what sellers expect to get for their homes and what buyers pay; one reason home sales are improving. As consumer confidence and Chicago rents rise, more renters will likely want to become homeowners.

Mortgage rates rise but won’t hit the roof

Many Chicago borrowers missed the record-low mortgage rates seen earlier this year, but they still have a chance to grab low rates this spring.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest forecast indicates that the rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage will average about 4.3 percent in the second quarter. That’s up from the first quarter’s average of 4.16 percent in a weekly survey. But 4.3 percent would still be low, especially when you compare it to the 6 percent or 7 percent borrowers paid at the height of the housing boom.

Refinances get easier, cheaper

Another government program, known as HARP 2.0, will make it easier for thousands of borrowers to refinance their mortgages this spring. Homeowners who have FHA-insured mortgages and who are current on their payments will be able to refinance with lower fees through the FHA streamline refinance program starting in June. Only loans that closed before June 2009 are eligible to be refinanced in the program.

The FHA will reduce loan fees by more than half on streamline refis. As of June 11, borrowers who refinance through the FHA streamline program will pay only 0.01 percent of the loan in upfront insurance fees and 0.55 percent in annual mortgage fees. More info HERE


3 Commonly Overlooked Areas Before a Home Purchase: Chicago Top Producing Realtor

When choosing a Chicago home or any home for that matter, housing experts say that buyers often overlook important factors that may keep them happy for years to come with their property purchase.

While many Chicago buyers may be swayed by a home’s appearance, financing, and location, a recent article in U.S. News & World Report lists tips for those often-forgotten aspects of home ownership that ring true for buyers across the country and also here in the Chicago-Lincoln Park area:

Remodeling Rules: Purchasers who are looking to have a house grow with their family’s needs through the years may want to investigate any such rules beforehand to make sure that they’ll be able to add onto their home as needed. Many community associations may set limitations on what you can do to property, particularly if the buyer ever wants to make exterior changes like adding a garage or guest house.

Stay Informed, Ask Questions, Test Your Knowledge: Keeping abreast of the intricate details and considerations of buying a Chicago home can make or break your home buying experience. Are you fully informed? Do your homework and take the financial literacy quiz to test your knowledge when it comes to making important decisions regarding your money. Ultimately, having the patience to carefully weigh these considerations and improve your education surrounding mortgages, negotiations, real estate language helps to create peace of mind on this big-ticket purchase. Above all, using your Chicago top selling realtor as a guide to save time and help you avoid costly mistakes.

Lifestyle Amenities: While some may not seem outwardly important at first, they contribute to heightened housing market values in the community and affect whether you’re satisfied with your home purchase. Choosing the right kind of amenities for your present and future plans can impact future savings in terms of convenience and commuting costs, especially if the prospective neighborhood is lacking in that facet. Exploring neighborhood amenities such as schools, public transportation, recreational parks, and proximity to entertainment are additional things to consider when buying a house. More info HERE

Ian Schwartz with The Ian Schwartz Group has been representing both buyers and sellers as a Licensed Broker Associate in Coldwell Banker’s Lincoln Park Plaza office, one of the top-five-producing Coldwell Banker offices in the United States. Ian has sold over 500 million dollars of real estate, including sales in excess of 55 million dollars in 2015 and sales in excess of 50 million dollars in 2014. He is consistently in the top 1% of agents in the Chicago Association of Realtors and in the top 1% of Coldwell Banker agents nationally. Look to Ian and his accomplished team to find out why…everything we touch turns to SOLD!


Top 10 Winter Moving Tips: Chicago Real Estate

Winter weather can potentially pose some challenges during the moving process, but those who want or need to assume a new residence during cold weather months have options to prevent problems from affecting their relocation. I have helped countless clients with relocation that include buying or selling a home. As a preferred USAA Movers Advantage realtor, I assist by sorting out real estate matters that can easily become an overwelming process.  Keep the following 10 tips in mind before the big day:

1. Make sure your moving paperwork is organized.Create a move file to store information and collect expense receipts.

2. Get  in-touch with your new community.Contact the local chamber of commerce or visitors’ bureau for your new community. See if they can send you a telephone directory and newspapers.

3. Confirm school schedules and enrollment requirements.Arrange to pick up school records or have them sent to the new schools.

4. Protect your items.Obtain appraisals for high-value items. Call USAA at 1-866-398-7537 to obtain coverage for your possessions while in transit or storage. Contact your homeowners insurance company at least 24 hours before you release your belongings to the mover (For USAA, call 1-800-531-8111).

5. Don’t leave your car out.Take care of auto maintenance and repairs. Call USAA at 1-800-531-8722 to get an auto insurance quote for your new location.

6. Switching your utility services. Notify your utilities and local services of disconnect dates. Order utility services for your new address, including Internet, cable, home phone, electricity and natural gas through the Utility Marketplace.

7. Update address info.Get change-of-address cards from your post office. Aside from friends and family, make sure you provide your new address to medical facilities, schools, magazines to which you subscribe, and USAA.

8. Lighten your load..have a garage sale.Donate anything that isn’t sold to charity. (Don’t forget to keep receipts for income tax deductions.)

9. Remember cleaning.Properly dispose of flammables such as aerosol cans, cleaning fluids, paint, ammunition, weed killer and acids. Drain oil and gas from your lawn mower or other power equipment. Clean the refrigerator and the freezer; allow them to dry one or two days with the doors open. Remember to block the doors to keep them from closing if you have small children or pets.

10. Travel well prepared. Separate items you don’t want to pack, such as suitcases, and store in an empty closet. Pack prescriptions and immediate necessities in an easy-to-access suitcase. If you are traveling by air, do not check this bag. If you have children, compile a list of traveling games for the car or plane ride. MORE INFO

Ian Schwartz with The Ian Schwartz Group looks forward to making 2016 a year of more top performing, high ranking, client focused, accolade producing results. See why he and his team are known for…everything we touch turns to SOLD!


Ian Schwartz Tips What a Homebuyer Should Know Before Closing: Chicago Real Estate

Ian Schwartz Tips What a Homebuyer Should Know Before Closing

Top Tips for a Winning Real Estate Offer: Chicago Real Estate

Writing a winning offer can depend on your marketplace, and having a top producing, top performing, top ranked, experienced Chicago realtor on your side can give you an edge. Use the tips below as a starting  guide in the realm of real estate bids:

 1. Confirm pre-approved status

A good portion before writing an offer – and ideally before you even begin your search – meet with your bank or other financial advisor; the one who will be giving you your mortgage, and get pre-qualified or pre-approved. When it’s time to put forth an offer, the seller will know you’re serious.

 2. Gain knowledge and asking questions

Being observant and asking the right questions prior to writing an offer can often make the difference between an accepted offer and a stalled negotiation. Some contract terms may be of great significance to the seller, whereas only a slight inconvenience for you. Should the seller want to rent the place back, for example, for a few days or weeks after escrow, your written flexibility on the move out/in date could close the deal in your favor.

 3. Understand local context

A Chicago list price can be subjective. Look to your Chicago real estate sales associate to advise you on pricing strategy. In the end, it’s important that you know the real estate situation yourself to determine if the property is fairly priced, based on comparable, recently sold properties in the area. There’s no rule of thumb that says going in under asking is expected. Market conditions will dictate the selling price. Keep in mind that homes will also occasionally be underpriced to attract multiple offers. This circumstance may call for a bid over the initial asking price.

4. A strong deposit can make a big statement

You’ll want to submit an earnest money deposit when writing an offer, payable to a reputable escrow company, to be delivered by your Chicago realtor. He or she will know limits, days of appropriate correspondence, and deadlines after the acceptance of the offer. Even when delivering an offer below asking price, offer a large deposit if possible, and it will pay dividends in the end. Down payment strategies however may vary. In some areas, a smaller deposit is the norm. Regardless of location, a higher deposit will most likely strengthen your negotiating power.

5. Allowing time for the seller’s response

Time is of the essence once you decide to take the plunge, especially regarding a newer Chicago listing in which the risk is high that other buyers will potentially submit offers. If the offer is strong, speed up the response time. Your top selling Chicago realtor can advise you on what strategy will work best. More information HERE

Top 3 Tips Sellers Should Know About Open Houses: Chicago Real Estate

Having an open house is a standard practice in real estate across the country including Chicago. It offers the chance to showcase your home to potential Chicago home buyers who may have seen your home online and want to take the next step. An open house could seal the deal.

According to a recent study, 15% of home buyers found the home they purchased from a yard sign or open house sign. 32% of buyers found their home on the Internet. When they picked their home online, 77% of them drove by the home, and 63% of them walked through the home.

The next step may be acclimating the seller to the process of open houses. Many times the dreaded question Chicago real estate agents or any agents may fear when speaking to the seller- “May I be present at the open house or showing?”

At this point, most agents will pause, take a deep breath and think of all the reasons why this in most cases, is the worst possible scenario.  Having the seller present during an open house or showing of their property is almost always a bad idea. Here are three top reasons why:

1. Sellers could get hurt feelings, which can cost money

A good example, a buyer touring a Chicago home with dark colored walls, floors and heavy window coverings asked his Chicago agent what it would cost to refinish the floors and paint the place. The seller, who preferred the dark, was insulted by the questions and immediately went on the defensive. When the low offer came in from that buyer, the seller couldn’t help but think that they were trying to discount the price to pay for those cosmetic changes. The seller refused to budge on price.

The seller experienced hurt feelings from questions or comments the potential buyer asked. This could lead to a negotiation that starts off on a bad note.

2. Sellers tend to over indulge

In an instant, emotions can get the best of the seller(s). In the example used below, the seller lost a buyer and the potential for a good offer. The final sales price came in less than the preferred price by $7,500.

Honesty is always the best policy, of course. But don’t forget that this is a “sales” process, and that less is usually more. Let’s say a potential buyer asks the seller about the neighbors. “Oh, we love our neighbors!,” the seller answers. “They drop by our house all the time and we do the same. They’ve got high school-age kids, too, who are a lot of fun. It’s one big, constant block party!” While some might like this idea, others who value their privacy will be turned off.

3. Seller’s attendance commonly makes buyers feel awkward

In the presence of a seller, the potential Chicago buyer may feel like a guest in a stranger’s home, a patron at a museum, or something in between. They then could spend too much time being cautious and not enough time really delving into the property. When buyers don’t feel completely comfortable to explore, they may miss the intricacies of a property. Or they might not give the home a fair look. This means a missed opportunity for both the buyer and the seller. Rule of thumb: The presence of a seller can be off-putting.

In some cases, exceptions can apply

As an example, a seller’s home was at the top of a Chicago hill. There was a steep walk from the driveway to the front door, which proved to be a major issue among potential buyers. The seller, a triathaletee, just couldn’t imagine why buyers would object, and he wouldn’t budge on the price. By being present (briefly) at one open house, the seller witnessed buyers arriving breathlessly, saying snide comments like, “If I bought this home, I could cancel my gym membership.” He got the point and agreed to drop the home’s price significantly.

Every once in a while it helps for the seller to be present during an open house or showing. After weeks on the market without any offers, especially with a property that needs serious cosmetic or staging work, it might be helpful for the seller to attend the open house anonymously. They can hear directly from buyers that the paint job is off-putting, how the place feels too much like a bachelor pad, and so on. The Chicago real estate agent may have been trying to tell the seller these things all along, but sometimes, independent confirmation is needed before the seller will take action. More info HERE

4 Tips to Living in a Staged Home: Chicago Real Estate Trends

As a tried and true home staging supporter/advocate, the fact remains that staging a home makes it “buyer ready”. A staged Chicago home allows property to appeal to the largest Chicago buyer audience possible using proven design techniques that highlight the home’s best architectural and floor plan features. In addition, staged homes are 5 times more likely to get offers in the shortest amount of time. But then comes the question, how do you live in and maintain a staged home?  Below are the best tips to cover that key Chicago real estate question:


In the kitchen, keep the countertops and sink clean. It is fine to have 1-2 appliances that remain on the countertop, assuming there is ample space and they are in good condition. Try to get in the habit of keeping dirty dishes out of the sink by either washing the dishes or placing them in the dishwasher immediately after use. Ideally, the counter dish drain should be hidden from view, but as long as it is neat and not bulging with dishes, it can remain on the counter during showings.  Keep that pantry clean and neat as well. And, yes, expect that buyers will open doors to kitchen pantries, so prepare accordingly.

One more thing about kitchens – cooking! If you tend to cook with lots of spices, fry often or prepare foods with heavy scents, have a plan to neutralize the scents immediately afterwards. There are easy ways to do this like boiling a few sliced lemons on the stove or leaving out cups of white vinegar to absorb the scents and odors overnight.  It is important that your home smells fresh for prospective buyers and not like last night’s meal.


Remember living in college dorms and sharing bathrooms, which meant having to tote bathroom items to use in the dorm bathroom?  Yep, it’s time for the bathroom tote to make its return to keep the bathrooms neat.  Give each family member a tote to store their toothbrush, toothpaste, wash cloth/hand towel and all creams, gels, sprays and makeup that normally lives on the counter around the sink, tub and/or shower.  Use the tote to store items under the bathroom sink, in closed door bathroom cabinet or linen closet, thereby keeping the bathroom countertops free from personal items.  Start using the totes daily – it will save you lots of time and worry.


Most of the clutter in the bedroom is found near nightstands and closets. To help remedy the clutter, hide items in a closed cabinet or nightstand. Or, purchase a basket with a lid that will slide easily under the bed. Place all of your bedroom clutter in the basket – tissues, reading glasses, pens, journals, gels, creams, etc. You can leave 1-2 books on the nightstand with your lamp and alarm clock but anything personal should be hidden from view. It also goes without saying that you should make your bed EVERY DAY once you rise to keep your bedroom looking its best.

Family room

Closed storage can be your best friend in keeping your family room neat.  Keep children’s toys and play items in a cabinet, basket or storage ottoman, for easy containment during a quick showing. Reduce the stack of magazines on the coffee table to 1 -2 latest issues, along with your remote.  Routinely sort the mail as it comes in. Mail that needs a response is immediately stored in a drawer or basket; junk mail is immediately tossed. It will help you keep your family room, kitchen or office area neater and keep wandering eyes from your personal items, too. If you are still receiving the daily newspaper, don’t keep yesterday’s issue on the coffee table, move it to recycling area in your home on a daily basis. More info HERE


Top 6 Tax Breaks Homeowners and Buyers Should Know: Chicago Real Estate

Despite the current state of our economy and the aspects of uncertainty with the Chicago housing market, buying a home is still a great investment. However, the resulting taxes that accompany owning a home can lead to confusion. For first time home buyers it may simply be a case of not knowing.

More often than not, you need to itemize your taxes in order to take advantage of all the tax breaks that accompany home ownership. This might seem overwhelming, but the benefits of completing this process will outweigh the inconveniences.

1.       Interest on a Construction Loan

If you take out a construction loan to build a home, you may qualify to deduct that interest. You can only use this deduction for the first 24 months of your loan, even if the actual construction takes a bit longer.

2.       Property Tax

You can deduct state and local property taxes, as long as they are based on the assessed value of the real property. If you pay your property taxes out-of-pocket, you need to review your bills to determine how much you paid. Most homeowners pay through an escrow account; if you do the same, the information also appears on your 1098 form.

3.       Fees & Points

Points refer to charges or fees paid by a borrower to obtain a home mortgage. If you have your first mortgage, you can deduct these charges in the year that you paid them if the loan is for your primary residence and you didn’t pay excessive points. If you have refinanced a mortgage, you can deduct points over the life of the loan. Check the IRS rules and regulations for further details.

4.       Interest Deduction on a Mortgage

Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID) is a top tax break for homeowners, which can save you a significant amount of money. In the beginning, the majority of your monthly mortgage payments go toward loan interest, and you can deduct all the interest from your mortgage on your taxes. Keep your 1098 form, issued by your lender, with your important records. This form explains exactly how much you can deduct and serves as proof, if audited by the IRS.

5.       Premiums on Mortgage Insurance

Homeowners with new mortgages with a loan-to-value ratio higher than 80% must carry some form of private mortgage insurance (PMI). This insurance protects the lender against loan default. Typically, once you reach 20% equity in your home, you can stop paying private mortgage insurance.

Until you reach that level of equity, if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $100,000 (or $50,000, if married filing separately), you may be able to deduct the amount that you paid. If you surpass that income level, the deduction is either reduced or eliminated. If your AGI is $109,000 ($54,500, if married filing separately) then the deduction goes away altogether.

6.       Energy Star-Going Green

If you meet the necessary criteria, you can receive a tax credit equal to 10% of the cost of energy-saving products. The credit for windows and skylights is capped at $200, the limit for doors is $500, and you cannot deduct installation costs. The IRS does not state what documentation you need to prove that you paid for these costs. However, you should hold on to all receipts and Energy Star labels for any qualified improvements you make on your home. There’s a long list of green energy tax deductions for home improvement.

Installing energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights can result in another tax deduction. In order to take advantage of this tax break, you must install the items by the end of a calendar year. Additionally, they must be installed at your primary residence, and they need to meet Energy Star program requirements.

For more information of homeownership tax breaks and IRS regulations click HERE and HERE

The Skinny on Appraisals in 2012-Chicago Real Estate

Many have asked me what are appraisals and how do they work regarding buying or selling a home.  Well, the definition of an appraisal is: the process of valuing real property. The value usually sought is the property’s Market Value. Appraisals are needed because compared to, say, corporate stock, real estate transactions can occur infrequently. Not only that, but every property is different from the next, a factor that doesn’t affect assets like corporate stock. Furthermore, all properties differ from each other in their location – which is an important factor in their value.

So let’s jump to a real-life scenario..imagine that you’ve found a home you really love. You and the seller have come to terms on a fair market value. You’ve had the property inspected from top to bottom and reviewed all of the seller’s disclosures. You’ve submitted every last piece of financial data to your mortgage broker, and you’re already picking out new paint colors because you think it’s a done deal.

Then, you get an unexpected call from your mortgage broker, saying the property didn’t appraise at or even near the fair market value. This turn of events could easily scare a first-time buyer from going through with the purchase. For a more experienced buyer or seller, it becomes, at a minimum, a major kink in the process.

What Buyers and Sellers can do:

Buyers: Most banks have a process by which you can dispute an appraisal if it comes to that. This generally requires the buyer or their agent to supply other comparable sales and explanations as to why they think the appraiser’s value is off. The review takes some time and can go either way. If it fails, you may or may not have options. The other options:

  • If both parties still want to move ahead, the best plan is to extend all time frames and switch to a new lender.
  • Another option is to reduce the purchase price, if both parties agree.
  • The final option, depending on the deal, is for the buyer to bring more money to close.

It makes the most sense for all parties to work together to keep the deal going.

Sellers:If you’re a seller or a listing agent and you get a call from an appraiser to set up the appraisal appointment and they have an out-of-town area code, that might be a red flag. Ask them on the phone if they’re familiar with the area, if they’re a member of the local MLS, and how many appraisals they’ve done in the area in the past six months. If you feel the appraiser isn’t experienced, you can ask for another.

Also, come to the appraisal prepped with knowledge of recent comparable sales.  If you, as the seller or listing agent, are active in the local market, you can shed light on certain comparable sales for the appraiser. The listing agent and the seller have likely been physically inside all of the most recent sales, while the appraiser has not. You might point out that one comp didn’t have a…..CONTINUED