Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cook County Homeowners Can Now Appeal Assessments Online

One of the most common complaints from homeowners that I hear these days is "if I want to sell my home I'll get less than last year, but my taxes are higher" - I know, it doesn't make much sense. However, Cook County finally made it a little easier for homeowners to appeal their assessment. Click here to go to the website and file your appeal. If you need help, contact me and I'll happily help you fight the power!

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Senior Exemption Deadline Coming Up

You may remember the recent article I wrote about the Senior Exemption in Cook County. I just want to remind you that although the original March 7 deadline was extended, the deadline to apply for the senior exemption is March 22.

Under legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in August, senior citizens in Cook County no longer automatically get the exemption, which amounts to a few hundred dollars' credit on their second-installment tax bills, unless they file the appropriate paperwork.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Short-Sellers and Foreclosure victims find loss of house may just be the beginning of their troubles if they don't have quality representation

With foreclosures and short-sales accounting for almost half of all homes on the market in some Chicagoland neighborhoods, the poor economy of the last few years has affected virtually every area. Personally, I have seen short-sales from Maywood to South Barrington, Chicago to Wilmette and just about everywhere in between. Homeowners facing hardships such as a job loss, divorce or medical issue have become so common that many of them are being told that selling their house “short” is a quick fix. However, in Illinois, as in many states, you may still be on the hook for money owed; even long after your home was foreclosed on or a short-sale was approved.

In the case of foreclosures, if there is a difference between what is owed and what the bank can sell it for at auction, they can and are (in some cases) pursuing the difference, even years later. For short-sales (which is when the bank allows you to sell your home for less than is owed), the same rule applies and often is enforced, especially by the 2nd or 3rd mortgage holder.

For underwater homeowners in desperate need of selling their home, it is essential to get the guidance of a good Realtor, attorney and accountant.

Often, the first course of action for homeowners facing a hardship is to try and get the bank to modify the loan. If that doesn’t solve the problem or is denied, homeowners may have to attempt to sell their home “short”(for less than what they owe). Generally, short sales are put on the market just like any other listing. The main difference of course is that it is not worth what is owed and must be approved by the bank to be sold once the owner has a contract on the home.

It can take a few weeks or up to three months for banks to let sellers and buyers know if the deal is approved. Once the bank makes a determination, it will issue a demand statement, commonly called a short-sale approval letter.

“You have to read it very carefully,” said Chicago Real Estate Broker Arthur Monroe of Monroe Realty & Financial Enterprises. “It serves as the lender’s demand for payment and advises the terms of the short sale. Sellers need to make sure that the lender and/or its investors will not pursue a deficiency judgment for the difference in payment received and the total balance due. You can be sure that sooner or later they will pursue the deficiency unless agreed otherwise,” Monroe said.

According to Chicago attorney Stanley Joseph Czaja, first-mortgage holders don’t pursuer deficiencies as commonly as the holders of the second and third mortgages, because usually in a short sale all the proceeds go towards the first mortgage and the others in line get nothing.

“Every case is different but everything is negotiable,” Czaja said. “There are cases where if the 2nd mortgage holder won’t budge, it may be better for the seller to ultimately declare bankruptcy.”

Czaja, who said short-sales and foreclosures account for ninety percent of his business during the last three years, estimated that 25 percent of short-sale homeowners end up declaring bankruptcy.

It is important to note that because banks can come after the seller years down the road (Bank of America and Wells Fargo especially are doing this) –that the short-seller not give away the home just to get it sold. After all, paying back a $15,000 deficiency will not take as long as paying back a $100,000 deficiency. That said, homes can only sell for what they are worth.

Also, deficiency judgments do not have to be obtained immediately. Banks and third-party collection agencies often are waiting until debtors are on the road to financial recovery to swoop in. And once a judgment is awarded, banks and credit agencies can hound a debtor for decades. This is why it is essential to work with someone who has experience getting deficiencies waived.

Sellers should contact an experienced accountant also, because short-sales present tax consequences as well. Many may be protected from paying income tax on the deficiency because of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007. Enacted in December 2007 and running through 2012, it generally allows taxpayers to exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence. Debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, qualifies for the relief.

The provision applies to debt forgiven in calendar years 2007 through 2012. Up to $2 million of forgiven debt is eligible for this exclusion ($1 million if married filing separately). The exclusion does not apply if the discharge is due to services performed for the lender or any other reason not directly related to a decline in the home’s value or the taxpayer’s financial condition.

In addition to short-sales, foreclosures are taking place at a very high rate – and in some cases because the homeowner decides to simply walk away from the home. This is something that homeowners in trouble should be wary of and something to try to avoid at all costs. For some uneducated homeowners, the attitude seems to be that if a short-sale doesn’t work the bank can have the house. This is dangerous and counter-productive for the homeowner for a couple reasons.

First, foreclosure hurts your credit more than a short-sale or bankruptcy and usually stops you from buying a new house for at least five years. In the case of short-sales, it is usually two years and for bankruptcy it varies, but one can usually start to fix his credit in a year or two. In addition, homeowners who have been foreclosed on may have trouble renting, buying a car, or getting a job. And for those who have contemplated simply walking away – your future earnings can be garnished and if you fail to respond you can end up in jail.

When it comes to short-sales and foreclosures, every case is different. What remains true however, in all of these cases, is the importance of attaining the least painful resolution. It is essential to work with a knowledgeable Realtor who keeps his client’s best interest at the forefront, an attorney who has experience negotiating with banks and getting deficiencies waived and a tax professional who is familiar with the current rules and regulations.

If you are facing financial difficulty or see trouble looming, be proactive and contact me today. I promise to put you in touch with my team of recommended professionals to resolve your issue quickly and with the least amount of damage to your credit and financial health as possible.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Caught in a Catch-22 in Maywood

I have a buyer client that has a HUD home under contract. It is a cash deal. You'd think it would be painless but when dealing with HUD and a Village that doesn’t seem to have its priorities straight, nothing seems to go smooth.

I am not going to re-hash all the details but here's the jist. The home is in Maywood, IL and the village requires a final water reading before tax stamps can be issued. Obviously, without tax stamps, the closing cannot take place.

We scheduled the water reading and met the inspector (this is the buyer's responsibility because it's a HUD house) and discovered that the home had no water meter. We rescheduled the reading and closing and the inspector came back again, only to discover that the pipe that he was going to install the meter to is missing. Now here's the problem. Maywood will not fix the pipe. HUD's position is that the house is as-is. My client, who does not own the house, was advised by his lawyer not to have it fixed because of liability issues. Despite this, he hired a plumber but the plumber refused when he saw police driving around the area --he said he did not want to do unauthorized work and risk his license.

So, what we are left with is this: HUD won't fix this pipe issue and my buyer can't because he doesn't own the house yet and Maywood is saying they won't issue transfer stamps until it is in compliance, and obviously we can't close without the stamps.

If you’ve ever been to Maywood you’ve seen the plethora of boarded-up bank-owned homes. This sort of thing is not good for property values. It also is dangerous to have buildings that can possibly provide a safe haven for drug users and the homeless. I don’t have to remind you that two Chicago firefighters were killed in December in a blaze in an abandoned building started by homeless people looking to keep warm. Though not a HUD house, it was a building that would have been a lot better off for the community if it had a good owner.

My client just wants to buy the house, fix it up, and possibly rent or sell it. Maywood should welcome him with open arms and make an exception in cases like his. I have been told that closing cash deals on REO’s in Maywood always takes twice as long compared to other villages. You’d think with the amount of bank-owned homes in Maywood that they would have a better system. Well, I guess village incompetence is adding to, instead of reducing the problem.

As of today, I remain in contact with Maywood and have our attorney assisting as well. We'll see what happens and I'll keep you posted!

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Law Requires Seniors to Re-apply Annually for Senior Citizen Exemption and Affects Home-Buyers in Some Cases

CHICAGO, February 14, 2011- Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios was joined by city and county officials on Monday to announce a massive mailing targeted at Senior Citizen homeowners who must now re-apply to receive an annual reduction in their property taxes.

"It's critical in the coming days that seniors watch for the Senior Citizen Exemption application in the mail," Assessor Berrios said. "They will owe more on their property tax bills if they fail to fill out this very important application. I don't want anyone to miss out on their right to save money."

A new Illinois law requires that seniors re-apply for the Senior Citizen Exemption. On February 7, the Assessor's office mailed out nearly 300,000 applications containing both the Senior Citizen and Senior Freeze Exemptions to taxpayers who received a senior exemption last year.

"My top priority during this legislative session will be getting this unfair law overturned," Assessor Berrios said. "I don't want seniors to run the risk of forgetting to fill out the application and seeing a tremendous increase on their second-installment tax bills."

Berrios did stress however that seniors must reapply for the Senior Citizen Exemption this year in order to receive the exemption savings on their tax bills. He also said that his office would be hosting numerous senior outreach meetings to make seniors aware of the new annual application requirement.

It is important to keep in mind that this new law affects more than seniors. Recent home-buyers may be shocked to find a large increase in their tax bill because often-times it is up to the seller to apply for the exemption.

Chicago attorney Bob Nolan said several of his clients experienced this problem this year and said it's unlike anything he's seen in his 30-year career.

"Often the seller doesn't know about re-applying. Sometimes the home is in a trust and the family didn't fill out the application. And sometimes they just don't care since it is not their problem anymore," Nolan said.

As for recourse, Nolan said dealing with the Assessor's office is often a long and frustrating experience. He added that while the tax increase is relatively sizable at a couple thousand dollars or more, it often isn't enough to sue anyone over.

"The best thing to do is to get a copy of the seller's tax bill and if you see a senior freeze or senior exemption, talk to your lawyer to negotiate."

Local political watchdog and freelance investigative reporter David Jenkins said that the change is not shocking to him.

"Politicians seem to like it when it's more confusing. Maybe they can get away with more things," Jenkins said. He added that it is very important to work with Realtors, lenders and attorneys who are aware of how things work and take the additional step of asking questions.

"Check with the assessor's office. They have a list of the specific dollar amounts for each exemption," Jenkins said. "That often reduces the shell-shock."

Oak Park resident Mike Peters was one of the many people shocked by the increase in taxes after buying his first home in 2009.

"For us, it was a perfect storm of things. We were re-assessed and the seller failed to apply for their exemption," Peters said, adding that he and his wife's tax escrow bills will higher than their mortgage payment for first two years after they bought their home.

Now, after filing amendments and getting refunds, Peters said their tax bill has balanced out.

"Be vigilant (when you buy a home) and ask a lot of questions," Peters said.

The Senior Citizen Exemption provides tax relief by reducing the equalized assessed valuation of an eligible residence. This savings is in the form of a deduction on the second-installment property tax bill. Seniors receiving the Senior Citizen Exemption automatically qualify for the Homeowner Exemption, and do not have to apply for it separately.

Seniors who do not receive applications in the mail but believe they are entitled to the exemption, may download a form by visiting They can also call (312) 443-7550.

To reach as many people as possible, the Assessor's office is being assisted in senior outreach by the City of Chicago. The City will have the applications available at its six senior regional centers throughout the city.

"Seniors have worked hard all their lives and should receive all the tax relief they deserve. Senior property owners in Chicago should call 3-1-1 to make sure they are receiving all their exemptions and receive assistance if they do not have all their exemptions," Mayor Richard M. Daley said in a press release.

Many elected officials joined the Assessor Monday to voice their concerns about the new annual application requirement.

"It is important for seniors to re-apply for their exemptions so that they do not miss out in the savings that are due to them. It is unfortunate that it is necessary to send these notices to our senior citizens each year, and I look forward to the General Assembly passing legislation that will make this process less confusing and more convenient," Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman said.

To qualify for the Senior Citizen Exemption for the taxable year 2010, the property owner must have:

· Been born prior to or in the year 1945,

· Owned the property, or have a lease or contract which makes them responsible for the real estate taxes, and

· Used the property as a principal place of residence.

In addition to the Senior Citizen Exemption, seniors on limited incomes may also qualify for the Senior Freeze Exemption. This exemption freezes the equalized assessed value of their property. To qualify for the Senior Freeze Exemption for the taxable year 2010 taxpayers must have:

· Been born prior to or in the year 1945,

· A total household income of $55,000 or less for income tax year 2009,

· Owned the property or had a legal, equitable or leasehold interest in the property on January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010,

· Used the property as a principal place of residence as of January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010, and

· Been liable for the payment of 2009 and 2010 property taxes.

Annual application is also required for the Senior Freeze Exemption.

Eligible seniors who have never applied for the senior exemptions in the past may visit the Assessor's Web site and download an application or contact the Assessor's Office and request a form be mailed to them.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

You'll shop around for a tv, but not for a lender?

I just read a report that said 40 percent of home-buyers do not compare mortgage providers. To me, this seems that it must be due to a lack of knowledge. I mean, most people compare stores when they buy a new television –why wouldn’t they compare rates and services when they are making the largest purchase of their life?

For fun, I asked a few random people today if they thought comparing lenders was important and got answers that I kind of expected. One person told me “all mortgage guys are offering the same rates.” Another said that he wouldn’t want to waste the time of professionals that he had no intention of using. And finally, the last person told me that he didn't want his credit run by a few different lenders because he feared his score would lower every time it was run.

To that, I would say 1) all mortgage professionals are not the same. Many have different options and rates and can service better than others. Sometimes it’s good to get a second (or third) opinion just to re-affirm your preferred choice. 2) You are not wasting anyone’s time. It is part of a mortgage professional’s job to go over what they offer and let you know what type of rate you qualify for. You never know, you may be pleasantly surprised and save some money by going with someone whose time you “didn’t want to waste.” 3) Two or three lenders pulling your credit in the same month acs like one pull and doesn't effect your score. Only when it becomes excessive will it lower your score --basically the difference of smart consumer shopping and trying to get credit and/or jumping from denials.

When considering what will most likely be the largest purchase of your life, I strongly urge you to talk to more than one lender. I have a few mortgage professionals who I would recommend that you talk to. Keep in mind also that the lender with the lowest rate is not always the best choice. You need someone who you can trust and is reliable. I know several who I would proudly recommend -- Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to reach them. Keep in mind that I get no financial reward by recommending these professionals. I only do so because I have worked with them and know they do a great job. Keeping my clients happy is essential to me!

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Still a great time to buy!

Rates on fixed mortgages dipped for the second straight week. Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.71 percent this week from 4.77 percent the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November.

The average rate on the 15-year loan slipped to 4.08 percent from 4.13 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

What this means, in plain English, is that NOW is a great time to buy! Personally, I believe rates will increase in a few months so if you are on the fence about buying real estate, now is the time to get serious.

Contact me for more in-depth information and advice!

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Annabella Boutique Continues to Thrive by Focusing on Customer Service

For those planning to visit Annabella Boutique on Chicago’s Northwest Side, it’s best to have your calendar cleared for a bit. That’s because a visit there is more like visiting a relative than a store run by strangers. Once you walk in it isn’t surprising to be asked if you want coffee and to sit and chat for a bit. After all, according to owner Annabella Vitale, turning clients into friends is something they take pride in. Of course, clients come there looking for the finest in wedding, prom, social and evening wear and accessories and is the best alternative for women who can’t go to Milan or Rome, or don’t want to head downtown to Michigan Avenue or Oak Street.

Owned by Gaspare and Annabella Vitale, the shop is run by Annabella and her daughter Rosa Analitis. In addition, another of Annabella’s daughters – Cathy Vitale, also works in the store. Now in it’s 25th year, the store is the anchor of the strip mall at 3320 N. Harlem Avenue in Chicago. It is currently approximately 4,000 square feet and will grow larger in the spring because of plans to open an adjacent storefront offering men’s tuxedos.

Annabella’s daughter Rosa, who graduated with a degree in fashion design at Columbia College in 2001, virtually grew up in the store, which was first located at Thatcher and Belmont Avenues for its first ten years. According to Rosa, she has worked in the store since she was about eight years old. Of course, she wasn’t designing dresses or traveling to Europe looking for the latest fashions as she does now, but was assisting her mother and helping the customers nonetheless.

Annabella Vitale and her daughter Rosa Analitis

Over the span of twenty-five years Annabella Vitale has seen good economies and bad economies but said the key to success is customer service. That is what enabled the store to grow from 1,000 square feet at its original location to more than four times its original size currently. The spring plan to expand to another storefront will add close to another thousand square feet, although the men’s tuxedo shop may have a separate entrance, Rosa said.

“We have some clients who bought their communion dresses here, then homecoming and prom and even their wedding dresses,” Annabella said. “Our customers become our friends.”

...From the fashion houses of Europe to Harlem Avenue

Friends from near and far, as evidenced by several boxes of letters and pictures from women happy with their purchases. Because of the power of the Internet, Annabella’s Boutique is often the go-to vendor for many designers and manufacturers. So, when a woman sees a dress online by a certain designer, often they are directed to Annabella’s to purchase it.

“We have customers from every state and several other countries,” Rosa said. “They send in their measurements and we take care of them.”

The store is currently having a state-of-the-art website of its own designed. And while it is great to have clients generated by the Internet, Annabella said word-of-mouth always has been their best source of clients.

One thing is for sure, clients from out-of-town can’t quite get the at-home feel of being in the store. This reporter met with Rosa for a second time on a slow morning and declined coffee. A short time later Annabella arrived and asked if I had coffee. When I said that I hadn’t, she looked at me in a motherly way and said “why not?” I was planning on being there for maybe thirty minutes on that visit. Of course, it turned into almost two hours that felt like ten minutes. That’s the effect Annabella has on her clients and what keeps them coming back.

Annabella said the customers appreciate the attention her and Rosa give and the fact that they work as mother and daughter in addition to co-workers.

“Rosa will say make [the dress] shorter and I’ll say make it longer,” Annabella laughed. “I’m more like the mother of the brides. Rosa is more like the bride. We argue sometimes but we get along great.” Rosa concurred, rolling her eyes slightly and adding “you can tell we definitely are family.”

Looking at the thousands of letters from customers and the success of the store over the years, the feeling of family is one Annabella Boutique’s customers share as well.

Annabella Boutique, located at 3320 N. Harlem Avenue in Chicago, can be reached at (773) 889.5513 or email the store by clicking here.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Park Ridge Home Sales up 47 Percent from Last Year

Because of the positive response I received after analyzing a couple other areas, I decided to take a look here in Park Ridge at how the market has been. Well, despite media reports, you probably will like what I found.

I went back over the last two years --from November 2008 to today and looked at home sales from each year in Park Ridge. Here are the results:

From November 1, 2008 to November 1, 2009: 221 homes sold at an average price of $414,017. It took an average of 96 days once listed to sell the homes.

From November 1, 2009 to November 1, 2010: 325 homes sold at an average price of $422,787. It took at average of 97 days once listed to sell the homes.

So, while market time remained the same, the amount of homes sold rose a whooping 47 PERCENT! AND SALES PRICES INCREASED ALMOST 2 PERCENT (OR $8770.00)

For more detailed information, feel free to contact me today at 847.878.3724 or via email at

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today is election day!

You may be happy like I am that the political commericials will come to an end after today. While that will be a relief, I still believe it is still important to vote for whoever you think is the best candidate for the various offices up for election. If you haven't voted yet, please make an effort. If you aren't sure where your polling place is, click here to find out. Happy Election Day!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Considering renting out your property? Here's one thing you'll have to learn about

If you currently find yourself in the situation of wanting to move but cannot afford it, renting may be an option. Contact me for advice anytime on this. One thing you'll have to learn about is landlord insurance. Here is a good article from that I thought I'd share.
  • Understanding Landlord Insurance

    Turning your home into a rental or buying an investment property? Expect to pay up to 20% more for the right insurance policy to protect your property. Read

Visit for more articles like this.


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Friday, July 23, 2010

Mr. Ike, we're on to you!

Since my post about Noriko Ike and his scam, I have gotten many emails from other Realtors who have been approached by him and others with similiar-sounding emails. Below is a fraud alert from the National Association of Realtors on the subject. If you get emails like this, take NAR's advice and forward to your local FBI office.

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Fraud Alert

NAR Legal Affairs has learned of a new scheme designed to trick unwary real estate professionals into forwarding money to the scheme operators. The scheme works in the following manner:
Salesperson receives an inquiry via email from an individual who identifies himself (no known female aliases yet) as a wealthy individual seeking a residential property. The individual lives outside the market area, and usually outside of the country. The individual operates under a variety of aliases, and also varies his housing requirements. Sometimes he is married with children, sometimes he is single.
The emails are written in a choppy fashion with incorrect grammar usage, suggesting English is not the writer’s first language. The emails also rarely contain any information relevant to the market in which he is seeking a home and are written in a generic style.
The individual claims to hold an important position at an existing business, although no one with the individual’s name actually is listed as working for the business.

If the real estate professional responds to the inquiry and sends the individual listing information, the following actions take place:
The alleged buyer selects the most expensive property from the listings that he receives and instructs the real estate professional to submit an offer for the property, stating that he will visit the property in the near future.
He represents that the transaction will be an all cash transaction, and no title company should be involved.
He requests the information that he needs to write on the deposit check, and states that the check will be sent either to the real estate brokerage or to an attorney.
He will also send a forged bank (or brokerage) statement, showing significant assets, in addition to a copy of a forged ID.

If the Salesperson provides this information, the real estate professional (or attorney) will receive a check larger than the deposit amount. The reason for the higher amount will be attributed to something like needing funds for furnishing the new home. If the check is cashed, the alleged buyer will immediately withdraw the overage amount. The real estate professional’s bank will present the initial check for payment, and will then be told it is forged. Therefore, the real estate professional will lose the overage amount taken by the individual, as the trail of money is usually untraceable once it is withdrawn from the brokerage’s escrow account.
If you receive this email, you should ignore it and forward it to your local FBI office.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes a lot more is communicated without words...

It is better to just listen. Sometimes words just get in the way. This simple fact is often forgotten, but was confirmed to me twice today, within minutes, and in two totally different circumstances.

The first was unspoken communication between guys in the presence of a pretty woman. I was in line at Portillo's in Park Ridge, directly across the Dempster Street from Lutheran General Hospital.

For readers outside Illinois, Portillo's is a Chicago institution that serves hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and a plethora of other heart-attack inducing delicacies. Anyway, at most of their locations they have combined with Barnelli's, a sister restaurant that serves pasta, salads, wraps and healthier stuff. Needless to say, I've never tried their fare. The line to order at both places are next to each other. I was in line for Portillo's and when a woman and her boyfriend walked in and got into the other line. I don't remember what the guy looked like, but the woman was dressed like she was going to a club and was a real traffic-stopper. I looked at her and then noticed another guy who was seated and eating was looking at her. Hell, every guy in the place turned his head! Anyway, I made eye contact with the guy and we both smiled. No words were spoken, but I know we both were thinking the same thing: "Wow!"

Finally after a couple of minutes the line in front of me had disappeared and the guy who was eating looked at me again, probably wondering why I didn't step up to order. I looked at him again and this time opened my mouth, telling him that I didn't want to block his view by moving up. He laughed, I smiled and then finally ordered and got my food. I was amused by our unspoken (till that point) communication and probably would have forgotten it if I didn't encounter another stranger as I was leaving.

As I was walking towards my car with my leftover pop in my hand I noticed a woman in the parking lot wandering around. Thinking she couldn't remember where she parked I shouted to her, asking her if she was lost. Before looking at me she responded yes. Walking up to her, I asked her what type of car she had, and that's when we made eye contact. I could see that she was crying and instantly realized she wasn't upset about a car.

I just looked at her for a minute and didn't say a word or move. I asked if she "had someone at the hospital?" and she nodded yes. I didn't ask anything else. It didn't matter. I could see it on her face. I learned a long time ago covering homicides that often the family just wants someone to stand by them. I don't know if anyone close to her died, and if so I doubt they were murdered, but her pain was the same. I wasn't covering a story, I just felt like she needed someone to be by her side for a few minutes. I noticed she was wearing a bathing suit under her outfit and wondered to myself if something happened at a pool, or if her day of relaxing was cut-short by a family tragedy. The only other thing I asked was if she needed to call anyone or wanted a ride across Dempster Street and she politely said no. I noticed her nose was running and realized I didn't have tissues in my car, so I ran back into the restaurant and got her some napkins. She thanked me and we just stood there looking at each other. Without saying anything, she reached out and grabbed the pop out of my hand, took a sip and handed it back. We remained frozen just looking at each other. Then, what seemed like a long time but probably was only a few minutes, an old man pulled up in a van and she said she had to go. I gave her my card and told her if she needed anything to call me. She said her name was Kathy and said she would and apologized for being such a mess.

As I was driving away I said a little prayer for her. I wasn't upset or depressed. Instead I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that no one knows when wake up in the morning if they will have a good day or if it will be the worst day of their life. I also found it very interesting that I had unspoken communication with two different strangers, minutes apart, about two completely different things. Not sure what it all means, but I'll just remember it as another interesting day.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The art of the steal...

Since my last post about con-artist Noriko Ike, I have gotten several messages about how exactly his scheme works. My understanding is that Ike and his gang send the $155,000 downpayment instead of the $5,000 earnest money. Then they ask for a check back for the difference. Of course, the 155K check is bogus, so they try and get you to give them the difference before it bounces. It must work sometime if they keep trying. All I know is that they won't be ripping off me or anyone who reads this for a cool $150,000. At least not without a gun!

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To fool me, you better be on your game...

I firmly believe that a large population of criminals have the intelligence and entrepreneurial skills to really do well, if only they chose a legitimate path. Mr. Noriko Ike does not fall into this category however.

Maybe it's my background as a former homicide reporter on the mean streets of Chicago, dealing with gangbangers, hustlers and odd characters at odd hours that caused me to be cynical of an email I received yesterday. Or maybe it is just plain old-fashioned common sense. Either way, I smelled a rat and want to let you know about it in case you get approached by Ike or one of his cronies.

Perhaps some Realtors are desperate because of the current market. Hell, I sure can use more sales, who can't these days? However, Mr. Ike will have to look to someone else to be a pawn in his silly game.

I received an email yesterday saying that someone named Noriko Ike found me through and wanted help looking for homes. First of all, it is not hard to find me. Most normal people would go directly to my website, not the huge corporate site. And if they did, they would likely have sent me a message saying "I heard about you from so and so and found you through" So, I guess Mr. Ike wanted me to believe out of the thousands of KW agents, he just choose me because of my smile. Or maybe my hair. Or for whatever reason.

So, anyway, the initial email said (I am typing it verbatim, with typos included) "I am Mr. Noriko Ike a Japan origin I need a 4 bed room single family home to buy, in your city with a garage and 2 bath with or without swimming pool price should be between $400,000 and $600,000 please send me list of home to chose from my address is E-mail:"
(later in the day a friend discovered and told me that is some kind of site where anyone can get an email address, unlike a domain with .jp at the end of it which would indicate it is in Japan at least!)

Ok, first off, this guy did not indicate what city he was looking in. Yes my office is in Park Ridge, but I work in Norridge, Park Ridge, Chicago, Harwood Heights, Elmwood Park, etc. etc. Second, no one writes "with or without swimming pool." Alarm bells went off in my head right away and I probably should have just deleted the email. Just for fun however, I emailed him some listings in Park Ridge. I also sent an email asking for him to be specific about what city he wanted to look in, to which he responded "I am not too familiar with the area that is why I need your help as the real estate professional, please send me property to chose from in a nice and quiet community I am going to live in the home with my family." Interesting that he did not name a city. Also, interesting that he said he was going to live with his family because the next morning he sent another email, thanking me for sending some listings and letting me know he would be putting a cash offer on one of them because he "loves the curb appeal." I always love how someone who pretends he doesn't know English well suddenly is down with specific lingo like "curb appeal."

He explained in his second email that he wanted a contract in "docusign format" to sign and return immediately as this would be his retirement home and it would be a "cash buy". He said he wanted to close on August 15 and wanted to put down $5,000 as earnest money. He added another point that I'm not clear about -- "additional $150,000 should be put aside towards the closing but not to be added on the contract until all closing payment are completed." Ok, whatever you say free-spender!

His email said his legal name is Noriko Ike of 2000 Sheppard Avenue in Toronto Canada and that he is single. Single? I thought he was buying the home to live with his family? Ok, maybe his parents you say...

He explained that he wouldn't be in Canada before the closing date to wire funds to "my" attorney and asked for my attorney information for "a check to be drawn to give enough time for check clearance since I won't be in Canada to wire funds for closing."

Mr. Ike then explained that his "account manager" Mr. Perry Owen will issue payment in US funds of $155,000 for the earnest money and the down payment for the property payable to my attorney and that Mr. Owen could be reached at (905) 598-5943. DOWN PAYMENT? I thought it was a cash buy! lol

He then requested the "closing law firm" name, address, phone and lawyer's name.

I didn't respond for a few hours because I had real clients to work with, but I did mention the situation to a friend of mine who is a realtor in Boston. She told me that it sounded like an email that someone in her office received a couple days ago. She searched and found it, sending it to me. It had the same language and asked for a home "with or without swimming pool" in the price range of $450,000 - $750,000. Instead of Mr. Ike, it was from some clown named John Micheal.

As for Mr. Ike, I shot him another email asking for a phone number, which his provided as +81338873121, which he claimed is a Japanese number. While I didn't call Mr. Ike, I did call the listing agent of the property that he claimed to be interested in and told her the situation. I told the listing agent not to be excited and that this guy was likely a fraud, but that if he wasn't I would present an offer. She said go ahead and play along and let's see what happens. Well I got busy with real work again and put my detective work to the side for another couple hours. Later, when I got a moment, I Googled Mr. Ike's name and several alerts were issued. Click here for one of them. It basically explains how his scam works.

I ended my correspondence with Mr. Ike with a final email, advising him to use different language and maybe a different name on his future attempts. I told him not even Donald Trump would buy a home to "live in" without seeing it first and wished him well in his thievery. Needless to say, I do not expect to hear back from him again.

I decided to post this in case anyone reading this gets a similar email.

Unfortunately fraud is one industry that never really has a recession. So, keep your eyes and ears open and as they said on Hill Street, be careful out there!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sellers and would-be landlords, take it while you can!

Recently I received a full-price offer on one of my rental listings. One year at the asking price, no qualms from the tenant about paying moving fees or utilities. The tenant was solid on the credit check and both parties seemed to like each other when they met in-person. Should have been open and shut....

However, most deals are not so easy and this was no exception. At the last moment, my client (the owner) decided to get cute and proposed something to the tenant.

Let me backtrack a moment -- I should have told you that the property is a beautiful condo that is currently fully furnished and shows like a model. We had several potential renters look at it and most liked it. All along, most also said they would want the furniture removed because they wanted to move in their own belongings. My client wasn't thrilled about this, not wanting to incur storage costs, but I explained the sentiment of most potential renters and my client seemed to accept it.

However, at the face to face meeting, my client decided to take over negotiations and proposed cutting the lease by $200 a month if the tenant would put his furniture in storage and use the furniture that is currently in the unit. He told the tenant to think about it and let us know the next day.

Well, you can probably guess what happened if I'm motivated to write about it! Yep, the tenant changed his mind and decided not to take the unit at all.

So, we went from having a tenant paying asking price to nothing. The lesson here is simple and twofold. One, leave negotiation to the professionals (Realtors) and two, every time you make a new proposal it is considered a whole new offer and everything before is invalid. Don't get too greedy!

So at the moment the place is un-rented and although we are close to getting another tenant, this has caused my client undo stress, even if it was his own fault.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

KW Agents Unite and Give Back in Park Ridge

After 30 local Keller Williams Realtors descended on Park Ridge resident Jane Moody’s yard on a rainy and cool Thursday, a grateful Moody said her corner of the world never looked better in the 55 years her and her husband lived there. That’s because, despite the weather, several Park Ridge Realtors from Keller Williams Realty Partners helped to brighten things up for Moody and another family in need May 13 as part of its second annual Red Day.

Red Day, an acronym for Renew, Energize and Donate, is held May 13 in honor of Keller Williams Vice Chairman Mo Anderson’s Birthday. The goal is to give back to the local community. This year, Keller Williams agents serving on its KW Cares Committee decided the best way to do that was to find a Park Ridge family that needed help with yard work. After organizing a campaign to find a local family – agents from Keller Williams found two – both seniors who are currently having difficulties keeping up with the physical labor demands of their yard work.

For assistance, the KW Cares committee also reached out to local businesses, which were more than willing to help. Specifically, Ace Hardware, Lurvey’s Landscape Supply and Garden Center and Home Depot and donated lawn bags, garden supplies, flowers and mulch. Liberty Landscape hauled away the debris and Home Depot also donated items for a Red Day car wash that was cancelled because of the rain. Houlihan’s restaurant donated food for the Keller Williams volunteers and donated 20 percent of sales to KW Cares on that day for customers with a Red Day coupon.

Although Park Ridge Mayor David Schmidt had declared May 13 “Red Day” in a proclamation at a recent city council meeting, the agent volunteers knew they would earn their pat on the back when they arrived at Moody’s home, 211 Lake Avenue about 9:30 a.m. that day.

“It was cool out and raining, which presented a challenge, but we just started working and didn’t pay much attention to it,” said Keller Williams Realtor and Red Day volunteer Sally Haynes.

“It probably made us focus and definitely created a bond,” Haynes said.

KW Realtor and volunteer George Metinidis said the entire experience of volunteering together created a bond that he would like to savor.

“It was very rewarding to dedicate some of our time to give back to the community. It really was wonderful,” Metinidis said.

Agents cut the grass, trimmed and shaped bushes, pulled weeds, cleaned out overgrown vines, spread mulch and planted flowers. And when they were finished, they moved on to the Beery home at 508 S. Greenwood to do it again.

As morning turned into late afternoon and the agents approached the end of their task on their final stop of the day, a thankful Stephanie Beery sat on a chair on her front steps, admiring the finished product, saying she was at a loss for many words.

“I just think it’s wonderful,” she said.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Thinking of remodeling? Be aware of new EPA rules for contractors

If you haven't read the article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune about sweeping new rules for contractors, you should. It seems only about 20 percent of contractors in Illinois are ready for these rules, which went into effect April 22. You may think "so what?" --but the rules will effect the cost to consumers and not following them will result in hefty fines. To read the article, click here

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three pairs of pants...

The other day I was showing a buyer client a house and something interesting happened.

Because it was her second viewing of the house, she had a family friend who remodels homes for a living come along to give her his opinion. The home was very nice and quite a bargain, especially for a first-time buyer like my client.  However, the point of this post is not to discuss that specific home nor the offer we submitted.

While touring the home,  my buyer's friend made a comment that made us laugh initially and has stuck in my mind ever since - causing me to think there was more to it. 

We were in the second of three bedrooms when he looked inside the closet, which I think I can safely say was tiny by most everyone's standard. He opened the door, peered in with a surprised look (since it was so tiny) and quickly said "well, when these homes were built people only had but two pairs of pants. Not they have three." 

We laughed at this and I thought to myself that he was probably right --back in those days people had work clothes and maybe a nice Sunday outfit to wear to Church, and not much in between. I think somehow all of us lost sight of living simply over the years and in many cases, lived to excess.

I've been thinking about that man's little quip and how today's economy has maybe forced us all to reevaluate our lifestyles and just what is important. I hear a lot of people moaning and groaning about the economy and a lot of it is probably justified. However, I think some good can and should come from it --like the fact many of us are saving more and cutting out some of the excess from our lives. I believe things will get better and the real estate market will ultimately prove to be one of the best areas to invest in once again. In the meantime, I think we are all better off by focusing on the good things that have come out of these challenging times. 

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Friday, March 19, 2010

'My life flashed before my eyes'

From time to time I pick up a favorite book of mine --"Stay Tuned" written by my friend Jenniffer Weigel. If you haven't read it you should. In it, she talks about a lot of things but one thing I've thought about lately is a conversation she had with James Van Praagh. I'm not going to detail who he is and all that. The point is, he says when someone dies, they see how their life affected everyone around them. Basically it's like watching a movie --every lie, every laugh, every tear is felt again. We feel all the emotions that we put on others when we were living. Although he claims it's like watching a movie, he says it happens in an instant, hence "my life flashed before my eyes." I know it sound freakin' bizarre and I'm not sure if I agree or not, but it is kinda cool. For me though, I think in addition to seeing how I affected others, I'd like to be reminded of how some have affected me.

Once in awhile someone says something to me about myself, both good and bad --that sticks in my head. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me feel good and sometimes it stings. Either way, this kind of stuff is probably what I'll remember as I pass into that other dimension. Woowoo I know, lol. Anyway, here are some that I can think of right now. I know I can't remember them all at this moment, but so be it!  One last thing -- I'm not going to share the context of the statements -- you can intrepet as you wish. If you really want to know email me and I'll share. :)  Here are a few off the top of my head in no particular order...

"You're dangerous"

"You are loyal to a fault"

"She already pretty much ruined your life"

"You are a gift from God"

"You really are crazy, you know that?"

"You had the world by the balls"

"You're a lone wolf"

"You never change and I love that"

"I recognize that walk anywhere"

"You're family"

"You're the best that ever came out of here" 

"Are you that bad of a businessman?"

"say Wisconsin"

"I feel like I'm in a movie [when I'm with you]"

"You're a romantic"

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

North Mayfair selected as a top neighborhood by "This Old House"

"This Old House" magazine has released its list of Best This Old House Neighborhoods for 2010 and Chicago's North Mayfair neighborhood was selected among its editors picks.

Specifically, North Mayfair was selected as the best place for bungalows and first-time buyers. North Mayfair consists of roughly 3,000 homes and is the area between Bryn Mawr Avenue to the north, Lawrence Avenue to the south, Pulaski to the east and Cicero Avenue to the west.

To see the article click here!

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Norridge to consider revising residential building code

Adoption would require fire sprinklers in new construction homes

Following the lead of several near suburbs, the Norridge City Council is considering adopting a new residential building code, requiring fire sprinklers in new construction homes.

Norridge currently follows the 2003 version of the International Code Council’s Residential Code, according to Norridge Building Commissioner Brian Gaseor. The group issues new building codes every three years. Gaseor said he expects city council members to vote on whether to implement the ICC’s most recent residential code, which was issued in 2009, in the next 2-3 months. The major change in the code is the requirement of sprinkler systems in all new construction homes.

While Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Skokie currently require sprinklers, there are questions that they present.

George Met, a general contractor and remodeler from Met Builders, Inc. recently dealt with sprinklers at a home his company built in Skokie.

“The requirement was a surprise to us,” Met said, explaining that it was recently adopted when he submitted the blueprints to the Skokie Village for approval.

“My client wasn’t happy but we had to follow the rules. It was a five-bedroom home and cost him about $12,000 extra,” Met said, adding that cost was not the only issue they faced.

“The home had vaulted ceilings and with that you can’t install the sprinklers in the walls. You have to install the highest sprinklers in the attic and if you’ve ever been in an attic in the winter, it is like an icebox,” Met said. “You have to make sure the attic is properly insulated and also the pipes.”

That is a lesson Inverness resident Sam Francione learned the hard way –and somewhere pipes usually do not freeze – at his summer home in Scottsdale, Arizona where sprinklers are required. Francione, who was in Illinois at the time, arrived late one evening to his home in Scottsdale to what he described as “a disaster.”

“We arrived around 11:30 p.m. and water was running out the front door,” Francione said. “It was getting cold at night and my neighbor had turned on the heat for me that morning because he knew I was coming in. Everything was fine at that point. But by the time we arrived, it was a disaster.”

Francione said the one of the sprinklers in the ceiling had burst, either from the freezing temperatures or from a sonic boom caused by Air Force fighter planes that were training in the area. Either way, the result was a collapsed ceiling, extensive water damage to the master bedroom, two guest bedrooms, hallway, closets, living and dining room, furniture and Bose speaker system. He estimated the damage at $75,000.

“It was covered by my homeowners insurance but they tripled my rate after that,” Francione said.

Nathan Kriska, Supervisor of Building and Zoning in Skokie, said the cost to install the sprinkler systems can vary. “It is usually between $7,000 and $15,000 depending on the size of the home and the type of system. There are many options these days, including some with recessed heads that drop down.”

Kriska said that some residents complained about the initial cost but feels it is worth it for the added safety.

“It’s a life-safety issue more than anything. It just gives someone that much more time to get out of the home,” Kriska said. “They don’t typically save your home. If it doesn’t burn it may flood it, but it can save your life.”

He added that Skokie, like most villages, had public hearings about the sprinklers.
“There was no real opposition. The truth is, most people don’t attend public hearings,” Kriska said.

The building code that Norridge will vote on was issued by the International Code Council, which is a group consisting of state and local government agencies as well as contractors and elected officials. ICC spokesman Steve Daggers said that it is important to note that the code is just a set of guidelines and not set in stone.

“Villages can follow them, take stuff out or add to them,” Daggers said.

In 2009, 12 building permits were issued for new construction in Norridge, according to the Village Building Department. The number was down because of the slow real estate market and poor economy, according to department officials.

Park Ridge is one of the cities in the area that has a sprinkler requirement –implementing its requirement in March 2001, well ahead of the ICC’s 2009 code, according to Steve Cutaia, Building Administrator for the city.

“We have almost 600 homes with sprinkler systems in them and very few complaints,” Cutaia said. He explained that another concern, besides cost, that some residents had was whether the sprinklers will go off if a resident burns food in the oven.

“The sprinklers are set off by temperature sensors, not smoke sensors,” Cutaia said. “And they don’t go off in every room if only one room is hot.”

While some may view sprinklers as a tradeoff between water and smoke damage, Park Ridge Fire Marshall Kevin Plach credited them for saving a home on December 23.
“It was a basement fire and the sprinklers confined it to that area. The house was saved and the residents were back in their home for Christmas.”

Plach added that the sprinkler requirement was “one of the best things we’ve done, especially considering how quickly new homes burn because of a lot of engineered construction.” As for resident objections, Plach said the requirement “did not slow construction in the least.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The face of Chicago

As you all know, once in awhile I veer off the real-estate path with this blog. This somewhat fits into my website for people looking to move to Chicago from out of town --Calling Me Home so I will post the story here.

Tonight I was out and like so many nights in what sometimes seems like another lifetime, I found myself at the Green Mill with a friend in the Uptown neighborhood. The Green Mill is one of the oldest clubs in town and features good jazz, drinks and doors that are open until 4 a.m. We decided to go there because my friend had never been, which was good enough for me!

Being a Saturday night, it was crowded and as soon as we paid our cover I realized it was standing-room-only. Luckily, as we got a few steps in a group of four or five people who were seated in a booth began putting on their coats. I immediately sat next to one of the persons, who responded with a smile (knowing how hard it can be to get a seat there) and said "it's your lucky day!"

My friend, not really aware what a score a seat was, smiled and probably wondered why I was so relieved. I knew it would be a million times nicer having a waitress serve us while we relaxed rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder and having to push our way to the bar for a drink if you were lucky enough to get the bartender's attention.

Anyway, we took our seats and a few minutes later the group, which was on a break when we walked in, started playing again. Now keep in mind that the booth we had was shaped like a big C and could fit probably 5-6 people. I knew others would try to share it and it wasn't more than ten minutes when a middle-aged guy asked me "do you mind some of us sit here?"

I looked at him and said "sure, as long if there aren't fifty of you."

Not hearing me correctly, he said "I'll give you fifty for the whole booth."

I laughed and said "thanks, but you can sit down with us. I'm not selling it but don't want to vacate."

Having six people in his party, they couldn't all fit with us so they stood for awhile and listened to the music. The man thanked me and asked if we were locals and if we frequented the place. I confirmed that yes, we were from Chicago and that no, I did not go to the Green Mill nearly as much as I once had.

He said his group and himself were from a small town in Ohio and that they heard a lot about the place and wanted to check it out, which I thought was cool. I told him that it is a cool place and that it was once a speakeasy with connections to Al Capone. Then I said to have a good time and let him know that anyone from his group was welcome to sit when they got tired of standing.

A few minutes later our cocktail waitress took my order and we settled in to watch (or listen, since we couldn't see them as the people standing blocked our view) the music. As the group was playing I kept an eye open for anyone getting up from the barstools, just steps away from our booth. I figured if we could move to sit down at the bar, I'd happily give up our oversized booth. Well, that wasn't going to happen on a Saturday night!

After awhile I had finished my drink and wanted another and of course our waitress had turned into a ghost (one drawback of getting a booth at the Green Mill). I proceeded to walk to the bar and ordered another round, and got to talk to my new Ohio friend before going back to the booth. He told me his name was John and that he was with his wife and two other couples, whom he introduced, and that they were staying at the Intercontinental downtown. I asked him if he took a cab up to the bar and he said yes. I then told him to make sure when he left not to walk around, as Uptown still is shady and thought to myself that three well-dressed couples in their late 50s were a total mark to be mugged. I also thought of the street urchin who tried talking shit to me as we walked from my car to the bar just a half-hour before. He thanked me and noted that there were more people in the bar than in the town were they were from in Ohio, which as its claim to fame is home to Dum Dum Lollipops! (I later looked it up online to discover it is Bryan, Ohio)

I told him that my kids love those, but refrained from telling him I did also. As we were talking, the wife of one of his friends overheard me and said "wow, you are from Chicago," noting my accent. I smiled and tried not to roll my eyes. I then reminded them to feel free to sit down whenever they wanted and returned to my seat.

After a few more minutes, one of the Ohio women did sit down, thanked us and said her feet were killing her. I was happy and hoping that John would join us but it was not to be. They decided to leave but said goodbye and thanked us again.

Not even a couple minutes passed when I thought to myself that John and his group seemed like they really enjoyed meeting us, even if only for a brief moment. I'm sure it made his night and that when he thinks of the Green Mill and of Chicago he'll remember the guy who allowed them to share a booth. It seems like common courtesy to me but I also honestly doubt most people would care enough to offer or wouldn't have taken his offer of fifty bucks!

How different do you think his opinion of Chicago might have been if I was a jerk and told him "this booth is taken" and turned my head?

I've always loved talking to out-of-towners who are visiting, whether it's just a hello, help with directions, or showing them around. I've met a lot of people from all over and do believe that my opinions of the cities they are from are often based on my opinions of those people. I also know that there is good and bad people everywhere, but it's feels good to make someone feel good.

So, as I told my friend, I was the face of Chicago to John from Ohio, at least for a few moments on Saturday, just as he was the face of Bryan, Ohio to me. I have to say I like Bryan Ohio and will think of him whenever I have a Dum Dum Lollipop from now on!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

FHA issues new guidelines

You may have heard that the FHA is now requiring any borrowers with a credit score below 580 to have a minimum 10 percent down payment. Borrowers with credit scores above 580 can get away with the standard FHA minimum of 3.5 percent.

There has been lots written about this lately but after talking with some trusted lenders, it really is a moot point. Try and find a lender to give any loan to someone with a credit score under 600 and drinks are on me!

While in theory the new requirements are good, banks seem to have imposed scricter rules by not giving loans to those with credit scores under 600. This may sound unfair but if you are in this boat have patience. Credit scores are not hard to repair. Minimize your expenses and make monthly payments. Contact me and I can put you in touch with people who can help you.

You may wonder what good FHA loans are if banks are not giving loans to people with poor credit scores. Well, the fact is FHA loans are available to most of us, even people with impeccable credit.
Why would someone with great credit opt for an FHA loan? Well --the downpayment requirement is still only 3.5 percent! And the interest rates are very comparable to conventional loans. In addition, debt to income ratios are looser with FHA.

I can write a book on this but will save you. If you want more information, contact me today!

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

IRS finally releases new form for first-time buyer and repeat-buyer tax credits

If you've been holding back on getting involved with the new $6,500 federal tax credit for repeat home purchases or $8,000 credit for first-time buyers, there's no more excuse for inaction. You now have all the official IRS guidance you'll need to buy a house, qualify for the credit and pocket the money. (To download the form, click here).

That's because the Internal Revenue Service finally published the rules for the repeat-purchase credit, with key details for taxpayers that had been missing since President Obama signed the legislation creating the program Nov. 6.

On Jan. 15, the IRS posted its revised Form 5405, six weeks after warning taxpayers not to file claims for the credits without using the revised form and new instructions.

The $6,500 credit -- inelegantly described by the IRS as credit for the "long-time resident of the same main home" -- supplements the popular $8,000 credit for first-time purchasers. Owners of existing homes -- specifically, taxpayers who have occupied the same property as a principal residence for five consecutive years during the previous eight years -- may now be able to claim a tax credit on a purchase of another house they intend to use as a principal residence.

The credit is for up to 10 percent of the price of the replacement home, capped at $6,500. The purchase contract must be dated from Nov. 7, 2009, to April 30, and the closing must occur no later than June 30. Members of the armed forces and federal diplomatic and intelligence personnel stationed overseas get an extra year to claim the credit.

The maximum purchase price on houses eligible for the credit is $800,000. Purchasers are not required to sell their previous home, but they must be able to demonstrate that the replacement house is or will be their principal residence.

The new IRS guidance answers key questions that had arisen from the vague language in the legislation. For example, the IRS describes what documentation home buyers must submit with their $6,500 credit claim. On 2009 and 2010 tax returns, buyers should attach the following:

-- A copy of the signed HUD-1 settlement sheet, including the contract sale price and the date of closing. This is to document that the timing of the transaction meets the program's requirements.

-- Evidence of long-term ownership and occupancy of the previous house to meet the five-consecutive-years requirement. This can be property tax records, homeowner's insurance records or IRS Form 1098 mortgage interest statements for the five-year period.

-- For buyers claiming a credit on a newly constructed home, for which a HUD-1 settlement sheet is not available, the IRS will accept a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the purchasers' names, the property address and the date.

-- For buyers of mobile homes who are not able to get a settlement statement, the IRS will accept a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing the property's address, purchase price and date of purchase.

Congress mandated all this extra documentation after audits uncovered widespread abuses by applicants for the $8,000 credit. Among these were fictitious home purchases in which taxpayers or tax preparers sought -- or obtained -- credits on properties that never were sold or bought. This time around, the IRS says it will rigorously investigate all claims filed, starting with a review of the documentation submitted.

The new IRS guidance also spells out the revised income limits for home buyers claiming credits: Your modified adjusted gross income must be $125,000 or less if you are single, $225,000 or less if you are married and filing jointly. Above these limits, the allowable credit amount begins to phase down in increments and is eliminated once incomes hit $145,000 for singles and $245,000 for married joint filers.

There are pitfalls as well: An advisory posted by the IRS this month spelled out situations in which recipients of tax credits may have to repay them to the government. These include taxpayers who sell their houses within 36 months after purchase. Recipients must also repay the credit if they convert their principal residence to a rental or business property, or if their lender forecloses on the house.

With all the rules now available, here's the action message to potential tax-credit seekers: Speed up your search for the house you want to buy. Get moving. There are only 14 weeks to sign a contract and just five months to go to closing.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Chicago ranked in the top 3 smartest places to buy!

10 Cities Where It's Smarter to Buy
For people who want to own a home, the premium to buy—the spread between what they’d spend to rent and what they’d pay for a mortgage—is much lower than the 15-year average in many cities.

To determine what cities are smart buys, Forbes magazine computed the premium and also identified locales where economists predict home prices will go up the most over the next five years.

Here are the top 10 cities the magazine chose as the best places to buy right now.
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, N.C.-S.C.
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.
Cincinnati-Middletown, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colo
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis.
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md.
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash.
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V.

Source: Forbes, Francesca Levy (01/21/2010)

If you are thinking of moving to the Chicago area from out of state, check my relocation website now!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Thinking about going green?

I've posted a few really good articles with great tips for going green on my website at To go directly to them, click here!

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