Thursday, June 22, 2006

The $800,000 House?

Over the past year or so I discovered an interesting Real Estate wrinkle I call "The $800,000 House Phenomenon." I didn't recognize it at first because I think it used to be called "The $600,000 House Phenomenon" but as the housing market changed, so did the phenomenon. And although I personally find it unique to the Northeast Side and North Shores of Chicago, its probably present in every market in any city at some pricepoint or another. It lays out something like this:

A client, or more accurately a young couple, decides to buy their first big single family home. If they are North Shore buyers then they have visions of a white, Center Entry Colonial built in the 1940s-50s on a 'Father of the Bride', 'Home Alone' or any John Hughes movie setting type of street. If they wish to reside in the city proper (in this case Chicago) then its a beautifully rehabbed brick and lead glass expanded cottage or carriage house, walking distance to the lake, zoo and parks. This is their housing vision. They live in nice, tricked-out condos now but they want 'The House.' And again, this phenomenon is very neighborhood specific. Its a 'location' thing.

The fact that "The $800,000 House" is obviously under a million dollars makes it appear 'do-able' from a financing point of view--after all, who really wants to spend a million bucks on a house when you're still in your early to mid thirties? Anyway, at least once a week I get a request to assist in the search of just such a home..."around the $800,000 a great neighborhood..." And here is the reality:

Two-thirds of the houses I find in this price range are either overpriced by a hundred thousand or so already (sometimes more) or just poorly remodeled little things with low ceilings, average to bad bathrooms and kitchens that if priced more correctly, would already be torn down. And needless to say, you can pretty much forget New Construction. Across the board, my clients are generally a little discouraged by what I send them in this price range because what used to be the $800,000 neighborhood is now the nesting ground of the soon to be built 2.5 to 3 million dollar 6.000+ square foot New Construction House. Its still an $800,000 Neighborhood--it just doesnt include the actual HOUSE. This all has to do with a Real Estate term called 'The Highest And Best Use" of a property which I think is pretty self-explanatory. And I dont think its a bad thing either. I sell a lot of New Construction that serve higher and better uses than what previously stood on the site.

But it is a little sobering when you actually come face to face with what's on the market (housewise, that is) for under a million in Chicago. Many of the homes dont look enticing enough from the MLS picture to even request a showing. And most, if not all of my clients' condos from which they are moving have better finishes and appointments. Again, I find that these properties comprise about two-thirds of what's out there. One must keep in mind that the 'Location' rules and if the 'Location' happens to have a ho-hum building on it with a bulldozer parked in the driveway, so be it. The truth of the matter is the million dollar plus housing market expands and ticks up every month leaving the $800,000 House that someone might actually move into a little further behind in almost every way. But this too, is a good thing. You gotta have 'appreciation' and on a personal level it makes my job more interesting, more challenging, and more rewarding when I do connect with the perfect house. And they do
exist. Read on.

Most of the remaining third of inventory are correctly priced at land value only and WILL be torn down if they dont fall down on their own waiting to close. The remainder of the remainder--those few rare gems that boast curb appeal, livability and attractive pricing--are what I'm talking about. Now we're in 'the zone' and the scenario plays out like this:

On a weekly basis, a handful (maybe less) of homes in the $800,000 range appear on the market and by "market" I mean a good portion of the Northeast Side of Chicago and almost all of the desirable "upper-end" North Shore communities within an hour drive of the Hancock Building. Many have had new and sometimes drastic price reductions because the now increasingly discouraged owners who originally felt their homes were worth "a million" realized the Buying side of "the market" wasn't responding. This is usually attributed to a combination of timing and simple Incorrect Pricing and is a topic I have addressed at length in a previous Blog. These homes are too nice to tear down and while not without a few obvious flaws; dated baths and kitchens, small closets, no central air, odd shaped or irregular sized lots---they are still, all things equal, solid properties with decent curb appeal worth maybe in the mid to upper 700s as of this writing. Many of these may be a little overpriced but are still able to command a negotiated offer that is acceptable to both the Buyer and Seller. I negotiate more than my fair share of these as well.

And finally, what's left of the above handful are the cream of the housing crop--new on the market with significantly better renovations and curb appeal, on the prettiest streets in the most desired neighborhoods with the highest rated public schools. These go into multiple offers the first day or so on the market with few or no contingencies and virtually No Negotiation. These are the true $800,000 Homes. These are homes that more than one Buying entity likes (loves) (desires) enough to write a contract on the spot and close in 30 days. These are the ones that WILL be worth a million in short order. They are generally priced right for a timely sell as the house is already flush with Equity and the Owner needs to move on NOW--no fooling around, no testing the market. As I mentioned earlier, I have at least one person a week asking me if I know of any of these. And what do I do?

I put them in the car immediately and tell them without hesitation about this "$800,000 House Phenomenon" I discovered...

Geno Petro
Chicago Home Estates

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Contingency vs Bridge Loan

I believe the most important link in the Real Estate chain of events is the Mortgage Commitment. I also know that while "Price" may seem like the biggest hurdle to deal with, especially with First and Second time Buyers, its really "Monthly Payment." And this is never more evident than when the deal depends on the sale of an existing property.

From a Listing Agent point of view, offers that come in with Riders 4A or 4B,("Home Sale" and "Home Close" Contingencies respectfully) are in most cases instant, if not automatic, deal breakers. Unless the new property is New Construction 3-4 months+ from the delivery, its just too risky for the Seller. Enter the Mortgage Contact. Many deals in my career have been held together with the invaluable help of a great money man. View my mortgage guru here.

A Bridge Loan is a reasonable alternative to a Home Sale/Close Contingency. And when discussed early on in the process, the Buyers know exactly what monthly commitment they're looking at should their existing property not sell before the new property closes. Most listing agents will not hesitate at all to proceed in negotiations if they are sure a Bridge Loan has been structured before the offer is submitted. But don't just take my word for it. Go to my Mortgage Guru link and see what he has to say.

Geno Petro
Chicago Home Estates

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Television Real Estate and a State of the Union

You've probably seen the shows. And if you're reading this then you've definitely seen the shows. The ones on HGTV and TLC: 'Sell This House', 'Curb Appeal', 'House Hunters', 'Trading Spaces', Flip This House, etc, etc, etc...You are obsessed with Real Estate. You watch Reality Televion Real Estate and you read Real Estate Blogs. You may have even dabbled in a transaction or two beyond the old homestead.

There was a time back in the olden days when the only fix for the Real Estate junkie was 'This Old House.' That was way over 20 years ago, maybe even 30. Then slowly but surely the spin-offs and copy-cats began showing up--one on Sunday morning, another late Thursday night repeated again on PBS in various oddball morning and afternoon slots. Bob Vila and Norm Abrams became household words. A late 20th Century investment niche suddenly emerged . More tangible and less volatile than the stock market of the 1980's, Real Estate was the new thing to talk about at happy hours and cocktail parties. Real Estate became King.

I know because I bought my first house in those early 1980s alongside all my other gainfully employed peers. We pontificated and expounded on the art of negotiation and speculated on the hope and promise of 'appreciation'. We second guessed our Realtors and were careful to calculate our upgrades-- dollar for dollar return on a new bathroom, 15% more on a new kitchen, negative 30% for a room addition. Little or nothing for paint or carpet...that was just to keep the wife happy. We gathered powertools and Home Improvement books and opened charge accounts at Lowe's. We studied the Sunday Real Estate Section for comparables and Open Houses.

The world-wide web was still a good ten years away and we were doing it the old fashioned way; by watching 'This Old House' and buying Carlton Sheets investment programs from late night Infomercials. My mobile phone was four pounds and deadbolted to the console of my car, its antenna drilled through the glass of my back window. It cost me $200 a month for the actual phone (retail $2,400) and $300 more a month for the limited service. Interest rates were in the mid-teens. I used to walk 5 miles uphill each way to a Sunday Open House....I sold insurance for a living.

Fast forward to today, last evening to be exact. From 7:00 at night when I walked in the door from my last showing of the day to 11:00PM when I couldnt physically click another channel on the remote in my hand, there were no less than 17 Real Estate related programs on seven different channels. Even former Chicago music promoter Downtown Scotty Brown is now an LA Realtor and featured on a show premiering on Bravo! this fall. CableTV is our new 'Bookstore'--our 'SOURCE', as it were. Cable Channels 61-71 are the new "Do-It-Yourself" aisles. The Internet is our 'Sunday Paper'. The once secretive Multiple Listing Service is available to anyone with a lick of computer savy. PDAs are our new computers. We PodCast and Blog just for the sport of it.

Everybody was doing it. Even I was ready. I quit my job and became a Realtor at the turn of this past Century. I wake up in the morning after a restless night of disjointed and oblong transactions and half-deals going sideways, making millions for my clients and flipping castles in dreamland. I dress for the day and do the same thing in the Real World. I arrive home before dusk and retire the day--but not before kissing the wife and dog, chasing the cat from my chair, throwing something in the microwave, and surfing the web and cable channels for anything that pertains to Real Estate.

Geno Petro
Chicago Home Estates