QUESTIONS ARE KEY WHEN SHOPPING FOR A CONDO

2015 02 27 Realty & Mortgage CoHave you found that perfect condominium that meets all, or at least most, of your needs? Congratulations! I’ve been in your shoes, so I know it’s an exciting time. But keep in mind that purchasing a condo also means you are becoming part of a condo association. Healthy condo associations can positively impact your property values and also can enhance your condo living experience.

That’s according to Lou Lutz, a condo management specialist and Vice President of Community Management with Realty & Mortgage Co. in Chicago. He helps make sure condo associations are healthy and run smoothly. Some of the ways he does this is by guiding associations on specific considerations, of which there are many.

What are the rules regarding pets? Does the association have a reserve study? What’s the building’s history of special assessments? Does it have any units in foreclosure, and if so, how many? What is the assessment level history for the past five years? What percent of units are delinquent? What are the procedures and fees involved in unit improvements? What are the anticipated capital improvements over the next three years? How much parking is available? Is there guest parking? Are there storage facilities, workout facilities, or pool procedures, if applicable? How many condos are rental units? If there are rentals, what are the rental procedures and constraints? What would your neighbors be like? Are you familiar with the neighborhood? Do you know what kind of maintenance the association provides and the hours during which that maintenance is available? Are there any package delivery procedures?

If you are new to condo associations in Chicago, like I was when I purchased my two-bedroom condo in Lincoln Square/Ravenswood, here are some good questions to ask your realtor before making an offer:

–        What is the association’s reputation in the real estate community?

–       How long have the units in the building been on the market?

–       How many foreclosures and/or short sales has the building had in the last two years?

–       How many units sold above market and why?

–       Is there a mix between rental and owner-occupied units?

–       Are you allowed to rent units?

–       How many units are on the market right now?

–       How many units have been combined?

–       How does this association sell compared to comparable buildings in the area?

–       How do the reserves compare to other buildings the realtor has sold units in?

–       What information can the realtor provide regarding the neighborhood, schools, shopping, and the crime rate?

–       What services are available and what does the association provide?

For more tips and assistance, check out condoboardhelp.com

VGrabnerVictoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

PREMIUM EDUCATION IS JUST A STROLL AWAY: TWO PRIVATE SCHOOLS OFFER CLASSES NEARBY

For parents and soon-to-be parents moving into condos and homes in the Edgewater, Ravenswood, Andersonville and Lincoln Square neighborhoods, there is no shortage of public and private school options for children.

Previously, I wrote about several public schools nearby. This blog post will talk about the Lycee Francais de Chicago (also known as The French International School) and the Rogers Park Montessori School.

The French school is building a new campus, and the Rogers Park school is building a large addition to its current structure to accommodate more students.

2015 02 17 French International SchoolThe French International School is currently located at Irving Park and Lake Michigan, but its new building on Wilson Avenue between Damen and Winchester avenues will open in July 2015. It’s being built on the site of what was the old Ravenswood Hospital. Bilingual education starts at age 3 at this school, which educates children who are between the ages of pre-kindergarten and grade 12.

The French school is particularly interesting to me, as my mother is French and my father is American. My sister and I grew up in a bilingual household. Now that my sister and her husband are expecting their first child, they are seriously considering sending their son here. This makes my mother, who is from the French province of Brittany, very happy. I’m excited because if James goes to the LFC, I’ll be near enough to pick him up from school.

The LFC program, according to its website at www.lyceechicago.org, offers a rigorous dual-language curriculum that integrates the French educational system with a strong American program and the International Baccalaureate. With the help of an engaged multicultural community, students are prepared to become responsible global citizens.

The school was first founded in 1995 by a small group of French and American families with fewer than 150 students. Now, the school consists of nearly 500 families and more than 700 students.

The Lycee Francais de Chicago teaches French language arts and literature, math, science, music, visual arts, physical education, world history and geography, and philosophy in French.

It teaches English language arts and literature, social studies, American history, math (grades 3-5), dance and drama, and computer science in English.

2015 02 17 Montessori SchoolAnother nearby school located in West Andersonville/Lincoln Square is Rogers Park Montessori School. It was founded in September 1966 by 10 Rogers Park parents in a converted space in St. Ignatius parish. Since then, it has moved three times, largely due to its expanding number of students. It is currently located at 1800 W. Balmoral Ave., just west of Ravenswood Avenue, on what used to be the site of Hines Lumber.

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. The Montessori method allows young children to develop at their own pace. RPMS seeks to deliver quality educational programming; foster community, respect for self, others, and the environment; and build a strong academic foundation for a lifetime of learning,

RPMS offers classes for children who are between the ages of 2 and 14. The school’s vision embodies eight values. Among these are pride in academic achievement, a joy and thirst for discovery, self-reliance, a sensitive and respectful regard for others, the ability to collaborate, and the ability to think analytically.

“Guiding all our practices is the education and promotion of peace within self, in relationships and within the world,” the school’s website says.

For more information on the Rogers Park Montessori School, visit www.rpmschool.org.

VGrabnerVictoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

FOUR NEARBY PUBLIC ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS OFFER FINE ARTS, SCIENCE FOR VARIETY OF TALENTS

Every school day morning around 7:15 or so, I see kids walking with their parents, older siblings, or other family members south on Wolcott Avenue toward James B. McPherson Elementary School. In most all types of weather, unless the wind chill is low enough, these kids walk carefully through the snow and ice to further their education.

James B. McPherson Elementary School on the corner of Lawrence and Wolcott avenues is celebrating its 10th year as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School for grades six through eight, according to the school’s website. It also has plans to adopt an IB Primary Years Program. The IB program seeks to create a community of lifelong learners.

Other public schools are also nearby.

Located at 4332 N. Paulina St., Ravenswood Elementary School is a fine and performing arts magnet school with 524 students. It is designated as being in “good standing” by the Chicago Public Schools system for its pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade program.

Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School, located in North Center at 3730 N. Oakley Ave., serves 1,042 students in grades kindergarten through eighth-grade who live in the attendance district; gifted students in grades 1-8; and a specialized program for deaf students. It is designated as being in “good standing” by Chicago Public Schools.

James G. Blaine Elementary School, located at 1420 W. Grace St., is a fine arts magnet school. It partners with the Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Cubs, Edelman Public Relations, Looking Glass Theater, Dance Art, the Field Museum, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Chicago Magazine ranked Blaine Elementary as No. 13 on its “Best Schools in Chicago & Suburbs” 2012 list.

VGrabner

Victoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

BUON APPETITO: SPACCA NAPOLI OFFERS DELICIOUS PIZZA, AND IT’S IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD!

2015 02 12 Spacca NapoliOnce in a while, you come across a pizza you’ll never forget, that keeps you talking, that makes you hunger for more. For me, it was the Salsiccia, a thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza covered with blended San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte (mozzarella), sausage, basil, mushrooms, pecorino gran cru, and olive oil. It was prepared by Zagat-rated Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave. This wonderful restaurant in Lincoln Square, on the corner of Ravenswood and Sunnyside avenues, is located just a few blocks from my condo.

The pizzeria is “inspired by the authentic aroma, taste, and craft of pizza found on the streets and in the pizzerias in Naples,” the restaurant’s website says. But while I’ve never been to Naples, Spacca Napoli owner Jonathan Goldsmith has — many times over.

It was in Naples that Goldsmith studied and became certified as a “Pizzaiuolo,” or pizza maker. There, he filmed a video that shows how pizza dough is formed into balls and then kneaded and spread thin to create delicious pizza using fresh toppings. (You can see the video by visiting spaccanapolipizzeria.com/about/.) Meanwhile, even though Goldsmith’s restaurant is in Chicago, he still works hard to give his customers an authentic Neapolitan pizza experience.

Third- and fourth-generation Naples artisans built Spacca Napoli’s wood-fired oven. The dough maker also comes from Italy, the website says. According to Bon Appetit magazine, which reviewed the restaurant in 2007, many of Goldsmith’s key ingredients are imported from Italy. These ingredients include mozzarella di bufala, San Marzano tomatoes, and Molino Caputo flour. And it only takes 60 to 90 seconds to bake the pizzas, which are heated at temperatures ranging from 950 to 1,200 degrees, according to Chicago Magazine.

Goldsmith loves to cook and has a passion for hospitality, and both were evident even during a quick, 5-minute wait for a pick-up order on a busy Friday evening. It was just around 5:30 p.m., but already the restaurant was brimming with activity. Families sat around tables while dates waited in line to place orders. The smiling wait staff was gracious and accommodating.

Nestled between Lillstreet Loft, Urban Pooch Canine Life Center, and other real estate, and across the street from the Metra tracks, Spacca Napoli is worth visiting, either for carry-out or dining in. What’s more, it’s the perfect neighborhood restaurant. Who wouldn’t want delicious pizza just blocks away?

VGrabnerVictoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

 

THE FOUNTAINHEAD IS CRAFTSMANSHIP AT ITS BEST (EVEN IF AYN RAND NEVER WENT THERE)

2015 02 04 FountainheadOne of the many reasons I left Evansville, IN to buy real estate in Chicago was so I could see my sister and brother-in-law more. Emilie and Sean are expecting a baby in early February, and soon I will be an aunt. It will be my parents’ first grandchild. We are all very excited.

Since my move here in mid-December, Emilie and Sean and I have been planning once-per-week meals, either at our respective homes (their condo in West Lakeview, my condo in Lincoln Square) or at a restaurant to catch up on our weeks and on each other.

Tonight, we headed to The Fountainhead at the corner of Damen and Montrose avenues in the heart of Ravenswood, Lincoln Square and North Center neighborhoods. Emilie arrived first and had plenty of time to peruse the detailed beer menu. When Sean and I arrived, it took some time to make our selections. He and I both, independently, decided to try the La Trappe Dubbel from Tilburg in the Netherlands. This beer had 7 percent alcohol and was $9. It had a rich, malty flavor with a touch of sweetness. It was smooth and had body yet was still very flavorful. I’d definitely get it again.

As an appetizer, we all three shared the mushroom quinoa risotto with Parmesan and roasted butternut squash with kale and cranberries dishes. Both were unique and very flavorful. These two dishes were from the special menu.

For our entrees, we each went our separate ways. Emilie tried the tasty veggie burger, while Sean had the short ribs. I decided to try the turkey meatloaf with Gruyere mashed potatoes and creamed kale. They were all tasty.

Even on a Thursday night in the dead of winter, The Fountainhead had an excellent ambiance. It was busy, yet the service was steady and responsive, and our booth near the door gave us a view of the expansive bar selections. I’m planning on telling some of my suburban friends who love to brew beer about this place, and Sean and Emilie were impressed by the menu and beer selections, too. We all three plan to return. For more information, visit http://fountainheadchicago.com.

Victoria Grabner

Victoria Grabner

 

Victoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

WHAT, A BLIZZARD? THEN TAKE THE EL

Chicago Blizzard? Take the LWhat do most people do in the middle of a Chicago blizzard? They stay home. What did I do? I took the El to the Art Institute of Chicago.

It’s not like I hadn’t been to the Art Institute before. I’ve been there many times, both during college and afterwards. But ever since I moved back to Chicago in mid-December 2014, I’d wanted to visit it again. That’s why I braved roughly a foot of snow recently to walk from my condo in Ravenswood/Lincoln Square to the Brown Line stop before hopping off at the Adams/Wabash stop to get to the museum. Snowflakes and wind hit me in the face as I crossed Michigan Avenue, but once inside the Art Institute, I was rewarded with short lines and relatively empty exhibition rooms. Plus, nothing beats a train ride through the city on a near-empty train as snow flurries cover the air around me.

So just how practical is having the El stop so close to me? Well, not only do I not have to worry about parking my car, I also don’t have to pay parking fees. And during a snowstorm, not having to worry about a possible accident is even better. Even more rewarding for someone soaking in every aspect of the city: The El gives me access to advertisements I wouldn’t ordinarily know anything about, like the Fight for Air Climb organized by the American Lung Association and scheduled for March 8 at the Presidential Towers, or the Avon 39: The Walk to End Breast Cancer, set for June 6-7 here in Chicago.

Worried about standing out on a windy train platform in the middle of February? I won’t lie; it IS cold out there. This is Chicago, after all. But the Damen stop has a button you can push to activate a heat lamp to help you feel just a little bit warmer. Plus, the trains aren’t that far apart. And when someone has a question — “Am I on the right train? What’s the express train?” — most people are kind and patient enough to give them the correct answer.

I’ve noticed the same of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) workers, who are happy to answer questions and give directions as to the best exits to take depending on your favored destination. Meanwhile, the ticket machines rely on credit cards and are easy to use, as are the turnstiles. I haven’t had any problems at all.

And you can’t beat how reliable the CTA website and Google are in directing you to your destination. It’s just 49 minutes from my condo to the museum if I take the El, factoring in waiting for the train and walking from my stop to the museum. How’s that for service?

In the meantime, traveling on the El gives you visual access to the city you wouldn’t ordinarily have from a car or a bus. Apartment buildings, small businesses and other real estate swing on by, and the El slows as it turns to follow the Downtown Loop. The train’s large windows make it impossible for you not to notice the heights, the writings on the walls, the landscapes that’d escape mention any other way. For an intimate look at Chicago, you just can’t beat the El.

VGrabnerVictoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

CHICAGO RAVENSWOOD NEIGHBORHOOD GEMS

2015 01 31 Lill StreetWhen the cold weather hits, it’s natural to want to huddle indoors. That’s also the perfect time to head to Lillstreet Art Center, a former gear factory at the corner of Ravenswood and Montrose avenues in Ravenswood.

Founded in 1975, Lillstreet Art Center offers a friendly community of artists and students working together to promote and inspire individual artistic growth. According to the center’s website, the center supports the arts through its education program, artists residencies, gallery exhibitions and retail sales opportunities, studio rentals, and arts-based professional development.

Those interested in taking classes in first-time knitting and yoga, intuitive collage, and sashiko stitching can do so at Lillstreet Loft, just a few steps north of the art center, January through March. Additionally, the Drawing & Painting Studios at 4410 N. Ravenswood Ave. offer drawing and painting in the classical tradition.

But residents can also take classes in ceramics, metalsmithing and jewelry, printmaking, textiles, glass, and digital arts & photography.

Have an important event to go to but don’t want to leave your dog alone in your condo, house or apartment? Consider bringing your four-legged best friend to Urban Pooch 2015 01 31 Urban PoochCanine Life Center at 4501 N. Ravenswood Ave., just down the street from the Lillstreet Art Center.

If you’re too busy to bring Fido to the store, no worries — Urban Pooch can pick him up! Playtime Express Pickup and Drop-off Service is offered every day of the week for only $7 each way.

Meanwhile, Urban Pooch also offers a line of canine food and treats, obedience training classes, and clothing for dogs who, like humans, struggle to stay warm in this cold, snowy weather. The store was mentioned in a CBS 2 TV Chicago clip about that very subject.

VGrabner

Victoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

CHICAGO’S NORTH SIDE HAS GREEN SPACES, BLEND OF BUSINESS AND CULTURAL OPTIONS

Chicago BrauhausI’m always amazed by Chicago’s support of free green space for runners, walkers and bicyclists. Before moving here permanently, I visited the city multiple times to get a feel for what it had to offer. Running along Lake Michigan is easily one of my favorite activities here.

On my first full day in my new condo, I ran to Lake Michigan and then turned south to pass Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course before turning back around again. The views of the lake and of all the green space in Lincoln Park make it a worthwhile run even in misty, 45-degree weather. But another great thing about running is that I get to explore the area closer to my new home.

Within a mile or two of my condo, in the neighborhoods of Andersonville, Ravenswood and Lincoln Square, I have access to an incredible number of mixed-use local businesses and restaurants. These include Andersonville Hardware, Old Town School of Folk Music, Dolce Casa Café, Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen, Alley Cat Comics, Ruff N’ Stuff Pet Center (a nonprofit pet store), Chicago Brauhaus restaurant, Bikram Yoga Andersonville, Women & Children First book store, the Swedish American Museum and Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, and performance art options like The Neo-Futurists.

Meanwhile, residential buildings seamlessly line the surrounding streets. There’s a blend of stores catering to the Chicago Vietnamese community as well as a Bosnian Herzegovinian American Community Center and the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center. I’m within walking distance of the Metra and elevated trains. Mariano’s, an upscale grocery store, is just several blocks away. Winnemac Park, which includes tennis courts, a playground, a track, and a number of dog-friendly trails, is close by, too. These only add to the vibrancy, diversity, and local feel of Ravenswood, Lincoln Square and Andersonville.

VGrabnerVictoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

TRY LINCOLN AVENUE IN LINCOLN SQUARE FOR UNIQUE GIFT OPTIONS

Maggie Finegan has been a great help to me here in just my first week as a full-time Chicago resident. She’s the leader of a team of Keller Williams realtors called Move With Maggie which facilitated the purchase of my condo in Lincoln Square. Not only has Maggie connected me with a great group of small business owners for possible networking opportunities, but she has also told me about a number of local small businesses that have proudly set up shop here in the Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, Bowmanville and Andersonville neighborhoods.

Recently, I stopped by Lincoln Avenue on Lincoln Square to do some holiday shopping. I was amazed by the sheer number of diverse boutiques, restaurants and cafes on either side of the small square. Savory Spice Shop, 4753 N. Lincoln Ave., sells both cookbooks and spices. Within minutes, I knew I had found the perfect gifts for my father, who loves to cook. Across the street at Fleet Feet Sports, 4762 N. Lincoln Ave., I found an outdoorsy gift for my brother-in-law. There, I learned that, once the holidays are over, I can take part in Fun Runs three times per week. As a new runner to the area, that’s something for me to keep in mind.

Victoria Grabner

Victoria Grabner

On the same side of the street as Savory Spice Shop, next to the little square, is Café Selmarie, 4729 N. Lincoln Ave. It offers omelets, cinnamon roll griddlecakes, and more for breakfast. It’s also open for lunch, dinner, and Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Victoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.

URBAN GARDEN PLANNING IN RAVENSWOOD – PART 2

urban gardeningIn my earlier post I mentioned that we are planning to create an inviting urban garden in our front yard of our town house in Ravenswood. We want a patio with space for a table and four chairs, for reading, dining, and entertaining. And room for a small grill.   We met with Patch Landscaping as well as Greenlawn, both local landscapers/designers. They presented several options for the space. There were many good ideas, including several we had not thought of that will make the space feel a bit more private. The quotes came in higher than we expected.

We decided to take on the planting of shrubs and perennials ourselves, to shave 25% off the cost of the project. This weekend, my husband Keith installed the three foundation plantings that include three boxwood shrubs.   We will hire the landscapers to install the patio, as the installation is a little more complicated than digging out the dirt and putting in bricks. After the excavation, a layer of crushed limestone must be installed before the pavers. The cost estimates are running approximately $2,000 for a 10’ x 12’ patio. We are a bit disappointed to learn that the earliest date available for the installation is one month out, and that is if we make the decision soon. Our next step is to request color photos or samples for the pavers. And since we want a patio that is curved, rather than a rectangle, we will ask them to come back and show us the proposed shape of the patio, using the garden hose for the outline.  Will write more once we decide on pavers and have the final meeting.