According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, more than half of recent homebuyers said the hardest part of the buying process was finding the right home to purchase. Since a home is the largest purchase most of us will make, it is easy to become wrapped up in finding the perfect place that meets all of our wants and needs. We overwhelm ourselves by focusing on checking off the boxes that will result in our ideal home. That’s a lot of pressure!

This month’s information is intended to take the stress out of finding the right home. Before you begin your search, there are four things to consider—price range, features, location and lifestyle. These four factors will help you focus your search on homes that meet your needs, allowing you to make the best decision for your family and for your wallet.

When you’re looking for a home, you need an experienced professional in your corner to help navigate the process and get you the best deal. If you’re ready to buy, give me a call! I’d love to help you achieve your dream of homeownership.

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Using the Internet in Your Home Search


I’m on my way to show a townhouse that is for sale on Paulina Street, south of Lawrence Avenue. I am thinking about Why I love Ravenswood in Chicago. Is it the tree lined streets, the lovely stone homes built by old world stone cutters at the turn of the century; or the carpenter gothic frame houses with original “gingerbread” trim?

Maybe. But it’s more about the location.  Ravenswood is ideally situated between Lincoln Square on the west and Andersonville on the south, a great location for shopping, dining, and entertainment.  I can’t wait to tell them about my favorite Andersonville restaurants on Clark Street north of Lawrence. There’s Big Jones, for southern/soul food, Taste of Lebanon where you can get a falafel sandwich for a song, and Calos for great ribs. My favorite shops are the Wooden Spoon (for classes and cooking implements) and the Swedish Bakery.  Let’s not forget there is so much to love about nearby Lincoln Square restaurants and shops.  On Lincoln Avenue, my favorite spots are Café Selmarie for dining al fresco on the Square, Fork for beer, wine and tastings, and shopping at Gene’s Sausage Shop, the Book Cellar.

I wonder if the buyers know that it’s just a 10 minute ride to downtown via Metra Rail, from the station at Lawrence and Ravenswood.  And in the summer, you can hop on Metra northbound and arrive at Ravinia for a concert.  And when the new Mariano’s Gourmet Grocery opens at the Ravenswood Station the area will have even more to offer.

Ravenswood  in Chicago is also served by the Brown line and Red Line elevated trains, as well as busses, especially the express 146 bus.

I’m almost at my destination now, 4620 N Paulina, a wonderful 3 level townhouse in a gorgeous green community.  Where else can you have your own front and back yards, a 2 block walk to Metra, and friendly neighbors.

Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


A good place to start is to pretend that you are a buyer and stand in the street and look back at your building. Nothing looks worse from the curb—and sets off subconscious alarms—like dirty front windows, hanging gutters and downspouts, missing bricks from the front steps, cracked sidewalks or peeling paint. Not only can these deferred maintenance items damage your home, but they can decrease the value of your house by 10%. Here are some maintenance chores that will dramatically help the look of your house.
Here is a list of eight common tasks that will add to the value of your home and give you the curb appeal you seek.
1. Get started with the front of your house. In this instance a book is being judged by its cover. Wash windows inside and out, wipe cobwebs from eaves, hose down the downspouts, and don’t forget garage doors and parking lots.
2. Wash the dirt, mildew and general gunge off the outside of your buildings. REALTORS® say washing a house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sale prices of some houses.
3. Clean up the yard and garden. A well-manicured lawn with fresh mulch, and pruned shrubs boost the curb appeal. Replace overgrown bushes with leafy plants and colorful annuals. Surround bushes and trees with dark or reddish-brown bark mulch, which gives a rich feel to the yard. Put a crisp edge on garden beds, pull weeds and invasive vines, and plant a few geraniums in pots. Green up your grass with lawn food and water. Cover bare spots with seeds and sod, get rid of crab grass and be sure to mow regularly.
4. Clean the carpeting in your condo entries and hallways, and don’t forget the walls. Fresh paint in entries and on walls makes a huge difference. Shampoo the hallway and stair carpets twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Be sure hallways aren’t littered with multiple pairs of shoes outside the unit doors.
5. Make sure the name labels at the lobby door buzzers look consistent and professional. Handwritten labels of different styles and colors can mislead a buyer to assume it’s a building with a lot of turnover.
6. Glam your address. Add a plaque with architectural house numbers to make your building stand out. Give your old mailboxes a facelift – paint them. These days, your local home improvement center or hardware store has an impressive selection of decorative numbers. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $200 depending on the type of address plaque you purchase.
7. Add a color splash to please the eye of would-be buyers. In spring, plant a tulip border. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and plant some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or chair on the front porch if there is room. These colorful touches won’t add to the value of our house: appraisers don’t give you extra points for them. but beautiful colors enhance curb appeal and help your home sell faster.
8. Frame your back yard, deck or patio, adding a border or low fence. Be sure to maintain the gates in clean and working condition. Replace and tighten loose latches.
Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


If you’re looking for a home and not having luck finding anything in your price range in Andersonville or Lincoln Square, you might want to consider Independence Park. The boundaries for this Chicago neighborhood are from Central Park to Pulaski and from Addison to Montrose.
The homes tend to be larger because the lots are bigger which gives you a lot more air, light and space especially with the houses being further apart. Many of the homes have decks on them with nice size yards in addition to garages. There are a lot of good parks in the area including Independence Park itself. Also, there’s a farmers market on Saturdays which is extremely highly-rated and many ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood.
If you’re looking for a good neighborhood as an affordable alternative to Andersonville or Lincoln Square you definitely want to look into Independence Park. I’ve helped three buyers in the last two months to purchase over there and they’re seeing great opportunities in that area.
Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


The picture is starting to improve in the real estate market. The Chicago real estate market traditionally kicks into gear right after Super Bowl Sunday and this year it got an even earlier start. We are seeing many more first time buyers out this winter when compared with last year. More buyers are planning to purchase in the $200,000 to $350,000 range. The increased activity will help to sell off some of the existing distressed inventory that includes short sales and foreclosures, and eventually prices will rise.
I believe the recent rise in the stock market is the reason for increased activity. For a while now Boomer parents have wanted to help their children with a down payment on their first home, but have hesitated to take money out of their mutual funds because the share values were so low. Now that the stock market is showing steady growth, they are more comfortable in pulling out money to gift to their children who need help putting together a down payment.
That said, it’s not too early for condo owners who are planning to sell to get their places in shape. A well maintained building can increase your sale price by up to 10%. And in our current market that is described as a price and beauty contest, we see over and over again that buyers purchase well priced places that look really good.
It’s still not a market where you can afford to lose a potential buyer because the outside of the building doesn’t look well maintained. As a Realtor®, I experienced many instances where buyers won’t even step inside a condo building that is poorly maintained on the outside, even when they have an appointment to see the home. It all goes back to what we call curb appeal. It is well known that homes and condo buildings with high curb appeal command higher prices and take less time to sell. Buyers will pay thousands of dollars more for a well-kept condo or home because they trust that it has been cared for rather than neglected.
Nothing can sour a buyer on a property faster than if they see litter on the street and up against the curbs, unkempt parkways, and alleys with graffiti and garage doors that are dirty. I’m not talking about replacing major elements such as bricks or siding. I’m talking about regular maintenance and beautifying tasks you’d like to live with anyway. It can add up to thousands more on the purchase price of your home or condo.
Stay tuned later this week and I’ll give you projects that will have the most impact.
Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


Finally let’s talk about those questions that come up from your renters. This is a time to truly consider what the request is rather than what you as the landlord think the answer should be.

Be safety conscious. When our renter called to ask if they can install carpeting on the hardwood stairs going up to the bedrooms, I wanted to resist the idea of covering our lovely hardwood stairs. Then the safety first light went on in my brain, as I thought of the safety of them and their young children, who might slip on the wood stairs. When the potential renter called and asked if we would install a garbage disposer, we agreed even though it is not something that we use or want in our own homes.

What to do about pets? Should we rent to people with dogs and cats? We were fine with one dog per townhouse. We learned after giving permission to our wonderful tenants to add a second dog that two dogs seemed to alienate our neighbors in the townhouse complex, who had to listen to the barking. We also learned that our neighbors with young children are also a little uncomfortable with their children having to share the sidewalk with large dogs.

Being available and on site. Weekends in the summer we try to spend some time gardening in the yards so our tenants and the neighbors can approach us with their concerns.

Wow have we learned a lot. We certainly haven’t gotten rich over this exercise, but we have learned how to provide safe, attractive housing for good solid renters. And we have met and developed relationships with some wonderful people along the way, some who are now long time friends.

Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


In our first post, we’ve advertised our property for rent. Next, we discovered the annual challenge of how to determine the correct rental price. This becomes more and more important in Chicago, as our real estate taxes, which make up the lion share of our expenses, keep going up. After a few years of struggling with rents, I discovered that the apartment rental service companies like Apartment People in Chicago, were more than happy to stop by and give me an estimate of the current rental value. This is extremely helpful.

With our real estate taxes going up, we have to continually add value for our potential renters, so that we can increase the rents to cover the rising costs. (Kinda sounds like the horse driving the cart doesn’t it?) But this is Chicago and we do things our own way here, like most urban areas.

One of the best things that I did to add value was to create private outdoor space for the townhouse. With our cold winters, renters can’t wait to sit outside. So we built a patio, and surrounded it by shrubs for added privacy. Our renters loved it so much that they had a lattice work screen and planter box added at their expense. We also landscaped the property with perennials, shrubs and annuals for blooming and winter color too. All this helped us to be able to increase rents over time. Listening to tenants, learning from them and giving them what they want. Our rents went from $1100 a month before the landscaping, private patio and fencing in 2003 to $1800 in 2011.

We are always learning from our renters and we try to keep an open mind. We noticed that over the years, the renters who call about our townhouses have changed, and so we needed to change our rental listings to let people know what we have to offer. We are seeing more young families who love the 3 bedrooms, the lower level family room that works well as a playroom, and the private yards, and the secure parking spaces. The ornamental wrought iron fence that we installed at great expense a few years after purchasing, has provided the added value of security. It keeps the renters’ children protected from the street, and creates a sheltered place for them to play in the local townhouse community. And the parking space that is out back rather than on the street means they can walk to and from the parking space without having the children near the street and in harm’s way.

Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


I bought my first rental property in 2003. It was a 3 bedroom townhouse in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. I had shown it to a client who didn’t like the 50’s feel of it. She didn’t love it, but I did, so I bought it and became an instant landlord. My first challenge (and fear) was how to screen for tenants. A fellow realtor referred me to ACR-Advance Credit Reports (ACR) in Matteson. I set up an account with them, and they provided me with legally compliant tenant application forms that you can have tenants fill out. Simply fax the completed application forms and ACR will run a “Tenant Qualifier” in a matter of hours. It includes a credit report, civil records, inquiries and residence history. For a nominal additional fee they will call employers and former landlords. For an extra charge you can run a criminal background check.

In 2004, I added a new partner, when I married my husband Keith, and he joined me land lording. We purchased a second townhouse in the same complex as the first one. By then the marketing process had evolved, using a combination sources I found that good tenants come from a variety of places. Start the recipe with postings on Craig’s list, add Chicago Reader Classified, and for maximum exposure list the rental property with Keller Williams Realty, who automatically posts the listing to many, many rental websites, including Hot Pads, Enormo, Trulia, Zillow and Domu to name a few. All at once it is posted. My most recent tenants have come from HotPads and Domu. I always use professional photographs in my ads and even hired a virtual tour company to take the shots and draw the floorplans.

Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team


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If you™re trying to raise your credit score to get a good rate for a refinance or HELOC, you might be surprised by what affects”or doesn™t affect”your score. Read

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Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team
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I get this question several times a week, as a Realtor ® working in Lakeview, Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, Lincoln Park neighborhoods of Chicago.   Short answer is “Depends on your budget, your tolerance for disorder, and how much you want to sell it for and how quickly.”Know that current buyers are of two types. Wholesale buyers/investors, and retail buyers who want to own and live in a nice place. Wholesale ones want a bare bones price and often are paying cash, so you don’t have to wait for them to get a mortgage. They may be willing to accept broken stuff, older finishes and appliances if they can get the home for 30-60 cents on the dollar.

Retail buyers, on the other hand, are planning to move in, and they want move-in condition and more. No broken items, and often they prefer lovely finishes, features and amenities, rather than ones that are outdated and worn.   Their decision may have more emotion than the investor’s, so if your place has broken things, they may feel less inclined to buy. Absolutely fix the things that you can afford, unless you want to settle for cents on the dollar.   Broken anything is a turn off.

Here are a few quick tips. If the walls need painting, know that paint provides the greatest return on investment that you can get, and is a do it yourself project.   If you floors are scratched or worn, there is a new product by Minwax, a floor restorer. You can buy it at Home Depot and in many cases, do it yourself, so you won’t need to bring in a floor sander and put up with the dust and dirt that will bring.   Just a few ideas, but its always wise to consult your local realtor for an opinion of value, and what they think needs to be done, given the local market. Real estate is local, local, local.

Maggie Finegan, ABR, Move with Maggie Chicago Real Estate Team