Online reviews are everywhere. Social media sites like Facebook allow reviews, Yelp has built an online empire based mostly on customer reviews, and products on Amazon can have hundreds of reviews, some of which read more like a short story than a simple product review.

Reviews are very important for consumer goods and restaurants. A lot of people, especially Millennials, will look at online reviews before buying something or visiting a restaurant. Service providers however lag far behind when it comes to the number of reviews. You can find a few reviews about plumbers or auto mechanics but they are few and far between.

Realtors however are the exception. Look up a real estate broker on Zillow and you will find agents with 10, 20 or even 50 reviews. How is it that Realtors have so many reviews when other service providers like doctors have almost none? The simple answer is they ask for them. Zillow has even automated the process. All the agents have to do is type the client’s email into a form and it sends a request to the client to fill out a review. So the agent is selecting who reviews them. Yes any client can go to their Zillow page and give a review, even a bad one if they want, but once again people do not think of reviewing service providers. Obviously an agent is not going to send a review request to a client who they did a lousy job for. Every agent, even great ones have a client who is not thrilled with them.

Real estate agent reviews are not worthless however. Most of the reviews are honest and by actual clients. If someone has 30 reviews and they are all 5 stars it does not mean that they are perfect but it does mean that they have worked with at least 30 people and that 30 people think they did a great job. It is counterintuitive but the reviews for an agent with a less than 5 star average is a better sign than one with nothing but glowing reviews. A few 4 or 3 star reviews shows that the agent is not only asking for reviews from their favorite clients but they are asking for them from most of the clients.  

You probably think that early summer is the best time to buy a home because the supply is at its highest. You would be correct about the number of options you will have to choose from. But competition from other buyers will be at its peak. In hot neighborhoods like the West Loop a new place on the market can easily have 10 showings in its first few days on the market and will often receive multiple offers within days. Buyers barely have time to think it over if they find a place they love. Worst case scenario you end up in a bidding war.

Over the winter there will not be many buyers looking. They are busy with the holidays and if they have kids they do not want to move in the middle of a school year.  That is what makes winter the best time to bargain hunt. This January there were 3823 attached homes for sale in Chicago and that had grown to 4673 by June. That is only 22% less homes to choose from in January.  You may think the only thing on the market in January is condos that have been sitting on the market forever and that nothing new will come up. That is not the case. Over 1900 new places were listed this January. Less than in June but still a healthy amount. Sellers are also going to be more anxious to sell. There are less buyers, the market is slow and if they were not in a hurry to sell they would have waited for the spring to list their place.

Tromping around in the cold Chicago weather may not be appealing but if you are willing to do it you may just find your dream home at a bargain price.