The City of Chicago and the State of Illinois both have a number of programs designed to help people buy homes. In some cases they will lend you money to use as a down payment and in some cases the City of Chicago will give you money to use as a down payment.

One of the most generous programs is City of Chicago’s Home Buyer Assistance Program.  They will give you up to 7% of the loan amount, up to $17,500, to use as the down payment and to cover closing costs. There are some credit score requirements and there is a maximum income you can have to qualify. The income cutoff is a surprisingly high, $131,775. Home buyers are required to put up a $1000.

In theory you can have a low credit score and very little cash and the city will help you buy a home. In reality it is not that simple. You still have to qualify for a loan. The city may be happy with a $1000 down payment and a so-so credit score but that does not mean a mortgage company will be. The biggest problem will be with the seller. Most sellers want earnest money of more than $1000. The city will pay a down payment but not until the closing. Very few sellers will be willing to take their home off the market with only $1000 guaranteeing the deal. I have done deals with as little as 2.5% down and 5% will work in some cases but owners usually want 10% or more.

The Chicago condo market which has been been lagging behind the Chicago single family home market and the condo markets in almost every other major U.S. city is finally starting to show some life.Year over year the average price was up an impressive 9.5% and market time dropped almost 5%.

The single family home market seems to be slowing slightly. While prices were up 3.5%, the market time was up and closed sales dropped over 10%. 
An improving job market and economy has pushed mortgage rates up some. Rates seem to have settled in higher than they were a few months ago but historically they are still low. 
Owning your own home is the American dream and you have decided that 2017 is going to be the year you take the plunge and buy your first home. Since most people do not have the financial resources to just go out and buy a home on a whim, you will need to plan ahead.  It is never too early to begin to get everything in order. Buying a home can be a daunting proposition so we have put together a list of steps to get you started.

Steps for getting ready to buy your first home:

  1. Save money for a down payment. Having enough money for the down payment is the biggest obstacle for many first time buyers. 20% down on a $250,000 home is $50,000. That is a lot of money to have on hand. While 20% is often quoted as the amount you will need that is not always the case. 10% down is enough in many cases and sometimes even 5% will get you into a new home. 
  2. Check your credit score. A bad credit score can prevent  you from getting  a mortgage or at the least push up the interest rate on your loan which will cost you money. Mistakes on your credit history or legitimate credit problems will take time to be cleared up. Raising a low credit score can take months. 
  3. Find a good mortgage broker. A professional mortgage broker can help you in many ways. They will advise you as to the best ways to improve your credit score, inform you as to what your monthly payments will be based on the price of the home you buy and they can help find you any down payment assistance that is offered by the government. 
  4. Obtain a great Realtor. Buying a home is a team effort. There are mortgage brokers, listing brokers, lawyers, home inspectors and buyer’s brokers. For most of us buying a home is the biggest financial decision we will make. A great realtor will not only help you find your dream home they will also coordinate the entire home buying process. They can advise you on the best lawyer, mortgage broker and home inspector for your home-buying needs. They will also work with the mortgage broker and lawyer ensuring that everything moves ahead smoothly.  You can find a realtor by a friend’s recommendation or you can look at online broker reviews.
  5. Set a realistic budget. You need to determine what monthly mortgage payment you can actually afford. Why waste your time looking at homes that you cannot really afford. There are several websites that will give you your ideal home price once you input information like interest rates and monthly payments. You can also talk to a mortgage broker who will advise you as to the size of loan you can get based on your financial situation.
  6. Figure out what is important to you and what you can live without. Unless you have millions to spend you are going to have to make concessions.  You will need to pick a city or neighborhood, house style, size and extras. A real estate broker will not only help you set your priorities, they will be able to tell you if they are realistic.
  7. Get a mortgage preapproval. Most home sellers will not seriously consider an offer without proof that you can get a mortgage. This step should not be done until you are seriously looking. They are only good for a short time 

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. 

There are a lot of obvious things that will affect the value of a condo. Things like: the number of bedrooms, neighborhood, condition, etc. These are all obvious factors that all buyers will consider. There are some factors you may not have considered that can have an impact on the sale price of your condo.

1. How close you are to public transportation- There has been a steady and fairly large drop in the number of people under the age of 40 who have a driver’s license. When looking for housing they want to be close enough to public transportation to walk or bike to it in less than 15 minutes.  

2. The distance to the nearest trendy grocery store- Tied in with the lack of driver’s licenses is the fact that many younger buyers want to be able to walk to a grocery store. Not just any grocery store however, they want to be close to Trader Joes or Whole Foods. A Zillow study found homes near a new Trader Joes went up in value 10% more than other similar homes.

3. Pet policy- You may think, I own the condo so I can have a dog or cat if I want. Not so fast. Many building has instituted pet policies. A few ban all pets, some limit you to 1 pet and the new trend is to limit the size or breads of a dog. We have seen size limits as low as 15 lbs. Over 50% of U.S. households have a pet. A strict building pet policy can eliminate half of potential buyers.

4. Renter’s policy- Too many renters can make it hard for buyers to get a loan and many buyers will see it as a sign of problems with the building. Too strict rules against renters will scare away some young buyers. Millennials are willing to move and are often transferred to different cities. They do not want to be forced to sell their condo because they are not allowed to rent it. We have seen interested buyers walk away from a condo when they found out they would not be able to rent it if they needed to.

5. Cable company- Condo buildings get their cable from one company and which company is decided by the condo board. You may not care but we have done very few showings to buyers under the age of 40 where they did not ask whether the building has Comcast or RCN. As a side note most are hoping to hear Comcast

Even having a person's name in huge letters on the outside of your building can have an impact on condo values.  


Douglas Boehm is a licensed Illinois real estate broker in the Chicago office of City Point Realty.
Douglas Boehm's profile on Zillow. 

The 680 N Lake Shore Drive building has seen an uptick in sales in 2016. There have been 16 units sold or pending so far this year while 15 places sold in all of 2015. The estimated average price per sq. ft. based on MLS numbers has gone from $233 per sq. ft. in 2015 to $266 in 2016.  The average asking price is currently an optimistic $315.

The near north side, unfortunately they lump the Gold Coast, Streeterville and River North all into one neighborhood, has seen the median sale price of condos go up 4.1% year to date. While sales have declined .4% and market time has gone up from 85 days to 91. The inventory of homes for sale has dropped 13.6% If mortgage rates remain this low and the economy does not stall we should see some upward pressure on prices.

Available Units

Sold Units in 2016

These number are based on the data available on the MLS system. Some foreclosures and other sales may not be represented. 
Please feel free to contact us if you would like a free price evaluation for your home, would like a price analysis for your building or if you just have a real estate question.  

Douglas Boehm
Real Estate Broker
City Point Realty
Doug Boehm on Zillow

The Chicago housing market continues to be plagued by a lack of inventory. The lack of places for sale, the number of condos and town homes for sale is down 16% from last year, is limiting the choices of buyers.  Buyers will need to adjust their searches. The odds of finding that perfect place are slim so you will need to make some compromises. It also means that you will have to be willing to move quickly when you find the home you want. Market time has dropped from 65 to 58 days. Sellers have the upper hand in most negotiations. This is true for the city as a whole, but Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and each has its own housing market. Some neighborhoods like the West Loop and Logan Square are so hot that buyers have no power and have to jump as soon as a place hits the market. While in others the buyer has a chance to look around. You will either need to do your homework or better yet find a good real estate broker who understands the state of each neighborhood’s housing market.

Inside the Numbers

The number that continues to stand out is the lack of inventory. Attached home inventory is down almost 16% year over year. Single family homes available for sale are also down but not nearly as much, 10.8%. This lack of condos for sale is finally starting to push up prices. The average price increase was a seemingly sustainable 4.6%. If interest rates remain this low and the job market stays healthy prices will probably continue to go up. 

The July Chicago attached housing numbers.
The July Chicago detached housing numbers.
The June 2016 Chicago housing numbers are out and there are a few surprises. The year over year number of attached homes for sale has dropped 18.4%. Interest rates also continue to be very low. The lack of supply and low interest rates have not translated into higher prices. The number of homes sold increased a bit over last year but there has been a slow down from the busy market of earlier this year. 

Detached single family homes however have seen a nice price increase of around 10%. Market time has also dropped 8 days. Demand for single family homes seems to be picking up.
The national averages for mortgage rates have remained very low over the last week. While we do not see anything on the horizon that would cause rates to go up significantly we are not sure they can stay this low for long.