May 17, 2011

National Open House Weekend is Right Around the Corner!

Amy Yes, you heard right...the National Association of REALTORS is sponsoring a National Open House Weekend June 4-5. If you have a home to sell this spring, there's still time to jump on the bandwagon and get your home "open house ready". And if you are a buyer, what a great time to really see a broad range of homes for sale in your community.Don't miss this fantastic opportunity on either side!

So, as a homeseller, how can you take advantage of this event? Here are some tips from the Illinois Association of REALTORS.

  • Think curb appeal - Buyers will be seeing a lot of homes, make sure yours is the one that catches their eye. Trim your lawn and bushes, plant some flowers, put away the yard tools and toys
  • Make minor repairs - Fix that squeaky door, repair broken knobs and hinges, replace burned-out light bulbs. A home that looks well-cared for is more attractive
  • Clear out the clutter - Weed out the knickknacks, remove excess furniture, throw out the clutter or consider putting some things in storage
  • Clean up - Look at your home through the buyer's eyes. You don't want the one thing they remember to be the dirt. Clean windows, floors and appliances
  • Get rid of lingering pet odors. You may love Fido, but potential buyers, not so much
  • Clean your carpets and if you have time, put on a new coat of paint to freshen things up
  • Get the word out - Your REALTORS will place signs, but make sure your friends and neighbors know you'll be having an open house. It can be beneficial to have more homes shown in your neighborhood. More open houses = more traffic, benefiting you as well.

If you'd like more information on this upcoming event, please visit


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May 06, 2011

Renovations Should Boost Curb Appeal

Ron With the housing market still trying to recover, homeowners have changed their plans. Instead of selling their home, homeowners are staying put and remodeling.

According to a major report released by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the U.S. home improvement industry is poised for growth. A New Decade of Growth for Remodeling is the sixth and latest report in the Improving America's Housing series, published by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center.

"As both the economy and housing market stabilize, so too will home improvement spending," says Abbe Will, a researcher with the Remodeling Futures Program. Over the coming years, remodeling expenditures are expected to increase at an inflation-adjusted 3.5 percent average annual rate, below the pace during the housing boom, but sharply recovering from the recent downturn.

In the next five years, according to the study, the focus of remodeling spending will shift from upper-end discretionary projects to replacements and systems upgrades.

When homeowners make renovations, they should consider what will give them their best rate of return. Exterior modeling projects lead the way for recovery on dollars spent. In comparing the national average, replacement projects that boost curb appeal--siding, windows and decks--give homeowners the greatest chance of recouping their money. Inside, only kitchen models can compare.

According to the National Association of REALTORS website, here are the top 10 projects and their estimated return rate. Do any of them apply to you or someone you know?

1. Upscale fiber cement siding (86.7%)
2. Midrange wood deck (81.8%)
3. Midrange vinyl siding (80.7%)
4. Upscale foam-backed vinyl (80.4%)
5. Midrange minor kitchen remodel (79.5%)
6. Upscale vinyl window replacement (79.2%)
7. Midrange wood window replacement (77.7%)
8. Midrange vinyl window replacement (77.2%)
9. Upscale wood window replacement (76.5%)
10. Midrange major kitchen remodel (76.0%)

One final suggestion if you're considering renovating is to get more than one estimate. Like a lot of businesses in today's market, there are companies offering discounts. Shop around and get the best deal!

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May 03, 2011

What if home improvement paid you back?

Each year, Remodeling Magazine and Realtor Magazine team up to produce the Cost vs. Value report.  The study looks at regional building permit data to estimate remodeling costs for more than 30 common home improvement projects.  Then, Realtors weigh in to estimate the value these projects add to a home’s market value.  It’s a handy report that gives homeowners some perspective on the best way to spend home improvement dollars each year.

But the report is missing one thing.  What about payback?  Many of the project scopes could be tweaked just a little to include some energy efficiency improvements at the same time. It's a super-smart time to add these steps while drywall is already off and walls are already open - you cut the dust and prices later over doing these same improvements as stand alone projects.  These upgraded projects would potentially add not just value, but offer savings through reduced energy costs.

The following lists show the Top 5 Chicagoland projects based on estimates of remodeling costs recouped at resale as reported in the Cost vs. Value report.

The second list uses energy data compiled by the Center for Neighborhood Technology/EnergyEfficient Windows CollaborativeENERGY STAR and Keep Warm Illinois to show the top projects based on natural gas savings for a typical/average home in the Chicagoland area.

2010 Top  Chicagoland Home Improvement Projects:

2010 Top Chicagoland Payback + Value Projects:

#1 Basement Remodel + air sealing + insulation.  Extra energy efficiency costs:  1% (Upgrade to air seal & insulate basement - $1,000-2,000; Tip: be sure to also upgrade home ventilation)

Potential average energy savings: 24%

#2 Attic Bedroom + air sealing + insulation.  Extra energy efficiency costs:  3% (Upgrade to air seal and insulate attic - $1,800-2,400; Tip: be sure to also upgrade home ventilation)

Potential average energy savings: 24%

#3 Window Replacement (wood) + air sealing.  Extra energy efficiency costs:  10% (Upgrade to air seal walls, attic, basement - $1,300-1,700; Tip: The savings comes from the caulk around the windows more than the new windows themselves!  And, be sure to also upgrade home ventilation.)

Potential average energy savings: 24%

#4 Siding Replacement (Fiber Cement) + air sealing + insulation.  Extra energy efficiency costs:  21% (Upgrade to air seal walls and insulate side walls -$3,500-4,500; Tip: The savings comes from sealing leaks in the walls more than the new siding itself!  And, be sure to also upgrade home ventilation.)

Potential average energy savings: 32%

#5 Steel Entry Door Replacement + air sealing.  Extra energy efficiency costs:  17% (Upgrade to advanced weather-stripping - $250; Tip: Savings comes from buying a well-insulated door and then sealing it with effective weather-stripping!)

Potential average energy savings:  11%

Estimates are one thing, knowing the exact savings opportunities for your specific home is another.  A home energy audit is a great place to start.  Utility program incentives are scare in Illinois (People's customers get a good one), but not a bad place to start just to see if resources are available.  Or, contact a local energy auditor.

Entry door and siding replacement make both the top cost recouped and payback lists.  So if you are considering either of those it is simply a no-brainer to include energy efficiency upgrades in your scope!

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March 24, 2011

Riverside - Act Now for a Great Home Energy Boost!

Laura Our very own Riverside, Illinois, is the first community in the nation to have access to an innovative new tool that can quickly help you understand energy efficiency opportunties in your home, what options you have for rebates and credits to cover the work, and access to quality contractors to get the work done!  

MyHomeEQ tells you in a few clicks about the efficiency of your home and opportunities to save money and improve comfort.  MyHomeEQ pulls actual energy usage information from Nicor and ComEd as well as information about your home as filed with the Cook County tax assessor.  Instant insights into how much energy your home uses compared to the savings for homes like yours that have improved energy efficiency features.  

Until April 30, Riverside homeowners can use MyHomeEQ to connect with programs from Nicor Gas and ComEd. The program offers a fast-track to big savings on upfront costs and monthly bills:

  • Customized recommendations for energy-saving home improvements in a few clicks based on your home’s actual energy use, size and shape
  • A follow-up professional home energy evaluation for only $50 (returned to you if you go through with recommended energy efficiency work). A professional energy auditor will evaluate your home and recommend the most effective energy saving home improvements. (This service typically costs $400 – $600!)
  • Quick access to skilled contractors right from
  • $40 worth of free upgrades:  installation of faucet aerators, an efficient shower head, and up to 10 free compact fluorescent light bulbs provided by ComEd
  • Details on how to earn energy efficiency rebates and other incentives
  • Opportunity to qualify for funding that covers 50% (up to $1,250) of the cost of additional energy-saving home improvements as recommended in the home energy evaluation

Last year the Cool Cities Coalition in nearby Elmhurst estimated that projects like this in our region might save 10-30% on energy bills, and could potentially add to the value of your home. On top of that, a Federal tax credit up to $500 may be available.  

The number look good!  What are you waiting for?

For more information, check out the article in the Riverside Landmark. Or, join the MyHomeEQ team for a demo at the Riverside Public Library on Thursday, March 31, 7 p.m. - 8 p.m.   


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March 16, 2011

Why Local Elections Matter

Chris While elections for national and statewide office often capture our attention and stir our emotions, it's the races closer to home that actually have the biggest effect on us - and our wallets.

Municipal elections touch the value of our homes, our schools, the streets we drive on and the police and fire departments that protect us. Good local leaders can help communities flourish, while irresponsible public servants can drive them into fiscal insolvency.

Right now is not an easy time for our cities and villages. Like everyone else, they are still feeling the effects of the recession and looking for ways to make ends meet. To close their budget gaps, many are considering service cuts as well as tax hikes and other means of generating new revenue.

Unfortunately, that new revenue is often drained from the pockets of local homeowners in the form of property taxes and measures such as water bill deposits and building permit fees.

It's not fair - nor is it a good idea - to balance a budget on the backs of homeowners. Just ask your local REALTOR what effect that could have on your ability to sell your home in the future.

Due to the nature of our work, we closely align with the needs of homeowners. From fighting to protect mortgage interest deductions on the national level to thwarting onerous taxes and codes locally, REALTORS serve as homeowners' tireless advocates. We watch your back by monitoring local government activity for issues that might interfere with private property rights, or affect your ability to buy, sell or maintain your home.

We urge you to pay attention to local elections and vote on April 5th. Take some time to study the backgrounds of - and meet - candidates for city council, county board and school board, for example. Be sure and ask important questions such as:

  • Do your candidates support property tax increases? If so, why?
  • Do they support regulations that make it tougher to sell foreclosed homes?
  • What is their position on transfer taxes?
  • How do they feel about the regulation and requirement of home inspections?
  • Are they considering any new property maintenance codes? If so, what are they?

Now more than ever, it's important to pay attention and make your voice heard - and your vote count. Let's work this spring to elect capable leaders who can help boost the value of our neighborhoods without placing an undue burden on homeowners and our communities.

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March 08, 2011

Tips from CUB - Are those "alternative energy providers" legit?

Laura The utility business in Illinois just became officially confusing!  The industry changed recently, allowing you to buy electrical service from new providers while ComEd still deliveres it to your home.  You might have noticed ads and flyers popping up with info.

But how does this work?  Are the green claims really green?  And which program is right for you.

The Citizens Utility Board or CUB just came out with a great webpage that explains all the info.  See their comparison chart to evaluate your options.

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February 09, 2011

Snowstorms and Income Taxes

As my cigar dwindles down to a stub I read about a soldier who rises to lead a nation, only to find that the nation is too large, too unmanageable.  He breaks the nation into smaller states and splits power with an old friend but the nation is still too unmanageable.  The book I'm reading is about Diocletian and Imperial Rome however I'm facing a similar problem following last week's meetings: information overload.  My first response is usually sitting and thinking about it until it makes sense, but sometimes that is just an excuse to not actually write anything about it. So here is a story from last week I found compelling.

The big news in Illinois in January, besides the snowstorm, is the huge hike in the income tax rate.  Governor Quinn and the General Assembly rallied in the 13th legislative hour to craft a huge tax increase for residents and corporations.

Are you aware of how Realtors stood up for homeowners in the waning hours of session?

I was talking to Greg St. Aubin last week about his efforts to make sure homeowners weren't trampled under some of the more obscure elements of the income tax bill. St. Aubin is the chief lobbyist for the Illinois Association of REALTORS (IAR), jocund yet unassuming, he told of a "property tax relief" provision in the original bill which was anything but homeowner friendly. Currently Illinois tax law provides for homeowners a 5% tax credit for property taxes paid.

St. Aubin said, "We couldn't believe what we were seeing in this bill. So we took the proposed tax rate and ran an analysis of what this would mean to average homeowners."

"Wow, you did this in a couple of hours?" I asked

"Yup, we are one of only a couple of groups who can perform an analysis like this in just a few hours. By Tuesday morning we were back in the Capitol letting the State Reps know what we found out."

"and that is?"

St. Aubin then laid out that under the proposal, what had been an automatic tax credit would now be essentially an application for the credit that Illinois Revenue would process and, if the state had met its spending caps, would issue equal sized checks to those who applied for rebates by April 15. Have you ever heard of such a byzantine and convoluted proposal?

However there is another problem that St. Aubin and Realtors reminded the legislators about: under the proposal two homeowners of identical homes but in different towns could pay very different taxes but get the same rebate amount.  Some might say that is progressive, Realtors suggest that those paying a higher property tax should see a reasonably higher tax credit. So, let's recap, currently you can claim 5% credit right on your Illinois Income tax form. Proposed system: apply for a flat rate rebate to be issued in summer if the General Assembly tightens its belt and meets defined spending caps.

Realtors, through our state association, made sure this message was delivered to every state senator and state representative: vote no on this homeowner unfriendly tax provision. In those dwindling hours when legislature was madly attempting to pass an income tax hike, Realtors stood firmly with homeowners and tried to at least get one change to help homeowners keep their property tax rebate. Very few trade organizations can claim to have such a direct influence to assist homeowners.

Realtors, through IAR's efforts, were able to preserve some equity for homeowners. Realtors have been able to do this because of our history of providing rock solid research and analysis to elected officials. Realtors pride themselves on providing the best market data, the most thoughtful analysis, and the most thorough research to legislators, homeowners, and municipal governments of Illinois.

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February 03, 2011

2011 Energy Efficiency Tax Credits

Laura Last year, the federal government offered some pretty juicy tax credits for energy efficiency home improvements.  The amount has been basically cut to a third (from $1500 to $500). But if you use the credits wisely, they are still a great opportunity to make your home more comfortable and save money every month on your energy bills! 

Green Homes America offers an easy-to-read overview with details on this year's credit, how much for different improvements and more. 

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January 26, 2011

2010 in the Rearview Mirror

Chris 2010 was a great year for homebuyers, both in Chicagoland and across the nation.

Mortgage interest rates dropped to historic lows, home affordability was high, and a wide variety of homes were available for purchase.

Many consumers took advantage of this historic "perfect storm" of home-buying conditions, and 4.8 million homes were sold in the U.S. in 2010.

The good news is that, for those who were unable or unsure about entering the market in the past year, these conditions should extend into 2011.

First-time buyers were a driving force in 2010, taking advantage of the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit. According to the Illinois Association of REALTORS (IAR) 2010 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 53 percent of Illinois homebuyers last year were first-time buyers, up from 51 percent the year before.

Of the buyers who responded to IAR's survey, 34 percent said it was "just the right time" to buy a home, while 27 percent cited affordability.

The average Illinois home seller owned the home for eight years, and said the primary reason for selling the previous home was a change in family situation (23 percent) or the size of the home was too small (21 percent).

Also, last year as Americans tried to get their bearings following a harsh recession, the media brought the institution of homeownership itself into question.

However, I think cooler heads utimately prevailed, and the home rightfully retained its reputation as a good way to build long-term wealth. It was also good to see homeownership receive some credit for all the "intangibles" it provides, like a sense of stability and security for one's family.

Most Americans still aspire to the dream of homeownership. The good news is that many will get that chance in 2011!


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January 12, 2011

Make Sure Goal is Right for You

Jack With the New Year comes hope for better things in 2011.

That's why it's important to set some goals, or resolutions as some people call them, for the upcoming year. Some of the common ones are loss of weight, saving money, get fit, quit smoking, eat right, etc.

But the odds are against you. According to Wikipedia, recent research shows that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident with their goals, only 12% actually achieved them.

You probably have a goal in mind. If that's the case, great. If you're not sure though, consider taking a minute to answer the following questions. No one starts out thinking they've selected the wrong goal, but sometimes that's what we realize once we're into it.

You probably know the old carpenter's adage: Measure twice, cut once. Before you start taking action, try to be sure you're pursuing the right goal, with the right plan.

The Correct Goal Test

  1. Is this the goal you would pick if you knew you couldn't fail? This is a great place to start to help determine whether you're "settling," or if you've selected a goal that's worthy of the investment of time and energy you will be making.
  2. Are you thinking big enough? Have you accepted a compromise that's not really what you want because you don't believe you can achieve what you really want? If so, review some of the information on this page on correct beliefs). There is plenty of evidence that there's very little you can't achieve provided you have a good plan, allow enough time to reach it, consistently take action and maintain your focus.
  3. Do you have a clear idea what you want your life to be like in 3-5 years? Does this goal contribute to that vision or outcome? Stephen Covey is widely quoted reminding us to "begin with the end in mind." Being clear about the goal, in whatever area of your life you're considering, is critical to making decisions about where to invest your time and effort today.
  4. Are you concerned about "perceived" limitations like available time, your age, or physical or financial limitations? Virtually any important goal had these as obstacles to some degree, but determination, a smart plan and your focused energy over time can overcome these limitations. Don't let these things cause you to forego the goal you really want to pursue. Instead, focus on a plan with achievable, reasonable incremental milestones. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and continuing those steps in the right direction will lead to the results you are seeking.

If you answered "yes" to these questions then you're probably on the right track. But if any of these questions caused you to reconsider for a minute, then maybe it's a good idea to take some time and consider the big picture before you set out on this path.

Dr. Edward C. Barfield of Harvard University concluded that "the long-time perspective is the most accurate single predictor of upward social and economic mobility." Long time perspective is more important than education, family background, intelligence, race, connections or nearly any other factor in determining our success in life and at work. Our attitude about time frame also affects the goals we should select, and will help guide our behavior and the choices we make today.

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Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®
6655 Main Street, Downers Grove, IL 60516
630.324.8400 •