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I’m often asked, “Who’s the best handyman in the area? Where can I find a great home cook for my party?” After 30 years in the business, I’ve gathered quite a list! That’s why I created my Little Black Book–a comprehensive, 80 page guide of my most trusted vendors, service providers, and partners in Chicago.

You can get your very own electronic copy, or a beautifully bound and printed version as a gift from me to you. Just pop in your information below, and we’ll send one your way.
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These questions are informative and cover my 30 plus years of experience in real-estate. I like getting asked, I will be happy to answer your questions. Sometimes the whole process might be too overwhelming or confusing, I will be happy to clarify it for you as much as I can. Feel free to ask any question in the form below. I will email you back, and if you chose so, share the answer with the public.

BUYERS WANT TO KNOW…

+ What is a buyer’s agent?

Just like a seller is typically represented by a realtor, so is a buyer. Your agent (a licensed realtor) will make certain your best interests are represented throughout the transaction.
The home buying process is something you should never navigate alone. Your buyer’s agent (aka, realtor) should be able to help you every step of the way–from narrowing down the best neighborhood for your needs, to scouting out the perfect properties (and if she’s a good agent–getting you into the best ones before they even hit the market.)
She’ll be a fierce advocate to negotiate the best deal possible, and knows Chicago’s neighborhoods inside and out. Once you’ve found your dream home, she’ll guide you through the mortgage approval process, and setting you up for success, and go above and beyond to make sure you’re comfortable and in-the-know at every turn.
In other words, she’s essentially the quarterback of the team–ensuring that the inspector, attorney, and lender meet deadlines for contract contingencies and she gets you to the closing table on time. Most importantly, your buyer’s agent is your fierce advocate.

+ Is it a good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage?

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is highly recommended in a competitive real estate market like Chicago, as it puts you in a much stronger position to negotiate. You’ll want to ensure you get a true pre-approval letter from a reputable lender, not just a generic pre-qualification letter. Rates matter but service and commitment to closing the loan matter more.

+ How much house can I afford?

I advise every buyer to meet with a lender to get pre-approved and also to get a solid idea of just how much house they can buy. There is no requirement to buy at the top of your approved price point but there is nothing worse than falling in love with a place only to find out you cannot afford the price tag. A good rule of thumb is 35% or so of your gross monthly income dictates your monthly housing payment, be it rent or a mortgage. The price point for a purchase is then determined by mortgage interest rates (to calculate the principal and interest payment), property taxes and monthly assessment cost.

+ How do I know when to buy or keep renting?

To determine when to buy vs rent, you’ll need to take into account what you are paying in rent, vs what the all-in monthly payment would be for mortgage + condo assessment (AKA the HOA fees) + property taxes, less the tax savings after deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes.
Say you live in downtown Chicago, for example…
If your rent payment is $2500 per month, and you find a condo for $400,000 (yes, you can find a nice condo in Chicago for $400K), owning versus renting is to your benefit. Why? Let’s do the math…
To buy a $400,000 condo you would need a minimum of $50,000 to cover the downpayment, mortgage fees and closing costs. The all-in monthly cost would be $2600 ($1700 for the mortgage and mortgage insurance, $400 for HOA fees and $500 for property taxes).
Okay, you’re paying $100 extra per month–but there’s also the tax deduction you can take for mortgage interest and property taxes. Inevitable property appreciation would also be a major added bonus. Not to mention, you’ll get all of this money back when you decide to sell. (Rent? That’s out the window forever!)
Based on this, coupled with the uncertainty of rent prices (rent in Chicago has increased 5.2% per year since 2012) – I’d say buying vs. renting is a very safe choice.

+ Should I work with a real estate agent?

Yes, there are several benefits to working with a real estate agent, especially an experienced top drawer agent. Not only will she be able to give you an accurate value assessment for the property you fall in love with, you’ll likely get a better deal if she is a bear in negotiations. And your agent will advocate for your best interests throughout the transaction.
You may also get access to properties not yet actively listed–which is especially important in a hot real estate market such as Chicago! Additionally, when working with an agent, you don’t just get access to her expertise – you get access to her entire network of advisors, lenders, contractors, and more.

+ If I work with an agent, do I pay their fee?

The great news about buying a home in Chicago is that you don’t pay your buyer agent’s fee–the seller does. But keep in mind the seller has likely factored a commission into their list price. The seller pays their agent and the seller’s agent offers a buyer’s agent a portion of that commission, typically 40 to 50%. When you work with a savvy and experienced realtor you get access to their insider knowledge, strong negotiating skills and an advocate for your best interests… and a good agent will likely negotiate a better deal for her client then they would get going it alone.

+ What is a short sale?

You can often get some of the best deals in Chicago through a short sale. A short sale is a situation where a seller owes more than the proceeds of the sale. Short sellers have the option of working with the lender/lien-holders to sell ‘short’.
Typically a buyer submits an offer for the property, and then waits for the lender and other lien-holders to approve taking less than they are owed. This process can take several months to close to a year and in the end the lender/lien-holder might say no to the offer price and terms. Patience is key when dealing with a short sale purchase, but the end result can make the process worth the wait.

+ What is a foreclosure?

A foreclosure, sometimes referred to as a REO, is a property that is owned by a bank or other form of lender. Foreclosure purchases often move more quickly than a short sale, and are another great way to snag a great Chicago home at a below market price.

+ What is the neighborhood like?

A common question when house hunting is ‘how is the neighborhood?’. For real estate professionals, there are strict rules about what an agent can and cannot say about a neighborhood. But there is plenty a well informed realtor can share about a neighborhood, the local economy, crime statistics, assessed value of various property types and if the neighborhood is a match to your wish list. If you have a top Realtor when buying a home, you will receive all of the pertinent information to allow you to make an educated decision on the best neighborhood, and sub-neighborhood for you.

+ How are the schools?

There is no doubt that schools impact property values, but this is another question that Realtors have to tread very lightly with. There is a wealth of information available online but the real info is in the hands of community residents, parents with children in the local school and the realtor is who is neighborhood expert. The school matters whether or not you have children that will attend the school.

+ How many homes should I look at before making a decision?

I get asked this question often! The answer is “As many places as it takes to find the home that makes your heart sing! I’ve had clients fall in love on the first date and one of my best friends looked at 65+ places before she broke into song. A top agent will make sure no rash decisions are being made and gently remind a ‘Goldilocks’ client that there is no such thing as the perfect home.

+ There are so many neighborhoods to choose from, how do I know which neighborhood is best for me?

One of my favorite things about Chicago is how many neighborhoods there are to explore! A bit of history: there are 77 community neighborhoods and another 200 or so sub-neighborhoods. My goal is to visit them all; to date I’ve hit 44 of the 77 and lived in 7 of the 77. I suggest to clients that they make a list of what they want their day to day life to look like. That list might include things like: easy access to public transportation; ½ mile from the the lake; tree-lined streets with mostly single family homes; close to bars and restaurants; top level public elementary school; trendy, up and coming… start big, winnow down and prioritize. I also suggest that clients look at a few places in several neighborhoods to get an understanding of what each neighborhood offers. It’s all about options, choices and priorities.

SELLERS WANT TO KNOW…

+ What is the most important thing I can do to ensure my home sells?

Make sure your home is in line with the competition during the time listed. The market is constantly changing; properties are listed daily and hopefully selling just as often. Your agent should actively monitor the market to make sure your listing is positioned as it should be among competing listings. Next, first impressions matter! Staging is key, as is attending to any minor tune-ups; fingerprints on the wall, spider webs in the corners of the windows, stale smelling carpet, dirty screens, a garden that could be tended to by Morticia…

+ How do I set the asking price?

Setting the asking price for house is one of the most important determinants of how quickly your house will sell. The consequences of making the wrong decision are painful. If you price your house too low, you will be giving away thousands of dollars that could have been in your pocket. If you price it too high, your house will sit unsold for months (or years in some cases), developing a reputation that something is wrong with the property.
To estimate the appropriate list price and likely selling price of your home, your realtor will analyze a data report called a Comparable Market Analysis or CMA. She will look at comparable homes (also referred to as “comps” ) in the immediate neighborhood that she believes are relevant to your home and that have sold within the past 3-6 months. And she will verify that all data is accurate. Be sure to verify the actual selling price. (What you heard from your neighbors does not mean it is accurate information!)

+ How quickly will my home sell?

Market time varies down to the sub-neighborhood, let alone each neighborhood within the city. Market time is also closely linked to price and showing condition, along with economic conditions at the time of marketing the property. As a general rule, if you price your house on target you should sell under the average or median market time for like-kind properties. I have however seen houses and condos linger on the market for many months only to sell at top dollar in a bidding war.

+ When is the best time to sell my home?

In Chicago, the ‘spring’ market starts late January; who would guess that hoards of buyers are braving the cold and wind to house-hunt? Not so many buyers are looking in mid December… we generally hit the holiday lull around Thanksgiving, ending just after the New Year holiday week-end. There are many factors that determine a prime selling season, including the state of the economy, interest rates and inventory levels for similar properties. The best time to sell your house is when you are ready to move.

+ What do I need to disclose to potential buyers?

There is a disclosure called the Residential Real Property Disclosure Report that every home seller in Illinois is required to complete. Material defects as noted on the disclosure report must be disclosed to prospective home buyers. If you are aware of conditions such as recurring leaking, the presence of mold, radon or a termite infestation these conditions must be disclosed.

+ Do I need a real estate agent to sell my home?

You are not required to use a real estate agent to sell your home. But a top level realtor will ensure you get the best price and deal terms for the sale. She will also make certain you get to the closing table. I have a project checklist for every listing; there are 98 items on the checklist, from listing the house to closing… that’s alot of ‘to-do’ items for a homeowner to handle on their own.

+ How much commission does a realtor charge?

There is no pre-determined commission fee and often the total commission will depend on the list price of the home. As a general rule, a brokerage firm charges 5 to 7% commission, sharing 35 to 50% of their commission with a buyer’s agent. For properties priced at a lower price range the commission may lean closer to 6 or 7% for a full service brokerage firm. Million dollar listings may have a commission rate of 5% and for multiple millions perhaps an even lower commission rate. A top level realtor is worth her fee and remember, you get what you pay for. There are discount services that will rebate a few thousand dollars to the buyer or seller but they may lose double or triple that in a negotiation through lack of market knowledge.

+ How should I prepare my home for showings?

First impressions matter! I often sound like a broken record on this but it is so true. Think first date or job interview. A fun way to understand how to prepare your home for a sale is to visit a few open houses, on your own or with your realtor, so you can see what catches your eye in a good way… and also in a not so positive way. At a minimum I suggest declutter, touch-up paint, organize closets and complete all deferred maintenance.

RENTERS WANT TO KNOW…

+ Do I need a real estate agent when renting?

You are not required to use a real estate agent to rent an apartment, house or condo. But a top level realtor will ensure you get the best price and deal terms for the rental. She will also make certain your application is pitch perfect to ensure the landlord accepts your application… very important in a hot rental market. I have a project checklist for the rental process; there are 45 items on the checklist, from viewing properties to signing the lease… that’s alot of ‘to-do’ items for a prospective renter to handle on their own.

+ Do I have to pay my rental agent?

Typically the landlord pays their leasing agent and the leasing agent splits this fee with the tenant’s realtor. In a situation where the landlord does not have an agent he or she will generally pay the tenant’s realtor one half of one month’s rent as commission.

+ How many upfront costs will I pay for renting?

In general, a tenant will pay an application fee ($100 to $200), first month rent and one month security deposit. Some landlords charge an extra deposit for pets and for additional occupants.

ASK YOUR OWN QUESTION

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