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

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Independence Park circa 1936If 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

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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

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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

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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

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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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City of Chicago Skyline

There are many choices for buyers planning to relocate to Chicago. Working with a knowledgeable real estate agent can guide and help to focus your search, based on your lifestyle, location preferences, amenities desired, and needs for access to transportation.

The City of Chicago is on a grid system with State Street and Madison Avenue being the starting point. Streets are numbered going north from State and Madison. There are 77 official neighborhoods in Chicago, each having its own unique number. For those wanting the downtown lifestyle, there are five areas to focus on. They include Loop-Downtown, Gold Coast, Streeterville, South Loop and West Loop.

Price per square foot varies and the average square feet in a 2 bedroom varies, depending on proximity to the Loop, building amenities and features and finishes of a condo. Amenities within a building such as swimming pools, and health club will also determine price. And of course newer buildings with higher end finishes and features will be higher in price. Parking, in unit laundry and private outdoor space tend to be large determining features.

DOWNTOWN AND CLOSEST PROXIMITY

Loop: The median sales price for 2 bedroom 2 bath condos sold in last three months is $325,000. Units are relatively small. Lakefront condos, neighborhood is best known for access to major cultural museums, opera, Broadway Theater, upscale shopping. Michigan Mile includes many upscale shopping destinations, Water Tower Place. Housing stock consists of mostly condos in high rises, plus hotels. Some very high end such as Trump Tower.

Near North: Median sale price $345,000. Includes neighborhoods such as Gold Coast, Streeterville, part of Old Town: Offers upscale shopping, dining, great access to services, lakefront condos in high rises.

West Loop: Median price $310,000. Condos in general are larger. Bargains can be found here, especially west of Greektown/Halsted. 7-10 minute drive or plentiful cab or buses to downtown. Loft spaces with soaring ceilings, great light. Proximity to loop, also to University of Illinois and Rush Medial University. The 1301 W Madison building is a good value. The University Village area offers townhomes and spacious condos, under $400,000.

South Loop: Median price $299,000. Established neighborhood five minutes from the Loop. Some bargains can be found here, in the Dearborn Park area; Housing stock includes low to mid rise townhouses and condos, midrise to highrise. It’s an established neighborhood with shopping and elevated train transportation to airport nearby. Closer to the lake is mostly high rises.

NEIGHBORHOODS BEYOND DOWNTOWN

Lincoln Park: Median price $265,000. Lakefront and starts at 2400 north (Fullerton). Known for its proximity to the lakefront, bike paths, wonderful zoo, restaurants. Includes the DePaul area. Housing would be high rise.

Lakeview: Median price $324,000. Begins at Diversey (2800 north) and the lake. Located just north of Lincoln Park, starts at the lakefront. Offers mostly high rise and some mid rise buildings. Some older buildings offer more spacious units. Lakefront is mostly high rises. Elevated train stops.

Andersonville/Edgewater: Median price $230,000. Starts at 5200 north and the lake. Includes hi rises to mid rises to low rise walk ups in lovely rehabbed vintage buildings. Some newer construction units with indoor parking, decks, and garages available in the $300K range. Proximity to lakefront beaches, bike paths, shopping and dining in nearby Andersonville. Elevated train stops.

Ravenswood/Lincoln Square: Median price $252,000. Starts at 4400 North and 2000 West. It’s a walk able, historic and with lovely housing stock. Home of Lill Street Art center and Old Town School of Folk Music. There are some newer construction extra wide units with indoor parking and balconies very affordable.

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

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Have you been planning to invest in a condo in 2012? Here is a short list of things to consider before you make an offer.

  1. Look beyond the condo features and fancy finishes. Take a close look at the masonry/tuck pointing, roof, common hallways, exterior stairs, parking lots and garages. If these areas are not well maintained, they can be a source of major special assessments, and can make it difficult to sell in the future. If you are not familiar with these items, ask your realtor, she will be an expert in this.
  2. Look for a condo that is updated, with kitchen and baths no older than 5-10 years. Otherwise, when you plan to resell the unit in the future, you will have to spend money to update the kitchens and baths. Appraisers consider the age of updates when determining value, and anything 15 years or more is not considered updated or in excellent condition.
  3. Take a close look at the condo association financials and meeting minutes. Look for the amount of condo replacement reserves, annual operating expenses, and budget vs actual expenses for the prior and current years. A good rule of thumb is for the condo to have an amount at least equal to 10% of their annual operating expense in reserve, and the annual income from assessments should more than cover condo common expenses and a contribution to reserves.
  4. Size up the condition of the common hallways and look into the percentage of units rented. A building that is approaching 50% non owner occupied may be one that is not mortgage able in the future when you want to sell.

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

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Lakewood Balmoral HomesI had the pleasure of touring five luxury homes in the historic Lakewood Balmoral neighborhood in Edgewater, Chicago recently. I love the area as much today as when I first laid eyes on it in 1986.

Edgewater was one of the first transit oriented communities, developed in 1885 by J. L Cochrane. Plans for Edgewater included its own train stops for steam powered locomotives. At the time, there were 33 trains daily between Edgewater and Union Station in Chicago. Today Edgewater is served by five el stations.

I think it’s really cool that what Cochrane envisioned as a suburb of single family homes, is now part of Chicago, and is an oasis of green surrounded by smaller two and three unit buildings like 5251 N Glenwood and larger apartment buildings, or even high rises as you go east to the lakefront.

The community was amazed at how beautifully the owners preserved vintage features of their turn of the century homes adding green features, and luxurious kitchens and bathrooms.

The tour of homes also included 5526 North Lakewood and was hosted by architect Tom Greene of Greene & Proppe design. The owners in renovating the kitchen incorporated green features such as glass walls and glass faced cabinets to bring in light. The home overlooks lovely landscaped gardens of drought tolerant plants, and the use of turf is minimized. So take a walk thru Lakewood Balmoral in Edgewater in Chicago to see for yourself.

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

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Luxury Homes in Edgewater are going green. Green is definitely catching on in Andersonville and Lakewood Balmoral Edgewater in Chicago. A walk thru the neighborhood and you see drought tolerant landscaping, permeable sidewalks and patios, glass curtain walls, rain barrel collection systems, and open front porches.

I toured five homes last weekend on the Edgewater Home Tour, and you will see homes where the owners elected to keep the vintage features and systems that are also earth friendly and energy conscious. Keeping the original hot water and steam radiant heating systems instead of replacing with gas forced air systems that are not green.

There are lots of green features that are hidden in the Luxury Green Homes in Edgewater in Chicago. These include solar powered attic fans, on demand hot water systems, and green insulation. To learn more about how you can go green at home, and receive a copy of just released book Green Your Home, visit my website Chicagoluxuryhometeam.com.

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

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