Sue Fox, @Properties. Direct 773.816.1788
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Archive for the 'Market conditions' Category
This week, one of my buyers made an offer on a foreclosed 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo in Rogers Park. In years past, I did a healthy business in Rogers Park; it was a popular destination for first-time home buyers who wanted to live in an affordable area close to the lake.
But Rogers Park, like so many other up-and-coming neighborhoods throughout Chicago, has been just about crushed by the real estate downturn, resulting in a massive tide of foreclosures and short sales. This has made Rogers Park something of a buyer’s banquet, with deals you can only dream of in other North side areas, like newly-rehabbed 2-bedroom condos with parking for well under $200,000.
There are now 99 condos with at least 2 bedrooms and 2 baths listed for sale for less than $200,000 in Rogers Park (and more than 20 of them have 3 bedrooms.) But the truly shocking part is that nearly all of them are distressed properties, either foreclosures or short sales seeking to avoid a foreclosure. I just combed through all 99 listings, and I only counted 28 that were NOT foreclosures or short sales.
In fact, it’s so rare to find an ordinary seller selling a ordinary home in Rogers Park these days that it’s become a selling point: “REGULAR SALE!!!!” shouts the description for 1900 W Touhy Ave #1C, a rehabbed condo priced at $135,000.
The flip side of so many great deals is that most of them, unfortunately, will be difficult to actually buy. At least half of them are short sales, which require lender approval that takes months and often never comes. Many of these will eventually slide into foreclosure and be seized by a bank. Even the foreclosed condos can be tough to buy, though, because if they are located in a troubled building with other distressed units, lenders will not want to loan in that building.
So if you are a buyer considering Rogers Park — especially if you’re a condo buyer — please tread carefully. The neighborhood’s housing market has become a veritable thicket of problem properties, and you need to make sure you are well represented as you sort through the real estate rubble looking for a gem.
Remember the days when developers couldn’t seem to build new houses fast enough to satisfy the eager buyers who were lining up to buy them? This was mostly a suburban phenomenon in the Chicago area, although builders snapped up plenty of tear-downs in the city as well, razing older homes in favor of handsome (and expensive) new ones in popular neighborhoods such as Bucktown and Wicker Park.
Those high-flying days are tough to even imagine right now. New single-family home sales are now at the lowest point they have ever been since the data was first gathered in 1963, when the U.S. had 120 million fewer people, the New York Times reported Saturday. New home sales have plummeted more than 80% from the peak in 2005, while resales of other homes fell just 28%. And in the Chicago metro area, the trend is even more pronounced — new homes sales are down 90%.
In addition to the near-collapse of the financial system and record high unemployment in recent years, it seems that surging gas prices are also playing a role in this sustained downturn. Many people now prefer smaller, cheaper houses closer to their jobs. They are less willing to buy a new suburban house that demands a long commute. One home builder out in Richmond even decided to throw in a new car with any home purchase to boost his dismal sales, the Times said.
There are also thousands of foreclosed houses now competing for buyers’ attention. In Chicago, nearly 4 out of 10 home sales is a foreclosure.
Sometimes you fall so far, there’s not much lower to sink. That may be the case with housing starts reported for March, which were up 7.2% for a 549,000-unit annual rate. New building permits also jumped. Housing starts and permits remain down about 13% over last year, however.
I was going to write about my latest listing, a 2000-sq-ft luxury condo with three bedrooms, two baths, garage parking and a roof deck with a great view of the lake. But it’s already been snapped up by a buyer, after just a week on the market.
So what’s the secret? Yes, it was a lovely unit with plenty of space and high-end finishes, in a snazzy building built just a few years ago. But the reason is sold so quickly, which I see time and again in Chicago, is that it was priced right. My sellers were realistic, asking $359,000 for a unit they purchased new from the developer in 2006 for nearly $90,000 more.
No one likes to take such a loss. But consider the fate of two similar luxury units in the same little lakeside stretch of Edgewater, just south of Loyola: One condo, at 5722 N Winthrop #3S, was on the market for a tragic 1,134 days. The price started at a lofty $489,500 and finally fell to… $359,000. But it didn’t sell. The owner, probably beaten down by three years of relentless price reductions, finally gave up and took it off the market a month ago. Another similar condo, at 6121 N Winthrop #2N, was originally priced at $359,000 in January, and it went under contract in less than two months.
So when it came time to list their unit, my sellers carefully considered the recent comps, listened to my take on market trends and priced their unit accordingly. Within a week, we had a buyer!
And that is really the point. What good is listing your home if you don’t sell it? We’re now seeing thousands of Chicago home sellers each year that — despite months on the market and multiple price cuts — ultimately fail to attract buyers. If you price your home correctly, you needn’t be one of them.
The monthly sales data is out for February, and the median home price in Chicago — now $177,500 — appears to be pretty much what it was a year ago. It’s actually a tad higher (by $1,000). Perhaps prices have finally stopped their relentless downward slide in the Windy City.
Yet sales volume continued to plummet, meaning that fewer properties are actually changing hands. A year ago in February, there were 1,225 single-family homes and condos sold in Chicago, according to the Illinois Association of Realtors. But in February 2011, only 1,056 homes were sold, nearly a 14% drop. This is not encouraging news for sellers who are hoping to attract buyers during this year’s spring market.
And prices are way down from where they were even in 2008, which was well after the downturn began. Take a look at Chicago’s median home prices in February over the past four years:
- February 2011: $177,500
- February 2010: $176,500
- February 2009: $218,625
- February 2008: $290,000
This simple chart shows the devastating impact of the thousands of Chicago homes that have fallen into foreclosure or are being marketed as short sales. All these distressed properties have pushed the year-over-year median price down nearly 40% in just a few years.
Good news for Chicago home buyers: Lenders are finally starting again to offer loans with minimal down payments. Guaranteed Rate, for example, announced this week that it can now do conventional loans (not FHA!) with 3% down, provided the borrower has a credit score of 680 or higher.
This is especially good news for condo buyers, who have been forced to turn to FHA in recent years for a low-down-payment loan… but in Chicago, FHA and condos are often a lousy fit.
The trouble is, many first-time buyers can’t scrape up much cash to buy their first home. Ever since the real estate downturn led lenders to dramatically tighten the purse-strings in 2008, many buyers have been told to come up with at least 10% down. For hundreds of thousands of people, the only alternative was to use an FHA loan, which requires just 3.5% down.
This was all (usually) well and good if you were buying a house. But many first-time buyers in Chicago want a condo, and the vast majority of Chicago condos are NOT currently FHA-approved. Making matters worse, the FHA changed its rules last year to make it even more cumbersome to get condo buildings approved.
But now, buyers with good credit can avoid the whole FHA bottleneck and choose whatever condo they like — and still only put 3% down. This is great news for sellers, too, since it will smooth the path for buyers who may be interested in their homes.
Trying to make fast money by investing in Chicago real estate these days is like squeezing blood from a stone. But that isn’t stopping a few bold rehabbers from snapping up foreclosed houses, renovating them top to bottom, and popping them back on the market a few months later at double or triple the price.
I’m seeing this trend in otherwise sleepy neighborhoods like Irving Park and Albany Park, which boasts a lovely swath of vintage bungalows in its Mayfair area. Consider this renovated bungalow, located at 4839 N Springfield in Albany Park, which has 3 bedrooms (plus another one in the basement) and 3 baths. I chose this house as March’s Bungalow of the Month to call attention to the enduring phenomenon of house flipping.
The owner bought the house — a foreclosure — in July for $104,000, according to public records. It was a simple frame bungalow with white siding and black trim, being sold “as is” after spending three years on and off the market at steadily reduced prices.
Three months later, it was back on the market, totally renovated and set at nearly triple the price: $299,000. The exterior was now a soft gray with brown and white accents, the kitchen boasted dark (but plain) new cabinetry and stainless steel appliances, the floors had all been refinished and the walls repainted, the basement was finished with carpet, and the backyard now featured a new deck.
And the upgrades weren’t merely cosmetic. The house now had a new roof, HVAC system, siding and windows, electric wiring, and other improvements. There was also a new 2-car garage.
But the goal of any house flipper is to find a buyer, and in this case they have yet to do so. This bungalow has been on the market for five months now and the price has been cut twice, most recently to $259,000 last week. We will have to wait and see what the final sale price is to decide whether this was a wise investment.
Chicago is chock full of bungalows and other homes that are now languishing in foreclosure, or are trapped in a slow downward spiral as short sales. I see them in virtually every neighborhood these days, but they are especially prevalent on the South and West sides of the city. Even on the North side, you can find them in Rogers Park, Albany Park, Irving Park, Avondale, Portage Park, Jefferson Park… and the depressing list goes on.
I love bungalows, and I hate to see these historic homes abandoned and decaying. Now, this particular bungalow looks like it was stripped of whatever built-in bookshelves or hutches it once had, and it lacks a fireplace or any leaded glass windows. The new interior now has something of a generic, condo-ish feel and the finishes look like they came straight off the shelf at Home Depot. However, whoever bought and renovated this house did save it from a fate all too common these days in Chicago’s bungalow belt: utter neglect.
This spring, it seems that Chicago homeowners have gotten the message that housing prices have dropped considerably — and they’re not coming back anytime soon. As I meet with prospective sellers this month, I’m sensing a sober new attitude towards selling their homes. People are being realistic, thoughtful, even calm as they digest the latest sales figures in their neighborhood and decide on a reasonable price.
It’s a noticeable change from recent years, when sellers were apt to be more skeptical of the comps, and more insistent that their home must be worth more. Chicago home prices have been falling steadily for about five years now, with each year worse than the last, and at this point many of those folks who wanted to sell in 2007 and 2008 but kept waiting until the market recovered have finally concluded that a rebound could be years off. Do they want to keep waiting?
Some of them, the ones who really need to sell, are deciding to bite the bullet. I have four new listings on or about to hit the market, and all of the sellers know that they are not going to make any money on their sale. Three of them are listing their homes for less than what they paid four or five years ago.
While the circumstances vary, it’s not uncommon these days for people selling an ordinary, run-of-the-mill condo to lose $50,000 on their sale, when you factor in the commissions and closing costs. That’s why inventory in Chicago is so low right now — the month’s supply in January was 30% lower than it was a year ago. People who can’t afford to sell simply aren’t selling (or else they are attempting a short sale.) People who can afford to sell are, it seems, finally pricing their homes to actually sell them.
And deals are getting done. I just sold a house in Evanston last week… for about 10% less than the seller paid for it in 2004.
Chicago home prices slipped again in December, capping another dismal year for the Chicago real estate market. According to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, average home prices in Chicago fell 7.4% in 2010. This is even worse than the 7.2% drop in 2009 (but not as bad as the 14.3% plunge in 2008.)
As a whole, the 20-city index has fallen 31.2% from its peak, according to data released this week. Average home prices in Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, and Las Vegas are now below what they were 11 years ago. Robert Shiller, the Yale economist who co-founded the index, said this week that he sees “substantial risk” that home prices will continue to fall — which would put Chicago (along with Dallas, Charlotte and Minneapolis) there, too. In Chicago, the home price index is already back to its March 2002 level.
Chicago condo prices, which until now have remained one of the brighter spots in our market, fared even worse in 2010. Condo prices fell nearly 12% citywide, substantially worse than the 8.7% decline in 2009 and the 7.3% drop the year before. The condo index has sunken back to its July 2001 level, making this a lost decade for Chicago condo prices.
But not everyone is lamenting. This is a fantastic time to be a buyer, obviously (if you have cash or can qualify for a loan!) Home buyers have their pick of some very choice Chicago real estate at what are now basically the lowest prices seen in a decade.
I’ve noticed that inventory is down, however — probably because so many home owners can’t stomach the idea of selling at these prices. Fewer people are listing their homes for sale than in recent years. Last week, for example, there were only 1,120 property listings in Chicago, compared to 1,552 a year ago. That’s a significant drop — 28% fewer listings in just one year. The decline means buyers have fewer properties to choose from, so the popular ones may actually attract multiple offers.
Last night I was supposed to take some buyers house-hunting in Evanston, our third time out in recent weeks. With weather forecasters predicting a dire snowstorm, I checked in with my buyers earlier in the day to see if they still wanted to go.
At 11 am the answer was yes, but by 4 pm (once the snow had started swirling) we were all thinking better of it. I canceled our showing appointments and hunkered down with a mug of hot chocolate and some old episodes of “Friday Night Lights.”
But today, even with roads unplowed and alleys blocked and cars buried and schoolchildren home all over the vast city of Chicago, our real estate market is forging ahead. Yes, the Chicago Assn. of Realtors did close its offices today (as did @properties and other firms), but 333 new property listings nonetheless hit the market in the last 24 hours!
Blizzard of 2011 notwithstanding, many intrepid buyers (including mine) are making plans to go out looking again tomorrow, and some are even making offers. According to the MLS, 166 Chicago-area homes went under contract over the past day.
Among the fresh listings today are dozens of foreclosures, some of them deals that seem rather tempting. Take 1138 W Catalpa Ave. #D2, a 2-bedroom, 2-bath duplex-up penthouse condo for just $252,500. It’s in a relatively new (2003) building on the corner of Broadway, just a block from the Red line. Boasting a “great view of the city skyline,” this condo has a newer kitchen with Sub-Zero stainless steel appliances, granite counters and a large island; a 16×15 master bedroom featuring a wall of windows; and garage parking included in the price.
Is this a good deal? Originally priced at $447,000 in 2007, this condo has had a tough time of late: It’s been through four realtors and what looks like an unsuccessful attempt at a short sale, where it was under contract for most of last year before apparently sliding into foreclosure. But now, a price in the $250K range for a newer 2BR/2BA with parking in Andersonville? That’s hot enough to melt off some of this snow.
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