Homeward Bound - Northwest

Real Estate Archives

Very few open houses scheduled this weekend

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.

On Thanksgiving weekend Black Friday is followed closely by Bleak Sunday for home buyers shopping at open houses.

We were unable to locate any open houses this Sunday in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove or Mount Prospect.

Only one home is open for viewing in Hoffman Estates, a 4-bedroom, 2-bath at 3930 N Firestone Dr, priced at $305,000.

In Rolling Meadows, two homes are hosting open houses. The first is a newly-listed 4-bedroom, 2-bath at 3703 Oriole Ln priced at $249,000. Also newly listed is a 3-bedroom, 2 bath priced at $265,000 at 2501 Cedar St.

New lakefront listing in Des Plaines

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.

2000 Berry Ln, Des Plaines, Illinois

An unusual property came on the market in Des Plaines just two days ago, a rambling home with the look of a classic lakefront retreat.

For all the rustic appeal of its site, 2000 Berry Ln is in east Des Plaines and close to O'Hare airport, I-294, and downtown Des Plaines.

According to the listing, the 5-bedroom home, which has 5 full and 2 half baths and a 3-car garage, was "impressively renovated in 2007" and is priced at $1,000,000.

The home is almost immediately west of the Des Plaines River and a stretch of forest preserve .

What does $300,000 buy in Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows?

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.

The short answer to the headline question is that $300,000 will buy you a lot more in Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect or Rolling Meadows than it did just a few years ago.

You'll currently find 138 single-family homes listed for sale between $275,000 and $325,000 in that trio of relatively close-in northwest suburbs.

Thirty-eight of those listings are for 4-bedroom homes, several of which sold for much more than their current listing price during the boom years.

A bank-owned 4-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home at 4130 North Yale in Arlington Heights is under contract with a list price of $275,000. It had sold for $405,000 in November of 2006.

A 4-bedroom, 2-bath home at 1442 S Fern Dr in Mount Prospect has been on the market for just 11 days and is currently listed, after a "price reduction," at $277,400. The "price reduction" was $100 - yet another instance of the kind of stupid Realtor tricks that we're seeing frequently these days.

In Rolling Meadows, a 4-bedroom, 2-bath home at 107 Croftwood Ct that sold for $320,500 in 2005 has been on the market since April and is currently listed for $299,000.

Lights out in Barrington Hills?

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.

Night scene in Barrington Hills, Illinois

Of all of the forms of pollution out there, light is one of the least worrisome - unless you're a resident of Barrington Hills

Trib Local recently reported on an ongoing squabble over proposed limits on nighttime lighting in the tony community where homes are on minimum 5-acre lots.

Depending on the outcome of this set-to you might not have a lot of exterior lighting if you buy the newly-built 5-bedroom, 7-bath home at 95 Bateman Rd in Barrington Hills, but you'll have the makings for some good old-fashioned noise pollution. The listing says the home has "all the bells and whistles."

The property's been on and off the market for just over 3 years. In June of last year it was listed for $2.999M. The price was recently cut to $1.899M, and the seller will reportedly "consider all offers."

If you're a proponent of limiting light you might want to lob some of the property's "unique natural stones" at your light-hearted neighbors.

Arlington Heights condos at well below 2004 prices

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.

downtown Arlington Heights, IL

If you have any doubt about the amount of pain in the housing market, you need only compare the selling prices of selected condos between 2004 and now.

A second-floor 1-bedroom that sold for $130,000 in 2004 and resold for $140,000 in 2006 has gone through foreclosure and is currently offered at $47,000. Unit 201 at 2634 Windsor Dr in Arlington Heights is described in the listing remarks as bank-owned and also noted as agent-owned, something that makes no sense.

Unit 111 at 2323 S Goebbert Rd in Arlington Heights is a 2-bedroom, 2-bath with an asking price of $66,500. It's also described as lender-owned, and sold for $165,000 in December of 2004.

The dark humor joke during the condo bust of the early 80s was "what's the difference between having a venereal disease and owning a condo?" Answer: "You can get rid of VD."

A roundup of northwest suburban real estate news

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Joe Zekas

20 years on the North Shore without going native.



Not all the stories linked below are traditional real estate stories, but they are news items that may affect your thinking on where to move for your next home.

  • An environmentalist wants to change Elgin
  • Des Plaines needs a payday loan
  • Debating wind turbines in Arlington Heights
  • Seekingi a new developer for a Barrington site
  • Palatine to raise taxes, cut jobs
  • Some tips for winterizing your home
  • Des Plaines Historical Society home for sale
  • Palatine school district wants higher taxes
  • Rolling Meadows seeks tax hike, loan
  • Homebuilder predicting very challenging year ahead

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    D.R. Horton, one of the nation's largest new home builders, says it is expecting "another very challenging year for the homebuilding industry, as the fundamental drivers of demand, the overall economy, job growth, and consumer confidence are still very weak." The company says it is "likely that our sales and closing volumes will be below our volumes in fiscal 2010."

    D.R. Horton continues to build at Symphony Meadows in Volo, where it has several homes available for quick delivery, priced from the $190s to the $240s in its Horizon Series. The Horizon Series is one of four price points available at Symphony Meadows, a sprawling development with 100s of yet-to-be-completed home sites.

    Tiny Volo had been one of the fastest-growing communities in northern Illinois prior to the building downturn of the past several years.

    Earlier this year I walked through one of the models at Symphony Meadows, and you can join me by watching the above video.

    Comparing property taxes in select northwest suburbs

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Biltmore Country Club, North Barrington, Illinois

    Rising real estate taxes are becoming an increasingly important factor in home affordability, but they're only one of many factors buyers weigh in selecting their next community.

    Property taxes can vary considerably within a community based on the governmental districts and special assessment districts that have authority to levy taxes on a home. The biggest difference is typically attributable to school districts, but park districts and special-purpose districts can also vary within a municipality, so bear in mind that the following estimates may not apply to a particular home.

    For purposes of these estimates, I've assumed a home with an estimated fair market value of $500,000 and the minimum homeowner's exemption of $6,000. You can learn more about how those terms impact the estimates, and see the detailed components of tax rates for various suburbs in this PDF file, one of a number of real estate tax reports available from the Cook County Assessor's office.

    Using those assumptions, here's what you'll pay in property taxes in each of the following suburbs on a $500,000 home:


  • Barrington, $8,150

  • Barrington Hills, $9,128

  • East Dundee, $11,299

  • Hoffman Estates, $9,076

  • Inverness, $7,704

  • South Barrington, $8,241
  • A royal drubbing at Kings Walk in Rolling Meadows

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Location. Location. Location. The Kings Walk condos, on the surface, have an appealing location.

    The condo complex, which consists of a dozen buildings, is at the northeast corner of Plum Grove Rd and Euclid Ave, adjacent to Countryside Park, close to Route 53, less than two miles from Woodfield Mall.

    Despite its location and amenities (a clubhouse and pool), Kings Walk owners have seen significant decreases in the value of their homes in recent years, and have seen them linger on the market for extended periods.

    The 2-bedroom, 2-bath Unit 2D at 4512 Kings Walk Dr, for example, has been on the market for over 2 years. It was originally listed at $163,000 and now carries an asking price of $99,000 as a short sale - one of several short sales currently on offer at Kings Walk. Unit 2D last sold in January of 2004 for $139,000.

    Other Kings Walk sellers have taken steeper hits. Unit 1B at 1906 S Plum Grove Rd sold for $128,000 in 2005, and just $60,000 in May of 2009. It's one of a number of units at the complex that have gone through the foreclosure process.

    You can follow the dismal pricing history of other Kings Walk units at BlockShopper.

    Schaumburg racks up two more honors

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    417 Birmingham Ln, Schaumburg, Illinois

    TribLocal recently reported that the Village of Schaumburg added two more awards to the length list of honors that it's received over the years. The recent awards recognized the village's environmental initiatives and its public works department.

    Prospective new residents are more likely to be impressed by Schaumburg's selection as the only United States finalist in its population category in the 2010 International Awards for Livable Communities.

    The livability of any community is, of course, a matter of judgment and personal preference. Renting can be a great way to test a place's livability without making a long-term commitment.

    There are currently 65 homes and condos listed for rent in Schaumburg in the local Multiple Listing Service. Rents range from $885 a month for a 1-bedroom condo to $4,500 for a never-occupied new home (pictured above) offering 4 bedrooms, 4 baths and a 3-car garage.

    Wheeling and dealing on Wheeling condos

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Clubhouse rendering, Prairie Park condos, Wheeling, Illinois

    TribLocal is reporting that the Village of Wheeling may have on hand the cash to fund a deal previously approved with MB Financial and the developer of the Prairie Park condominium project to complete the troubled development and its long-promised but unbuilt clubhouse.

    According to TribLocal, which reports that 70 of the 240 units in completed buildings remain unsold, the Village's total investment in the project will eventually amount to $10.5 million in TIF (tax-increment financing) funds.

    In addition to the unsold developer units, there are a range of resales at the project, which appears to have left at least some purchasers reeling in Wheeling.

    Take Unit 311 at 45 Prairie Park Dr as an example. The current owners bought the 1-bedroom for $230,000 in 2005. It's been on and off the market for nearly 18 months and is currently listed as a short sale at $149,000.

    When I look at the development's Web site, one of the things that strikes me is the developer's hyper-vague description of its track record. The firm's "principles" (sic) have been "involved with the planning and construction of commercial, retail and residential properties in the Chicago metropolitan region." Most buyers would rather see details on those properties, and the extent of the firm's principals in them, than pictures of the developer's cute kids.

    Your chance to go to Harvard

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    520 Country Brook Ln, Harvard, Illinois

    No, not the Harvard that the locals pronounce hah-vud.

    We're talking about the once-sleepy far-northwest suburb that rocketed to prominence when Motorola located a large plant there, then landed with a thud when Motorola pulled out. The loss of 1,000s of jobs can put a big hurt on a small community.

    From a quick glance at some of the properties currently for sale in Harvard, it appears that the housing market has yet to recover from the shock of Motorola's departure, or to benefit much from the new owner of the plant.

    The median price of a home in Harvard is in the $140s. A few thousand dollars less than the median will put you in a 4-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home built just a few years ago. The home, pictured above, is listed as a short sale. It's been on and off the market for just over two-and-a-half years, at prices as high as $260K.

    If your price range peaks out at $100K, check out this 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath corner-lot duplex. The property sold for $162K in 2005, and resold in September for $56,575. It's currently offered at $99,900.

    If your budget has a lot more flex in it, look at the 12,000 square foot "Executive Estate and Cattle Ranch" that's priced at $3,600,000.

    Condos close to pre-school, Metra in downtown Des Plaines

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Many young families look for starter housing close to the things that their lives revolve around. For some, that means a house of worship, a pre-school, parks, shopping, restaurants and public transportation or the expressway.

    Within several blocks of all of those requirements, the mid-rise condos along Graceland Ave in downtown Des Plaines currently have dozens of resale 2- and 3-bedroom, 2-bath condos priced from the $120s to just shy of $400,000. Not far from downtown there are new-construction townhome developments, including Lexington Park (a client of ours), where 2- and 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath townhomes start at $239K.

    Most of the condo buildings in the area have a WalkScore upwards of 90, corresponding to a "Walker's Paradise."

    The video above is from the First Congregational Church of Des Plaines Pre-school, and the one below is from the Choo Choo diner.

    A 4-bedroom home on Lakeshore Drive for $199,900

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    242 Lakeshore Dr, Crystal Lake, Illinois

    Before you get too excited, read the not-so-fine print. That's 242 Lakeshore Drive in Crystal Lake, and the home is close to, but not on the lake.

    Still, at this price, a few steps from the beach, you might want to think "weekend getaway" home.

    If the listing is accurate, the 11-room, 4-bedroom, 2-bath packs in a lot more features than you'd expect from a price that's more than 10% below the 2001 selling price. The home is said to have a remodeled kitchen with cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances (including a dishwasher and Jenn-Air range), updated baths, and new siding, roof and gutters.

    Elgin again tops northwest suburban foreclosure list

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    When we last reported on foreclosure filings in Chicago's northwest suburbs, Elgin topped the list with 303 filings.

    For the third quarter of 2010, Elgin again ranked first with,336 filings.

    Des Plaines was in second place at 172 filings, while Palatine and Streamwood tied for third with 168 foreclosures.

    Other northwest suburban municipalies with more than 100 foreclosure filings were Schaumburg, 166; Carpentersville, 159; Hoffman Estates, 143; Arlington Heights, 136; Lake in the Hills, 126; Wheeling, 123; and Crystal Lake, 105.

    Foreclosure filings are typically far more numerous than completed foreclosures.

    See third-quarter foreclosure filings and completed foreclosure auctions in the latest report from the Woodstock Institute, and read the Tribune's recent story on the report.

    Roaches and gangs in Arlington Heights apartments?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Before rushing out to sign up for a "beautiful, spacious" apartment advertised on Craigslist, you might want to check whether there are any reviews available on the Web.

    Take the seemingly bargain-priced apartments at Country Glen in Arlington Heights for an example. Two months free rent on an $880 two-bedroom sounds great, no?

    You'll find a different spin on Country Glen from Yahoo and ApartmentRatings reviewers who suggest bad management, roaches and gang problems. At Yahoo, curiously, the property is listed in Buffalo Grove. The Arlington Heights village map places Country Glen outside its corporate boundaries. It does have an Arlington Heights mailing address and ZIP code.

    I found no reviews for Country Glen at Yelp, but Yelp is often a great resource.

    Barrington Hills short sale below 1999 price

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Bing aerial, 7 Creekside Ln, Barrington Hills, Illinois

    The home at 7 Creekside Ln in Barrington Hills has been on the market for more than two-and-a-half years. In November of 2008 it was priced at $1,299,900. The current asking price is $710,000. In May of 1999 the home sold for $795,000.

    The 5-bedroom, 4 ½ bath, 4-car garage home is being offered in "as os" condition as a pre-approved short sale. It includes a 5+ acre site and what's billed as a "private lake." The lake in question, as you can see from the aerial photo above, doesn't appear to be much larger than the 3,900 square foot home.

    Talking bluntly about Huntley home prices

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Village of Huntley, Illinois

    Some of the Chicagoland communities that experienced the most rapid growth during the past decade are currently experiencing painful housing market conditions.

    Take Huntley as an example. The village's population stood at 5,730 in 2000 and nearly quadrupled to 22,923 by 2008. Much of that growth occurred in large subdivisions accessible off of Route 47. Del Webb's Sun City alone will account for approximately 6,000 homes when complete.

    A drive along Route 47 in Huntley will take you past subdivisions that have a forlorn, semi-abandoned look. And, depending on the time of day, traffic conditions will give you plenty of time for a close look.

    A RealtyTrac heat map of Huntley foreclosures shows dark red, ranking Huntley high on the list of problem foreclosure areas. A quick look at Redfin listings surfaces quite a few homes that have fallen sharply in value since the time they were purchased.

    A 4-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home at 11230 Balmoral Dr is currently listed as a short sale at $229,000. It sold for $357,620 in November of 2003. A 5-bedroom, 2 ½ bath at 10302 Hunter Trl is asking $249,000, far short of the June 2005 purchase price of $359,900.

    We've seen a national trend of well-capitalized builders acquiring abandoned subdivisions at fire-sale prices, planning to hold the land until the market eventually recovers. At that point, the builders may be well-positioned to compete on price with resale buyers who bought from builders with a higher cost structure.

    Small town charm in East and West Dundee

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    The median price of currently-listed homes in West Dundee is $350,000, and the 67 homes on the market range in price from $142,000 to $899,900.

    Twenty-six homes are for sale in East Dundee, priced from $99,999 to $469,900, with a median price of $185,000.

    As you might suspect from the number and price of homes on the market, West Dundee is the more populous (8,015) and affluent (median household income, $70,219) of the Dundees. East Dundee has a population of 3,149 and a median household income of $68, 735.

    The higher-priced homes in West Dundee tend to be in areas annexed during the 1950s and 60s.

    The Fox River separates East from West Dundee. Both communities still take pride in and promote their historic pedigree and their small town charm.

    ABC's Good Morning America recently featured West Dundee as hosting the "best block in America." As you watch the ABC video on YouTube, and the above Daily Herald video, you may question, as I did, the selection of a block where only White faces are seen as the best of America.

    Looking for diversity in Ringwood

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    4920 Patty Ln, Ringwood, Illinois

    "Ringwood is diverse for a small town," says the Village Web site.

    We're a bit confused about what passes for diversity in Ringwood. According to City-data, the village population consists of 464 whites, 3 Asians, 1 Black person, 2 Hispanics and 1 person of mixed race.

    Perhaps buildings are what Ringwood has in mind when touting its diversity:

    [Ringwood] has historic structures, single-family homes, apartments, subdivisions, farms, businesses such as Rohm & Haas, Huntsman, Modine Mfg., and institutions such as the Ringwood United Methodist Church and the Ringwood Primary Center.

    Ringwood subdivisions, such as they are, exhibit some classic subdivision traits. There are, of course, streets that appear to be named after a developer's daughter: Patty Lane, Kaylin's Way. Tall Oaks Drive is perhaps named after the trees that were bulldozed to make way for a subdivision.

    Many of the homes in Ringwood are of recent vintage, built within the last 10 years. The 3,250 square foot, 4-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home pictured above sold new in February of 2001 for $300,000. It's been on and off the market for the last two and a half years and was last offered at $249,999. It recently went under contract.

    Will Realtors ever refuse to list an overpriced home?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    When I'm out looking at homes with real estate agents I often ask whether the home we're at is overpriced, and by how much.

    Since the agents know me, and their companies are clients of my firm, I typically get a candid answer.

    The answer, all too often, is that the home is overpriced by 10, 15, 20 percent or more. The selling agent's legal obligations to his or her client would not allow that level of candor with a buyer. But the buyers, and their agents, are acutely aware of the disparity between the asking price and the market value, as evidenced by the length of time that many homes are languishing on the market while well-priced homes sell quickly, sometimes with multiple offers.

    Listing agents are, generally, more sophisticated and market-aware than agents who represent buyers. They're well aware that the homes they've listed are overpriced, and the experienced agents have made their sellers aware of that fact.

    Some sellers lack confidence in their agents and believe they know the market value of their home better than their agent does. Some simply want to "take a shot" at the higher price with the understanding that they'll reduce it quickly if it doesn't receive an offer at the listing price. Some sellers are not terribly motivated to sell, and are willing to wait a long time and sustain a great deal of inconvenience while waiting for their price. Agents know which sellers fall into each of those categories.

    Agents' motives in accepting overpriced listings differ, but the one thing most have in common is that they won't refuse to take an overpriced listing.

    A 30,000 square foot estate in Barrington Hills

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    7 Fox Hunt Rd, Barrington Hills, Illinois

    When you see a home in Barrington Hills that has a name, odds are that it's owned by a top-tier personal injury lawyer. I'll leave it to readers to determine whether that's the case with Hidden Ponds," a 30,000 square foot home on 70 acres in Barrington Hills.

    Hidden Ponds, at 7 Fox Hunt Rd, has been on the market for some time, and is currently offered at $12,500,000, down from $14.5M. Among its endless features are a spacious pub, a full-size indoor basketball court, and an in-ground pool with pool house.

    The listing doesn't disclose whether the swans pictured on one of the ponds are year-round residents or rented for the season, as is often the case.

    The Fox Lake area puts you in a boating state of mind

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Microsoft Bing aerial, College Trail, Grayslake, Illinois

    Quite a few Chicago suburbs boast of a laid-back, more rural lifestyle, and some of them may actually have areas that come close to it. .

    If you want to sink deeply into laid-back you have to be, I think, in a place where boats are almost as common as cars. You might not have a boat, but your neighbors surely do, and being around boaters sinks into you and scrapes away stress. Sipping a cold one (or six) out on the water also helps.

    In Chicagoland, you have to head to western Lake County to find a place where boating and the boating mentality are pervasive. A recent Tribune community profile provides a good introduction to Fox Lake and environs.

    The tiny lake cottages that once dominated the area have given way, in many cases, to lavish lakefront estates, but the dominant tone of the area is far from upscale. Chicagoans looking for a weekend getaway spot will find it generally more affordable than Michigan's New Buffalo or St Joe. As a bonus, you don't have to go through Gary to get to Fox Lake.

    Are condos at Ridge Square in Elk Grove Village bargain-priced?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    There are currently 16 units for sale at Ridge Square in Elk Grove Village.

    One bedrooms range from $36,900 (without a kitchen) to $110,000. Two bedroom, 2-bath units have asking prices ranging from $69.900 to $99,000.

    Two one-bedrooms are offered for rent at $750 and $775, which would make the lowest-priced 2-bedroom, at $69,900, appear a bargain on a rent vs buy comparison. That unit is a short sale that's been on the market for 187 days and previously sold in 2006 for $141,900. When it came on the market earlier this year it was originally listed at $129,900.

    The 427-unit Ridge Square complex has seen at least 8 units go into foreclosure this year. Four bank-owned units have sold within the past year at prices ranging from $55,000 to $67,000.

    The Ridge Square complex has a pool, fitness club and clubhouse. It has great proximity to a number of parks and to I-90, I-290 and O'Hare.

    Renting downtown - in Arlington Heights

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois

    If you work In the northwest suburbs and want to live downtown, "where the action is," you might want to take a look at downtown Arlington Heights before ruling out suburban living.

    Downtown Arlington Heights has a more vibrant retail, dining, theater, nightlife and recreational scene than many Chicago neighborhoods - especially the more affordable city neighborhoods.

    The deciding factor for many will be rent prices. As an example, Dunton Tower, a full-amenity high-rise in downtown Arlington Heights, offers 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartments starting at $1,300 a month, a short two blocks from the Metra station. One bedrooms start at $1,060. The building is currently offering a month's free rent. Try matching that package in any Chicago neighborhood you'd be eager to live in.

    Wide range of condos, townhomes available in Mount Prospect

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Founders Row, Mount Prospect, Illinois McCormick Row Houses, Chicago, Illinois

    A press release for Founders Row in Mount Prospect relates that its design was "inspired by Lincoln Park's McCormick row homes, Gold Coast showcases and other Chicago landmarks ...

    As you can see from the above photos, the landmark McCormick Row House District was inspiration enough. You can tour the McCormick homes in this video at YouTube.

    Founders Row is at the high end of the 100s of condos and townhomes currently for sale in Mount Prospect, both in price and in size. The 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath units are priced in the low $900s and include more than 4,400 square feet of living space. There are only four single-family homes in Mount Prospect on the market at higher prices.

    At the low end of the price range in Mount Prospect you'll find a selection of 1- and 2-bedroom condos priced from the low $40s to the high $50s.

    Nearly 175 homes under $250K in Des Plaines

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    728 East Algonquin Rd, Des Plaines, Illinois

    When my son was looking at homes in Des Plaines nearly 5 years ago it seemed like the prices started at about $250K and quickly stepped up from there.

    Des Plaines hasn't been immune from the price plunges that have affected much of Chicagoland. There are currently 171 homes for sale in Des Plaines for under $250,000 - starting in the $80s!

    The 3-bedroom, 2-bath ranch home at 728 East Algonquin Rd in Des Plaines is an example of where the market has been and where it is now. The home, built in the 1950s, sold for $275,000 in early 2006 and is currently listed at $153,000. It's apparently bank-owned.

    Is West Elgin the New Schaumburg?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Sandy Creek Estates, Elgin, Illinois

    I have to admit that few real estate news release headlines capture my attention, and even fewer lead paragraphs engage it.

    A recent news release on behalf of William Ryan Homes Sandy Creek Estates development is the exception, referring to Elgin's western corridor as the "New Schaumburg." The lead paragraph begins:

    When home buyers want to move to Schaumburg but can't afford it, many turn to Elgin, particularly the popular new West Elgin Corridor, with its much admired Burlington School District.

    Read the entire release at HousingNewsWire, and see more info on the latest new home developments at the Chicago Tribune Festival of Homes.

    Is West Elgin the New Schaumburg?

    Only two units left at Uptown Park Ridge

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Uptown Park Ridge, Park Ridge, Illinois

    The developer has been running a countdown on the remaining units at Uptown Park Ridge. According to its Web site, only two homes remain at this time, priced in the $300s.

    Uptown Park Ridge is in downtown Park Ridge, across from the historic Pickwick Theatre, and about a block from the Metra station. Express trains will take you to downtown Chicago in just under half an hour, or you can commute to employment corridors in the northwest suburbs.

    The project was developed by Edward R. James Homes, a builder known for the quality of its developments.

    Rental homes plentiful in Buffalo Grove

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    There are currently 58 homes and condos listed for rent in the Multiple Listing Service in Buffalo Grove where, alas, the buffalo no longer roam.

    The highest-priced rental, offered at $3,900 a month, is a 4-bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3-car garage home in the Stevenson school district.

    The median rent, $1,700, will fetch you a 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath, 2-car garage townhome.

    Do horses outnumber people in Bull Valley?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Bull Valley is one of those places you've probably never visited. If you have, perhaps because you're a ghost buff, you may have wondered whether horses outnumber people. Bull Valley's population is under 1,000.

    The median age of Bull Valley residents, is 46, substantially older than the statewide median of 34.7. Not surprisingly, there are 54 females for every 46 males. Median household incomes are double the statewide median. And Bull Valley's rolling hills and open spaces rival almost any populated area in the state.

    There are currently 16 homes on the market in Bull Valley, and it's not uncommon for them to come with acreage - and deferred maintenance. Current prices range from $379,900 to $1,299,000.

    On the market for two-and-a-half years in Spring Grove

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    According to Redfin market stats for July (the latest available), listing inventory was down 9% month-over-month and 25% year-over-year in Spring Grove.

    If you go back 20 years Spring Grove was one of those sleepy McHenry-county villages that seemed to consist of little more than a stop sign, a tavern, the world's largest corn maze and the entrance to Chain O' Lakes State Park. Since then, subdivisions have sprouted faster than the corn and the population of the village has more than doubled, to 5,807. The village is affluent, with a median household income approaching $100K. If you're looking for diversity, Spring Grove's not an optimal choice: the African-American population remained constant from 1990 to 2000, at 5, and Hispanics and Asians comprise less than 3% of the population.

    The inventory drop notwithstanding, some homes are lingering on the market in Spring Grove. The 4-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home at 10014 Meadowdale Cir has been listed for sale since April of 2008. Originally priced at $398,000, it's now listed at $279,000. The Realtor describes the home as a "must see," which seems to be a way of saying "my pictures give you no clues to what the home looks like."

    An REO specialist talks about FNMA's HomePath programs

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Frank DeNovi has specialized in selling bank-owned property for over 25 years. This year he's likely to surpass last year's sales of more than 300 homes.

    We recently sat down with Frank and some of his staff for a wide-ranging look at his operation, which is very different from a typical real estate agent's.

    In this segment of our interview, Steve Klein, an REO manager for DeNovi, explains some of the advantages of FNMA's HomePath programs for home buyers and outlines how those programs streamline the home purchase process. HomePath, as you'll see, has a lot to offer for a home buyer, including down payments as low as 3% with no PMI (private mortgage insurance) requirement.

    Klein and DeNovi are affiliated with Coldwell Banker's Arlington Heights office, a client of my firm.

    Affordable housing in Arlington Heights

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    In a recent visit with Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder we touched on a variety of housing issues, including the teardown phenomenon, the wide range of housing options in Arlington Heights, and the village's affordable housing efforts.

    A brief overview of foreclosures, short sales and shadow inventory

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    I spent some time yesterday with one of my firm's newest clients, Frank DeNovi, a Coldwell Banker agent who has specialized in selling bank-owned properties for 25 years.

    The video from my interview is still in our editing queue, but in the meantime you can watch Frank give a basic overview of foreclosures, short sales, and the shadow inventory in Chicago area in this recent interview with First Business.

    A village with more hotel rooms than residents

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Rosemont is more than a vast assemblage of hotels and a convention center. It will come as a surprise to many Chicagoans that the village has a population of more than 3,900 residents. Hotel rooms, nearly 6,000 of them, outnumber residents in Rosemont.

    If you like living close to O'Hare, Rosemont is hard to beat, but doesn't offer a lot of housing choices. At the time of a recent search there were only 9 single-family homes for sale in Rosemont. Despite the village's aura of permanent transiency only 5 new homes have been built in Rosemont in the past 15 years.

    Apartment rents, occupancy levels increase

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    We've recently received the Second Quarter 2010 Suburban Chicago Apartment & Condo Conversion Benchmark Report from Appraisal Research Counselors ("ARC").

    Highlights of the report, which covers the 7-county suburban Chicago region, include a 6% year-over-year increase in net effective rents, and an increase in occupancy levels to 93%.

    ARC expects continuing strength in the rental market, anticipating that rents will continue to increase, and that occupancy levels will reach 95% - the level that most rental professionals consider full occupancy.

    Pulte actively marketing Arlington Crossings in Arlington Heights

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois

    We recently met with Arlington Heights' dynamic and charming Mayor, Arlene Mulder, and will bring you video from our interview in the near future. One of the positive items Mayor Mulder related to us involved Pulte Homes.

    After years of negotiations Pulte is beginning construction of Arlington Crossings in downtown Arlington Heights on a prime parcel where a previous developer had stalled out. The development is a few blocks from the Arlington Heights Metra station on the site of the former Arlington Market.

    The current phase of Arlington Crossings includes four rowhome models featuring 2 or 3 bedrooms, one and one-half or two and one-half baths, base-priced from the high $240s to the high $280s. Pulte is offering one model for quick delivery.

    Visiting a foreclosed townhome in Buffalo Grove

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Foreclosed home in Mundelein, Illinois

    I spent several hours yesterday rambling around, visiting foreclosed properties with Coldwell Banker's Frank DeNovi. Few consumers know Frank, but he's well-known to the lenders on whose behalf he manages and sells hundreds of foreclosed, bank-owned properties year after year.

    We started out at homes in Mundelein (pictured above) and Long Grove priced in the $700s that Frank guesstimated would have sold for well over $1 million several years ago.

    Our final stop was just beyond the Long Grove border in Buffalo Grove, where Frank was checking on the status of a 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath townhome that he expects to put on the market shortly at a price in the $130s or $140s. Comparable homes in the complex, I learned later, are listed for sale in the $160s to low $200s.

    The home had been left in very poor condition but, after some fairly extensive work, was nearing the move-in condition in which it would reach the market. Frank informed me that lenders are now willing to invest in improving and maintaining homes to make them appealing to buyers, rather than limiting the market to investors.

    Check back in a while for video walk-throughs of these homes, and a lengthy video interview with Frank DeNovi on foreclosures.

    Slashing prices and pricing silliness in Barrington Hills

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    There are more than 160 homes currently for sale in woodsy Barrington Hills, the land of minimum 5-acre home sites.

    Quite a few of those homes, according to Redfin, have seen multiple price reductions and lengthy market times - not unusual even in the best of markets for homes priced over $1 million.

    As we all know, this isn't the best of markets, and home sellers have reacted to market conditions in varying ways. You'll find prices slashed a million or more on $3 million dollar homes. And then you'll find the occasional silliness of $100 price reductions on $2 million dollar homes. One has to wonder what the broker was thinking.

    Over 100 homes, townhomes and condos for rent in Palatine

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    The slowdown in the housing for sale market has resulted in a healthy and growing rental market. Home buyers who aren't quite ready to commit to a purchase have a wide range of rentals to choose from in many communities.

    In Palatine, for example, there are over 100 homes, townhomes and condos offered for rent in the Multiple Listing Service through real estate brokers. Monthly rents range from $625 for a loft-style studio to $3,500 for a 3-bedroom, 4 ½ bath home in the Maison du Comte subdivision. The median monthly rent is $1,200, and rentals often pencil out favorably in a rent vs buy analysis.

    Unlike the situation in many nearby communities the inventory of single-family homes for rent in Palatine is pretty limited: most of the offerings are condos and townhomes. The popularity of Palatine's William Fremd High School may be part of the reason for the scarcity of single-family homes for rent.

    Arlington Lakes Golf Club helps keep local basements dry

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Flood damage has been much in the news this past week, as many suburban homeowners suffered extensive water damage.

    One of many interesting tidbits we learned about Arlington Heights in a recent interview with Mayor Arlene Mulder is that the 14 lakes at the 90-acre Arlington Lakes Golf Club are part of the village's extensive and far-sighted flood control system.

    Memo to Arlington Heights golfers: before cursing the water hazard, consider what it might have saved you. Then curse it.

    Prime Chicago northwest suburbs seeing numerous foreclosures

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Recent data from the Woodstock Institute suggest that the foreclosure problem has spread well beyond the city and depressed inner-ring suburbs and is now afflicting some of suburban Cook County's more desirable northwest communities.

    During the first half of 2010, according to a Woodstock Institute report, there were 214 foreclosure filings in Arlington Heights, 149 in Buffalo Grove, 247 in Hoffman Estates, 196 in Mount Prospect, 432 in Palatine, 116 in Rolling Meadows, 322 in Schaumburg, and 290 in Streamwood.

    Some sources quoted in a recent Sun-Times article suggest that the 40% discount at which foreclosed homes are selling sets the market price for other homes in an area. That's a proposition that's disputed by many in the real estate business. If true, however, it may present home buyers with a window of opportunity while mortgage interest rates are at record low.

    Some ducky apartment rentals in Wheeling

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Despite its name, you won't find any duck pictures in the photo gallery at Mallard Lake apartments in Wheeling, but you will find them at nearby Woodland Creek. And odds are that residents will see flocks of geese twice a year during their seasonal migration. Both complexes are viable options for northwest suburban apartment hunters looking for easy access to I-294, and a variety of shopping and dining.

    If you prefer your waterfowl immobilized on a plate, you'll find a ton of great dining venues at Wheeling's widely-known restaurant row.

    A visit to Ana's Cottage, Highland Woods, West Elgin

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Ana's Cottage is an unusually well-appointed and distinctive custom home at the Highland Woods development (video) in West Elgin. It was built by John Hall Homes as one of the models in the Gallery of Homes of the Home Builders Association of Greater Fox Valley.

    Ana's Cottage comprises nearly 4,000 square feet plus a lower level with 9-foot ceilings. The home is available for purchase at $684,700, or on a lease-to-own basis, with or without model furnishings.

    The second part of our video walk-through of Ana's Cottage with John Hall Jr is at YouTube.

    Disclosure: John Hall Homes is a client of my firm.

    Mid-century modern in Inverness for $740K

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    871 Braeburn Rd, Inverness, Illinois

    A colleague of mine who's recently become a buff on mid-century modern architecture has been passing along links to interesting properties that are currently for sale, along with his brief take on them.

    871 Braeburn Road in Inverness is a 4-bedroom, 3 bath home designed by Don Erickson, whose personal residence we featured several days ago. Erickson was a student of and disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.

    My colleague finds this home "not my style at all on the interior, but pretty cool for well under a mil."

    Architect Don Erickson's home in Barrington

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Architect Don Erickson was an apprentice of and was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the video above his wife Pat shows you around their absolutely unique home.

    The home includes 5 bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half baths, and a 10-acre site, 5 acres of which can be sold separately. The list price is $1,500,000.

    Four-bedroom, two-bath home in Barrington sells for $170K

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    28283 W Maple Barrington Illinois, Google Earth image

    If you'd like to live in Barrington but think it's completely out of reach financially, you might want to take a look at the dozens of homes currently listed for sale at $300,000 and under. And, you definitely need to look at actual selling prices. Current market conditions have made the once unaffordable affordable.

    Take the home at 28283 W Maple in Barrington as an example. It features 4 bedrooms, 2 full baths, and sits on more than ¾ of an acre a brief stroll from the Fox River Marina. The home sold for $315,000 in 2005 and recently resold (on a short sale) for $170,000, a 46% discount from the 2005 price.

    Still think you can't afford Barrington?

    Arlington Heights one of America's best places to live

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    You can tell that the folks at CNN Money don't get out to many of the places they tout - and apparently have difficulty reading a map. According to the squib about Arlington Heights, number 59 on CNN Money's 100 Best Places to Live list, the village is "an hour west of downtown Chicago."

    You'll get a better feel for the village from the whimsical lyrics of the Arlington Heights Song (video) -

    "The parents play golf, the kids fly their kites, Life is sweet here in Arlington Heights."

    Arlington Heights is a great place to live and CNN Money called this one right. But there are many reasons reason to be skeptical of national lists like this one.

    A brief look at the Barrington lifestyle

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    There are striking differences among the various Barrington communities - South Barrington, Barrington Hills, Village of Barrington, etc. - but the similarities are equally striking. They're all what many consider affluent "lifestyle communities."

    The Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington illustrates the Barrington mode of living as well as anything. I accompanied Apex Exteriors' Roger Greenhagel to the Biltmore pool house for a look at Apex's work on the new building, but swept the camera around enough during our interview to give you a glimpse of how life's lived in the Barrington's.

    Disclosure: Apex is a client of my firm.

    Luxury open houses in Barrington, Barrington Hills, Inverness

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    109 Remington Dr, Barrington Hills, Illinois

    Ya gotta love the Tribune. A current headline alerts you to Luxury open houses planned for 3 locations.

    The Trib article gives you all the basics about the custom homes, which have prices reduced to $1.95 to $2.85 million. It doesn't, however, include the addresses for the open houses, or a link to the builder's Web site.

    Get the details on the homes in the Trib article, and the addresses here:

    109 Remington Dr, Barrington Hills

    25696 Chatham Rd, Barrington

    80 Geneva Ct, Inverness / Barrington

    The owners club at Highland Woods in West Elgin

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    You're probably more familiar with the single-builder subdivision, but ought to be aware that Chicagoland has a number of new home communities where multiple builders purchase lots and build custom and semi-custom homes in a wide variety of styles. Highland Woods in West Elgin is one of those multi-builder communities, and I stopped there recently for a look at the posh owners club and pool complex.

    My tour guide is John Hall Jr, a custom home builder who owns John Hall Homes with his brother Joshua. In other videos on this YouTube playlist we drive through West Elgin and take a detailed look at one of his custom homes. We also focus on homes and lifestyles in Saint Charles, the community where John lives and also builds.

    Disclosure: John Hall Homes is a client of my firm.

    Driving West Elgin with a custom home builder

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    If you're considering a move to the Fox Valley you might want to take a look at West Elgin.

    West Elgin's not an actual municipality. It's a name given to a section of Elgin to set it apart from the city that's known to many as the foreclosure capital of the northwest suburbs. The West Elgin moniker is not, obviously, designed to trade on Elgin's cachet - it doesn't have any - but to say it's not like the more familiar and older parts of Elgin. West Elgin children, for example, attend Burlington District 301's above-average schools rather than Elgin District U-46's typically subpar ones. The housing stock in West Elgin is almost entirely new construction.

    My tour guide is John Hall Jr, a custom home builder who owns John Hall Homes with his brother Joshua. In parts six through eight of the videos on this YouTube playlist we stop at the lavish owners club and pool complex at one of the developments where John is building, then take a detailed look at one of his custom homes. The first four parts focus on homes and lifestyles in Saint Charles, the community where John lives and also builds.

    Disclosure: John Hall Homes is a client of my firm.

    Learning to speak developer - excellent schools translation

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    I've just looked at yet another new home developer's Web site touting the "excellent schools" home buyers' children would attend at his development.

    My habit - and it should be yours - is to ignore claims on a developer's Web site and look at the Illinois School Report Card that you'll find at almost every school / school district's Web site. School performance heavily impacts home resale values and should be considered when buying even if you don't have children.

    For the Lake County development in question the builder's "excellent schools" phrase translates to "almost up to Illinois' schools mediocre averages."

    I'm not suggesting you ignore the developer's claims entirely. If they don't match up with the stats on the school report card you've gained some valuable information about the builder's integrity.

    Price reductions on quick-delivery homes at Lexington Park, Des Plaines

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Lexington Park Townhomes, Des Plaines, IL

    Thirty-two homes look out on open, landscaped green space and a gazebo at Lexington Park townhomes in Des Plaines. And seven of them are still available for quick delivery, according to sales manager Don Stringfield.

    "We've also recently reduced prices on these homes," which have one of the best locations in the development." Prices now begin at $249,990. You can see a video tour of a model at YouTube.

    Holiday Park townhome in Fox Lake at 20 percent below 2005 price

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    The 2-bedroom, 2 ½ bath, 2-car garage townhome at 639 Key Largo Dr in Fox Lake is priced at $134,900 - nearly 20% below the price it sold for late in 2005. That's Florida-style "appreciation" to match the street name.

    As I look at Lake County listings built during the last decade I find myself asking: is much of Lake County under water on its mortgages as well as its terrain?

    The home is in Holiday Park, a condominium townhome development by Cambridge Homes. It's nearing its one-year anniversary of being on and off the market.

    Algonquin offers a lot of resale home options

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

     Grand Reserve, Algonquin, Illinois

    In the late 80s and early 90s you navigated a sea of billboards touting new home subdivisions as you headed into Algonquin on Route 62. The subdivisions - communities in builder parlance - came to pass in a big way, and Algonquin's population nearly tripled from 1990 to its current level of more than 30,000, after more than doubling in the 1980s. The town that had been a vacation resort morphed into a bedroom suburb.

    Today, a search for new home subdivisions in Algonquin comes up empty - except for one that's in the development deadpool.

    Algonquin currently has a huge selection of over 300 resale homes on the market - unless you're looking in the $1M-plus range, where there's only one listing. There are dozens of offerings with frontage on the Fox River if your boat needs a home as much as you do. Prices begin well below $200,000, and the median-priced home is about $300,000.

    Liberty Trails is nestled near bustling McHenry

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    What is it about real estate writers that impels them to find that subdivisions are "nestled" somewhere and near "bustling" villages? Or to write phrases like this that don't match the scene they describe:

    Liberty Trails by Gerstad Builders features preserved trees and natural terrain, giving the community an earthy ambience.

    Preserved trees? Earthy ambience? Read the whole thing in the Daily Herald. But first, watch our video drive-around of Gerstad Builders' Liberty Trails for a more accurate take on "earthy ambience," i.e., largely undisturbed by landscaping.

    The article contends that prices have reverted to 2003 levels, although the original series homes appear to be priced at, or slightly above, the levels prevailing last year when our video was shot.

    Home for sale in West Dundee on the best block in America

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    311 Liberty St, West Dundee, Illinois

    For just $279,000 you can live in a 5-bedroom, 2-bath home with a cozy front porch view of what Good Morning America has selected as "the best block in America."

    No one is likely to dispute the essential silliness of singling out any one block as the best in the country, but it seems hard to resist the temptation to head on out to West Dundee for a look-see.

    Bull Valley, where acreage is still affordable

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    7412 Saddle Court Trl, Bull Valley, IL

    McHenry County has consistently been one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. The Village of Bull Valley made its contribution to that growth, with a population that increased by 15.8% from 2000 to 2008 - to a mere 841.

    If you haven't been to Bull Valley you'll be surprised by the terrain: winding roads and gently rolling hills. It's horse country, and the riding trails seem omnipresent. If the Census counted horses, they might outnumber the people in Bull Valley.

    Bull Valley's a place where you can escape the congestion of Crystal Lake and Woodstock and find acreage at affordable prices. The 4-bedroom, 3 ½ bath home pictured above, for example, sits on 3 acres and is listed at $349,000.

    A lavish lakefront retreat in Fox Lake

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    900 Benjamin Ave, Fox Lake, IL

    When you think about Fox Lake you may conjure up images of humble lakefront cottages on small lots. That's not all there is to life in Fox Lake, where some newer housing trends to the lavish.

    The home pictured above spans over 7,000 square feet of living space that encompasses 4 bedrooms, 4 ½ baths, an indoor pool / spa and a 3-car garage. It's on a 5-acre lot that boasts a tennis court, boat docks, and 450 feet of lake frontage. The asking price, at just under $1.5 million, is a long way from cottage prices. Coldwell Banker's Bill Kaplan is the listing agent.

    Lexington Park, in Des Plaines, is one of Chicagoland's best-selling townhomes

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    These have been slow times for new home sales, but some developments have sold at a brisk pace despite the downturn.

    Lexington Park in downtown Des Plaines, for example, has sold 55 of its 120 townhomes, making it one of the best-selling developments in the Chicago area, according to Lexington Homes' Don Stringfield.

    Factors that account for the quick sales pace include a walk-to-train location, curb appeal, functional floor plans, an experienced builder - and pricing that's competitive with much smaller, older single-family homes in Des Plaines.

    Lexington Park offers 2 and 3 bedroom, 2 ½ bath, 2-car garage townhomes priced from the high $240s to the low $270s. Some quick-delivery homes are available.

    Saving the best townhome locations for last at Willow Place in Wheeling

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Developers adopt different strategies when deciding which locations in a development to market first. Some, looking to jump start sales, offer the best first. Some developers, more cynically, simply slap sold signs on the best locations in the absence of sales to accelerate demand for the less-desirable locations.

    At Willow Place, says developer Jeff Benach, Lexington Homes deliberately "saved the best locations for last."

    Lexington Homes has built nearly 41,000 homes -- more than you'll find in the City of Evanston. "This is probably the sixth or seventh iteration of this home that we've built," said Benach. "Every aspect of the product has been improved."

    In the video, Jeff Benach shows us one of the last six homes remaining for sale at Willow Place, and points out some of the subtle and not-so-subtle changes his company has made in the process of continually adapting to buyer wants and needs.

    The remaining homes, which are available for quick delivery, feature upgrades, 3 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, 2-car garages, just under 1,900 square feet of living space, and are priced from the low $260s, making them a viable alternative to comparably priced older (and often smaller) single-families in the area.

    Disclosure: Lexington Homes is a client of my firm.

    Elgin ranks first in northwest suburban foreclosure filings

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    During the first quarter of 2010 there were 303 foreclosure filings in Elgin, ranking it first among Chicago's northwest suburbs, according to data compiled by the Woodstock Institute.

    Other northwest suburbs which saw more than 100 foreclosures filed during he first quarter are Arlington Heights (103), Carpentersville (196), Palatine (197), Schaumburg (128), Streamwood (141), and Wheeling (101). Palatine's population (67,080) is far greater than that of Carpentersville (37,741).

    A brief look at living near Heritage Park in Arlington Heights

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    Like many inner-ring suburbs of Chicago, Arlington Heights offers a wide range of housing choices. The options include high-rise condos and tiny Cape Cods near the Metra station, classic Victorians in the older parts of town, million dollar new construction McMansions - and the nearly ubiquitous 4 bedroom, 2 ½ bath 2-story Colonials.

    After visiting new townhome developments in Des Plaines and Wheeling with Chuck Gekas, we paused for a look at Heritage Park in Arlington Heights, just around the corner from where Chuck has lived for more than 20 years. We chatted briefly about real estate prices near the park ($350 to $500K) and living in the area.

    Chuck is the national director of client services for Data Based Ads, a firm I founded in 1987.

    There was a very brisk wind, as you'll hear in the video.

    Development deadpool - Grand Reserve in Algonquin

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    "It looks like they've left this place," our reporter speculated at the outset of this video drive around Grand Reserve in Algonquin, an age-restricted (55-plus) development from Grand Pointe Homes.

    The Web site is still live, but the phone number listed for the development on the site is answered by Cardinal Fitness of Algonquin.

    Pending further advice we're adding Grand Reserve to the development deadpool - and strongly urging you to check out your builder's financial health or risk buying into a near-death experience.

    You can see several dozen more subdivision drive-arounds at the NewHomeNotebook YouTube channel.

    The Barringtons and the North Shore - who has the most luxury homes

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Barrington Hills, Illinois

    According to Coldwell Banker's Web site there are currently 140 homes for sale in the $3M and up range in Chicago's North Shore communities.

    The Barrington area (Barrington, Barrington Hills, South Barrington and Inverness) have only 32 homes on the market in that price range. Twenty-four of those homes are in Barrington Hills. Lake Forest, by comparison, has fifty homes on the market in the $3M-plus range.

    The priciest listing in the Barrington area is $15.5M, while the North Shore peaks at $28M for a 27,000 square foot home with a Winnetka address.

    Barrington-area homes rule when it comes to acreage. The home pictured above, listed for sale at $7.5M with Coldwell Banker's Meg Cleavenger, is on an 11-acre site. You're unlikely to find that size parcel on the North Shore at any price.

    Rental homes are abundant in Chicago's northwest suburbs

    user-pic
    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    2516 Highland Dr, Palatine, Illinois

    Renting a home can be a great way to try out the lifestyle of a new community. It's also, of late, a financially preferable alternative to ownership, especially for people who may be facing a move or a change in housing needs within a few years.

    Check MLS listings and you'll find well over 1,000 homes and condos for rent in many of northwest suburban Chicago's most desirable locations. The home pictured above, for example, features 4 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, a 2-car garage and is touted as a "spacious custom built 2-story executive home in a prime Palatine area." The asking rent is $2,495 a month, and the home is listed with Coldwell Banker's Samuel Hwang.

    Take the train to the Choo Choo in downtown Des Plaines

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    It'll take you only a few seconds to scan the 9-item menu at the Choo Choo in downtown Des Plaines, a short walk from the Metra station. You'll likely spend a lot more time focused on the model train bearing baskets of burgers and fries to bright-eyed kids.

    The Choo Choo hasn't succumbed (yet) to various threats to replace it with something more contemporary. It's still a welcome patch of 50s character and kitsch in the made-over downtown (video) of this sprawling, inner-ring Chicago suburb.

    If you're headed to the Choo Choo on a nostalgia trip, don't neglect the original McDonald's, a few blocks north on Lee St.

    I'll be headed back to Des Plaines in a few days to check out Lexington Park, new townhomes built by a new client. Stay tuned for a video report.

    If you're shopping for a new home this weekend, call ahead

    user-pic
    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    If you're planning to spend some time this weekend visiting builder models, don't rely on the schedule of open hours you'll find on builder Web sites.

    A number of builders shut down their sales models during long holiday weekends - and don't update their Web sites to reflect that fact. They also sometimes neglect to update their on-site signage, so you might find yourself at a model waiting for the return of a salespersonw who has no plans to be there.

    Chicago Magazine spotlights Woodstock as one of Chicago's 10 best suburbs

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Woodstock Town Square, Chicago Magazine photo

    Chicago Magazine's Dennis Rodkin singles out Woodstock as one of Chicago's 10 best suburbs. It's the only northwest suburb to make the list. Ever the phrasemaker, Rodkin notes that Woodstock, like many an "ideal small town has a square for a heart."

    What's your vote for the best of the northwest suburbs?

    What $300K buys in Arlington Heights, Palatine and Rolling Meadows

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Three hundred thousand dollars buys a newly-built home of nearly 3,000 square feet in Volo or Johnsburg or one of a number of suburbs at the far northwest fringe of the Chicago metropolitan area.

    What $300K can't buy in those areas is a school system comparable to what you'll find in Arlington Heights, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and some of the closer-in northwest suburbs. Nor does it buy a comparable commute to downtown Chicago or the employment corridors that lie northwest of the city. And, the home in the exurbs often comes with a higher tax bill and fewer municipal amenities. Here's a brief look at what $300K does buy just northwest of Chicago.

    1519 East Waverly Dr, Arlington Heights, Illinois

    1519 East Waverly Dr, Arlington Heights. This 3-bedroom, 2-bath split-level home has a 2-car attached garage and a number of recent improvements. It's priced at $299,900.

    50 North Kitson Dr, Palatine, Illinois

    50 North Kitson Dr, Palatine. Priced at $298,900, this home has 4 bedrooms (one in the basement), 2 baths, a detached 2.5-car garage, and an addition with a second family room.

    2702 Campbell St, Rolling Meadows, Illinois

    2702 Campbell St, Rolling Meadows. The home is billed as being completely rehabbed and includes 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a detached garage with a workshop.

    Many options in northwest suburban rental homes

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    The softness in the for sale market has resulted in a proliferation of homes available for rent throughout Chicago's northwest suburbs

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    If you're relocating temporarily to the area you may want to consider renting in what some are saying is a real estate market that hasn't yet hit bottom. If you're running a rent vs own analysis you may also find that rental homes are a relative bargain in today's market.

    Where do you find homes for rent? Skip Craigslist, which has a limited selection and ads that are often suspect. Your best bet is to visit a real estate broker's Web site and register to see what's available through the local Multiple Listing Service. I recommend the Coldwell Banker, Koenig & Strey and Prudential Rubloff sites - because they're all clients of my firm.

    The Trib does Barrington

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

     Dave Shields / Photo for the Chicago Tribune

    Barrington proper, that is. And Mount Prospect, and Arlington Heights and many another Chicago suburb and exurb in what former Trib columnist Bob Greene lovingy called "the land Beyond O'Hare."

    So, if you're homeward bound to the northwest suburbs and looking for a way to sort out the dozens of municipalities from each other you might start with the Tribune's Community Profiles. Although often over-written in travel-magazine style, the profiles do a credible job of giving you the flavor of a community, and include links to maps, relevant facts, and listings of homes for sale.

    Is 365Barrington Barrington's best blog?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Canteen Restaurant, Barrington, Illinois. Photo linked from 365Barrington.com

    When you're preparing for a move to a new community you want to know a great deal more about your destination than you'll find in the real estate listings or at the local newspaper's Web site.

    You might want to know where to get a great burger on the cheap, check out the local ice cream and fresh fruits and veggies scene, and even locate a simpatico karaoke bar. And, of course, you'll want to team up with a real estate agent who knows the community well.

    Finding that expert agent is often the toughest part of the search for a new home. Many buyers find the task so daunting that they just latch onto the first agent they meet after wading through a sea of self-professed community experts parroting the same buzzwords but never exhibiting any actual community knowledge.

    One agent who's showing, rather than just claiming, that she's a community expert is Coldwell Banker's Liz Luby Chepell. Her 365Barrington.com is easily one of the very best of the 1,000s of real estate blogs I've seen over the years - and it hasn't yet had much to say about real estate. It does, however, do a great job of telling richly illustrated stories about how life's lived in Barrington by introducing you to local businesses and events, and the people who make them special.

    365Barrington answered one of my recurring questions when I'm headed to a community for Sunday open houses: what's a good pre-open house local breakfast spot? I'll head for The Canteen Restaurant, pictured above in Liz's photo.

    The best Barrington blog? I'm casting my vote for 365Barrington.com. Does anyone know of a better one?

    A Realtor watering hole on Schaumburg Bike to Work Day

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Bike rack at work

    Burn some calories instead of gasoline next Friday by hauling out your two-wheeler and participating in Schaumburg Bike to Work Day.

    If you're thirsty along the way, or your trek motivates you to look for a home closer to work, stop by Koenig & Strey's Schaumburg office for a free bottle of water and some real estate chat. Or skip the chat if you're in a hurry.

    Local correspondent Megan Tish provided this tip.

    Volo home prices are oh so low

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.



    If you know Volo at all it's likely to be because of the Volo Bog or the Volo Auto Museum, which has over 300 classic cars on display.

    Volo, which is about 41 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, has been populated since the 1830s (when it was known as Forksville), but only became an incorporated village in the 1990s. The 2000 Census tallied a mere 180 people in Volo.

    Volo has changed rapidly in the last 10 years. The 2010 Census will reflect a more than 20-fold growth in population and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning forecasts well over 13,000 people in Volo in 2030. The big draws have been the family-friendly country setting, proximity to the Chain of Lakes and Fox Lake Metra station, and affordably low new home prices at large developments from a number of major builders.

    I visited Cambridge Homes' Symphony Meadows in Volo a while back and shot the above video. Symphony Meadows is a large, master-planned community with a range of amenities already in place. Homes are available in 16 different floor plans, and four "series," base-priced from the $150s to the $310s. "Series," of course, is builder-speak for "price point" or "type of home."

    Pets and real estate together in Arlington Heights

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Pet-a-Palooza at Coldwell Banker Arlington Heights

    If you're thinking about selling your home, or buying a new one, and you're also wondering whether you look as much like your dog as you think you do, then head Coldwell Banker's Arlington Heights office on May 23rd for Pet-a-Palooza.

    The event features a pet parade, multiple contests and "pet adoption." Does that mean you can ditch that pesky critter in Arlington Heights?

    I learned about the event from Coldwell Banker's Facebook page. More brokers, of late, have started Facebook pages, making it easy for buyers and sellers to stay in touch with their favorites.

    Wish you were homeward bound to Chicago's northwest suburbs?

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    Joe Zekas

    20 years on the North Shore without going native.

    Fox Lake, Illinois

    If so, you're part of a vast migration that's been transforming the corn fields in the land far beyond O'Hare and revitalizing Chicago's inner-ring northwest suburbs.

    I hope to bring an outsider's perspective and an insider's familiarity to the task of helping you navigate to your first or next home in the northwest suburbs.

    What will you find here? Everything and anything you might want to know about real estate and how life's lived in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

    You can see a list of the northwest suburbs at our About us page

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