Chicago Relocation

Fall 2015 Chicagoland Market Update

September 17, 2015

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John D’Ambrogio

How did summer 2015 stack up?   What’s ahead for the Chicagoland real estate market for the balance of 2015?  Check out the stats, the insight, and the predictions….


Check it out!




2015 Real Estate Outlook for Chicagoland, 2014 Review

February 4, 2015

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John D’Ambrogio

Hello friends – Here’s a quick overview of what happened in ’14 and what we think WILL happen in ’15.  I am fortunate to have featured speaker Pam O’Connor, CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World share her views as well.






December 29, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

Think Chicago’s Clark Street ends at Wrigley Field?  Think again, and head on up north to Andersonville.  A part of the greater Edgewater community, it is anchored by local (read non-chain) shopping, dining and sipping, mostly along Clark Street north of Foster.

Settled by the Swedes after the Chicago fire, Andersonville still retains its ethnic flavor.  Celebrate the solstice each year at the mid-sommar fest, complete with a Maypole and folk dancing!  And someone help me with why you have a maypole in June.  In winter check out the Julmarknad Christmas Bazaar and grab a herring, or some falukorv (google it)!

The housing in Andersonville?  In a word – lovely.  You have your typical sturdy chicago brick corridor and courtyard buildings, along with hundreds of beautiful (and beautifully maintained) single family homes.  They’re not inexpensive, and definitely are for those who want the space of a home and the convenience and vibe of city living, and are willing to pay the price.

So  where to enjoy a great meal or a cocktail in Andersonville?

I won’t hold it against them that my first drink with my former in-laws was at The Hop Leaf.  Great food to munch on, but the star is 300+ beers, with 40 on tap.  I’m not a beer guy, but I’m told that’s a heady list!

If beer isn’t your thing, fear not, walk up the street to the Coffee Studio for impressive baristas and Intelligentsia coffee! They take their coffee SERIOUSLY.

Hands down the best Lebanese food around, like I have been going back there decades after leaving the neighborhood – Taste of Lebanon – a tiny family owned restaurant run by people who care.  Great for carry out.  Maybe don’t bring a date there. They leave a few newspapers around to read if you’re sticking around to eat.  Pretty much falafels and lentil soup, but man oh many – try it!  Just scroll through Yelp! and try to find an unkind word about this place!

And if you’ve been to one place up there, it’s Ann Sather’s.  Which would be a good choice if you want a filling, fantastic breakfast, and probably the only place around still serving lingonberries! Swedish dining at its best.  They have a Lakeview location, but try the original at least once.

After your pancakes, visit the Swedish American Museum, an homage to Swedish immigration to America.  Great little community museum.

Apparently I used to live in Andersonville.  Not according to most of the residents of Andersonville, or of Ravenswood (where I really lived), but according to the Chamber of Commerce.  This is as good a place as any to mention (again), that when in Chicago you are often simultaneously eating your chicken wings or walking your dog in two to four different neighborhoods, depending on who you ask (real estate agent, old timer, new timer, merchant, etc.).  So it’s good to note that Andersonville is kissed by Ravenswood, Uptown, Lincoln Square, and of course Edgewater.  But that, of course, depends on who you ask.

Fun little side note – Just north of St. Boniface’s at the south end of Andersonville, walk by 1345 W. Argyle, the site of Essanay Studio. This was the studio of the little tramp himself (Charlie Chaplin), one hundred short years ago….


A Brief Tour of the Western Suburbs

October 12, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio


While the city of Chicago is a fantastic one-of-a-kind town, sometimes you just need to get outside of the downtown area for a while.  And if you don’t live near the heart of the city, then you know how nice the suburbs of Chicago can be.  Personally, I am from the Western Suburbs and know that there is a lot to do out there.  Here is a list of just a few of the best attractions around those parts.

Brookfield Zoo  - The free Lincoln Park Zoo in the city is pretty nice, but the Brookfield Zoo definitely edges it out.  With a strong focus on innovative animal care and natural conservation, the zoo is not only a fun place to visit, but can also be quite educational.

Cantigny Park  - As Wheaton’s finest landmark, Cantigny Park has lots to offer.  From beautiful gardens to fascinating museums to a quality golf course, there’s always plenty to do.  As a child, I remember climbing around on the old tanks and cannons in their iconic American infantry exhibit.  Dangerous?  Maybe.  Fun?  Definitely.

Drury Lane  - No, this is not home to Illinois’ muffin man.  Drury Lane is a theater and conference center that plays host to a variety of special events, including weddings and business meetings.  The theater also puts on many live shows throughout the year and is a big proponent of the performing arts.  In addition, you could very easily eat yourself sick at their delicious brunch buffet.  Fair warning.

Morton Arboretum  - Now who doesn’t love a good arboretum?  The Morton Arboretum in Lisle is an outdoor nature museum intended to promote environmental health through sustainability and educational efforts.  The museum offers acres of beautiful foliage and many fun activities to inspire and teach the value of nature.

Naper Settlement  - Along with many great shops and restaurants, the delightful area of downtown Naperville is also home to Naper Settlement.  This outdoor history museum does more than just inform visitors about the old pioneer way of life; it lets them experience it firsthand.  With many interactive exhibits and programs, Naper Settlement is a great place to connect to the past and enjoy the present simultaneously.

The Tivoli Theatre   - Built in 1928 as one of the first theatres in the country, the Tivoli Theatre is the crown jewel of Downers Grove.  With its ornate designs and pre-show live organ music, the Tiv really gives the customers a feel of what an old time night out at the cinema was like.  And if this great theatre isn’t enough, you can head downstairs to the bowling alley or right outside to Aurelio’s pizza (and see my 2nd grade baseball team photo) to complete the night.

No one can blame you for spending all your time experiencing all of the great attractions that the city has to offer.  But just know that if you decide to venture out to the quieter parts of Chicagoland, there are plenty of gems around here waiting to be enjoyed.


Lincoln Square and Ravensood – My Old Hometown

September 29, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

I love Ravenswood.  I just love it.  6 miles north of downtown and you’re in a real city neighborhood, a community….a place where you know your neighbors, you know the dogs (I think my old dog Boru sniffed each and every one), you’ve met the alderman and your precinct captain, you know the kids.  I lived in a condo in Ravenswood and a big SFH in Lincoln Square, and loved it.  Basically the set of ‘hoods north of Lakeview (I know, you’ve got North Center, Graceland, etc., but I’ll speak in generalities), this community runs roughly west of Clark to Western (OK, push it California, then push “Ravenswood Manor” – former home of our now incarcerated Governor Blago – even further west).  And run it at some point north of Berteau up a bit past Foster, before you get into the Bowmanville/Andersonville worlds.

More single family homes than condos, you’ve got a lot of sturdy brick buildings, and blocks that tend to have flats off the alley and on the major roads, while the middle is filled in with brick bungalows (and some frame houses as well).  The Chicago Bungalow, like the Chicago Hot Dog and the Chicago Pizza, is a beautiful creature, and somewhat unique in creation. Chicago has a bungalow belt that rings the entire city.  One of the most versatile housing styles around.  Sturdy brick, big basement, 1 ½ stories (meaning about ½ the people eventually put on dormers, lifted ceilings, or put on entire second floors), a decent sized lot….Man I miss my bungalow on Winona off Oakley!

In fact, the Chicago Bungalow Associations describes these beauties as such:

“Associated with the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States, ‘bungalow’ has become a generic term to describe a house or cottage. In Chicago, however, the Historic Chicago Bungalow refers to a single-family home with the following features:

  • Built between 1910 – 1940

  • One and one half stories

  • Face brick with stone trim

  • Low-pitched roof with overhang

  • Rectangular shape: narrow at the front and rear ends, longer on the sides

  • Generous windows

  • Full basement

  • Offset front entrance, or side entrance”

Anyway, my point is you’re in an urban community, but so different from the downtown vibe, or even the younger, more mobile vibe of Lincoln Park and Lakeview.  It’s quiet on the sidestreets.  And the prices are very affordable compared to its lovely neighbors.

Now when I lived there back in the day it was not necessariliy known as a restaurant or pub destination, although classics like Barba Yianni’s and The Heutenbar are perennial favorites (of mine anyway.  A lot of gyros followed by underberg in my youth).  Originally a German/Bavarian neighborhood (hence Da Heutenbar, Carola’s Clipper….my German aunt used to watch movies in German at The Davis Theater on Lincoln), it has retained that heritage and embraced many others. Visit the old school bowling alley (upstairs) at Lincoln Lanes!  And speaking of old school, one of the loveliest churches on the northside is St. Matthias’ in Lincoln Square.  And I’m not saying that just because my daughter was baptized there…

RW/LS has an exceptionally fun Baron Von Steuben Festival right in the square (OK, the parking lots along the square).  People come from as far away as the suburbs AND LINCOLN PARK!  That’s pretty impressive.  Good times, lederhosen and oompa bands (one of the nights the streets are not quiet).

Lincoln Ave. in the last 10-12 years has really livened up on the strip around the square – Favorite Bocca Della Verita has some of the best gnocchi this side of the Atlantic.  Then there’s LM, Pizza DOC, the Grafton (you need an Irish Pub, don’t you?)….And Opart Thai, while it’s not fancy, is about the best BYO Thai in the city!  And don’t leave out Cafe Selmarie.  Oh my – the best pastries north of Little Italy!

So hop on the brown line and head up to Ravenswood/Lincoln Square.  You might even get a seat on the way back south!


Hyde Park, From the Midway to the Museums….

August 25, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

If you’re not familiar with Hyde Park, you probably only know its two big landmarks – The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) -(always a big treat for me when I was a kid), and the University of Chicago (kind of our version of an Ivy League school out here in the Midwest).

And who wouldn’t want to see the home of the first controlled self sustaining nuclear reaction? Yup, right here on the southside of Chicago, the fate of the Second World War was sealed.  And seeds were sewn for a lot more of history to come.  But nuclear war aside, it’s a beautiful campus, and filled with a lot of people way way smarter than me.

Take a stroll down the Midway Plaisance for a breathtaking University view.  Joining two of our gems, Washington and Jackson Parks, and developed by Taft and Olmsted, it’s gorgeous.   “Monsters of the Midway?”  Yup, that’s where the bears get their nickname, although U of C maroons stopped as a big ten presence the year “The Wizard of Oz” was released….

A perfect Hyde Park afternoon for me is heading down to the MSI with the kids, parking (for free!) on a side street north of the museum ($20 parking is for suburbanites), hitting the museum for a bit (with a family pass, it’s permissible to just visit for a bit, so there’s not the crush to see it all in one day – maybe visit a coal mine, German U-Boat or one of the other kabillion cool things they have there), and then walk under LSD (Chicago term) with a picnic lunch or supper with the kids and a little swimming at 57th Street Beach. (But wait 45 minutes after you eat).  Clean beach, diverse and friendly crowd, and parking.  I’ll put it up against North Ave. or Oak Street any time!

And OH – The park there has the beautiful Promontory Point - And I mean beautiful!  Field house (with restrooms!), planned “prairie,” and built high enough and far enough into the lake to provide unparalleled city panorama!

Then stop by the DuSable Museum of African American History. The museum’s mission is to “collect, preserve and display artifacts….to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions and experiences of African Americans.”  It’s named in honor of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first permanent non-native resident of Chicago.  Of African descent, he had a little place where the river meets the Lake.  Bet that piece of property is worth a lot now.  It’s basically Michigan Ave meets the river!

Now don’t forget Robie House, one of the loveliest and best preserved Frank Lloyd Wright homes anywhere.  The FLW Association offers tours, and they’re well worth it.  It’s a great organization run by people with a passion.  I got to host a relo event back in the day there when my buddy Jim was the chair of the FLW society – Talk about impressing your pals!

The neighborhood’s famous locales and steady competition for upscale housing has helped keep it a more stable neighborhood, in terms of real estate, than some of its neighbors.  You see a lot of sturdy brick, brown and greystones in HP, with the obligatory fence of highrises along the lakefront – can’t beat that view looking north to the city!

And while you’re there, walk over and see if Mr. Obama is home!  He lives in the 5000 block of South Greenwood.  2 things – Some people call that neighborhood Kenwood. And #2 – Actually…don’t go visit, he’s not home and the block is more secure than his other place on Pennsylvania Ave.  Looks like a lovely house online anyway….Better yet, just stop in at Jimmy’s Woodlawn tap - I hear the bar food is great there….Tell ‘em Dylan Thomas sent you.


Chicago’s Loop – Make No Small Plans

March 17, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Ah, the loop. Downtown. The Windy City. Urbs in Horto. The City of Big Shoulders. Chi-Town. The Second City. Well, it all starts here – The Loop. My Kind of Town. Downtown Chicago, our business district, the only place 90% of tourists (and a fair number of suburbanites) see. And well, if you could only see one area, this is it. The Loop rocks.

The Loop is the center for commercial, theater and finance in the little village on the water once called “Shikaakwa.” That’s the 17th century French interpretation of the Illini word for “The Stinking Onion.  This eventually evolved into the word Chicago. So there’s your history lesson for the day.  Second largest business district (thanks Manhattan), hence “Second City.”

Love architecture? Well, look no further my friend. Thanks (unfortunately) to the Chicago Fire of 1871 (witnessed by my firm’s founder Lyman Baird) the city by the lake had a clean slate just in time for the arrival of the world’s first high rise – 1884′s Home Insurance Building. As I crane my head to the corner of my window I can see one of the most historically significant structures in the city the Rookery Building.  It’s importance extends beyond it’s housing the architects Root, Wright, Sullivan, & “Make No Small Plans” Burnham.
You want cool bulidings? Try the Auditorium Building, the Art Institute, the CBOT, Chicago Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, Fine Arts Building, the Palmer House, the Sears Tower (no, it’s not the Willis Tower), Symphony Center. After you visit those, we can give you 25 more…. actually, try the Chicago Architectural Foundation for some extremely cool info and bus/walking/El/bike tours! The river is a particularly great way to see The Loop.

The Loop is narrowly defined as the area inside the elevated trains that literally “loop” around the business district.  The trains make up the pink/green/orange/brown/purple lines -or the area more broadly defined as Congress Ave./The Lake (Michigan Ave.)/ and The Chicago River.  And as you’ve already read about “South Loop”, “North Loop” and “West Loop” we pretty much like to overlap neighborhoods whenever possible.

Compared to pretty much anywhere else in the city, you won’t find much residential real estate in The Loop.  And what is there is pretty much exclusively high-rise and expensive. Which makes sense, especially since it’s surrounded by many areas where you can easily walk to within 10 minutes.
That being said, Chicago’s first non-native resident was Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, often cited as a French Canadian of African descent (although little is known to verify this claim). Fort Dearborn eventually followed as this became a small village where the river meets the lake.

So lace up the gym shoes (that’s what we call sneakers out here in the Midwest), put on multiple layers based on weather, and take a lovely walk around the world’s most beautiful city!


Wicker Park – A Grown-Up Hipster

March 10, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

As mentioned earlier, it’s really hard to separate Wicker Park from Bucktown. It’s not as easy as “north or south of North Ave.” But I’m giving it a go…..

Originally Wicker Park was a northern European enclave – Germans, Scandinavians and later Poles (hence the remaining Zimne Piwo signs under that Old Style beer light on so many neighborhood joints). Believe it or not, the provisional Polish government had their meetings in WP during the Great War.

People lament that Wicker Park has changed.  That it’s not as cool and hip as it was “back in the day.” I’ll admit, as a relocation counselor 20 years ago I did describe it as a cool, hip, up and coming, “gentrifying” artist community. It still is – it’s just way more gentrified!  Neighborhoods change and evolve and get reborn like a Phoenix all the time. Wicker Park (and Bucktown) are now “mature” neighborhoods and great places to live.

Being closer to the Loop,Wicker Park’s commute is a little easier than Bucktown. Really, Wicker Park’s an easy place to live without a car.  Housing wise, there’s better values than their eastern neighbor (Lincoln Park, Near North) primarily based on the proximity to the lake. Lots of lofts in this community, both classic (reclaimed from the manufacturing world) and those created specifically for residential use. Search some here.

What should you check out? Don’t miss the world famous Double Door, where the Stones played their “secret” concert back in ‘97 (Mick wasn’t even 60 yet!). It’s located at the famous six corners of North/Milwaukee/Damen (where WP and BT meet). Hear rock, punk, funk, you name it! For something different, but still a very cool experience, walk around the corner to Subterranean. If you want a true Indie Chicago music experience, go a little south to Empty Bottle. I know, I know that’s not officially Wicker Park.  Please forgive me Ukrainian Hipsters.

Each summer the Wicker Park Fest (usually in July) is an explosion of music, food, beer and crafts. The Trib named it best fest last year. Like most neighborhood fests these days, they’re “free” with “a $5 donation.” Which I think is really funny.

For an on-film glimpse at Wicker Park, watch High Fidelity” with our own John Cusak.

For some food, check out the incredibly hip Bongo Room with a great brunch and fantastic joe. There’s a bit of a dual for favorite pizza joint in Wicker Park (don’t forget, I’m an Aurleio’s guy so I’m not voting). If you like New Haven style pizza with some great micro brews, check out Piece.

There also Roots.  Their pizza is really good, but their “build your own salad” is KILLER – 50 choices. Go for some goat cheese with pistachios, and avocado cream…


January 2014 Chicagoland State of the Real Estate Market

January 27, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

It was a cold December, but not for Chicago’s Real Estate Market. The hot market in 2013 finished the year with increases in sales prices, units, sales volume and steady mortgage rates. John D’Ambrogio shares January 2014′s State of the Real Estate Market.


Lincoln Park – The other epicenter

January 21, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

If you’re new to Chicago, you probably know of two neighborhoods – The Loop and Lincoln Park. A Chicago truism is that everyone (I know) has probably worked in The Loop at one point (or said they did), or lived in Lincoln Park (or said the did). Lincoln Park is such an iconic Chicago neighborhood that it’s sometimes tough to get your arms around it. It set the standard for being the cool neighborhood so long ago and it (arguably) inspired the renaissance of so many other northside communities. (Think, Lakeview to Wicker Park, to Bucktown).

But Lincoln Park does not rest on its laurels, although virtually any address in Lincoln Park is a perennially desirable one. It’s a vibrant community (that may skew a little young), with major thoroughfares of Clark, Halsted, and Lincoln. It’s jammed with pubs, restaurants, shops….anything and everything that a heavily populated, public transportation-heavy, mobile community needs. It’s an easy El or bus ride to downtown, easy access to LSD and the major highways, you can walk to the world class Lincoln Park zoo – it truly is a pedestrian urbanites’ paradise.

Hitting back on the ‘three neighborhoods for the price of one” thing that Chicago likes, “greater” Lincoln Park includes the Old Town community (which merits its own blog), Old Town Triangle, DePaul, West Depaul, and more. But a very general rule of thumb would dictate that price inches down and space goes up the further west of the lake and north of downtown. So it’s a trade-off: smaller housing close to the lake or “more for your money” a bit further north or west.

You can really find all types of urban housing in beautiful Lincoln Park. From luxury high rises along the lake, to traditional Chicago brick or frame flats, corridor buildings, courtyards, as well as some pricy single family homes it really has such a variety. Try a search and see for yourself.

The nightlife scene is a bit overwhelmed by the college and “young professionals” crowd, which is a great thing if you’re in that demographic. You can certainly find quality cuisine of any time – Thai, Sushi, Italian, American, French, fusion of any type! It’s hard to name a few without naming 50, but If you want a classic post bar hot dog experience, you need to go to Weiner Circle.  Toast for an exceptional and creative brunch at Noodles at Penny’s (multiple locations). Incredible tapas and sangria at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba – Chorizo wrapped dates with cheese – need I say more? Craft beer and the best homemade potato chips around – it’s Goose Island.

I tremble to think about what to advise people to do in Lincoln Park. It literally has everything.

Want to see great live Theatre? 2nd City, hands down.

Oh, real theater, not improv? Try Steppenwolf among dozen other places

Get some sun? Walk to the beach. Exotic Animals? Late night bars (hundreds) or the famous Lincoln Park Zoo. Blues? Kingston Mines …. B. L.U.E.S.  Creepy? 2122 N. Clark St., site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (behind Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder), or The Biograph Theater where Dillinger was gunned down Museums – Chicago History Museum, Peggy Notebart Nature Museum.  The list goes on and on…..and on. 

So spend a day, spend a weekend, spend a year. You’ll enjoy every minute.