Chicago Relocation

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!


Affordable Homes Harder to Find?

September 27, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

A recent Zillow report indicated that ‘starter’ homes – the most likely choice for first time homebuyers, are disproportionately less available than higher priced homes.

Why?  Seems like the main culprit is water.  As in ‘under water.’ More and more of these homes have negative equity, which is a huge huge drag on inventory in many markets.  These owners as unable (or unwilling) to submit to the short sale process or to bring cash to the table.

Not that things are not getting better.  The percentage of Homeowners who owe more than their home is worth has declined steadily for the last two years, now hovering around 20% of all homes. But that is still almost ten million homes!

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the depth is not equally distributed over value ranges: a whopping 30% of the bottom third of home values are underwater, compared with 18% in the middle and about 10% in the top third.

According to Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries:   “It’s hard to overstate just how much of a drag on the housing market negative equity really is, especially at the lower end of the market, which represents those homes typically most affordable for first-time buyers. Negative equity strains inventory, which helps drive home values higher, which in turn makes those homes that are available that much less affordable.”


Coming to America

September 15, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

Ah, good ole USA, the land of opportunity.  Foreigners have been saying that for centuries.  And more recently, the well to do (not just the huddled masses) have been saying it more and more.

Alexander E.M. Hess, Vince Calio and Thomas C. Frohlich, of 24/7 Wall St. (great site, check it out) recently named the top ten based on RealtyTrac data.  Here they are:

10.   Germany – Why?  They have an extremely high number of ultra high net worth individuals (17,820)  surpassed only by the United States.

9. Sweden Why?  With a slow moving economy, our market looks like a profitable place to park some cash.  Swedish investment in the US doubled from 2009-2013!

8. Canada – Oh Canada!  Making up 45% of the foreign market, they are pouring over the world’s largest un-defended border.  Why?  A strong looney; a common language; and a strong economy.

7. Australia.  Coming in at 11% of foreign buyers according to RealtyTrac’s international subscribers, the Aussies’ strong economy, strong currency, and shared language again make it a huge participant.

6. United Kingdom.  With the fourth highest ultra high net worth population (almost 11,000), Brits too are seeing the US as a safe and economically promising investment option.  Vacation homes are leading their interest.

5.  Italy.  Italy and much of Europe has suffered through this recession.  Again, it is the ultra rich doing the buying.  Seeing unstable future options at home, the USA is viewed as a great option.

4. France.  According to the article – Interest in the United States from French residents has soared With searches for homes on RealtyTrac from France nearly tripling in the last five years and seeing a 60% last year alone.  Not unlike some other European neighbors, oppressive taxes and no-investor friendly policies are also cited as reasons.

3. Hong Kong and China.  Hardly a surprise, these markets saw over 250% increase in prospective homebuyer searches on RealtyTrac.  That’s over 4% of all international searches.  And with the 4th largest population of high  net worth bid ideals, there are a lot of people interested in taking their money abroad,  particularly from China.

2. Switzerland.  Why the Swiss?  They seem to have it all – greateconomy, laws favorable to the wealthy,  And great chocolate.  But it also has over 6000 “ultra wealthy” who are looking at the US as a relatively affordable place to park some of that wealth.

1. United Arab Emirates.  While only about 1% of internationals doing searches, interest by this nation has increased over 350% in recent years.

It’s nice to know we’re still a safe haven to most of the world.


Who Knew?

September 1, 2014

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John D’Ambrogio

A recent article by Kiplinger News Service Author Cameron

Huddleston listed some interesting (?) things that your insurance usually covers.  I hope I never need #7, but am grateful for it anyway!

1 – Rodent damage – to your auto!  Typical auto insurance covers those nasty chewed up wires under ‘other than collision’ damage.

2 – Riots.  Home owners and auto cover you if the riot gets a little, um, too close for comfort.  Terrorist attacks, but not not a ‘war’, are also covered.  So the whole ‘war on terror’ is now a confusing phrase to me.

3 – Defense Lawyer.  I was very excited to read this, as I basically put my divorce lawyer’s kids through college.  But alas, it is only for a claim if there is an accident involving home or auto.

4 – Dorm room theft.  That is a total ‘who knew?’.  But yes, your kids’ ‘stuff’ is covered while they are away from home!

5 – Dog bites.  In fact, over 30% of all insurance liability claims originate with an over excited Fido.

6 – Meteorites.  This falls under ‘damage caused by falling objects’.  Even if it falls on your car.

And my favorite….

7 – Volcanic eruption.  Good thing, I am traveling to Pompeii this summer, so bring it on, Vesuvius!