With increased down payment requirements and stricter lending criteria, some homeowners are opting to stay in their homes and renovate rather than move.

Others are taking advantage of the fact that builders are no longer bidding up the cost of land, so parcels can now be snatched up at better prices. These people are finally making their dream a reality and building custom homes.

If you are considering renovating or building a custom home, you won’t want to miss an upcoming design event. In celebration of National Kitchen and Bath Month, Chicago’s exclusive Merchandise Mart is opening its doors to the general public for an “Open House” showcasing the world’s largest collection of luxury boutiques for home building and renovation.

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It may be bad form to mix politics and real estate blogging (or politics and anything), but I feel compelled to pass along the following reminders.

In order to vote in the upcoming November election, you must be a US citizen, at least 18 years old, have lived in your precinct for at least 30 days before the election, and most importantly, you must be registered.

If you are not already registered to vote in Chicago, the deadline to do so is Tuesday, October 7th – in other words, it’s approaching  fast!

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There is no doubt that these are turbulent times. A presidential election in full swing, one of the worst drops on Wall Street (followed by one of the biggest rallies) last week, and a continued major reshuffling of the real estate and financial landscape – it’s enough to raise one’s blood pressure.

While I am not an expert on stress, anyone who knows me knows I maintain a full plate, and most days, I do it in stride. I thought I’d share what works for me.

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I’m not the only member of The Jennifer Ames Team who has something to say, so I decided it would be great to periodically turn the blog reigns over to a different member of my team. Our first “guest post” is written by David Wright, our team’s Marketing Associate. I hope you enjoy the new voice!  – Jenny

Walkin' Boots
These boots were made for walking — just like Chicago.

As one of two marketing specialists on The Jennifer Ames Team, I’m always looking for more ways to highlight the amenities to be found near our Chicago luxury listings. We frequently include information in our marketing brochures and Internet copy about retail, dining, and entertainment establishments that are located near the homes we sell. We also use a service called PeekaCity to create interactive amenity maps, which allow online viewers to scope out the neighborhood by what’s most important to them (like Mediterranean cuisine, for example).

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It’s a fantastic day today – the autumn air is cool and crisp, and I am enjoying a stunning panoramic view of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline from my desk in the Gold Coast Office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the John Hancock Center. As is often the case with Mother Nature, today’s brilliant blue sky belies the drama we experienced this past weekend.

After two days of non-stop heavy rain, including a record breaking 6.64 inches of rain that fell on Saturday, many of my friends and real estate clients reported flooded basements and/or roof leaks in their homes. As if that wasn’t enough, O’Hare airport was temporarily closed, wreaking havoc for travelers.

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In recent months, a few of my Chicago luxury real estate clients have sold their homes and opted to move into a rental.

Their motives vary widely. Some want to put the proceeds from their sale in the bank and wait for the right home to come along. Others are in a volatile career or financial situation and are reluctant to commit until they achieve more stability in their lives. Still others are renting because they have difficulty meeting the new down payment requirements that lenders require. The decision about whether to rent or buy your next home can be a complicated one – particularly when you throw in unpredictable careers, personal relationships, and market forces beyond our control.

If your decision to rent or to buy is primarily a financial one, then you might want to check out a tool from The New York Times. They have simplified the financial aspects of the decision with their online calculator. You simply enter the variables (rent costs, mortgage rates, property taxes, etc.) and you’re shown a real-time graph of when it’s best to rent and when it’s best to buy.

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Living in Chicago means witnessing the constant renewal and development of the city. Downtown this often takes the form of grand-scale high-rises like the Trump Tower or the more ambitious Chicago Spire. From my office in the John Hancock Center (a site developed by my grandfather in the ‘60s), I can see the tower cranes looming over The Elysian, a new 60-story hotel/condominium high-rise going up to the west of us.

Icons like these may grab the big headlines, but there are smaller developments underway that are just as exciting for the neighborhoods they affect.

For the residents of Old Town and Lincoln Park, these kinds of projects are on the horizon. Each of them is significant and has the potential to enhance home values in the surrounding area.

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Chicago winter

This last week, we’ve had the A/C off and the windows open. Just last night, I needed to pull an extra comforter out of the closet as the outside temperature had dipped into the 50s. I’m not sure how Mother Nature knows, but there is no question that now that Labor Day is behind us, summer is winding down, and before long we’ll be hanging holiday decorations.

Everyone loves to complain about winter in Chicago. Maybe I’m biased as I’ve lived here most of my life, but the season has never bothered me. In fact, there is nothing like a clear winter day in the city with mist coming off Lake Michigan, a layer of pure white snow on the trees, and a crisp blue sky. It can be exhilarating!

But the coldest of Chicago’s winter days can wreak havoc on more than just under-bundled Michigan Avenue shoppers. One of my residential real estate clients was on vacation last year when a pipe froze, burst, and flooded their entire three-level home. Murphy’s Law… it was Christmas Eve and virtually impossible to get help as the water poured down their hardwood floors, drywall, cabinetry, etc. It took eight months and countless hours of aggravation to restore their home. 

Thankfully, this kind of home disaster is rare, and if steps are taken to winterize your home, they can be even rarer.  The tips on this home winterization list are a good place to start for doing just that. Not every suggestion will apply to your situation, but a little preventative maintenance now will help protect your investment in your home and give you peace of mind as you crawl under your comforter on Chicago’s coldest winter nights.

It’s that time of year again. Soon, Chicago’s most important civic and cultural organizations will roll out the red carpet and we’ll open up our wallets – all for a night of entertainment and a good cause. The lineup of events this fall is pretty spectacular, and there is something for everyone. I encourage you to learn more about some of my favorite charities highlighted below. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I welcome you to comment with information about others.

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Fire safety

Not long ago, on my way to show a Lincoln Park home, all traffic came to a halt. Fire trucks with lights flashing had blocked the intersection of Fremont and Webster in Lincoln Park, and I could not get by. Eventually, I turned around and pulled down an alley so I could continue on to my appointment. As I passed the scene of the fire, I saw lots of trucks, equipment, and activity, and I overheard one of the men saying that the fire was now out. I drove on.

I thought nothing more of this until I listened to my voicemail the next morning. A friend had called to say that it had been his home that had caught fire, and he and his family were now scrambling to find temporary housing. They were hoping I could help them.

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