5 Things to Know Before Buying Luxury in Chicago

If you're part of this niche of buyers, have the cash in hand and are looking for both the sweet spot in price and pampering, take note of this Chicago agent's tips to crack the luxury code.

Photo by: Zillow / Coldwell Banker 109 E. Bellevue. This 4-bedroom, 4-bath, 1990s Gold Coast renovation listed shy of $3 million dollars of luxury. Built in 1881, the gorgeous oak floors, requisite granite counter tops and maple cabinetry are on every "must-have" list. But it's the two-story family room that tips this into the "yes" column. Repped by Meladee Hughes for Coldwell Banker. See the Zillow listing.

The Chicago luxury scene has a bad rap. Unlike our jealous Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York coastal sisters, when people say "luxury city" they don't dream of the Windy One. They think of food and the Ferris wheel and the sad, sad Cubs. And it's a strange phenomenon, one that has Chicago realtors scratching their heads. Why the dilemma?

"Luxury means something different to everyone," says  Erin Ward, a broker specializing in the luxury market for Related Realty. And for buyers in this town sorting through what has real value and not just potential flipper glory, luxury doesn't simply boil down to price or that million-dollar psychological threshold. (Anything above a million equals luxury, right? Even here, that's never true.)

Ward knows her stuff. We asked the veteran agent to share with luxury house hunters a speed-dating-style coaching session for the buyer ready to tour.

Tip #1  -  Make sure you’re working with a broker who specializes in the luxury market.
According to Ward, the top luxury agents in Chicago are a very well-connected network, with only a few degrees of separation. "We’re extremely knowledgeable about each other’s listings – often even before a property hits the market," she told FrontDoor. That kind of inside baseball is highly valued in the current competitive real estate landscape. Introduce yourself.

Tip #2 -  You can get in around a million (but a million-plus will net you more).
Take for instance Related's The Grant condo offerings. The developer and design team of the South Loop tower tapped into the urban dweller's yearning. We want high-end splash, amenities that aren't just tacked on or superfluous extras. We covet add-ins and add-ons which  enhance a downtown lifestyle. (Read: en suite laundry, a real screening room or community theater, gyms made for gym-rats and mind-reading concierges.) For the single family house-hunter with more cash to burn, two and three million bucks will open an entirely new vista. And whether it's a buyer's market or not, you'll need solid negotiating chops. You've heard the complaint: more money, more prone to errors and deal fatigue.

Tip #3 -  Prepare for the underwriting process. It's just different.
Think being pre-qualified will give you the edge? Not a chance, says Ward. Luxury buyers, get ready for a long, arduous and challenging underwriting slog, no matter how good you look on paper. Which seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? "Most luxury buyers are financially sound and feel comfortable about their buying power," says Ward. "But today, all buyers securing financing are subject to close scrutiny and required to provide extensive documentation no matter what their income level." Check that confidence. This is a microscopic dance.

Tip #4 -  Downsizers and empty nesters, take heed and be ready! 
This demographic is akin to a luxury market's secret weapon. It's not just thirty-somethings skipping the suburbs for downtown; empty nesters are ditching 4-bedroom multifamily spreads for super-sized, 2-bedroom apartment and condo living. (Ironically, the younger, thirty-something set is settling down to build families in the center of he city.) "Empty nesters are a driving factor in downtown Chicago’s luxury market," and these buyers, while  downsizing and trimming, are still in the market for condos that are 3,000 square feet and up," Ward points out. Once more with feeling: the problem here is one of supply and demand. "There aren’t going to be 30 options to choose from," cautions Ward. "When you do find something you like, be ready to move quickly."
Tip #5 - Find a broker who listens and understands what’s most important to you.
What exactly is "luxury"? Is it 24-hour room service? Maid service? A ginormous floor plan? Indoor swimming pool and saunas and a deck the size of an airplane hangar? "In a high-rise condo building, the friendliness of the staff, available amenities and the aesthetic of the common areas are all what make a building stand out from other more cookie-cutter properties," says Ward. That makes sense and it's probably on someone's list as a value point. The takeaway? Discuss your life style

See More on Selling and Buying in Chicago:

>> 5 Things to Know Before Selling Your House in Chicago

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