5 Things to Know Before Selling Your House in Chicago

Finally. A seller's market. But be warned: Even as prices hike and interest rates stay sweet and lowish, it's not a replay of the go-go boom days. Here's a quick seller's checklist from Chicago's top agents.

Photo by: Zillow / KoenigRubloff Living Room of $2.695 million 5-bed, 5-bath Courtland Street home in Bucktown. Although priced significantly higher than median listings, the luxury market is pretty robust, with a steady flow of buyers. Check out the Zillow listing

Take the temperature of the Chicago market and watch the numbers line up. Low inventory has created a scramble and a clear reversal of fortune compared to the last pop. This isn't a market for speculators; it's homeowners tiptoeing to the table. And not willing to risk a third-degree market burn, these sellers keep a level head and play it very safe. Many of the agents we spoke with said sellers want to lock down their new home before they plant the "for sale" sign. 

They don't want to get stuck.

"This is a very rational market," says real estate rock star Thaddeus Wong of @properties, the biggest, baddest house in town with the highest score card and an enviable tech edge. (Twenty-five to 35 percent of its sales volume is generated in-house.) "They're taking time to find what they want," and qualified buyers aren't icing on the cake; they're baked in.    

According to Zillow’s Home Value Index, the median price is up 14 percent from last year, sitting at $187,000, and the research firm forecasts another single digit gain, around 4.5 percent, by 2015.  "This is the time for the next level of agents to take over," says Wong. But these super agents-in-training will have to work harder, he says.  

The game is with sellers. Still, you need to stay sharp. Listen to a few Chicago insiders' tips on selling in the Windy City. 

1. Hit opening season with a winning listing

This is a Chicago issue and you should plan when to drop your listing well in advance of the thaw. We're in spring now. And it's peak season, so you should be up and running, says Patrick Ryan of Related Realty who owned the loop between 2009 and 2012 as the number one ranked broker, according to Chicago Realtors. "Compared to the rest of the country, Chicago’s real estate market is particularly seasonal. Between 60 and 70 percent of real estate in Chicago goes under contract and closes April through July."  The reasoning has to do with enjoying our limited sunny, summery days. "Many buyers in this market want to buy and close in time to enjoy the summer in their new home, and not deal with moving during the cold winter months." 

2. Stay away from newbie agents

We heard some variation of this from every quarter...and the attendant horror stories. Janet Owen at KoeningRubloff said to try something obvious: "become educated in the comparable sales in your building or neighborhood and the competition." Get references. (You'd be surprised how often people just don't ask. Don't be one of them.) And get specific. How many properties have they sold in your neighborhood? What's the price range? Can they handle luxury or truly high-end clients? Do they have the time to take your listing? Ryan of Related Realty is even more concrete, and says your agent should come with at least five years of experience and 50 deals.


3. "Please, please, price it right"

Nancy Tassone, Senior Vice President at Jameson Sotheby's International Realty, has a career high of over $350 million in sales and makes the annual list of top producers compiled by the Chicago Association of Realtors. "Listen to my advice: Don't overprice it," she cautions. 

Sellers sometimes inhabit a dream world and tend to have an over-inflated view of what's actually happening with price trends, she told FrontDoor. "If you don't price it right and you price it too high, it is going to sit." If there was any residual pedal-to-metal push plays from sellers, reminiscent of the glory bubble days ("list it and list high!"), that trend is decidedly over. "For example, I just saw a townhome that should have been priced at $700,000 come on the market for $849,000. It's never gonna sell." Even with this low inventory and the increasing tension of demand, you can't get any price you want, no matter how many times you hear the magic buzz words "prices are rising." They are. The price adjustment has, predictably, occurred. But this is a sober market, not one for price-gunslingers (or gougers). 

Photo: KoenigRubloff Agent Janet Owen of Chicago's KoenigRubloff has this to offer to Chicago sellers: "Don't treat the buyer who makes an offer like the enemy. Be prepared to counter the offer, even if it is a bit low. The majority of the time the buyer will increase their offer dramatically if they get a fair response from the seller." This is win/win. 

4. Hey, forget about 'pocket' listings

"Don't keep the availability of your home a 'secret,'" warns Janet Owen of KoeingRubloff. "Don't be tempted to do a 'pocket' listing with several agents." Once the darling of real estate inside baseball, the pocket listing are listings kept under wraps and unavailable through the MLS. Why skip this step? No one will give it the full service and attention it deserves and it "cheapens" the property, says Owen. "If you are a real seller, then have your home entered into the local Multiple Listing Service through your listing broker and filter to several real estate home finders websites." You want to blast that listing.

5. You need to look good, baby. How? Professional photos

We hardly ever see this advice. Probably because it's so unavoidably obvious we have it on our subconscious ignore list. Looks matter. Not the curbside appeal hawked everywhere. We're talking your house should look, in photos, like a supermodel. 

"Most home searches begin online, which means a listing’s first showing is always on the internet," says Ryan of Related Realty. In the age of Pinterest and Home and listing galleries "it pays to have good quality, professional photography of the home, because if it looks dark or cluttered in an online listing, prospective buyers might not even come to see it. Typically a good photographer costs a few hundred dollars, but most reputable brokers have negotiated pricing with their preferred photographer and many include the cost in their fees."

Zillow Real Estate Search


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