Your Chicago Real Estate Consultant:
Mike Frank
March 2023
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Today's Feature Stories

Which Home Projects Require a Permit?

If you’re going to do a home remodeling project, determining if you need a building permit can get tricky. Permitting departments are also notoriously frustrating, largely because of their many rules that are complex and difficult to figure out.

If you’re going to do the work on your own as a homeowner, it can be especially frustrating. Often, these departments prioritize contractors and builders at the commercial level since these make up the large majority of their applicants.

Building permits can be time-consuming and expensive, but they’re also something you have to have in a number of cases.

You may be wondering what the harm would be if you didn’t get a permit for your home renovation or remodel.

Along with the physical safety element, permits protect you financially and legally.

If you don’t get a permit, you may pay a fine that can be in the thousands of dollars.

There are cases where it can be within the rights of the inspection department of your city to demolish your entire project if you don’t get proper permits.

You might have a hard time selling your home if you don’t pull a permit. Sellers are legally required to let buyers know any renovations or remodeling projects they did. If you did major work without a permit, it could scare off buyers. You might also be legally required to get permits to move forward with a sale.

Finally, another consequence of skipping the permits is that it can void your homeowner’s insurance. If something were to happen, not having a permit could be a legitimate cause for an insurance company to deny your claim.

So, with those possible consequences in mind, the following are things to know about the projects likely to require a permit.

Renovations Where You Probably Need a Permit

Usually, building permits are broken up into several categories. These can be structural, mechanical, and electrical.

If you’re going to make a major change to the layout of your home or its footprint, chances are high you need a permit. For example, decks, garages, and room additions probably require you to get a permit.

If you’re doing work that requires changes to the current support system of your home, like changes to porches or load-bearing walls, again, plan on needing a permit.

If you’re going to build a fence, you may not need a permit, but there are often limits on how tall one can be.

If you have to cut a hole for a new window, door, or skylight, permits are probably required, as is true if you’re removing existing plumbing or electrical work and adding new.

In some municipalities, whether or not you need a permit is based on the project's cost. For example, if the project is expected to cost more than $5,000, you may need a permit.

Every municipality has its own set of rules, and the only way you can know for sure what’s required is to check with them directly.

How Do You Get a Permit?

You apply for permits through the local government office of your municipality. Some permits might be issued immediately, and others require a plan inspection.

Then, as the renovation process moves forward, inspections of the work will be needed in most cases.

If you’re adding onto your home, you may have to go through multiple inspections, and once the work is finished, there’s a final inspection at which point you may be issued a permit.

When Do You Not Need a Permit?

There are plenty of minor things you can do without a permit.

For example, anything cosmetic only generally doesn’t need a permit. This might include installing new hardwood floors, adding new countertops, or painting.

If you’re making any structural change, you should check to make sure you’re compliant with permit requirements.

It doesn’t matter who does the work. If you’re the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to ensure the project has the needed permits.

Even if you think you don’t need a permit, it’s better to check and stay on the safe side.


How to Take the Emotion Out of Buying a House

When you are trying to buy a house, your emotions can be all over the place. There are highs and lows, and you may feel like it’s a mentally draining experience. You could be feeling excited, stressed, anxious, disappointed or even sad.

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when buying a house.

It’s a huge decision, and there is a lot to consider. You may have underestimated just how much goes into buying a house. Plus, you’re making a potentially very long-term commitment, and it’s the biggest purchase most people make in their lives.

You have to think about not just the financial component and your readiness, but whether or not you’re prepared for a new lifestyle where you no longer depend on a landlord when something goes wrong if it’s your first house.

Right now, with the highly competitive housing market, many buyers are facing disappointment and bidding wars when they find something to make an offer on. The inventory is low and the demand is high, exacerbating an already emotional process.

While feeling emotions is normal, at the same time, you can’t let this overwhelm you to the point that you don’t make the best decision financially and for your family and life.

The following are things you can do to separate yourself from the emotions of the experience.

Work With a Great Real Estate Agent

While you might not be able to go into buying a home without emotions completely, that’s where a real estate agent can be helpful. A good real estate agent can help you navigate everything and be your voice of reason when you may feel emotionally charged or pulled in one direction or another.

Be Strategic

Before you start the process of searching for a home, prepare yourself to be strategic. You need to map out all of your needs, plus your wants. You should have a list of non-negotiables, and then you can have those things you might compromise on.

Realize that you’re not going to get everything you want. By going into the situation knowing this and knowing what you won’t do without, you’re being more strategic in your overall approach.

You’ll be better able to walk away from homes that don’t meet your must-haves.

Set Boundaries

Along with being strategic about your must-haves, you need to set boundaries for yourself on your budget. These boundaries need to be very clearly conveyed to your real estate agent.

If your real estate agent continues to show you things outside of your budget, leading to heartbreak and disappointment, you need to figure out why and whether you need to make an adjustment or perhaps rethink the person you’re working with.

If you don’t want to be shown anything outside your budget, make that very clear. Some people don’t mind seeing things out of their budget if they’re searching for their dream home, but that might not be the right approach for you.

Approach It Like An Investor

Finally, you’re buying a home that is right for your family and where you can see yourselves living. At the same time, while that is different from being a real estate investor, try to take yourself out of that homebuyer mindset. Put yourself instead in a mindset of being a real estate investor.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t envision your family in the home or what your life might look like, but you can think more about numbers and facts versus the emotional aspects of the house.

If you don’t have to move, but you prefer to, and you can take a step back from the process when needed, that’s beneficial. For example, if you’re not finding a house you love in your budget or your offers aren’t getting accepted, take yourself out of the market for a while and wait to see if it cools down a bit.


Don’t Forget These

When getting your ducks in a row in order to buy a home in the near future, there’s quite a bit of information you’ll need to gather. First, and probably foremost, is what interest rate you choose for the mortgage program you selected. Most every single mortgage program offers an array of interest rate choices, many times there are five, six or even seven listed rate choices. Further, there are also even more rates available that aren’t even listed. 

Most ‘no closing cost’ loan programs can offer a higher rate with the tradeoff being the lender contributing some funds to help offset these costs. Many times these rates aren’t posted, you have to ask. You’ll also need to select a loan term ranging from 10 to 30 years, even some loan programs offer an extended loan term up to 40 years.

Closing costs are the next research project. There are two primary types of costs, recurring and non-recurring. Recurring closing costs include hazard insurance and property taxes. Non-recurring costs are those experienced one time, at the settlement table. An appraisal or a lender document fee comes to mind. When lenders quote estimated settlement costs, they’ve got a pretty good idea of potential third party charges but are also spot on as it relates to their own fees. 

Sometimes lenders can negotiate their fees but it’s the lender who can make that choice and rarely the individual loan officer. Loan officers who negotiate independently regarding their charges often times have to pay for it themselves, that is to the point lenders allow that practice.

But there are some expenses that will come up outside the realm of lender fees and borrowers need to take these into consideration when counting up how much money will be needed. Lenders will have zero control over these charges and are completely at the discretion of the borrowers. What are some of these expenses?

Furniture and home decorating fall into this new category. Do the buyers think the house needs a new coat of paint or two? Interior and/or exterior? That’s certainly an expense. What about a new sofa and loveseat? Bedroom furnishings? Kitchen appliances?

These are all expenses buyers might expect and lenders recognize this. Lenders want to see some money left over at the settlement table. Certainly buyers don’t want to be 100% tapped out after and lenders don’t want that either. Lenders can require a certain amount of leftover funds, commonly referred to as ‘cash reserves.’

If you’re going to buy soon, take into account these potential expenses. Most every transaction will have these expenses. Plan for them in advance.


How to Extend the Life of Your Outdoor Furniture

Outdoor furniture can be an investment. It’s often not inexpensive, and you want to get as much possible use out of everything you buy. Of course, the outdoors can wreak havoc on any furniture, but you can extend the life of the items on your deck or patio.

Choose the Right Materials

When you’re initially purchasing outdoor furniture and other  items, you want to ensure you’re selecting the best materials that are going to be able to withstand humidity and rain. For example, look for weatherproof concrete composite and galvanized steel.

Synthetic wicker and teak are also good options.

Acacia can be a good outdoor material, but it will require more maintenance than items made of metal.

Getting high-quality materials can be more money upfront, but the decision will pay for itself in longevity.

When you’re shopping for upholstered items like cushions and pillows, one of the best materials is Sunbrella, which is fade-resistant and designed for outdoor use. Make sure any cushion is intended for outdoor use specifically.

Even if you have outdoor cushions and pillows, you should move items inside or put them in a waterproof storage container if it's going to rain.

Get Covers

So often, people underestimate the importance of covering your outdoor furniture. The best rule of thumb is to keep it protected whenever you aren’t using it.

If you don’t necessarily want to ruin the look of your outdoor areas by having your furniture covered all the time, you might want to at least make sure you cover them before it’s supposed to rain or storm, and if you aren’t going to use them for an extended period of time.

Choose a water-resistant cover that has UV protection.

High-quality covers usually feature double-stitched construction. You want to make sure your cover will allow for enough airflow because otherwise, mildew and mold can become a problem.

When choosing covers, measure all of your items to ensure the fit is neither too loose nor too tight.

Use a Sun and Water Shield

For your pillows, cushions, and umbrellas, a sun and water spray-on shield can give them even more protection. The sprays will dry without odor and help upholstered items repel water. These sprays should also prevent fading and yellowing.

Seal Wood

For your outdoor furniture made of wood, seal it with polyurethane. Polyurethane helps protect the wood from the sun, making your wood look more naturally beautiful.

Choose a polyurethane with UV blockers.

For your aluminum and metal furniture, cover it with paste wax. It’s like sunscreen for your furniture.

A coat of outdoor furniture protectant can be good for plastic items.

Keep It Clean

Regularly cleaning your outdoor furniture is important for making it last longer. You should, at a minimum, wipe everything down with soapy water on a fairly regular basis.

If you have wood furniture, use an oil cleaner that penetrates.

If you have wicker, you should spray it down and then use a soft brush with soap to clean the nooks and crannies. Let it dry in the sun.

Your cushions need to be cleaned as well.

Finally, if you have an option to store your outdoor furniture out of the elements during the winter, do it. During winters, especially if they’re harsh where you are, it’s going to be tough to keep your outdoor furniture in good condition.


Hot Outdoor Living Products for This Spring

It’s never too early to start planning and shopping for products to create the outdoor living space of your dreams. Here are some anticipated hot trends for spring/summer 2021 shared by Lydia Thammavong, marketing specialist, styles and trends at Lowes Canada in Montreal.

You may want to consider incorporating these trends now before the products sell out as they did last year.

Fire pits: By the end of last summer, even before the cooler evenings of fall, backyard fire pits FULL STORY->

Should You Sell to an Investor?

There’s been a lot of news recently centering around investors buying homes. If you have the opportunity to sell to an investor, should you? There are pros and cons to both selling this way and selling on the open market.

The following are some things to know about what it might mean to sell to an investor and what you should consider before doing so.

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Buyer Intent

The difference between selling your home to let’s say a family and selling FULL STORY->

What Can You Do About a Non-Responsive Realtor?

When you hire a real estate agent, one of the top things you expect from them is excellent communication. That's a huge part of their job, so what if you're working with someone and finding that they aren't responsive?

It can create a sense of worry and anxiety if you're the client, for good reason.  

You can take some steps to handle the situation, but before you do anything, you also want to make sure you're being reasonable in your expectations.


The Ultimate Seniors’ Guide to Homesteading In Retirement

We tend to picture retirement one way: seniors leisurely relaxing on a beach or by a pool, sipping a cool beverage and letting go of all their cares. And though this image might be perfect for many — or great for a vacation — it’s not the only way to retire. In fact, many seniors think about that version of retirement, only to be filled with dread at the thought of an empty schedule with nothing to do. For these seniors, a homesteading retirement could be the perfect FULL STORY->

Should New Real Estate Agents Get a Mentor?

When you launch your real estate career, a mentor can be an invaluable resource. Working with an experienced mentor can mean avoiding many of the most common mistakes and learning from their experiences.

Reasons to Get a Mentor

Around 80% of new agents reportedly quit within the first year. That shows that it’s not just about knowing the industry—you must also understand what you can’t learn in a course.

You need to figure out how to be proactive, provide high levels of FULL STORY->

Mortgage Rates
Averages as of March 2023:

30 yr. fixed: 6.5%
15 yr. fixed: 5.76%
5/1 yr. adj: 5.53%

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