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from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Thursday, December 27, 2012

CHANGES COMING AT THE CITY OF CHICAGO WATER DEPARTMENT?

Changes afoot at the City of Chicago, Department of Water Management may be having (adverse) impacts on real estate closings.  Over the course of the last several weeks, I have seen an uptick in closings being delayed as some Sellers are finding it harder to some required paperwork from the City. One source described a six week backlog for some certification requests. At least two contracts have been outright cancelled because of the delays. Buyers simply could not, or would not wait any longer.

In order to close on home purchase or sale involving Chicago real estate, the Sellers must present a "Full Payment Certification" to show that the water bill is current. These certificates are typically obtained directly from the water department's basement lair at the DePaul Center, 333 South State Street. If you have never been there, the offices are uninviting, inhospitable, and doing business there has long been (for my, anyway) unpleasant. Slow and unfriendly to say the least. Things as 333 South State seem to be going even slower than usual. I think we finally know why.

Last month, the City sent pink slips to 34 workers in the water department billing center. They lay-offs all go into effect on January 4. At the same time, the City has out-sourced the billing center work to NTT Data, a Japanese corporation. The City expects to save $100,000 annually with this privatization move.

Ben Joravsky at the Chicago Reader has written about this story here and here. Otherwise, I have not seen any other media coverage of the move. Joravsky focuses his inquiry on the loss of full time jobs for City residents, being replaced by employees who will (apparently) receive lower part time wages, taking jobs with no benefits. You can & probably should read his stories to learn more.

What does this mean for buyers and sellers going forward? It will be hard to say until we see how NTT and the City handle the transition to privatized water department billing. Hopefully, things will go smoothly and NTT will hire enough workers to clear up the backlog of pending certification requests.


Certain select title companies and clerking services have direct on-line access to the water department and can generate the paperwork directly, without requiring a trip to DePaul Center. Smart sellers should insist that their attorneys work with such title companies & clerking services. Best that they also make application earlier, rather than later in the process. Buyers should be a bit more pro-active too, to try to encourage their sellers' attorneys to do so to, and to try to sport potential delays early in the closing process.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Re-Habber's REJOICE: FHA Extends "Anti-Flipping" Waiver

by: Michael Wasserman

Good news for anyone interested in buying & flipping single family homes. The FHA has extended it's "90 day anti-flipping" waiver for another two years. The extension leaves open some great money-making opportunities for individuals and enterprises interested in real estate transaction. It should also be a benefit to communities burdened by vacant/run down/abandoned housing stock. (Not bad for those of us who facilitate home purchases and sales either).  In this context, "flips"  are two-step real estate deals where a distressed home is purchased cheap, fixed-up quickly and then resold at a profit. The art of the deal involves finding the right homes at the right price, making the right repairs, and then reselling as quickly as possibly to minimize the "carrying costs" associated with owning the property. 

THE PROBLEM WITH FLIPS:


Historically, flipping can be a very profitable enterprise. Unfortunately, many such profiteers made their money by committing mortgage fraud. Unscrupulous sellers could (and did) inflate prices on homes by single or multiple sales & resales, typically having done little or no rehab work at all. Unsuspecting buyers paid higher prices and mortgage lenders made loans for amounts far in excess of actual (fair) property values. 

As Ken Harvey from Inman News summed up:
Those flips frequently involved collusion and fraud by teams of mortgage loan officers, realty agents and appraisers -- even straw buyers who defaulted and disappeared without making a single payment -- and racked up significant losses to FHA's insurance fund. Neighborhoods suffered because the properties remained empty and in bad physical condition, depressing values of houses in the immediate vicinity. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Closing Cost Increase Alert - Zoning Certifications

by: Michael Wasserman

The City of Chicago Department of Buildings has quietly announced a January 1st increase in the cost of a Zoning Certificate of Compliance. In the new year, the fee will rise from $90 to $120.

The certificate is required at the time of closing for all single family homes and multi-unit buildings with up to five residential dwellings. It does not apply to the transfer or sale of condominiums or cooperative buildings.

Chicago Zoning Certificate
A Seller applies for the certificate at the Building Department's City Hall offices (room 905), stating the number of residential units Seller believes exist at the property location. The Building Department either "agrees" with the Seller's representation and certifies, or denies certification as it believes another number may exist. The purpose here is to prevent buyers from acquiring property with illegal dwelling units. The process notifies both the seller and the buyer as to how many lawful units exist on site.

On the up side, the last time the City bumped the fee up, it went up 80% (from $50 to $90). This time it is a "mere" a 33% increase.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fannie & Freddie to Halt Foreclosures over the Holidays

by: Michael Wasserman

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation have both announced that they will halt mortgage proceedings during the holidays. 

While this will not suspend pre-foreclosure collection or loss mitigation activity, at least delinquent home owners can have some peace of mind knowing that they will not likely loose their homes altogether, or be evicted before years's end. 

JP Morgan Chase & Citibank are expected to also announce a Holiday moritorium. Bank of America recently also made a similar announcement. 

Fannie and Freddie halt foreclosures for the holidays

This is somewhat comforting news coming out, considering that the New York Times is reporting today that the fastest growing demographic for foreclosure/delinquency activity is widows 50 years old and older, who's late husbands held home mortgages in their names alone.  

UPDATE:

Following suit, US Bancorp, PNC Financial, SunTrust, Wells Fargo & Bank of America have all also announced their annual holiday suspensions foreclosure activity. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Beware Illinois Small Business Owners -

by: Michael Wasserman

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is warning businesses to beware of a scam targeting
Illinois corporations.

A firm called Corporate Records Service is contacting Illinois businesses in an attempt to
collect a $125 fee to fill out a corporation’s “Annual Minutes Records Form.”  The Illinois Business
Corporation Act does not require corporations to file a “Minutes Records Form” or pay such a fee
with the state or any private entity.

“The problem is that the form this bogus firm is sending out looks similar to our Secretary of
State’s annual report form,” White said.  “We are concerned that companies are filing the form and
paying the $125 because they believe they are filing their annual report with us, as required by law.”

Although the bogus notice states that the fee must be paid by September 21, 2012, there is no
fee due to the state for that purpose.  The only fee that corporations must pay is the fee that is paid
with their annual report.  Illinois corporations should be on the alert for this and other similar
attempts to defraud them.

The Secretary of State police and Illinois Attorney General’s Office are investigating this
deceptive business practice.

White is recommending that corporations do not reply to the solicitation.

If a business has questions or wants to report that they have been a victim of the scam, please
contact the Secretary of State’s Office at 312-814-2201.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

2011 COOK COUNTY PROPERTY TAX BILLS DUE AUGUST 1st, 2012

No snow in the forecast and the earth has not frozen over, but indeed, your Cook County 2011 2nd Installment Property Tax bill is on its way to your mail box and will be due August 1st. First time it is out this early in 40 years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

BUYING FLIPPED PROPERTIES

by: Michael Wasserman

Here is a really great article from a blog over at Zillow detailing some of the potential pitfalls of buying recently rehabbed / "flip" properties. Flipping is a "term of art" used to describe an investor's quick sale following the purchase of a home or condo, (hopefully with a tidy profit earned in the process).  There have been many reports in the media these days about  "flipping" properties, mostly touting them as investment opportunities, and the massive profit potential they offer.

Six years ago, those flips would have started with  pre-construction condo purchases, resold shortly after the properties were completed. These days, almost all the flips I see involve the "rehabilitation" of foreclosed or otherwise distressed real estate. (Including, ironically enough, flips of those new-construction condos from years gone by).

From a Sellers' point of view, there are great opportunities for profit here. I have several clients who are doing very nicely on these projects. A key is finding "the right" properties - ones that can be renovated quickly and economically. There is A LOT of competition out there looking for those opportunities, so anyone considering this sort of investment play really needs to assemble a quality team of Realtor, lawyer and contractor to make the deals

Buyers seem to LOVE these deals too. At first, anyway. They show nicely when compared to some of the really shabby "inventory" out there. Particularly when priced to this current market. I have been also representing many Buyers looking at these types of homes lately, particularly first time home Buyers, and Buyers on tight budgets.

As described in the linked article, a good many of the rehab/flippers are cutting corners - doing shoddy construction work. Some to code, some not. Some with building permits, some without. Buyers sometimes get blinded by shiny new appliances and fresh paint, and fail to see or appreciate the potential problems that lurk behind. Sadly, Buyers usually do not find out about problems in the construction until it is too late.

What to do? The best buyers can do is to find out as much as they can before making a deal to buy one of these flipped properties. A couple of  things come to mind -

First, a quick check with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds can help identify how long the Seller has actually owned a property (and who the Seller bought it from). Next, a City of Chicago Building Department web portal can help buyers determine whether or not there are open building code violations or permit applications for local properties.  I check both of these sites as a matter of routine now for every client buying a home or condo in the City.

Second, a really thorough home inspection is in order. You really want a bulldog here. The most miserable, thorough,  passionate inspector you can find, doing his or her best to rip the place apart. They may not discover every defect, but trained eyes help. A lot.

Finally, consider the warranty offer - if any. Many sellers are selling these properties "as is" leaving Buyers "stuck" with whatever unpleasantness is discovered after a closing. Others offer only  third party homeowners warranties that covers the appliances and systems (but not necessarily construction or improvements). Even if the seller is giving a direct warranty, Buyers must give thought to the likelihood that a Seller will be around to back a warranty up. Many Sellers use shell entities like LLCs to limit there exposures to risk. If something goes wrong, they may simply shut the LLC down and start again under a different name.

As always, competent legal counsel and a very conscientious realtor are recommended. As the Zillow blog points out, Buyers have too much at risk and deserve all the help they can get.

Friday, March 30, 2012

CURRENT MARKET CONDITIONS - GETTING YOUR NEXT MORTGAGE LOAN

Mark Greene at Forbes Magazine nailed it earlier this month in his article the perfect loan file, which really does capture the rigor with which lenders are scrutinizing every mortgage loan application these days. In my opinion, this should be mandatory reading for every buyer in the marketplace now.

Lenders demands for proper / acceptable supporting documentation can be pretty daunting.  I see many clients with qualifying income and credit scores being driven to tears by the excruciating process. In recent weeks more than a couple have simply quit. Some are using all cash to make their deals, avoiding the hassle altogether. Others are giving up their dreams of home ownership. If I never hear a loan originator ask for (or a client complain about) "just one more thing,"  I will be a happy man.

Certainly understandable that lenders are being very cautious while processing their loans applications. No one wants to see loan failures given the still-too-recent market collapse - particularly where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are making the originators buy back problem loans. But, just the same, ill prepared consumers are at their breaking points. Inadequate loan documentation leads to delays, multiple requests for "proofs," and general levels of frustration are pretty high. Trying to keep up with the underwriters demands can be pretty severe.  Many clients react poorly when told that the documentation they offered are rejected as "not good enough." Doubly so, when the loan officer "guesses" (hopefully suggests?) that they "might" be.  

Smart real estate professionals, loan officers, processors, realtors, and attorneys must take extra care and effort, preparing their clients before the wage battle with the loan underwriter. Letting prospective buyers know what they are in for - early on - helps sets expectations properly, and will surely make the process a bit easier, at least less unpleasant that it currently is.  Smart professionals should probably refer their clients to this article, to help their clients understand why.

Monday, March 26, 2012

SHARING OUR SUCCESS - THANKS TO YOU

For a second consecutive year, I pledge to donate a portion of my fee from each successful Chicago area real estate closing that I work on to a worthy charitable organization.  Clients designate the specific recipient from a list of ten pre-approved organizations and all donations are made in their honor.

The Thanks to You program is intended to both express gratitude to the clients that hire me, and to help build a stronger community for us all. Together last year, we pledged more than $4,000 to organizations supporting better education, better health, and the fine arts.

This year should be even better.
 
I am pleased to announce the finalized list 2012 grant recipients:


  • WORKING IN THE SCHOOLS - Promotes literacy and the love of reading among low-income and minority students in Chicago Public Schools by providing one-on-one tutoring and mentoring.
  • READING IN MOTION - Provides at-risk children from Kindergarten through 3rd grade with the key tools required to achieve grade-level reading, through the power and discipline of the arts.
  • ALZHEIMER'S ASSOCIATION - The leading, global voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care and support, and the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer research.
  • RESPIRATORY HEALTH ASSOCIATION - A Chicago agency that promotes healthy lungs and fights lung disease through research, advocacy and education through community-based interventions.
  • WEST TOWN BIKES - Promotes bicycling among Chicago’s youth with a focus on under-served populations. WTB teaches independence, professional skills, environmental stewardship, & the importance of exercise & good nutrition. Earn-a-bike youth programs offer instruction in bike building, mechanics, & bike safety. (Even a little science too!)
  • GIRLS IN THE GAME - Girls who grow up playing sports develop into healthier, happier and more successful women. Chicago’s leading girls' health and fitness organization empowers making healthier choices and develops confidence and leadership skills needed to succeed on and off the field. 
  • EMERGENCY FUND - Provides immediate no red tape, short term financial aid to low income individuals and families on the brink of crisis. Crisis Solution Grants may cover transportation passes, food vouchers, eye glasses, prescription medicine, and clothing, rent, and/or utilities of clients in need.
  • GREATER CHICAGO FOOD DEPOSITORY - Chicago’s food bank, distributes donated and purchased food in Cook County, equivalent to  135,000 meals every day.
  • TREE HOUSE HUMANE SOCIETY - A cage-less, no kill cat shelter dedicated to the rescue & rehabilitation of sick, injured & abused stray cats, with a particular .focus on the care and placement of stray cats with special physical & emotional needs.
  • TIPITINA’s FOUNDATION - Supports New Orleans’ & Louisiana unique musical culture by providing youth band instruments, workshops, internships and coop work spaces to local artists


Do let me know if you want to know more about this project, these organizations, or of course, if you are interested in working together on your next home purchase or sale.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Must a Seller Disclose a Home's Macabre History?

A home being offered for sale was the site of a grizzly murder-suicide. Is the Seller obligated to warn prospective Buyers? A recent decision from Pennsylvania held that (at least in that Commonwealth) the answer is yes.

Back in 2008, we reviewed an Alaska court opinion in which a Buyer's lawsuit against a Seller was dismissed. In that case, the home's former occupant's badly decomposed body was discovered   long after her death. The Sellers said nothing to the Buyer. The Buyer sued the Seller, but the Court turned that claim down.

Working with an equally gruesome set of facts, a Pennsylvania Superior Court has held otherwise, upholding a Buyer's right to sue her Sellers and the real estate agents on both sides of the transaction  for failing to disclose a murder/suicide that took place in the house for sale.  Milliken v. Jacono, 2011 PA Super. 254

The crime in question took place in 2006. Konstantinos Doumboulis, allegedly shot his wife and then himself, leaving (apparently) their three young children with the horrific task of calling the crime in to 911). The Buyer did not learn about the deaths until weeks after she moved in (no doubt from the neighbors who welcomed her into the neighborhood).

Most everyone intending to sell a home in Illinois must make certain disclosures about the condition of the property. There are mandatory disclosure forms for known radon and lead based paint hazards and a separate 23 point Residential Real Property Disclosure Report, by which Sellers must disclose known material defects, covering the physical elements from the roof down to the foundation, histories of flooding or usage of  the property in the production of methamphetamine. None of the mandatory Illinois disclosure forms require any statements regarding occult or macabre events taking place on the premises.

Pennsylvania (like most other states) has a similar "Seller's Disclosure Statement." Significantly however,  Pennsylvania law "allows" Sellers  to make additional disclosures to provide greater specificity or additional disclosures beyond sixteen specifically identified disclosure matters. In other words, Sellers are invited to disclose other or additional any material defects. In fact, the specific form that the Sellers used asked "Are you aware of any material defects to the property, dwelling or fixtures which are not disclosed elsewhere on this form?"

The Court ruled that the 16 mandatory points were not exclusive. That the murder-suicide was a material defect, and should have been disclosed.

Important side-note to real estate agents reading this post - The Sellers apparently asked their agent whether or not they needed to disclose - something along the lines of, “Should we tell the buyers that they’ll be living on the site of a recent murder/suicide?” The agents made inquiry with their Real Estate Commission before telling the Sellers they did not. Asking the board did not let them off the hook for giving the Sellers bad advice.

The take away for Realtors & Sellers? let lawyers make legal determinations  - or risk suffering the consequences.

For Buyers, as I tell my kids every morning before school, you gotta, always, ASK GOOD QUESTIONS. If you want to know about circumstances relating to a home that are not specifically listed in the Illinois Disclosure Forms, the only way a Seller is going to be obligated to tell you is if you ask.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coming Soon: Cook County Property Tax Bills

The tax man cometh. Cook County first installment property tax bills should be hitting mail boxes everywhere this week. The bills will be due and payable by March 1st.

Taxpayers are reminded that the first installment bills are being sent out now, even though the County does not know how much is actually owed. These are "estimated" bills. For now, bills are simply computed based on a percentage of last year's tariff. A law change enacted in 2009 raised the estimated amount due from 50% to 55%.  The final reckoning will not be announced until later this fall.


In theory, those final bills will be mailed out at the beginning of August and will be due September 3rd. The actual due dates may be (and typically are) much later. Our County is notorious for tardy tax bills. Last year's final installments were due in November. Bills paid in 2010 were so late that they were not due until December!  The Second Installment due dates vary because they are computed based on the delivery of various sets of data by several state and county agencies, and a delay anywhere along the line impacts the County’s ability to tally up our bills. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle vows that  she is working hard to ensure that they will be mailed out on time this year.

Property taxes in Illinois are paid one year in arrears. That is to say, the bills we will pay in 2012 are actually 2011 taxes.

Oh, and just in case you are ready to wag a finger at politicians because your bill is too high, keep this in mind - Property taxes are imposed by local government taxing districts only, The state has not assessed a real estate tax of its own since 1932. 


Thursday, January 26, 2012

MORTGAGE LOAN DEFICIENCIES



Homeowners are not always "out of the woods" once their home is lost to foreclosure or sold by "short sale."  Foreclosures and short sales remove  the mortgage lien from a property, but do not eliminate the debt described in the note or loan agreement, or it's promise to repay the debt in full. That remaining balance due is the "deficiency." Contrary to public perception, banks are not only allowing short sales and completing foreclosures,  but they are still looking to borrowers to satisfy deficiencies well after closing.


The Illinois Appellate Court has started the new year with a "win" for mortgage lenders. The Court confirmed  a bank's right to pursue it's borrower for everything that was due and owing, over and above the recovery from a foreclosure sale. Banks can be awarded deficiency judgments as long as borrowers are given proper notice of the fact that they were being sued.   This case held specifically that even a notice (summons) handed to another member of the household - also mailed to too - was a proper notice of the foreclosure lawsuit.


Deficiency judgments go on your permanent record. Unpaid judgments stay there forever. In the short term, they can influence credit scores and employment applications or prospects. More importantly, and over the long term, they can be enforced by wage deductions or asset forfeitures (garnishments). Following proper procedures, a bank can enforce for up to 27 years

Home owners using short sales to escape their mortgages may also see long term after-effects of their efforts. Many short sale lenders are asking their sellers to either pay additional money out of pocket at closings, to sign new promissory notes agreeing to make further repayments over time, or are simply refusing to waive the right to pursue deficiencies in the future.  Second lien holders in particular are very insistent on retaining the right to repayment.

The best way to avoid deficiency complications is to try to get the lenders to waive them, Many will. Often times however, home owners have little choice but to sign loan re-affirmations or modifications. Doing so may be necessary to accomplish the much more important goal of ending the mortgage loan and cutting off liability.   Even still, there are several known and effective strategies that people facing deficiencies can employ to mitigate their losses. Legal counsel can and should be able to explore these with debtors and help craft courses of action best suited to the circumstances.

A final problem - there may also be income tax consequences to borrowers where lenders waive a debt/deficiency. Debt that is forgiven or cancelled by a lender must be included as income on your tax return and is taxable. The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 gives some protection to people who have lost their homes to foreclosure, but this relief is schedule to expire this year. Always best to consult your own tax consultant to evaluate these consequences.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Home Buyers Assistance for Iraq/Afghanistan War Vets

There are a lot of great ways for real estate agents and mortgage lenders to add value to the service they give their clients. Certainly knowing ways to save clients money are always helpful.  Knowing the lenders and loan programs that do so help too.  These are, of course, the same reasons it makes sense for Buyers & Sellers to work with the best professionals they can find for their real estate deals too..

Here is a good one: First Advantage Mortgage has a new program benefiting members of the armed forces who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Qualifying borrowers are eligible to receive $10,000 in assistance towards the purchase price and/or closing costs on their next home. (Hat tip Bob Brandle)

These funds are available to all veterans using conventional, FHA and VA financing. Buyers on active duty or in the reserves are only eligible for first time home purchases.

The $10,000 grants are actually second mortgages (so do understand that there may be some additional closing costs too), but - as is typical of targeted programs of this sort - the loan is forgivable over a period of time. In this case, the loan need not be repaid if the borrower owns the home for more than two years and who are not otherwise in default on their mortgages.

Don't forget that Vets are also eligible for a Returning Veterans' Homestead Exemption - providing qualifying Veterans a one-time $5,000 reduction to their home's equalized assessed value (EAV)  upon their return home, and a Disabled Veterans' Standard Homestead Exemption that provides a reduction in a property's EAV to qualifying property owned by Veterans with service-connected disabilities as certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs.  

Do YOU know of any other home buyer assistance for military personnel?  (other targeted loan assistance programs?) If you do, please let me know.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FEES INCREASE at COOK COUNTY RECORDER

The Cook County Recorder of Deeds has announced a $2.25 fee increase for all document recording effective January 15th, 2012. Recording a standard two page deed will now cost $52.50, up from $50.00. The fees for longer documents increase based on the number of pages the document contains.

The Recorder's office maintains the County's official public registry of  real estate ownership, and record of persons (other than the owner) that may have rights over that property. The record helps owners prove their ownership rights. It helps mortgage lenders, judgment creditors, contractors and others assert their lien interests against those properties, and helps the rest of us research and investigate land transfers and sale histories.

Buyers who use mortgages to purchase Chicago area property typically pay for the recording of  two documents with each closing - the Deed and the Mortgage. Sellers pay to record a Release of each existing Mortgage that is being paid-off as a part of the transaction.

Readers are reminded that Fidelity family of title companies recently announced that it was abandoning the practice of collecting the precise recording fees from Buyers and Sellers in favor of a flat fee based on the average of all recording fees without regard for the number of pages in a document. As a result (at least for the time being), Buyers and Sellers will not see any change in their closing costs.        

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicago Abandoned & Vacant Buildings

We all know that the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property are location, location, and location. As such, sharp Chicago area home buyers and the real estate professionals who advise them, are discovering - and embracing - Derek Eder's Vacant and Abandoned building finder tool.

Built on data from Chicago's 311 reporting service, this site shows detailed information about known "problem" properties on an easily navigated google map overlay. Mr. Eder built this as part of the Apps for Metro Chicago contest. This app was an AM4C community winner.

At best, abandoned buildings pose a visual blight on their neighborhoods. Unoccupied, they detract from the economic and social vitality to their surrounds.  At worst, they abandoned buildings can pose severe safety hazards, criminal and structural. Woodstock Institute research shows that vacate and foreclosed homes contribute to declines in neighboring property values and increases in violent crime.


Savvy owners of  such properties can  exacerbate the toll unoccupied properties exact on the community by asking the County Assessor to lower  property valuations so as to reduce that owners taxes (forcing the rest of us to to  pay more).   The Chicago of Chicago says it spent $15 million last year alone dealing with more than 2300 vacant buildings – most of that to demolish or board them up. Woodstock Institute places that figure at $36 million.

There are however some limitations to the data set used, as the City has only compiled data from January, 2010. The limited pool of information makes it a bit hard to place the data into any sort of historical context. (Is  neighborhood property abandonment  "getting better" or "getting worse." One this is certain - the devastation wreaked by the housing market crash is pretty shocking.  (The site designer's conclusion that there are more such buildings in poorer neighborhoods than in more affluent areas, may not quite as revealing.

It will be interesting to see how recent changes to the City's vacant building registration law effects the data this web site generates. Last July, the  City Council extended  registration and maintenance obligation imposed on property owners to the mortgage lenders that also have interest in empty / unused properties.  (Owners  have been obligated to register and maintain properties that are vacant for more than 30 days since 2008),  The hope is that lenders will take over routine maintenance  when the owner borrowers give up.

Now, owners of six or more properties, including lenders,  must cut grass; shovel snow, board-up entrances, post their contact information on signs in front of these lots, and post security guards at night,  and respond to complaints relating to the building;

Vacant and abandoned buildings can and should be reported to the City by calling 311 or by reporting online.  When the City receives a report an inspector will investigate to determine whether or not the building is secured (or, as necessary, registered) and will issue violation notices to the owner.

More information is also available at the City of Chicago's vacant and abandoned buildings web page

Thursday, January 12, 2012

ATTENTION CHICAGO CONDO OWNERS - TIME SENSITIVE CHANGES TO THE CITY's TRASH REBATE PROGRAM


Our great City of Chicago offers many many benefits to citizens. One of the less glamorous, albeit greatly appreciated services is garbage pick-up - at least for single family homes and small multi-unit buildings.

The recognized that condominium owners were paying for this service through their taxes, without realizing any benefit. The result, a rebate program to qualifying Condominium Associations to offset some of the costs of waste disposal. 
  
The most recent City budget and recent changes to the municipal ordinance make some very important, and time sensitive changes:

  • An association can only file for the rebate for the 2011 operating year. Applications for prior years are not being accepted.   If your association did not apply for rebates for prior years, you will not be able to do so for 2011 or future years (lets call this one the "you snooze, you lose" provision). 
  • The rebate for 2011 will be limited to a total of $75 per owner-occupied residential unit. (the operative words here being owner-occupied - no rebates for rental units!)
  • Applications for the 2011 refuse rebate MUST be in our office by January 31, 2012 to be considered, no exceptions. (a new, strict, filing deadline).
  • The 2012 rebates will drop to $50 per qualifying unit., then down to $25 for 2013, 2014 and 2015. 
  • Applications for future years will need to be on file before the January City Council meetings (whenever they are scheduled). The City is urging that application need to be filed at least two weeks prior to that meeting date.
The Finance Committee is still processing 2008 and 2009 remittances, and will then move on to process 2010 and 2011 applications.
Applications need to include the following:
  • Claim form (download here
  • Association board form of resolution authorizing someone to submit the application for the rebate. The resolution should be signed by the Board President and one other person.
  • A copy of the arrangement/contract for 2011 salvage collection services
  • Supporting documentation of the total refuse collection expenses for 2011 - copies of invoices or a statement from the contractor will be sufficient
  • If not on file with former year applications, the recycling certification form (download here)
  • Both the Claim form and the Recycling form must be notarized and delivered to your local alderman. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

JANUARY is RADON AWARENESS MONTH

Show of hands, how many of you can name  the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States?

OK, the headline was the give-away, but that would be Radon Gas.

Radon is released by the decay of uranium, a naturally-occurring ore found in our soil. When released, Radon can seep through cracks in basements and foundations into our homes.

According to the U.S. EPA, one in every 15 homes in the United States have radon levels that exceed the recommended radon action level. In Illinois between 2003 and 2007, 42% of homes tested for radon gas had levels above the EPA radon action level. It is believed that Radon is responsible for an estimated 20,000 deaths per year in America.

Unlike tobacco usage where you pretty much know how carcinogens are introduced into the body, Radon is a much more insidious health problem - it is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon. You will never know you are being exposed to it, unless you specifically test the home you live in.

Illinois home sellers have been obligated to disclose test results and known radon hazards to prospective buyers for more than three years now.

Illinois Schools and Day Care Centers have been supposed to test for radon hazards too, based on recommendations in an amendment to the Illinois School Code that became effective in 2010.

Now, effective January 1, 2012, Illinois residential landlords are also going to be required to disclose test results and known hazards to tenants renting dwelling units below the third story above ground level.

A STRONG CAUTION FOR BUYERS & RENTERS - You must understand that the Radon Awareness law ONLY requires a disclosure of unsafe test results and known radon issues. The law DOES NOT mandate testing OR remediation.  

Fortunately, Home buyers can (and in my opinion) should give strong consideration to radon testing as a part of any professional home inspection. Tenants, particularly with young children, may wish to test before signing a lease. Test kits can be purchased at most hardware or home improvement stores. They are simple to use and relatively inexpensive.

If a  home or apartment has unsafe levels of radon, there are radon reduction systems that are effective and not too terribly costly. Quite often a seller can and will absorb the cost of remediation.

I am often asked whether or not Radon testing is worth while. It certainly adds to the cost of "due diligence" investigation for home buyers. Money is tight enough and closings are plenty expensive already, before adding in "optional" tests.

Well, certainly the health benefits cannot be over-stated. Of course you want to be healthy in the home you intend to live in. We all do. Check out these statistics from  the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Radon Program for homes tested for Radon between 2003 and 2007:

COUNTY Pct. Of Homes Tested Pct. Of Homes with High Radon Levels
Cook                   0.40 %                                 25.50 %
DuPage                   4.40 %                                 39.50 %
Kane                          5.20 %                                 43.60 %
Will                           4.10 %                                 41.10 %

More than one quarter of all homes tested in Cook County during this five year period had Radon problems. more than one third of all homes in the "collar" counties did too.


Is testing worth the cost?  Boy I sure think so.