The story of a handsome brick bungalow with a touch of green trim in Elmwood Park may not be the norm. But neither is it the exception in a local housing market that is putting up some strong numbers in some surprising corners.
The updated two-bedroom home was listed a little on the high side, for $199,000, but Terrance Matthews, an agent with Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell, hoped it nonetheless would attract some interest. He and the seller were not disappointed, despite the fact that Elmwood Park was among the many communities hit by foreclosures.
"We had 31 showings in four days," Matthews said. "Two (offers) were $20,000 over asking price, two were $15,000 over, one was at asking price and one was about $8,000 below."
The home went under contract in less than a week, and the sale closed in early March, for $220,000.
When Chicago-area home sales are reported Wednesday, they are expected to show that the supply of homes available isn't always meeting demand for them. As a result, median sales prices are recording double-digit gains from their year-earlier comparisons and the time to a contract in some communities is shrinking appreciably.
The hot areas are scattered throughout the Chicago area, according to data from the Chicago Association of Realtors. Within Chicago, they include neighborhoods like Albany Park, the Near West Side, West Lawn, Ashburn and Dunning. In addition to Elmwood Park, suburban communities seeing new strength include Libertyville, Prospect Heights, Tinley Park and Lockport.
Even the Federal Reserve has noticed the trend. Its most recent summary of economic activity around the country, released Wednesday noted that in the Chicago area, "inventories were near historic lows, particularly for lower-priced homes" and "low- to mid-ranged homes were outpacing other categories in sales."
Local real estate agents, seeing much the same trend, are optimistic that the early activity — sales that closed in March would have gone under contract one to two months earlier — foreshadows a strong spring and summer. Their message to sellers: price it right and make sure it shows well.
"People are looking to move into a house that doesn't need work," said Harry Ventimiglia, an agent at Keller Williams Preferred Realty, who had a Tinley Park ranch-style home go under contract in January after 19 days. "I tell (sellers) they're going into a beauty contest. If yours is the nicest one out there, it's going to get sold."
In Libertyville, an end-unit townhouse with hardwood floors went under contract in 10 days and sold for $380,000, 96 percent of its listing price. "Anything under half a million is selling really fast, almost instantly," said Doug Anderson, an agent at Blue Fence Real Estate.
In Chicago, Pat Cardoni, an agent with Insider Show Homes, works with a rehabber that targets neighborhoods it sees as on the upswing, such as West Lawn and Dunning. After a complete renovation, a West Lawn bungalow went on the market in mid-December at $239,900. It sold in late February for $239,000.
"There's lots of buyers out there," Cardoni said. "I see a stabilizing force. It's hard-working families. There's certain areas where there's opportunity and a demographic of people coming around again, saying it's time to buy."
In March, the state kicked off @HomeIllinois, a program that offers affordable loans and $5,000 down payment assistance grants to qualifying families. On average, 40 homebuyers a day are applying for a mortgage through the program, and 95 percent of them are first-time homebuyers, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the agency administering the program.
Concerns about credit availability remain, and in fact the National Association of Home Builders on Thursday urged Congress and federal regulators to ease mortgage qualification requirements. Working in the consumer's favor are mortgage interest rates, which remain attractive.
Since late March, the average rate on a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage has hovered between 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago at this time, average fixed-rate mortgage rates topped 4.25 percent.
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