Chicago Life and Style.

Your Home. Your Life. Your Style

Month: August, 2016

Can you raise a child in the city? Part deux.

I wrote my first post addressing this question almost 7 years ago. I can hardly believe the time has flown by so quickly!  My daughter is now almost 9 years old.  The last week of school she attended a program at Loyola University.  Her school counselor–at her CPS school–nominated her to participate in the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to STEM. I hear concerns over schools more often than any other concern when families are looking for a new home–whether they are relocating from outside the city or just considering a new neighborhood.  I could not be more pleased with the education that Sophia is getting at her CPS magnet school.  That is not to say that the process of getting her into a school was not painstaking and terrifying–because it was! But, having a few years under our belt and meeting lots of other parents both at our school and others, I’ve learned a few things.

  1. The way CPS is organized and the process for finding and enrolling in a school is NOT user friendly.
  2. By and large, your kids are going to get a perfectly good education and be safe and happy.
  3. Of course there are exceptions to #2!
  4. How stressful the process is in direct relation to how convinced you are there is only ONE good option.
  5. Sending your child to one of the “good” schools in the “good” neighborhoods does not necessarily mean that they will get a better education, have better friends, be safer, love all their teachers/staff or that they will not feel the sting of social exclusion at times.
  6. You MUST know yourself and the type of parent you want to be to your student–more on this below.

When Sophia was in pre-school she attended a parochial school because I needed full day coverage so that I could work. It was a lovely experience and I enjoyed the small classes and the openness that encouraged parents to come to the school and visit any time, volunteer in the classroom etc.  For kindergarten, she started at CPS at her current school, LaSalle II.  In pre-school I was used to walking Sophia into her class, saying hello to everyone, helping her take her coat off etc. Not at CPS, at CPS parents drop off their kiddos to a teacher outside and may not go into the building. I FREAKED OUT. And I continued to freak out all day, thinking–“she doesn’t know where her class is, she is going to get lost, she doesn’t know anyone”. You get the idea. Guess what–she was fine. Better than fine actually. Sophia’s birthday is in late July so she is always one of the youngest in her class but it turns out our kids are more capable than most of us give them credit for!

It did take me a while to adjust to the new process–no longer could you just drop by for a visit, you had to schedule with the teacher and school and make a plan. Again, it worked out great and I have continued to help out in the classroom and go on field trips ever since. Now that I am more relaxed about it, I really appreciate the formal organization of these things. I also really appreciate our school community–never have I met or heard of a more energetic, committed bunch of parents!  Until I talk to a parent at another school and realize that they have just as energetic and committed bunch of parents! It’s really impressive and inspiring and I stand in awe–and gratitude–to these amazing and friendly people that seem to be in such abundance that all the local schools I know of seem to have plenty of them to go around.IMG_1887

I have to say, my favorite part of living in the city, of living in my neighborhood, and of Sophia’s school, is the diversity all around us. LaSalle is a language academy and so focuses on other cultures as a critical part of the curriculum. Sophia is on her fourth year of taking Mandarin Chinese 4 days a week. In addition to the curriculum, the school community itself is diverse and honors diversity. I took this picture at a school dance a couple of years ago–have you ever seen such a beautiful rainbow of children? And they don’t just have different skin colors, they come from every kind of family you could imagine and they are friends and they love each other.

With the challenges our beloved city is facing including wide spread violence, I am also happy and grateful to report that we have been untouched by anything of concern. I continue to walk my dog late at night and have not had any issue, we also walk about a half mile back and forth to our friends house, oftentimes coming home after dark, and no problems.  I am not so naive that I don’t realize something COULD happen, but that is true anywhere. I maintain that I feel safer here in my Chicago than I ever did in my other resident cities of Cleveland, OH, Raleigh, NC, Dover DE, Wichita Falls & San Antonio, TX.

Bottom line is, I love living in the city, my daughter is thriving and I couldn’t imagine wanting anything different for my family! If you are considering a move and want to chat more about my experiences or I can help you with your transition, give me a call or drop me a line.

New construction-awesome! Or…meh.

There are a lot of people drawn to the idea of buying new construction and living in a home that has never belonged to anyone else. The general feel is that new construction is clean and fresh and since it’s new, it’s in great shape and there won’t be any problems. I like to make the analogy to a puppy. Sure, a puppy is new and cute and hasn’t picked up any bad habits and will love you and only you. The flip side is that you have no idea what it will look like when it’s fully grown and it has yet to develop it’s mature personality–which might not turn out to be what you were hoping for.

As great as it is that the real estate market is healthy and new homes are once again being delivered quickly and in good supply–think twice before jumping into that brand new sparkling home.  When you purchase new construction you are usually given a home warranty and you use the developer’s contract instead of the standard Association of Realtors contract. They home warranty makes you feel good, as it should. But, like those you can get from a seller on not new construction–they aren’t really as effective as we would like to think.  The reality is, unless there is a gross defect in a basic system, it won’t cover the problems you are likely to see.

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with new construction, it’s just really important to do your homework. There are plenty of things you and your broker can do to help mitigate some of the unknown risks in a brand new house.

  • Find out how long it took to build the house–quicker is NOT always better
  • Find out when the foundation was poured–by when I mean, what month. Check the weather and see if it had sufficient time to cure based on weather conditions.
  • INVEST IN A MOLD TEST – water intrusion is the #1 problem we see and even though it may take a while for actual mold to show up, it’s worth paying to do a test to look for moisture
  • Look at some of the developer’s other projects–then have your agent research their sales history–if you see that many people leave houses built by your developer after a year or two–RUN AWAY!

The other really important factor is getting a really, really good inspection. The kind of inspection that has 150 items listed and is super scary. Trust me, it’s worth being scared and then either deciding you can get over it, or walking away. Some of the things that a good inspection will catch but aren’t caught by everyone:

  • electrical outlets that are in the wall but aren’t working
  • make sure that your sump pump is working and on a battery back up
  • run all the appliances through a full cycle, including washer/dryer

I bought a gut rehab many years ago before I was in the business and relied on my agent at the time to suggest an inspector and it was a disaster. I had outlets not working, a toilet that didn’t work, furnace that was barely functional it was so dirty from construction dust, among other things. I discovered these things AFTER I moved in. I have a neighbor across the way from me that basically had to rebuild their brand new single family after tearing it down and remediating the mold. The best (or worst) was another neighbor in the ‘hood that invested in 8 ft decals and posted on their front windows about how horrible their new construction house was and to beware the developer. Unfortunately, the bad developers usually just file bankruptcy and then operate under a different company name so its very unusual to be able to get them to fix the problems or compensate the new owners for repairs.

Last but not least–remember that new construction does NOT come with window treatments as do re-sales.  It seems like a small thing until you realize that depending on the treatments you want, you could be looking at another $40k for a full house, especially if you have specialty windows. To bring it back to our puppy analogy, houses have personalities too, and any new home–new construction or otherwise–is going to have “growing pains” as it gets used to its new owners.  Expect some issues to pop up and don’t be discouraged, most of the time the issues are small and fixable and pass as quickly as the puppy teething phase.