Forever House, Getting It Off Your Chest, This Week on Facebook, What I Learned This Week

Letgo is the Tinder of furniture selling apps

In a pre-move effort, or at least an attempt to light a fire under our butts and look for a new house, We have made the decision to start getting rid of the clutter. This was before I had even heard of Marie Kondo and we aren’t getting rid of things that don’t give us joy so much as things that we just don’t want to take up valuable space in a moving truck.

To that end, I’ve started selling things on Letgo and FaceBook MarketPlace. At first, it was kinda a rush because I’d post something and get some immediate responses and sold things within a few days. Then things started to settle down. Maybe it was the oncoming Winter, or maybe it was the junk I was trying to unload.

People will contact you at the strangest hours

It seems that LetGo is Tinder for boring, old people! We have two small children in this house and as such, tend to go to bed early. So in the morning when I wake up (or at 3 am when the Insomnia Fairy strikes) I am astounded by all the late hour messages from different people  Thrift Saling at 1 am, probably coming down from a wine-and-no-dinner or vodka infused evening.

Especially on the weekends! Do these people have a few adult beverages and then start trolling MarketPlace looking for sweet deals on desks, sofas and that elusive Barrister Bookcase?

You will get ghosted

I’ll respond and sometimes the person writes back. But a lot of times they don’t. Even when they contact me during Normal Hours, we will chat for a bit and then suddenly silence. You can usually see it coming. The graceful ones look for an out: what are the measurements? Oh, that’s too big.

People will try to talk you down on your price no matter how low you go

Pricing is more art than science. No one wants your Pottery Barn sofa that you are discounting by $20 when they can just buy a new one that doesn’t have your ass crack residue on it.  At the same time, no one wants to go across town just to pick up an item for $5 unless it is hard to find, or unique in some other way.

Still, there are some people who will try to talk you down even though you are practically giving something away.

People will not leverage technology

Too often people will reach out to me, ask me about it, and then realize that we are 14568 miles apart. Yet LetGo  and Facebook MarketPlace have built-in mechanisms that will tell you approximately how far someone is from you.  So you don’t have to drive an hour just to pick up some item you could just order off Amazon for $10 more unless you happen to be in that area anyway.

Too often, someone contacts me interested in an item and then they realize we are too far away to make this work.  At the same time, I have sold two large pieces of furniture to people who have driven in from Indiana, so distance isn’t always a factor if you price it right.

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Dark Matters, Forever House, Life Hacks, Life Lessons, Parent of Twins, Summer in Chicago

A Long overdue goodbye to Summer

Even though I haven’t been motivated to vent my spleen in a while, I’m hammering out this post because we apparently have a new policy at CN where you could lose your blog space if you don’t post periodically or frequently enough or something.

Don’t feel neglected readers, I haven’t been posting on social media much either.   On Facebook, if I post anything too liberal, my right-wing boyfriends come out of their basements to set me straight.   And if I say anything that doesn’t perfectly align with the lefty talking points, my SJW girlfriends put me in check as well.

It. is. Exhausting.

How was your summer?  Mine was meh.  The weather this summer was, to use the technical term, sucky. For every decent weather day, there were two rainy, humid or hot as hell days. There weren’t as many sit on the front porch and enjoy my coffee (or back deck and wine) moments like last year.  Because the weather wasn’t favorable, it wasn’t always possible to let the kids spend time in the backyard burning off energy.

Heard a crash at 3am and found this!

Heard a crash at 3 am and found this!

We spent a considerable amount of money trying to get this house in shape for if when we finally pull the trigger and decide to move.  We love our house and our neighborhood, especially now that Portage Park is starting to become a little more trendy.  But the house has some warts and with two growing kids, the thought of sharing the largest of 2.5 bathrooms with them doesn’t appeal to Nightingale.  And there’s the school thing.  Our neighborhood school is okay but not great.

On the other hand, would God put a Binny’s and a Culvers around the corner from us if she wanted us to move!  Besides, we don’t know where to move.  We don’t have any ties to any particular suburb here and a better school would mean less home than we have now or a much bigger mortgage.  Nightingale’s family is mostly in Memphis and we wouldn’t fit in there.

Gonna need a little more than duct tape to fix

Gonna need a little more than duct tape to fix

A big change occurred at the office at the start of summer.  By that I mean I no longer work at an office.   One of the other work groups expanded and needed my seat.  The dude in charge of office seating asked if I really, really, really, really needed a seat in the office.  In spite of him being subtle, I was able to discern that he would rather not try to find me a seat.  So rather than wind up in a broom closet, so now I’m 99.9999% WFH.   I’ve gone into the office a total of three times since Memorial Day.

There are ups and downs of working 100% remote.  When you are at the office but not at your desk, people assume you are somewhere nearby.  In the breakroom, bathroom, meeting room, out having a smoke (even though they know you don’t smoke) or just out to lunch.  Kidding; no one takes lunch in Corporate America.

But when you are home, if you don’t respond within one-tenth of a second to an email or Instant Message, you obviously must be in the backyard sipping margaritas and working on your tan.  How absurd is that?  I drink Manhattans, not margaritas.

On the other hand, it is nice not having an hour plus door-to-door commute.  It’s even nicer when my kids aren’t being douche nuggets and I can get drop them off at daycare and get back with a little time before I clock in so I can sneak in a choir like mowing the lawn.

Let me know how your summer in the comments below and thanks for reading.

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It was the Wednesday morning before Memorial Day Weekend 2013 and Nightingale went down to the laundry room to toss her dress in the dryer to remove some wrinkles. She noticed a large pool of water around the floor drain. We usually get a little rain that seeps in through our Wizard of Oz doors and it goes straight to the drain, but this was more than usual. We assumed the drain was somehow backed up. I tried unclogging it with the wet dry vac but all that did was fill up the vac with water and more gushed in. This should have told me something but we were in a rush.

On this particular day we had to be downtown for an appointment we couldn’t afford to miss or reschedule. On top of that I had some meetings at the office that I had to attend in person. I feared missing these would be CLMs. Because their wasn’t a lot of water, we made the fateful decision to deal with the water when we got home. Bad mistake. Big, huge mistake.


When I got home the water had quadrupled and was beyond the laundry room and into the family room portion of the basement. I just did get home in time to move all the furniture to one end of the room to save the new sofa, love seat and ottoman I had bought just two months before.

One of the problems with this type of situation is that you don’t really have time to Google and shop around. We called our Home Warranty Insurance company and they were less than helpful. They said it probably wasn’t covered but would gladly send out one of their vendors to take a look and charge us whether they could help or not. Apparently Sump Pumps are only covered if they are internal, not external to the house. Why this makes a fucking difference I don’t know.

We also called State Farm, our home insurance company and they also said it wasn’t covered but would gladly send out an investigator at some point. So we called a service that advertised that it handled this sort of thing. Only they just do the cleanup,they don’t fix the problem. Their website didn’t make that clear but we figured it out in time to call Pete’s Plumbing service.

The long and short is that our sump pump was in a locked position, burnt out. It needed to be replaced. My theory is that it was overworked from all the rain we got that April such that the sump pump simple said screw it, I give up.

To make matters worse, Pete discovered that we also had a crack in our drain pipe from our sewer to the city sewer and because it was on our property line.  Pete said we had to fix it, not the city. He said that even if it extends to the other side of the sidewalk, The City would only fix their part. And this wasn’t something I could or should let go until a later time. I didn’t have the bandwidth to research this or not. [I know a lot of people have seen this type of problem on the DIY renovation shows where the city fixes the whole thing. Maybe they would have, maybe they wouldn’t. Given how Chicago works, they may have fixed the whole thing only three years later.]

The bottom line is that I got hit with a $6500 bill to fix this at a time when my credit card had a bigger balance than I prefer to carry because of some other life events. I essentially started off the summer of 2013 $10K in debt and didn’t pay it off until December 2015.

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Forever House, Life Lessons

The Long story of our Flooded Basement

Adventures in House Hunting, Buying a House, Selling a Home

The Green Zone Litmus Test

Since this blog started out about house-hunting and it lives in the Real Estate section of ChicagoNow, I figured I should still occasionally write about Realty, property and related Chicago Neighborhood Map (credit: DreamTown Reality)topics.

What is the Green Zone?

In certain local Real Estate Circles, the term Green Zone refers a subset of neighborhoods that are set apart from the rest of the Chicago neighborhoods. These GreenZone Hoods tend to be the more popular neighborhoods that college graduates, new transplants and DINKS tend to gravitate toward.  The areas have established amenities, high property values, and low crime. The Green Zone term was a reference to Baghdad. Just like how folks refer to the south and west sides as Chiraq now.

But what exactly makes a neighborhood part of the Green Zone and where does this GZ fall on the map of Chicago?  It is like porn, you know it when you see it, but it is hard to define.

High concentration of Trixies and Chads? Check.
Starbucks? Check.
Lululemon? Check.
Trendy restaurants? Check.
Close to El? Check.*

* Not TOO close as in to hear it in your bedroom and not too far as in not too far to walk in in-climate weather.

By informal Consensus, the following neighborhoods are considered GZ by the majority of the current real estate pundits:

Lincoln Park
Bucktown/Wicker Park
Roscoe Village
Lincoln Square
South Loop
West Loop
Gold Coast
River North
Millennium Park/Loop

So looking at the neighborhoods from the above list, I asked myself what do these very diverse neighborhoods have in common?  I came up with 5 categories that each one scores relatively high in.  So I give you the GZ Litmus Test.  If you can score high in four of the following five, the neighborhood is Green Zone.  [I’ll leave defining a neighborhood and sub-hoods, e.g. Lincoln Square and North Center are more or less covered by Ravenswood, to another forum].

The GZ Litmus Test

Relatively Low Crime:  This should be obvious but I’ll emphasize that there’s probably no such place a crime free zone.  For GZ def purposes, No noticeable gang presence and very little graffiti.  The level of Violent Crime should approach zero.  See Gary Lucido’s post on this.

Schools:  public schools are decent enough to send kids if private/parochial is not an option.

Walk-ability:  Proximity to amenities is again subjective but I’ll say if you have a decent sized park nearby and a mix of restaurant types to frequent without repeating one during the week.  Independent coffee shops, boutiques and local alternatives to big box stores goes a long way.  Dog Parks.

Access to public transportation:  whether you use it or not, the ability to get around town. Availability of cabs should factor in here.

Desired Housing Stock:  This is a little tricky so I’ll go by way of example.  Downtown has luxury high rises, Lincoln Park has Vintage buildings, River North and Wicker Park have converted lofts.  Others on’ list have new construction with great amenities.  Conversely, hoods within the Bungalow Belt are probably never going to be.

So if you step through this, Old Irving Park fits, but Albany Park doesn’t.  For now. Some hoods are on the cusp like Ukrainian Village and Logan Square. West Town isn’t GZ just yet, but it is definitely getting there. Some neighborhoods will never get there.

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Buying a House, Tech Thursday

Rentspek app helps renters with affordable home inspection

Just about everybody has been through the awful process of hunting for a new apartment. On the surface everything looks great, but after you sign the lease you begin to realize the place wasn’t really what it seems. Renters don’t get the luxury of home inspections prior to signing on the dotted line. Fortunately, the good folks at Landlord Advisor LLC decided to change that.

Landlord Advisor, LLC announced an early November beta launch of its new free mobile web app RentSpek for iPhone and Android. The app allows renters to conduct a thorough inspection of homes and apartments for rent to help streamline their search. The system is designed to increase transparency in the rental process and help tenants rent with confidence.

“After doing extensive amounts of research on everything from the life of appliances to the cost & down-time of common repairs found in homes, condos and apartments we developed an algorithm to grade a property based on your findings during your visit,” said Phil Castello, founder of Landlord Advisor, LLC. “We’re designing this as a free app for anyone to use.”

The app will walk users through the property and ask them a series of questions about different aspects of the unit. Each answer is scored and used to determine a letter grade of A through F. The grade RentSpek developed is based on the same home inspections homebuyers would purchase before buying a home. Landlord Advisor dissected those and developed a unique scoring system based on issues that could arise during a short term living situation.

Renters will be able to take photos to accompany each question and save that information to look at later when assessing their apartment choices. RentSpek users can then revisit the RentSpek reports to compare the properties they’ve toured.

RentSpek users can add notes or pictures to they're inspection using their phones cameras. The whole process should take less than 30 mins.

RentSpek users can add notes or pictures to they’re inspection using their phones cameras. The whole process should take less than 30 minutes.

“I think the simplicity of the app is what will make it useful. The app walks the user through the property and has them check things they may never have looked at during a walk though before,” said Castello. “Because renters have an endless list of sites and services to search for a place, we think RentSpek will be the prefect tool to help choose their apartment.”

Castello said the longer term plan for RentSpek is to provide crowd sourced information for rental listings on its Parent site Landlord Advisor and a feature certification feature allowing Landlords to show that their property is RentSpek Certified.

“As the RentSpek system gets more home data, I don’t see any reason that this system couldn’t replace the traditional home inspection all together.”

The web aspect of RentSpek is already being developed and should begin initial testing by the end of October. The mobile web version of the RentSpek app will launch in early November. A crowd funding campaign has been set up on to raise the $55,000 to build a native mobile app.

“Because we’re a small operation, we don’t have the resources to build the app in house. About a month ago, we began soliciting quotes from app developers large and small to see who would be the best fit for this project.” Castillo said. “The average quote for building a dynamic app like this was in the $50,000 range, which is where we got our goal number from. That is an enormous amount of money for us, considering we bootstrapped pretty hard to get where we are with ”

Landlord Advisor ( was founded by Phil Castello in 2012. With the development of RentSpek Paul Zimmerman has joined Landlord Advisor LLC as a Limited Partner.

Adventures in House Hunting, Buying a House, Location, Realtors, Selling a Home

Why Isn’t this house Selling

Back in October, I wrote about Stupid Seller Tricks. What I forgot to add to that post was that it isn’t always clear who is doing the driving: the seller or their agent.

Ready to Move In

Ready to Move In

The house is listed as MLS 08420018 (note: you may need to create a Redfin account to see all the history). Notice that it says (as of this posting) this property has been on the market for 45+ days.

You never really know the story behind a house, unless you have inside information, but you can make some educated guesses.  For one thing, the pictures have no furniture, so presumably the owners have moved.

This house sold for $237K in 1999. Now, 14 years later it’s listed for almost twice that amount. The listing says, and the photos confirm, that the house has been updated.

Newly refurbished & updated thruout w/ refinished hdwd flrs, repainted interior. New 2nd flr bathroom & 1st flr powder room. Lg kitchen w/ island & new granite counters. New ceramic tile flrs in mudroom & bsmt.

To be sure, based on what I know about the neighborhood and this type of house, the asking price isn’t unreasonable. In fact, this is a wonderful house if you like stainglass and woodwork combined with modern amenities like an updated kitchen and Central A/C.  So why hasn’t it sold in this hot, hot market?

Couple of things to consider. One, the house is about 200 yards away from Family Fruit Market, a neighborhood Grocery store that is known for its fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices. Kinda like a Stanley’s West. While this shouldn’t be a reason for concern, the fact of the matter is, there is a lot of traffic in and out of the small parking lot. And let’s be honest: where there’s traffic there is inevitably some Dbag who feels that his way of driving trumps common courtesy and/or standard rules of the road.
We actually passed on a house across the street from this one for that very reason. While we were looking at the home, we noticed several cars park on the permit only street, or fight to get into some of the few legal spots in front of Family Fruit Market.

The other thing is that while this house is on a nice tree-lined street, it is also a street that a lot of people seem to use to cut across from Cicero to Milwaukee Avenue. In the less than 5 minutes I spent there taking these pictures, almost a dozen cars came drive through, and not at residential speeds either.

Another thing that is hard to analyze but I would say the number of buyers looking in Portage Park is less than the number of homes available for sale.

Icarus Theorem of Realty: In many cases the person who can afford your Asking Price, doesn’t want to live in your neighborhood and most of the people who want to live in your neighborhood cannot afford or flat out won’t pay your Insane Asking Price.

Portage Park is a great middle class neighborhood in the northwest side of the city. It has reasonable proximity to downtown, O’Hare Airport and is accessible from the highway and the Blue Line.  But unless you grew up here, you probably don’t know it exists.  And most people who cannot afford to buy in the really hot trendy neighborhoods (aka The Green Zone — I’ll do a post on that soon) figure if they are going to go West, why not just move to the Suburbs and be done with it.

My prediction: this house will have to drop under $400K to sell.  Remember, all predictions correct or double your money back!


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Adventures in House Hunting, Location A Yelp for apartment hunters

Ever rent an apartment and wish you had known what to expect before you signed a lease? Wouldn’t it be great if you could read reviews ala Amazaon or Yelp from former tenants? Maybe a handy rating system? What about a handy phone app? Unfortunately renting an apartment is one of those things that is still a little behind the technology curve. Generally speaking most renters either stay put because they like their landlord and/or apartment and moving is a hassle, or they move on because of other life events like relocation or buying a home of their own. But what about avoiding those landlords-from-hell?

actual listing, bitter tenant review not shown

actual listing, review not shown

Mike Cerny knows the challenges renters face, from finding an apartment that actually matches the online posting to getting the real story on a management company.

“We’re trying to give renters as much access to information as possible so they can make an informed and confident decision about whether they should rent or tour an apartment,” said Cerny, who has a background in commercial real estate. The idea came to the Chicago native when he was finally fed up with his college neighbors below him.

“They were smoking weed that came into our unit and throwing parties every weekend until 3 a.m. while my wife was pregnant,” Cerny said. “We also had a really bad management company that didn’t exterminate the cockroaches in our apartment. We had things break (faucet, dishwasher, dryer, cabinet doors), which they chose to repair versus replace and they would continue to break. It was at that moment I realized there needed to be a way to avoid all this.”

In the fall of 2012, Cerny decided to do something about it–he launched is a national apartment review and ratings website where renters can provide honest feedback, good and bad, on apartments they’ve rented or toured. encourages renters to write reviews of apartments they toured. They are also customizing their mobile site to make it easier for users to search and write reviews of apartments they rented or toured from their smartphones.

They can upload photos and rate buildings on a scale of 1-5 on parking, noise, grounds, safety, laundry, and management. These reviews help others reviewers make an informed decision about where they should rent.

Hopefully murderer will not be a common searched term

Hopefully murderer will not be a common searched term

The new social networking website is built on a user-friendly platform. People are able to login through Facebook and post and share reviews on several social media networks, ask a previous reviewer questions, search for apartment buildings in their area and check their availability. All reviews are posted anonymously to protect renters.

“I started with a focus on having the best user-friendly experience with social sharing,” Cerny said. “Although I had a bad experience renting, is a neutral site where users can write good and bad reviews. In order for renters to have the most current information about a rental, we want landlords to respond to reviews. If an issue was fixed, repaired or if they made an improvement to the property, renters need to know.”

The site is targeted towards 18 to 35-year-old renters or prospective renters, and the site has been tailored for them. The site is developing a plan to provide an incentive platform, which will allow users to earn points for writing reviews, adding photos, referring friends and sharing reviews on their social sites. The points will be redeemable for gift cards
to national retail stores.

Property managers and landlords can add their listings for a small fee in order to add a link to their website, update the property description section, receive inquiries from renters and respond to reviews. They will pay $40 per year for each listing (with discounts for multiple listings) for perks like the ability to respond to reviews, write custom descriptions, and add a link on the listing to their website. Each listing shows how many unique visitors have viewed it. During the next year, the company plans on compiling and publishing rental data along with user review trends.

“We are excited about our future and we are open to talks with investors and potential partnership opportunities,” Cerny said.

By the way, this Chicago start-up is looking for investors in order to compete in the niche apartment review market and take the business to the next level. For more
information, visit

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Adventures in House Hunting, Buying a House, Open House Sunday

Garage Saleing: An unorthodox approach to evaluating a neighborhood when buying a house

When you’re shopping for a home and trying to decide if a place is in a good neighborhood, many realtors will tell you to drive around the area at different times of the day (and night) to see what it looks like. They might also suggest you call the local police station and talk to the desk sergeant. But there’s another less known approach that might reveal lots of interesting inside: the local garage sales!

In some neighborhoods, garage sales have taken on a life of their own with special significance: a community will hold a communal garage sale involving dozens or hundreds of families at the same time. What a great way to meet the future potential neighbors!

The sales is typically held inside a garage, driveway, carport, front yard, porch, or occasionally, the interior of a house, giving you a sneak peak of what people have done to their personal space.

You can tell a lot about a person by the stuff they are trying to get rid of. Are the items new, like-new, or just usable? Is it last year’s Pottery Barn collection or a collection that simply is going to pot?

While this can give you a peak into the economic mix of the neighborhood, you can also learn about your potential future neighbors personalities.
Often there are people who have decided they want everything gone — She doesn’t want it back in the house, he doesn’t want to schlep it back into the house — therefore it’s priced to sell. This is a person who makes a decision and sticks to it. Get to know her!

Then there’s the guy who wants to make back every dime he ever spent on the junk. Sure that anvil vise is priced fair at $20, but for five bucks more you can buy it new at Harbor Freights. Garage Fail! This is the guy who probably won’t lend you his snow blower without a deposit and will keep score of how many times you shoveled his walk versus how many times he shovels yours.

Speaking of power tools, I’m still looking for the wife who is so pissed at her husband, she sells his band saw and drill press for a song.

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Adventures in House Hunting, Buying a House, Location

The Little House that Could

One of the houses that would often come up on my searches is 5056 W Winnemac Ave in Jefferson Park.

From the outside, this looked to be a decent looking 5 bedroom 3 bath house that seems to have been converted into separate apartments. Legal 3 unit building is what the description said, though I question how you can legally have 3 units in a place this size.

Three apartments in here?  But where do they put the pool?

Three apartments in here? But where do they put the pool?

The configuration would make it good for what’s known as an in-law suite which is French for *you have to take care of one set of parents anyway so you might as well get free child care out of the deal*.

It’s been on and off the market a dozen times since 2010. Over the years I’ve made appointments to see it however the day of the appointment we’d get a call from the seller’s agent explaining that the comps didn’t come through for the place so unless we were making a cash offer, there wasn’t any point of seeing it.

As I said, it would show up in my search criteria but there wasn’t anything about it that made me yearn to see it. In fact, the lack of pictures along with the no Central A/C made it really easy to scratch off the Go See It List.

The owner — most likely a stubborn Pole* — wanted a certain price, $270K IIRC. Well it just sold on May 29 for $240K so it only took 3+ years to get within 10% of Asking Price, so yay Stubborn seller!

* Being Polish I can make those comments!

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Adventures in House Hunting, Buying a House

Humboldt Park split by realtors like Post WWII Germany

The other day I got one of the millions of emails from realtors telling me about their latest listing that “just came on the market”. This one intrigued me:

West Bucktown single family home on corner lot w/ loads on sunlight! Open floor plan-large chef kitchen w/ top of the line finishes-large master bed w/organized walk in closet & spacious bath w/double sinks and separate shower. Plenty of closet space. Beautiful deck off the family room is great for entertaining or enjoying a quiet night time breeze. Fireplace in large open family room. 4th bed is in finished basement

Sounds good right? then I looked at the address.

This is where I grew up and I can tell you the 1600 block of Artesian is not in Bucktown, west or otherwise.

credit: Lucid Realtry

Humboldt Park divided like post-WWII Germany

I get that you’re trying to sell a home and Bucktown has more cache than Humboldt Park or even trendy Logan Square. And I realize that we are talking about less than a quarter mile of distance, essentially a city block. But No way is this Bucktown, it’s Humboldt Park. You’d have a better chance convincing me that it’s Logan Square.

It seems that HP is getting divided up like Post-World War II Germany. You have West Bucktown and West Wicker Park. What’s next? North Logan Square and South Ukranian Village?

photo credit:

Germany post WWII

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