Selling your home in winter can be one of the most successful Chicagoland home selling strategies you can employ. Recent data provided by Redfin confirms listing your home during the winter can actually mean a faster sale and a higher price. One main reason is there are fewer homes on the market during the winter months, because most sellers wait until the more popular spring and summer months to list.

Chicagoland home selling strategies to consider during the winter months.

Let's take a look at the Redfin data and see how it supports one of the best Chicagoland home selling strategies that can be utilized.

The Redfin information includes the percentage of homes that sell higher than the initial asking price and go under contract within the first 30 days. Interestingly, the findings show a higher percentage of offers above the asking price occur in winter than summer and fall. In addition, they are competitive with the more traditional spring home purchases. Furthermore, homes that sell in the winter don't stay on the market as long as homes in the summer and fall. A total of 46.2% don't last 30 days on the market, while only 23.7% of U.S. homes for sale are on the market during the winter months. This compares to 32.6% of homes for sale in the spring and 26.7% of homes for sale in the fall.

Conventional wisdom has always pushed the idea that winter was not a good time to list your home. However, that's not always the case. While there may be fewer homebuyers looking during that time of year, the ones that are in the market are serious. In addition, buyers looking in the winter often need to move, so they are usually less likely to make unrealistic offers and typically want to close the sale as quickly as possible. These two characteristics are attractive for any home seller.

As part of the Chicagoland home selling strategies employed by savvy sellers, winter or off-season purchasing can be advantageous. Since home shoppers may be fewer in the winter, homes on the market can often sit unsold longer. This makes for motivated sellers, which is good for a serious buyer.

While going against the grain in trying to sell a home in the winter is seen as a potentially good idea, it's not a no-brainer. There still are challenges that need to be overcome. One real estate professional shared her view on including winter selling among Chicagoland home selling strategies: "There are pros and cons to selling a home in the winter. There does tend to be less competition around the holidays, but it could work to the seller's advantage in that their property may have more interest than when the market is more saturated with other homes."

Another advantage in selling a home during the winter is that real estate agents usually have more time to give their clients, and may be more dedicated to selling a property than when they're consumed with having a number of listings competing for their attention.

As far as one of the best months to list your home, some experts say early January is key. The reason? Many sellers target the spring market as their starting period and plan accordingly. Buyers, however, seem to be much more ready and responsive to looking at home options well before the start of spring. As such, mid-January and early February listings seem to perform very well.

So, here's the proverbial bottom line when it comes to employing Chicagoland home selling strategies that include listing your home during the winter. If you need to sell your home in the winter don't let the cold temperatures prevent you from doing so. The perception may be that winter is a bad time to buy or sell a home but, of course, that is dependent upon where you live and how severe the winter weather is. In parts of the country that have milder winters or breaks in winter storm activity, listing your home then could be a smart move and a successful one.

An experienced real estate professional added this important caveat,”For most areas, although properties may not look as green and appealing as other times of year, that's not the whole picture. For both buyers and sellers, the competition is usually quite diminished, which can certainly work to your advantage. For buyers, less competition means they have a greater chance of getting the home they want without getting into a bidding war.”

As usual, the decision to sell your home comes down to your own personal choice. We recommend working with an experienced real estate agent who can guide you in the right direction should you choose to list your home in the winter. Providing the home buying market with winter inventory may just mean the difference between reaching a relatively captive audience and getting lost in the shuffle as other properties come on line in the more popular spring months. As a seller, you should ask yourself this question: “Am I better off showing my home to a smaller, more serious group of potential buyers during the winter when they are desirous of purchasing, or during the spring when both the supply of competitive homes as well as the demand of more buyers make for a more hectic marketplace?”

See more articles pertaining to Chicagoland home selling strategies in the two sections of articles on Chicagoland Home Selling Tips and Chicagoland Homes for Sale just below Chicagoland Real Estate Categories in the column to your right.

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The Chicagoland housing and economic outlook for 2017 seems to be filled with nagging questions about how gradually increasing interest rates may affect the continued improvement of the housing market. While interest rates have edged slightly upward in the last several weeks – most notably in response to the stock market's post-election gain – home mortgage rates are still comparatively low. But for how much longer? An extended period of rising rates may paralyze homeowners with low rate mortgages who would otherwise potentially be in the market to buy bigger or newer homes. Economists call such market conditions "rate lock," which could take a toll on housing demand during 2017.

Chicagoland housing could be affected by rising interest rates.

The past Chicagoland housing outlook has enjoyed a seven-year run of near record low mortgage interest rates. That has encouraged homebuying and has increased home values dramatically since the housing crash of nearly a decade ago. Yet, the aforementioned increase in mortgage rates since the election has real estate professionals and prospective homebuyers a little on edge. Higher interest rates, of course, translate to higher monthly mortgage payments. That can cause existing homeowners to stay in their homes a little longer rather than trading up. As one real estate professional put it, "It doesn't take much to turn off the faucet in this market because inventory is so low and prices have gone up so quickly." The most recent mortgage interest rate increase boosted the monthly cost of owning a typical home in United States by slightly more than $70 per month. That equates to roughly $26,000 over the term of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage loan. While $70 per month is not a substantial amount, it probably has already had an impact on marginal borrowers concerned about additional expenses. Experts fear another half-point rate increase could impact even the more qualified borrowers.

In addition to the affordability aspect and the psychological impact that a higher monthly payment may have on a family purchasing a home, mortgage qualification may also become an issue. The Chicagoland housing market has already seen some households who spend 35% or more of its income on mortgage payments. Most experts recommend that debt-to-income ratios fall between the 30% to 33% range. As interest rates rise, the debt-to-income ratio will be strained causing some lenders to reconsider whether a borrower may qualify or not.

According to CoreLogic, Inc., roughly 66% of homeowners in the United States who have mortgages enjoy rates less than 4.5%. Economists say rates would probably need to increase above 5% before homeowners face the "rate lock" dilemma mentioned earlier. And that's where the concern begins to form. Because of the strengthening U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve will likely increase short-term interest rates this month. While the rates on Fed funds have no direct correlation to mortgage interest rates, an increase by the Federal Reserve would likely send a message that interest rates in general will likely rise – even if only slightly. Home mortgage interest rates are more closely tied to the yields on U.S. Treasury bonds. Those yields usually rise during inflationary periods, and while economists predict mortgage rates will increase in 2017, nobody really owns the proverbial "crystal ball."

Interest rates have risen largely due to the improved economy. In addition, investors are gambling that increased government infrastructure spending along with resultant tax cuts will continue to accelerate growth. The underlying hope is that the additional growth will spur increased wage growth, and higher wages should offset the increases in higher mortgage payments. However, one economist warns that since so many American homeowners have low rates on their mortgages, it could result in an ironic disincentive by encouraging homeowners to pursue employment in other cities if it means their mortgage payments will be higher.

So, what does all this mean for the Chicagoland housing outlook moving forward? If history is any indication, rising interest rates can impact the economy quickly and dramatically. Mortgage interest rates in 2013 increased almost a full percentage point to 4.5% on the heels of investor predictions the Federal Reserve would decrease its bond buying program. The result was a decline of 8% on the sales of previously owned homes over the next six months. In addition, sales price increases dropped from an average of 9% to roughly 5%. Therefore, if 2013 is any indication the market could potentially experience a cooldown in home prices.

Of course, it remains to be seen what affect increased interest rates – if they do occur – will have on the Chicagoland housing market and the resulting economic outlook. However, one thing to remember is that even interest rates in the 5% range still are relatively low when compared to other times in American history. Naturally, home prices continue to rise, meaning mortgage loan amounts are higher than ever before. However, going forward there is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to home affordability. History has proven more times than not that even in the face of housing challenges home affordability is a luxury still readily available to most Americans. Whether it's more affordable mortgage products with more favorable terms and conditions or more affordable housing units entering the market, the bottom line is that housing is too big a piece of the U.S. and world economy to be adversely affected for long.

We've weathered such storms before and with the exception of the housing crash of a decade ago, the industry has rebounded steadily and has learned from its mistakes. Time will tell if the slight interest rate increases will lead to a slowdown of the housing recovery, or if it will provide the impetus for creative lending, improved mortgage products, more affordable housing and sufficient motivation for first-time homebuyers to buy. While the challenges can be daunting, the industry remains hopeful that only slight interest rate increases will occur, resulting in minor fallout that can be absorbed by the market through greater home inventory and a continued steady demand.

You can find more articles pertaining to the Chicagoland housing outlook in the "Chicagoland Economy" section of articles just below Chicagoland Real Estate Categories in the column to your right.

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You took out your Chicagoland mortgage loan a few years back when both you and your spouse were working and things were going pretty well financially. In fact, that’s the reason you bought your first home. Since then, the economy has slowed considerably and your employer has downsized. Over time – which was an almost guaranteed addition to your budget for a few years – is now a thing of the past thanks to the company’s new management. While your income has dropped considerably, your obligations continued – especially those to your Chicagoland mortgage loan institution. So, what do you do? What can you do? Let’s take a look at how an honest, proactive and direct approach with your creditors can work to your benefit when times get tough.

Worried about your Chicagoland mortgage loan?

Be honest.
Most credit counselors, financial experts and creditors say the best possible thing you can do is to contact them in writing as soon as you experience a hardship affecting your ability to pay your mortgage. You may not want to divulge your entire situation to the mortgage company – they may not want to hear that you will never be able to make another payment, for example – but in all seriousness, be open and honest about your current status.

Don’t procrastinate.
The best course of action is to take charge and let your creditors know immediately, or at least sooner rather than later. The longer you hold off doing so the worse your situation will likely become. If you procrastinate too long, the outcome can be removed from the hands of people that may be able to help and transferred to the proverbial “home office” or some other nebulous entity who thrives on red tape and double-speak. Remember this: Don’t make the erroneous assumption that you are out of options and your creditors won’t work with you. Most will, but you’ll never know until you ask them.

Do your homework.
If you’re a homeowner and have already missed a payment on your Chicagoland mortgage loan, seek assistance from your lender as soon as possible. There are laws now called the “rules restricting dual tracking.” Dual tracking is the process whereby a mortgage loan servicer (the arm of the mortgage company who’s responsible for collecting your payment and accounting for it each month) forecloses on a home while simultaneously entertaining a mortgage loan modification by the borrower. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wrote the law in 2013 to prohibit lenders from dual tracking within a 120-day period after a mortgage loan default. The rule allows greater protection for borrowers going into, or already in, the throes of foreclosure proceedings. Plus, the law has teeth – violators are subject to damages, and that may give borrowers necessary leverage for favorable consideration in a foreclosure lawsuit – if and when it that time comes.

Explore all available options.
Chicagoland mortgage loan experts say there may be programs available in some states that will make mortgage payments for homeowners. In 2010, the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) was designed to assist borrowers struggling to make their monthly payments. The assistance was created in an effort to stave off foreclosure and return economic stability into some neighborhoods. While not available in every state, the states that do provide the HHF assistance concentrate their efforts on two groups of homeowners: Those who are unemployed and are looking for a new job, and borrowers who are “underwater” on their mortgage. These homeowners owe more on their mortgage loan than their home is worth.

Be realistic in your expectations.
As mentioned above, most creditors will try to work with you in times of hardship. However, they don’t have to. Just because you've called your mortgage lender and have been honest about your financial situation, they aren't required to provide you leniency – especially if there are extenuating circumstances such as chronic or recurring delinquencies, or other strikes against your credit report. Just remember that all you can do is ask for assistance – what the lender may or may not do is up to them. You signed a note and mortgage promising the lending institution you’d repay them each month, every month and on time.

Take the bull by the horns.
Be proactive with your financial problems – even if you think they are just temporary. By not doing anything or ignoring your situation with a creditor – especially a Chicagoland mortgage loan company – the lender may assume you don’t care about your financial responsibility or your promise to repay the money they loaned you. We’re talking about your home, here, so the last thing you want your mortgage company to think is that you don’t care about losing your home.

Since the housing crash of less than a decade ago, mortgage lenders have become more willing and able to work with borrowers who become delinquent, but it’s also a proverbial “two-way street.” The lenders should know if you need and want help, and if they aren't aware of that, they naturally assume the worst and take the necessary steps allowed them by law to recover their collateral.

The worst thing you can do.

The very worst thing you can do is to do none of the suggestions mentioned above. One of more of them can hamper or eventually cripple your chances for a successful outcome if you fall behind in your payments. By law, mortgage companies can’t and don’t wait “forever” before they begin certain procedures designed to protect the lending institution from their borrowers defaulting on their mortgage loans. Remember, most all mortgage lenders are regulated and overseen by the federal government. As such, banks and other lending institutions have policies and practices that are nearly always uniformly followed – if that bank or lending institution wants to remain in compliance with the federal guidelines. Most do, of course, because failure to do so will result in fines, penalties and – in severe cases – shutdowns or forced acquisitions. No lending institution's board of directors wants that to occur.

You can find more articles pertaining to Chicagoland mortgage loans in the Chicagoland Mortgage Info section of our site below Chicagoland Real Estate Categories in the column to your right.

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Much of the real estate news over the past 12-18 months has centered around an improving U.S. housing market that’s finally on the way to recovering from the last recession. Sales prices and home values have grown steadily during that time, while home inventory levels have been near historic lows. New home construction, though brisk, has struggled to keep pace with growing demand. As we prepare for the end of another calendar year, many analysts are asking the question, “Is the Chicagoland real estate seller's market over?”

Let’s take a more in-depth look into answering that question.

Is the Chicagoland real estate seller's market over?

The simple answer is “yes and no.” According to nationwide data, experts say the Chicagoland real estate seller's market news making headlines next year will be that the real estate market in 2017 will be very similar to what it was in 2016. Case in point: a nationally recognized real estate website took a survey of prospective homebuyers and reported that 52% are first-time buyers – an increase of 19% from the previous year. Real estate professionals say they, too, expect a larger number of first-time buyers entering the market next year, but express caution that with those new buyers comes challenges to both the real estate market and the buyers themselves.

What has caused the forecast for more first-time homebuyers to be looking into the 2017 market? Several factors:  A seemingly stronger job market and continued lower interest rates seem to be the real motivators. Plus, rents have risen almost as steadily as home values, prompting a number of first-timers to consider buying as a more sensible financial decision than renting.

The influx of first-time buyers will bring challenges – some of them of very real concern. Low home inventory is expected to continue to plague the delicate balancing act of supply and demand. Some experts say to absorb the expected 19% increase in first-time buyers, the market needs a minimum of six months of supply. However, the market has had 49 consecutive months of less than six months home supply. So, experts say, the Chicagoland real estate seller’s market will probably continue, as well as throughout the nation as a whole – with some areas or regions seeing slight shifting to the contrary.

So, where will seller’s markets continue?
Cities throughout America where the population continues to increase at a steady pace are the likely candidates for seller’s markets to continue. In these metropolitan areas, housing simply won’t be able to keep up with demand. When that happens, the fewer available homes on the market become more valuable and the seller’s benefit.

In some markets, real estate professionals report a slight increase in housing inventory which has caused asking prices to be more reasonable. In addition, some sellers are offering more concessions in negotiations such as paying partial closing costs or repair allowances. However, some of the increased inventory is artificial, in a sense, because those sellers aren’t committed to selling – they are simply testing the market to find out what level of interest there may be in buying a home at a certain price point. The result, experts say, is a dilution of the so-called Chicagoland real estate seller's market due to a perceived glut in inventory.

What about buying power and financing?
As always, chances are if a buyer qualifies for a mortgage loan he should still be successful in buying a home in most markets – even in a seller’s market. Experts recommend using some strategy in planning your purchase. Here’s why.

According to the website survey referenced above, over half the home shoppers responding planned to purchase in seven months or so – in the spring and summer – the housing market’s most popular time to buy. Real estate professionals say if you want to avoid competing offers and not engage in bidding wars, consider buying now or either wait another full year. That way, the market is a little leaner and there aren’t as many buyers – first-timers and others – scrambling for a limited supply of homes on the market. One expert likened the strategy to shopping for Christmas presents in, say, September. You’ll likely have everything available you’re looking to buy – without the hustle and bustle of last-minute shoppers and long lines. Given the existing home supply challenges with low home inventory, which experts say probably can’t and won’t change substantially in 2017, smart buyers could enjoy reasonable prices and less competition by buying this winter or waiting until next fall.

If you’re not ready to enter the market at the present time – because you don’t have a down payment or a lease that doesn’t expire until next spring – remember that the real estate market is cyclical. The market will likely cool off in what has been the most active areas. What that will ultimately mean is homebuyers will probably again have the upper hand one day. One expert had this to say about market shifts.

“Balanced markets don't really exist for a long period of time – they’re really only transitional. It could be six months or a year, but at some point in time even the hottest of markets… head into a buyer’s market.

So, what’s the bottom line?
It’s likely, as experts agree, that the Chicagoland real estate seller's market will feature headlines including slight increases in interest rates as a result of a Federal Reserve move in the next few months. In addition, now that the elections are over there will be less daily concern about a U.S. economy in flux, although we’ll all keep a watchful eye on foreign trade and its impact on the global economy over the next year or two. Lastly, though the home ownership participation rate has been the lowest in decades, it appears to be climbing slightly, giving real estate professionals and economists hope for greater increases in 2017 and years beyond.

See more articles pertaining to a Chicagoland real estate seller's market in the section of articles on Chicagoland Real Estate News just below Chicagoland Real Estate Categories in the column to your right. And remember, we also post tips daily on Facebook and Twitter. Check us out there, too.

Chicagoland tax preparation time may seem a long way from now, but with 2016 rapidly coming to a close it’s never too early to begin thinking about your 2016 taxes. According to the U.S. government, it is estimated that approximately 60% of individual taxpayers use paid tax preparers to fill out, calculate and complete their income tax returns. If you’re included in that 60% it’s probably a good idea to at least be thinking about your plans – it could mean the difference between having a good experience and a bad one.

Some tax preparers choose to meet with you directly to get the information they need, while others will have you fill out a questionnaire. This article will focus on ten steps you can take regarding your Chicagoland tax preparation and planning with only a few weeks left in the year.

Your Chicagoland Tax Preparation To-do-List

Chicagoland tax preparation deadlines are still a ways off, but you should use this time to get ready for the inevitable.

Select a preparer
If you’re contemplating using an accounting professional to handle your Chicagoland tax preparation, it’s a good time to start looking for one. One of the best sources for referrals of good tax preparers is to ask friends, business associates, your lawyer or your banker. During the consideration process, make sure the candidate you’re thinking of retaining has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) confirming that he or she is qualified. The PTIN is proof that person is authorized to prepare federal income tax returns. The next step in choosing a preparer is to ask questions about the preparation fees. Nobody likes surprises – especially at tax time – so understand what the charges will be ahead of time. Most preparation fees depend on the complexity of your return and the time it takes to complete the various information requirements, but most tax preparers can give you a price range so you’ll know what to expect. A word of advice: Don’t do business with a tax preparer that will charge you a percentage of your refund.

Set up an appointment
Because experienced tax preparers are very busy during the peak “tax season,” its best to schedule an appointment in advance – even if it’s for late January or early February – just to make sure you can get on their appointment calendar. Of course, if you’re expecting a refund, the sooner you can get your information together and meet with your tax preparer, the sooner you can file and receive your refund.

Gather your information
Under normal circumstances by the end of January you will likely receive a number of pieces of information you’ll need to give your tax preparer to complete your returns. Here are some of the most common forms:

•  Form W-2 if you were employed
•  Form SSA-1099 if you received Social Security benefits
•  1099s to report various additional sources of income (especially if you were an independent contractor)
•  Form 1095-A to report information from the federal government marketplace from where you bought your health insurance coverage
•  1098s reporting mortgage interest paid, student loan interest paid, or college tuition payments
•  Form W-2Gs to report gambling winnings
•  Schedule K-1s to report income or loss from business entities in which you have an ownership interest

Collect your receipts
If you choose to itemize personal deductions rather than claiming a standard deduction, you’ll need a greater degree of verification and proof in the form of receipts. If you’re itemizing, collect the receipts (or cancelled checks) you have for such things as medical costs not covered by or reimbursed by health insurance, property taxes and employment-related expenses.

Assemble your charitable contribution records
If you choose to itemize deductions, you’ll need to have detailed records to legally claim any tax write-off. Charitable contributions of $250 or more require a written confirmation from the charity verifying the contribution and stating that it was a qualifying donation.

Be prepared for tax law changes
Your Chicagoland tax preparation expert should be able to help you be aware of any new tax rules and regulations so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises. The individual healthcare mandate (the Affordable Healthcare Act) created a myriad of changes, as many will remember. We recommend asking your tax preparer what changes, if any, may affect you this year or you can go online to www.irs.gov.

Provide a list of personal info
Give your tax preparer information such as your Social Security number and those for each dependent you claim on your returns. In addition, list the addresses of real estate you own, including a second home or rental property, if applicable. Your tax preparer may ask for additional information on these properties, as well.

Will you file for an extension?
If you know now that you’ll need additional time to complete your tax returns prior to the April 17th deadline (normally the 15th, but the 15th is on Saturday in 2017 so you'll have two extra days), alert your tax preparer. More often than not, items like Schedule K-1s can cause taxpayers to file for an automatic 6-month extension.

Decide what to do with you refund
If you’re entitled to a tax refund, there are several options as to the instructions you can give to the IRS (the federal government) to do.

  • Have some or all of it applied to your income tax bill on your next return.
  • Have them send you a check or use direct deposit into a designated account.
  • Contribute some or all of the refund to certain types of accounts for the expressed purpose of purchasing U.S. Savings Bonds through Treasury Direct.

Locate a copy of last year’s tax return
If you choose a new Chicagoland tax preparation professional you’ve not worked with before, it will be helpful for him or her to have access to information on the previous year’s return. For example, payers of interest and dividends, and information on your favorite charities would be important reminders as they rarely change from one year to the next.

You can find more articles pertaining to Chicagoland tax preparation in the Taxes section of our site below Chicagoland Real Estate Categories in the column to your right.

We also post tips daily on Twitter and Facebook and would love for you to follow us there as well.