No time to arrange a party? Let a concierge do it

October 05, 2012|By Erik J. Martin, Special to the Tribune

When renter Cathryn Schmaltz wanted to book the perfect place for her wedding rehearsal dinner three years ago, she didn’t have to look any farther than her apartment building. With a little help from concierge Kelli Taylor, Schmaltz was able to host a memorable prenuptial feast in the party room at Eugenie Terrace on the Park in Chicago.

“(Kelli) didn’t just reserve the room for us,” said Schmaltz. “She helped us pick out the flowers, catering and decor; made sure our audiovisual slide show worked; helped us pick our wedding day limos; and even gathered all of our mail while we were on our honeymoon.”

The charge for all this assistance? Zero. As with many apartment and condo buildings, concierge services like restaurant and ticket reservations, mail pickup, trip planning and exclusive events are provided free to Eugenie Terrace tenants.

In Chicago’s highly competitive condo and rental markets, concierge services are a given at many luxury properties.

“Today, to be considered a luxury building, you need to have a concierge available for residents,” said @properties broker Phil Skowron. “These types of amenities have not always been as detailed or personalized. However, expectations are always changing, and now the presence of a concierge is customary the way that a glass of champagne is on any first-class flight.”

Skowron said buildings offer different levels of concierge services. A building with more affordable units may staff one part-time concierge, while high-end Chicago properties such as Park Tower and The Elysian Residences pamper occupants with white-glove service offered daily by highly trained staff.

Condo owners at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, for example, can have dry cleaning placed in a closet, groceries unloaded from their car to their kitchen by a bellman and their home staged for an impromptu dinner party.

“We receive a lot of requests that are handled in-house by our trained staff, including in-home housekeeping, dinners prepared by our hotel chefs, and tables and chairs provided by our banqueting team,” said Adora Manalo, director of owner services for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.

“Our program is a twist on the traditional concierge concept,” said Vanessa Casciano, community relations director for Magellan Development Group, whose Chicago properties include condos at Aqua at Lakeshore East, town homes at Benton Place Parkhomes, and apartments at The Shoreham and The Tides. “At these buildings, we offer a complimentary rewards program, which allows residents to take advantage of discounts through local hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as different exclusive complimentary events.”

Magellan residents can, for example, partake in seasonal movies in the park, happy hours at area steakhouses, a monthly book club, creative classes, building mixers, healthy cooking demos, wine tastings and annual get-togethers like a dog parade and kids Halloween party.

Adam Basey, a renter at Presidential Towers in Chicago, said his understanding of a concierge changed dramatically after moving into the building in April and getting to know the concierge, Anna Cornille.

“Before, I thought a concierge was an information desk where you could get brochures and have a few questions answered,” said Basey. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that this person can not only provide information but also fulfill special requests and follow up on making something happen.”

Since Basey has settled in, Cornille has helped him score reduced-price movie tickets and meals and is planning a special “guys night out” itinerary for when his out-of-town friends visit soon.

Taylor, like Cornille, said she plays many roles in her job, from a community liaison who connects Eugenie Terrace residents with resources like baby-sitters within the building to a city travel guide who directs occupants to hot spots and deals throughout the neighborhood.

“I’m a one-stop-shop matchmaker who makes connections on behalf of residents, and I’m prepared to go beyond the call of duty when necessary,” she said.

Taylor recently overnighted a passport to a desperate resident detained in New York who needed to travel overseas, and she located a country house in Iceland on short notice per a renter’s request.

Thanks to Taylor’s efforts, “I do feel very spoiled, and things are much easier living in this building,” said Schmaltz, a personal trainer who is often referred by her concierge to fellow tenants looking to start a fitness program.

Booking events, fulfilling reasonable requests, and connecting residents to people and places of interest continue to be among a concierge’s most in-demand duties.

The “I’s” HAVE IT

Inventory and Interest Rates Should Inspire Action Among Sellers and Buyers This Fall

The robo-signing scandal that rocked the real estate industry at the end of 2010 was one more black mark on the U.S. housing market. But in retrospect, it may wind up being the best thing that happened to home sellers this year.

That’s because the resulting foreclosure moratorium kept hundreds of thousands of bank-owned properties off the market (thousands in the Chicago area alone) allowing inventories to fall throughout the year and alleviating some of the downward pressure on prices. In fact, a common, though somewhat unexpected, complaint from homebuyers in certain neighborhoods this year was that there just weren’t that many quality choices.

However, it now appears that the nation’s largest banks have addressed their processing problems, and the foreclosure market is ramping up again. According to Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac, default notices rose 33% from July to August and were at their highest level in nine months. The 33% jump was the biggest single-month increase in default notices in four years.

The silver lining for sellers is that the increase in bank activity is focused on the early stages of foreclosures. Bank repossessions were actually down in August according to RealtyTrac. So there may be some time before this new wave of foreclosures works its way into the resale market.

Still with storm clouds potentially gathering, right now could be the best opportunity for the foreseeable future for sellers to make a deal. In the city of Chicago, Months Supply of Inventory (MSI) registered 7.4 months for September, its lowest level in more than two years. And more buyers can afford your home with 30-year conforming mortgage rates at a mouth-watering 4%. While sales rates typically slow in the fall and winter causing MSI to rise, the looming foreclosure inventory could throw off the curve and lead to an oversupply in certain markets next spring. Therefore, our advice to sellers this fall is to get your home in tip-top shape, price it in line with the market, and allow @properties’ comprehensive marketing programs to generate maximum exposure.

A note to buyers: We have gotten so used to low mortgage interest rates that the 4% rates we’re seeing today barely make headlines. Rates actually dipped as low as 3.75% late last month, and sub-4 rates have been popping up now and again into early October. Don’t get caught napping. Today’s rates are a huge deal, especially when coupled with lower home prices. Meanwhile, apartment rents continue to shoot up. Class A rents downtown are up over 15% during the last two years, and are expected to climb even higher. Whatever the future holds for home prices, the day-to-day economics of own vs. rent are looking more and more attractive to buyers.

Remember, you don’t have to be buying or selling a home today to contact me with questions about the real estate market. I’m available to talk anytime, and I always welcome your referrals.

Did you get out of bed today?

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Here we go again. It’s the Bear Market of 2008 back to punch us in the stomach and take our lunch money one more time. There goes the stock market. There goes the real estate market. There goes the global economy.’

Certainly the events of early August have been unsettling, even maddening. The triple whammy of a slowing U.S. economy, the ongoing European debt crisis and Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. credit has rattled an already fragile consumer confidence.

Lou Barnes, a mortgage banker from Boulder, Colo. said it best in an August 8 interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Developments blog: “Who wants to get out of bed today, let alone buy a house?”

Yet a lot of people right here in Chicagoland did get out of bed today and buy a house. Why is that? Is it because the same fundamentals that existed yesterday – record low mortgage rates and record high affordability – still exist today? Is it because local apartment rents are rising faster than Starlin Castro’s batting average? Or could it be that real estate (like our now AA+ rated US debt) is still considered a relatively safe long-term investment?

That’s a radical concept in 2011. But an investment that can also shelter you and your family, provide a large tax deduction, serve as a hedge against inflation, and allow you to put down roots in a top community or school district has to be given serious consideration – especially if it comes at a discount of more than 33% off its peak value… especially if it’s in the business, cultural, tourism and innovation hub of the Midwest… especially if you plan to live there for a while.

As it stands today, there are only 18 nations in the world rated AAA by Standard & Poor’s. Among them are Guernsey, Liechtenstein and Isle of Man. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in AA+ Chicago, Illinois, USA.

What will the stock market do tomorrow? What will the housing market do tomorrow? If we knew that, we’d all be sipping fruity drinks on our own private island. But if the last century of American economic history is any indication, the long-term trend is up. I believe that, which is why I’m in the real estate business. And @properties believes that, which is why we’re continuing to invest in and expand our business even in tumultuous times.

As in 2008, we’re keeping a cool head, focusing on hyper-local market conditions and framing most conversations about housing, not around the headline of the moment, but around your individual wants and needs at your particular stage in life.

I’m here to help, so please contact me if you have any questions or are getting ready to buy or sell. And remember I always appreciate your referrals.

Innovation, Client Service Drive @properties’ Growth Through First Half Of 2011

It’s hard to believe but 2011 is halfway over, and what an eventful first half it was. A new mayor was elected; an old governor convicted; and the third largest blizzard in Chicago history shut down the city.

While unemployment remains stubbornly high, the Dow steamed past 12,000, and apartment rents and occupancies have soared. On the local housing front, the first half of 2011 had its ups and downs, but through it all, @properties has grown steadily and grown stronger.

We remain the #1 brokerage firm in Chicago by market share, leading by a wider margin than ever before. And we are still the fastest growing brokerage firm on the North Shore, firmly entrenched among the region’s top companies less than two years after entering the market.

In the first half of 2011, @properties introduced new programs to improve service to buyers and sellers. Every home listed for sale by @properties now has its own URL linking directly to a listing detail page on the @properties website. Every home is also more visible online thanks to enhanced listings on the leading real estate search portals:, Zillow, Trulia and HomeFinder. And new communications tools and web enhancements keep homebuyers educated and informed.

If you haven’t visited the @properties website recently, log on to conduct a search, review the latest Market Reports or learn about the many resources I use to market and sell your home. While there, flip through the latest edition of our Luxury Collection Magazine featuring the finest million-dollar listings in the city and on the North Shore.

If you have questions about the local real estate market or just want to check in, I’d love to hear from you. And if you or someone you know is thinking about buying or selling a home, I’m always here to help.


Crain’s Chicago Business reported that the beloved stalled project located at 111 W. Wacker Drive has officially been purchased by developer Related Midwest who plans to turn the unfinished tower into a 65 story, 500 unit apartment building. Related is also planning to build a luxury apartment tower at 500 N. Lake Shore Drive in the Streeterville / River East neighborhood.

Several other Chicago developers tried to put together a deal for the old Waterview site, however their plans to build a hotel / office tower concept were crushed mostly due to the difficulty of financing for such a project. At the current multi-family construction, financing and investment is almost as hot as the condo market was in 2004.

Related Midwest plans to start construction in the first quarter of 2012 and plans to complete the project 18 to 24 months after which would put final completion right before or right after the 2014 New Year. The question is will the multi-family market stay hot until then? Will this developer be able to flip this building in 3 years like so many others are currently doing? The fundamentals of 111 W. Wacker are phenomenal. From a “Apartment Building” stand point, you cannot find a better location. It is walking distance to any building in the loop, plus only a short walk to River North, Michigan Avenue and the Lake. My hope, for the sake of Related Midwest, is that they are building this tower based on valuations of rents in the CURRENT MARKET and not future rents in 2014 which many are foolishly predicting double digit year over year rent increases.

Downtown Luxury Market: On the Rebound in 2011?

It’s well known that Chicago lags the coasts when it comes to real estate trends, so an article in last month’s New York Times about the strong performance of Manhattan’s luxury market in 2010 is reason to be hopeful about our prospects in the Windy City. But local market data is still a mixed bag.

Months Supply of Inventory fell 30%, year over year, from January 2010 to January 2011 (a positive sign); however, we have yet to see the broad price recovery everyone is hoping for. The median sales price for $1,000,000+ homes in the city is down 4.8% year over year. This underscores the importance of a luxury marketing program that will help your home stand out in a crowd.

At @properties, we leverage print and online advertising, direct mail, e-mail marketing, high-visibility signage, broker marketing and more to sell your home. We also feature luxury listings front and center on the @properties website in our Luxury Collection Online Magazine. This digital publication features dozens of pages of spectacular homes – each with professional photography and a link to detailed listing information on the @properties web site. See the latest edition now at

Did You Know?

@properties finished 2010 with the highest overall market share in the city of Chicago (our second consecutive year in the top spot), but did you know that @properties was also #1 in luxury sales?

#1 in Market Share: 13.04%
#1 in Luxury Sales: 13.98%
#1 in Selling Price to Original Listing Price: 94.3%
#1 in Fastest Average Market Time: 142 Days

For more information on our luxury brokerage services for buyers and sellers, please contact me. Also, please keep me in mind if someone you know is buying or selling a home. I appreciate your business and referrals.

Source: MSI, market share and market performance statistics supplied by BrokerMetrics based on sales data from Midwest Real Estate Data LLC, 1/1/10 – 12/31/10 and 1/1/10 vs. 1/1/11.

J. P. Morgan to buy majority stake in Aqua apartments

By: Alby Gallun December 29, 2010

  - The Aqua. Photo: Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing Photographers -  The Aqua. Photo: Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing Photographers

(Crain’s) — J. P. Morgan Asset Management has agreed to invest about $182 million in the apartments in the 82-story Aqua tower, the biggest local multifamily deal in more than three years.

Magellan Development Group LLC, the developer and owner of the prominent high-rise near Millennium Park, has agreed to sell to the New York investment firm an unspecified majority stake in the building’s 474 apartments, parking and commercial space, according to people familiar with the transaction.

Chicago-based Magellan hooked up with J. P. Morgan after Dallas-based Behringer Harvard Multifamily REIT I Inc. in September backed out of a $189-million deal to buy a 75% stake in the skyscraper at 225 N. Columbus Drive.

Though big apartment investors went into hiding during the financial crisis, they have returned with enthusiasm this year, emboldened by an improved lending climate and occupancies and rents that have risen faster than many expected.

The Aqua sale “demonstrates that there is significant demand by institutional investors to buy multifamily assets in core locations,” says Ron DeVries, vice-president at Appraisal Research Counselors, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

A Magellan executive declines to confirm the sale to J. P. Morgan Asset Management, a unit of J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. Representatives of J. P. Morgan did not respond to requests for comment.

The transaction ranks among the top 10 apartment sales in the country this year, according to New York-based Real Capital Analytics. And it’s the biggest in the Chicago-area since August 2007, when a New York investor paid $218 million for One Superior Place, an 809-unit building in River North, according to Appraisal Research.

The sale would allow Magellan to pay off the $175-million balance on the construction loan that financed Aqua, an internationally acclaimed tower with distinctive wavy balconies that was completed last year.

Magellan had sold 206, or 79%, of the building’s 262 condominiums by the end of the third quarter, according to an Appraisal Research report. In November, the developer formed a joint venture with Carlson Hotels Worldwide to build a 334-room Radisson Blu hotel in the tower.

Related story: Aqua hotel venture lands $66-million loan, starts construction

Aqua’s apartments are among the most expensive in the city, with one-bedroom units ranging from $1,508 to $2,445 a month and two-bedrooms renting for $2,792 to $3,241, according to Appraisal Research.

The building’s average net effective rent, which includes concessions, was $2.83 a square foot in the third quarter, the second-highest among downtown buildings tracked by Appraisal Research. Aqua’s apartments were 97% occupied.

Demand for apartments has been strong this year as many would-be condo buyers rent instead, and a lack of new development should allow landlords to keep hiking rents in 2011.

Strong investor demand, meanwhile, is pushing up prices of apartment buildings in big cities across the country, but few downtown landlords here so far have opted to sell. Just one big downtown apartment tower, the 298-unit Burnham Pointe in the South Loop, has sold this year.

“If you’re looking at a window to sell your property, now is the time to do it,” Mr. DeVries says.

Still, with interest rates climbing again, that window could start to close.

“For buyers that are using leverage,” he says, “it’s going to be a lot more difficult to pay these prices.”

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