Chicago's North Shore - North and Northwest Suburbs Real Estate Archive


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Understanding Escrow

by Allyson Hoffman

Escrow is part of the process when you are  purchasing a Northern Illinois home.  Many first time homebuyers have many questions about the escrow process. Here is some information to make it a little easier to understand.

What is an escrow?
An escrow is an arrangement in which a disinterested third party, called an escrow holder, holds legal documents and funds on behalf of a buyer and seller, and distributes them according to the buyer’s and seller’s instructions. The escrow becomes the depository for all monies, instructions and documents pertaining to the purchase of your home.

How does the escrow process work?

The escrow is a depository for all monies, instructions and documents necessary for the purchase of the home, including  funds for the down payment, lender’s funds and documents for the new loan. The duties of an escrow holder include: following the instructions given by the principals and parties to the transaction in a timely manner; handling the funds and/or documents in accordance with instructions; paying all bills as authorized;  closing the escrow only when all terms and conditions have been met; and, distributing the funds in accordance with instructions.

Do I need documentation?
Receipt of your deposit is generally included in your copy of your purchase contract. Your funds will then be deposited in your separate escrow or trust account and processed through your
local bank.

What information will I have to provide?
Typically you will be asked to complete a statement of identity as part of the necessary paperwork. Because many people have the same name, the statement of identity is to identify the specific person in the transaction through such information as date of birth, social security number, etc. This information is kept confidential.

How long is the escrow?
The length of an escrow is determined by the terms of the purchase agreement and can range from a few days to several months. Typically an escrow often takes an average time of 30 to 45 days.

When does the escrow process end?

The day you actually close on your home, the escrow process ends. This is when all the funds are transferred where they need to be and all the documents are signed and you get the keys to your North Shore dream home!

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23rd Annual CSL Art Exhibition

by Allyson Hoffman

The CSL Art Exhibition was the vision of Dr. E. J. Duffy, Principal of Glenbrook North High School. His goal was to unify the CSL Schools through the visual arts, in a non-competitive environment.

Organized and facilitated by CSL Art Educators, the inaugural show was at Northbrook Court in 1988. The intent is to further nurture and cultivate a sense of Community and Commonality amongst all participants centered in the Visual Arts.

Friday, April 8th from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm you can check out the exhibit at the Art Center Highland Park at 1957 Sheridan Road in Highland Park.




Closing Day Tips

by Allyson Hoffman

Closing day is when all the decision are final when purchasing a new or pre-owned Northern Illinois home. The purchase price is paid and the title is transferred from the seller to the buyer. In many states the mortgage lender’s attorney or a title agent will handle the closing details and protect the buyer and seller’s rights as a neutral 3rd part.

You will receive a number of important documents at the closing meeting. Review this list of documents before you go, so that you'll know what to expect when you're there.

Documents the Buyer Typically Receives

  • Settlement statement, itemizing the services provided and the fees charged
  • Truth-in-lending statement
  • Mortgage note
  • Mortgage or deed of trust
  • Sales contract
  • Any required affidavits, if any
  • Copy of the deed
  • Keys to the home

Closing costs are one of the least-understood aspects of the home purchase procedure. You should be sure to speak up and ask about anything you don't understand. Closing costs can vary but they generally are between two and five percent of the home's purchase price and include:

  • Attorney fees
  • Escrow fees
  • Property taxes to cover the period to the closing date
  • Interest from the closing date to one month before the first monthly payment
  • Loan origination fees
  • Recording fees
  • Survey fees
  • Mortgage insurance, if applicable
  • Title insurance, both for the buyer and the lender
  • Loan discount points
  • The first escrow payment for future real estate taxes and insurance
  • Homeowner's insurance policy payment or receipt
  • Appraisal fees
  • Pest or other specific inspection fees
  • Document preparation fees

Closing day is the most important step in the home buying process. Always be sure to ask questions about anything you do not understand. Your realtor or attorney can handle most questions and if they don’t know, they’ll know which direction to point you in.

Image courtesy of David Wall/


Staging Can Make for a Quicker Sale

by Allyson Hoffman

If you want to sell your Northern Illinois home quicker and for more of a profit, you need to learn about a successful tool: staging.  Staging will help you to make your home look bigger, brighter and give it a welcoming appearance. The best thing staging does is make the home buyers want it! As challenging as today’s market is, you need every tool you can find to help you to sell your home for top dollar, and fast!

Now you ask what staging actually is. Staging is showcasing your home in the best light possible. You  are showing the buyers your home’s best attributes.  And skillfully diverting their attention from the less than perfect parts.

In essence, staging is creating visual “eye candy” to bring out your homes positive parts. It takes science as well as art, and a lot of marketing.  You can do this by painting, re-carpeting, new lighting and/or new window treatments.  You could even borrow or rent furniture to give each room a new and improved look.

Watching shows like HGTV’s Designed To Sell or The Stagers will give you an idea of where to start.  Also check out Top 10 Home-Staging Dos and Top 10 Home-Staging Don’ts by Designed to Sell’s Donna and Shannon Freeman.

Another good question: Should you stage your own house, or hire someone to do it professionally?   There are two staging tricks that every home seller can use:

* Clear it out. You have stuff--lots of stuff. And your house is overloaded with all that stuff. Go through each room and get rid of the clutter everywhere you see it. Your rooms will look bigger, more restful, and more inviting. And all you did was pick up!

* Clean it up. Make sure everything shines inside and out, from windows, floors and countertops inside to the deck, garage and yard outside. Pay particular attention to the kitchen and bath. A little well-applied elbow grease will go a long way in selling your home. And it’s free!

Do these two simple things, and you’re already ahead in the staging game.

But should you keep going and stage other aspects of your own home? That depends on whether you have the eye, the skill--and the objectivity. Can you put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and see your home as the buyer will see it--positive points and negative points? Are you prepared to tackle those negatives? Do you have the “designer’s eye” for color and other design elements? Do you have the technical skills to complete improvements?

Whether you hire a professional or choose to do it on your own, staging can definitely give you the upper hand in selling your home. Feel free to contact me and we can go through a few more staging ideas and recommend a professional if needed.


Image courtesy of Avia Venefica/

What Do Mortgage Points Mean To Me?

by Allyson Hoffman

When Northern Illinois homebuyers request a quote from a lender for a home loan, they will find that the quotes frequently include both loan rates and points. Most people are confused by what exactly a point is.

Mortgage points describe certain charges to be paid in order to obtain a mortgage on a home. Each mortgage point is a fee based on one percent of the total amount of the loan

A point is a fee equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. For example, A 30-year, $200,000 mortgage might have a rate of 6 percent, but come with a charge of 1 point, or $2,000. A lender can charge 1, 2 or more points. There are two kinds of points: discount points and origination points.

 •Discount points: These types of points are really prepaid interest on the mortgage loan. Because, the more points you pay, the lower the interest rate on the loan and vice versa. Borrowers typically can pay anywhere from zero to 3 or 4 points, depending on how much they want to lower their rates. The advantage to this type of point is that it is tax-deductible.
 •Origination fee: This is charged by the lender to cover the costs of making the loan. The origination fee is deductible if it was used to obtain the mortgage and not to pay other closing costs. The
IRS specifically states that if the fee is for items that would normally be itemized on a settlement statement, such as notary fees, preparation costs, and inspection fees, it is not deductible.

The longer you keep the property financed under the loan that has the purchased points, the more money spent on the points will pay off.  And if the homebuyer has the intention to buy and sell the property or refinance in a big hurry, the buying points will actually end up costing more than just paying the loan at the higher interest rate.

Whether or not you pay points, or how many points can be effected by a variety of factors.  The amount of money you can put down at closing and also how long you plan on staying in your home can be a factor. If you are planning to stay in your home for a long time, you may find it worth it pay points so that it reduces your interest rate. Make sure to have your mortgage lender explain these fees with you at length if you have any questions.

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What is a Piggyback Loan?

by Allyson Hoffman

Have you ever heard of a “piggyback loan?' This is a home financing option where the property is purchased using more than one mortgage from two or more lenders.  While there are many variations, the piggyback loan which is also known as the 80-10-10 loan, can be typically defined as a 10 percent second mortgage coupled with a traditional 80 percent first lien and a 10 percent down payment.  This loan can be mixed in a variety of different ways to make up the difference between a conventional loan and almost any amount of down payment.

A piggyback loan is basically a second mortgage that they give you at the time of a home purchase or refinance.  These types of loans allow you, the home buyer, acquire or refinance a home with less than a 20 percent down payment or equity. One advantage to this style of loan is that the homebuyer isn’t required to carry private mortgage insurance.

Homebuyers can also use this piggyback loan as a source of funding for making a bigger downpayment on their new home. This can be to their advantage because private mortgage insurance can be quite expensive and it is not tax deductible.

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Home Appraisers

by Allyson Hoffman

Home appraisers are a necessary part of your real estate transaction and it is important to know exactly what the appraiser's responsibilities are, and to whom.

One of the most common misconception about appraisers is that they work for the home seller. Actually, appraisers are hired to be impartial and provide an accurate "value" to your home in order for lenders to determine if the collateral supports the debt. These same lenders are also putting a lot of pressure on appraisers which result in higher than market value home appraisals.

If you are buying or selling a home it is a good idea to do some research on the role of appraisers and how they effect you.  Click here for some good facts on appraisers and the process.

Have you had any experience with home appraisers? Share your thoughts with us!


Image courtesy of David Wall/


Inexpensive Kitchen Improvements

by Allyson Hoffman

If you have made the decision to sell your home and are wanting to make some improvments, you should know which room to put your most effort into. According to Remodeling Online’s 2005 Cost vs. Value Report, your best bet is the kitchen. Even a minor kitchen remodeling project will return an average of 98.5% of its cost when it comes time to sell the home.

If your want to update and freshen up your kitchen but a complete remodel is not in the budget, consider these below kitchen fixes to help sell your home faster and for more money:

1. Paint or re-stain worn wood cabinets.

2. Install cabinet hardware. Stay with simple and neutral hardware, avoid large clunky designs.

3. Remove outdated or busy wallpaper and any bold, bright paint. Stick with neutral colors.

4. De-clutter all counter tops, keep them free and clear of appliances, butcher blocks and knickknacks.

5. Update the faucets. New faucets can make a outdated sink look revitalized. Faucet replacements are also fairly inexpensive and simple plumbing projects with all of the parts available at your local hardware store.

6. Remove photos, calendars and personal effects from the refrigerator door.

7. Updated and simple rugs and towels with a splash of color can bring warmth to a kitchen.

Replacing outdated appliances and flooring are great improvements that should be considered but may not always be part of your budget. Keeping a kitchen clean and maximizing space is key to getting buyers interested. Always remember to keep garbage cans, and pet bowls etc. out of sight.

Image courtesy of Nancy Hugo, CKD/

Tax Deductions For Homeowners

by Allyson Hoffman

Tax time is here, but homeowners have an advantage with many tax breaks. Make sure you’re not missing out on important home-related tax deductions. Everyone has a different situation and you may actually qualify for other deductions you were not aware of, so always check with your tax advisor to find out which deductions apply to you. Below are some of the common deductions.

Deducting Real Estate Taxes. Real estate taxes are deductible in the year paid. They are generally reported on Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage, or on your county real estate tax assessment statement. You should also deduct any prorated taxes collected from you at closing. These amounts are not always included on Form 1098, but may be itemized on your real estate closing statement.

Deducting Loan Points Paid on a Purchase or Refinance
The points you pay on a loan for a
home purchase are tax-deductible for the year you made the purchase. You can deduct the points you paid as well as those a seller paid on your behalf if you meet the following criteria:

  •   The loan is secured by your primary residence
  •   The loan was used to buy, improve or build the home
  •   Paying points is a common practice in your geographic area
  •   The points are calculated as a percentage of the loan principal

First-time home buyer credit.  A $7,500 tax credit is available to eligible taxpayers must have bought, buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy, a principal residence on or before April 30, 2010 and close on the home by June 30, 2010. For qualifying purchases in 2010, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 return. and before July 1, 2009.  You are considered a first-time home buyer as long as you did not own a home during the three years leading up to the purchase of your new home.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.  For 2009 and 2010, homeowners can take a tax credit up to $1,500 for energy efficient home improvements. If you purchase an energy-efficient product or renewable energy system for your home, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit. Click here for more information

Health-Related Improvements - Any home improvements for medical purposes can be deducted entirely from your taxes as long as the improvements do not add to the overall value of the home and have been made for a chronically ill or disabled person.

Moving expenses. If a move is connected with taking a new job that is at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was, you can deduct travel and lodging expenses for you and your family and the cost of moving your household goods. 

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Renegotiating Your Mortgage

by Allyson Hoffman

It is a common to find in many neighborhoods foreclosed homes due to the sluggish economy. Many homeowners are struggling to make the monthly mortgage payment.  Even with these tough times, the good news is that many lenders are more willing than to negotiate terms to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. By renegotiating their mortgage, homeowners may be able to get a lower finance rate as well as change your rate from a high fixed-rate mortgages or adjustable-rate.

 Most lenders require that you have at least 10 percent equity in your home. You can easily check the value of your home on sites such as and I can provide you with a free and quick estimate of your home’s worth. In addition, most lenders typically will require that you have a credit score of at least 720 to qualify for good rates.

Lenders are aware of the many fiscal difficulties borrowers have in making their mortgage payments when hardships arise. However, they typically won't volunteer or advertise their help. So if you are struggling to make your payments on time, it is vital that you take the initiative and contact your lender and give them a heads up on your current financial hardship before you miss payments.  Keep in mind that lenders have more incentive than ever to work with you. Plunging property values mean they’re recovering less now on foreclosures. Plus, many that received cash infusions from the U.S. Treasury are under pressure to show that they’re responding to the housing crisis.



Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 32




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Allyson Hoffman
RE/MAX Villager
1245 Waukegan Road
Glenview IL 60025
Fax: 847-400-0881

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Allyson Hoffman
RE/MAX Villager
1245 Waukegan Road
Glenview, IL, 60025

(847) 310-5300
[email protected]

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