Category Archives: Weekend Links

Weekend Links: August 25, 2012

Nerdy Pig by Dani Jones of  Danidraws.

Chicago is quite old, and has the unique perspective of growing up twice - we "rebooted" in 1871 after the Great Chicago fire. The city has a wide selection of historians, both professional and amateur, who have been sharing their work on the web for decades. Today on the weekend links - it's the Chicago History edition!

Blogs & Hobbyist History Sites

First, the amateurs. These sites are not professionally designed, some of them have not been updated for years, and in fact one of them has vanished from the web altogether and is only now available through the Internet Archives. Still, if you're looking to learn about the city's history from people with a legitimate passion for it, these guys will not steer you wrong.

Forgotten Chicago - the articles are great, but the forums are the real draw here. Lots of folks talking about recently (or distantly) departed icons of the late 20th century.

Phil O'Keefe's Chicago Tunnel Company Site - This used to be my favorite site for years, but unfortunately it vanished from the web in 2009. Fortunately it's preserved for the most part in the internet archives, and it's the archived version to which I'm linking here. The site discusses the narrow-gauge rail system that runs under the entire downtown area.

Chicagology - Includes the self-described "larged online collection of pre-fire images in the world." Some excellent coverage of Chicago from before 1871, as well as some detailed essays about other pertinent parts of the city's history.

Chicago History Journal - This may sound like the official blog of some cultural institution but it appears to be a personal effort with some very thorough articles on lesser-known people from years gone by.

Uptown Chicago History - Poor Uptown. It's gone from the most trendy neighborhood in Chicago to a district of great concern over the past 75 years. Find out about how it used to be with articles and abundant photos. - Exhaustive discussion of the Chicago public transit system - mostly the trains but some conversation about the buses, too. If you want to learn about the El, the CTA and its predecessors, this is the ultimate site. I'm linking here to the history page but this entire site is worth exploring. I have spent hours here. Possibly entire days.

Chicago Theatre History Project - The rest of this site is of interest, but the page linked here is truly fascinating. It's a series of maps, splitting city's many theatre companies up by the decade in which they started. Very cool.

Midway History - Books and sites about O'Hare are abundant, but its little sister airport Midway gets pretty neglected. This is the companion site to a book about Midway airport and appears to be very detailed.

Professionally-Maintained History Sites

The Encyclopedia of Chicago - a joint effort between the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry LIbrary and Northwestern University.

Digital Photo Archives of the Chicago Public Library - The Library system houses multiple collections of photos from early Chicago. There's a pretty large collection of them online including shots of individual houses going back to the 1850's. In particular, since they're the neighborhoods immediately surrounding my office, checkout their collections for Lincoln Square and NorthCenter.

History of Chicago Street Names (pdf) - From the Chicago Historical Society. If you're curious as to how your street got its name, you may be able to find it in here.

The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory - Another joint effort between the CHS and Northwestern. Nicely executed presentation on what is arguably the most pivotal event in the history of Chicago. (Although some might say that changing the course of the river, either of the World's Fairs, or the election of Richard J. Daley might also be of equal significance.)

Weekend Links: August 18, 2012

No themes or schemes for this installment of the weekend links.

The Green Roof on Chicago's City Hall. [via]

It's not easy being green. WBEZ looks into the success rate of Chicago's Green roof programs and the future for this environmentally-friendly innovation in a market with minimal development. ("A green roofs check-in, Anthony Martinez,

...But the city may be able to help. Would you like a free programmable thermostat for your home? How about free low-flow showerheads, CFL lamps, energy audits or tax-break incentives towards green upgrades? The Retrofit Chicago program has been expanded to include the Residential sector, with a focus on older buildings. ("Residential Phase of Retrofit Chicago Launched," Press Release)

1952 called, it wants its racism back. Seriously guys, I thought we were past all of this nonsense by now. A father in Cincinnati has sued his landlord for posting a "whites only" sign at the building's swimming pool. ("Father: 'White Only' pool sign caused suffering," AP via

Condo assessments now optional, says Illinois court. In a ruling that has attorneys and condo associations nationwide looking on in horror, an Illinois court has deemed that owners are entitled to withhold their assessment payments if the association is not sufficiently maintaining the common areas of the property. Can anyone else see the potential for disaster in this? ("Ruling could change course of collection proceedings," Pamela Dittmer McKuen, Chicago Tribune.)

Reuters is all up in our business. A recent Reuters article about whether condos are a viable alternative to college dorms has a very familiar ring to it. I may be kind of biased, but I like our take on the situation better. ("Condos for college kids? Do the math first," John Wasik, Reuters.)

Eviction(s) of the week. I talked about passive-aggressive tenants, but these guys are just plain aggressive. Of course, you've probably heard already that Colorado gunman James Holmes was evicted from his apartment in Aurora. Booby-trapping his apartment and murdering multiple people are cited as the causes for the eviction, although Holmes has not yet officially been convicted of the killings. Meanwhile, an officer in Texas was killed by a tenant while he was in the process of serving eviction papers. Be careful out there, guys. ("Holmes officially evicted from Aurora Home," CBS News. "Eviction's deadly turn no surprise to law officers," James Pinkerton,

Agents, you be careful too. Local Chicago wholesale real estate agent RJ Cit tells us the story of working with an unstable veteran in the process of selling the distressed and badly underwater home of the vet's deceased father. Stalking, threatening phone calls, and assorted other hijinks ensue. Part I and Part II. ("Wholesaling Real Estate - Worst Seller Ever," RJ Cit,


Weekend Links for August 11, 2012

Finding apartments as an expat is rarely simple, as this roundup of guides and personal accounts will attest.

This year has been big for working with clients who are moving to Chicago from elsewhere. I've worked with people moving from Boston, New York, DC and Los Angeles. Also in the mix have been renters from overseas. I also spent some time reading my friend's Facebook updates about her difficult apartment search as an ex-pat in Germany. So, after writing about mortgages all week it's time for me - and you guys - to take a well-earned vacation trip around the world with this installment of the Weekend Links.

Renting apartments outside the US. Of course, I cannot depart entirely from the real estate theme here, so we'll be focusing this travelogue on guides and personal accounts of renting apartments in countries other than the United States. (more…)

Weekend Links: August 4, 2012

Fires happen far too often in Chicago apartments, but prevention can be very expensive. Clockwise from top right: June 2011 Hyde Park (Tribune), January 2012 Lakeview (CBS Chicago), October 2011 Edgewater (Tribune), Lakeview April 2012 (CBS Chicago).

Safe homes for a small fee. Tinley Park is joining what must now be a majority of Chicagoland suburbs that require some sort of city-sponsored training and licensing from landlords. Everybody wants a cut under the pretense of safety. (Tribune)

.. or a large fee. Some Condominium high rises are having problems coming up with the necessary funds to comply with Chicago's high rise life safety ordinance. Enacted after a fire at the downtown County administration building killed several in 2003, it requires tall apartment & condo buildings to install either communications systems and either sprinklers or fire-blocking doorways. Compliance could bankrupt some condo associations but the steep fines could too. (Tribune)

... or no fees at all? Meanwhile a recent Massachusetts lawsuit has made it illegal in that state for an apartment community to charge anything beyond first & last month's rent, a security deposit of no more than one month's rent, plus a lock change fee. Background check fees, move-in fees, administrative fees and pet deposits are not allowed. This has, of course, led to an enormous volume of class action suits against Massachusetts landlords. Could Illinois or Chicago go the same way? (

But then there's the fees that nobody pays, but probably should. Usually homeowners are required by either their lender or their condo association to carry insurance for their home. Renters on the other hand? Not so much. According to a recent study by the Insurance Information Institute, renters outnumber homeowners in the country's largest cities but only 31% of renters have renters' insurance. (

HUD comes calling at the CHA. In past Weekend Links articles I've been following the story of the high volume of empty apartments in housing projects owned & managed by the Chicago Housing Authority. Apparently I'm not the only one - HUD's now paying attention too. (ChicagoNow)

Casa de Shenandoah, aka Graceland West. Home of Wayne Newton. That's a whole lot of "Danke Schön" right there. (

Eviction of the week. Wayne Newton. (No kidding.) Mr. Newton is on the splits from his business partner, with whom he had been seeking to turn his Nevada mansion into a Newton-based theme park. (I really wish I was kidding.) So he sold his estate to the partner's company, CSD LLC, which has since spent about $50 million on the incomplete project. It can move no further due to conflicts between Newton and the company as to how to best continue. CSD is suing to evict Newton. (This is serious business. VERY SERIOUS.) (KLAS-TV)

House music like no other winds up our week. Here's an oldie but goodie from 2005 that satisfies my love of totally wacko architecture like no other. It's a house that also serves as a resonation box for the strings wired through it like an enormous harp. Symphonic House/Wege House in Michigan was designed by David Hanwalt with sonic installation by "America's Got Talent" contestant William Close. The homepage is big on media, low on text, so here's a description of it from the Trib to go with.


Weekend Links: Chicago Neighborhood Research Special

I tend to do a lot of research as you might have noticed. As I'm in the process of making a "welcome to the neighborhood" letter for a couple of renter clients who signed leases this week I figured I'd share with you some of the sites I use to put these letters together.


  • Cook County Property Info - a trove of info on property owner names, addresses, and tax/mortgage payment history.
  • CityNews Chicago. Unfortunately not updated anymore. Still has valid property construction dates for buildings built before 2002, and also useful for finding address ranges on large buildings.
  • Building code violation database. Landlords are supposed to disclose any violations from the past 12 months when you sign or renew a lease. They almost never do. Check it out for yourself.
  • Bedbug Registry. Yeah, that exists.


Politicians & People in your Neighborhood

  • Police District lookup. It's always good to know which police district & beat you live in. Sometimes calling the district directly will yield more answers than you can get from calling 911 or 311. CAPS meetings are scheduled by beat and are a great way to learn about safety concerns in your immediate area.
  • Ward/alderman lookup. The ward office will be your source for parking permits, street cleaning schedules, block party permits, trash pickup, and far more. Your alderman is also your neighborhood's representative to city council. It's worth knowing who they are and what they stand for.
  • Find elected officials (federal and state).

Transit & Parking


  • Building code violation database. Landlords are supposed to disclose any violations from the past 12 months when you sign or renew a lease. They almost never do. Check it out for yourself.

Weekend Links for July 14, 2012

  • Learning to love a new neighborhood. The rising rent rates in Chicago mean that many 2012 tenants will need to find apartments outside of their comfort zone. ChicagoNow blogger Lainie Peterson gives us her account of learning to love her new neighborhood, Old Irving Park.
  • Another new Credit Score - for mortgages only. CoreLogic has partnered with FICO to create a special credit scoring model designed to assess how well you'd do paying a mortgage specifically. Weak payers have been scoring better than usual on this model, leading some to worry that it will open the door to home loans for too many subprime buyers again. More info on the score tells us that it folds in rent payments, payday loan payments and other non-traditional loans to assemble a more comprehensive picture. However, available data depends on the sources making it available. While upscale landlords may have the werewithal to submit data on their wealthy tenants, it's the poorer tenants who really need the boost that this score could bring. Low-rent landlords are not likely to surrender their payment info gladly, especially if the income numbers don't match what they send to the IRS.
  • The Phantom Fourth Credit Bureau. Like the Fifth Beatle and the Seventh member of Monty Python, there have been any number of claimants among lesser-known risk analysis companies of being the fourth credit bureau on par with Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Check out these articles on Innovis, CoreLogic, and a shady network of other providers of personal payment histories. (The photo gallery on the last one has a misleading cover image as it's an older article, but the data within the slideshow is pertinent.)
  • Eviction of the week. A Dayton, OH property manager is under investigation for stealing upwards of $10,000 from her employer. Residents of her former properties are now faced with proving that they paid their rent or getting evicted. The thieving manager remains at large until the cops figure out exactly how much she stole.
  • CHA's Empty buildings getting emptier. Last week I linked you to the scoop on the Chicago Housing Authority's high vacancy rate in their subsidized low-income housing projects. The nadir for occupancy was the Lathrop Homes, at 80% vacant. Now Lathrop residents are protesting the CHA's decision to remove the remaining residents to complete their modernization on the complex.
    They may not be allowed back in when it's finished, but would instead have to go to the end of the lengthy waitlist.

  • A great companion article to the ongoing bargaining series. Derek Thompson of the Atlantic discusses the 11 Ways that Consumers are Hopeless at Math. Basically, we are unable to judge value accurately, so we will settle for judging it precisely ... against the options presented to us.
  • Where not to get a cheap apartment. Curbed Chicago has released a "heatmap" of the most popular and trendy downtown Chicago high rise apartments. I've spoken with managers in many of these buildings over the past few months. Most of them are booked until October. It's currently July. Protip: to help out your fellow Chicagoans instead of faceless corporate property management, make note of the addresses, and then look into renting a condo on the same block.


Weekend Links for July 7, 2012

Today I bring you the history of property tax in Illinois. Because I am a giant dork.

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July! Here's some of the stuff that kept me entertained over the holiday.

  • Hey guys! I found the history of property taxes in Illinois! Tea parties, barbeque parties and Tupperware parties aside, the history of property tax law can be pretty interesting. With taxes go the rise and fall of the public infrastructure. Check out this really cool survey of the history of property taxes in Illinois, courtesy of
  • Demystifying FICO. There's a lot of myth and fear around credit scores. Get to the truth of the matter. Check out this breakdown of the components of a credit score from
  • Eviction of the week. Rather than an actual eviction story this week, here's a thought-provoking analysis of the morality inside the "barbaric practice" of modern eviction. Author Mario Salazar sidetracks through the history of evictions, but focuses on the "blame the victim" mentality of shame. After all, dumping someone's belongings out on the street is pretty darn medieval.
  • $140 billion in debt - who's to blame? Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas has made public the financial statements of the assorted county tax districts. This includes their debt and their tax increases going back 10 years. If you know your property's PIN number, head over to the Taxing District Search and find out where your taxes are going. It's also worth knowing how much debt your neighborhood is carrying out of the $140 billion currently owed by the county. (If you don't know your PIN, head over to CookCountyPropertyInfo.comfirst to get your PIN and then head over to the Taxing District Search.)

    CHA's "Lathrop Homes" development of 920 low-income housing units sits about 80% empty.

  • Everybody's got to live somewhere. Angela Caputo of the Chicago Reporter broke the story this week that 20% of the CHA's rental property is sitting empty even though the administration is still receiving funding from HUD as if all of the units are occupied. Held "offline" to repair damage, modernization or simply due to sluggish turnaround times, these units could be occupied by low-income residents who are instead being sent into privately-owned homes.
  • Pretty and flexible. Good in a Yoga instructor and in an apartment.

    Making the most of a tiny space. As apartment prices go up, available space shrinks. This gorgeous New York apartment design uses clean white lines and long straight furniture to trick the eye. It also makes the most of a single room rental by turning the largest objects into multitasking workhorses. Courtesy of

  • Real life (or a reasonable facsimile). If the real world real estate market is getting you down, there's always, a site where you can download virtual land, houses and apartments for your Sims in video game "The Sims 3." The designs featured give an interesting insight into fantasy architecture, and the property descriptions used by the site's owner could well have been cribbed from our local MLS. It's almost a pity they're pixellated.
  • The cost of staying cool. If you've got a central A/C unit from before 2010, the cost to maintain it is going up. A lot. Find out why your A/C maintenance costs are getting worse in this Angie's list Q&A.

Thanks for stopping by!


Weekend Links for June 30, 2012

[Generation rent cartoon courtesy of The Downward Spiral.]

From my browser to yours comes the 2nd installment of the StrawStickStone weekend links!

  • Journey to the center of the earth: MentalFloss (a personal favorite of mine) ran an excellent article this week about air rights and underground rights for homeowners.
  • Introducing "Generation Rent." HuffPo has a great article about the surge of young adults who are moving to/staying in the city and choosing convenience & renting over the suburban homeowner lifestyle. Faced with uncertain career prospects and rising energy costs, the foot-friendly cities are giving rise to a new generation with very different cultural values.
  • Why yes, Realtors can help with Rentals. A recent "Real Estate Matters" column from the Tribune serves as a great reminder that Realtors are in the housing business, not just the home sales business.
  • What's included in your mortgage's APR? I had a great conversation with one of our office's in-house mortgage lenders this week about the hidden fees that can be rolled into your mortgage. Sometimes those fees can mean the difference between a good loan and a great one. Find out what makes up the difference between your interest rate and your APR with some guidance from
  • Early property tax bills in the mail for Cook County. Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas has announced that 2nd installment property tax bills for 2011 will be in the mail this month and due August 1. In previous years the bills have always been late, with due dates sometime in the fall. The bills have been late for so long, in fact, that most bank have come to expect an October or November due date, as have most title companies. This sudden burst of punctuality will mean that most escrowed property tax accounts will come up short, and that any property tax prorations included in home sales for the first half of this year will have been incorrect. Stay tuned for StrawStickStone's take on the mess this coming Wednesday, but for now find out more at the Sun-Times article.
  • Rowing for cancer survivors. A former tenant that I placed in two apartments is on a quest to fund her non-profit. Jenn Gibbons is founder and coach of Recovery on Water, a Chicago based not-for-profit rowing team for breast cancer survivors. Jenn formed the group in response to research that physical activity helps reduce the chance of breast cancer recurrence. This summer she is rowing the circumference of Lake Michigan solo to help raise money for ROW. Follow her adventure and make a contribution to the cause at

Do you have a link to a real estate or Chicago-related item that you'd like me to share here? Let me know!

Weekend Links

I figure you guys could use a weekly break from my yammering so I'll be doing links on the weekends. Don't know if this will continue forever but it's worth a shot.

  • The Future is now: The Illinois legislature has approved an amendment to the Illinois Security Deposit Return Act that allows deposit receipts and statements of damages to be sent via email instead of registered post. Friend of the blog Rich Magnone gives some good analysis of the new amendment.
  • Saying nice things: I should also mention that Rich is an excellent Chicago Eviction attorney and legal advisor for landlords. His site,, contains a ton of good info for landlords from the legal POV. He's thorough and practical and has excellent taste.
  • Gambling with Apartments: It's always interesting to see what big corporate thinks of our living situation. See how the REITs who invest in large-scale apartment complexes are assessing Chicago's rapidly rising rents and falling vacancy levels. REIS Reports has one take on the booming downtown luxury rental market, and Crain's Chicago Real Estate Daily has another great take on the matter.
  • Oldie but goodie: over on Get Rich Slowly, a blogger talks about how ruining his credit score was the best thing he could have done for learning how to live within his means.
  • A bit of good news: Another agent in my office (Baird & Warner City North) was one of the experts consulted for a front page Chicago Tribune article on Friday. Chicago home prices break 49 month losing streak.
  • The ultimate move-in checklist: The Chicago Housing Authority performs some of the most stringent housing inspections in the area on behalf of its Housing Choice Voucher Holders, also known as recipients of "Section 8" housing assistance. They make a version of their inspection checklist available for the public. See if your apartment would pass a CHA inspection. (PDF)
  • Eviction of the week: a tenant renting out his apartment for short stays using the popular AirBnB short term rental service has found himself served with an eviction suit. Maybe he can use some of the $20k he earned from his illicit side business to buy his own place instead. Find out his side of the story at Fast Company.