How to Avoid Getting Burned (and Burned Out) When House Hunting in Chicago

Alex Mayster


Hunting for a Chicago home can be fun, but it doesn't always go as smoothly as expected. The inventory in the Windy City can fluctuate with the seasons, which sometimes leads to a lengthy search process. A prolonged hunt can frustrate buyers who are eager to take the next big step in their lives, and as the search goes on, the odds of buyer burnout grow.

But there are ways to battle and beat burnout.

We spoke with some of Chicago's top real estate agents, as identified by OpenHouse Realty, an agent referral company (and a U.S. News partner), to uncover their tips to help buyers avoid a lengthy search process. Here's what they had to say.

[Read: A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Chicago.]

Enlist the help of a professional. Working with a real estate agent can help reduce the amount of time it takes to find a home.

"Taking the time to meet with a professional up front will save you hours in the field," says Melissa Vasic, the lead buyer specialist with MKT Properties. "The tools that we have will allow us to search more specifically."

Those tools include having access to information on active listings all over Chicago, not to mention the inside scoop on homes that have not hit the market yet. Sure, buyers can use various search engines to find homes themselves, but Amanda McMillan, CEO and real estate advisor with Chicago Home Partner and @properties, warns that doing so may invite added frustration.

"We're so overly stimulated with information now, sometimes buyers just take on too much," McMillan says. "Sometimes [buyers] overwhelm themselves and give themselves too much data, and a lot of times it's not even the correct data."

Know how to play the game. Buyers who don't want to find themselves getting repeatedly outbid need to make sure they're not wasting any time when they find a property they want.

It's important to be prepared before heading out on a search. "Have your ducks in a row," says Jeff Lowe, president of Lowe Group Chicago at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. "From the first day you go out to look at houses you need to have your preapproval done. Otherwise, if you like a house, a seller won't take you seriously, and you certainly won't win any multiple-offer bids."

While the amount offered goes a long way to determining who sellers select in multi-bid scenarios, it's not the only determining factor. Vasic has had success encouraging her clients to write letters to sellers, explaining how important a home is to that buyer.

Lowe tries to get all the information he can from the seller. In a multi-bid situation, he's advised clients to accept irregular closing dates offered by the seller, or to let the seller keep any emotional attachments -- like light fixtures from a child's bedroom -- in hopes that it may give his buyer an advantage.

"In your first offer, give them little nuances that they might want to make things easier," Lowe says. "You try to line up everything you can to make the sellers happy, so you can work on price a little bit."

[Read: 5 Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods in Chicago to Buy a Home.]

Take a step back. While the previously mentioned strategies can go a long way toward limiting frustrations during the homebuying process, there's no one surefire way to ensure your search is quick and easy -- especially in a seller's market like Chicago.

Buyers who seem to be doing everything right but still aren't having any luck may need to re-examine their wants and needs. "If they're working with an agent and they're not finding something in two months, then there's something going on with their expectations," Vasic says. "If the criteria on price and location are limited, they may have to do a fixer-upper, or vice versa. If they're not willing to fix up, they need to be more flexible on price."

Simply taking a break is another option. In Chicago, many sellers list their homes immediately after the Super Bowl (early February) and in early fall. Buyers who can't find what they're looking for may want to step away for a bit and return to the market when inventory is high.

In McMillan's experience, buyers who approach the process with the methods mentioned here have success in the long run.

"Things have an incredible way of working out, even when you feel like you're at the end of your rope," she assures. "It's always amazing to me how things seem to come together in the end. You just never want to rush. Just have faith in what you're doing. It will work out."

[Read: Get the Best Price on a Lakefront Condominium in Chicago.]

Looking for a real estate agent in Chicago? Our Find an Agent tool can match you to the person who's most qualified for the job.


Alex Mayster is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.