As you may have seen last week, we FINALLY sold and closed on our condo! Today we’re sharing the top 5 takeaways from the surprisingly long process, including what we wish we had known before it hit the market.
Whew! We’re so incredibly grateful to have the condo sale process behind us. It took waaaaay longer than we thought, and we learned a lot about the side of real estate we don’t normally deal with. Our amazing agent, Jen, was incredible throughout the process, and we couldn’t have done it without her! Below, I’m sharing the biggest things we took away from the experience.
If you’re new around here or simply catching up, the condo was the first Chicago home we purchased together. It’s also when we started this blog (in 2009)! These posts give you the backstory: why we’re selling the condo | our to-do list before we sell | q+a with a real estate pro | the condo kitchen makeover
1 | Our Expectations Were Slightly Unrealistic
It’s no secret that the real estate market has been absolutely through the roof over the course of the last 18 months or so. But what is the definition of ‘through the roof’? When we originally announced that we were selling the condo, we were inundated with comments from folks whose homes had ‘sold in less than 48 hours!‘ or ‘had received multiple offers in less than a week!’. These comments and the optimism of our agent after a hot spring and early summer market had us expecting a rush of folks beating down the door to buy this cozy little home. Instead, it was crickets.
The feedback from open houses and showings was fantastic. Everyone loved the layout, the improvements and the location. Unfortunately, the #1 bit of feedback that we received was that the unit (or more specifically the bedrooms) was too small. Those bedrooms, I tell you, were the biggest thorn in our side throughout the selling process. In an ironic twist, the things we loved the most about the condo when we purchased it (a cozy, cocoon-like bedroom!) were the things that seemed to drive 2021 buyers away. The efficient floor plan and snug bedrooms didn’t seem to align with what many folks were looking for – and that really took us by surprise.
2 | We Had to Work to Keep Our Emotions Out of the Transaction
After pouring our hearts into this little condo for eight years and all of the milestones that happened while we lived there – like getting married, starting this blog, adopting our first dog… the list goes on! – it was tough to separate the home from the sales process. Why aren’t people able to see the potential that we saw? Why aren’t the improvements we made resonating with potential buyers? Do we have bad taste? We questioned all of our choices, and we discussed at length until our (absolutely stellar!) realtor reminded us that the space didn’t need to resonate with every buyer, just the right buyer. We realized that the countless memories we made inside this space were ours and mattered exactly zero to anyone but us. Period, full stop. This was a business deal whether we liked it or not.
3 | The Upgrades We Made Weren’t the Deciding Factor For Our Buyer
Between having the unit professionally painted, the floors refinished, painting the cabinets ourselves, replacing every last light fixture and staging the home, it turned out that those improvements weren’t even the deciding factor for our buyer. They were more concerned with the floor plan and the fact that it seemed more well-maintained than a lot of the other units they had seen. That said, we were completely caught off guard when negotiating began, and the buying agent tried to compare our head-to-toe refreshed unit to fixer uppers. The fixer upper has an extra cabinet in the kitchen, they said. But the fixer doesn’t have refinished floors and a built-in in the home office!, we’d say. And this is where I refer you back to point 2, keeping our emotions out of the transaction.
The condo kitchen before it’s makeover:
While the upgrades were appreciated, they weren’t specifically what sealed the deal. We certainly don’t regret the improvements or the money we invested to make them, but we also can’t help to wonder if our buyer would have made the same offer on the condo if we had simply painted the walls and called it done. We’ll never know!
The condo kitchen after its makeover:
4 | The Hot Real Estate Market Demanded Single Family Homes
As we mentioned earlier, the real estate market of early 2021 was absolutely bonkers. To a degree, the seller’s market is still in play. Folks seemed to be looking for single family homes and larger, more recently constructed condos. People wanted to move out of the city, closer to their family. Many were willing to forgo location for space. The list goes on! That said, the vintage condo market, wasn’t quite as hot. For example, our close friends recently listed their single family home with our exact same real estate agent and had two competing full-price offers within a week of hitting the market!
On the other hand, our listing went live on July 1st, and we closed on November 11th. Our listing was within range – if not lower than – the average from the comps in our Chicago neighborhood. Over that same period of time, we reduced the listing price by $5,000 twice and $10,000 once for a total reduction of $20,000. The final offer that we accepted was also several thousand dollars less than our lowest listing price. While we were potentially overconfident in the value that our improvements would bring to the listing, the seasonality of the Chicago market also hit us hard. Our market cools down (literally and figuratively) over the winter, and the thought of 4 more months of carrying costs wasn’t something we could stomach.
The two examples obviously aren’t an apples to apples comparison, but they’re indicative of bigger trends in our area.
5 | We Learned About a Side of Real Estate We Weren’t Familiar With
We’ve purchased quite a few properties in our lives. However, with the exception of a small starter home that I purchased in Cincinnati prior to moving to Chicago, we had never been on the seller’s end of the transaction.
After touring hundreds of spaces and subsequently purchasing this condo, our primary home, Tree House and the Two Flat, we know what we like to look for in a property. We can generally walk into a space and see how it can be made to work best for us. This is a big part of what we do for a living; we optimize spaces through renovation, design and furnishings to make them, hopefully, better than we found them. That said, we admit that we missed the mark by assuming that every other person that walked through the doors of the condo would be able to envision things the way we could. We had to continually remind ourselves that our tastes and vision simply aren’t the same as everyone else’s. We made improvements to the condo that we loved, but might not be loved by others.
This process threw a lot of curveballs our way, but in the end, we’re better for having gone through it. We learned a ton about real estate that will help us navigate future transactions on both sides of the process. We overcame some of our own shortcomings and will handle the next sale (not for a looong time, we think) with more knowledge and understanding. We’ll also be far better prepared if we ever decide to sell it all, and move to the beach, a dream that can only be born after having survived 2020, haha.
Thank you to every single one of you that sent us helpful DMs and suggestions, alternate viewpoints and encouragement. It means the world.