Monthly Archives: January 2016

Chicago Auto Show Set for Another Successful Event in 2017

From hardcore gearheads to casual car fans, the Chicago Auto Show attracts thousands of people from all over the country every year, and 2016 will be no exception.

According to The Rock River Times, the Chicago Auto Show will commence on Feb. 13 amidst much anticipation. The car exhibition has been going on for 115 years and is widely regarded as the largest auto show in the nation.

Taking place at the McCormick Place Convention Center, the Chicago Auto Show utilizes over one million square feet to showcase every type of automobile imaginable. RVs, race cars, exotic luxury vehicles, and family sedans can all be seen at the eclectic event.carshow

This year’s show will unofficially begin on Jan. 12 with “First Look for Charity,” a private event in which over $2 million will be donated to local nonprofit organizations. The black tie function will run from 7-11 p.m., and attendees will be given the chance to win a brand new car.

The low cost of admission is a primary reason that so many auto fans filter in to the McCormick Place Convention Center every single year. General admission is just $12 for adults, $7 for seniors and children, and free for children ages six and under.

One of the biggest attractions at this year’s Chicago Auto Show is the Chevy Bolt EV, a plug-in hybrid car that uses a combination of gas and electricity to operate.

While most car batteries are designed to last only four to six years before needing to be replaced, the Chevy Bolt EV’s battery can last for much longer because it doesn’t solely depend on gasoline.

According to PR Newswire, major corporations have been clamoring over the chance to sponsor the event. This year, the Chicago Auto Show’s roster of sponsors includes State Farm, Cars.com, the Chicago Tribune, and several others.

“More important than their financial impact on the show’s bottom line is the activation each sponsor brings to the show and the fact that the sponsors improve the experience for show attendees,” said Tim McBride, director of sponsorship and marketing for the Chicago Auto Show.

The Chicago Auto Show will be open to the public on Feb. 13 and will conclude on Feb. 21. Chicagoans who missed out on last year’s festivities would be wise to mark the 2016 show on their calendars now.

Chicago-Area Home Prices Continue to Increase, But Buyers and Sellers are Benefitting

suburban houseMetropolitan areas are notorious for their high housing costs. Arguably one of America’s most sought-after cities, Chicago is no stranger to increased home prices, either. New data reveals that Chicago-area existing residential property prices rose 8.9% as compared to their prices a year ago.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the median price of a single-family home jumped a staggering 11.6% at the end of 2015. Condominiums saw a less-dramatic increase in price but still rose a full 4.3%.

The average price of a single family home is now at $217,700, according to the article.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said the median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $224,100, up 7.6% from a year ago.

In addition to the cost of a mortgage, studies indicate that homeowners will spend between 1 and 4% of a home’s value annually on maintenance and repairs. Overall, the average price of a home in the Chicago area beats out the state average.

What do these numbers mean for home buyers? Realtors and industry experts say even with the increase in prices, now is the best time to make a purchase.

“The Illinois housing market continued to make positive strides in 2015,” Mike Drews, president of the Illinois Association of Realtors, said in a news release. “Buyer demand remains strong even amid tighter winter inventory, and higher home prices bode well for homeowners thinking of selling.”

Although December is typically a slow month for sales, more than 8,265 homes were sold in the nine-county Chicago area last month. This is a 2.1% increase from December 2014, proving the strength of the Chicago housing market.

Dan Wagner, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors, said, “The Chicago market continues to post strong price gains, reflecting consumer interest in being in a vibrant city and a continuing shortage of available homes from which to choose.”

Despite the recent increases, Chicago home prices are still below where they were pre-recession (adjusted for inflation). Many cities in America are struggling to recover from the economic decline of 2008, but Chicago-area homes saw better price trends than those nationally.

Home sales totaled 111,462 for the entire year: a 6.6% increase overall from 2014.

Alvin “Chip” Wagner III of A.L. Wagner Appraisal Group in Naperville stresses the importance to buy now, citing the basic law of supply and demand. Supply is low, so demand is high.

“The residential housing market in the Chicago region continues to see an undersupply of housing, and, with the increasing trend of homes under contract, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see increasing values in 2016,” he said. “The reduced inventory of distressed housing, including short sales and foreclosures, is also helping our average sales price growth.”

The article closes out with one last interesting factoid: real estate markets tend to do better during years of presidential elections.

Chicago Landlord Ordered to Appear in Court After Refusing to Comply with City Heating Ordinance

The mild start to winter gave many people false hope, but the harsh reality of frigid temperatures is beginning to set in.

Now, a local landlord is in some hot water after attempting to circumvent Chicago’s heating ordinance.apartment

According to WGN, Velma Bowman, a tenant in a building at 46th and Lake Park, complained to the city when the temperature in her apartment was hovering around 60 degrees despite the freezing conditions.

Under the Chicago heating ordinance, landlords are required to heat rental units to at least 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees overnight. Bowman, who has a CHA voucher to rent the unit, claims that she has been seeking assistance with her heating issue since November.

The apartment building’s owner, Wolcott Real Property, allegedly never even responded to Bowman’s complaints. Mimi Simon, a spokesperson for Chicago’s Department of Buildings, said that they have issued a notice of violation to the owner of Wolcott Real Properties, who will have to appear in court.

Chicago’s rapid descent into single-digit temperatures has also caused some plumbing problems for homeowners. While tree roots can cause thousands of dollars of damage to sewer lines, plumbers often get the majority of their business during the winter when pipes begin to freeze.

Jimmy Acevedo, who works for Four Seasons Heating and Cooling, said that some of the pipes he has been working on have become so frozen that residents are unable to shower or flush the toilet.

Acevedo added that proper insulation is key to protecting pipes, and he encourages homeowners to make sure their water is flowing well at all times.

According to Penn Live, frigid temperatures are also affecting plumbing for homeowners in central Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania American Water, a local utility service, provided several tips to local homeowners to avoid frozen pipes. Among the more notable tips offered were eliminating drafts near doors and allowing a small trickle of water to run overnight.

As for the fiasco regarding Velma Bowman, other local property owners will certainly take notice of Chicago’s strong stance on honesty between landlords and tenants.

Wolcott Real Properties has yet to comment on the matter.

Retail Pharmacy Chains Aim to Streamline Healthcare

In an attempt to ease qualms about the legitimacy of healthcare provided at walk-in clinics, CVS has decided to share the medical information of patients who use their walk-in clinics with the University of Chicago. The retail giant provides clinical support, medication counseling, chronic disease monitoring, and wellness programs at the medical clinics associated with their pharmacies.

The walk-in health clinics run by CVS are called MinuteClinic. These institutions act as an urgent care for patients looking for medical attention when it’s unavailable from their primary doctor.

According to pharmacytimes.com, a press release outlined CVS’s affiliation with the University of Chicago as an attempt to “enhance access to high-quality, affordable health care services for patients.” CVS will be providing prescription and visit information to the university through their electronic health record systems.

This decision comes at the tail-end of Walgreens announcement of the sale of their Chicago-area walk-in clinics to Downers Grove-based Advocate Health Care. According to the Chicago Tribune, this decision was made in a continued attempt to improve operations among their health clinics.

While the specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed, all 56 locations of Walgreens’ in-store clinics have been sold to Advocate.

By continuing to outsource clinical operations, Walgreens hopes to continue to provide access to healthcare for patients who wish to avoid the emergency room. Considering only 29% of primary care physicians offer evening hours, many patients go to walk-in clinics because they can’t be seen by their primary physician.

The new pharmacy programs also aim to unify the country’s healthcare services.

“We are pleased to work with these exceptional health care providers throughout the country to develop collaborative programs that enhance access to patient care, improve health outcomes and lower health care costs in the communities they serve,” said Troyen A. Brennan, MD, Chief Medical Officer, CVS Health. “By allowing our electronic health records and information systems to communicate and share important information about the patients we collectively serve, we will have a more comprehensive view of our patients, which can aid in health care decision making and help ensure patients adhere to important medications for chronic diseases.”

With a comprehensive view of patients and their medical history, physicians hope to create a more effective medical care system.

The Ocean Hides the Vast Majority of Fiber Optic Cables That Provide Much of Our Data Transmission

water-drop-275938_1280It’s common knowledge that cell phones and mobile devices have essentially become the norm in the technology world. What many people probably don’t realize is that the networks that provide many of these very same wireless connections rely on cables — fiber optic cables to be exact.

According to a recent piece from the mobile network operator news site RCRwireless.com, there are actually hundreds of thousands of kilometers of bulk fiber optic cables that travel out of sight and mind under the sea to connect countries and continents.

This underwater network of bulk fiber optic cables is responsible for transmitting about 90% of the world’s data. It’s unclear just how much data is sent via these connections daily, but it’s surely at least measured in terabytes. If you don’t know how much a terabyte is, keep in mind that “mega” is a prefix denoting one million. One terabyte is equal to one million megabytes, so a million terabytes would be a whole lot of megabytes. In data communications, this term is typically used in describing the speed of data transfer in megabits per second, the bandwidth of a given system in megahertz.

Fiber optic cable submarine networks have been around for a lot longer than you probably would guess. According to a 2104 Submarine Telecoms Industry Report authored by Terabit Consulting, companies started constructing this infrastructure in the late 1980s. From that time until 2014, it’s estimated that about $57.2 billion has been invested into approximately 1.275 million kilometers of fiber optic cables.

One of the primary reasons fiber optic cables have been successful and a huge part of the industry stems from their durability and overall lifespan.

“The major drivers of transatlantic cables’ longevity have been advancements in upgrade technology,” the Telecoms report states. “Which correspond precisely to the 6,500-kilometer range of transatlantic spans, combined with extremely competitive pricing of both transatlantic capacity and managed bandwidth products, both of which have thus far eliminated any incentive for operators and content providers to opt for building over buying.”

In an effort to, “help safeguard this critical communications infrastructure and promote reliable communications for businesses and consumers,” the Federal Communication Commission passed new regulations in September of 2015. The hope is that the new regulations will create a better outage reporting system to assist regulators in the event of outages.

Commercial Landlords Face Slowing Price Gains After Record-Breaking Year

Chicago SkylineCommercial real estate transactions in the U.S. nearly reached an all-time high in 2015, but recent fluctuations in the global economy could make 2016 less lucrative for landlords.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Federal Reserve’s first interest-rate increase in nine years may contribute to the end of a historic run in which commercial real estate investors enjoyed 33 consecutive months of price growth.

While experts do not believe that real estate values are guaranteed to fall as a result of the Fed’s decision, it does indicate that prices aren’t likely to climb much higher in 2016.

“A lot of the smart money is saying it’s a better time to sell than to buy,” said Tad Philipp, a commercial-property debt analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “The warning light is on that the rate of appreciation is poised to decelerate.”

Investment sales for commercial properties in markets picked up steam early last year, rising more than 11% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2015. However, a slump in oil prices and slowing growth in China are threatening to crimp returns for investors moving forward.

Commercial property investments saw a notable uptick throughout 2015 as global financial markets floundered. The Standard and Poor’s 500 index lost 5.3%, and high-yield bonds lost 2.5% in the same period.

“It is unusual for commercial real estate to outperform both stocks and bonds by such a significant amount,” said Jeffrey Fisher, a professor emeritus of real estate at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

“In the long run, we expect real estate to have a return that falls somewhere between stocks and bonds,” Fisher added.

If commercial real estate is indeed set to take a step back in 2016, then some local Chicago investors did not get the memo.

According to Chicago Real Estate Daily, two Chicago office tenant brokers recently joined commercial property conglomerate Newmark Grubb Knight Frank to expand in the Windy City.

The brokers, Bob Chodos and Steve Levitas, are prepared to follow an active year of leasing and property sales in Chicago with more acquisitions as other investors sell real estate in response to the Fed’s interest-rate increase.

“There’s been a lot of leasing activity and it’s also been a time of consolidation in the industry,” Chodos said. “Newmark is very acquisitive and has been adding big teams in a lot of markets. Chicago is a key market for them to expand and develop, and I think they view a selection of a team like ours as a step in building that.”

Newmark’s continued investment in Chicago real estate shows that there are some in the industry who do not project the same stagnation as other experts. U.S. commercial real estate transactions reached $546 billion this past year, compared to $432 billion in 2014.

While the pace of price appreciation has already started to slow, it remains to be seen if the “sell now” attitude will pay off for investors at the end of 2016.

An Inside Look at John Buck’s New Chicago Rental Tower

modern apartments with a blue sky

The MILA, a bKL-designed 41-story apartment complex set to open this year on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, may not be open to rent quite yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a sneak peak into what’s inside. Curbed Chicago got an inside look at the new 402-unit over-sized baby of developer John Buck and reported on it in late December.

The article points out that the rental tower is positioned at a prime real estate location, right along what’s known as “The Cultural Mile.” The area has already seen a significant amount of new apartment projects, hotels, and residential properties go up in recent years, but the MILA might quickly become the landmark of the entire area.

The only major change from original design concepts had to do with tenant parking.

“The high-profile nature of the site forced a design feature which prevented the parking levels from being visible on the Michigan Avenue streetwall,” the article pointed out. “As such, passerbys may have noticed the gap in the structure on the podium levels. This space will be filled in with an artistic light display, rather than the Times Square-esque signs that some early concept renderings had shown.”

On the inside, the apartment tower contains studio, one, and two-bedroom apartments with a consistent floor plan on all residential levels of the building. It is designed with the intention of reaching a Silver rating on the federal government’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scale.

This will be supported by the climate control heat pumps featured in each individual unit, which tap into an efficient centralized chiller system on the roof. All of the units are also hard wired with high speed-internet that utilizes CAT5 network connections; CAT5 cable has a maximum frequency of 100 MHz and can transmit up to 10/100/1000Mbps and is typically used for networks and mulit-line phone systems.

Oh, and if that weren’t enough, every apartment has its own in-unit laundry, too.

If all that doesn’t do it for you, the place also has some pretty spectacular views despite its urban setting.

Chicago Area Braces For Deep Freeze

Close up of snow plow on street.As temperatures dipped into the single digits and wind chills 10 to 15 degrees below zero whipped wailed, the Chicago area got its first deep freeze of the season on January 10, bringing with it the potential for serious problems.

Authorities expect the cold to stay for a few days, with January 12 being the coldest of the freeze. The cold snap is also the area’s most chilling in more than 10 months.

Besides being incredibly unpleasant to deal with, the arctic temperatures can also cause some serious issues, such as frozen pipes, which can lead to leaks.

“As the temperatures rise, either they’re going to have no issues, or where there’s a crack in the pipe — as the water thaws through it — it’ll become a leak,” Midway Building Services operations manager Bob Maroney told CBS Chicago last winter when about 60 buildings, including a lot of high-rises, had to deal with frozen pipe issues.

In 2014, the city had more than 4,000 calls for frozen pipes by the end of February.

“It’s one of the worst winters we’ve had in years,” Department of Water Management commissioner Thomas Powers told 5NBC that year. “The frost is going down 5 feet and that’s right where the water service comes in. And we are seeing a lot of frozen service.”

As the current cold snap sets in, homeowners would be wise to take preventative steps to ensure that their pipes from freezing. According to Allstate Insurance, you can prevent pipes from freezing by disconnecting hoses, covering outside faucets, keeping a house’s temperature at 68 degrees, opening cabinet doors below sinks to allow the heat to circulate, wrapping pipes near exterior walls in insulation, closing all windows near water pipes, and heating the basement.

In the event that pipes do freeze and burst, homeowners may want to consider all of their options. Trenchless pipe replacement is cleaner, safer, and typically saves homeowners around 40% compared with the cost of traditional sewer replacement, making it the best choice in the event of a plumbing emergency.

Illinois Delaying Income Tax Refunds Until March to Crack Down on Identity Theft

Financial accountingIllinois residents who prefer to get their tax refund as early as possible may be disappointed this year as the state makes an effort to fight identity theft.

According to the Peoria Journal Star, the Illinois Department of Revenue recently announced that it will be delaying income tax refunds until March 1.

While many people assumed that the change was in response to the budget impasse that has left the state without a spending plan for 2016, the department insists that it is part of an effort to crack down on fraud and identity theft.

“By delaying tax refunds by just a few weeks, we’ll be able to better detect attempts at identity theft and ensure taxpayer refunds do not fall needlessly into hands of criminals,” said state Revenue Director Connie Beard.

Beard added that anti-fraud regulations implemented last year saved Illinois residents nearly $5 million. Department of Revenue spokesman Terry Horstman claims that this most recent change is just another example of how Illinois is working to protect its residents.

“Illinois has been pretty proactive regarding this issue of fraud prevention,” Horstman said. “Other states might just now be getting into this.”

Many residents are displeased that they pay a state income tax in the first place, and on the heels of recent unrest throughout the city, the delay will likely be met with widespread condemnation.

Currently, Florida is one of only seven states that don’t collect an individual income tax at the state level, in addition to Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Another state that also collects income tax is following Illinois’s lead in cracking down on identity theft. According to local Baton Rouge news affiliate KNOE, the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) has extended refund processing time to 60 days.

Over the past two years, the LDR claims to have saved taxpayers over $25 million through its anti-fraud initiatives. Also, more than 50 individuals have been arrested for crimes related to tax season identity theft.

As for Illinois, residents who file electronic returns prior to March 1 should expect to receive their refund two to three weeks after this date. Returns submitted after March 1 will be issued two to three weeks after the return is submitted.

The delay is expected to affect millions of people throughout the state. In 2014, the year before any anti-fraud regulations were implemented, more than 1.3 million returns were filed in January and February.

This year, those who file their tax returns early will have to wait for their refund. However, filing early returns will give many people one less thing to worry about as spring approaches.