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Multiple bids? Housing market showing signs of life

Karen Boguslawski says she was "shocked" when she received 2 offers for her house, which she put up for sale for $479,000, within 9 days of when she listed it this past November. She wrapped up the sale in January for $475,000 and moved into this new home, which she is renovating. Photographed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Karen Boguslawski was stunned when she started getting competing bids for her home in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood, resulting in a 12-day race toward signing a contract with a buyer.

“I was completely shocked when I had a scheduled showing within a couple of hours of it going on the market,” she said of her listing on Nov. 11. “I was arranging more showings every day or every other day.”

Boguslawski ended up with two bidders, both of whom had visited the home prior to the scheduled open house. One of her two bidders accepted her counteroffer immediately, while the other didn’t respond.

“I really thought it would sit for a while until after the holidays,” she said. “On the one hand, I was happy that I didn’t have to keep it ‘open house’-ready on a day-to-day basis, but I wasn’t quite prepared to pack and find movers and figure out temporary housing within 60 days.”

Chicago-area housing experts said Boguslawski’s experience is becoming more common. Even though the housing market is far from recovered, more and more sellers are getting multiple bidders on their properties.

“Quite honestly, it was a change, and some people questioned initially whether there really were multiple offers,” said Eve Bremen, who runs Coldwell Banker Winnetka North and who started seeing the phenomenon in March.

What’s going on? To a great extent, it’s supply and demand, Bremen said.

New construction has been stalled for years, and finally the stock of existing homes has been nibbled down. Plus, historically low interest rates on mortgages are luring more buyers into the market.

Don’t get too giddy, all you home sellers, said Michael Mazzei, senior vice president of Koenig & Strey RealLiving, where he specializes in Glenview and Northbrook, Deerfield and Lincoln Park/DePaul – all of which are, he said, seeing competition among buyers.

“If I had to give you a number, in 60 percent of our transactions, we’re seeing multiple offers,” he said. “But it’s not all of a sudden a seller’s market [where] sellers can start inflating their prices.”

Steve Scheuring agreed. An agent with Baird & Warner in Oak Park, Scheuring has been involved in five or six multiple offers in the past two months.

“There are a number of factors contributing but this does NOT mean prices are rising,” he said. “Most of the bidding wars involve offers still under asking price.”

Jim Blaha, owner of the River Forest-based, buyer-specialized JFB Realty, said multiple offers are just getting the sellers closer to their list price – but still not reaching it, he said.

“Buyers often start aggressively low, but if another offer comes in and the buyer still wants the house, the buyer will get reasonable quickly,” Blaha said.

And the phenomenon is not limited to high-end properties.

Diane Lynch, a Realtor at Realty Executive Premier in Wheaton, represents a buyer who lost out to higher bids on four different homes listed under $160,000 in the Hanover Park-Glendale Heights area.

“He bids under list price and every time there are multiple offers and he comes in low every time,” she said.

Boguslawski listed her 1,450-square-foot, three-bedroom and 2.5-bath Georgian for $479,000 after she decided that she wanted a smaller, one-level home that was easier to care for.

She sold it for $475,000, closing Jan. 17.

Boguslawski bought the house in 2003 for $370,000 and invested $75,000 in remodeling the kitchen, bathrooms and basement.

“I wanted less maintenance and fewer rooms to clean, and at this stage in my life, I decided it made sense to sell sooner rather than later,” said Boguslawski, a 50-year-old project manager at BMO Harris Bank. “I felt the price was appropriate based on the work I’d done.”

Realtors say all signs point to a continued strong market.

“We’ve seen more multiple offers in the last 60 days than in the past two years,” said Lisa Kon, managing broker at Baird & Warner Edgebrook. “These first six months [of 2012] are the busiest real estate market we’ve seen since 2006. There is a great buzz in the market.”

Kon hosted a special workshop in her office on April 26 to remind her Realtors about working with buyers with multiple offers.

“It had been so long” since that happened, she said.

But Kon said sellers are being more realistic about pricing their homes to reflect today’s market and ensuring that the homes look attractive to potential buyers.

To avoid getting into a bidding war, Roz Byrne, an agent with the Oak Park-based RE/MAX in the Village, advises her buyers to be decisive once they see a home they like.

“As soon as you like a house it’s not that uncommon that another buyer may like it too,” said Byrne, who had multiple offers on a listing last month, and last year had about 20 percent of her 30 deals obtain multiple offers.

“When a house is priced correctly in the first place or when a price adjustment brings it to the sweet spot, a buyer will come forth and sometimes more than one buyer,” she said.

Contributing: Art Golab,Irv Leavitt, Felicia Dechter,Chuck Fieldman, Jane Michaels