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This first-timer dropped $425,000 via FaceTime to snag a condo

Investors buying up properties with wads of cash. Outsized loans for palatial spreads. Open houses drawing twenty buyers to the first showing, and bidding wars galore. With average time on market down 25 percent and inventory shrinking 31 percent from this time last year, it’s clear that the real estate rush is on. No wonder — buyers chilled by the recession now face a ticking clock. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.59 percent at the end of July, up from 3.74 percent before Memorial Day. This week, Grid profiles five buyers who have waded into a market that’s shifted rapidly in the last 18 months, describing their challenges and pairing them with professionals.

The rookies: Greg Smit, 28, medical-devices sales, and Krystal Buchert, 29, marketing and communications.

The target:

· Two beds

· Two baths

· +1,200 square feet

· Open floor plan

· Upgraded kitchen

· Quiet street

· Dual vanities

Realtor: Tommy Choi, Weinberg Choi Realty

Price range: $400,000-$550,000

Neighborhood: River North

Problem: Since they’d never purchased a home before, Smit and Buchert wanted to take their time. (Smit is buying the condo, and his girlfriend is moving in with him.) But the properties within reach of first-time buyers are moving so quickly that they didn’t have the luxury of coolly assessing their prospects. Every time Smit noticed a promising listing, “an hour later, it would be under contract and off the market.”

Realtor advice: Choi is encouraging his first-time buyers to look at a lot of properties — even ones that might not seem especially promising — so they have a enough of a grip on the market to feel comfortable moving fast when the time comes.

“It’s just as important to see the bad ones, because then, when you find something you really like, you can quickly say yes,” he says.

And with properties in hot neighborhoods like River North coming off the market in a hurry, Choi emphasized the importance of seeing places the first day they’re listed.

Result: After missing several opportunities, the couple began rearranging their work schedules so they could see places on the first day they listed. Choi did his part, building extra time into his calendar to meet his clients for last-minute showings.

On a recent Friday, Smit and Buchert took Choi’s recommendations to the extreme. Smit was in Iowa for a wedding when Choi emailed him a listing that met all their criteria. The realtor took Buchert to see the condo that afternoon, and she walked through with her iPhone, sending Smit live video through FaceTime. “I couldn’t make out too much depth,” Smit says, but he’d already viewed another unit in the building, and he trusted Buchert’s judgment. Sight (mostly) unseen, he made an offer, which the seller accepted the next day. “I was a tad nervous,” Choi admits.

When his flight landed in Chicago that Sunday evening, he texted Choi, “Is it possible to see the place that I just bought?” Smit ended up happy with his purchase — once he finally got to tour it.


This week, Grid profiles five buyers who have waded into a market that’s shifted rapidly in the last 18 months, describing their challenges and pairing them with professionals.

Monday: The rookies

Tuesday: The empty nesters

Wednesday: The nest-builders

Thursday: The bargain hunter

Friday: The bidding warriors

Photo by Heath Sharp