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This search for a starter family home didn't stop with one suburb

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 nest-builders: Jason Girardin, 30, commercial banker and Lauren Mandac, 26, kindergarten teacher

Requirements

• Good school district

• Neighborhood where kids can play outside

• Bearable downtown commute

• Strong investment value

Agent: Peter Vanderveld, United Real Estate

Price range: $300,000-$400,000

Problem: Girardin and Mandac are juggling a lot. In addition to renting out Girardin’s three-bedroom, two-bathroom Old Town condo and looking for a house in the suburbs where they can start a family, they’re knee-deep in wedding plans for their June nuptials. But they don’t feel they can’t put off their search for a time when they have fewer balls in the air. “If we wait longer, we could miss the low interest rates,” Girardin says. “A lot of homes that you could have picked up on the cheap already have started moving.” His condo, purchased in 2007 for $370,000, was recently appraised at $455,000, so he pulled out funds for a healthy down payment for their future house.

Compounding their rush is a sense that they don’t know which town they’d like to move to. There are a number of suburbs that’ll satisfy their basic criteria, and narrowing the list down has proven difficult.

Word to the wise: City-dwellers often think they should choose a suburb first, then look for houses in that area, but Vanderveld tells his clients to take the reverse approach: Compile a checklist of the factors that are most important to them, and then trust the computer. “With so much new technology, you can view hundreds of different houses in one evening,” he says. “It’s easy to eliminate certain places by using a satellite view — for example, if it backs up to a busy road.”

To ensure that the purchase will be a smart investment, Vanderveld rules out any listings with elements that could make them harder to sell when Girardin and Mandac want to upgrade, such as a pool, a one-car garage, or a basement that floods easily.

Result: The couple say they’ve broadened their search, looking at suburbs from Orland Park north to Hinsdale, and as far west as Downers Grove — though Girardin is adamant that he won’t spend three hours a day stuck in traffic. He’s still getting used to the idea of leaving the city, where his favorite places are within walking distance.

“It’s going to be a tough transition for me, but it’s also what I want to do,” he says. He and Mandac also are debating whether they want to buy a smaller place now, then upgrade in a few years, or spring for a bigger home and plan to stay longer.


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