Elementary School Rankings: SchoolSparrow 2.0 Aims to Go Beyond Test Scores

In the upcoming months SchoolSparrow, a site I’ve written about previously, is going to be relaunching in Chicago with a completely new interface and new features. As reported by Chicago Magazine, SchoolSparrow is a niche real estate website that enables parents to find affordable homes in quality school districts. The new site will be launching with an intense focus on establishing itself as an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about the schools and homes in their surrounding area.

SchoolSparrow’s current site enables Chicago residents to view CPS School Rankings which are generated by examining historical ISAT scores (in aggregate as well as by grade). While many parents, state officials, and even education consultants use


NPR’s Interview with the Founder of SchoolSparrow

test scores as the one and only factor when considering a school’s quality, Tom Brown, the website’s founder, recognizes they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, Tom learned when he first started this site back in 2012 what a hot topic test scores can be when he was invited to participate in a segment on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago to discuss the power of SchoolSparrow. You’ll note that at the 11 minute mark that a caller named George raises a very fair point that our society has an unhealthy obsession with test scores. He goes on to comment that he believes that individuals and entities that promote the use of test scores to evaluate elementary schools or to create public school rankings are only serving to perpetuate this issue.

As such, the new site, which will be launching in the next few months, aims to become a one stop shop for all available data on Chicago public schools. Further, the site will be using this data and other research to generate quality and insightful content to further educate current and/or expecting parents on some of the other factors one should consider when evaluating whether or not a particular school is the right fit for their child. The new site plans to leverage these insights to generate a new metric for schools – one that will consider a great deal more than the problematic and often controversial factor that is test scores. If you have any questions about the upcoming release, feel free to write the site’s founder at tom.brown@schoolsparrow.com and be sure to check the @schoolsparrow twitter account for updates.


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How Parents Can Benefit from School Sparrow A Service Brought to You by New Urban Property Services

We feel very passionate about helping families conduct a school and home search in Chicago, which is the focus of our website SchoolSparrow.com. To give you better look at what School Sparrow is all about we’ve interviewed a past client, here’s what they had to say:

SS: Why were you looking to move?

RF: The rent was going up in our two bedroom apartment and we were expecting a second child.

SS: How did you connect with New Urban?

RF: The first house we saw was suggested by friends. We saw two more with a realtor we didn’t really connect with. We stopped looking for a while, then my wife was put in contact with New Urban via the NPN network.

SS: How did you first encounter School Sparrow?

RF: With a 3 year old and a child on the way, finding a house near a good school was of prime importance to us. We were told Tom (New Urban Managing Broker) has special expertise in this area, and during our first meeting with him, he told us about School Sparrow.

SS: What was your reaction when you realized that School Sparrow could help you find a home while also educating you on quality public school options?

RF: We were lucky enough to already be engaged with Tom / New Urban. I used School Sparrow frequently to get school data for a given address far beyond what MLS and other online services could provide.

SS: How was working with School Sparrow different than working with other real estate companies/agents?

RF: We worked with Tom not only for his School Sparrow specialty, but also his LiveByTransit service. The two together was a very unique offering that met two of our most important needs in a new home.

SS: What was the greatest tool or asset which School Sparrow provided you with?

RF: School Sparrow’s greatest asset is its ability to minimize personal searching time while providing extremely thorough data about a school for a given address.

SS: What advice do you have for other parents navigating public schools in Chicago?

RF: We were amazed that there are actually people who act as consultants for navigating the CPS. Tom / School Sparrow saved us money, since its expertise provided during the house searching process.

SS: What advice do you have for other parents looking to purchase a home within the attendance boundaries of a Chicago public school?

RF:School Sparrow is a powerful tool for parents looking to purchase real-estate in Chicago. Its founder also has specialized expertise in matching real-estate to transit needs. I can’t wait for both those services to be merged, if they haven’t already.

Contact Tom Brown of New Urban Property Services today and find your next home near public transit or near a great Chicago public school! 312.502.8213.

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Buying Short Sales, The Risks and Rewards

There are benefits to purchasing short sales. First, let’s establish the difference between short sales and foreclosures. Unlike foreclosures, short sale properties are not owned by the banks. However, because the sale of the property will result in not enough proceeds to fully pay off the mortgage, the bank has to approve the sale. Therefore, short sales are a great way to purchase a property at below market value.

From the borrowers perspective, short sales are highly preferred because they have less impact on a persons credit than a foreclosure. Short sales are also preferred from a lenders perspective because they preserve the value of the property. For example, a person selling a short sale is not going to cause damage out of spite. Short sales also save money by avoiding foreclosure and eviction costs, and finally, short sales get the property off the banks books much quicker than foreclosed properties.

However, short sales do have a few downsides. The first one being, timing. Currently banks are overloaded with bad debts and it takes months for a short sale to get approved. The typical time span is usually 90-120 days. Next, after waiting all that time, it is possible the bank will not approve the short sale, or try to negotiate to a number that is not comfortable for you, the buyer.

The least desirable situation which can occur is the short sale property can get foreclosed upon while you are waiting. This means you have to start the process all over again since the bank now owns the property. This situation is tedious because short sale departments and foreclosure departments do not talk to each other. The bank walks down both paths at the same time and tend to whichever comes first. The good news you can avoid risk by doing your due diligence.

You can review court documents to see where the foreclosure is in the process, and if the seller is appropriately fighting the foreclosure. If the borrower does not put up a fight, a foreclosure can happen in the matter of a few months. If the borrower puts up a fight, he/she can drag it out for at least 18 months, and sometimes up to three or four years. Make sure your realtor is savvy enough to point you in the right direction on where the foreclosure is in the process,. Since you will need an attorney for the purchase always consult with him/her for their opinion.

New Urban Property Services can provide expert advice on navigating the purchase of a short sale or foreclosed property. If you have questions about the process or general real estate questions contact us today! 312.502.8213. You can also visit our websites which show case our other services Live By Transit and School Sparrow.

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Timing, It’s Everything

If you’re currently renting, know that it’s nearly impossible to time the end of your lease with the purchase, closing date, and move-in date of your new home. In fact, trying to time a purchase with the end of a lease can not only lead you to miss some opportunities, but also it can cause stress if your lease end date is near and you haven’t found anything yet. Renters tend to put too much emphasis on the lease end date, and while a lease is a contract that should not be taken lightly, the reality is you have options. Experienced and qualified realtors will be able to help you navigate through this part of the home buying process. Consider these possible scenarios:

  • You are about to close on your new home, but you still have a few months left on your lease. This is actually the preferred scenario! The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance dictates that your landlord has to reasonably approve a subletter. The landlord will sometimes even release you as the former tenant, and resign the new subletter for a year while avoiding having to pay a commission to a rental agency. Some firms, such as New Urban Property Services will help you qualify a subletter at no additional charge. In today’s environment, the rental market in Chicago is strong, and marketing to tenants is easy with Craigslist and sites like Domu.com.
  •  Your closing date is after your lease expires. Again, while this isn’t ideal it can be managed. The easiest solution is to go month-to-month, but landlords tend to avoid month-to-month lest they get stuck with a new vacancy during the winter. If your landlord insists upon you signing a full year, then you can always sign it up and sublet for a longer period of time.

With subleasing there’s always a risk that if the tenant doesn’t pay rent you are responsible. For this reason, it is a good idea to consult an attorney before entering into a sublet arrangement. Also, using a real estate professional to help you qualify the applicant will dramatically reduce this risk.

If you have additional questions on timing the end of your lease with the purchase of your new home please contact New Urban Property Services at 312.502.8213. New Urban is experienced with first time home-buyers and we will expertly help you navigate the process.

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Going Going Gone! Chicago Property Sales Soar

Compared to last year at this time, home sales in Chicago are up 32.2%. According to Chicagonow.com the percentage of homes including condos, townhomes and single family homes going under contract within two weeks of being listed is 41%. Well-priced homes in great locations are not only falling under contract fast, they are often receiving multiple bids and going for slightly more than the asking price.Family

What happened? Home buyers are suddenly confident, there is a shortage of inventory, and the Chicagoland area is experiencing the best real estate market in five years. Why? The belief is that the worst of the real estate decline is over, and those who have been waiting on the sidelines are coming out in droves to purchase before prices jump, and in order to take advantage of current interest rates.

While there is pent-up home inventory, many would-be sellers do not have their homes on the market. This is because they either don’t want to risk taking a loss, or they have renters in place which they are hesitant to disturb. The current lack of inventory has resulted in a price increase for high quality properties, in good locations. Together with the fact that homeowners have had time to pay down their mortgages, the result is that today might be the best time to sell in the last five years.

For questions on listing or buying a property in your neighborhood, in a desired school district, or near public transportation contact New Urban Property Services today! 312.502.8213.

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NEWS: Jones College Prep Expansion

A friend of the blog has alerted us that Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference at the Illinois Center for Broadcasting today, just across the street from Jones College Prep in the South Loop.

Existing Jones College Prep building at 606 S. State St.

Existing Jones College Prep building at 606 S. State St.

During his appearance, he announced that the current school building will not be repurposed as many in the area (including 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti) had hoped. Instead, the building at 606 South State Street will continue to be part of the JCP campus when the new building next door opens this fall.

This will nearly double the student population that Jones can serve (from 900 today to 1700 within a few years), which is good news for those students and families who are lucky enough to be admitted to the well-regarded secondary school. For those families hoping the old building might become a less restrictive school serving the South Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, Emanuel’s announcement comes as a major disappointment.

New Jones College Prep Building, scheduled to open this Fall.

New Jones College Prep Building, scheduled to open this Fall.

The Sun-Times has since confirmed this news in an article on their website.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the new Jones College Prep building, located at the south end of the same block as the existing facility. Rumors have floated around that it may be somewhat delayed, but there has been no concrete news to date to suggest that the school will fail to meet its projected Fall 2013 opening date. The building’s multi-hued exterior is coming along quite nicely, and work appears to have shifted indoors somewhat as temperatures have dropped recently.

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Coffee and the City

There are certain touchstones of living in a big city like Chicago that really can’t be reproduced in the suburban strip mall. These are the places, events, and experiences that shape what each of us thinks of when we think of “city life.” For me, the Intelligentsia line of Chicago coffee shops (or “coffeebars” as they call them) is one of those things.

Upon first moving to Chicago, I stumbled upon the Washington Avenue location by accident. It’s a somewhat hipper take on the modern coffee bar than your average Starbucks, and appeals to the socially and environmentally sustainable sensibilities that the hipper coffee connoisseurs among us increasingly demand. Without recounting my addiction-at-first-sip love story, I’ll only say that if you haven’t tried their grinded-and-hand-dripped-on-demand brews, you really are missing out.

Coffee and the City

Several years later, I find myself sitting in the Intelligentsia café at the corner of Jackson and Dearborn in the Loop, and coming to the “touchstone” realization of this post’s first paragraph. The coffee here is just as great as it is at the company’s other locations, but there is something about the dark wood molding, white granite tabletops and floors, and from-another-time barista bar that screams “this is a place you can’t find in Schaumburg.”

Coffee and the City

Add to that the shop’s placement inside the historic Monadnock Building* and the constant stream of business people striding past outside, and you’re left with a window onto another world: one part turn-of-the-century Chicago and Elliot Ness, one part Mad Men and Don Draper.

If you get a chance, stop by Intelligentsia and have a coffee. You won’t miss the MacBook-wielding mob of Starbucks, or the pervasive mocha-choca-latte crowds of everywhere else. You’ll have room to take a breath, make a little space in the middle your day, and maybe, at least for a few minutes, experience one of the small moments that can only be had in the big city.

The Jackson Blvd. Intelligentsia location (and the Monadnock Building) can be reached via the CTA’s Jackson Blue Line or Red Line stops, as well as the Harold Washington Library stop on the Brown/Orange/Pink/Purple lines.

* Note:  The Monadnock Building deserves its own write-up in a separate posting. If you haven’t heard of it, check out the Wikipedia article for a solid recap of the building’s architectural and historical importance. It really can’t be overstated. I also highly recommend taking the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s “Historic Downtown: Rise of the Skyscraper” walking tour for more information on the Monadnock and its contemporaries.

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The January Blues

After the memory of an uncharacteristically warm December fades, and the afterglow of the holidays dwindles, many of us find ourselves settling back into the rhythms of an icy January work week. We are only about a month from Valentine’s Day and two months from St. Patrick’s Day (and Easter shortly thereafter), but the blustery days of winter are already seeming to drag on.


One great way to fight the chill is to take part in what has become an annual tradition for many Chicago Blues fans (myself and close friends included). Every January, the legendary Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy performs a series of concerts at his eponymous blues club in the South Loop (Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., www.buddyguy.com), and they are not to be missed.

Buddy has performed and collaborated with some of the biggest names in Blues, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King, and has inspired and influenced multiple generations of guitarists and musicians, including Eric Clapton and John Mayer. And while his Legends Blues club hosts live music 7 days a week, all year long, it’s only once a year that Buddy takes the stage and gives his adoring fans what they really want to see… Buddy himself shredding, schmoozing, crooning and flirting his way through a 2+ hour library of blues classics that he has crafted over the past five decades.


Regardless of where you live, it’ll be worth your while to head down to the South Loop for one of his Thursday-Sunday shows and catch Buddy in action while you can. Tickets and tables go fast, so reserve ahead of time and get there early. If you do, you’re sure to experience an amazing performance and to forget about the icy Chicago winter outside, if only for a while.

Buddy Guy’s Legends is located at 700 S. Wabash Ave., at the corner of Wabash and Balbo. Save on parking and take the CTA Red Line to the Harrison stop, just two blocks away.

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High Speed Rail Update

A friend of the blog tipped us off to a story the Des Moines press ran yesterday about a proposed high speed rail link from Chicago to the western edge of Iowa and eastern edge of Nebraska, with stops in the Quad Cities, Des Moines, and Council Bluffs along the way. With many Chicagoans having ties to the Hawkeye State (and vice versa), this seems like a great way to spur the adoption of mass transit across a large tract of the Midwest. Let’s hope there is the political will and funding required to make it a reality.


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On the Go: State Street, that Great Street

Chicago’s great State Street department store has its halls decked and garland strung. Stop by the former Marshall Field’s building on a weekday to admire the 100+ year old store’s annual holiday celebration without all the tourist and weekend suburban throngs. As always, the State Street windows, Giant Christmas Tree, and Walnut Room dining are a central part of the downtown holiday experience. Whether you’re new to the city or have been here for decades, it’s hard to deny this is one of the best times to be a Chicagoan (slightly behind the May-September warm season). And for the less sentimental among us, visiting the store is an interesting peak into the past, when 1 million+ sq. ft. department stores were the centerpiece of Chicago’s high society. (To put that into perspective, the big-box stores of today are typically a couple hundred-thousand square feet or less.)


Macy’s and the State Street shopping experience are accessible via any of the Loop elevated stations, or via the Red Line or Blue Line subways. Don’t miss it.

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