The American Dream for most people is to own a home. Buying a home is quite possibly the biggest purchase you’ll make in your entire lifetime. It can also be a daunting process if you’re not well prepared. June is National Homeownership Month, so it’s only fitting Chi@Glance shines the light on real estate veteran, Jennifer Bell.
Jennifer Bell is the owner of Gramercy Group, a double minority-owned brokerage firm. Jennifer has over 20 plus years of experience in real estate. She is a top producing Broker with an impressive and extensive track record of sales on new construction in revitalizing areas around the city of Chicago.
Jennifer started the brokerage firm Gramercy Group in August 2017. She previously worked for a nationally well-known real estate company. Having a keen eye for real estate Jennifer noted that the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago was going through the next booming phase. Located along Lake Michigan about 4 miles from downtown, Bronzeville remains home to a vibrant mix of entrepreneurial, business, cultural and academic landmarks and residents. Jennifer tried encouraging her former employer to open up another real estate office in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Her reason being there was so much new construction going on in the area and so many of the agents actually lived and worked in the area or the surrounding neighborhoods on the South Side. Her suggestion fell on death ears and she didn’t feel like she was getting the support she needed. After evaluating the pros and cons she decided why not open up her own business? Jennifer’s knowledge of the real estate market spans over two decades and she was kind enough to share her wisdom with Chi@Glance readers. Check out our one on one interview below!
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Real Estate Broker and Owner of
Gramercy Group, Jennifer Bell
Jennifer, can you tell us a little bit about your real estate background?
I’ve been in real estate for 20 plus years. I started off as a mortgage loan officer for 12 years. Then I was a real estate broker for about 13 years. I got my broker’s license about 2 or 3 years ago. I then opened Gramercy Group in August of 2017, so we’re just shy of being open for 2 years.
How big is the Gramercy Group? Is there a team of people?
There’s four of us all together. With just the four of us we’re in the top spot for real estate agents or brokerages in the area that we sell in. That’s exciting considering our competitors have 200 plus agents!
That’s very commendable! With your vast knowledge of the real estate market can you take us first time home buyers briefly through the home buyer process?
The first thing that you should do is get pre-approved. That is the biggest mistake that so many people make. It’s sort of like you have to know how much money you have in your pocket before you go shopping. You need to know if you’re going to be able to go to Neiman Marcus of if you have to go to Target. There’s so many parameters and guidelines that goes into the pre-approval process. I would recommend going to a mortgage company like Guaranteed Rate.
Once you become pre-approved you seek out your Broker. You need to find a broker that’s a perfect match for you. This is the person you will be sharing everything you want in a home with. Your Broker needs to have your best interest in mind. Once you select a Broker you begin looking for properties. You should think about everything you want from the size of rooms, location of rooms, yard or no yard, garage or no garage, etc. Maybe you can’t handle a lot of noise or what not…so condo living space isn’t for you and you need a single family home. You need to consider all these factors.
After guidelines are established then you go shopping for your house! Once you have found the home you want you submit your offer to the seller. Then the negotiation process begins. Once you have an executed contract the first thing that you do is get a property inspection. It’s really important to get a professional property inspector that knows what to look for and not your cousin who is the electrician. It’ll be the best $350-$400 you’ll spend in your home buying process.
After your home inspection they’ll give you a report generally within 24 hours. You should then have a real estate attorney review. Again this is someone else you should truly hire. I can’t stress this enough. We don’t give certain professions enough respect. You’re not going to go to a podiatrist if you have a problem with your heart. You’re going to go to a cardiologist. There is absolutely no reason we should think that any attorney can assist you with your home purchase. You want someone who does this specific industry on a daily basis because they know what to look out for.
Your Real Estate Attorney reviews the contract as well as the inspection report. If there’s any repairs you want executed you would submit that executed contract to your lender. While your lender is working on your mortgage loan you’re undergoing the process of home inspection and attorney review simultaneously.
Generally your attorney review period should be done in one week time frame. There’s no reason for it to go over two weeks. If it goes over two weeks it’s generally because you don’t have an attorney who specifically focuses on real estate.
Once the attorney review period is closed around that time the lender has had an appraiser come to appraise the property. You continue on with the mortgage process. You’ll get your clear to close from the mortgage company. Once you receive the clear to close the attorney schedules the closing. You go through a title company to assure that you are getting a clear title and there are no liens on your title. Make sure you get title insurance!
WOW!!! That is quite the process. One question that I have (and I’m sure other first time home buyers have)…is who’s paying the real estate Broker? The buyer or the seller?
That is the best question ever! This is something that really bothers me. I feel really passionate about this topic. When you’re selling your house you hire a listing broker to sell your home. You’re not paying me, Jennifer Bell, the Broker. You’re paying my company (Gramercy Group). That’s who you’re hiring. You’re hiring the company (not just the broker). So let’s say for example you’re with Gramercy Group and your house is going to sell for 100K. You’re paying Gramercy group let’s say a commission rate of 6%.That $6000 of that 6% is going to be broken out different ways. So basically the seller is paying everyone’s commission. You have some brokers out there that will charge the buyer an additional buyer’s broker fee. I personally think that is so beyond inappropriate. It’s allowable, but so inappropriate. If you’re a first time home buyer (and generally it’s for first time home buyers….experienced home buyers know not to pay that) your Broker should have your best interest at heart. If you have to come up with your down payment, earnest money (usually included in down payment), property inspection, appraisal for the property, pay your movers, buy new furniture….. That is simply beyond inappropriate to charge an additional fee already covered by the seller.
Currently right now is it a buyer or a seller’s market?
It’s a seller market because there’s limited inventory. We’ve had limited inventory for the last 3 years as a whole in Chicago.
For those of us looking to buy what is typically the best time to do so in Chicago? Is there a particular month/season?
Believe it or not the best time to buy is the winter time because so many people believe that you only purchase real estate in the Summer months and that’s so far from the truth.
You’re focused on the Bronzeville neighborhood predominantly and Chicago is so unique in that we have so many different neighborhoods that have their quirks and beauty. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Bronzeville neighborhood? Where does it start…where does it end…and why is this neighborhood so unique?
Bronzeville is technically a nickname for several neighborhoods that include Oakland, Douglas, and Grand Boulevard. Bronzeville received its name because back in the 40’s and 50’s people would always say they’re going to hang out in Bronzeville where the Bronze beauties are. Bronzeville was one of the neighborhoods where we as black people were allowed to live during the great migration. This was an area that was rebuilt after the great Chicago fire. There were a lot of amazing buildings that were built in limestone, sandstone, and believe it or not Marble. The buildings are so beautiful and stunning! Bronzeville starts around 35th street and goes to 51st street. And Michigan over to Cottage Grove.
In the news we keep hearing the words Gentrification. We’ve heard that about areas like Logan Square, Pilsen, etc. What are your thoughts on neighborhood gentrification?
I personally think it’s absolutely fantastic because that means were going to have more communities within our city that are diverse. Chicago is one of the very few cities that before all of this so call gentrification was occurring was so segregated. Chicago was known as the Northern South. That’s awful! What’s wrong with having a community where every race and nationality exists? That’s how our world is and if we’re not able to live together than we’re not going to be able to relate with one another in other circumstances. We have to start with living together.
I love how you are working to encourage home ownership for new and young home buyers. Especially showing them how to take advantage of the market and invest in Bronzeville which is experiencing a major retail and development expansion right now. As I ask all of our Spotlight guests “Why are YOU a Chicagoan WE should know?”
Short and sweet…because I have an amazing personality and a vast amount of real estate knowledge to help you buy or sell your home!
Interested in buying or selling your home? Want to invest in the Bronzeville Neighborhood? Make sure to check out the
3844 S King Dr
Chicago, IL 60653
*All Pictures in the Article are courtesy of Gramercy Group*
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