When Buying A Condo Beware Of The Transitory View

“There is nothing permanent except change.” The best real estate advice when buying a condo in a downtown Chicago high rise may have come from Heraclitus around 2500 years ago. Just because a condo has a great view today doesn’t mean it will have a great view tomorrow. The Chicago skyline is constantly changing and you never know what is going to be torn down to make way for a much taller building that will destroy your million dollar view.
When searching for a condo with a great view the number one question that buyers often have (at least they should have this question) is what could be built outside their windows. A good sign: your windows look out over a park or a historic building or you’re right on the lake or river. A bad sign: your windows look out over a parking lot/ garage or a cruddy building or, God forbid, a vacant lot. And don’t be fooled by a little sliver of land that looks too narrow to build anything on. You’d be surprised what these developers will build on.
However, your judgment in these matters will be clouded by realtors attempting to close a sale by sharing all sorts of “expert opinions” on the permanence of a particular view: “This area has a zoning restriction so buildings can’t be taller than _____” or “That building is only going to be_____stories tall” or “That land belongs to_______ so they will never build on it” or “3 developers tried to get a building approved for that location but the alderman keeps blocking it”. I’ve heard them all.
Well, realtors really need to be careful with what they say because it’s a flagrant violation of the Illinois Real Estate License Act to just make stuff up or assert as fact something you can’t be totally sure of: “Licensees shall treat all customers honestly and shall not negligently or knowingly give them false information.” In fact, there have been cases of buyers suing realtors for misrepresenting the permanence of a view. Crain’s recently reported on two such lawsuits involving disappearing views in Chicago.
The first lawsuit goes back to 2004 when two buyers sued the Fordham‘s developer for failing to disclose construction of a high rise next door. The second lawsuit, for $50,000, was recently filed by two law professors from the University of Chicago (talk about picking the wrong buyers to tangle with!) who bought unit 3702 at 600 N Fairbanks in Streeterville for $1.05 MM in August. The listing agent allegedly “assured them an adjacent medical office building planned by Northwestern University Hospital would only reach 24 stories” when in fact it will rise to the 36th floor of their building. In addition, the listing agent and the seller “allegedly told the plaintiffs not to discuss the purchase with building management or residents once it went under contract, keeping the plaintiffs from discovering the true height of the tower before closing”.
If this latter claim is true it’s just plain weird. I could almost understand trying to keep buyers away from other residents but trying to keep them away from the building management? I actually try to encourage my buyers to talk to the building manager and having a listing agent trying to block that would be a huge red flag.
When you’re talking about whether or not a view will be blocked it’s caveat emptor big time. The only way to protect yourself from the cacophony of wisdom spewing from realtors’ mouths is to listen to it with a large nugget of salt. Either have your realtor research it further (unless they’re the one making the claims) or research it yourself. That means checking the zoning or calling the alderman’s office or just applying some basic logic.

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