How to be show-ready in 40 minutes or less

So your house is on the market, you’ve been biting your fingernails and obsessively checking your email and phone messages in hopes that today will be the day your realtor calls you and tells you that you have a showing request, and lo and behold, it is! So now what? How do you prepare and what can you do to maximize your buyer’s experience?  We know you’re busy and time is of the essence, so here are some quick tips that will get you show ready in 40 minutes or less.

Floors = clean

Make sure that your  floors look and feel spotless. This applies to everything – carpet, wood and tile in your bathroom, kitchen, entryway, and bedrooms.  We know that winter can be hard for Chicagoans; snow and salt get tracked everywhere, and your entryway often bears the brunt of the assault.  Keep and mop on hand to wipe up any last minute dirt as you walk out the door and stay vigilant about it!  This will be the first part of your home that a buyer sees, and you want it to invite them in to see more!

If it can shine, it probably should

Quickly dust off TVs, computers, tables, sinks, tubs, appliances, anything and everything that can accumulate dust and grime.  It will help give your home that extra special pop.

De-clutter your surfaces

Your home has beautiful finishes and you should show them off!  Ok, even if it doesn’t, clearing off clutter makes a room look nicer and bigger.  If you have small appliances, put them in a cabinet, and small personal knick knacks and odds and ends should be put into storage.  Dishes should be cleared out of the sink, toiletries should be cleared out of the bathroom, and laundry into hampers.  We recommend buying some wicker baskets that can be easily stored under beds or in cars, so you can get things off of counter-tops quickly.

A word about your pictures: we know that they can mean a lot to you, and it’s nothing personal when we say, “put it away.” Remember, your buyer wants to picture his or her own personal items in your home, so do your best to create a blank slate.

We know your mom nagged you about it, so we hate to do it too, but…

Make your bed(s).  Make sure your bedspreads are clean and nice-looking.  If they’re not, it might be worth a trip to the store to buy some new ones.

Time to take out the trash

Make sure your garbage cans are empty, and make sure to clean them out about once per week with a little disinfectant.  This helps cut down on unwanted odors.

Let there be light!

Open all your drapes (and make sure those windows are c-l-e-a-n) and turn on all of the lights.  Dark homes are gloomy and uninviting.  Turning on a couple of lights can make all the difference.

Pick up your things

We hate to nag, but it’s important!  Everything needs to be off of the floor and off of counter surfaces.  You can put them in storage containers and put them under beds or take them with you, shove them in dresser drawers, but you need to make sure that they’re out of sight.

A word about odors

If you have pets, make sure that you’re cleaning up after them carefully and diligently. Nothing says no thank you like a, “what’s that smell?” question, but a word to the wise — be careful about using too many perfumey air fresheners.  Some people are hypersensitive to smells and they can set allergies off, and other may wonder what all those fresheners are masking.  If you sanitize – mop, clean the countertops, trashcans and sinks, that neutral “clean” smell will be enough.

Ok, we know that’s a lot to do in 40 minutes, but you can do it!  Keeping up on cleaning projects can make a pre-showing clean-up a breeze, and getting help from everyone in the household (or a good friend) is an excellent way to cut down on time.  If you can’t get it all done for every showing (and believe us, it may happen), it’s OK!  Pick your most important battles – make sure your apartment is as uncluttered as possible, get rid of any obvious dirt and throw a duvet cover over that bed.

For more tips, see the article, 10 Ways to prepare for a showing, by our friends at Trulia.

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4 Tricks and Traps Foreclosure Buyers Need to Know

We know how daunting buying a new home can be, especially given the variety of options available to buyers in this market.  One area that really seems to trip buyers up is foreclosures, so if you feel like you’re in the dark – don’t worry, you’re not alone.  While it’s true that these deals aren’t without their complications, and there is risk involved (there’s risk involved with buying any home), they can be a great option for buyers looking for some serious deals.  Below you’ll find some advice and tips that will hopefully assuage some concerns, and if you’re still left wondering, please give us a call!  We would be more than happy to discuss the process with you in person.

In most instances, when you buy an REO (bank-owned property) you’ll be asked to sign an “as-is” rider, and that’s precisely what it means: you get the property as it is, where it is.  The bank will not help you fix issues later, nor will they help you clean the property before you take possession.  Usually, the listing agent has advised the bank to do any repairs they might do before the listing has gone on the market.  A safety or health violation found upon inspection is probably the only instance in which a bank will repair anything at its own expense. The lesson?  If you want to buy a foreclosure and the home is in questionable condition, hire a contractor and have them give you an estimate for any repairs.  Does it cost money?  Yes.  Will it save you money and grief in the long run? Yes!

 

If there are disclosures (in some markets, an “as-is” rider is sufficient), the bank won’t be able to attest to any property damage, or any issues that would otherwise clue a buyer in about problem areas.  Bear in mind, the bank (or its rep) hasn’t lived at the property, so most likely, they’re telling the truth when they say, they simply don’t know about any past defect.  So, what’s a buyer to do?  Inspect, inspect, inspect – everything and anything.  Again, these cost money, but not getting them could cost you a lot more.

Our friends at Trulia have some great insider tips for buyers interested in buying foreclosures – little tricks of the trade that make this process a whole lot easier:

•     Vacant foreclosures often have their utilities disconnected.  Work with your agent to make sure the utilities get turned on – even for a single day – so that your property inspector can run the water taps, test the stove and dishwasher, see if the water heater and electrical outlets work, and so forth.

•     If appliances are there, the bank will probably leave them there, even though they may not have technical “legal” ownership of them, so they may not be included in the contract, like in a “normal” home sale.

•     However, the bank will not give you any sort of warranty on appliances, so try to obtain any warranty coverage you want or need elsewhere – from a home warranty company or, potentially, the original manufacturer/retailer.

For more information, visit their full article:

4 Tricks and Traps Foreclosure Buyers Need to Know.

As always, your best asset is a knowledgeable agent who has been through the process and has experience dealing with banks (might we also recommend that they’re one of the fabulous agents at d’aprile realty?).  Your agent will know the ins and outs of bank contracts, when you can pull out of a deal (if necessary) and how and when to submit earnest money.

Can the process be long and arduous?  Sure.  Can it yield great results?  Absolutely.  We know it’s difficult – your home is a high-stakes venture – but try to be patient, expect the unexpected, and be willing to be flexible.  You could get the deal of your life on the home of your dreams.

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The New Generation of Real Estate

The current state of the market is no big secret.  It’s down from last year, and will probably continue to drop and plateau over the five years.  So, if we all know where we are, the big question is what is the future of the housing market? Where is the next big thing? Experts are increasingly talking about a new generation of buyers: echo boomers, the children of baby boomers, sometimes referred to as Generation Y or The Millennial Generation. They are loosely defined as the generation born between the mid-70s and the early 2000s.  More specifically, the echo boom refers to the surge of births between 1982 and 1995, echoing the baby boom of the ‘50s and 60s.

This generation is sometimes criticized for delaying adulthood by remaining single, moving back in with their parents, and moving from job to job much more than any previous generation. Some of this can certainly be explained by economic factors – they were hit first by the dotcom bust and then the current recession in which they have the highest unemployment rate of any generational cohort – but sociologists also speculate that this is a generation that watched their parents get married and divorced while working at unfulfilling jobs and want to avoid making the same mistakes as their parents.  The issue is not necessarily rejecting the notion of adulthood or the values of their parents, but rather, making sure that they make the right decisions the first time around.

This is also a generation that is redefining communication.  They are most likely getting their news from online sources, can look up almost any video they want on YouTube, and can readily communicate via Twitter, text and instant message.  The world is privy to even the most mundane aspects of their life through Facebook, Twitter and MySpace with just a click of a mouse (or a touch of the iPhone). The key to the way this generation wants and uses information is “instant,” and businesses need to adapt to fit their needs.  This is a generation that will contact their agent via text or twitter, and find their dream home searching on their smart phone on their commute into work.

According to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Buyer/Home Seller Profile, there are 35.5 million new households in the echo boom generation.  Of these households, 21% will be single female buyers, 12% will be single male buyers and 61% will be couples or partners. Initially, many of these echo boomers may be biased towards renting, enjoying a tenants lifestyle more than that of a home owner.  Certainly, a contributing factor is the delay of retirement for many aging baby boomers, preventing echo boomers from assuming jobs that would allow them to amass enough wealth to buy and job security to stay in one place.

Despite the initial propensity to rent, these 35.5 million new households will eventually enter the housing market as buyers, and when they do, they key for this generation is affordable housing.  According to the National Association of Realtors, homeownership has stayed between 64% and 69% since 1982, and according to Forbes, the median income of those aged 55 and younger has not increased since 2000, but despite this flat-line, home builders are producing approximately 500K in new housings units per year, contributing to the overdevelopment of housing in the suburbs and consequentially, the devaluation of real estate in those areas. Forbes predicts a suburban sprawl in the next 25 years similar to that of the 1950’s and ‘60s.  Although echo boomers told RCLCO that they would rather live in urban, mixed-use areas with community services and walkability, and are willing to give up factors such as size to get what they want, it is unclear if echo boomers will be able to afford the price tag of that lifestyle.

For more information on echo boomers, please access the following links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y

http://lennoxscottblog.com/category/echo-boom/

http://www.trexglobal.com/property-management/real-estate-news/real-estate-apartment-residential-rental-market-driven-by-echo-boomers

http://blogs.forbes.com/greatspeculations/2010/09/08/dirt-poor-echo-boomers-may-find-cheap-cribs-in-burbs-shun-urban-living/

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Scary. Terrifying. Credit Reports.

It seems like when someone says the word “credit score”, people seize up in panic and start spewing half-truths about what their cousin’s friend’s uncle once told them about what can help and hurt your credit score.  Your credit score is a huge part of your financial health, and while maybe your cousin’s friend’s uncle works for one of the major credit agencies and does really know what affects your score, it never hurts to see their good advice backed up, right?  Right.

Ok, so what is a credit score? When people talk about a credit score, they’re usually talking about a FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) score.  Lenders use these scores to assess how risky it is to give you a loan.  FICO scores range from 300-850, and the higher the score the better.  Most people score in the 600s and 700s.  A score above 700 indicates great financial health, and a score below 600 indicates a high risk to lenders.  Lenders buy your FICO score from three national credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, so you’re actually getting three scores.  Each of those agencies calculates your score, and each score may be different depending upon the credit history each agency has for you.  Lenders may look at only one score for a credit card loan or auto loan, but most mortgage lenders will consider all three loans.

So what actually comprises your credit score?  The largest component, 35% of your score, is your payment history.  Late payments, bankruptcies and other delinquencies will hurt your credit score.  Conversely, a history of paying back lines of credit on time will help.  The second largest component, 30% of your FICO score, is how much you owe.  FICO scores look at how much you owe on all your accounts and how much of your available credit you’re using.  The lower the ratio of debt to credit limit, the higher your score will be.  For instance, if you have a $5,000 limit on your credit card, it’s better to only put $1,000 on the card than $4,000.  The length of your credit history comprises about 15% of your FICO score.  The longer the history, the better the score, but if you show responsible credit management with a short history, your score should still be good.  New credit comprises another 10% of your FICO score.  FICO looks at if you’ve recently applied for new credit accounts.  Other miscellaneous factors comprise the last 10% of your credit score.  This includes the different types of equity you have (mortgage, car loans, student loans, personal lines of credit).  The more diversified your credit, the better.  By law, credit scores do not include and lenders may not consider your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, martial status, or if you receive public assistance when calculating your score and considering you for a loan.

For more information, check out the FCIC’s site for scenarios and other great info on credit reports.

It’s OK to look.  Really, it is.  You are entitled to and should check your own credit score, and you’re also entitled to contest any errors you see.  You can check it through the Federal Trace Commission Credit Reports, and through this service, you’re entitled to one free credit report a year.  Checking your credit score once a year through this service will not lower your credit score.  You may have heard that “soft” inquiries like checking your own score and allowing lenders to check your score for promotional offers will lower your score.  Not true.  You can and should shop around for a loan.  However, it is true that applying for many lines of credit at once (car loan, home loan plus a personal loan) will hurt your credit.

Feeling brave?  Here are another two scary words:  credit cards.   Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to carry a balance. In fact, if you can avoid it, please don’t!  However, paying off your balance in full doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on your credit score. Credit agencies look at whether you’re paying on time and your ratio of debt to credit limit.  If you’re exceeding 30% of your credit limit, even if you pay it off every month, you may want to consider getting another card.  It’s better to have multiple cards with relatively low balances than one card that’s almost maxed out.

Onto the next scary words: marriage and divorce.  No matter what happens, you both have your own distinct credit histories.  Marrying or divorcing won’t merge, tarnish or better your credit.  However, you and your partner are responsible for any loans that you take out jointly, even if you get divorced.  In this instance, your partner’s actions can affect your credit.

We’re optimists and we like to give good news.  So, while there’s no such thing as a credit fairy that can magically erase bad credit (or an agency you can pay to do the same), those scores can change…and for the better!  The older delinquencies get, the less they count.  Delinquencies over 7 years old (10 years for bankruptcy) are no longer considered. Sometimes, if you have a good history with a lender, you can get delinquencies “re-aged” if an account is still open.  Generally, if you can make a series of 12 on-time payments, they will erase previous delinquencies. If you can start paying bills back on time, paying down your credit cards, and showing that you can be responsible managing various lines of personal credit (car loans, personal loans, student loans), your score will improve.

So, hopefully the idea of a credit report (and what it entails) doesn’t send you into an anxious fear spiral.  Yes, it’s complicated.  Many factors affect your score, both positively and negatively, and yes, it’s an extremely important factor in the home-loan process.  However, you have all the tools you need to get a great score.  You don’t have to have a lot of money; you just need to manage it well.  Pay your bills on time and in full.  Take a look at your credit score (yes, do it!) and don’t be afraid to contest any errors you see on it.  Avoid having anything go to collections.  If you don’t have a credit card, take one out and establish a history.  Student loans and other personal lines of credit also help diversify your history (always a plus) and show that you’re fiscally responsible.  Just like seeing the zipper on the monster’s costume in a horror flick, once you know about how it’s calculated and what you can do to improve it, your credit report isn’t scary either.

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A short, short-sale story

When you’re cruising listings on your own, or looking at property sheets that your real estate agent has shown you, you may come across the phrase, “pursuant to short sale.” A short sale occurs when a homeowner owes more on their mortgage than the property is worth. This is often happens when a home is appraised for significantly less than it was bought for, or when property values drop dramatically in an area.

Consider the case of Joe Smith (we’re not that creative with names – sorry!).  Joe bought a house for $200,000 and financed 100% of his purchase.  To date, Joe has paid 20% of the principal ($40,000), and needs to sell his home.  Joe’s home must sell for $160,000 in order for him to break even.  Say that the house only appraises for $110,000.  Joe is short $50,000 dollars on the loan.  Provided Joe is still able to make payments on his loan, Joe can opt to stay in his home and hope that with time, it will appraise at its original value or higher.  If Joe is unable to stay in his home (he must relocate for work at short notice or can no longer afford his current payments), Joe can try to work out a short sale option with his bank.

Let’s say that Joe lost his job (sorry, Joe!) and can no longer afford his current mortgage payments, so he decides that he needs to sell his home.  His home only appraised for $110,000, and he doesn’t have $50,000 to cover the remaining amount owed on the loan, so Joe will have to write a letter of hardship to his bank explaining why he is not able to pay his mortgage.  Along with his letter, he will also have to submit pay stubs, bank statements, and proof of assets showing that he is not able to afford his home.  The bank must then decide whether it is more profitable for them to approve a short sale, or to go through with a formal foreclosure process.  Fortunately (and we use that word loosely) for Joe, his bank decides to let him proceed with a short sale.

So win-win or lose-lose?  It’s not exactly a lose-lose, but it’s far from a win for anyone.  The bank definitely has the upper hand, because they decide which loss they would rather assume — proceeding with foreclosure proceedings, which come with their own set of costs in addition to the guarantee that they will sell Joe’s home at a loss, or losing 50,000 on Joe’s loan.  Joe has a sort-of win in his corner.  He doesn’t have to go through foreclosure, which would leave a giant mark on his credit and would prevent him from securing another mortgage in the near future, but Joe cedes a lot of control of the sale of his house  to the bank.  In addition to needing approval to initiate the short sale process, Joe must get the bank’s approval on the purchase price and other clauses in the sale contract.  When and if the purchase price is approved, because of the bank’s involvement, the short sale process can be much longer than a private sale.

Does anyone win in this story?  Yes!  The buyer.  If the buyer has the time to wait for third-party approval, he or she gets to buy Joe’s home for a steal, and – unlike if they had bought Joe’s home as an REO – the buyer has the luxury of knowing that Joe has been living in his home the entire time.  This ensures that someone has been keeping up on routine maintenance, the home has working utilities, and Joe can attest to any major faults – three MAJOR concerns for buyers looking at foreclosures.

Many times short sales are a last resort to avoid a foreclosure.  If you, or anyone you know is in danger of foreclosing on their home, please look into short sales as an option. Foreclosure is extremely detrimental to your credit score, and can preclude you from getting other loans.  To know your options, please visit: http://www.knowyouroptions.com/

And for more info on short sales, please visit Trulia’s article: What are short sales and how do they work?

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What’s in a name? A loan by any other name…

In the first act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius offers some advice to his son Laertes: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be…This above all: to thine own self be true.” While we can’t argue with the last bit (it’s good advice, no?), in today’s market, unless a buyer has an unusual amount of cash reserves or liquid assets, a borrower he or she shall be.  So, what options are available to you?  What types of loans might you want to consider and what are their pitfalls? Below you’ll find a summary of some of the basic loans available.  As always, check with your lender and review your options, as variations of these loans exist.

Loans can be broken down into two basic categories: Conventional and non-conventional.  Conventional loans are the most common type of loan.  They can be insured or uninsured, depending upon the terms of the home, and they are not backed by the government.  They are fixed-rate loans meaning that the interest rate set – it won’t rise or fall with market conditions – and they are available in either 30-year or 15-year terms.  Typically, they are great for people who like knowing what their monthly payment will be, and don’t want to watch interest rates.  If you’re planning on staying in your new house for the long haul (at least 5-10) years, this is probably your best bet.  So, which is better, 30 or 15?  It depends on how much you can spend each month.  30-year terms allow you to pay lower monthly payments, but are more expensive overall because of interest accrued, while 15-year loans are the opposite – your monthly payments are considerably larger (you’re paying it off in half the time), but you don’t accrue as much interest.

Non-conventional loans, including FHA and VA loans, are government-backed loans.   This means that the government agrees to assume the loan in the event that the homeowner defaults, making the loans less risky for banks than a standard conventional loan.  These types of loans are generally, but not exclusively, given to people who would not meet the requirements (for instance credit or income) for a conventional loan, and their terms are generally less restrictive. FHA loans are backed by the Federal Housing Authority.  They have lower credit and down payment requirements than conventional loans.   Generally, only a 3.5% down payment is required, and at closing, sellers may concede only up to 6% (meaning the seller can cover closing costs of up to 6% of the loan amount). They are available in FHA 30-year fixed and 15-year fixed, so ask your lender which variations they offer.  VA loans, another type of government-backed loan, are provided for veterans of the US military.  They differ slightly from FHA loans, offering 100% financing instead of requiring at least 3.5% down.   Both FHA and VA loans come in 15- and 30-year variations, and they do not require borrowers to pay for private mortgage insurance; homeowners pay a mortgage insurance premium for a government guarantee.

Adjustable-rate mortgages are another option available to borrowers.  Generally, ARMs  are 30 years in total and have a fixed interest rate for a certain number of years (say, the first 5 or 7), after which, depending upon the terms of the loan, the rate fluctuates annually, quarterly or monthly. ARMs can be risky, but don’t dismiss them outright.  In certain instances, they can be a good choice for investors.  For instance, those who are staying in their home for less than five years may profit from their generally low initial fixed rate (usually substantially lower than conventional loans).  If you’re staying in your home for over five years and trust that you’re a savvy enough investor to refinance before your rate goes up, they may be a good option for those looking to get a lower conventional loan than they might have received when they first bought their home.

As always, it’s always better to talk with someone knowledgeable before making any decisions.  Your lender, with his or her knowledge of your particular financial situation, will be able to guide you towards the best loan for you.  Our preferred partner, Midwest Lending, would be happy to talk to you about pre-approval, qualification and your loan options.  For more reading, please visit, How to Choose the Right Mortgage For You, provided by Truila.

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Be in the middle of everything Old Town has to offer: 1546 N Hudson #1

Check out our listing at 1546 N Hudson located in the Heart of Old Town and learn more about Old Town below after our brief description of this beautiful home.  This 2,000 square foot duplex down is located a half block south of North Ave. and one block west of Sedgwick Ave.  The property features 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms and has recently been remodeled; this condo maintains top of the line finishes with granite counter-tops and cherry cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms.  Each full bathroom includes a double vanity with the master suite featuring a whirlpool tub and separate standing shower.  In addition, the kitchen contains upgraded stainless steel appliances which include an over-sized refrigerator.  Along with the aforementioned amenities, property bonuses include bay windows, a gas fireplace, 10′ ceilings, a washer & dryer, a granite wet bar and a computer/desk nook near the kitchen.  Deck and garage space are also included.  If interested, please contact Chris Stefani at cstefani@daprilerealty.com or 734.717.4125.

Now, a little about this awesome area:

Old Town is a sub-neighborhood of Lincoln Park bounded by Ogden to the northwest, Larabee to the west, Division to the south, and Clark to the north and northwest.  It is serviced by Chicago’s North and Clybourne red-line stop and the Sedgwick purple and brown-line stop. Minutes from downtown, Chicago’s North Avenue and Oak Street beaches, and close to exciting attractions to the north in Lincoln Park and Lakeview, Old Town is an easy commute to almost anywhere in Chicago

The name doesn’t lie – “Old Town” is indeed old.  Many of its Victorian homes, especially in the historic Old Town Triangle, pre-date the Chicago Fire.  Old Town is also home to some of Chicago’s oldest and most established churches including Holy Name Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church, one of seven churches not destroyed in the fire. Because much of what was literally the “old town” remains, many streets and ally-ways do not confirm to the normal Chicago street grid.

Founded in the 1890’s as a primarily German immigrant neighborhood, Old Town remained a fairly homogenous community until the 1950’s and ‘60’s, when residents left in droves. This rapid movement out of the area caused rents to drop and business owners to abandon storefronts.  Hippies and members of the newly-out gay community took advantage of both the low rent and excellent location, and Old Town became a bastion of counter-culture activity. Many musicians from the Folk music scene also migrated to the area and eventually founded The Old Town School of Folk Music, now a Chicago staple for musical education.  Ample studio space from converted storefronts attracted visual artists, leading to the emergence of a vibrant arts scene.  Although high rents have driven many artists out of the neighborhood, The Old Town Art Festival is still one of Chicago’s most prestigious and exciting arts festivals.

Currently, Old Town is home to some of Chicago’s most exciting theatre, including Second City (famous alums include Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris), and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  Theatre-goers looking for a great dining experience will not be disappointed.  Bistro Margot, Club-33, Topo-Gigio and Kamehachi are all excellent choices for theatre-goers, or anyone looking for a great meal.  The AMC Pipers Ally has a great mix of both independent and main-stream film, and residents looking for good shopping don’t need to wander far from their front doors.  High-end boutiques and luxury marts dot this quaint neighborhood’s quirky streets.

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