MHN ONLINE – November 18, 2013
By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

Chicago—Cautious optimism was the order of the evening at last week’s 2013 Real Estate Forum presented by Lincoln Park Builders of Chicago, an honorary society of builders, developers, managers and principals in the city’s real estate community. The program focused on the multifamily segment of the industry.

This year’s edition of the event, held at the North Side’s venerable Germania Place, celebrated the 25thanniversary of the forum. It opened with the organization’s president, Andrew Niewiarowski, presenting the society’s IMPACT Award to Friedman Properties’ founder Albert M. Friedman. He is credited with spearheading the revitalization of what has arguably become the city’s most sought-after neighborhood, River North.

As always, a highlight was a panel discussion involving leading real estate industry figures addressing the current challenges and opportunities in, as well as the near-term outlook of, Chicago’s multifamily real estate market.

Moderated by Lee Kiser, co-founder of Chicago-area multifamily commercial real estate brokerage Kiser Group, the panel was comprised of Susan Tjarksen, principal of STAR LLC; Jim Letchinger, founder of JDL Development; Harold D. Rider, Jr., of Realty & Mortgage Co.; Neil Freeman, chairman and CEO of Aries Capital LLC; and Buzz Ruttenberg, founder of Belgravia Group Ltd.

Asked how they had fared in 2013, panelists gave thumbs up. “Multifamily values have exploded as institutions have come in to buy,” Freeman said.

Rider characterized values at close to an all-time high, and termed very promising the fact the city is attracting lots of young talent, even as Chicago-area employers are increasingly relocating to the urban core.

As for any dark clouds lurking on the horizon, talk by some panelists turned to potential for the formation of another housing bubble. Having recently returned from Miami and San Francisco, Tjarksen noted these coastal cities are “white hot” condo markets, and some in Miami are already talking bubble.

Predicting “there is absolutely a bubble coming,” Ruttenberg added, “There is way too much money in the system, prices are out of balance, and there will be a correction. It’s healthy and normal.”

Rider, noting the addition of 8,000 new apartments in the next two years, said, “I’m a little trepidatious as we go through [2014] as far as rents going higher.”

He added local developers must be alert to the hesitance on the part of outside investors concerned about the ongoing political stalemate in Springfield over the state‘s budget woes. “The great fear about investing in Illinois and Chicago is that the state does not have its fiscal house in order,” Rider opined.

When it came to offering predictions for the short term, however, panelists appeared unanimously upbeat about 2014. “I see solid growth, with more people realizing they are better off working where they’re living,” Ruttenberg said.

Concluded Letchinger, “As developers, we always think the next year will be good. Every young person around the Midwest, given the chance, is moving to Chicago.”