Champaign Unit 4 Schools – All about Choice

This is the second in a four-part piece about Unit 4 Schools.  We often get a lot of questions about this program, including the likelihood of getting the school you want, how much proximity matters, and which school is the right choice to begin with.  I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Jennifer Ivory-Tatum, the Assistant Superintendent of Achievement and Student Learning, share about the Choice Program.  

How it works – There are two main factors: 1) The number of slots available at each school; and 2) Socioeconomic status.  

The “lottery” is completely computer-based to avoid any perception of favoritism.  Each applicant is assigned a random ID number.  Additional points are given if: 1) There is already a sibling attending the desired school; or 2) Your home is within 1.5 miles of the desired school, as determined by the District’s transportation system (shortest driving distance from the door of your residence to the door of the school, NOT “as-the-crow-flies”).  

We recently worked with a buyer who came to our initial meeting with a map in hand, with concentric circles within 1.5 miles of the three schools that they wanted to have in their “top 3”. The areas where all three circles met is where they wanted to search.  While this was a great idea, it was not entirely accurate, since 1.5 miles of driving distance would have made those circles smaller.  As you narrow down your search with us, visit this page and enter the address of the property you’re considering to find out which school(s) are within 1.5 miles of the prospective property.

If the property is not within 1.5 miles of any school, your “priority” school is the one that is closest to your home.

In the past 5 years, 98-99% of parents have gotten their first choice.  Carrie Busey and Bottenfield are less likely; Carrie Busey is the only elementary school within 1.5 miles of many households, and Bottenfield is very much in the “middle” of Champaign. Dr. Ivory-Tatum noted that attending schools that are farther away from your home may result in extended bus rides for the children.

If you do not get admittance into the school you had hoped for, there is a wait list. Families from the wait list will find out about new openings during the first semester and have 24 hours to accept the opening. By this time, many families have become happy with where their child ended up and do not accept, so even if you feel like you are at the bottom of the list, remain optimistic.

Transportation – If your home is within 1.5 miles of the school, it is within the “Walk Zone”, so school bus transportation is not automatically provided. A exception to this is if there is a major street that a student would have to cross where crossing guards are not provided. Middle and high school students take MTD buses to and from school if they live outside the Walk Zone.

My overall thoughts – The board cares about the residents in our community. Each of the board members has had multiple children go through Unit 4. If you are within the proximity area of several schools, you can make an appointment to meet with representatives at any school and they will help you decide which one to choose based on what is most important to you.  Stay tuned, and next week I will share important upcoming dates, including open house dates for the various schools.

Champaign Unit 4 Schools – Preparing students for success after high school

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to attend a Champaign Unit 4 event to stay informed of the latest news so that I can be of further service to you as you consider a move to the area.  There was so much information shared, that this will become a four-part piece covering Academics, the Choice Program, Important Dates, and The Future of Unit 4.  

Let’s talk about academics. Dr. Laura Taylor, the Assistant Superintendent, shared about the strides that Unit 4 is making towards preparing students for college or technical schools. Unit 4 serves about 10,000 students, higher than what had been anticipated based on census numbers. The District’s ACT scores exceed the state and national level and future testing is transitioning more towards the SAT, which still continuing to offer the ACT.

Dual-credit courses – These classes let a student earn college credit and shows colleges that a student is prepared for college-level classes.  Some of the classes are taught by Parkland College professors and, for many of those, a student will only receive credit if they attend Parkland. This saves parents’ money and gives the students a leg-up. Some students, upon graduation, are only a few courses away from having an Associate’s Degree, especially in business fields, from Parkland College.  Enrollment in dual-credit courses has gone up over the years (493 in the 2017 graduation year).

Advanced Placement (AP) courses – When I was a high school student, having the opportunity to take AP classes, and subsequently scoring well on the AP exams, meant that I could save a lot of money in college tuition! While the classes were challenging, looking back, I can see why my parents pushed me to study hard and do well in school. 🙂 Unit 4 high schools currently offer 20 AP courses; AP English Language and Composition will be added in the 2018/19 school year. AP World History is a sophomore-level course and is a good way for students to become more comfortable with the idea of taking future AP classes. In 2017, 316/415 students scored at least a “3” over 672 exams taken, which is the score needed to receive any college credit.  AP offerings and enrollment has really increased over the past 5 years (225 students took AP courses in 2012). A neat factoid is that no one has scored below a “3” in AP Computer Science in Unit 4 since its inception several years ago.

It is great to see increased course offerings. I have been to many of these events over the years and the staff’s desire to provide the best education possible to the community’s children has been very evident. Let me know your thoughts about your Unit 4 academic experience, or your questions about area schools. I am happy to point you in the right direction so that you have better peace of mind about moving to the area.

Top 10 ways your home will not sell on time when your buyer wants an FHA loan

Congratulations!  We have an offer on your house!  As you look through the contract, it’s easy to focus on the main terms: Price and closing date.  Here’s where you really need an agent to focuses on the details of the offer.  The details of the buyer’s financing plan are just as important as the price and closing date.  Even though you may get a top-dollar offer for your home, for our example today, let’s assume that the buyer is planning on obtaining FHA financing for their purchase.

One of the big reasons that a buyer gets an FHA loan is that it enables them to purchase a home with less money out-of-pocket.  The minimum down payment requirement for an FHA loan is 3.5% of the purchase price (the down payment can be even less when an FHA loan is paired with another loan program or grant).

With a conventional loan, or with a typical appraisal, the purpose is to identify the value of the property, based on its condition.  An FHA appraisal goes a step further and identifies the value of the property AND any safety/fire hazards and perceived major maintenance issues that could be cost-prohibitive for the buyer to take on in the near future.  Due to the low down payment requirement, this may mean that the buyer doesn’t have a lot of discretionary funds to deal with appraisal-related repairs.  The result of the FHA appraisal can extend the timeline for selling your home, or make the transaction completely fall apart.  According to local appraisers, loan officers, and issues that I’ve personally experienced through being a full-time agent, here are the most common problems that come up in FHA appraisals:

  1. Flaking/peeling paint
  2. Roof – Appraisers like to see at least 3 years’ life left
  3. Bowed or damaged foundation walls
  4. Poor grading or drainage issues
  5. Proximity to a gas station or other hazardous condition
  6. Deteriorated/rotted siding – particularly masonite or wood
  7. Electrical issues – Open splices, “amateur” wiring
  8. Bedroom windows not opening/closing freely
  9. Furnace/heating system malfunctioning
  10. Lack of a Shared Driveway Agreement
  11. Bonus Item! Issues may also come up if you have a home with a well or septic system, as banks usually require satisfactory results from a well and septic test (tests for which the buyer pays).

If a problem comes up, then what?  This is why you choose me as your agent.  From the time we get an offer, I can help you anticipate issues before they happen and address them, request that the buyer obtain conventional financing, or reject the offer if we feel that the house won’t “pass”.  Of course, issues can arise and surprises can come up.  The good news is that most problems have solutions!

Lenders/banks require that any repairs be completed before the closing (with an exception being exterior peeling paint, which cannot be addressed when it’s too cold to paint).  If you already feel like you’ve agreed to a low price, these repairs still have to be done, regardless of the value that the home appraised at.  In other words, you can have a contract sale price of $150,000, with the FHA appraisal coming in at $153,000, but the buyer still can’t get the loan if the appraisal mentions a bedroom window that doesn’t open smoothly!

Simply put, the repairs have to be done.  Most of the time, you as the seller pays to have the items repaired.  We can help you find good contractors who can do the job in a timely manner, and do it well at a reasonable price.  Sometimes, it’s a simple repair that you can do himself, like painting, working on windows which have been painted shut, servicing a furnace, etc.  Fortunately, the lender isn’t too picky about having an expert do the repairs; they just want them done well enough to pass a re-inspection by the appraiser.  When the repairs cannot be done prior to the closing (as in the example of exterior peeling paint when it’s cold, or if a roof is covered with snow and needs to be replaced), a quote normally need to be obtained from a contractor, with 150% of the quote placed into an escrow (holding account), to be done as soon as possible after the closing. These repairs are then paid for out of the escrow account, with any funds left over going back to whichever party funded the account.  Depending on how things get resolved, the buyer may be the one who funds that escrow account if they feel like they are getting a good price on the house.  However, when you need to fund 150% of a $6,000 roof project, most buyers who are getting an FHA loan don’t have $9,000 to throw into the escrow account.  As a result, the house may [sadly] go back on the market if you, as the seller, are not willing to do the repair.  Depending on the repairs, I have professional relationships with some contractors who can wait until the closing to get paid out of your proceeds if you do not have the funds upfront.

The list above is more common with older homes than with newer homes, so if you live in an older home, the arrival of spring brings opportunities to look over your house and address some of these applicable items.  For example, I have seen some lenders/banks postpone the closing due to lack of a shared driveway agreement (not uncommon in areas closer to downtown Champaign and Urbana).  So, if you share a driveway with your neighbor, get an agreement written up so that you are ready to sell in a timely manner to an FHA buyer when you call us to sell your home.  In our area within the past year, 7.72% of residential loans were FHA loans (plus 3.58% VA, which have a similar appraisal), so even if this wasn’t an issue when you bought your home because you paid cash or obtained a conventional loan, it’s plausible to get an FHA buyer, especially if you live in an area that is desirable for first-time buyers.

When we work together to sell your house, we will talk about many of the nuances that can affect your home sale, from the initial pricing and staging, through the entire “under contract” period.  We don’t just want to have a great offer; we want to have a great closing, too!  If we are going to take our house off the market for a buyer, I will help you do everything possible to ensure we close successfully and not find ourselves back on the market 60 days later (the approximate time it takes to obtain an FHA loan), having missed out on other potential buyers.

Your lending team: who they are and their role in helping you get a mortgage loan

I recently had a transaction where my buyer became a bit frustrated with the loan process.  He’d applied for his mortgage loan through the loan officer he had been working with, and was starting to receive emails from other people at the bank who were asking about his application and asking him to supply further documentation.  He didn’t know who these people were, as he’d only been in touch with his loan officer.  And sometimes, they were asking for the same items he’d already provided to one of the others; no wonder it was frustrating!

It’s important to know what to expect as you go through the loan process and the people that you’ll be coming into contact with.  I was going to describe the various people at the bank myself, but then realized that I should just go straight to the source!  I asked Todd Beard, a great local lender with Marine Bank, to tell me about the various positions of the people you may interact with.  Here are Todd’s words:

“Typically, there are 3 main people that are involved in the loan process from application to closing – Here is a short breakdown of each of those, and what they generally do:

LOAN OFFICER – The job of the Loan Officer is to go over your scenario and determine which loan options are available for you, and ultimately provide a Loan Pre-Qualification Letter to you that you could use when/if you decided to make an offer on a new home.  The Loan Officer will get questions answered about the process as a whole, run payment scenarios, and give you an idea of the types of documentation required for the loan program being used.   While the Loan Officer cannot actually approve the loan or process the loan, they would generally be the main contact person for you throughout the loan process.

PROCESSOR – After the loan officer meets with you and issues the Loan Pre-Qualification Letter, and you present a contract to purchase a new home, the Loan Officer will submit the application, purchase contract, and your documentation to the Processor.  The main job of the Processor is to gather all the needed documentation for the file and make sure that the documentation matches what the Loan Officer has entered on your loan application.  The Processor will also take care of ordering the appraisal on the new property and reviewing that to make sure there are no issues or required repairs when that appraisal comes in.  The Processor will then assemble a complete file with all documentation and submit that to the Underwriter for final approval.

UNDERWRITERThe Underwriter is the person who will actually “approve” the loan.    The job of the Underwriter is to review all the documentation that has been presented, making sure that the file meets the program guidelines for whatever program is being used for the loan.  When the file reaches the Underwriter they are generally checking to make sure that there are no additional questions that surround the documentation that has been presented.  After the Underwriter has reviewed the file and is satisfied that all questions are answered and that the file meets the guidelines for the loan program being used, they will issue a Loan Commitment Letter, which is essentially the final approval of the loan.  If there is still any missing documentation, those items will be specifically listed on the Loan Commitment Letter.

Closing Department After the underwriter issues the Loan Commitment Letter, the file is returned to the Process to await the actual closing.  The Processor will then submit the file to the Closing Department who is then responsible for preparing all the various loan documents and getting those documents to the title company for the closing.  The Closing Department will work with the title company to come up with all the final numbers for the file.  Once those final numbers are determined, the Loan Officer would generally contact you and give you the exact amount of funds needed for the closing.

You would have most of their contact directly with the Loan Officer – The Processor would contact you occasionally, generally when tracking down any documentation that is missing from the file.  You would generally never have any contact at all with the Underwriter – If the Underwriter needs additional information, they would have the Loan Officer or Processor reach out to the borrower to collect that information.”

If you’d like to ask Todd any further questions, or to begin the loan pre-approval process, email him at or call 217-239-0131.

There may be issues that arise at each step of the loan process, outside of our control, some of which I’ll discuss in future entries.  Most things can be resolved without affecting the closing date (the date that you become the owner of your new home).  It helps to anticipate issues as best as possible and to have an experienced team (your lender and I) on your side.

25 Ways to Win With People – A glimpse into John Maxwell’s book

I love learning new things and new skills and am grateful when someone takes the time to share their skills with others.  I had the privilege recently to listen to a John Maxwell-certified coach, Lesley King, speak about John’s book, “25 Ways to Win With People.”  One of the Busey lenders in our office, Joni Utnage, invited Lesley and also served pizza to anyone who wanted to attend!  I would love to share with you some of the things that I was reminded of.  I can’t say that any of this material is new to anyone, but do we really know it if we do not put it into practice and implement it into our lives?

Once you discover your missions and purpose, life gets easier.  You can’t get away from people, because you’re a person. 🙂 Anyone can win with people; these are learn-able skills.  It’s crucial to apply the skills that you learn.

Only 3 of the ways were shared with the group, and I’ll go through each one.  Basically, everything Lesley said was meant to be a poignant truth, and I quoted her as best as I could:

  1.  Start with yourself – You have to like yourself.  It’s really true.  “Your relationships can only be as healthy as you are.” – Neil Clark Warren

You have to see that you have something to offer.  You can’t be happy unless you’re healthy.  Emotional health is at the center of winning with people.  Emotionally-sick people talk about themselves.  You have to be emotionally sound.  You cannot give what you do not have.  The more solid you are about your strengths and weaknesses, the better you can .

“Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

You cannot enjoy others unless you enjoy yourself.  Self-acceptance is the most important thing in winning with people.  Don’t spend a ton of time on your weaknesses, since you’ll likely have those the rest of your life.  Get better at your strengths.  Finally, live a life of gratitude.  If you do not, you are likely a pretty negative person. Through the hard times, you become better or bitter.

Slow down – Life has a lot of simple things that we can enjoy, but if we move too fast, we’ll overlook them.  When Lesley said this, I thought of the many times I drive to the office.  It’s amazing how much richness and variety I notice when I go for a walk along the exact same route: the flowering bushes at one house, the cat looking out the window at another, the paving bricks recently laid ever further; so many reasons to smile!

The most important thing in life are people.  Good always comes out from something bad that happens… if we are looking for it.  Lesley shared her story of getting hit by a semi-truck at 27 years old, in a head-on collision.  She remembered praying to God, “if you let me walk again and my teeth are all in place (she joked about her priorities at the time), I will declare your goodness.”  And this is what she is doing.

Write down your birth year on a sheet of paper, with a hyphen after it. – What impact is your hyphen making on people (family, relationships, colleagues)?  We forget to slow down and make an impact.  Maximize who you are by overcoming or fixing those things that are in your power to change.

Leaders are constantly learning.

  1.  Practice the 30-second rule – “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.” – Samuel Johnson.

The first 30 seconds of a conversations says something encouraging to someone.  Make it all about them.  Lesley always thought that if you find something to connect with, then you’ll establish rapport with them.  But they didn’t invite you to their story.  The 30-second rule is about giving people the “AAA” treatment.

All people feel better and do better when you give them the AAA treatment: 1) Attention: make others feel valuable.  Others have worth and have value.  When you strip everything away, the heart is all that’s left; that’s what you need to reach.  Accept people even though they’re different. 2) Affirmation: every human being wants to be affirmed.  Even though this is simplistic, how are you actually applying this in your everyday life?  3) Appreciation: let people know you appreciate them!  If you are not the recipient of AAA treatment, you will retreat from that person.

  1. Pass the credit on to others – If you can grasp the principle that “It’s not about you”, you will be the most fulfilled, satisfied, and full-of-joy person.  Servant leadership is key.  Passing the credit to others is one of the easiest ways to win with people.  People don’t do this because they think it will lessen their own value, but it has the opposite effect.  The more you give unselfishly, the greater the return to your life.  You will go right up the ladder.  Many people are so insecure that they constantly feed their egos to make up for it.  To win with people, you must set aside your ego at the door and give credit to people.

“An egotist is not a person who thinks too much of himself; it’s someone who thinks too little of other people.” – Wayne Wong

 “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweizer.

Focusing on others will give you a purpose.  Focusing on others will give you energy.  When you give of yourself, something good goes off inside of you.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill

I think that if I can be proficient at just these 3 (of 25) ways, this will already improve my relationships with people.  I love people; I just need to SHOW them that I do. 🙂

Unit 4 schools update

My buying clients often ask me about whether the local school systems are good.  “Good” is such a loaded word. 🙂  Does it mean that a school has a good fine arts program or offers many foreign language options?  Does it churn out high AP test scores or consistently wins the conference title in a certain sport?  Are there bully-prevention measures in place?  Does it have a diverse student population?  “Good” for one person is completely different than “good” for someone else.

I attended a luncheon recently, hosted by Champaign Unit 4 schools.  The speakers were: Dr. Judy Wiegand (Unit 4 Superintendent), Dr. Laura Taylor (High School superintendent), John Woods (Athletic director at Central), and Marc Changnon (District Coordinator, Education to Careers and Professions Program).  I do my best to stay informed in the topics that are important to my clients, such as schools, and wanted to share my “notes” from the meeting with you.  Please remember that what I have written here is my best account of what was said.

Dr. Wiegand gave a quick overview of Unit 4, saying that close to 10,000 students are served in Unit 4 schools.  There are 12 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 2 primary high schools, and 1 alternative high school (the Novak Academy).  50% of the faculty members hold at least a master’s degree.  Unit 4 may be the only district in central Illinois to have district technology coaches, who are available to assist faculty.

Dr. Taylor reviewed some of the accomplishments that had recently happened in the high schools.  There have been several perfect ACT scores; $6 million in scholarships given to the 2014 graduating class.  There are a lot of opportunities after high school.  About 100 students per year attend the U of I; one student received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

AP courses – Unit 4 recently won the AP Honor Roll award, which means that more minority and low-income students take AP classes while maintaining or increasing AP test score performance.  AP test scores are above the Illinois and National average.  There are 19 AP course offerings. Unit 4 also offers dual-credit courses, where enrollment has increased by 93%.  These courses are taught by teachers certified at Parkland College, but taught at the high schools.  Dual-credit is not related to AP, so a student’s dual-credit English composition class counts as credit for English general education classes at the U of I.  The schools have also introduced 4 computer programming classes for the first time this year (2014/15).  100 students signed up right away.  AP Computer science will be added next year.  They have also have started collaborating with Wolfram Research to introduce networking classes next year.

John Woods is a graduate of Centennial High School.  He was an all-state athlete in basketball and track, played football, and was Homecoming King.  He started at Central in 1992, when his father hired him as the assistant girl’s basketball coach.  One of his buddies asked him, “‘Why are you at Central?’… Later, some kid said, ‘No one at Central does anything'”.  This really struck him.

When he started as Central’s athletic director in 2002, his goal was to recognize the excellence in the Central athletes.  You cannot manufacture tradition and pride, and it’s something that’s happened at Central since 1894.  John talked about some of the past great athletes that played at Central, like Olympian Bob Richards (first athlete on the cover of a Wheaties box).  Bob still remembers his Central football days and recalls them fondly, so John Woods is striving to instill that excellence in all of the athletes.  Central has had 168 Hall-of-Fame athletes and 63 individual state champions.  They have an excellent swim program, even though they don’t have their own pool. 🙂   His goal is for Central “To be the standard of excellence in the Big 12 Conference” by making kids feel valued, not just by adults, but by other kids.  Trust, Care, Commitment, and Action – these are Central’s 4 core values.  Why Central?  It’s real simple.  The tradition, the pride, the vision, the mission, the core values, and the academic excellence.

Academically, the IHSA recognizes teams for the team GPA (average 3.0 or higher).  19 of their 21 varsity sports earned that award and they were 3/10’s of a point away from having 21/21.  This year so far, 8/9 (2/10’s away from 9/9).  There are 71 scholar athletes out of 260 students that maintain a 3.0 GPA while earning a varsity letter their junior or senior year.

In 2014, John was awarded the Athletic Director of the year title.  He is humble about it and said that it is a result of the efforts of the entire department.

To learn more about Champaign Unit 4 Schools, visit their website and schedule an in-person tour with one of the staff.

A hint of Centennial High School’s musical talent

My husband is a member of one of the local Rotary clubs.  They recently had a meeting at Centennial High School to view a few snippets from Centennial’s upcoming performance of “Bye Bye Birdie”.  I jumped at the opportunity to join the meeting!  When I was in high school, some of my very good friends were heavily involved in the fine arts, including the band, choir, drama (musicals/plays) and crew (set design, lighting, all of the behind-the-scenes work).  I had great pride in the quality of the musical shows that my high school performed and was prepared to be disappointed. 🙂

Was I wrong!  The few numbers that the students performed were pretty incredible AND they still have one week until the dress rehearsal!  There were a couple microphone/sound issues, but it’s not a high school musical without a few glitches. 🙂  And again, they still have a week to address any issues.

If you have no plans, mark your calendar for April 9, 10, or 11th at 7pm.  Ticket costs for adults are $9; children are $5; students/senior citizens are $7.  Let me know if you are going and I will look for you!

What do you know about Rantoul?

If you are like me and are not from there, your knowledge of Rantoul may be limited to, “Oh, that’s at the 250 exit off of I-57, right?” or “That’s that town that had the Chanute Air Force base; its closure really hurt Rantoul’s economy.”  I had a rare opportunity to meet with some of the leaders of the Village of Rantoul recently, and what a great experience it was!

History timeline of Chanute
History timeline of Chanute

Things started off with a tour of the Chanute Air Museum.  I had no idea that a place this interesting was so close to Champaign-Urbana.  I highly recommend that you visit there; it’s a great rainy-day destination!  We started off down the hall, past the silver timeline, outlining the important events in the base’s history.  We passed through a “historic street” of vintage memorabilia, past some WWI-era inspired rooms (we got the “nutshell” tour, apparently) :), then entered into the large indoor hangar area with the historic planes.

Replica of the Wright Brothers' aircraft
Replica of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft

What a place!  From a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane, to some of the Air Force’s more modern high-speed aircraft, I was reminded of the human desire to achieve what seems impossible and how impressive these engineering feats were at times before the Internet and the modern world we live in today.

Older planes
Older planes

After our tour, we listened to several talks: by the mayor, by a local resident and real estate broker, and by a local appraiser.  Here is approximately what they said:

Mayor:  Rantoul is experiencing a “Renaissance”.  He thinks that Rantoul will outpace every other local town in growth.  Rantoul has had growth in manufacturing, research, hi-tech, etc.; all those industries are expanding and many of those company executives are having trouble finding suitable homes.  He has a plan for new retail amenities, especially in the downtown area, where a “New downtown with proposed restaurants” is in the works.  He acknowledged that the housing market suffered greatly as a result of Chanute closing.  He feels that Rantoul has organically grown to where it’s a part of a regional/global community with diverse industries and praised Rantoul’s diverse population.  The school system is quite unique.  Rantoul is a great places to live, and great places to live are great places to learn.

Huge facility
Huge facility

I had hoped that there would be a Q&A session, as I was curious as to what Rantoul is doing to attract businesses, but there wasn’t one.

Real Estate Broker:  84% of houses have sold under $100k.  Over 2,000 housing units became available after the base closed.  For homes up to 1,200sf, the average sale price is $63,000.  There hasn’t been much new construction.  Presently, there are 76 active listings; 80% of those are under $100k.  Some business have left and this has resulted in recent foreclosures.  A bit over 2% of the homes are currently for sale.  50% of the properties are rental-owned (including apartment buildings).  As far as demolition, the city tore down a 120-unit complex and 26 single-families, which had been bought by the village and demolished.  A 30-unit mobile home park, another 10-unit building next year, and another 11-unit after that are in the works.  Those vacant lots are starting to go on the market (42 currently for sale).  Future plans include a retirement community on the West side of town and new addition to the Lincoln’s Challenge program.  Rantoul has at least 10 parks, 3-4 ponds/lakes, a campground with 95 sites, and is home to the U of I Football training camp.

Appraiser:  The Rantoul recession has lasted 20 years and he feels that the groundwork has been laid for a resurgence.  The market in Rantoul today is a “balanced” one.  Days-on-market are stable (around 95) and average prices are steady or slightly increasing. Indian Hills subdivision is similar to Cherry Hills in Champaign and he’s discovered that the home values in Rantoul are at least 15-30% less than most of these other neighborhoods and markets.  He thinks that the worst is over.

View of high school from the school bus :)
View of high school from the school bus 🙂

Then, it was time for lunch!  A school bus took us from the museum to the Rantoul Township High School, where one of the gyms had tables and chairs set up.  Butcher Boy Burgers, a local eatery, catered this event.  The pulled pork was fabulous; I highly recommend it!  It was so good that I didn’t even think to take a photo. 🙂  Our lunch was followed by presentations from the superintendents of the high school and of the elementary schools, then with a tour of the school.  Here is what the superintendents had to say:

Cool things from shop class
Cool things from shop class

High School Superintendent Scott Amerio:  Their priority is to assist students in their ability to discover their life goals and provide staff with resources to assist them.  At RTHS, this goals looks like this: Honors courses, AP courses, and dual-credit courses.  There are also students who want to make a good living through being a contractor, doctor, plumber, etc.  Our students don’t have to choose a track; i.e. have a student in AP, as well as a shop class.  Or, a student may go to Parkland for automotive classes.  Test scores are not where they want them to be.  They won’t attempt to raise those test score goals if it is at the expense of taking their eyes off their goals for their students.  Safety: 13 students were suspended for fighting in 2014 as a result of 6 or 7 incidents (since it takes at least 2 people to have a fight).  Drugs: Acknowledged that there are drugs, so they’re very vigilant about following leads through social media, rumors, etc.  Remember that it’s a small percentage of the students.  Focus on the rest of the student body and staff, and community, who he’s proud of.  He’s proud of the kids who do a lot of volunteering for their community and for their peers.  Students made the podium he’s speaking at.

Woodworking studio
Woodworking studio

Another option is St. Malachi school, a pre-k through 8th grade school for parents who want a Catholic/Christian school.  The superintendent chose that school for both of his kids because they also instill the same type of faith and values that he does at home.  The high school’s current enrollment is about 750 students; the school can accommodate 1,200.

A 3D printer for the drafting students!
A 3D printer for the drafting students!

Elementary Schools  Superintendent Michelle Ramage:  There are 6 pre-K through 8th grade school buildings which service 1,650 students.  High school and elementary schools are 2 separate districts because Rantoul Township High School is a feeder school from other surrounding communities.  Achievement scores are not acceptable (70% of students are not achieving).  They know that this is a problem.  Almost 20% of students speak another language.  They have a strong bi-lingual program and are moving to a dual-language program where all students learn a foreign language in elementary school.  Their goal is a 16-17 class size for K-3rd grade.  RCS is a “green district” through energy-efficiency buildings, A/C, etc.  They are a work in progress, have a lot of new staff, and are proud of their leadership, who are looking forward to change.

The "Cafetorium" - Cafeteria/Auditorium
The “Cafetorium” – Cafeteria/Auditorium

My overall thoughts:  I was very impressed with the services at the high school.  I had about 2,000 students in my high school in Chicagoland and, short of having a swimming pool and in-house automotive classes, RTHS had all of the amenities of a much larger school.

Planting and dividing
Planting and dividing

Their horticulture program, as well as the other “hands-on” programs, along with the business class offerings, seem to offer a lot of options for both college- and tech school- bound students.  I personally believe that it is not the job of a school to teach values, morals, ethics, and love for other people; those things are taught in the home.  For things that a school is responsible for, Rantoul seems to really be on the ball with a top-notch facility and staff who want their students to succeed.

A 2003 replica of the original high school's facade
A 2003 replica of the original high school’s facade

Let me know if you’d like to learn more about Rantoul!  It really is a much less expensive place to live and it is very close to Champaign-Urbana.  Or, for more information about Rantoul from their website, visit:

Where did I go?

I have not kept up with my posts and I am sorry.  Over the last few years, I have been exploring the various methods of advertising my business, coupled with what I actually enjoy doing.  I have gone back to the “basics” of what I enjoy: sharing some of my daily, and exceptional, experiences in real estate.  This way, we can navigate the waters of a real estate transaction, being as informed as possible, together.

Back in 2005 when I purchased my first home, I had no idea what I was really doing.  I looked at one house and bought it.  All I thought I needed to know was where to show up and how much money I needed to bring to the closing.  🙂  My agent at the time did not inform me that perhaps we should look at a few more homes, or that, even though it was a new home, I should seriously consider a home inspection.

I also didn’t think that anything could postpone the closing, so I had no problems with scheduling the curb-side delivery of a refrigerator to my new house the afternoon of the closing day.  Looking back, I know that I was extremely fortunate in how things worked out!  Perhaps it was my military mindset at the time, but I had made my plans and everything worked as it was supposed to.

This perfect execution is not always the case, no matter how hard everyone who is involved in the transaction works.  Things can happen that could postpone the closing, or, in rare cases, completely make a deal fall apart at the last minute.  I hope that you find the information in this blog to be useful to you (or to a friend) in your next real estate sale or purchase.  Come back for content often, or just subscribe!



Future Plans for the City of Urbana

As your real estate agent, one of my tasks is to be your area expert.  If you are looking to buy a home, purchasing in a location that suits your needs best is often just as important as the home itself.  If you are thinking about selling, I can use my knowledge of the area to market your home in a more comprehensive way to appeal to more buyers.

City Sign from the City of Urbana website

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to meet with several of Urbana’s city officials to discuss the City’s future plans for schools, parks, roads, commercial expansion, and other items of interest.  We spent about 2 hours going through Urbana and discussing the various points of interest we passed.  I have narrowed down the highlights for you so that it won’t take you two hours to learn what I learned.  I will start with some of the recent news-worthy items:

The Olympian Drive expansion – The projected start date for the expansion will be in 2013, with a plan to extend Olympian Drive from Duncan Rd in Champaign to Lincoln Rd in Urbana, with a bridge over the railroad tracks just West of Lincoln Ave.  At this point, the project is estimated to cost $20 million, with most of it ($18M) coming from state and federal funding, and Champaign/Urbana contributing $1M each.  The long-term plan is to extend Olympian Drive all the way East to Cunningham Avenue.  If 2013 is too long to wait, the next road improvement project is to re-construct Airport Road East of Cunningham Ave.  This project is scheduled to begin this summer, and the road improvements will service the Landis Farm and Somerset subdivisions (almost as far east as Brownfield Road).

Menards store on High Cross Road – You’ve seen the Menards signs for years, but no signs of development.  A few years ago, Menards purchased about 300 acres of land along High Cross, with the intent to build a Menards store and 500 residential homes (with Menards materials – genius!).  With the economic slow-down, however, the plans have been put on hold indefinitely, although the land has already been purchased.  Supposedly, Menards has purchased land in other areas of the Midwest also and is now trying to determine which of the areas they will pursue first.  Urbana is “doing what they can” to try to be at the top of that list.

Recent Pool Referendum – The people have spoken, and Urbana will be constructing a brand-new family aquatic center on Broadway Avenue, just North of Crystal Lake Park.  The referendum’s promise is for the facility to open in 2013.  The plan is to have an area with various pools and points of interest to appeal to a multi-generational clientele.  For instance, if grandparents want to take their grandchildren to the pool, there will be something for everyone to do.  At this point, the design and engineered is being prepared in order to start getting bids for the project.

The Historic Lincoln Hotel – If you’ve been through downtown Urbana recently, you’ve probably seen/heard the construction around this building.  The building has been purchased and will be renamed to the Urbana Landmark Hotel.  The building is currently being re-roofed and should partially open later this year.  The owner’s intent is to fully open to the public in 2012 as a full-service hotel, with “historical flavor and a high level of service”.

The old Denny’s building at 119 N. Race – The city does not own the building, but has given permission to the owners to utilize city funds to demolish it.  The footprint of the old building will be a parking lot and a green area.  The Courier Cafe might want to expand into this new area with outdoor seating, but at this time there are no plans for re-development.

If you have any specific questions about Urbana, please let me know!  I might have answers readily available for the following topics, in no particular order:

– UCBB (Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband) $20M grant

– Plans for school improvements throughout Urbana

– New offerings at the Urbana Free Library

– How some of the various projects around downtown Urbana will be financed

– The Lincoln exhibit at the County Courthouse

– Boneyard Creek $7M transformation plan

– Campus improvements, like the Gregory Place complex and Goodwin Avenue

– Future of the Windsor Swim Club (across from Meadowbrook Park)

– Urbana High School future athletic facility

– The Urbana U-Cycle recycling program

– The Urbana Landscape Recycling Center and its available services

– Sewer back-up assistance from the City of Urbana

– Carle Hospital expansion plans

– 5 Points development at Cunningham/University

– Plan for Weaver Park

– Beautification plan for North Cunningham Avenue

– Future expansion of bike paths

If you don’t see the topic that you’re looking for, just ask me!  The aforementioned items are just the things that I learned more about yesterday.  Over the years, I’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the local area.  It was great to have an opportunity to get a quick update, though, so that I can have the most recent information for you.