Unit 4 schools update

My buying clients often ask me about whether the local school systems are good. ¬†“Good” is such a loaded word. ūüôā ¬†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. ūüôā ¬† 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.

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 ūüôā

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. ūüôā ¬†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: http://www.village.rantoul.il.us/

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‚Äôs city officials to discuss the City‚Äôs 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 РThe 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äúdoing what they can‚ÄĚ to try to be at the top of that list.

Recent Pool Referendum РThe 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 ‚Äď If you‚Äôve been through downtown Urbana recently, you‚Äôve 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‚Äôs intent is to fully open to the public in 2012 as a full-service hotel, with ‚Äúhistorical flavor and a high level of service‚ÄĚ.

The old Denny‚Äôs building at 119 N. Race ‚Äď 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.

How many additional pictures are there of a home? Now you know!

For some time now, as a service to my clients, I have been providing additional pictures of some of the homes for sale in Champaign county.

Until recently, for homes with additional pictures, there has been a tab at the top of the home information page that said ‘More Pictures’. (You can see this for yourself by going to my Featured Listings page and choosing one of the homes there)

While this was useful, I decided I could make it better. Now, for any given home with additional pictures, I actually tell you on the tab how many additional pictures that there are. So, instead of just saying ‘More Pictures’, the tab will now say ’24 More Pictures’, or ’19 More Pictures’. This might seem like a small thing, but little touches like this can really draw you into a home listing and encourage you to discover more about the home.

This is just one more way that I’m distinguishing myself from other Realtors around. Contact me. I’d love to have you as client.

Why does your calculator want me to put 20% down?!

I offer a popular mortgage calculator on my website at www.AroundCU.com/calc that you can use to determine what your mortgage payments will be on a home that you are interested in. You can also get to this mortgage calculator by clicking on the ‘Mortgage Calc’ link in the tabs at the top of any home’s information.

From looking at how clients use my website, one thing that I have noticed over and over again is that people quickly change the percentage of down payment on their dream home from 20% to something smaller. Usually 0%. Alas, for the average homebuyer in today’s economy it just isn’t realistic to make that drastic of a change. I’m not choosing 20% as a starting point because I am evilly wanting you to see a lower monthly payment. Read on, dear client, to find out the motive.
Continue reading Why does your calculator want me to put 20% down?!

What will $29,950 buy you in Champaign? How about a foreclosed home with a scary shower??

If you have thought about purchasing a foreclosure home because of the allure of getting an amazing deal, remember that in our area, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet a client at one of the least expensive homes available in Champaign right now, a two-story foreclosure with a basement, priced at $29,950 (there are several homes priced even lower).¬† I was the first to arrive, so I thought I’d go inside and take a look around before meeting my client.¬† This home is not for most people, so keep this in mind when you look at the photos.¬† Remember also that this home is less than $30,000, a rare find anywhere. read more and view photos

Avoiding Real Estate Pitfalls Prior to Closing

Whether you are considering selling or buying your home, it is common to go through times of stress and through times of joy.  Regardless of how stressful things may be, when a home goes pending (a contract has been accepted), it is fair to expect that things will go normally, and in complete accordance with the dates and criteria set forth in the contract.  After all, when everything is written out in black and white, there is no room for mistakes, right? Continue reading Avoiding Real Estate Pitfalls Prior to Closing

Share Information On A Home With Friends and Family

When all is said and done, home-buying is a personal choice. You have to be happy with what you are buying, and I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.

Even though it is a personal choice, while you are looking for your dream home, it’s great to have input from people you know on the homes you are considering! Or, you might have found an interesting home and want to share the details with a spouse or other person that will be living there. Last night I added a new feature to home search on my website to make that a little bit easier. (read more and view screenshot)

How does “Days On Market” affect the selling price of a home?

Some of my buyers are in no hurry to purchase their home. They say something like, "We are willing to wait until a great deal comes along", or "The sellers will get desperate to sell after the home has been on the market for a long time". What does "a long time" mean? Until now, the answer to this question has been some agent’s made-up statistic or vague answer. Continue reading How does “Days On Market” affect the selling price of a home?

Details about the 2009 Economic Stimulus Package’s real estate tax credit

After plenty of rumors and speculation, the details of the government’s economic stimulus package have finally been released.¬† I have read the real estate portion, and would like to give you a summary. There is now an $8,000 tax credit (or 10% of the sale price, whichever is less) for first-time homebuyers.¬† You might have heard about the $7,500 tax credit, which is basically an interest-free loan paid back over 15 years at $500 per year.¬† That credit still applies if you purchased your home between April 9 and December 31, 2008. This new $8,000 tax credit is for home purchases between January 1, and December 1, 2009, and you do not have to pay any of it back (yourself, individually… all of us ultimately will have to pay back the entire $787B… the housing portion is $6.638B).

To qualify for the $8,000 credit, you must meet ALL of the following criteria: Continue reading Details about the 2009 Economic Stimulus Package’s real estate tax credit