Windy City Housing Porn: YoChicago vs. Rent or Buy

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This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

New Depression or not, there always seems to be opportunity in Chicago’s real estate market. Good times leave behind condo gluts. Bad times? Rental overkill. And two competing local blogs offer all the housing porn you could ever want to to help you make your next Windy City real estate decision. From floorplans to photo spreads to video walkthroughs, let’s look at two hotly competitive real estate sites: Joe Zekas’s YoChicago; and Maureen Wilkey’s Rent or Buy? ChicagoNow blog.

When it launched four years ago, YoChicago was intended as a way to generate interest in the printed New Homes magazine. Four years later, the site has a life of its own. A real estate professional with a wide and varied background, since 2005 Zekas has built the site into the de facto virtual showroom for Chicago condo developments.

Relying on a core team of writers and a friendly relationship with the development community (make a mental note of that), YoChicago offers inside information on new Chicago condo development, much of it high-rise, downtown, or along the lakefront. Among recent blog posts (much of it cross-posted to sister site New Home Notebook):

Equally engaging are the growing video library of construction walk-throughs, model home visits, and developer interviews, often announced by Zekas as the product of much cajoling for insider access, and the flickr library of neighborhood photos.

YoChicago banks on community discussion to generate buzz, many posts followed by a vibrant, occasionally heated comment thread. Previously, Zekas invited in community bloggers to report on their own neighborhoods. They’re gone with the wind now, in favor of a new community of real-estate professionals corralled at a separate Ning social networking site (What is Ning?), entitled Chicago Real Estate Experts.

Regular readers like me can assume the shift in community emphasis was made because of that mental note I asked you to remember a few paragraphs above. At the heart of it, YoChicago is an industry-driven site and Zekas makes no bones about it. You will rarely read a criticism of the local condo market on YoChicago (although Zekas frequently shares pointedly conservative political opinions which have always struck me as out-of-place on a housing blog.) And apparently Chicago developers have short memories, because if there’s an archive feature on YoChicago, I have yet to find it–or the neighborhood category archive, for that matter.

Instead, Zekas banks on the good will of the developer community to give him and his team the inside access that leads to the condo porn from which YoChicago is built. That’s a good thing for buyers and voyeurs of new homes, but not so great if you’re seeking objective, critical opinion of Chicago’s housing market.

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Wilkey takes a more balanced approach on her ChicagoNow real-estate blog, Rent or Buy? A housing reporter currently in the midst of her own major move, her blog is a mix of first-person housing tales, tips for first-time urban apartment dwellers, and features on new Chicago development.

Recent posts have included:

Wilkey also takes a stab at occasional real-estate news roundups, but overall Rent or Buy is  a far more modest effort, aiming more to share a personal look at the Windy City housing market rather than to provide a comprehensive overview of it. There’s less to assess here, but the site’s still worthwhile in its own right.

Zekas apparently doesn’t think think so, judging by the frequent, bitchy trolling he does in Wilkey’s comment thread. In fact, taken together, Zekas’s and Wilkey’s sites paint a wider picture of the local housing market than either does individually. Of course, the occasional news post notwithstanding, neither blog wastes much space on the financial collapse of the world as we knew it and the soul- and savings-sucking damage that caused for many local homeowners. But both are worth a regular read, no matter what one scribe might think of the other.

Besides, for anyone looking for the bigger picture, there’s always the brutal industry news on Crain’s Chicago Real Estate Daily. That is, if you want your condo porn with a side of masochism.

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