Biography

When Mary Umberger started covering residential real estate at the Chicago Tribune in the early 1990s, she thought it would be a short-term ...

Read full bio

Mary Umberger

Mary Umberger

On Real Estate

E-mail | Twitter

Rules of engagement in home appraisals

April 19, 2014

It's OK. You can talk to your appraiser. Really.

  • Buyers in survey crave dining rooms, tubs

    April 13, 2014

    Homebuilders, don't touch that bathtub! Keep your paws off the dining room too.

  • Freddie Mac index helps track stability of housing market

    April 7, 2014

    Does the world need yet another housing market indicator? We're already treading water in a monthly numerical flood of data on home sales, mortgage applications, foreclosures and even a survey that supposedly measures whether homebuilders are nervous.

  • Las Vegas casting call flush with ambition

    February 28, 2014

    Neneh Biffinger flashed a broad smile at the camera, clutched the microphone and explained how she really, really likes bathrooms.

  • What's hot in home design

    February 23, 2014

    Sanford Steinberg calls them "marriage preservation," and he's seeing them a lot lately.

  • Taking the pain out of kitchen remodeling

    February 14, 2014

    Most people love their remodeled kitchens, but it's a safe bet they don't harbor many warm and fuzzy thoughts about what they had to go through to get it.

  • Licensing upgrades raise the bar for Indiana agents

    February 7, 2014

    As of July 1, there won't be any real estate agents in Indiana.

  • Lowe's teams up with Porch.com

    January 31, 2014

    The Web is nearly bursting with sites that promise to help you find a contractor or plumber or any number of other construction professionals for your home. Recently, a new player, Porch.com came on the scene. Instead of just blending in, Porch has the competitive advantage of having a very high-profile partner — the Lowe's home improvement chain.

  • A disconnect between agents and potential buyers

    January 24, 2014

    So, you're trolling the Internet and you land on a real estate broker's website. There's a house listed for sale on the site that intrigues you. You zap an email to the brokerage that says, "I'd like to know more." What's going to happen next?

  • Apartment renters face a tight market

    January 19, 2014

    If you're an apartment renter, Ryan Severino has three words for you: Sorry about that.

  • States where Americans are on the move

    January 10, 2014

    Americans are on the move again, apparently dragged down less by underwater homes and facing better job prospects than they did during the recession, according to a major moving company.

  • Attracting younger talent into real estate

    January 4, 2014

    Real estate agents are getting old.

  • A look back at 2013 in real estate

    December 30, 2013

    Many of us who type for a living are fond of year-in-review stories. And in the case of residential real estate, the 2013 crop undoubtedly will focus on the alleged rebound of the long-suffering market.

  • True tales of neighbors, gators and comics

    December 20, 2013

    Real estate isn't all contracts, closings and square footage. A few glimpses of the business at its thoroughly human margins:

  • Latest color trends put experts in blue mood

    December 14, 2013

    Got a hankering to paint the kitchen? The folks out there who track America's color preferences think there's a good chance you'll slather on some shade of gray. Or if your bedroom walls get an update, they'll be blue — make that "Re-Blued."

  • What it takes to buy a home in 25 cities

    November 30, 2013

    Let's say you earn about $22,000 a year. Can you afford to buy a house? In Cleveland, you can. Bring down a whopping $25,000 annually in Cincinnati? Step right up, and join the homeowners club.

  • 'Cabinologist' builds upon his love for the getaways

    November 22, 2013

    A cabin in the woods is probably the ultimate anti-McMansion. It is, at least, if your mindset mirrors that of Dale Mulfinger.

  • Slices of Florida market heating up again

    November 15, 2013

    By some measures, Florida is a real estate petri dish. In the buildup to the housing bubble, homebuyers, by the tens of thousands, exhibited a particularly nasty streak of irrational exuberance. The spectacular housing crash there — and, apparently, the market's recent re-emergence — will keep students of the bubble busy for a long time.

  • The value of reading between the numbers

    November 11, 2013

    We're serving a real estate numbers buffet this week, from 2.5-person families to 11-foot-long secret rooms. To wit:

  • Giving new meaning to wealth management

    November 1, 2013

    Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that maintaining one can be demanding. Imagine what would be involved if you owned three houses … or six?

  • Eclectic kitchen trends on front burner

    October 25, 2013

    Is stainless dead? Or maybe showing its age?

  • Rental study shows young adults leaving nests

    October 18, 2013

    Attention, parents of boomerang children: Those young adult children of yours who returned home to the family roost — sometimes to the discomfort of all — appear to be starting to build their own nests.

  • What the rich want in a home

    October 11, 2013

    Money, money, money.

  • Retro appliances feed need to simplify

    October 10, 2013

    Living “off the grid” originally referred an effort to detach our existences from all things electrical. But the term these days could refer to a less-extreme approach — to something as amorphous as a desire to live “more simply.” Or greener. Or more frugally. Pick the verbiage you're most comfortable with.

  • Why agents are jumping on Twitter bandwagon

    October 4, 2013

    At every real estate industry event I attend, inevitably there will be social media gurus present who intone about the importance of Twitter the way dentists preach about flossing.

  • Pulte experiment aims to see what buyers want

    September 27, 2013

    Recently, Pulte Homes built a ghost subdivision in a Chicago suburb. No, that's not quite right: The builder actually constructed it within a cavernous suburban warehouse.

  • Author says suburbs still have an appeal

    September 20, 2013

    Suburbia never seems to catch a break, at least in popular culture.

  • A somber look at suburbia's future

    September 13, 2013

    Is the suburb you're living in a future slum? Should you shove a for-sale sign into your front yard, pack your bags and light out for some lively urban neighborhood before it's too late?

  • From remodeling lows to Florida highs

    August 30, 2013

    Websites that cater to homeowners who are thinking about remodeling might want to pause and ponder whether they're actually discouraging site visitors from going through the upheaval of, say, renovating the kitchen: A new survey suggests that nearly half of couples who had remodeled admitted that the experience created friction between the partners.

  • Smoking can affect a home's resale value

    August 23, 2013

    If all the dire warnings about your health haven't motivated you to quit smoking, perhaps a jolt to the real estate pocketbook would do the trick.

  • Expert sees strong times ahead in market

    August 16, 2013

    If you build it, will they come?

  • Real estate batty season in full swing

    August 9, 2013

    We now interrupt our regular coverage of the serious real estate world (because, trust us, little happens in August anyway) to focus on the industry's silly season, which seems to have manifested itself — with a vengeance — in my inbox.

  • New online tools give inside scoop on homes

    August 2, 2013

    The pixel-pushers of the world have been working overtime to develop online tools for real estate, including a couple of new ways to snoop for the real scoop on that house you've fallen in love with. To wit:

  • Builders navigating complex housing market

    July 26, 2013

    If you're thinking about buying a newly built house in the near future, brace yourself, because the price tag is likely to go up, significantly up, in the near term.

  • Trulia retools agent search directory

    July 19, 2013

    If you recently bought or sold a home, how did you select a real estate agent to help you with the most expensive — and potentially stressful — transaction of your life?

  • Remodeling without breaking the bank

    July 12, 2013

    There's a reason that many people who have gone through a major remodeling job eventually refer to their homes — no matter how beautiful the result — as "The Money Pit": All too often, the costs outstrip their expectations (and that's being kind).

  • Kitchen remodeling on the front burner

    July 5, 2013

    When we last checked in with Consumer Reports to see which things matter to the magazine's practical-minded readers, we learned that their kitchen remodeling decisions tended to boil down to two words: resale value.

  • Change in the air: Rental smoking bans

    June 28, 2013

    It's becoming increasingly difficult to be a renter and a smoker.

  • Investors may be putting on the brakes

    June 21, 2013

    In the years that we now know as the prelude to the housing bubble, I had a number of chilling conversations, at least in hindsight.

  • Student housing intent on making the grade

    June 14, 2013

    ATLANTA — Real estate experts and journalists from around the country gathered here recently to discuss such weighty matters as the perceived rosiness of the housing market and trends in green building. But perhaps the most arresting takeaway had to do with that 20-something son of yours who has moved back into your house: Brace yourself — he's probably not going anywhere any time soon.

  • Tapping into real estate's hidden market

    June 7, 2013

    When is a house for sale, but not for sale? When it's being privately offered "off the books" — not listed in the local multiple listing service's database. Or it could be headed for the MLS but, for various reasons, hasn't gotten there yet.

  • Companies easing burden of relocation

    May 31, 2013

    Back in the days, not so long ago, when the housing market was deader than Generalissimo Franco, convincing an employee to accept a job transfer to another city could be a tough sell — the employee's apprehension over losing a bundle on his house stopped many a transfer in its tracks.

  • Rebound appears in Realtors' paychecks

    May 24, 2013

    How much did your real estate agent earn last year? Chances are, he or she got a raise — a big one, at least on paper.

  • A new breed of pet-friendly rentals

    May 17, 2013

    When John and Sara Kanive wanted to find a way to make their Chicago apartment stand out in order to sublet it in March, their solution was right in front of them, wagging his tail.

  • Luxury home sellers feeling rich again

    May 10, 2013

    After a long, dry spell, it's almost — but not quite — a seller's market for the nation's pricier houses, according to an organization that trains agents who specialize in selling luxury properties.

  • Signs of a new housing bubble

    April 25, 2013

    Um, don't look now, but out there in the real estate trenches, they're whispering the B word again. That's B as in "bubble."

  • Zombie foreclosure statistics scary

    April 19, 2013

    This is how hot this "zombie" thing has become in our culture — they've sleepwalked their way off the TV screen and into the real estate market.

  • Hispanic homebuyers a driving force in housing

    April 12, 2013

    First-time buyers make the housing wheel go 'round: As they segue from renting to owning, they set off the sequence of move-up purchases that, in theory, will help the overall market get well.

  • 'The Just Right Home': A blueprint for buying a house

    April 5, 2013

    Most of us don't school ourselves much in the processes of finding and buying or renting a home — we just plunge right in, usually falling in love with a house or an apartment, and giving only cursory consideration to how well it fits (or doesn't) with the rest of our daily lives.

  • Get ready for Great Senior Sell-Off

    April 1, 2013

    Something in salmon compels them to swim upstream. An invisible force calls swallows to return to Capistrano. And humans, primarily of the North American suburban variety, reach a certain age when they just gotta downsize.

  • Homebuyers with expensive taste on the prowl

    March 24, 2013

    The world is experiencing a population boom of people who are absolutely rolling in money. And they're hungry for houses.

  • Reality check on Florida's housing recovery

    March 15, 2013

    "Florida is on fire," proclaimed a real estate newsletter that came my way recently. It heralded new and apparently better days for the state's homebuilding industry, which was decimated when the housing bubble burst.

  • Shades of gray inspire kitchen, bath design

    March 8, 2013

    Got your gray bathroom yet?

  • Everything is beautiful in real estate listings

    March 1, 2013

    We love our hardwood floors, apparently.

  • Wealthy homebuyers in China embrace the McMansion

    February 22, 2013

    An American export has turned out to be a surprising hit in China: the McMansion.

  • Utility bills? That's so passe

    February 15, 2013

    David Goswick thinks homebuilding is entering what he calls a golden era, and it's not because houses are getting bigger or smaller or prettier or have perfected the walk-in closet. It's because, he said, the housing business has finally gotten the message that consumers would like to drop-kick their utility bills into the next county.

  • Calculating remodeling costs? So is Zillow

    February 7, 2013

    If, as told by gangs of economists, the housing market finally is coming back, the remodeling market should come back too. That's because when people buy a home, they're usually also buying a to-do list — or maybe that should be called a "redo" list, as in "gotta redo the kitchen," "gotta redo the master bath."

  • Simplified approach to home design

    February 1, 2013

    LAS VEGAS — If you're planning to build or remodel a kitchen, you'll be right on top of the trends if you choose white cabinets. No, wait, make that dark brown.

  • Navigating the new real estate apps

    January 25, 2013

    I recall a time when the real estate industry actually fought the approach of Internet technology, fearing that it would kill its "people" business. (Many of the same Cassandras said the same thing about the advent of the fax).

  • Luxury housewarming gifts when coupons just won't do

    January 18, 2013

    When most of us move, we might expect to receive a few coupons in the mail from local merchants, extolling their services and welcoming us to the neighborhood.

  • Homebuyers dreaming bigger about houses

    January 11, 2013

    Reports of the death of the McMansion appear to be greatly exaggerated.

  • Making homes disaster-resistant

    January 4, 2013

    It's become all too familiar, perhaps most recently after superstorm Sandy walloped the East Coast: A storm devastates a town or a region, and long after the weather has cleared, the residents struggle to get back to normal in their homes because of extended power outages.

  • Chicago tops list of buyers' markets

    December 28, 2012

    Homebuyers, you're calling the shots.

  • Condo living: The untold story

    December 21, 2012

    Matthew Gordon Lasner is the official biographer of the condominium. (Well, as official as these things get, anyway.)

  • The right scent sniffs out buyers

    December 14, 2012

    There's a category of online real estate information that I refer to as "advice for morons" that offers such stunning insights as, perhaps you ought to tidy up the house before you put it on the market.

  • Undeck the halls for holidays?

    December 7, 2012

    What a wonderful tradition, filling every nook and cranny of your house with Christmas decor — unless, that is, you're trying to sell that house this month.

  • A reality check on housing market

    November 30, 2012

    If the Chicago real estate market were a patient recovering from a lingering, debilitating illness, the doctor might be obliged to set the patient's over-expectant family straight: Yes, your loved one's symptoms have eased up, says the MD, but, gee, it's a little too soon to be training for a marathon.

  • Realtor survey reflects evolving market

    November 23, 2012

    With some regularity, real estate writers are surprised to discover that single people buy homes, inevitably prompting them to write stories that declare it: a) a trend, and b) further evidence that the image of Ozzie and Harriet as the neighbors next door is just so over.

  • Hot streak in downtown rental market continues

    November 16, 2012

    If you're one of the growing number of apartment renters in downtown Chicago, take a minute to look down at your feet. Chances are, if you're in one of the fancier buildings, you're paying $2.58 each month for the square foot (or so) that those tootsies occupy.

  • Boomers not ready to cross 'senior' mark

    November 9, 2012

    Who you callin' old?

  • Homeownership still a goal of young adults

    November 1, 2012

    Among the many aftereffects of the popped housing bubble is the perception that a generation of young adults has been spooked into doubting that they'll ever own a home — or even aspire to own one.

  • Making your home accessible

    October 19, 2012

    I wondered the other day how long it might be before I became the source of an unfunny lightbulb joke. With a certain amount of trepidation that I never would have had in younger days, I climbed a stepladder to change a ceiling fixture bulb and found it more unsettling — and tippier — than I would have imagined.

  • For some, new hoops to jump for a mortgage

    October 11, 2012

    This story contains corrected material, published Oct. 12, 2012.

  • Smaller real estate markets a big deal

    October 4, 2012

    Want to invest in real estate? You're not the only one.

  • Winners and losers in Chicago housing market

    September 27, 2012

    Even if the real estate market were in Armageddon mode, many real estate industry types could still be expected to give you an enthusiastic "yes!" if you asked them, "Is now a good time to sell my house?"

  • Real estate apps open doors

    September 20, 2012

    This story contains corrected information.

  • For real estate brokers, the glass is half-full

    September 13, 2012

    When somebody tells you that real estate brokers are feeling optimistic about the housing market, it's not exactly a stop-the-presses moment. I can tell you without hesitation that they'd be a glass-half-full lot, even if the market were at a standstill.

  • 3Flat: Home improvements made easy

    September 2, 2012

    A room in a box. Well, maybe not one box, maybe several. But that's the idea behind 3Flat, a new company owned by the Lowe's home-improvement chain that has decided to cater to the light remodeling needs of urban dwellers who are short on space and time. They probably don't have cars either.

  • Green homebuilding makes strides

    August 24, 2012

    Once considered eccentric and dowdy, not to mention expensive, green homebuilding's looks have gotten a makeover as it creeps closer to mainstream housing.

  • How to estimate remodeling payback

    November 4, 2011

    Want to increase the value of your house? Add a third bathroom.

  • Appraisers see green in energy upgrades

    October 31, 2011

    If you're a conservation-minded homeowner and you go to the trouble, and expense, of installing a high-efficiency furnace or a truckload of insulation or other energy-saving features, you'd probably like to get credit for adding value to the place.

  • Credit reporting digs deeper

    October 14, 2011

    Sometimes it's hard to escape the notion that our lives are being slowly, inevitably reduced to a single database.

  • The down-payment hurdle

    July 29, 2011

    Tight credit is leaving the housing market gasping for air. That's the drum beat from many corners of the real estate industry, which has been complaining loudly that restrictive mortgage-lending standards are a leading reason housing can't seem to climb out of its very deep hole.

  • FICO's radar picking up potential walkaways

    May 6, 2011

    Your mortgage payments are up to date, and you pay your bills on time. Your credit score is above average.

  • Agents and brokers are holding the foreclosure door wide open for buyers looking for a bargain

    June 22, 2008

    Two years ago, Jason Pietrucha read the foreclosure writing on the wall.

  • Cool designs and hot trends in refrigerators

    June 13, 2008

    We ask a lot of our refrigerators.

  • Nothing open and shut about deal closings

    January 27, 2008

    Headed for your real estate closing? No matter which side of the table you'll be on, have a Plan B.

  • Judging a home by its siding

    December 16, 2007

    In today's real estate market, anxious home sellers -- or those merely thinking about selling -- might well heed a finding of the latest annual remodeling study: It's what's outside that counts.

  • Purchase price just the start

    November 18, 2007

    Separate from the monthly mortgage bill, would-be home buyers have to factor in numerous costs to determine their affordability comfort level, financial counselors say. Some of the considerations:

  • Here's a new one: Being too broke to sell

    September 30, 2007

    Most anybody in the mortgage business will tell you that August was a month that will live in infamy: The market was in turmoil, as doubts about the stability of subprime loans spread to other sectors of the mortgage world.

  • Rising tide washing over rentals

    May 13, 2007

    The rent is going up.

  • Think you know what it's worth? Think again

    October 15, 2006

    Here's one of those glass-half-empty/glass-half-full bits of news: Recently online company househunt.com surveyed real estate agents and concluded that 51 percent of U.S. home sellers are getting 95 to 100 percent of their asking prices.

Sun archive: Dream Home

Dream Home takes readers into the houses of Baltimore area residents who have found their ideal home

BUSINESS VIDEOS

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Google Plus
  • RSS Feeds
  • Mobile Alerts and Apps

Contact Us | Newsroom directory | Social Sun