How to Decorate on a Budget

Simple, yet sophisticated decor

When you buy a new home, it’s easy to want everything else, from accent pieces to furniture, to be new too. Believe it or not, it’s possible to get the décor look you love while being easy on your wallet.

Here are a few tips for decorating on a budget:

  • De-cluttering is key. Minimalism is in, and maximizing storage and organizing your space is a great way to get your clutter out of sight and show off what you’ve got.
  • Maximize your furnishings. Take on small space by having your furniture work for you. For example, a storage bed doubles as space to store things. A chest can work as an end table, and also a place to put blankets or linens.
  • Lighten things up! Lighting can quite literally open and transform a space, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Update an old lamp with a new shade or invest in unique lighting from stores like Ikea.
  • Get crafty! channel your inner DIY self and add some color by painting an accent wall. Making your own furniture (from bedroom headboards to chic side table) may take time, but is well worth it, and Pinterest offers no shortage of ideas.
  • Find treasures on Craigslist. You can find countless great deals buying (and selling) on Craigslist. Browsing can be time consuming, but subscribing to your search terms can minimize the search.

With spring in our midst, the bug to freshen things up often strikes. Whether you’re purchasing a new home or just wanting to revamp your space, we wish you happy decorating!

New Construction 101

The Illume in Chicago’s West Loop

New Construction 101

An Interview with LMKS Group Co-Founder Laura McGreal

Why is new construction an expertise for LMKS Group?

Karen Schwartz and I started ourr career in real estate working for one of the largest developers in the nation. We went through extensive training including courses on financing, marketing, strategic marketing and pricing analysis, construction and energy efficiency. On top of that, we learned the “ins and outs” of the builders including things that may or may not be included in base pricing, what upgrades to include at certain price points, closing cost credits offered with preferred lenders and so much more. We’ve taken on projects from the initial land purchase process all the way through completion. Project sizes we’ve experienced include construction as small as a one tear down lot to the grand opening and completion of developments with several hundred homes.

What is the benefit to purchasing new construction?

There are SO many benefits to purchasing new construction.  Almost everyone loves a brand new home with all of the latest modern finishes and of course that new home smell. Even though most new construction comes with a higher price tag, we remind our clients that the higher price tag usually comes with a builder’s warranty (which is typically at least one year at the minimum).  It also comes with new mechanicals, windows, roof, siding, etc which can be high priced items to replace on an existing home. Finally, new homes mean new energy codes so utility costs are usually lower making your monthly expenses less.

Anything to know when navigating a new construction purchase?

YES! There’s quite a bit to know, but I think that one of the most important things to understand about a new home and different builders is that not everything can be compared on a price-per-square-foot basis. So many things can affect this with the first being the obvious – location. Where the home is located can dramatically increase the cost of the home. There are many other factors to consider as well including size of the lot, quality of finishes and reputation of the builder.

When new construction isn’t yet built, but you’re selling it, this may provoke some fears for people with timing, etc. Any advice for purchasers?

Yes, we’ve sold many new construction homes that were built and closed when we originally anticipated… and many that have not.  There are many factors to consider here including the size of the projects, stage of approvals (has the project been approved by the neighborhood and the municipalities, have they applied for permit, have they built this same home before, how much experience does the builder have in the market they are building in, does the builder have the financing in place to start and also complete the project?). Other things that can be fearful for most buyers are understanding the quality of finishes and whether their home will look like what they are thinking.


All in all, purchasing new construction can be a great decision, but we highly encourage using a broker who is experienced in selling new construction so they can navigate through everything listed above and many more things that take place during the process. The LMKS Group has over 15 years of experience selling new construction and more importantly, we’ve worked on BOTH sides of the transaction (developer side and new home buyer side).

Staging Tips from the Pros

Staged Living Room

You’re looking to sell your home, and wondering, does investing in Home Staging (decorating your home to entice buyers) really make a difference?

The answer is a resounding YES!

According to the National Association of Realtors, for every $100 invested in staging, the potential return is $400, and on average, staged homes tend to sell 88% faster.

In our experience, a staged home not only sells much faster, but at a higher price point. Simply put, home staging can accelerate the whole process. While it may feel like you’re investing in decorating a home you’re trying to get off of your hands, it will work to your benefit in the long-term.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember, less is more! Staging helps provide a sense of scale for rooms and can make an overall home look more attractive; however, you want to keep it minimal.
  • Staging doesn’t have to be costly. The goal is to help buyers feel a connection with the home, and to do this you can rent or borrow furniture. If you’re on a tight budget, focus on staging the most important rooms, and placing a few key pieces in the living room, family room and master bedroom. In bathrooms, a few towels and a simple vase or candle can do wonders.
  • You’re selling a lifestyle change. When potential buyers look at your house, to them, it’s a lifestyle change, and an empty house cannot sell this. A few key pieces, and flowers (yes, flowers) can really set the tone.
  • A Picture Says a Thousand Words. In the world of online everything, the first impression of a home on the market is often an online listing. It’s been proven that buyers who see a photo of a home that’s staged are more likely to visit in-person.

Of course our team will help you navigate home staging every step of the way, so when the time comes, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Welcome to The Pulse

Welcome to The Pulse – The LMKS Group blog making an impact in both Chicago and the Suburbs! We’re excited to create a place for you to find real estate insight, décor inspiration, neighborhood inside scoop, and more. Our team is growing – so let us start by introducing ourselves.

Meet: Laura McGreal

Favorite thing about Downers Grove: I love Downers Grove because it still has a quaint downtown area that we can walk to with restaurants, boutique stores and coffee shops. It also has great schools which were important to us and great accessibility to the city via the express trains.

What I love about my job: I love working with my clients and getting to know their unique wants in their new home. Some people are looking for a renovated home and some are looking for “projects”.  Each client is so unique!  I love walking through new homes as they hit the market.

My design splurge: Lighting – it can make a huge impact on the design of the home.

Favorite décor brands: Restoration hardware, West Elm, Target & Land of Nod

What I love most about helping people buy:  I love seeing the excitement people get the day they close or move in to their new home. It’s such a huge accomplishment to save for that down payment and to have your finances in order to make this purchase.


Meet: Karen Schwartz

Favorite thing about Chicago: The restaurants, the entertainment aspect, the fact that you have a lake that you can boat on or run beside and a beach you can go to that’s just a few miles away.

Favorite restaurant: Bavette’s. I love the ambiance. The service is always excellent and the food is consistently delicious.

Industry insider tip: Be Kind and professional not only to your clients, but also to all other professionals in your industry. We all share a common goal of helping our clients and sellers buy or sell an amazing place and keeping our clients happy.

Favorite decor brands: Gilt Home, Jonathan Adler, Target, West Elm, Restoration Hardware

What I love about helping people buy and sell real estate: The greatest satisfaction from this job comes when you’re able to help your clients find their dream home or when you can help your clients sell their place so they can move on to the next stage of their lives – whether that is moving up, downsizing, or moving to another location. I love being able to work with so many different clients and learning about where they come from, what they do for work, what motivates them. This motivates me and is a continuous learning experience.


Meet: Ryan Blake

Favorite thing about Chicago: Chicago is constantly changing. The neighborhoods change and develop.  New restaurants are opening every day.  And the seasons bring a different attitude to the city.

What I love about my job: Buying/selling a home is not something people do every day and it can be intimidating. I love helping people navigate that process and do my best to make it as smooth as possible. It is a constant learning experience and every transaction is unique.

 My design/decor splurge: I really love well designed kitchens. I think they can differentiate a place and it’s usually where most people gather when hosting.

Favorite décor brands: Room and Board, West Elm, Pottery Barn

 Industry insider tip: There are a lot of moving parts in a buying/selling transaction and having great resources is key.  A good lender and/or attorney can make the biggest difference in your experience. 


Meet: Alison Van Bergen

Resides in: Downers Grove since 2005, grew up in Western Springs

What I love about my job: Helping people alleviate their fears when buying a home! It is likely the largest purchase they will make and I am always privileged to be a part of it.  I love finding their “perfect home” or helping them renovate one to best fit their lifestyle.

My design/decor splurge: Built-ins!!!

Favorite décor brands: Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel

Favorite restaurant: Neat Kitchen & Bar in Westmont


Meet: Megan Studencki

What I love most about my job: It really never feels like a job at all. I love meeting new people and developing strong relationships. I feel very lucky to be a part of the decision making process with my clients. Buying or selling a home can be very stressful. It feels great to be able to make the process as easy as possible.  It also helps that I am surrounded by such and amazing team!

My favorite decor brands: Crate & Barrel and Home Goods. I love shopping around to find fun and unique decor items. Home Goods is also great if you are shopping on a budget!

Industry insider tip: Less is more when selling your home. You want potential buyers to be able to picture themselves in your home. De-clutter to make the best parts of your home shine to your buyers.

If you have one hour to visit Frankfort: Stop into Fat Rosie’s for a fresh Margarita and some yummy tacos. Also, take a stroll over to Ginger & Bailey, a cute boutique with handmade jewelry and home decor made by local artists.

What I love most about helping people buy: The look on my clients’ face when we walk into a home and they know “This is the ONE!!!”


When it comes time to buy, sell, rent, list or even choose a spot to grab a bite to eat or style of your next couch, we’re your people.

Join the conversation on Facebook here @LMKSGroup on Instagram.



Chicago Agent Features Karen Schwartz in “My Style”

Thank you, Chicago Agent Magazine, for featuring one of our Brokers/Co-Owners in the April 18, 2016 edition of “My Style”!


My Style: Karen Schwartz, Owner/Real Estate Broker, Chicago New Properties
April 18, 2016

Karen Schwartz is the owner/real estate broker of Chicago New Properties
Number of years in real estate: 11

Describe your look:
Professional and eclectic

What do you consider a “fashion don’t”?

What is your favorite piece of clothing? A leather jacket – you can wear it for any occasion, really. You can dress it up or dress it down.

What is your must-have accessory?
A good pair of studs and a good pair of pumps

What is a fashion crime you have committed?
One time, as a joke (years and years ago), I wore purple pleather pants, but then I ended up really liking them, so I wore them again not as a joke. After several comments from my friends, I decided that wasn’t the best idea, and I should give those away.

Where are your favorite places to shop? Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Club Monaco and Es-kell in Wicker Park

What completes your look?

What is in your bag?
My laptop, headphones, business cards, my weekly/monthly planner (can’t go anywhere without that), a random variety of lip glosses and light blue Extra gum.

My closet is full of…
Shoes. You can never have too many pairs of shoes!

– See more at:

Breaking into New Construction with Laura McGreal


Breaking into New Construction: An Agent’s Advice
by James McClister


What will work to sell one home won’t sell another. For newly constructed homes, Chicago New Properties co-owner Laura McGreal recently explained to Chicago Agent that an agent will need much more than boilerplate sales speak.

“It’s a completely different animal from selling resale. Real estate agents (who want to break into new construction) need to have a good understanding of the latest trends and know where their target market is,” said McGreal, who broke into the market through first working directly with a developer (which she recommends). “It’s also important agents have a good knowledge of construction.”

140915_Schwartz_0150-EditIn McGreal’s experience, new construction clients come armed with questions unique to the process, many of which, she said, will focus on the budding preferences of energy efficiency and home technology infusion. She added that new homebuyers will be “looking for well-designed, efficient and open layouts with smart home technology.”

Already this year, McGreal said that her business is off to a “strong start,” but that strength is not being felt universally throughout the industry, as builders and buyers alike face considerable challenges in a market still struggling to reclaim its pre-crisis stability. “One of the biggest challenges facing the sector is a lack of inventory on updated or new construction homes, which have put many buyers in multiple offer scenarios,” she explained. “Builders are also starting to face higher land and construction costs, driving up the price of new construction.”

Because of an improved economy and interest rates that are still near record low levels, McGreal believes confidence in the market is growing, which should translate into even more demand. However, while the market is still volatile, McGreal emphasized that if agents want to establish themselves as new construction agents, they’ll need to be able to explain value and learn how to most effectively market a new construction property.

“You have to know why your product is better than the next builder’s,” she said.

It’s not unheard of, McGreal explained, for builders to spend money “behind the walls,” or on things not so obvious at a glance. “If a builder is spending extra money, you better be able to explain the value it adds to the home and why it’s important to the buyer.” A big part of explaining that value will come during the marketing of a property – a process, she admitted, that can vary depending on what stage of construction the property is in when it’s listed.

“If a new home is listed prior to completion, many potential buyers will have trouble visualizing the home and its features,” she said.

To help potential buyers better imagine what their new home will look like, McGreal suggests a number of different techniques, from virtual staging to providing finishing samples and website links to sources explaining the “important features” of the home. In his book “New Home Sales,” the late author and renowned real estate expert Dave Stone touched specifically on the challenge of selling an intangible commodity (i.e. a home yet to be built) to a buyer, but described it more in terms of opportunity than challenge.

“The difference in selling (resale versus new construction) is the difference between selling reality and selling a dream,” he wrote. Stone added that new homes represent “a new way of life in a new environment,” and that’s the way agents breaking into the market should frame their sales approach.

Laura McGreal is the co-owner and managing broker of Chicago New Properties. Her previous experience as a sales associate with Pulte Group and her background in finance give her a unique perspective in her partnerships with developers and agents. Laura has received numerous awards, including the Home Builders Association Gold Award, the Home Builders Association Silver Award, and Pulte’s Outstanding Finance Achievement Award.


Source: Chicago Agent Magazine

Chicago New Properties Welcomes Alison Van Bergen

Chicago New Properties Welcomes Alison Van Bergen


Alison Van Bergen

As a result of her creativity, energy, and attention to detail, Alison’s clients receive the utmost care through every step of their real estate transaction. Alison combines 12 successful years in sales and extensive knowledge of the western suburbs to assist her clients in choosing a location and home that best fits their lifestyle and needs.

Alison and her husband, Rob, moved from Chicago to Downers Grove in 2005. Together with their four children, they enjoy the weekend Farmer’s Market, local restaurants, and a variety of other activities in the western suburbs.

Alison is a graduate from The University of Iowa, where she received a Liberal Arts degree in English and a minor in Business.

Alison Van Bergen | 773.490.1555

Lincoln Park is for Lovers!



Lincoln Park is for Lovers!

These beautiful new construction 3 bedrooms/2 baths duplexes at 2645 N. Burling is where the magic happens.

This luxury Lincoln Park penthouse is where you and your significant other will snuggle in front of the fireplace, enjoy romantic dinners, have your anniversary party on your private roof deck, and start a family.

And…you will be the epitome of #relationshipgoals living on this premier tree-lined street in this highly desirable neighborhood.

Take your relationship to the next level in this fabulous home.

View Listings: Unit 2/Penthouse and Unit 1
For a private showing:


Living-Kitchen  Rooftop

Date Nights in Lincoln Park

The annual Lincoln Park Wine Fest transforms the tranquil northside pocket park into an open-air market featuring wine and food pavilions.

Situated within the grounds of Lincoln Park, at the edge of a pond overlooking the dramatic Chicago skyline, North Pond Restaurant can easily claim the loveliest setting in the city.

Movies in the Park – Grab a blanket and your favorite picnic bites and enjoy a movie under the stars in the Lincoln Park park.


Karen Schwartz | | (630) 561-9805



It’s a Kid’s Life in Frankfort, IL…

It’s a Kid’s Life in Frankfort, IL…

Hear the pitter patter of little feet in this beautiful custom 5 bedrooms, 4 baths, 4,137 square foot home at 8984 Port Washington.

This is the home your children will run up and down the stairs in, have sleepovers in, and come back to during college breaks.

“Frankfort is a premier community with award-winning schools and exceptional residential, commercial and industrial development. In 2014, Frankfort was named by Chicago Magazine as one of the top places to live and voted among the top 12 safest communities in Illinois.” Source:

Start making family memories in this gorgeous home. View Listing09098904-6-GreatRoom
For a private showing:

Fun for Kids in and near Frankfort, IL
KidsWork Children’s Museum  is a cultural institution that brings children, families, and the community together to engage in fun, hands-on interactive play so as to nurture life-long learning and discovery.

Odyssey Fun World: Go-Karts, Games, Mini Golf, Indoor Rides, Birthday Parties and more!

White Water Canyon Water Park and Spray Ground encompasses 5 acres of wet fun for the whole family.   Interactive fountains, water cannons, arches that spray, flowers that squirt, and buckets that dump; a sand play area full of buckets, scoops, shovels and a triple sand and water play table; a full service concession stand and more!

Jump!Zone in Tinley Park is Chicagoland’s Indoor Inflatable Playground – with little tykes slide and play house toddler area.

Laura McGreal | | (224) 374-9408


How To Buy A Home And Have Someone Else Pay The Mortgage

How To Buy A Home And Have Someone Else Pay The Mortgage

Responsive Home Proofs-102We all have one – a vision of our very own dream home. A space to host the most fabulous parties, to live a meaningful and connected life, all the while easily entertaining both indoors and out. But paying the mortgage on that dream home can sometimes feel out of reach.

Enter the brilliant space planning of Responsive Homes. With interiors designed by Bobby Berk and built by Pardee Homes, these innovative spaces blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living with an apparent simplicity that belies their clever flexibility. But beyond designs that include sliding walls that open to invite the outdoors in, these unique floor plans offer homes that really can pay for themselves.

Targeted at Millennials, the Responsive Homes are uniquely designed with main floor “lock off” suites. The suites include a bedroom, bathroom, sitting area and lock-off-suite-responsive-homesmall kitchenette that allow the homeowner to rent the space out to either a long term renter or – at higher short term rates – via online rental services like Airbnb.

Not only does the rental suite option make a new mortgage payment easier for Millennials in the short term, but it also offers a space that will flex with the needs of the home owner, evolving into a nanny suite, for example, when future kids come along. From bachelor parties to birthday parties, these houses will have no problem growing with their owners through the many seasons of life ahead.

Source: The Curated House