Check Out How We Honor Our Local Heroes

Homes for Heroes

Are you a hero?

No seriously, that is a legitimate question. Are you a hero?

By a hero, we mean a firefighter, EMS, teacher, military, healthcare professional or law enforcement officer.

We know there are many heroes out there, fighting threats every day to help in a variety of ways against things both seen and unseen. Often times, these fights go on without our knowledge.

And for many, being this hero is a thankless, life threatening and often low paying job.

Something that Lakes Realty Group is doing to help give back to our local heroes, is taking part in a very special program that provides additional savings to our heroes. It’s one small way we are able to say thank you for all that you do!

If you have never heard of this program, take note. It is specifically geared towards heroes like yourself, to give you extra money when buying a new home.

                 No, it’s not a gimmick.

                                   There is no catch.

                                                      There are no hidden fees.

This is just a reward for purchasing or selling a home with someone who has agreed to the program.

This program is called Hero Rewards®.

You can look up all the details here:

Homes for Heroes






And the program doesn’t just provide you a little extra cash… Each time a hero uses this program, money is donated from the proceeds to help another hero in need.

How much money has been given out over the years? Over $25 million dollars has been given back to heroes, from 2002 to 2017!

Pat Smarto, Managing Broker/Owner of Lakes Realty Group, heard about the program and was so excited to be able to provide a small service back to our community, that she immediately signed up to become an affiliated real estate specialist with Homes for Heroes®.

So, if you are a hero and are in the market to buy/sell a house, or know of a hero that is, be sure to tell them to contact Pat at 847.338.3848 to discuss how being a hero can actually pay!


Legal Disclaimer: Hero Rewards offers are limited and/or restricted in Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. You must be enrolled with Homes for Heroes and be represented at closing by a Homes for Heroes real estate affiliate to be eligible for Hero Rewards. Contact Homes for Heroes for further details. Homes for Heroes® Inc. is a licensed real estate company in the state of Minnesota | ©2016 Homes for Heroes, All Rights Reserved. Homes for Heroes is a registered trademark. Any reproduction or redistribution in whole or in part without written permission is expressly prohibited by law.

Holiday Happenings Coming Up in Lake, McHenry, Cook & Will County!

Lake, Cook and McHenry County Holiday Happenings!

This upcoming weekend is simply packed with opportunities to get out of the house and go somewhere and do something! As you probably are aware, the Lakes Realty Group’s blog features one village or township weekly to showcase their local event.

However, with multiple events occurring in each of the towns this upcoming weekend, we decided to do things a little differently this time. There were just too many to choose from!

Below are a list of Towns/Villages within our coverage areas that have events going on November 24th & 25th. There are also links to each event.

Make sure you dress warm. Coats, hats, and gloves as most of these events will be outside to celebrate the beautiful holiday lights and the kickoff of the season. You want to be sure to stay warm enough to enjoy them fully.

If the area did not have events for this weekend, they are not on this list but will be featured on next week’s blog.

Lake County/McHenry County

Village of Fox Lake:  

Lighted Holiday Parade & Tree lighting Ceremony


Kringle’s Christmas Village Tour, Dickens Holiday Village Opens

Annual Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony


Parade and Tree Lighting


Turkey Trot Marathon

Festival of Lights

Lake Villa:

Annual Parade and Tree Lighting

Round Lake

Tree Lighting Ceremony


Tree Lighting Festival and Holiday Market

Festival of Arts and Crafts

Grant Township:

Parade and Tree Lighting


Cook/Wills County Coverage Area

Palos Area:

14th Annual Holiday Shoppe

Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony


Villages and TWPs where the events are the following weekend:

Homer Glen:


Tinley Park:



Alphabet Soup Part 2:
The RSPS Designation


The Chain O’Lakes area is a popular vacation destination. If you are looking in the area, you will want to look for a realtor with the RSPS Designation. Why?

What is the RSPS Designation?

The Resort and Second-Home Property Specialist (RSPS) designation is an exclusive REALTOR® certification for real estate professionals whose market contains vacation, resort, or retirement designations.

Why do realtors want this designation?

Real estate professionals who want to be leaders in their field are continual learners. By achieving this certification, they are able to keep informed on governmental issues, tax and investment issues, and other regulatory concerns.

They want to provide extraordinary services to their clientele by intensely studying the intricacies of the management, buying and selling of properties in areas such as the Chain O’Lakes and other popular vacation destinations.

Once certified, the professional has access to marketing information, trends analysis, and other things to keep them the best in their profession.

What does this mean to buyers?

Unfortunately, not all real estate professionals follow the same standards, nor are trained specifically for buying and selling this type of property.

If you are a buyer who is looking for a vacation home/second home, a rental property to use for investment purposes, or resort home then you will want to look for this designation. It comes with it’s own unique challenges and so you will want the best trained professional to help you with this process.

The RSPS Designation is one way that you know that you are getting a real estate professional who is dedicated to being the best real estate professionals possible by continually learning in their field.

This helps them to be leaders in their industry, as well as providing you, the client, with the information needed to make important decisions, not just on the property itself, but other regulatory complications that may arise.

Because they are trained in the latest technology and skills to help you as the customer, when you are looking into these specialized properties, you can be assured that you are receiving the best realtor services possible

For more information on our special designations and why they matter, give us a call!

Why Fall Might be the Best Time to Buy a Home

A lot of people think the best time to buy a house is during the Spring market.

And, it is…

…in the sense that more houses are listed for sale in the Spring. But, there’s also a heck of a lot more buyers trying to buy those listings.

The thing is, some of the houses listed back in the Spring don’t end up selling. (Usually just because they were overpriced.)

Now, it isn’t like new listings don’t happen in the Fall. There’s always new listings coming on the market. But it’s not like, just because it’s Fall and not Spring, prices are necessarily going to fall. In other words, new listings aren’t likely to list for a lot lower than you would have seen in the Spring.

However, the homeowners who did list back in the Spring, are much more likely to be anxious (perhaps even desperate) to sell their home. They’ve created their own problem…they missed the boat by pricing too high.

Which is great news for you, if you’re looking to buy a home:

  • Less competition. (Many buyers stop looking at this time of year…for no good reason.)
  • Motivated sellers. (They’re sick of being on the market, and wondering why nobody bought their house.)

But it isn’t always easy to find those listings. They don’t wave a white flag, or lower their price to some ridiculous amount everyone would notice. If only it were that easy…
Just because someone listed their home back in the Spring doesn’t mean they’ll be all that negotiable.

There are certain things a great real estate agent will know to look for.

And I love rolling up my sleeves and finding the ones we can most likely negotiate the best deals on.

So, got anything you want me to roll up my sleeves and look for? Real estate deals won’t just fall in your lap, but I can certainly help you find one this Fall.

Want another reason to buy a home in the Fall?

You can take advantage of year-end sales to outfit your home!

Hardly anybody buys a home who doesn’t want (or need) to make improvements, however small. So why not coordinate your purchase with sales on items you’ll need? According to Consumer Reports, September is an ideal time for buying carpet and paint. In October lawn mowers go on sale, and the same goes for appliances and cookware in November.

Native Americans in the Chain O’Lakes Area

For many of us, the views of the various bodies of water on the Chain O’Lakes is what draws us to this serene place. A vacation spot for some. A permanent home for most.

However, when we think about the historical significance of this area with our early Native Americans, there is a deepened sense of awe on what happened before the pioneers and settlers came to the area in the mid 1800s. People have lived in this area for thousands of years! In fact, some indications show over 10,000 years.

As we enjoy this beautiful area now, we must remember that we’re not the only ones who thought so. Native Americans had long ago used this area as a prime place to live, eat and hunt. Bodies of water meant life for Native Americans. They lived and hunted by them.

How do we know the Chain O’Lakes were popular long before the settlers? There are native sites that surround many of the lakes in this area. At times there have been interruptions in construction because of the ancient burial sites that are located in prime lots.

According to some accounts, there are over 400 mounds in Lake County alone. What are Native American mounds? To an untrained eye, they are simply an oddity in the landscape. But to those who know what they are looking for, these mounds represent the burial and ceremonial structures of the people before us.

Near Wooster Lake in Ingleside, there is an area with many mounds. These mounds were built very close to their villages or important campsites. These hilly areas are over 2,000 years old. It would take 50 to 60 people a few days to build one of the smaller mounds. They were built for burial, to mark events, such as an equinox, or other religious significance. [See Image]


Next time you visit Wooster Lake, keep an eye out for those lumps in the landscape and remember what they represent.

Over the years, some people have illegally explored these burial mounds. It’s a federal offense with heavy charges to disturb the ancient burials. Just remember not to trespass on other people’s property without permission. Looting ancient burials is a crime and can even result in jail time.

Most of the mounds are simply dirt. But there are a few that contain interesting artifacts. Pieces of history that you can hold in your hand that was used in everyday life over 2,000 years ago. Lake County’s own Bess Bower Dunn Museum that opens late this year, has over 20,000 artifacts in their collection.

Perhaps you may stumble on a pottery shard or an archaic tool in your own backyard!

There are very knowledgeable people who, by simply looking at an object, can tell you the culture, era of development, type of stone and where the stone originally came from! From there, they can tell you the “name” of what the tool was and what it’s called by in modern terms. For examples, look HERE.

They are amateur archaeologists with a passion for the Native American culture. If you see someone on public lands walking around with their head down scanning the ground, it may be one. Stop and talk to them. They are an amazing resource into our local Chain O’Lakes ancient history.

In the summer, there will be an annual Pow Wow ( in Zion’s Shiloh park. It’s a great way to get an introduction into this ancient culture and to learn more about the people who lived in our area before us.


Alphabet Soup Part 1:
The ABR Designation

Read Education Learn Abc Alphabet Letter

“Alphabet Soup” is a fun term that our managing broker, Pat Smarto, uses to refer to the designation abbreviations after a person’s name.

Purchasing a home is one of the single largest financial transactions in your life. It is also a complicated process. When hiring a real estate agent to either help you purchase a new home, or sell your home, it’s important to look at which agent is the most qualified to help you.

One of the ways you can do this is to determine if they are ABR® Certified.

What is the ABR designation?

It is an Accredited Buyers Representative (ABR®). Real estate professionals need to constantly improve in their market, know what the latest trends are in real estate, how to handle situations and to overall be the best real estate professional they can be.

The ABR® designation provides a visible sign that the real estate professional has worked diligently to excel in buyer representation. Once they have achieved this coveted designation, they have access to a network of other highly trained professionals, marketing materials and have honed their impressive skill set.

The ABR® designation shows that the real estate professional has undergone extensive training, via classroom environment, comprehensive testing, and in-field processes with supporting documentation.

Once they have accomplished all of these things within a 3-year period, they submit their application. Based on a review of all of the documents and standards, it is then determined if the real estate agent qualifies for the ABR® designation.

Prior to receiving the ABR® designation, they must also remain active and good standing in the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC) and the National Association of REALTORS®.

But their training and support does not stop at receiving the designation. Certification then provides access to networking with like-minded peers where they can constantly hone their skills by learning new techniques and trading referrals.

What does this mean to buyers?

When you choose a real estate agent with the ABR® designation, you will have chosen a professional whose priority is your satisfaction.

Because they find this so important, these agents have undergone extensive and specialized training in order to deliver the best in buyer-representation services.

As you peruse the list of real estate professionals in your area, ask yourself, how do you choose one that you know will get the job done? Know has your best interests as their priority? Look no further than for the letters at the end of their name. ABR®.


Pat Smarto Receives Five Star Real Estate Agent Award!

Pat Smarto Five Star Real Estate Agent

Congratulations to our very own Pat Smarto for being chosen as a 2017 Five Star Real Estate Agent!

What is a Five Star Professional?

Five Star is an organization, founded in 2003, that conducts market research to promote professional excellence. Having a Five Star designation lets clients know that they are choosing one of the top rated agents in their field.

The Five Star Real Estate Agent award is the largest award program for real estate agents in the nation. The coverage area is more than 45 markets.

For 2017, they partnered with Chicago magazine to deliver this prestigious award. This award is only given to top notch real estate, mortgage, and insurance professionals.

How are the Five Star Professionals chosen?

The initial list of candidates are created through industry peer and customer nominations. Candidates cannot pay a fee in order to be associated with this award, unlike others. There are several other requirements to qualify to be in the initial list. Self-nominations are not accepted and processes are in place to guard against self-nominations.

Based on this initial list, surveys were conducted online, through email, phone and through USPS Mail. Hundreds of clients were solicited for their opinions on their current or past service they had received from the nominated real estate professional.

Survey solicitations are then sent to the candidate’s professional peers. Fellow real estate professionals are asked to provide evaluations on the candidate’s industry expertise, market knowledge, customer service and negotiation skills.

Once the surveys are returned on the nominee lists, the nominee list is then analyzed, and the most outstanding candidates are formed into a group called The Rising Stars.

The Rising Stars are industry professionals known for stellar customer service and client satisfaction in their market area by both their customers and their professional peers. They must be the best in the business and leaders in their field.

This Rising Stars list is then again sifted through, undergoing a more stringent review, and candidates are assigned scores based on all of the information provided. Five Star Professional designation winners are then chosen from the Rising Stars list.

It is from this process that Pat Smarto was chosen as a Chicago Area Five Star Professional for Real Estate!

About Pat Smarto

Pat Smarto purchased Lakes Realty Group in 2011. With her dedication to providing the best customer service possible, she built a team of outstanding professionals. The company has achieved phenomenal growth, ending the year 2016 with 125 transactions and $28.9M.

For a list of all of her accomplishments, please consider her Five Star Professional profile:

Local Flavor: The Whistle Stop Cafe

the whistle stop cafe

It’s a sunny morning and you wake up hungry for breakfast. You’ve heard about this little joint down the street and thought you would check it out. As you walk into the cafe, you are immediately greeted by the nostalgic decor. Postcards of local train depots, Fox Lake and Ingleside, from the late 1800s. The other train themed décor you see is from the 1950s. The feeling is cozy and comfortable and you are ready to eat!

Welcome to the Whistle Stop Cafe!

Melinda and Butch Conrad are the owners of this amazing little establishment, the Whistle Stop Cafe. They have been running this cafe since 1996, that’s 22 years this spring!

They have regulars. Regulars that are there like clockwork. Why? Because the food and the customer service is outstanding.

Two sets of regulars grace the long table by the window, an early morning crowd starting at 5am, and then another that forms a couple hours later. Daily diners.

Surrounded by the model train decor, they have a “meeting of the minds,” solving the world’s problems, talking about local events, and greeting most of the people who walk in the door by name.

Talk, you say? Not just having their noses in their phones? Old school stuff – actual conversation.

Good Eats!

Outside of the atmosphere, the Whistle Stop Cafe is known for their homemade pies, from taffy apple pie – to their famous homemade custard that goes into their banana cream pie.

And fresh from scratch biscuits and gravy.

And great coffee.

Have we hooked you yet?

You slide up to the counter, just like the one you remember from when you were a kid. The counter is from when the building was originally a drug store. Melinda said that they even found Bayer-aspirin when breaking the original flooring up.

So what else is there to eat here? The Whistle Stop Cafe is known for its breakfast foods. But should you not like breakfast, their lunch menu is well rounded and popular. They have frequently rotated specials, like the buffalo chicken wrap or their ½ sandwich ½ soup specials and ½ calorie pie (half slice).

For the record, who wants a half slice of their luscious homemade pies? Give me a WHOLE slice please!

Whistle Stop Cafe is a favorite among the locals. As one local put it, ‘Go for the biscuits and gravy, stay for the people and atmosphere. Even while busy, the servers do their best to make sure your coffee is piping hot and always refilled. Many find the speed at which food pours from the kitchen surprisingly fast.

The only thing locals said they would like to change would be to add a dinner option, as the Whistle Stop cafe is only open 5am – 2pm.

Spruced Up & Ready for Fall

A few weeks ago Melinda and Butch temporarily closed The Whistle Stop Cafe for a little light sprucing up. This included fresh coats of paint and maintenance to keep the kitchen running like a well-oiled machine. They’ve also decked out the cafe for the fall and holiday season!

Stop in and grab a bite at The Whistle Stop Cafe for breakfast and lunch. You will not be disappointed!

PS – Stop by the Lakes Realty Group Facebook Page and enter our contest before 10/20 to win a $50.00 Gift Certificate to The Whistle Stop Cafe!  Winner will be announced on 10/23! 

Love ‘em or Hate ‘em – HOAs

Love or Hate HOAs

In our area there are so many beautiful homes on the market. As you shop, you may wonder about the pros and cons of purchasing a home with a Home Owners Association (HOA). There are a few things to consider with an HOA.

Homes with HOAs have a lot of perks. Most subdivisions, condos, or townhouses with a Home Owners Association will have impeccably manicured yards and common areas. The primary purpose is to maintain and upkeep the neighborhood common areas, such as the pool, private gym, gathering hall, entrance landscaping, playgrounds and security.

Generally speaking, these homes tend to have higher property values as everyone has to keep their house and yard up to a certain level. Many of us have dealt with “that neighbor” that has the incessantly barking dog or plays very loud music until 4AM every single weekend. With an HOA, you may have recourse through official channels, instead of creating personal conflict directly with the neighbor.

Everyone in the neighborhood signs a detailed contract when they purchase their home in a HOA controlled area, therefor the HOA directors generally have some legal responsibility to handle situations permanently.

It is important to carefully read the HOA guidelines before finalizing the purchase of a house. Sometimes HOAs are reasonable and the rules are carefully considered before being enforced. While other HOAs are the opposite and extremely strict, even limiting the number of vehicles allowed in your own driveway, what landscaping/plants/trees you use, and other decisions that would normally be personal decisions. Some HOAs have design committees that can dictate the color of the exterior of your house or what mailbox you use, in order to maintain a certain look and feel to the community.

Be aware, HOA services do come with a price. There are HOA fees that are paid monthly or yearly that help to pay for these services. Sometimes the HOA can be as little as $100 per year.  Some HOA fees are quite exorbitant, skyrocketing into the $700 range per month. Carefully consider the HOA fees, and then the benefits to determine if an HOA is right for you.

In some parts of the country, finding homes without an HOA is very difficult, so your choice is more limited. In our area, there are an abundance of houses that both have an HOA controlled community and those that do not. Now that you have a little more information on its benefits and difficulties, what have you decided? Will you buy a home with an HOA?

13 Common & Comical #OpenHouseProblems

Cat hissing

Who doesn’t love an open house? Sometimes, the answer to that question, it turns out, is the Realtor® hosting it.

Not that the idea of pairing someone with his or her dream home isn’t thrilling, but there are plenty of moving parts agents need to put in place before presenting a home to the public.

From signs and balloons to snacks and pets, the struggle is real. So real, in fact, that there’s a hashtag to lament these common #openhouseproblems. Check out this list and see if you’ve experienced any yourself.

1. Shoe switcheroo

This photo definitely makes a case for wearing uncommon footwear. Though it may seem a tad unprofessional, it could be time to bust out your old Chuck Taylors or Birkenstocks!

2. Toilet troubles

Drank to much liquid…now what?!?!? #openhouseproblems #realtorlife #thestruggleisreal #maybetimetomeettheneighbors

A post shared by Nicole Waggoner Malubay (@nicolemalubayrealtor) on

It’s important to stay hydrated, but not having access to a usable toilet makes for a long and uncomfortable afternoon.

3. Furry nemesis

Something tells us kitty just isn’t in the mood to receive guests today! Dealing with pets — especially those with strong personalities — is one of the challenges of the job. Maybe once that doorbell starts ringing Grumpy Cat will release his hold on the iPad.

4. The cost of decorating

Balloons help buyers locate an open house but they sure are a pain to transport. This agent isn’t the only one dealing with the hazards of helium! Corralling these free-floating orbs is no picnic as you’re about to see.

5. Bad snack choice

In a business where scents really matter, taking a hard boiled egg isn’t the best idea. If you ever needed an excuse to eat an apple pie or cinnamon roll for lunch, here’s your justification.

6. Poorly-timed landscaping

Of course you’d like the property to be well-kept, but most Realtors® would prefer that all maintenance take place before the open house, not during it!

7. Creepy baby

All the creepy. #openhouseproblems

A post shared by Joel Teeling (@joelteeling) on

While this doll is only slightly less freaky than Chuckie, at least this little lady isn’t crying or fussing, right? Perhaps someone suggested staging this room as a nursery? An odd move for sure, but for some Realtors® nothing is shocking.

8. #FOMO

The only thing worse than being stuck inside on a beautiful day — all by yourself — is the ability to hear other people having a blast outdoors. Kind of takes you right back to your childhood days of being grounded, doesn’t it?

9. Drive safely

What could possibly go wrong!? #OpenHouseProblems

A post shared by Louisiana Real Estate Broker (@ronnieleegeorge) on

More balloon-related problems! Let’s hope this guy doesn’t have too far to travel ‘cause he can’t see a thing behind him.

10. Stay put!

so thats where my balloons went 15 min after i tied them outside my open house!!

A post shared by Misty Newsome (@tnrealtorgirl) on

And after going to all that trouble to get those #@!% balloons to their final destination, they have the nerve to up and fly away! What’s a Realtor® to do?

11. Well-heeled … but maybe not well-suited for the task

Sure, these heels are stylish but they’re definitely not what you want to be wearing as you set up and take down open house signs — especially when the ground is soft.

12. The temptation to binge-eat

Letting cookies go to waste feels like a sin, so when no one else is indulging agents are often compelled to try a treat or two. (Or more…) Plus, nothing helps pass the time like a tasty snack.

13. Hit and run

Setting up those signs (and keeping them up!) can prove more challenging than one might think.