Chicago may be considered a seller's market, but sellers only have the upper hand if their home has the characteristics a buyer is looking for. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for buyers to have a list of trendy wants and needs when looking for a home. If you can't match enough of those line items, there's a good chance your home will be overlooked. Being aware of current trends can help you secure your desired price.

“Trends are what drive premium prices,” said Jennifer Mills Klatt, of the Berkshire Hathaway KoenigRubloff Realty Group. “You could have a vanilla box, and then you could have a trendy vanilla box, and the trendy vanilla box will warrant a higher price.”

We caught up with some of Chicago's top real estate agents to offer you tips on what to highlight in your listing.

[See: Unorthodox Ways Your Real Estate Agent May Market Your Home.]

Schools sell. Finding a quality school is often the driving force for a family looking for a new home. Even newlyweds and couples with babies take schools into consideration when purchasing a home. Unlike families choosing between various suburbs, buyers looking to buy in the city proper have only one option when it comes to a public school district: Chicago Public Schools.

"The school district has been driving a lot of the sales in the city of Chicago in the last couple of years," said Mario Greco, founder of The MG Group. The city is home to many of the state's best schools, and sellers located in school districts with good reputations should emphasize that in their listings.

Sellers whose homes aren't located in a desirable school district can choose to emphasize proximity to private or charter schools, though it's important to remember that not every buyer will consider those viable alternatives.

Outdoor space is in high demand. Chicago is known for its skyscrapers and high-rises – and not just the Willis Tower and the John Hancock. With a limited amount of space, the trend has been to build upward, which often means buyers are left without large lawns or porches.

Mills Klatt says her clients are often looking for private outdoor space with expansive decks and verandas. “Now more than ever everyone wants their own private space, and will pay a premium, especially if it’s finished with a trendy style.”

Dan Straus, a buyer specialist with the Leigh Marcus Realty Team of @properties, has worked with many buyers who want help finding a Chicago classic: the garage rooftop deck. It's a creative option for homeowners who want to spend more time outside without paying for a huge plot of land. "The outdoor space is a true premium that most of these lots don't have, that's why everybody wants it," Straus says. "It's one of those things that everybody asks for."

Outdoor fireplaces and kitchen spaces, such as an area for a grill, are also popular with Chicago buyers.

[See: 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast.]

Stay up-to-date. It can be hard to know exactly what individual buyers are looking for, but those looking to give their home broad appeal can do themselves a favor by making routine updates. "Buyers aren't really looking to do any work," Greco says. "Since interest rates are so low, and staying low, they would rather borrow more money for a finished product than buy a home that needs work."

One update that Chicago buyers often like to see is a finished basement. In many cases, they're looking for a near duplication of the second floor of the home, not a basement used as a storage facility. “Buyers almost expect it to be finished, or at least be given a credit to have it finished,” Mills Klatt says.

Agents report buyers often want higher-end finishes and top-of-the-line appliances like Sub-Zero, Wolf, Viking and Bosch. In new constructions, people are often interested in smart home controls that allow owners to adjust lights, heat, air and security systems from their phones.

[See: The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for Quality of Life.]

Neighborhoods matter. It's not all about what's inside the house; a home's surroundings can affect its sales price, as well. Areas with lots of nearby restaurants and stores are more attractive to buyers, as are homes that sit near plots of open land. "People definitely want to walk out their door to a good park where there's a lot going on," Straus says.

Neighborhoods like Lincoln Square, Avondale and Logan Square all have the unique atmospheres that buyers are looking for, says Straus, who also notes that homes near Hamlin Park in the Roscoe Village/Bucktown/Lakeview area have gotten a lot of interest.

Just as important as nearby entertainment and open space, for some, are public transportation options. In Chicago, that means the L train. Many buyers want to live near a red or brown line stop, both of which run from Chicago’s prestigious north side neighborhoods to the loop, or the blue line, which provides easy access to O’Hare Airport.

Looking for a real estate agent in Chicago? U.S. News' Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who's most qualified for the job.

Tags: Chicago, real estate, public schools, existing home sales


Alex Mayster is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.