Thanks to some cool upgrades that launched last week, is now my pick for the most useful and informative Web site in Chicago for shopping for real estate.

Like countless other real-estate sites, Dreamtown provides access to all the properties listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI); offers tips on how to buy and sell in today’s market; and purports to provide tips on how to do a “sale by owner”—while actually making the not-very-subtle pitch that you would much rather go through an agent.

But Dreamtown sets itself apart with several uniquely useful features. Its Deal Alert helps users easily find deeply discounted properties (because of foreclosure or some other financial distress) in particular neighborhoods or suburbs. Yuval Degani, the founder and CEO of Dreamtown, which is both a Web site and a real-world real-estate agency, explains that his team developed software that scours the MLSNI listings looking for terms like “foreclosure” and “REO” (or real-estate-owned, the term for property that has been turned over to a bank’s real-estate department).

That means, though, that some potential bargains might fall through the cracks in Deal Alert—for instance, if none of the sought terms are used in a particular listing—and it doesn’t guarantee that every property it turns up is a marked-down price. But even with those limitations, this is a good place to start looking for bargains in the Chicago area.

For condo buyers and sellers in the city, another feature—Building Directory—offers a wealth of information (at Dreamtown, click on Neighborhoods to find it). Here, Degani’s team has compiled listings, recent sales, and other helpful details on more than 800 condo buildings. Click on an address and learn what is listed (with prices, number of bedrooms, and other features), as well as what has been sold recently (again including prices and sizes). This gives you a very good overview of, for instance, what two-bedrooms in your preferred address have been selling for, and how those prices compare to two-bedrooms now listed. (This section is updated daily, Degani says.) Beyond that, there is information on restaurants and other neighborhood offerings.

Degani says the site will add more buildings to the Building Directory and gradually deepen its suburban information (at present, it’s far more useful for searching in the city). The company is also developing what Degani calls a “Chicagopedia,” a wiki-style guide with information on 183 neighborhoods. “They’re researched at travel-magazine quality,” Degani says. “The public can contribute to them as well, so it’s a live document of Chicago neighborhoods.” There is no charge to use, although you do have to register to use some features.

Degani sees the site as a marketing tool for his real-estate agency, an independent operation, at 1950 North Sedgwick Street, that he founded on “a culture of nonselling.” Degani has installed several unique features for employees at the office: free massages, yoga on the roof, and a hot-stone treatment bed. There is even a meditation teacher who runs a nine-week course; agents who take it are then encouraged to teach their clients.

So how is this whole “nonselling” thing working out? Degani says his firm did $400 million in home sales in 2007.