The condo bust

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There have been two waves of condo conversions in Oak Park's history. The first goes back to the 1980s. The second around the turn of the century. In both cases a considerable number of Oak Park's vintage 1920s apartment houses were converted from rental to condominium use.

In both cases similar concerns were raised. The decline in the number of apartments would lessen affordable housing in the village, would lessen racial diversity. And there were complaints that real estate professionals making these conversions were slapping on some paint and modestly updating kitchens. Eventually, said critics, these already aging buildings will need new roofs, new boilers, electrical upgrades and the condo owners won't be able to afford the special assessments necessary to make those fixes. 

Some of those worries were real and some were not, but not necessarily for accretive reasons. Condos became and stayed the affordable entry point in Oak Park because their value has never risen near the levels of single-family homes. Condos sit for long stretches on the market, sell at bargain, and, especially after the real estate collapse of a decade ago wind up as rentals anyhow. Worries that now these nearly 100-year-old structures would need basic systems replaced and clobber sometimes underwater owners have surely proved true.

In the Journal's reporting last week of the newest trend in housing — "Condos out, apartments in" — we are seeing all of those forces fusing into an actual mess. The good news, and it was foretold in the wave of new apartment construction in downtown Oak Park, is that the market for apartments is very strong. More good news is that Oak Park has a handful of large and respected apartment building owners and managers who will likely pick up the slack in these conversions.

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Tom MacMillan  

Posted: December 3rd, 2017 11:18 AM

As a recent person transitioning from a house to a condo here in OP, I can tell you that Condo's are alive and well. You just need to pick the right one for you. There were older buildings where people bragged about the low assessments, which were to be avoided. They were one bad roof problem away from a huge, highly predictable special assessment. There was also a newer condo where a mortgage could not be done because of issues with the builder - an easy avoid on that. But there are newer developments that are excellent and provide an awesome choice here in town. Its a great way to downsize. The only concern is the high local property taxes, but that hits everyone.

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