Foreclosed, forlorn but not forgotten: Coping with the slice and dice of residential buildings

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

It's a long vacant, two-story, unfinished condo conversion that has struggled to come back since the recession. It sits on the northwest corner of Taylor Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Oak Park. Since 2008, joining this dwelling has been 112 other so-called "apartment buildings" that have gone belly up in Oak Park. But is this currently a serious problem in the village?

Not exactly.

Only a handful of the 112 buildings are considered multi-unit dwellings, a fact Tammie Grossman, the village of Oak Park's housing program manager, wants everyone to understand.

"Based on my review of the data, 95 percent of those 112 apartment buildings are really two and three-flats, and are probably owner occupied," says Grossman. "I see them more in the category of a single-family foreclosure, rather than an apartment building foreclosure. In reality, there have been only a few larger apartment buildings that have foreclosed, and certainly nothing over 15 units."

The empty dwelling on Taylor and Washington, she says, is on her books as a condo building foreclosure, as all eight units have pin numbers.

"At Washington and Taylor, it's a story that was five years in the making," says Bill Planek, who, with his brother, Bob, co-owns Oak Park Apartments, a management company with 30 apartment buildings in the area. "The market collapsed just as they were bringing that product online and the partnership that had invested in the building was involved with a bank, which, due to its real estate practices, it failed and that bank was taken over by the FDIC.

"The process is pretty straight forward. Investments were made that were meant to be quick, short term, and then, related to the economy, the project failed and the bank who had leant the money to the developer took their building back."

Grossman adds that the partnership at 102-104 Washington filed for foreclosure on Jan. 20, 2011. The order of possession was entered in December and with that it was auctioned off and First National Bank of Chicago purchased it. Now, Chicago-based Mark Realty Residential owns it, and the company is in the process of reconverting the condos to a multi-unit, rental property again.

"This was a partially unfinished project that was a vandalized unit," says David L. Ruttenberg, a principal of Mark Realty Residential. "So, there is some work that needs to be done to bring it back to residential quality, and then we are going to rent it out. My construction team will be working with the village, and all that stuff, so I don't know the exact timing."

Swept away by the storm

Another example of a building that failed in the last five years is the condo conversion at 111 Garfield Ave. What began during the recession, explains Grossman, was resolved in 2011, when the bank sold it to a private developer who is also in the process of reconverting it back into a multi-unit dwelling.

Presently, 103 Washington Blvd., which sits directly across the street from the Mark Realty Residential redo, is a 13-unit apartment building that is a newly filed foreclosure, she adds, but at this point it is unclear if the apartment building will become a completed foreclosure.

To punctuate her point, Grossman adds that of the 18 properties designated as apartment buildings in the village of Oak Park's 2008-2012 annual foreclosure filings by property type chart, 103 Washington is the only actual "apartment" foreclosure on the list. The remaining 17, she says, are two and three flats that have been grouped as foreclosed "apartments" by the Cook County Assessor's Recorder of Deeds office.

"I haven't looked at every single one of these foreclosures to see if they are owner occupied, but I would suspect that the majority of these two-and three-flats are," Grossman says. "Cook County makes the decision as to what is considered an apartment building."

Some good news, Grossman adds, is that in Oak Park in 2012 there were five fewer foreclosures (303) across the board, as compared to 2011, and about 27 fewer foreclosures over the height of the recession, which was 2010. That year, 330 foreclosures were filed in Oak Park.

"We have seen a slight decrease, and what I think is happening is that the unemployment rate is going down, the real estate market is improving slightly, more people are able to sell without going into foreclosure, and for most of the distressed buyers who got in way over their heads, the market is taking care of that," Grossman says. "But, in Oak Park, short sales and foreclosures do go on."

The closing statistics of attached properties, according to Realtor Alice McMahon, a member of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors, reveals that in 2012 there were 228 condos and townhomes sold in Oak Park. Of those, 112 were distressed sales. Likewise, of the 92 condos and townhouses sold in Forest Park, 55 properties were distressed sales, and in River Forest, 64 condos and townhomes sold, with 18 being distressed sales. In other words, sales of attached properties are up thanks to foreclosed or short sale inventory returning to the marketplace.

"One of the issues here isn't that there are more [troubled properties], it's that the banks released more of their foreclosed properties in 2012, and I suspect that we are going to see an even more increased number in 2013," says McMahon.

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