By Brad Spencer
Robin Blench is every real estate agent's dream-client. He's recently retired, an empty-nester, owns a spacious single-family home in a neighborhood close to public transportation and downtown Oak Park, and he's selling it with the intention of buying a condo in the village. If only there were more homeowners like Blench out there.
The former senior DuPage County probation officer had been monitoring the real estate market for quite some time, waiting for … not a full-blown recovery, but a leap in the economy. He found it in the spring.
"I was closely observing the economy, the local market and the job rate and I knew this was too much house for one person," explains Blench, his impeccable British accent tripping off the tongue as he sits in the living room of his five-bedroom brick bungalow on the 600 block of South Kenilworth Avenue. "Selling a home you've spent so long in is very hard to begin with. There's one side that's pragmatic and the other is sentimental. Selling at the right time is another situation you find yourself in, but I felt and still feel this is as good as any time to sell."
He's right. Well, he must be right. Blench put his bungalow on the market in June and four days and three offers later, it was under contract. Potential buyers, it appears, are flocking to Oak Park and River Forest. Actually, they're flocking everywhere. According to data from the Illinois Association of Realtors, April home sales for the entire state were up 25.3 percent from a year ago. In Oak Park, from April to mid-June, 69 single-family three-bedroom homes sold, compared to 55 a year ago at that time, according to Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED, formerly known as the Multiple Listing Service). As of June 19, there were 86 three-bedroom homes on the market listed as active with an average asking price of $372,482.
Just down the street from Blench, on the 800 block of South Kenilworth, a home listed at $600,000 sold after spending just one day on the market.
What's been problematic, however, is inventory, which hasn't been able to keep up with the mounting demand.
"I could sell your house to three different people today, the market is that tight," says Steve Nasralla, a broker for ReMax in the Village. "Sellers have the option to shun contingency offers. But what the market needs is more inventory to really balance out. When that happens, we'll have the strong steady market again."
The 20-year veteran broker adds that this sudden uptick in buyers, coupled with more accurate and competitive list prices, is just what the market needs to gather momentum.
"It's the rebound we've been waiting for," says Nasralla, brushing aside any notion of false optimism, usually a trait of many real estate agents during an unpredictable period. "It's real, believe it. It's not a blip. It's the start of a real recovery. We hit the bottom in single-family homes last year. The condo market is hitting it now but getting better."
Patrick and Lisa Jones priced their four-bedroom home on the 1100 block of South Grove Avenue to sell and sell quickly. Listed at $355,000, the Joneses entertained multiple offers before going under contract with a non-contingency deal above list price in just under a week.
"Our real estate agent advised us to price the house reasonably with the prospect of getting offers above that," says Patrick Jones. "Thankfully, three offers came in, one at list price and the other two above. Had we waited a year, perhaps we would have been able to sell at a higher price, but we're happy with this outcome."
Andy Gagliardo, broker/owner of Gagliardo Realty and Associates in River Forest, says this was the best spring he's seen in the local market in the last five or six years.
"The standard line is how long will it carry over for the year? Will it quiet down later in the summer months, but even now it still seems very active."
What Gagliardo says he's most pleased with is the movement of upper-bracket homes, mostly in River Forest. "Houses priced over a million dollars were selling few and far between for a while, and we saw a nice trickle up at the start of the season, which is promising." As of mid-June, 50 four-bedroom homes in River Forest with an average list price of 1,014,475 were on the market.
Blench has lived in his Oak Park home for 26 years, raising two children with his wife Susan before she died in 2002. Like the Joneses, he put some money into prepping it for the market, including new granite kitchen countertops along with window treatments. He said it was the advice of Jerre Cusick and Lynn Taylor of Better Homes and Garden Gloor Realty who helped him spruce the home up although neither agent was at first too keen on his original asking price of $480,000 (He reduced it to $479,000).
"I held my ground on the listing price because of my situation: alone, retired, a seller with no real sense of urgency to leave. It's a perfect situation to be in."
Blench's home is currently under contract at $469,000, and he hopes to be looking for a condo to purchase soon, which brings us to a market that still seems stuck in the muck, yet beginning to gain some tread.
According to the MRED, from April to mid-June of this year just 15 one-bedroom condos sold in Oak Park compared to 25 last year. There wasn't much give or take for two-bedroom condos either, with 35 selling during that time this year compared to 33 last year.
"Condos are lagging, especially compared to the single-family market," says Gagliardo, "but they got hit much harder throughout the last five years. I think it will slowly tick upward as things get stronger with everything else. What people have to remember is real estate is a trickle up market, and there's nowhere left to go but up."