Photos courtesy BAIRD & WARNER

It’s no secret that the past few years have not been kind to the real estate market in the Chicago area. Many people read the latest statistics about foreclosures and short sales and think that the numbers only apply to other parts of Cook County, not to the rarefied suburbia that is Oak Park and River Forest. In reality, the problems at large are reflected in the local markets more than residents may care to think.

A large Victorian home on Clinton Avenue in Oak Park stands as evidence of the market’s excess as well as just how far the market has fallen. First listed in 2007 for $929,000, the home is now available for $499,000, a stunning price drop and quite a bargain for a home with over 5,000-square feet of living space, including five bedrooms and three-and-half bathrooms.

The Victorian’s description is enough to make any historic home lover swoon. Built in 1893 by one of the designers of the Chicago World’s Fair, the home may be the only remaining Neo-Classical Revival Victorian left in the village. It is filled with original art glass windows and stunning woodwork, as well as two working fireplaces, large balconies and the original dining room hutch. A seamless family room addition, a remodeled kitchen and an expansive master suite are just a few of the upgrades that took the home into the modern era.

Owner Bruce Newbury purchased the home in 2000 in the mid-$500,000 range, and says he and his former wife put in over $100,000 of upgrades.

“When we bought the home, the stairs from the second floor to the third floor and the entire third floor were covered in 1960’s shag carpet,” he says. “The third floor hadn’t been used in years. We made the third floor livable again, putting in hardwood flooring and central air, and refinishing the three bedrooms and bathroom on that floor. On the second floor, we added plumbing to create a second floor laundry and created a master suite out of two bedrooms. On the first floor, we re-did the entire kitchen with granite countertops and a Sub-Zero refrigerator.”

Newbury says the same economic problems that are plaguing the country have hindered the home’s sale from the very beginning. Two offers have fallen through.

“Early on, we received word that we would be receiving an offer in the $900,000s, but the couple wanted to wait to put in the offer because the wife knew her company was going to make some sort of announcement a few days later,” he remembers. “She ended up losing her job, so the offer never materialized.”

Newbury faults picky home buyers and property taxes as possible deterrents to why his house has yet to sell.

“When we bought this house, everybody in Oak Park was buying these old houses that needed a ton of work. A lot of the people who are looking now either don’t want to do any work at all on a house, or they just don’t have the vision for what to do with an older home,” he says. “Another deterrent could be what’s happened with the taxes here. When we bought the home, the taxes were about $9,000, and now they’re about $16,000. That number probably scares some people off.”

While the house was previously listed by other real estate agents, Newbury has been working with Baird & Warner agent Patricia McGowan to market the home for the last year. McGowan, an Oak Park-based Realtor with 24 years experience, says the area has seen a huge adjustment in both price and people’s attitudes towards historical homes.

“Years ago, I would tell potential buyers that they never had to worry about losing money in Oak Park, but now I can’t say that. Never in my wildest dreams did I see this coming. The positive side is that in Oak Park, the value is still there for the community.

“The era of people buying a large Victorian, rehabbing it and turning it around may be over. People used to fix-up a home, move and do it again, but now they can’t sell their first home. What’s keeping us afloat is those homeowners who find an extremely good buy, so that they are willing to rent out their house in order to move up.”

Newbury notes that the home’s drastic price drop is a direct effort to get it sold, whatever the cost.

“Technically, the house is in foreclosure, but the bank doesn’t want it. The bank is willing to work with us to sell it now that there’s no equity left.”

McGowan notes that they evaluate the price every two to three weeks, to see what comparable homes are selling and closing for, but she says that a lot of closings are on foreclosures or short sales, which do not reflect the true values of homes.

She notes that the home’s stunning original features, great space and great lot are attracting interest from families, and she’s hopeful the home will sell soon.

Newbury, who plans to stay in Oak Park where his children are in school, feels that the buyer will be getting a great deal.

“The architecture of this home is fantastic. It’s in a great neighborhood full of kids. I don’t think you can ask for a better place.”

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