Austin’s second oldest home, the Charles Hitchcock House, recently hit the market, and was under contract in less than a day for $340,000.
Real estate agent Allison McGowan, of D’Aprile Properties, who listed the home for sellers Kimberly Anderson and John Alvarez, invited a neighbor over to see the property, and just like that, she had a buyer.
Blake Sercye, a Chicago attorney, former Cook County board candidate, and longtime resident of the community, had been looking for a home to purchase in the neighborhood, and jumped at the chance to become the fifth owner of the 1871 Italianate Victorian.
“I was born and raised in the neighborhood and always wanted to put down roots here,” said Sercye, a Fenwick High School grad. “I’ve been looking for a house for a year. I’m very familiar with the homes in Austin Village, and I knew a little bit about the home’s history from living in the area.”
A West Side native, Sercye is also a graduate of Princeton and the University of Chicago law school. He was narrowly defeated in 2014 by Richard Boykin for the Cook County Board’s Democratic nomination for the 1st District. His political ambitions are strong, and the purchase of the house reflects his dedication to the area.
“I love the community, and I love being here,” he said. Buying the house is a sign that I’m not going anywhere.”
History at home
First owner Charles Hitchcock was an executive for a railroad parts company, and the home he had built for his family included many of the hallmarks of gracious, golden-era living in its over 4,000 square feet of living space.
High ceilings, ornate woodwork, pocket doors and stained glass speak to a time when custom craftsmanship was the norm in home design. Visitors step up to a wrap-around porch with floor-to-ceiling windows fronting the exterior. Double doors lead to the entry where a soaring, curved staircase leads to the second floor. An original light fixture, featuring a man holding a shield and sword, anchors the newel post of the staircase.
Beamed ceilings in the dining room, stone fireplaces and original light-fixtures speak to the efforts of succeeding owners to preserve the home’s historical provenance.
Sercye credits Anderson and Alvarez with being good stewards.
“It’s really a credit to Kim and John, who did a great job keeping up the home,” he said.
For their part, the couple said the place they called home for more than 16 years drew them in with its combination of history and space, something they couldn’t find elsewhere at a price point they could afford.
Alvarez recalls their search for a home started on the other side of Austin Boulevard.
“We were looking in Oak Park and the realtor was going to show us homes [there] we couldn’t afford. We saw this house in one of those home magazines, and we couldn’t believe this place. We just fell in love with it.”
Previous owners had made a few changes, like creating a modern kitchen to replace the former servants’ kitchen. Anderson and Alvarez continued the work. The pair finished the third floor of the home, creating a lounge room, full bathroom and kitchenette. They also focused on the landscaping, creating a lush oasis, complete with koi ponds, in the backyard.
Anderson noted that the home lends itself to hosting.
“We’re going to miss the parties,” she said. “We’ve had every kind of theme party you can think of, from luaus to Christmas to sausage-making. It’s a great party house because it’s so big. You never have to worry about how many people you invite.”
Sercye said that is part of the appeal for him as well. With his mother, aunts and cousins living nearby, he envisions many gatherings in his new home.
“The yard and the porch seem like a great place to have people over,” he said, “and I hope to raise a family in this house.”
Outside of the community, Austin may not have a reputation as a hot neighborhood for real estate, but by most accounts, outsiders are selling Austin short.
Anderson said any stigma associated with Austin isn’t well-founded.
“People get all weirded out about coming here,” she noted. “They don’t realize that it literally changes block by block. We have great neighbors, and we’ve never had a problem here.”
McGowan, who also calls the neighborhood home, concurs.
“We get a bad rap here,” she said, “but I live here and I love it. It’s like all real estate, if you can find a good neighborhood, you’re in good shape.”
While the quick sale of the home pleased McGowan, she said there are still some difficulties in the process, due to perception.
“We had to get more than one appraisal,” she noted. “You can’t use Oak Park homes as comp properties for appraisals, and it can be hard to find properties in the neighborhood that have been restored to this level.”
Oak Park real estate agent, Michael Nowicki of Gloor Realty said in Oak Park, a house like this would sell at a premium.
“Conservatively speaking,” he said, “a house with this much history, size, and attention to detail could easily sell for 3-4 times as much in Oak Park. The craftsmanship is amazing and it is obvious that the house has been well cared for — a labor of love, I’m sure.”
Sercye thinks Austin is undervalued.
“People get this perception of Austin that I think is a misconception. I think properties are really undervalued because of this. I hope that people selling here realize they have something of value.”
McGowan’s recent experience indicates that others are beginning to see the inherent value in historic homes in Austin.
“I just listed another house in the neighborhood at 10 a.m. on a Friday. By 11 a.m., I’d had three requests for showings, and by that afternoon, I had an offer over list price.”