Back in the heady days of the early 2000s, it seemed like everybody and their brother thought house-flipping was a good idea. Spurred on by television networks like HGTV and a real estate market that appeared constantly on the rise, novices and professionals took to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), looking for underpriced homes that, with a bit of elbow grease and some supplies from Home Depot, could be quickly sold for a profit. 

Then along came reality in the form of a real estate crash and a market in which quick and easy profits were hard to come by.

The local real estate market has stabilized the past few years and along with rising home prices came the investors, looking to make a living off neglected housing stock. With permits taped to windows on projects across town, a new generation of house-flippers aimed to bring new life to forgotten homes. 

Matt Arminio of LaSalle Street Homes is one of those taking a fresh approach to home rehabilitation. With a Historic Preservation Award from the village of Oak Park under his belt, he is enhancing the vintage character and adding modern amenities to his projects to make sure both the new owners and the entire neighborhood benefit from his work.

Arminio has several projects, currently, in Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park in various stages of construction. Some of the single family homes are near completion, and others, like 1137 Erie St., are in the beginning stages.

When he purchased the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house, Arminio knew the layout had to be reconsidered to appeal to today’s buyers. With a small, closed-off kitchen, the original floorplan was unlikely to draw in the young families he thinks are his most likely purchasers. By turning the original dining room into a kitchen, he is creating the open floor plan between the living and cooking areas that many millennial home buyers seek. 

“The idea is that you can be in the kitchen,” he noted, “while watching the kids in the living room.”

The remodeling plans include a bar, providing an eat-in area, improved storage and even a place to hang the flat-screen TV. An awkward pantry is being repurposed as a much-needed, first-floor powder room. 

In spite of massive changes in layout, much of the home’s original character is being salvaged, an important part of the process to Arminio.

“Overall the idea is to try to maintain the character,” he said, “while still updating the floorplan and making the home more modern.”

To that end, he is highlighting the original wood staircase and stained-glass window while keeping or replicating the original trim throughout the house.

On the upstairs of the home, rethinking the walls brought in much-needed space planning. Arminio reconfigured a large hallway to gain space in the bedrooms. He also used the space he gained to give the master bedroom its own bathroom and completely overhauled the hall bathroom shared by the other bedrooms. 

To Arminio, the bathrooms are a good example of how design choices are determined by location and the home’s age. 

“A classic look is particularly good for Oak Park. We use bigger trim and a little more detail than you might see in new construction. We stay away from the larger tile in the bathroom since that’s a more modern look. We like to capture an older feel with materials like subway tile.”

Arminio, who has a background in finance and real estate, has been working on rehabbing and selling homes for three years.  Originally, he worked the banking side of real estate deals and now has transitioned to handling the entire process from buying to rehabbing to selling his properties.

He often starts the process by projecting toward the end, i.e. what kind of price he can expect to get for the finished product. 

“I look at recent sales,” he explained, “how we compare to what sold recently. If we’re the only rehabbed three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the $400,000 to $500,000 price range. That’s different than being one of 10 currently on the market in the neighborhood. Ideally, we want to price at or below the competition because we want to sell quickly.”

So far, the equation is working. 

“Correctly-priced real estate works,” he said. “If you’re smart about what you’re doing and you’re doing quality work, it should sell.”

Arminio enjoys working in Oak Park because he thinks it has a lot that appeals to buyers. From good schools to city proximity, Oak Park offers families benefits along with that intangible combination of being close to the city but suburban enough for a yard for the kids.

In a home nearing completion on the 1000 block of South Elmwood Avenue, Arminio again turned a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with closed off rooms into a home with a master suite, second bathroom and open floorplan.

Along with choosing neutral classics like white, Shaker-style cabinets and marble counters for their timeless appeal in the kitchen and bathrooms, he also selects brands such as Kohler plumbing fixtures, so purchasers can move in without having to worry about the quality or longevity of the upgrades. Taking out radiator heat and installing forced-air and central-air and doing the dirty work of refinishing hardwood floors eliminates two big projects often facing purchasers of older homes.

Finishing basements is also key, according to Arminio, who is married with his third child on the way. “I think of buyers who might be in a similar situation to me. They want to be able to put all the kid stuff away somewhere.”

Many of LaSalle Street Home projects are the three-bedroom starter homes that he sees as buyers’ first entry to the suburbs, but his Historic Preservation Award-winning project on Kenilworth was a much larger farmhouse, which he took through a substantial rehabilitation and addition. 

Whatever the size, he said, the important thing with older homes is focusing on the outcome.

“It’s almost like a puzzle,” he said, “trying to figure out something that once was great and make it great again. That’s really enjoyable.”

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