As Oak Park property taxes continue to climb and housing prices rebound post-recession, some segments of the home-buying population are looking elsewhere for homes that offer more value.
Whether the draw is more space for the money or a lower tax burden, first time home buyers and empty nesters are among the shoppers looking to neighboring suburbs for savings and finding that the savings are substantial.
Oak Park Realtor Roz Byrne of Remax in the Village has a listing in Forest Park that she thinks illustrates the difference in how far your home buying dollar goes in Forest Park versus Oak Park.
The house at 905 Elgin Ave. is a 4,100-square-foot Victorian home that Byrne most recently had priced at $649,000.
“It has some really unique woodwork, because it was built by a man who owned lumber yards,” Byrne said. “The pocket doors are so heavy, and the intricacies in the woodwork are mind blowing.”
In real estate, she notes it is true that location is a big factor in setting price.
“If you took this house and moved it over two blocks to Maple Avenue in Oak Park, it could be in the 900,000s,” she said.
She estimates that in north Oak Park, it would be priced at more than $1 million.
With an annual tax bill in Forest Park below $9,000, Byrne notes that an equivalent home in Oak Park could expect an annual tax bill well over $20,000.
The current owner, Richard Bertucci, says that when he purchased the home 27 seven years ago, value was a big part of the equation.
“When I started looking at Oak Park and River Forest, I realized that I could get triple the house with one third of the property taxes,” he said.
He said that he was sold when he saw the home’s oak, cherry and maple woodwork. With a garden level in-law suite of 1,300 square feet on top of the home’s 4,100 square feet with a 3.5-car garage, he had more than enough room for hosting Christmas Eve celebrations for his large family.
Bertucci says that not only are the taxes attractive, but he loves a lot more about Forest Park.
“It’s got a small town feel, and it’s one minute away from Oak Park and River Forest.,” Bertucci said. “You get the best of both worlds and you can be at the Loop in 15 or 20 minutes on the train.
In her practice, Byrne often sees clients downsizing and leaving Oak Park for neighboring communities.
“Oak Park and River Forest are very special when you are already planted here and have kids in the schools and using the park districts,” she said.
But, she adds that many clients reach a point where there are other considerations.
“Taxes and too much space are the main reason people move,” Byrne said. “Some people might want a smaller yard or they might have a second home where they spend a lot of time now that the kids are gone. It’s about where you are in your life.”
An eye on Berwyn
Byrne also sees a lot of her clients downsizing from larger homes in Oak Park to next door Berwyn. She says the substantial brick bungalows with bedrooms on the first floor are appealing to many.
For Tracey and Joe Eisman, an initial foray into Oak Park real estate took a turn when they realized they could get more for their money by looking outside of the village. The couple began their house search in Oak Park, and ultimately decided to buy in Berwyn.
“Both the size of the home and the taxes were drivers for us to consider alternatives to Oak Park,” Tracey said. “We did start our search in Oak Park but diverted after we saw the value in what kind of house we could get for our money and what the taxes were there.”
Today, the couple is firmly planted in the Berwyn and raising two children there. Tracey says that they have no regrets about their decision.
“Our wonderful Berwyn neighbors — 35 children on our block alone — the quick commute to downtown, access to both airports and our beautiful 106-year-old home have been trade-offs to not being as close to Ascension School and Parish, and thus to our children’s classmates. In the end, Berwyn made better financial sense for our family, and we were fortunate to make great friends here as well.”
For new Berwyn resident Zel Peterson, Oak Park was an ideal place to buy in 1995. She worked in the city and her husband worked in Wheaton, so they met in the middle and bought a house in Oak Park. Once they had children, the couple stayed in Oak Park because of the schools.
Peterson says that while she still loves Oak Park and the great education her children received there, she moved to Berwyn this summer because of the taxes. With one child a junior in college and the other a freshman, she says the money she saves on taxes can go to college tuition.
Speaking of her tax burden in Oak Park, she said, “I was getting annoyed that everything was rising. Then, there was a referendum, and with out-of-state college expenses, it was sort of a perfect storm.”
Peterson sold her Oak Park home in 10 days and bought in Berwyn. Far from downsizing, she says her new house actually has more livable square footage than her Oak Park house, with a tax bill that is at least 30 percent lower.
Being just over a mile away has made the transition easy. She still works out at her Oak Park gym and enjoys connections with friends in Oak Park. She looks back on her time in the village happily.
“I love the community and it was worth every penny, but it just didn’t make practical sense when I wasn’t using the amenities anymore,” she said.