River Forest stands apart from Oak Park in that its local Historic Preservation ordinance does not prevent the tear down of homes, historic or otherwise.
Preservationists bemoan the lack of teeth in the ordinance when it comes to protecting homes such as the now-razed Mars Mansion and the unique Prairie Style homes on the 700 block of William Street.
But for developers and those looking to turn a quick profit, the ease of tearing down a property in River Forest can be a boon for business. Real estate agents often tag a listing as primed for tear down, but not all the homes marketed as such meet the wrecking ball.
In February, a John Van Bergen-designed Prairie home at 730 Clinton Place was marketed as a “great opportunity to start fresh and build a new home or rehab” by local agent Scott Berg of Berg Properties.
Berg, who grew up near the River Forest house, says the condition of the home led him to market it as a rehab or tear down candidate.
“It needed a lot of work,” he said. “I initially thought a builder might snap it up and rehab it, because a typical buyer might be put off by all the work that needed to be done. It was not a weekend warrior type of project.”
The stained tiles, cat issues in the basement, low ceilings and odd configuration of multiple enclosed porches all contributed to Berg’s assessment that the house required a lot more than cosmetic work.
Noting that he generally hires a professional to photograph homes in good condition to highlight their attributes, Berg says that with this listing, he took the photos himself to reflect that the home needed work.
He also did his homework on pricing. The home across the street recently sold to an LLC for $415,000, and Berg priced his listing comparatively at $425,000. He expected to sell it to a developer.
After 10 showings in two days, the house was under contract, but things didn’t end up as Berg predicted.
“I had a couple of builders walk through it,” Berg said. “Some thought the price was too much for a tear down. One builder said that to knock it down, he would buy it for $350,000.”
The builder speculated it would take between $500,000 and $700,000 to build a new house on the lot, and he told Berg he wasn’t sure the block could support a final asking price of $1.2 million, which he thought would be an appropriate asking price at the end of the process.
At the end of a busy showing period, there was no need to consider a price reduction. The house was snapped up in two days by a couple from the area who are downsizing and plan to do an historic rehab of the Prairie-style home.
Though it brought him an educated buyer, Berg said that the kind of marketing campaign he conducted for this property wouldn’t work in neighboring Oak Park.
“It’s much harder in Oak Park, because there are so many more protections there,” Berg said. “About 80 percent of the housing stock is historic and can’t be torn down.
Other recent teardown opportunities
It’s not unusual to find homes in River Forest marketed as teardowns. Some are older homes that have not kept up with the times or suffer serious structural issues, and others just happen to be small homes situated on sizable lots where a larger house could garner a big sales price.
When 7902 Chicago Ave. was listed in August 2017 for $499,000, it was marketed as a rehab or tear down with emphasis on the big lot size. After a price reduction of $40,000, the home was contingent as of press time.
In 2016, 831 Forest Ave. was marketed with something of a warning: “Rehab, expand or tear down! … Foundation issues, requires professional rehabber.”
Stating that the home had been in the same family for 57 years, the listing also noted that there were many teardowns in the area.
A developer closed on 831 Forest Ave. on May 16, 2016 for $400,000. The Dutch Colonial house built in 1919 was torn down to make way for a new construction home that is nearing completion.
A local realtor, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of working with families whose homes might be teardown candidates, notes that it takes bad conditions to market a home as teardown.
“A lot of times, these homes have been neglected for years,” the realtor said. “It’s not just that it needs a new roof or painting. It’s at a point that it can’t be brought back. A lot of times, the owners just can’t pay the taxes and keep up the work on the property.”
Not all homes that are advertised as teardown candidates end up meeting their demise. 1410 Clinton Place was marketed as a rehab or teardown with a note in the listing advising: “Buyer to do their due diligence as to teardown with the village of River Forest.”
Listed in December 2015 for $499,900, a developer bought the 1930s-era home in February 2016 for $400,000. After a significant remodel, the developer listed the house for $1,199,000 in July 2017. The transaction closed for $1,055,000 in January 2018.
Pricing in the $400,000s appears to be the going range for teardown-condition properties, but a recent listing at 1425 Ashland Ave. offers an opportunity for those with slightly deeper pockets.
Listed by Paragon Realty Services for $1,199,000, the 100-by-180 foot lot is currently occupied by a 1960s ranch. According to the listing, it is a unique teardown or build-up opportunity with “huge potential to build your dream mansion.”
And if tearing a house down just seems like too much work? There are a few vacant lots available in the village.
Margaret McSheehy of Oak Park’s Historic Homes Realty has a listing for an empty lot at 129 Park Ave. in River Forest. The lot has been vacant for at least five years; the original home was torn down by a previous owner. She is listing the lot on Park Avenue for $359,000, no teardown necessary.