The current local housing market is hot. Local realtors are reporting that inventory is moving quickly, and multiple offers are back. According to industry experts, the basics still hold: a well-priced, move-in ready house will sell quickly. 

Some owners are putting in all the bells and whistles for their own enjoyment and then touting those improvements when they go to sell. Local real estate agents weigh in on whether those niche items are helping sell homes.

Michael Nowicki of Ideal Location-Oak Park, says his listing at 824 S. Euclid Ave. in Oak Park is a great combination of original style and modern updates. When the sellers rehabbed their home, adding a second story to their Queen Anne bungalow, they also added a geothermal heating and cooling system. 

The system relies on deeply buried network of pumps to use the earth’s temperature to aid in heating and cooling a house. It provides energy savings up to 70 percent over conventional systems, and has a much longer lifespan than traditional HVAC systems. 

The systems are expensive to install, so Nowicki says they are still uncommon in Oak Park. 

“The system is super complex, but very cool,” Nowicki said. “If you’re environmentally conscious, this should be a big draw for a buyer.”

Erica Cuneen, owner and managing broker of Beyond Properties Realty Group, says she has worked with sellers to sell homes with unique improvements such as coach houses, vacation rentals and features like geothermal heating and solar panels. Sometimes these unique features are big selling points. 

“I do think coach houses are really hot, because people are thinking about the ability to use them as an Airbnb,” Cuneen said.

That doesn’t mean unique features always make it easier to sell a house. She says she has one listing with a fabulous coach house that the sellers put roughly $400,000 into as an in-law apartment. Some interested buyers balked at paying for a space they don’t really think they need.

Cuneen says that it takes the right buyer, as well as some work on the part of the selling agent, to market these spaces. For instance, she might research how much an Airbnb could fetch in a particular location for a potential buyer considering a space with a coach house. 

For a potential buyer considering a feature like geothermal heating and cooling, she might have to do some education on the environmental and financial benefits of such systems.

She says for real estate agents it’s all about being prepared and putting in a bit of extra work. She has to prepare her sellers for what the market value of their high-end improvements might be worth to buyers. 

For buyers, she works to get to know them to see how those improvements might fit their lifestyle. It can be hard to find comparables for homes with unique features, so her job also includes educating appraisers about the values of homes with unique features.

Linda Rooney of Re/Max in the Village Oak Park, says that, like Cuneen, she is seeing a lot of interest in homes with extra living space above the garage. She recently sold a listing on Highland Avenue in Oak Park with a studio space above the garage. The house sold for $22,000 over asking price and garnered seven offers in the five days it was on the market.

“During the pandemic, people are just looking for any extra space,” Rooney said. “Especially for people with kids, it’s good to get away.”

Another client who moved to Berwyn bought a two-flat with the intention of renting out one unit as a vacation rental. Rooney states that the extra income has been great for her client, who has been under-employed due to the pandemic. 

Kim Wojack of Baird and Warner says that sometimes it’s not more space but better space that make a house stand out. At one of her listings, it was the high-end garage that made the house unique. Her listing at 1009 N. East Ave. in Oak Park recently went under contract within a matter of days. While she says the house itself was in great shape, the garage was the apple of the seller’s eye.

An avid car enthusiast, he had decked out the garage with new flooring, shelving and a charging station for his electric car. 

“It certainly was a selling point for the house,” Wojack said.

She points out that some car companies have been pledging to go all-electric by 2035 and wonders if these kind of bonus features might become more expected in the future.

All of the realtors agreed that houses that look great and are move-in ready are quick to sell in this hot market and said sometimes these added features are often one of many considerations that help seal the deal.

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