By Lacey Sikora
While South Oak Park has seen a relative building boom for several years, local developer Mark Meagher of Maher Development thinks the south side of the village is ready to command seven figure prices and bring in families who might love an urban neighborhood.
He tears down smaller homes and constructs newer, larger homes that appeal to young families. With exteriors inspired by the work of Oak Park historic home stalwarts E. E. Roberts and the Gunderson brothers and with interior features like mudrooms and open floor plans, Meagher says his houses and the vibrant neighborhood appeal to a generation of buyers who are savvy about what they want and where they want it.
Meagher, who developed properties in the city before moving his business and family to Oak Park, says that South Oak Park bears a lot of resemblance to the hot Chicago neighborhoods of Logan Square and Bucktown, with one critical difference: price point.
For instance, Meagher's latest project, 1114 S. Scoville Ave., is currently on the market for $1 million. He says that at 4,500 square feet and with four finished floors of living space, it's a lot of space for the money. "This is a real bargain. In Logan Square, the house would easily be $1.3 million."
Real estate broker, Danny Glick of @properties, who recently sold a Maher Development house at 1112 S. Clinton Ave. for $980,000 and has seen a lot of interest in the Scoville house, says that the price point is making it easy to sell Meagher's houses. "North of the highway, you'd probably pay another $300,000-500,000 for these houses, so I think that's a good value proposition."
South Oak Park cachet
Meagher says South Oak Park has seen business development that draws in young families who might like the walkable neighborhoods of the city. "Harrison Street has blown up and now resembles an established area in Chicago, like Bucktown. There are so many businesses on Harrison, Roosevelt Road and South Oak Park Avenue that buyers can enjoy," he says pointing to Kinslahger Brewing Company, Bodhi Thai, Culvers, Wire, Hole in the Wall, District Kitchen and Tap, and Avenue Ale House.
Glick also sees the renaissance of Roosevelt Road as a boon to buyers. Alcuin Montessori is constructing a new middle school on the street, and he says, "There's a bunch of things happening here that have huge appeal."
As a resident himself, Meagher knows the neighborhood benefits from great parks and schools and an easy commute on the Blue Line and I-290. Tax relief is also a part of the equation. He says, "You might not get a sprawling lot with stately homes all around you, but you won't get the taxes to go with that either. South Oak Park offers some tax relief to buyers." Anecdotally, he sees taxes on a $900,000 sale in South Oak Park capping out at roughly $12,000 a year, a stark contrast to taxes on the north side of the village.
Ripe for development
One of the keys to Meagher's success is finding smaller homes that qualify as tear downs, something he says makes sense in South Oak Park, where few homes are in protected historic districts.
"This area needs development and should welcome development. These old houses need so much work to improve, and it's not always worth it to put all of that money into them."
According to Meagher, many of the homes in the area have little architectural significance and are already in a state of disrepair, making the lots ripe for development.
Real estate broker Glick says that buyers in the area are ready to embrace new construction, even in historic Oak Park. "Some of the potential buyers are coming from the city, and some are coming from Oak Park. There's a lot of interest from people already living in Oak Park but who want new construction. In some parts of Oak Park, you just can't get new construction," he notes, citing the prohibition on tear downs in historic districts.
Glick says that there is a class of buyers looking for the combination of the small-town aspect of Oak Park and the amenities of new construction. New construction not only eliminates worries about about old-house issues with plumbing or electrical work. He says newer homes also offer the floorplans and creature comforts that many families want in a home.
Newer houses' floor plans offer more flow and openness than older houses. Architect Bob Bell, who has been working locally for 50 years, has helped Meagher come up with designs that fit the vernacular of the neighborhood, and he points out the advantage of building new in the Scoville project which has an open-concept first-floor.
"One of the advantages when you build a new house is that you can span from exterior wall to exterior wall without a load-bearing wall in the middle. Now you have trusses so that you can open up these rooms."
Meagher says there are many creature comforts that just don't make sense to add to older homes. He points to newer insulation that offers sound proofing and better heating and cooling results. Upgrades like radiant heat flooring or central air conditioning can be expensive retrofits.
Other new house amenities that can be expensive to add to older homes? Master suites, basements with nine-foot ceilings and large closets. Meagher says that from a construction standpoint, it is just more efficient to build these when building new.
"You can get a thoroughness when you build new, that's hard to get through rehab." He adds that with quality new construction, buyers should get 10 to 11 years of peace of mind and not need to worry about a system breaking down or requiring repair.
At the end of the day, Meagher thinks that the neighborhood is ready for a continued stream of new homes and says his investors agree that the ceiling for new house pricing is far beyond his recently garnered $980,000 for 1112 S. Clinton. "South Oak Park has more flavor, and more of an urban and hip feeling than other parts of town. Things survive and thrive here."
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