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One House, Three Ways

In a down real-estate market, buyers may fantasize about transforming a starter house into the home of their dreams. But at what cost? We find out.

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The candidate: Its location, low price, and basically sound structure make this little Leavitt Street house a good rehab possibility.


Cloaked in faded olive-green aluminum siding, the two-story wood-frame house at 4315 North Leavitt Street in Lincoln Square sits near, but comfortably removed from, a busy intersection just down the street from the Brown Line el train, Welles Park, and the Sulzer public library. Listed at $379,000 in April, the house’s price—low for the neighborhood—reflects two major downsides: First, the lot is short and sits awkwardly on an alley that is also used for commercial deliveries. Second, the floor plan is typical for when the house was built, probably around the 1930s, but to today’s buyer may seem limited: three small bedrooms and just one bathroom, which is strangely located next to the kitchen. In its current condition, the house is habitable but small, which is why the real-estate agent, Roger Thompson of Prudential Preferred Properties, has positioned it as a candidate for a down-to-the-studs makeover—in other words, a gut rehab.

With that in mind, we asked each of three licensed Chicago contractors to reimagine the house on Leavitt and to estimate how much it would cost to execute their respective visions. After walking through the property, each contractor said that the construction was solid, with no sagging or bulging in the floors, walls, or ceilings; the basement, they all agreed, was sufficiently deep to convert into a living space without the costly process of digging out the foundation for additional ceiling height. Each contractor then went to the drawing board and came back with a proposal, keeping in mind our request for middle-of-the-line fixtures, appliances, and finishes. We also asked for some basic structural upgrades: new electrical wiring, plumbing, siding, roof, and windows; a finished basement; zoned central air and heat; another bathroom; and more interior square footage. Here, the summaries of the proposals, including cost estimates (click here for full itemizations and our rehabbing primer).


Photography: Chris Guillen; Illustrations: John Kenzie

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