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That Sinking Feeling

When Matt and Sarah Adess moved into their Wicker Park condo in 2000, they didn’t realize they were buying intoa six-year nightmare. A cautionary tale about new construction gone terribly bad

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Like so many other young would-be homeowners in Chicago’s febrile real-estate market of the past decade, Matt and Sarah Adess hoped to find both a place to live and a high-performance investment. It was the summer of 2000 and the couple, both 24 years old, wanted something that “was an attractive space and a steppingstone to whatever the future was going to bring us,” recalls Matt Adess, who was studying at Loyola University Medical Center with an eye toward one day starting an oncology practice.

That’s why the pair were delighted to find the nearly completed four-story red-brick building on the southwest corner of North Avenue and Leavitt Street in super-hot Wicker Park. They had seen “a lot of cookie cutters,” says Sarah Adess, who was teaching in a preschool at the time, but this building had distinctive floor plans. With expansive living spaces on the main floor, a partial loft above, and rooftop decks, it combined elements of layouts used in townhouses, lofts, and single-family homes.

And the location, a few blocks west of the hip North-Milwaukee-Damen intersection, suggested that this would be a smart place to buy. So in October 2000, the couple paid $457,500 for one of the building’s four three-bedroom condos. “We stretched,” Matt Adess says. Today, appraisers tell them, condos with about the same square footage, location, and finishes would be worth about $707,500, a 55 percent increase.

Those other condos, however, don’t have four-inch-wide cracks running along walls throughout the unit. Or a granite fireplace mantel that tilted about 30 degrees from one side to the other before finally snapping under the strain. Or a ten-foot-long fissure in the parapet facing the street. Or nails that pop out of walls as parts of the building slowly sink deeper into the unstable soil.

In May, the Adesses sold their condo back to the builder, Krzystof Karbowski of MCM Realty, for their original purchase price plus about enough to cover the $70,000 they paid in special assessments to try to shore up the building. But the Adesses say the settlement did not cover the roughly $50,000 they spent to rent another place after structural engineers (hired by the condo association) cautioned them to get out of the building on Leavitt last summer (they had to continue paying the condo’s mortgage while renting elsewhere). Nor did it cover the lost appreciation on their investment, or repay them for nearly five years of worrying whether the building would fall down around them. At one point, reports Matt Adess, the engineers “said they didn’t know if the loft was still stably attached to the rest of the building. It could fall down on the floor below it.”


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