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A town once known for having fewer living residents than the dead bodies in its six cemeteries has really come alive in the past five years. A whole new zone of hipness has developed along the short downtown strip of Madison Street, which, along with some funky restaurants, now features a wine store (HouseRed), a stained-glass studio (Two Fish Art Glass), and a cooking school (Flavour).
Along with the retail action came a residential boom, which continues today—not surprising when you consider the 10 percent (and more) differential between Forest Park and its high-priced neighbors, Oak Park and River Forest. But residents here can easily enjoy Oak Park’s shopping and culture, and downtown Chicago is a quick commute via the CTA’s Blue Line and the Eisenhower Expressway.
During the boom, homebuyers found the houses in or near the middle and north end of town the most desirable. Perhaps too desirable, suggests Laura Talaske, a Gloor Realty agent working in both Oak Park and Forest Park. “There was such a run on Forest Park,” she says. “A lot of speculators and investors came in, and the market got hotter and hotter until prices were approaching Oak Park’s. All of a sudden [in 2007] it had gone too far and people started to pull back.” That led to a price deflation of about 20 percent, Talaske says.
Houses near the town’s epicenter still “pop onto and off the market,” says Kris Sagan, an agent with Re/Max in the Village. Even with price reductions, the astonishing bargains found there six years ago have drastically diminished. Her advice: Shop south of the Eisenhower. While you will pay $400,000 and up in northern Forest Park, you can easily get into the southern half of town for about $200,000 to $400,000, she says. The houses there will be smaller, she notes, the walk downtown less charming, and the property may need updating. But the 16.5-acre Forest Park, with its aquatic center, tennis courts, and a new skate park, is nearby.
PLUS: Even the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park is decamping (in 2009) from that crowded village to Forest Park.
MINUS: If cemeteries freak you out, don’t bother.