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Ask Rodkin: Is This Bargain Condo Worth the Sacrifice?

A Lincoln Square resident considering a low-priced place in Albany Park wonders if his reservations about the buy are a reason to back out of the deal.

Photo: Charles Cherney/Chicago Tribune
 

Q: I recently put a big bid on a short-sale two-bedroom condo in East Albany Park/West Ravenswood Manor. My $55,000 offer was cash and was accepted. Now I’m having second thoughts/cold feet. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Lincoln Square and love both my apartment and my location. I’m not as sure about the new neighborhood in terms of both safety and just “the vibe”—it’s very residential, not lots of stuff to walk to.

The condo is actually smaller than my current place: though the condo has a second bedroom, both bedrooms are tiny and it doesn’t have a dining room, which my apartment has. It’s in good condition, with an updated kitchen. My current place is about 900 square feet and my rent is very low. The condo is only about 600 square feet, but it has a deck, which I don’t have at my apartment.

Since I’m in a creative industry I don’t have tons of steady income, so it’s hard for me to qualify for a loan, which is one reason this cash investment seems attractive. (The cash is mostly an inheritance.) I also believe that I could sell the condo in a year or two for more than the $55,000 I’ll pay.

I’ve looked at a lot of condos online, but this is only the second one I went to see. Maybe I should wait to purchase something when I’ve had more time to study the market, but on the other hand, they’ll probably be significantly more money than they are now.

My question is, do you think I should jump at this opportunity, even though I’m not in love with it or with the location? —Rory, in Lincoln Square

A: Rory, nothing is a bargain if you don’t really want it. I’m thinking of those sale racks near the checkout counter of a discount store: They’re piled with stuff you don’t need, but the prices are so good you feel like you shouldn’t pass them up. I get the feeling you’re doing the same thing with this condo.

It looks like a steal, and you’re right that now is a smart time to buy, because both prices and interest rates are going up. But just because there’s a cheap condo available doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Let’s look at some of the reasons you say you’re hesitating:

• You don’t love the location. While the location isn’t bad at all, it does suffer by comparison to where you are now. Right now you live in one of the city’s finest neighborhoods for shopping, dining, culture, parks, and CTA transportation. Almost any neighborhood would look iffy if it had to go toe-to-toe with Lincoln Square. (For a thorough crime comparison of the two locations, use this tool from the Tribune.)

• You’d be giving up about one-third of the space you have. I don’t know if you use your present dining room. However, it sounds as if on the bedroom front, you’d be getting two that are each smaller than the single bedroom you have now. That right there seems like a no-go to me. And while you’d gain a deck by moving, I hardly need to point out to a Chicagoan that a deck only expands your living space for part of the year.

Trading down to less space isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the idea that you believe you’d be sacrificing on neighborhood quality at the same time tells me you’d be giving up too much in search of a bargain price.

Many first-time buyers get twinges of buyer’s remorse, but your doubts are more serious than that. You have serious reservations. I know you’re trying to make a smart investment that will pay off down the line, but this is a good time to remember that buying a house isn’t only a financial move, it’s a big personal and emotional decision, too.

If I were you, I’d wait to buy.

(As of our last email, Rory was planning to back away from the purchase—but she was still torn.)

What’s your Chicago real estate question? Ask me! dennis@rodkin.com
 

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