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Is This East Garfield Park Gut-Rehab a Fluke or a Sign of Things to Come?

A small developer tries his hand at whole-home renovation in uncharted territory. The asking price for a rebuilt 3,500-square-foot greystone? $279,900.

The fully renovated greystone on the 3400 block of West Jackson Boulevard.   Photo: Ian Spula

One of the first soup-to-nuts gut renovations of an East Garfield Park greystone hit the market this month. The pattern is well established on the Near West Side and Bronzeville, two neighborhoods that share East Garfield’s turn-of-the-last century housing stock. The area has been touted as a natural next frontier in real estate for more than a decade, on account of frenzied development from Halsted Street to Damen Avenue and beyond. But new houses, condos, and gut rehabs are scarce; more prevalent are ragged banners on stubbornly vacant plots advertising construction that never came. “The only rehab comp we had was a smaller row home near Fulton and Sacramento,” says @properties listing agent Veronica Miklusicak, “which is a different part of the neighborhood.”

Builder Daniel Cichosz, primarily a commercial contractor with DJC Communication Inc, says he was motivated to redevelop large houses because of a dearth of five-bedroom homes on the market in Chicago. He found worthy candidates in East Garfield Park, where 3,000-square-foot bank-owned and condemned greystones can be had for about $30,000. Cichosz’s first target, 3444 West Jackson Boulevard, was saved from the wrecking ball for $28,000 and all but the façade was torn out. Roughly $150,000 in new finishes went in and the completed home has a $279,900 price tag. The super low acquisition cost is what makes a gut-renovation doable in East Garfield Park. Whether it’s profitable is still to be seen.

Similar short sales and foreclosures a mile east in the Near West Side, worn out and left for dead, are pushing $150,000 nowadays. With $150,000 to $200,000 put into renovation and $400,000 a long shot sale price, a builder’s margin east of Western grows ever tighter.

The cons of investing on the far side of Western, along Jackson, Madison, or Monroe all the way to Central Park Avenue, are clear and unshakable. It is a high crime area, fed by empty lots and boarded-up buildings; it has sparse commercial life without a magnet for visitors from outside the neighborhood; and there aren’t many employers. “East Garfield Park is an urban island, cut off from commercial development and a lot of infrastructure. There’s nothing to walk to besides the park itself, and this used to be the one of the busiest areas in the city,” says Miklusicak. “Still, it has two train lines and wide boulevards that’ll put you downtown in 20 minutes.”

Cichosz, who lives in a Near West Side loft with his wife and five children, recognizes he’s an outlier. “I think the new boundary for investment will be the park (which starts around Central Park Ave.), or at least I hope it will be,” he says. Rehab prospects are virtually limitless, and Cichosz doesn’t plan to stop at one house. He’s making a play on a boarded-up attached greystone, if it can be untangled from demolition court, and wants to rehab another two doors down. Behind 3444 West Jackson, you can see several deteriorated houses across the alley. One two-flat wears the telltale red X of a building marked for demolition, but another builder arrived in the nick of time and is beginning to gut and convert to single-family.

The buyer for this product isn’t a known quantity, but will presumably be a larger family. “I think it might be somebody doing a huge search of the West Side for large affordable homes, bundling East Garfield, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, and Belmont Cragin,” Miklusicak speculates. Finishes are clean and tasteful, with hardwoods, porcelain tile, granite counters, stainless steel appliances, and a glass and slate-tiled living room fireplace. All of the windows are new. “We tried to save some original features inside, but the only thing left is the staircase,” says Cichosz. “When you start handling the old finishes you realize there’s little that can be saved.”

The home has great depth and 10-foot ceilings and the main level’s open layout really shows it off. All five bedrooms are on the second floor, and the finished basement gives the option for a sixth. There are three full bathrooms and, again, piping that allows for a fourth in the basement. Cichosz built a new two-car garage and back deck, and a small patch of green is suited best to gardening.

Miklusicak had a showing while I was visiting, and a young woman dropped by for a peek after hearing murmurs about the project. Not a bad place to start.

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