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Elmhurst’s Most Expensive Listing Is Also a Spec Construction Gamble

The palatial new-build a half-mile from Elmhurst’s vibrant downtown has all the in-demand spoils plus an in-ground pool. Builder and broker are counting on attention in the new year.

The brand new mini-mansion on the 300 block of South Kenilworth Avenue.   Photo: Ian Spula

Price: $2,799,000

The Cherry Farm section of west suburban Elmhurst is the hottest terrain for luxury new home construction outside of Center of Town (not to be confused with Elmhurst’s downtown). Both neighborhoods have large lots and proximity to shopping, dining, and the Metra. The street is a grab bag of old and new, restrained and exuberant. And now established local developer John Pembroke of Island Construction is doing something untested: building and selling a market-topping house on spec.

This six-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath, 7,400-square-foot stone mini-manse is up and on the market on Kenilworth just south of St. Charles Road for the never-before-seen asking price of $2.8 million. The record sale in Elmhurst came one block over in late 2012 when an 8,300-square-footer fetched $2.56 million. As for the spec construction aspect, Pembroke had built cheaper houses this way prior to the recession but nothing to rival his latest, according to listing agent and longtime business associate Sandra Mueller of @properties.

“High-end is really driving the market in Elmhurst now,” says Mueller, “even though people here value a mix of housing and incomes and tend not to show off their money.” This dynamic has generated tension in town going back to a construction boom in the late-1980s, “but as much as people moan about it, [this construction] has made the town prosper and grow.”

Clearly the wager with today’s featured new-build is that at least one buyer in a high-income bracket, locally or coming from the city, will not want to spend the time and effort to find a lot, design a house, and build it. The house is a careful assemblage of prevailing tastes in the luxury market. There is an obligatory double-height rotunda at the front entrance, with a grand open staircase; an open main floor plan with enormous rooms; a kitchen with white “Amish-style” cabinetry, a bedroom-sized pantry, and two of every major appliance; separate living and family rooms; a freestanding bar nook; several fireplaces; and a master suite with his & hers walk-in closet and Carrera marble bathroom.

The icing on this gut-busting cake is the in-ground concrete pool and patio with permeable pavers, which in total cost the developer over $200,000. There is also an outdoor electric grill installation, pergola, and a ring of baby conifers at the yard’s edge. Another thoughtful add-on is the 150-year-old downed oak that has been repurposed in beams and mantles throughout the main level.

Finally, we come to the basement. Build-out of the sprawling full-height space began and halted partway through. Mueller convinced the developer to leave it unfinished so that a buyer can figure out an ideal use. “You really have to live in a house for a while first,” she said. 

While new-builds are flying off the shelves in Elmhurst, Frank Lloyd Wright’s exemplary F.B. Henderson House and a Prairie School masterpiece of Walter Burley Griffin’s have had little traction on the market in several years of on-and-off listing. “It’s not like Oak Park,” says Meuller. “Nobody gets it out here.”

Price Points: The developer spent $730,000 in 2013 on a worn down four-bedroom craftsman bungalow that had been a placeholder for several years, until the time was right for bulldozing. The value was almost all in the 100’ x 190’ lot, and just a year later similarly-sized lots in the area are priced in the $800,000s. The more expensive the land, the bigger the new home. A lot of new construction in Elmhurst is priced between $900,000 and $1 million; a few projects are between $1.2 and $1.5 million; and several custom jobs are listed for more than $1.5 million.

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