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Another Seller Gets Stung on South Michigan Avenue

It was a 35 percent loss, but other recent sellers have done even worse in the 1924 tower topped with a beehive.

Photo: Dennis Rodkin

List Price: $800,000
Sale Price: $775,000
The Property: Almost five years after they paid $1.19 million for a 1,965-square-foot condo on the 23rd floor of a historic South Michigan Avenue skyscraper, these sellers on October 19 sold it at a 35 percent loss. And yet their listing agent says “they’re happy”—in part because it could have been much worse.

Sellers took 38 percent and 48 percent losses in the prior two sales in the building, now called the Metropolitan Tower. Of six sales in the building in 2013, including today’s property, two have been foreclosures and one a short sale. The building had been plagued with distressed properties for a while.

At $394 a square foot, this one sold for considerably below the $601 a foot that a 25th-floor condo went for as unfinished space in 2008. Today’s subject property is fitted out as a two-bedroom, with three full and one partial baths. The listing sheet says the family room could be turned into a third bedroom.

The listing agent for the condo, Scott Stavish of @Properties, says his clients “sold at the low point for the building, but were ready to move on.”

As for moving in: they never did. The conversion of the building to condos was so slow, Stavish says, that the couple ended up buying in another downtown tower. (The former office building’s longtime owners announced it was going condo in mid-2004, but lower-floor move-ins didn’t start until late 2008, after the crash, and upper floors followed even farther into the downturn.)

The 30-story building is in a superb location on Michigan Avenue with the Art Institute and Symphony Center both less than a block away, and views out its east-facing windows of the pretty lawns and trees of Grant Park and Lake Michigan beyond. Topped with a beehive supported by four buffalo standing on a pyramid, it’s a handsome, classic Chicago tower, designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. Completed in 1924 as the Straus Building, it was the headquarters of the bond and real estate company S.W. Straus, which the New York Times reported at the time had financed construction of at least 4,000 buildings in Chicago alone.

The company went bankrupt during the Depression, and its Michigan Avenue building later had several other occupants, including the Encyclopedia Brittanica from 1800 until 2004. That’s when Louis D’Angelo, whose father, Dino, had bought the building in 1977, announced the conversion to 210 condos.

One funky aspect of the conversion was what D’Angelo dubbed “Imagination Rooms.” These were single rooms looking into the building’s central light well that, because of where hallways lie, couldn’t be configured into other condos, so they were sold along with—but not contiguous with—other condos. This 23rd-floor condo has one of those, three flights down on 20. Stavish says the owners hadn’t taken the developer’s option of putting in plumbing; that leaves anyone who uses it as an office or guest room a little stranded when nature calls. Another disadvantage is a product of the building’s landmark status: Stavish notes that although a gorgeous panorama spreads out to its east, “you have those small old windows that you can’t change.”

The buyers are not yet identified in public records.

Price Points: According to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Joseph and Cathy Bremer purchased this unit in December 2008. That same month, they put it on the market, asking $1.395 million, seeking a 14 percent profit. The price came down over the years, and for a while, the couple had rented at up to $4,050 a month, Stavish says.

Listing Agent: Scott Stavish of @Properties, 773-879-4444 and scottstavish@atproperties.com

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