Portage Park is the mainstay of Chicago’s bungalow belt—about as bungalow as it gets. Thousands of these one-and-a-half story brick homes mostly from the 1920s line its streets, mass produced but with sensitive interior detailing. Three especially attractive model types appeared on the market in the last two weeks; they underline the neighborhood’s reputation for charming and affordable family housing, and are all in good condition. Priced at $265,000, $375,000, and $405,000, all have three or four bedrooms, at least two full bathrooms, a stately fireplace, and a habitable basement.
A fourth bungalow, asking $444,000 and with an extra thousand square feet, also listed in the last two weeks but quickly went under contract. The explanation for that is simple: it’s right on the neighborhood’s namesake park, with its historic park district building, ball fields, tennis courts, plush gardens, and perfect mile circumference (important for all the runners out there).
Portage Park's exquisite housing stock recently wound up in the crosshairs of affluent families, some of which keep more than just good public schools on their checklists. The place also happens to be a charming community, with easy commuting to downtown or the 'burbs, and a generally low cost of living. That last factor can attract families that made boom time home purchases who are now looking for more modest real estate.
“A doctor making $300,000 a year finds himself overextended in Lincoln Park or Bucktown,” says Colin Hebson of @properties, the agent for the handsomely restored home on the 5700 block of West Eastwood Avenue. Portage Park or other select peripheral neighborhoods become the affordable saviors. “My [real estate] team is the busiest in the neighborhood and we’re seeing more of this migration.”
Hebson has observed a roughly 20% increase in local housing prices the last three years (from a low bottom). According to market numbers from Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED), a 20% increase in single-family sales prices was witnessed in one year alone, between 2012 and 2013. At the close of 2013, Portage Park's median sales price was $210,000, still down 39% from 2006. “I can see them rising another 20-30% in the next five years,” adds Hebson.
Realtor Dan Cantacessi, a lifelong Portage Parker and agent for the mid-priced classic on the 5500 block of West Agatite Street, echoes this take on Portage Park and adds a note on the commercial life. “Overall, there’s been a shrinking business hub surrounding Six Corners but in the last few years new shops are opening in vacant storefronts and there’s a little more nightlife.” The neighborhood’s pair of Art Deco movie houses, Portage and Patio, have had turbulent ownership, trouble funding upgrades and repairs, and intermittent closures, but the Portage maintains a light schedule and opened to musical acts last weekend during a local BBQ fest.
Cantacessi’s sellers adore the neighborhood and are moving out of state for economic reasons. “They put a lot of time and energy into the house over 14 years.”
Finally, a genuine starter home is available on the 5300 block of West Cullom Avenue. The 1926 three-bed is just two blocks north of Portage Park and is as comfortable and picturesque as any piece of property priced under $300,000 in the city thanks to large rooms, original built-ins, and hardwood floors. Like all of the classic bungalows, it has a partial second level but in this case it's an attic through and through–carpeted but undeveloped. A similar condition lurks in the basement, where humans clearly gather to surf the web and lift weights but where a lot of potential remains unmet.
In the case of the Cullom, Agatite and Belle Plaine listings, normal appreciation is apparent in list prices substantially higher than sale prices 12-16 years earlier. Throw that out the window for the Eastwood property. The sellers only upped the ask $10,000 over their 2005 purchase price–’05 being a bad year to buy, fairly universally it turns out.
Looking to land in Portage Park? Last year was probably the best time to do so, but the next couple should also prove rewarding.