Grand Boulevard juts up against Hyde Park’s northwest corner, but it is no Hyde Park, and in the balkanized world of urban real estate, it’s not even that close. Grand Boulevard’s median sales price is barely half Hyde Park’s, and empty lots are a still a scourge despite start-and-stop reinvestment and new home construction.
As I turned to the MLS the other day, I couldn’t help noticing five new listings for concept homes with a modern utilitarian look clustered around 41st Street and Vincennes Avenue (three of the lots contiguous). This is the marketing of The G-Slow Team, a Frankfort-based real estate developer very active in the suburbs and, more recently, the South Side of Chicago.
Is the neighborhood at a watershed moment, or is this a blip in the pattern of disinvestment?
Overseas investment from Australia, Singapore, South Africa, and other countries is behind a lot of G-Slow’s projects, including work on the South Side. “The investors we’re working with aren’t interested in developing the sites but we’ll sub out for clients or do the building ourselves,” says Ashley Collins, VP of Real Estate Services at G-Slow. The company has the permits and plans and buyers can take the whole package from sketches to execution of a 2,450-square-foot three-bed for $379,000; buy the lot, permits, and plans and strike out with their own builder; or just buy the lot for $69,900. You can get them cheaper in Grand Boulevard (G-Slow paid $40,000 this spring, after all), but these lots are bundled so there’s the chance for complementary infill.
Another benefit G-Slow offers is an expedited permitting process. Purchasing the existing permits and transferring the name saves the three- to four-month wait time with the city.
Like any developer, G-Slow prices out their construction cost and performs a mini comparative market analysis (utilizing county tax assessor records, the MLS, and some subjectivity) within a half-mile radius to calculate list price. On blocks surrounding 41st and Vincennes and a little further west in Bronzeville’s historic Gap district, Jacob da Builder is active in semi-custom new home construction. These are the likeliest comps for G-Slow, with price per square foot at or around $150.
I asked Collins why Grand Boulevard and why now? “We sensed that people are buying and building again in the neighborhood and that good lots would soon be at a premium … and interest rates are low.”
Proximity to vibrant residential pockets in Oakland and Kenwood makes these westward sites a logical setting for mid-priced new builds. Even though median sales price dipped 5.2 percent between 2013 and 2014, it has trended upward since early 2012, according to Trulia. The same is true for average price per square foot. Contemporary new builds and intensive rehabs of vintage row homes and graystones are contributing disproportionately to this trend. G-Slow works in the gut rehab department, too, focusing on nearby stretches of Ellis and Lake Park Avenues.
The pace of home sales is also up and holding steady since late 2012. “There’s also not a ton of rental in the community,” offers Collins. “And we’re encouraged by the grocery stores and employment centers coming to the area,” referring to Mariano’s five-year blitzkrieg on the South Side with a confirmed site at Pershing Road and King Drive, and the just-opened Shops & Lofts at 47, anchored by a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
G-Slow and the wider investor community may also be banking on the eventual mixed-use redevelopment of the Michael Reese Hospital acreage bordering 35th Street. There will be no Olympics and probably no casino or Obama library, but great potential remains for linking the 49-acre site to McCormick Place with hotels, residences, offices, and/or new convention space. But the city is shopping for a new master plan from a firm that can also invest in the outcome (think Lakeside Development). The city was recently forced to make its first deferred payment to the site’s previous owner, five years after the transfer of title.
Collins exuded confidence in this being the right time to move on infill projects in Grand Boulevard (as is her job). Jacob da Builder’s importation of North Side building practices and in-home finishes has proven successful, with sales coming quickly at or near asking price. Grand Boulevard and Bronzeville were built to last with solid, attractive old housing and an advantageous location between Hyde Park and the Loop and near the lake.