Price: $1.2 million

Amidst the garage-top decks of Lincoln Park, alleys occasionally bear a surprise. Remnants of manufacturing dot the dense alleys and dead ends just east of Clybourn Avenue. Decades ago, two of these light industrial structures were used as garages and workshops by the owners of a Victorian house fronting Seminary Avenue near Maud Avenue. In the nineties, they became residential.

“We started calling them the ‘coach house’ and ‘warehouse’, even though they never exactly had those uses,” says owner Sarah Howard, who moved into the main house (what she still dubs the haunted house) at age 7. Her father operated the pair as no-frills rentals, attracting a lot of DePaul students. In 2009 he renovated the larger space—the warehouse— and began renting for $5,000 a month. It got the loft treatment, with a single level boasting 20-foot ceilings, concrete floors, three bedrooms, and a couple of lofted retreats well suited to a work-from-home scenario.

An industrial skylight cuts the length of the foyer and kitchen and large louver windows set high on the wall deliver an even natural light. Though it simulates a loft quite well and, at 3,000-square-feet, is larger than most, it misses out on views by existing at grade, in an alley, with windows above eye-level. Luckily there is also a 2,000-square-foot rooftop deck.

“You don’t get the green backyard,” says listing agent Karla Mina of Coldwell Banker, “but at this price point just plant some grass on the roof and call it a day.” It’s true—the roof is a malleable space. Think planters and raised beds, Astroturf, grills, a bar, and a patio with space leftover for bags or a bocce court. There’s even room to grow the deck. The standard Chicago lot is only slightly larger than this rooftop, and tends to come with structures. I wouldn’t call the surrounding sights gritty, but you definitely get the hard urban surface of brick and utility poles. “Even though it’s on this weird alley,” Howard says, “the rooftop rivals the best outdoor spaces in the neighborhood.”

Though advertised as live/work, the home is not zoned for it. To run anything beyond an LLC or to produce goods, you’d need an exemption. But in an informal sense, there's the strong enticement of the home office for those within a telecommuting-friendly field.

The alley entry and isolation isn’t for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t fit the picture of genteel Lincoln Park. “We know this isn’t the natural setting for an Oscar Mayer mommy,” says Mina, referring to the popular magnet school and its parental stereotype, “but we expect it to attract an artsy or techie type—people tired of competing for good loft space in the West Loop.”

Howard lives in Woodlawn and works at the University of Chicago. She’ll continue to manage the rented-out ‘coach house’ and main house as executor of her father’s estate. 

Price Points: Howard decided to sell the ‘warehouse’ rather than continue leasing it out after co-listing agent Don Felton, then marketing it as a rental, started fielding calls from people interested in buying. Initially, the home was a pocket listing in the Top Agent Network, a resource brokers can turn to when their clients have exhausted public listings. It hit the MLS September 23 and there were 10 showing requests the next day. An open house this week will play up a specific lifestyle more than most, with an art show, DJ, and dancing.

“There’s no apples to apples comparison in the area,” says Mina. “You have to think strategically about targeting buyers and pricing to allow for a sense of value and uniqueness.” When you get up around $1.5 million, she adds, you’re suddenly competing with houses with yards and garage-top decks, or large condos in elevator buildings.