Is Forest Park ripe for construction of new condo units or is the local market awash in unsold inventory? That debate has come to the fore recently in discussions of the future use of the vacant corner lot at Harlem and Madison.
Village officials seemingly turned away a proposed Starbucks recently in hopes of luring a mixed use retail and condo project. Critics pointed to the perceived glut of unsold condos and townhomes in the Residences at the Grove project where construction ended just as the economy collapsed in 2008. Many unsold units in the project tucked behind Des Plaines Avenue at the Blue Line were then converted to rentals as the market for sales languished.
But, say the Realtors hired last year by the project's developer to spark sales at The Grove, their aggressively priced effort resulted in a "frenzy" of interest and a sell-out of the remaining 30 units. Their conclusion? Forest Park needs more such construction as the demand is strong.
April Moon said @Properties was brought on to sell off unsold property at The Grove last May. Moon said the developer, Focus Development, had initially sold out units in Building 1 at The Grove, but ended up with many unsold units when the recession hit.
"They asked us to come in and price out the units," Moon recalled of the meeting she and Mark Fischer of @Properties held with Focus Development last year. "Ultimately, they chose us to sell off the remaining units."
The result: A "feeding frenzy" of buying, Moon said.
When the recession hit, Focus Development made the decision to rent out the unsold units instead of leaving them to sit on the market. The move was a smart one, Moon and Fischer said. Quality tenants kept the condos in good shape and when the market finally bounced back, a demand for new – or in this case like-new – construction came with it.
"We got very aggressive on pricing and we did a lot of advertising," Moon said of selling off some 30 remaining units at the Grove. "We had people fighting for them."
Moon and Fischer said they weren't surprised the condos and townhouses got snatched up by customers so quickly. Fischer said the proximity of the units to the CTA Blue Line station appealed to commuters, while amenities like high-end landscaping at the Grove and its walkability to downtown Forest Park also drove sales.
"We're still getting calls from people looking for the same sort of thing," Fischer said.
Fischer said he believes a condo development at Harlem and Madison would likewise be hot on the market.
"I mean, what a location," Fischer said of a possible development. "You'd be steps from downtown Forest Park. The village has really done a great job of making its downtown desirable."
Both Moon and Fischer said they believe that suburbs with an urban feel, like Forest Park, are what buyers are looking for right now.
At The Grove, they said the one-bedroom units sold the quickest. Buyers, they said, want to be able to commute to the city but live in an area with lower density.
However, buyers aren't looking for suburban sprawl either. Younger, first time buyers and empty nesters alike want a walkable downtown with restaurants and shopping, which communities like Forest Park have to offer.
"The people moving from the city want that urban feel, but without all the congestion," Moon said.
Moon said she believes new construction is also a selling point to buyers, especially in communities like Forest Park where much of the housing stock is old. In that sense, she said, the demand for new construction is greater than the supply.
For anyone with a desire to put a condo development at Madison and Harlem, Moon had a few suggestions. First, she said they should advertise and advertise a lot. That, she believes, was a key in getting buyers interested in units at The Grove. Secondly, provide amenities: Units at The Grove with a walk up patio got snapped up because it essentially gave the buyers a backyard to spend time in. Finally, really sell the ease of commute to the city with the location.
"One of the best things at The Grove was that if you're commuting downtown you don't even have to take your car out of the garage," she said. "You're already right there at the Blue Line."