By Tom Holmes
Marty Sorice and his wife Lynn bought a bar, which they renamed Blueberry Hill, for $36,000 in 1983. By the time he finishes rehabbing it some 34 years later, Sorice said he has put close to a million dollars into the business, located at 427 Desplaines Ave.
Big dollars are being invested in homes and businesses in Forest Park, according to Department of Public Health and Safety Director Steve Glinke, who is responsible for village code enforcement and gets into almost every building being rehabbed. A large portion of the investment is being made by what Glinke referred to as "flippers," investors who buy old homes at bargain prices, rehab the property and then sell them at a profit.
"We have probably 8-10 regular builders in town who have bought, invested and sold 150 houses here in the last two or three years," Glinke said.
The home at 301 Elgin Ave., for instance, sold in November 2015 for $122,500. In August 2016 after a gut rehab, the property sold for $530,000, according to documents filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Realtor Dorothy Gillian said it is not just flippers who are investing in homes but many residents as well. Mainly two groups of people are buying in Forest Park, she said, young professional couples looking for a balance between downtown access and small town affordability and "empty nesters," who downsize after raising families in neighboring suburbs like Oak Park. There are others, too.
"I have clients who stay in town and are investing in their homes because they couldn't get out what they initially put in," Gillian said. "I have many clients saying, 'I want to sell my house and I want this much money.' I say, 'Sorry but this is how much your house is worth in today's market.'"
So residents stay put and spend money on improvements to their home to drive up its value. Gillian said the housing market has recovered somewhat since 2012, but it dipped in 2017.
Trulia Blog, an online real estate resource, recently listed Forest Park as the top suburb in the country with "a slick city feel without big-city cost." Forest Park's relative affordability, proximity to public transit and the I-290 expressway, plus its vibrant downtown add to the attractiveness.
Glinke noted that the village's permitting process and code enforcement practices have also contributed to the increase in investment.
"We changed our service model here seven years ago," he said, "with the goal of seeing the most properties improved that we can and facilitating that process. You'll hear that other communities are difficult in permitting. We've created new efficiencies and that's why we see people come back."
Glinke said his department now contracts out oversight of commercial projects in the village to private companies and has computerized some of its records. They've worked to get permits turned around quickly and even issue same-day demolition permits, with the understanding the village will keep checking in and stop the project or issue fines if necessary.
"It's been a series of little things," Glinke said. "It's made the process more predictable as much as it is efficient."
Some developers appreciate the changes.
"It's a good town to work in," said an employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, from Groa Development, a local developer. "The building department here is not your enemy."
Groa has flipped a dozen homes in town in just the last two years.
At least one other business owner agreed.
"We love what the town has been in the past … and are excited for our future," said Sorice, who has purchased numerous other businesses since 1983. "Forest Park is definitely on the rise. There is no place we would rather be."