At least four new residences are being built in Forest Park and will be selling for over $600,000. One residence, a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot Victorian with hardwood floors, at 1103 Lathrop Ave. has been sold for $625,000.

The home sits on a 37 and 1/2 foot by 180 foot lot, with a two and one half car garage. The home includes a fireplace, a 450 square foot bi-level cedar deck and a full basement, fitted for finishing and for adding additional bathrooms.

A tour of the home reveals a wooden staircase, with metal ornamental fixtures and chandelier, framed by a wide window that provides a view of Lathrop Avenue.

The master bedroom includes a two-sink bathroom, a whirlpool and a shower, marble countertops and a walk-in closet.  The kitchen boasts wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances with granite countertops.

It is by no means an old-fashioned Victorian, as its many modern appliances and the sleek design suggest a more
sophisticated style within a Victorian layout, but it responds to a segment of the
population looking for a new home, area Realtors said.

It is also part of a property value boom currently taking Forest Park by storm.

The run-up in housing values has accelerated in the last year.

In October 2003, Chicago Magazine reported the average sales price of a home in Forest Park as $220,496. Even that price tag represented an astonishing 16-percent increase over 2002.

“I certainly think it speaks to the tremendous amount of work that has gone on in the last six years building up the community,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone. 

Geraldine M. Healy, a long time Forest Park resident and a sales associate with the Sylvester Realty Company, which is selling the Lathrop house, says the hike is mostly due to the fact that these houses are brand new and in an excellent location.

Steve Johnsen, a Realtor with Re/Max Vision as well as a Forest Park police officer and school board member, agrees. He says he is now regularly seeing sales in the mid-$400,000 range.

“In Forest Park it is all about location.
It is 20 minutes from everywhere in the Chicagoland area,” he said. “People are tired of living out in the subdivisions and having to commute. It is an urban environment, and it has the quiet attributes of the suburbs.”

But for Art Jones, interim director of the Main Street Redevelopment Association and an executive at Forest Park National Bank, the boom cannot be attributed to any one person, organization, entity or issue.

“One is the fact that if you are able to create an attractive and vital business district that attracts people to your community,” Jones said.  “It also introduces them to the residential aspects of the community.  If you couple that with location, which is a real important factor for Forest Park and add in what the village has committed in terms of infrastructure improvements and the fact that our tax base is still significantly less than surrounding areas ” all those factors together drive what we are seeing today in terms of increased interest and value in our property.”

Regardless of the reason, to Realtors it seems that the party is just getting started.

“You get the people who are living in the city”Lakeview, Lincoln Park”who look at the housing stock there and can’t afford it,” Johnsen said. “Those are the kinds of people I see coming to open houses.”

“There are three other houses being built in a similar price range,” Healy said. “One property on Warren Street is listed at $625,000 and one on Marengo Avenue is going for $525,000.

“Five years ago, probably $250,000 would be the high end,” Healy said. “People were buying houses in ‘as-is’ condition and were willing to work because they knew they were getting a great house. Now this has pushed the values up on those properties.”

Madison Street redevelopment has also positively impacted the market.

“When new young families come into town, their needs are much stronger than the people who have lived here,” Healy said. “The need for a Caffe de Luca was not as strong five years ago. With the new people coming out of the city, they want that thriving, fast-paced lifestyle [they used to have in the city], and Forest Park can do that.”

To many buyers, the changes on Madison Street and the fluctuating values translate into a perception that Forest Park is the new Wicker Park of the west suburbs. “Someone said to me two, three years ago that Forest Park is Wicker Park with grass,” Johnsen said. “It is considered a trendy place to be.

“People like the location, they like to do things in the city, they like being close to transportation. There is also the night life”you can live in a fairly nice house, and you can walk to Madison Street and get an ice cream cone or a beer,” Johnsen said.

But don’t mistake this for Wicker Park, he warned.

“What makes it attractive and separates it from a Wicker Park is that even though we have a big-city environment, it is a small-town atmosphere. You run into people you know, and I think people like that,” he said.

Some question the ability of this 15,000-resident town to maintain this boom, but for Johnsen, at least, the outlook is optimistic.

“There is no reason to expect that [the market] will not continue to go up. I don’t know that it will go up in double digits like it has been, but Forest Park is still rather cheaply priced compared to other suburbs. It is the cheapest nice place to live,” he said.

“I think in the real estate market, the market dictates what property sells for,” Calderone said. “There is a strong demand and prices go up.  Apparently there is a high demand for quality houses in Forest Park.”

“Can we sustain those values?” asked Jones.  “There will probably be a point where there will be a plateauing of values, but as long as interest rates don’t jump up dramatically these prices can be sustained.”