$600,000 homes in our little Forest Park? Good for us.
Of course the difference between the $600,000 houses and the ones half that price or below is all about changing expectations.
Those who shop for new homes, visit Parade of Homes events or try to design their own homes, have different expectations than those looking for a typical existing home. The people who want to pay $600,000 here, or move to Kane County, want a master suite with a Jacuzzi tub and a walk-in closet. They want the latest expensive countertops, big open rooms, and wiring to accommodate today’s technology.
Of course, most older homes have small bedrooms, older wiring, and plastic countertops. Many of the homes in Forest Park are 50 to 100 years old.
One thing about them, though, I had taken for granted.
I was recently visiting family in Ohio and had the opportunity to browse some of the housing stock there. In the more affordable neighborhoods, there were many single-family homes, but many had fallen into disrepair. The roofs were old, the paint was peeling, the foundations were crumbling.
When I asked, I was informed that people who sell homes in that area are not required to bring their home up to meet the current building codes before selling.
It is required in Forest Park, so even the older homes have three-prong outlets, modern circuit breakers, and safe construction. As someone who is in the process of selling one piece of property here in town, I have to admit it can be a pain to fix the nit-picky things the village inspectors find: a ground wire that has fallen off in an outlet, a cracked window pane, a toilet seal. But the result of such required inspections is that the housing stock in the village generally remains good.
Only houses that have the same owner for decades are susceptible to being truly dilapidated. I understand that even homes passed on through a deceased person’s estate are subject to the inspection rules, ensuring each piece of property in the village is brought up to code at least once in a human lifetime.
I hope the village never weakens these rules, pesky as they are. The majority of homes in the village may not garner $600,000, but demanding they remain in good repair will help keep prices rising.
Some people have complained the village is not strict enough about enforcing other inspection rules. Technically, any resident with peeling exterior paint can be made to repaint. Problems visible from the street or alley must be rectified. Grass must be cut.
While I agree these problems are a drag on a neighborhood, I don’t know how I feel about strict enforcement. I think everyone wants village inspections to happen, just not to them.
Only by keeping up the quality of the housing stock in the village will prices continue to rise, and businesses continue to flock here. As long as young homeowners aren’t expecting a house built in 1910 to have three spacious bathrooms and a Viking range in the kitchen, our older homes will keep selling.
And as long as those older homes look good from the outside, developers can continue building on vacant lots and selling the new homes for huge sums.
Although high-priced homes are good for the tax rolls and generally good for the neighborhood, village officials also must be watchful about granting variances to the zoning rules. One new home is being built near me with an alley-access garage that is attached to the house. That means there will be no back yard, and the house will cover almost the entire lot.
It almost certainly does not conform to the village’s zoning rules, so someone must have allowed an exception. I’m sure the house will sell for a lot of money, but we shouldn’t allow just anything to be constructed on our remaining land.
That only invites hulking mansions, towering awkwardly over neighboring historic homes. Other suburbs, such as Elmhurst, have struggled with this issue, especially as developers began to buy small existing homes, tear them down and build gigantic new homes on the lots. If new homes continue selling for $600,000 in Forest Park, it might be worth it to developers to begin tearing down our existing housing stock.
We should be vigilant and guard against tear-downs, decay, and too many variances.