Two Marengo Ave. homes renovated on reality TV show

'The Deed: Chicago' helps improve, flip houses

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

"The Deed: Chicago" is a reality TV show that is hosted by Sean Conlon. Conlon, 50, is a self-made multi-millionaire who comes to the rescue of real estate investors struggling to complete their projects. The episode that aired April 1 on CNBC was titled "The Bungalow Kings." It featured two investors attempting to flip bungalows in Forest Park.

Conlon lends his own money to property investors to finance their projects. He charges interest for the loans and also obtains a percentage of the profits. In the Forest Park episode, he lends money to Mike Big and Liviu Peter to purchase two bungalows on the 1500 block of Marengo and transform them into four-bedroom showcases.

Sean Joseph Conlon grew up in a two-bedroom house in a small village in Ireland. He immigrated to Chicago with $500 in his pocket. He took a series of menial jobs and worked for a time as a janitor. Conlon studied real estate in the evenings. After his first sale, he knew his future was in real estate. He became a successful rehabber of properties and has parlayed this into a fortune.

Conlon started hosting the TV series in 2016. "It's been very popular this season," Conlon said from his home in Palm Beach, Florida. (Conlon also maintains a home in Chicago.) Despite his wealth and prestige, Conlon comes across as humble and gracious. "People keep staring at me," he said of his newfound celebrity, "I thought I had something in my teeth, or mud on my face."

Before tackling the project in Forest Park, Conlon and the two investors drove around town. "It's such a solid neighborhood," Conlon said, "Many people aspire to live in a community with a neighborhood feel. It's close to the city. It's a fabulous valued compared to Oak Park. What really jumped out, though, was Madison Street. It's a cool little street."

Conlon was also complimentary about the housing stock. The homes may be modest but they have "good bones and a level of uniqueness." He also appreciates its proximity to the Des Plaines River and forest preserves. The investors chose Forest Park, in part, because they were looking for property that was within a 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago.

Mike Big, 32, and Liviu Peter, 34, have been friends since childhood. They grew up in a Romanian community on the North Side. Their fathers were property managers. Every ethnic group in Chicago has its niche, for Romanians it's managing and renovating property. The older generation was successful at their trade and now the younger generation is taking it to the next level, purchasing property.

Flipping the bungalows on Marengo was the first project for the two friends. Before they started renovating, a broker introduced them to the producers of "The Deed: Chicago" and the developers met the criteria to be featured on the show.

When Conlon first toured the properties, he advised that the bungalows be converted into four-bedroom houses. He suggested they build "pop-up" second floors, rather than keeping the existing dormers. He suggested locating one of the four bedrooms in the basement. Conlon favors open floor plans featuring spacious kitchens and other modern amenities.

Location is also key. "I loved the neighborhood," Big said, "It was a quiet street close to the Blue Line and downtown. The town has history and beauty."

"The houses were ideal for flipping," Peter said. They bought the bungalows in 2017. Peter purchased the house at 1523 for $145,000, while Big paid $178,000 for the bungalow at 1529. The renovation featured in the episode was performed in 2018. It took them six months to complete the transformation. "We put our heart and souls into it," said Big.

Conlon obviously believed their projects were promising and lent them funds to finance the renovation. Conlon has a delightful Irish accent and charm to spare but is no-nonsense when it come to the bottom line.

He doesn't just supply financing, he lends his expertise. He also brings a positive attitude that some investors badly need. Many of the show's episodes feature drama and conflict but for "The Bungalow Kings" everything went smoothly. "There was no drama on the Forest Park show," Conlon recalled, "Because the developers had done such a huge amount of homework."

Big acted as general contractor, while Peter oversaw the finances. Having the houses so close together saved money on materials and labor. Big's first task was to secure the construction permits. "The village was awesome," he recalled, "I don't have enough good things to say about them. They were literally top-notch. They told us what we needed to bring the houses up to code and there were no surprises. They were prompt in coming by to make inspections."

Before filming began, the camera crew alerted neighbors and asked their permission to film. Having cameras following them around kept the construction crew on their toes. "We really concentrated on craftsmanship and attention to detail," said Big.

During the reconstruction, Conlon was with them every step of the way. He offered helpful tips and left his own imprint on the design.  They not only finished the houses on time, they came in $20,000 under budget. Both houses sold in the $430,000 range, which was their target price.

After the project was completed, Conlon asked Peter what his plans were. He didn't have anything definite in mind, so Conlon offered him a job at his real estate firm, Conlon and Co. He hired Peter as his "chief of staff" and now he serves as Conlon's right-hand man. Big returned to remodeling properties and hasn't flipped a house since.

"The Bungalow Kings" gave valuable exposure to the village and spotlighted two young men who saw their faith in Forest Park fully rewarded.

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