The Short List: Michael Jacob Bishop on the Pros/Cons of New and Vintage Buildings

by Chicago Agent


Michael Jacob Bishop, an agent with the Mark Allen Realty Group.

Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate. This week, we talked with Michael Jacob Bishop, an agent with the Mark Allen Realty Group.

Very few places in the world can compare with our beloved city of Chicago. Our city boasts 77 unique neighborhoods to choose from, each with its own cultural and architectural makeup. From beaches and marinas to parks and towering skyscrapers, Chicago has something to offer for everyone.

Within each different neighborhood in Chicago, it almost feels as if you are moving into a new city. This is due to the varying cultural makeups and architectural differences. Certain neighborhoods, such as Bucktown and Wicker Park, have started to build mega-developments to attract buyers who prefer new construction. Other neighborhoods, such as Ravenswood or Rogers Park, offer a much different style of home – vintage homes on large lots with attention to the smallest detail. Both vintage and new construction offers positives and negatives that will either attract a homebuyer or have them running for the door.

The Pros of New Construction

With new residential developments popping up all over the city, buyers and agents alike are buzzing with excitement over the possibility of being the first owner of a home. There is a certain comfort in knowing that you will be the first occupant, with no need to worry whether or not there was a tenant occupying the unit and treating it like a frat house.

Another positive associated with new construction is lower maintenance costs. A home built in 2014 compared to one built in the early 1900’s, of course, won’t be subject to the yearly maintenance such as tuck pointing and sealing, or replacement of roofing and mechanicals (which will also be more energy efficient). Also, if you find a development at the right time, you may still have time to customize a unit to your liking; handpicking certain floors, cabinets, and tailor bathrooms truly make it your dream home. A great example of an area that combines stunning architecture with amazing craftsmanship is the 1800 block of North Burling in Lincoln Park. This beautiful tree lined street truly is the envy of every Chicago homebuyer; each home has clearly been designed with the utmost care, and with no expense spared.

The Cons of New Construction

But buyers beware – not all buildings are created equal. Before buying new construction, it is important to research past projects that developer has worked on. Do a quick search on the Internet to see past developments, and if the quality meets your expectations/standards of living. Maybe drive by the property if you have time, knock on the door and ask the residents how the building has held up over the years.

One deterrent from buying new construction, as opposed to an older home, may be that a buyer is looking for home with its own unique style. While there are some beautifully designed and well-built homes all over the Chicagoland area, it seems as if many large scale developments fit in to the same “cookie cutter” scheme. One unfortunate trend that has become common in new construction is the use of split-faced block, instead of brick or solid stone masonry. Split-faced block is a cheaper alternative than using the more durable brick or stone, which holds up in our harsh Chicago climate for much longer. As we all know from science class, when water freezes it expands. When water seeps into the more porous material, such as split-faced block, it causes cracks in the foundation and walls, and can lead to flooding. It can also lead to molding in the interior walls, which can go undetected for years (and is a large concern for any buyer, especially those with young children).

So make sure you find out what materials were used to build the home, and if they were sealed correctly with weep holes and wicks that will properly drain moisture. If you notice that a building is split-faced block, ask when the last time tuck pointing and sealing was done, or if there are any special assessments expected in the near future. Imagine your dismay three years after buying your first condo, when you come home to find a foot of water in your basement! Or, you receive a letter from your HOA letting you know a special assessment is being levied and you and your neighbors have to pay an extra $250 a month to reseal your building. Be smart, and keep your wallet thick!

The Pros of Vintage Buildings

Certain historic neighborhoods in Chicago, such as Ravenswood, Old Irving Park, Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast pride themselves on having some of the most architecturally unique and luxurious homes in the city. As a real estate broker, I have the pleasure to tour these amazing homes on a daily basis, and each day I am blown away by the craftsmanship and attention to detail that has been put into these historic homes.

Buying a vintage home is like stepping into a different era. Each home has its own history, its own story. A recent client of ours added a backsplash in his kitchen using tiles from a French monastery (cooking in the Renaissance era!). A current listing of ours has stained glass windows in each of the stairwells leading to the upstairs bedrooms – you walk upstairs with the feel of being in a Gothic Cathedral. Custom moldings, built-in hutches and beautiful wood work give homes a unique character that is much harder to find with new construction.

Whether you are looking for a Cape Cod style home, Victorian, Ranch, all brick or even a church conversion condominium, buying a vintage home opens the door to many more architectural options. Another positive when buying vintage is that you can easily find any problems with the subject property by simply requesting the disclosures. Because older homes are normally more worn and less energy efficient, they will require maintenance to get them into tip-top shape. Due to this, price is more negotiable and you are more likely to receive a price break; which, in turn, you can use for repairs or upgrades. That is not quite the case with a new development. When a developer raises a property, he or she has a certain price point in mind that they need to attain to make their investment economically feasible.

The Cons of Vintage Buildings

A common structural problem I find in older homes is that the foundation has settled and the floors may be slanted. A tip I learned from a colleague is to always carry a marble with you on showings. Place the marble on the floor and you will immediately know whether or not you have a serious structural issue. Buying a home that fits your unique character is quite appealing – just make sure you are protected!

When buying a home, it is extremely important that you and your client take the utmost care in finding the right place they can be proud to call home. In many ways, this will be the most important and emotionally taxing investment of their lives. They will make memories in this space as long as they are there, and their kids will hold on to them and hopefully pass them onto their children. Because of that, it is important that you are well informed on the property your client is considering buying, so keep your ears and eyes open, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Michael began his career in real estate at the young age of 18 years old. Growing up in the Chicagoland area, he has a wealth of knowledge with regards to the Chicago real estate market. Currently working at Mark Allen Realty Group with Matt Liss, he enjoys to the fullest extent working with his clients to make the best deal possible, but also getting the chance to learn about the different buildings in Chicago.

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  • Lisa Klare says:

    Excellent article. Great detail on the many wonderful community areas that comprise Chicago. This is a keeper!

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