Saturday, August 8, 2009


Through Square Root we were able to find a real estate broker that believes in this project as much as we do. Abraham McClurg, and co-owner Annie Coleman, run LivingRoom Realty,, a Chicago-based real estate brokerage which, as their website claims, "is founded upon the tenets of sustainability, creativity, and community." Abraham is a Certified EcoBroker.

EcoBroker is a provider of green designation training for real estate professionals. As their website states, EcoBroker "has built a solid foundation of environmental education and outreach helping consumers and communities take advantage of energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive design in real estate properties." Certified EcoBrokers assist clients in their pursuit of properties that provide affordability, comfort and a healthier environment, all the while reducing carbon footprints.

So Michael and I signed on with Abraham and Annie to help us find a site upon which we could build our dream home. Square Root's initial design was based on a 30' wide lot. While not impossible to find, essentially the standard city of Chicago residential lot is 25' x 125'. I think Square Root realized this might be challenging to have a prototype that only would fit this larger lot size, they decided to focus on the standard city lot size, and are currently designing that model.

So, in our land search our parameters were as follows: 1) no lot under 25' wide, 2) picking a community that would embrace modern design, and, 3) finding a site we could afford.

Anybody from Chicago knows the most likely place a home like this would fit in is the neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Bucktown, but as interesting as those neighborhoods are, they have pretty much priced us out. Our focus was then on Ukranian Village, East Village, Logan Square and the Smith Park area of Humboldt Park.

Abraham would send us listings that were both "improved" and vacant. Any site that was improved with a building, we usually limited to those in uninhabitable conditions, or those that would need substantial work to be habitable. Vacant land was more attractive to us so that we wouldn't have to assume the costs of demolition which was estimated to be around $20,000. Also, I had some ethical issues about tearing down an existing building that potentially could be rehabbed for further use. Abraham sent us listings in all of the above-mentioned neighborhoods, and occasionally would find sites, especially in Logan Square, that were amazingly affordable (within the $40k to $70k range). Michael and I eventually put together a list of sites we were interested and went on a tour.

As far as priorities go, we weren't going to be satisfied just having the perfect house, we wanted to have a community that we believed in as well. Other issues in our search were the amount of new investment in the neighborhood, proximity to public transportation, and also proximity to neighborhood amenities such as restaurants, shopping and cafes. Everytime to buy a new residence you have to be concerned about resale value, even if you plan on staying there for the rest of your life, as everyone knows, anything can change. While most of the really affordable sites were in Logan Square, after spending some time looking at the neighborhood, we didn't feel that this was where we wanted to plant our roots. We were most interested in Ukranian Village and East Village.

Actually, there is one gem of a street in Ukranian Village that we thought would be perfect. Race Street, which is south of Chicago Avenue and just north of Grand Avenue, seems to have been embraced by developers who have seemed to provide a lot of new investment in the street, and usually modern design. There were several available sites, some even vacant, in this area. Unfortunately, most of these sites were 24' wide, and usually no more than 90' deep. Again, part of our mission was to find a site no less than 25' wide, and with the modules of the U-C3 sized as they were (which I will get into more later), we wouldn't have enough room on a 24' lot including sideyard setbacks. Also, we really want a garage, and, ultimately a backyard. 90' just wasn't deep enough. This was definitely disappointing.

We ran into the problem of small site size with several properties, and Abraham, bless his heart, put up with me sending him emails of sites I had seen on line and asking for site sizes at all times of the night. To say I was obsessed is an understatement.

As our search continued, the price of land that we were interested in seemed to go up. This is our fault in that we really wanted to be in Ukranian Village or East Village. Fortunately we had the funds to consider those properties, but the dream of spending $50,000 on land was soon swept away.

We finally happened on a site in East Village that seemed to meet our criteria and our price point. The price was a little higher than we wanted to pay, but we thought that in this market we could get a good deal. It was a vacant site (the building had recently been torn down) although the foundations were still there. We literally took out our measuring tape and confirmed that it was, indeed, 25' wide. It is on a street that looks as though there is lots of new investment. It is close to several wonderful restaurants and cafes. As for public transportation, it wasn't as close as we would like, but not too bad. We fell in love.

Now that we found a site we liked, we had to make an offer. I'll discuss this process next time.

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