real estate

Downsizing “from” Oak Park & River Forest “to” Oak Park & River Forest!


There are many reasons you may be thinking of down-sizing from one home to another. And to do so you don’t need to leave the beautiful area of Oak Park/River Forest! Now… some may say, “You don’t get it, Steve, it is time for us to get out of here!” OK… well for you snowbirds, that may be a different story. But, I meet many people over the course of the year that want to talk to me about down-sizing from their current large home, townhouse or condo to move into something smaller, less expensive and maybe even more maintenance free… right here in the village.

Here, I am going to share with you some of the questions or issues that arise in these conversations. This is just an outline of factors. There is a whole discussion that goes beyond what you read here. But if my article can help spark the dialogue … then here you go.

  1. “I want to downsize but still need a good amount of space. Can I get that here in OPRF?” – You may be getting ready to move out of your 3200 sq. ft. center entrance colonial in the NW corner of Oak Park and want smaller but not too small. Sure you can get the space. Our area has a good number of condo buildings with larger units in them. However, instead of a 2 bedroom condo, look for condos that offer 3 bedrooms! That 3rd bedroom doubles as a spare room for guests and as an office or a TV room. If stairs are not an issue at this point, we have many townhouse complexes with the space you need. A number of the townhouse complexes are 3-4 stories tall and that bonus space is all the way at the top – the penthouse, if you will. Spacious Oak Park condos or townhouses come in all price ranges from the upper $200k to the luxurious mid-$600k range.

  2. “Can I find attached units (condos, townhouses, etc.) with outdoor space?”- You certainly can! But how much space are you expecting? Full yard? Not likely, but you were probably looking for less maintenance anyway. A place for a small 4x5 ft garden patch is possible and delightfully manageable. For instance, take a look when driving around town. See these newer townhouse complexes built in the last 10-15 years? Most of the units have a little pad or patch of space right at the front door entrance.  

    Take 101 N. Euclid – “the Euclid Terraces” - as an example. Many of these residents have actually finished their small front patches of land into nice patios large enough to enjoy morning coffee for two to four people around a small table. For the townhomes that are in a row… does the end unit have a semblance of a yard? Many of these yards may look to be common space but they could actually belong to a specific unit. Often, the end unit has the right of use or may even own the land. Case in point, the 413 Wisconsin unit D currently on the market has a typical front deck area. Additionally, it has a 1st level concrete pad off the garage entry just for a grill. The pad even has an awning over it to protect you from the elements!

  3. “I need a building with an elevator and I really don’t feel like there are many options here in OPRF. Is this true?” - Well, we have basically three types of condo building in the area. 1) Vintage - I can count on one hand the number of vintage buildings that have elevators in them. The 333 S. Oak Park Ave and that portion of the Decker Building that is on Pleasant are the only two that immediately come to mind. 2) 50’s or 60’s or 70’s era buildings. They may not be the prettiest buildings in town but they have elevators… many have laundry facilities on the same floor as the unit (i.e. 221 N. Kenilworth) and many have parking spaces most of them “covered” but not a garage. And finally, 3) newer construction… these most definitely have elevators, and there are plenty of new construction condos being developed in Oak Park, especially within walking distance of downtown restaurants, shops, and transportation.

  4. “I’m not staying here! Taxes and assessments are too high!” I understand the frustration, but take some time to research and compare. Many empty nesters start their downsizing journey looking towards the city. You may find a beautiful 1 bedroom condo in the “Loop” in the $400k range with a view of the lake and so much more!! (i.e. 360 E. Randolph) The taxes may look extremely attractive too. ONLY $4900 a year! But what are the assessments? Ah…. now we see. Assessments are over $750 a month! Compare that to a similar 2 bedroom condo in newer construction or a renovated building here in OPRF. The overall “cost savings” end up being negligible and you are likely to gain so much more in space and convenience in Oak Park.

This next step in your life is dictated largely by how you plan to spend your leisure time. Think about the uses you anticipate for the spaces in your future home. Think about the things you can live with and the things you can’t live without. I guarantee you, there is a place for you to call home again in Oak Park & River Forest.

Two Steves // One Community

Having been a realtor for the last two decades, I have seen my share of bizarre situations, odd coincidences, and shocking discoveries. Nothing tends to surprise me anymore. Also, for the last two decades, I have spent my days, nights, and weekends in and around Oak Park and River Forest. You have welcomed me into your homes, and have seen me at local events and immersed in the community that I both work and live in.

So you can imagine my confusion as the discovery of the following unfolds...

Lo and behold, there are two of us with a mere letter distinguishing us from having the same moniker and working the same "local beat" in Oak Park. 

Hold onto your hats, friends....I am not the talented Steve Schering, Pioneer Press & Chicago Tribune reporter… I am Steve Scheuring, Realtor and Local OPRF Expert.

Don't get me wrong! I want to thank all of you who feel I am the ever so dedicated reporter and eloquent writer, Steve Schering.  But alas… I am not. 

I like to think (hope) I am good at a few things… father, husband, brother, son and the agent helping you move in, out, and around the local area.  But writing?... I am okay, but as this blog can attest, not as good as Steve Schering!!! There isn’t a spell check program powerful enough. 

 Steve Schering, the reporter, has been covering local stories for a number of years. But recently a large amount of my very own friends, clients and even family... (yes… my own family!)… have thought that all of those articles were by me. If any of them knew me well enough, they would be able to distinguish me from my writing twin based on sheer punctuation alone!!! (!!!!!!!)

 And to confuse things even more… Steve Schering himself is a photographer and I am as well!  Still, my photography centers on specialized real estate photography. I am also one of many volunteer photographers for the OPRF Marching Huskies and the occasional pro-bono photographer for other local school groups. 

Recently, Steve and I met face-to-face at an OPRF high school football game. He's a fantastic individual. I had to resist the urge to ask for a selfie. I want to thank Steve Schering, the reporter, for allowing me to put this post out there.  May we continue to co-exist as separate individuals in this wonderful community. Thanks, Steve!

-From Steve.

Selling Your Home? Success is All in The Details.

You want to sell your home. You or your agent comes in… takes some pictures… makes note of the home’s features… and then throws it on the multiple listing service. Heck! those photos may even be by a professional photographer showing your beautiful rooms and lush green and flowering exterior. But is that enough to separate you from all the other homes that got tossed on the multiple listing service that day?

You’ve visited sites like Zillow or Realtor.com… You know how fast you rip through those house photos. What is going to separate you from every other Victorian or Bungalow or Colonial on the market and on those sites?! You (really it is your agent’s job) need to find something in your home that stands out.

 It is my belief that every single home has something special to photographically showcase. Take a look at this door knob photo. The one with all the very intricate details. This was the inside original knob for the homes main front door. It was tiny! Maybe an inch and a half diameter at most.

When I put this house on the market, the clicks I tracked to this knob photo were unbelievable. Higher than any other!

Everything starts with the multiple listing service (MLS). After some unspecified number of hours, that data and all the photos that go with your home will get catapulted out to all the other real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Homes.com and more… (If your agent pays for that extra special marketing.)

I preach over and over… “Everything needs to be perfect and completely ready for the moment the listing enters the multiple listing service. The MLS is the catalyst that starts the show… creates the hype… showcases your home's personality… and ultimately brings the buyer or maybe… buyers.

 I like to use door knobs and simple hardware when I list a property. Knobs are easy to shoot as they are at an easy tripod level. And I am not sure why but even in the most simple plain homes I have found beautiful intricate door knobs. I think that if a home has been altered over the years the door hardware is something that hardly ever gets replaced.

This wooden door knob found on the 2nd floor of an Oak Park grand Victorian. Builders often spent the money on precious metals like bronze and brass for the 1st floor where the guests would enter.

Look at the door knob plate behind the wood knob. This is some form of “pot metal” which was just a mixture of whatever metals the metal-smith or caster had available.

It isn’t just door knobs that can be showcased. Get up close and personal with other details in the house. Below is a tile surround on a Victorian fireplace. I rarely see these but when I do they are front and center in the home’s marketing. The photo shot needs to be up close and dramatic. Remember, try to be different and catch the eye of the buyer on the internet. “Click” optimization!!

This particular tile was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. out of Zanesville, Ohio. (c.1891) (see TileHeritage.org)

This art-glass window in a South Oak Park home on Kenilworth shows great. Art-glass windows can be difficult to shoot for even the most experienced enthusiast photographers. The bright outdoor sunlight behind the glass and a dark interior will require some post processing.

Some homes are so full of details to shoot you don’t even know where to begin. This was the case for one of my favorite sales… 239 S. Grove, Oak Park. This Farmhouse Victorian was certainly not original on the outside with it’s years of stucco over the original clapboard, but the inside had so much amazing woodwork and added detail.

Even little stuff like this bronze sun face on the stair’s newel post.

Remember, there is more to showcasing a home in this digital age than just a bunch of room photos. Get creative! There are details in your home you take for granted everyday. Details that some buyer is going to absolutely love. Stop. Look.

Try to view these details as a more macro photograph on a website that is showcasing your home. Now experiment with the photography and post processing. Go get the attention of those buyers!

Show Us How to Marry the Old with the New!

In Oak Park & River Forest… we have old homes. And I am always sooooo fascinated by how a homeowner and/or their designer can blend the modern luxury features we crave today with the 100+ year old house they own.

Sometimes… I see it go oh so seriously wrong. The hot-tub in the basement? You know… in the basement that holds your heat boiler and pipes? That basement that is unfinished and never meant to be finished and then in the middle is… this hot-tub!! Oh no.

I had the privilege of selling this home. The owner just … everything they did to this house… they did RIGHT! Sure it is my job to boast about my client’s homes and tell the buying community “how awesome is this home?” But I just had to show you photos of this home so you can see for yourself.

The home is a NW Oak Park classic meaning there are a number of these lighter brick center-entrance Colonials in this particular area of the Mann School district. Take a look at these photos of the more traditional rooms. The sunken living room is so bright and beautiful. Transition through the classic grand entryway and into the formal dining room with perfect custom lighting touches.

Look at the sun pouring through these windows! How can you not be happy with all that vitamin D!!

So unique - these arched bi-fold French doors that separate the dining room from the formal entry foyer! Original… unpainted… amazing.

But look what you find when you enter the kitchen. It is new as of 2011. Is it modern? Absolutely not! Is it beautiful and does it fit this home? The white marble. The custom cabinetry painted and NOT just one color! The subway back-splash. Price the home well and it is a kitchen like this that can be the reason a home sells.

My client built this kitchen to cook and bake with her child. What better reason is there to build a kitchen like this?

My wife Julie and I re-did our kitchen almost ten years ago and there is no better end to the day than coming home knowing the two of us have a perfect space to prepare a family meal. No better snowy Saturday than seeing your daughter baking on her own. No better anytime than seeing Julie and the kids making something in the kitchen… from scratch.

Do you need a $70,000 kitchen to have these everlasting memories? Certainly not. But if you are renovating a kitchen and you plan that kitchen with this vision in mind… no matter the budget… I really do not think you can go wrong.

If you know me or this blog you know I am all about the details. So this homeowner has created a masterpiece of a home. It is classic vintage with all the upgrades you could want. Beautiful new kitchen, zoned central HVAC, water prevention systems and the master bath even has a steam shower! But what did they leave? What details did they look at when they were renovating and say… “How can we save that?… How can we incorporate that into our new vision ’cause that needs to stay!!?” This gorgeous colonial again impresses.

The crystal door hardware with brass back plates remains as originally built throughout the home.

Bathrooms… I think renovating a bathroom in a classic home is one of the hardest tasks when it comes to preserving the details set in the home when it was originally built. The trends pressure us to go ultra modern, high tech, bright and new! But an ultra-mod or new looking bath can really throw the balance of a beautifully vintage home. So what can be done? Do you have an old vintage bath? What can you save in this bath that can keep the character of the home yet still offer you a fantastic new place for everyday use, comfort and luxury?

Take a look at what the owners did with one of the 2nd floor full baths. They replaced the plumbing fixtures, re-tiled the floor and kept this beautiful wall tile with unique gold accented accent tiles. Is it the most amazing update bath job in the world? Did it cost a fortune? No, but is it fun? Is it cheerful? Yes!! I loved this bath and this tile so much I had to get a detailed shot.

For many who love vintage homes the love stops at the front door and they cannot wait to rip out the entire inside. This beautifully restored colonial is about keeping the vintage and adding the new where you can. Bravo!

A Charming Victorian is Reborn

Living in an architecturally historic community, one will see renovation taking place everywhere. And what does the historic governing board of a historic village love to see?… Returning to original.

This beautiful CV (Charming Victorian) in Oak Park was originally, lovingly cared for by my friend and client, Susan and her husband before they sold it. This renovation occurred after their move by the new homeowners. The exterior was stucco and you could tell that the stucco was most likely NOT the original siding.

In Susan's time as the homeowner, the interior was full of some of the most beautiful woodwork I have ever seen. There was no central air… no fancy kitchen… no new baths (it only had one!!!)… but the character inside this rather small Oak Park home was like no other I had seen in the past 15 years of residential real estate.

Look at the house (above) after the stucco has been stripped off. The original clapboard (most likely cedar) appears to be in fantastic condition. Before tearing off an added covering on an old house like stucco or asphalt shingles, a contractor would tell you to to estimate needing to replace about 700-1000 linear ft. of the original cedar (for a house of this size).

Take a close look at the far right side of the home’s front porch. See that black wall? That is not original to the house. The very small addition was to provide for a large cedar coat closet on the inside of the house. Crazy, huh?

This “addition” was done not long after the original build date of the home. It is actually built over what was originally that section of the front wrap-around porch.

In 2013, the home was purchased by a young couple and Susan moved closer to work in the city. And then, as I often drive by this area of Oak Park because my kids are in the middle-school near by… I started noticing something. The CV was being transformed from a Charming Victorian to a Victorian Farmhouse reborn.

The new owners painstakingly worked the home from one stage of restoration to another. And look what they did!!! Beautiful.