What Are the Challenges of Converting a Chicago Two-Flat?

What Are the Challenges of Converting a Chicago Two-Flat? (Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve spent any time in the neighborhoods of Chicago, you’ve seen a two-flat. The two-story buildings, with an apartment unit on each floor, are an iconic piece of the city’s architecture, known for their bay windows, their brick or greystone facades, and their warm, woody interiors.

And for many city residents, living in a converted two-flat is a unique rite of passage and a great opportunity.

But converting a two-flat into a single family home comes with a set of distinct challenges. Don’t set out to restore or convert a two-flat without a sure sense of timing and, most importantly, a firm grasp on the financial reality of the project.

It’s very easy to exceed your budget on a conversion – particularly when you consider that a straightforward conversion (that is, one without any major plumbing, electrical, or architectural hiccups) can cost up to $100-125 per square foot, according to this excellent Chicago Magazine story. For a 3000 square foot two-flat, that might mean shelling out $300,000 on top of what you spend on the initial sale.

And once you get to renovating, two-flats can come with a unique set of problems to be solved. You may need to launch into some serious undertakings, like digging out a basement, relocating a staircase, or reorienting your bathrooms and kitchens (and redoing all of the plumbing that comes with them).

Timing can also be a hurdle, especially for families with young children: Conversions tend to be subject to permitting delays. And at the same time, the environmental aspects of renovation – like asbestos removal or lead abatement – can keep you out of your new home for extended periods.

Of course, there’s a reason that so many investors and developers convert two-flats for themselves and their clients in the first place. Chief among the advantages of the two-flat is the personality and integrity of the home itself. Buying a two-flat makes you a member of a rich Chicago tradition, and the buildings have a look and feel that is distinct to the rich history of our city. Tearing down the two-flat structure to build a new single family home can mean demolishing the quirky, non-conforming touches that add character to your place – and that may create serious value down the road.

There are financial incentives to conversion, as well. The property tax bill on a renovated property, for instance, is lower than on new construction. Under the right circumstances, it can absolutely make financial sense to renovate, rather than build on, an existing two-flat property.

The most important thing to remember is that with the real estate team behind you, any dream home can become a reality. Whether you’re looking for a two-flat to convert, a condo, or a single family home to call your own, Real Group is here to help. Drop us a line to get started on the path to home ownership today!

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