When we first listed 1006 Central Avenue in East Wilmette for a family member in the summer of 2018, we had a few promising showings. Buyers said they loved the location steps from town and the Metra, but the property simply needed “too much work” to bring it up to today’s standards and justify the asking price. This property appraised at $450,000 in 2017 and the sellers were understandably committed to listing at that price. But, appraisers aren’t always local and depending on what comparable sales they use, their estimates can be inaccurate. In this case, it was clear that the appraiser had not considered the fact that the townhouse was in disrepair having been used as a rental property for decades. It had undergone few improvements and had all original finishes. After four months on the market, we had only received one extremely low offer of $290,000 from someone who wanted to flip the property.
In East Wilmette, townhomes in good condition with similar square footage were selling in the $450,000-$550,000 range, depending on finishes, upgrades, exact location and yard size. Given the age of the home, there was a ton of potential to upgrade while retaining much of the character original to the 1950s. So, we entered an agreement with the sellers to renovate their home and put it back on the market the following spring when demand is always stronger.
We had two options for renovations – 1. do mid-range cosmetic updates and make urgent repairs or 2. complete all necessary repairs, revamp the layout to be more functional, and use high-end finishes to justify a higher price point. Although risky and more expensive, we went with option number two knowing that buyers today are willing to finance a little more for a quality home with little work involved. Plus, given the other townhomes in the area that were last updated 5 to 10 years prior, luxury, modern touches would set us apart from the competition. There was also some pride involved – we don’t cut corners in any aspect of our day-to-day business assisting buyers, sellers, and renters, so why wouldn’t we use the highest standards in creating the product that we usually help sell?
The first step was getting permits. The permit process can be tricky, but when you’re doing extensive remodeling, it’s required. We started the permit process in September and it took a few weeks to get the green light from the Village to move forward with construction. We had to pay permit fees and hire an architect to draft up plans. Not only do you need written approval, but a city inspector will visit the property several times and make sure that everything is up to code. If you’re halfway done (or more) and the inspector finds a defect somewhere, even something that was present before construction, you have to start over from scratch.
Fortunately, we had a wonderful team of contractors who are perfectionists. Adrian and Raul had helped us with a previous (smaller) renovation in Wilmette so we know they would ensure every aspect of the home was above and beyond the requirements. Not only is it important to have an all-star construction team, but you have to budget for expenses you won’t anticipate. For instance, the Village requires an interconnected system of smoke detector/carbon monoxide alarms located in every room of the house. The smoke detectors alone cost nearly $1,000, not including labor and installation, and were not optional.
We worked with an architect from the beginning of the process to create a plan that would allow this middle unit townhome to rework the existing square footage, create a new layout more functional for the modern-day buyer, and help maximize natural light. We first closed off the doorway between the kitchen and the entryway to make room for the fridge and more cabinets. We knew early on that the existing wall between the kitchen and dining room was load-bearing and home to an HVAC vent, but we still wanted to open it up to the dining area. Despite what you see on HGTV, it is possible to remove a load-bearing wall, but it requires a new support beam and in our case, relocating the existing vent, which is an extremely expensive process.
We actually weren’t able to open up the wall quite as much as we had originally planned since we needed to bookend the opening with vertical beams to support the new horizontal beam, but the extra few feet on each wall wound up creating a nice nook in the kitchen for things like a trash can or dog bowls.
Meanwhile, all three bedrooms and one shared full bath were located on the second floor. The upstairs had a large landing to the left of the staircase which led to the single shared bath. When we decided to add another full bathroom for the new owner’s family or guests, the most cost-effective and simple option was to use the landing space next to the existing bathroom. But, we didn’t like the idea of both bathrooms sharing a wall so we opted to do the far more expensive option of adding a new full bathroom on a wall with no existing plumbing by utilizing extra space in the larger guest bedroom.
At this point, you’re probably assuming that we just like to bleed money, but there was a method to our madness. We sealed off the landing space to the left of the staircase to create a walk-in closet and then expanded the original bathroom so it could act as a true master bedroom ensuite accessible from the master bedroom only. For the master ensuite, we had to refit the plumbing and move fixtures around to allow for double sinks and a showpiece shower.
Construction didn’t start until October 2018. In addition to the high cost of demolishing the interior, there’s also the cost of hauling away the old materials. In a townhome with a shared driveway, setting up a dumpster without disturbing the other residents can be tricky. We had a few setbacks with the dumpster company we hired who sent the wrong sized dumpster twice, causing our timeline to get delayed by weeks. At one point we had to hire a pickup truck to come and haul away the excess to the local dump after the dumpster was removed. Again, these expenses add up quickly, and it’s almost impossible to estimate how much dumpster space you’ll need before the work actually begins.
After demo came the repairs. For starters, the garage door in the detached garage was frequently having issues. We replaced the garage door, and also replaced the garage door for the neighboring unit that belonged to one of the sellers. The garage roof was also repaired.
The previous occupant mentioned a flooding issue in the basement, which is extremely common in the Chicago suburbs. We had the entire basement waterproofed to mitigate the issue. Much of the electrical system needed to be updated as well, including the circuit breaker. Because we were already doing work on the electrical, we decided to install recessed LED lighting on both the main floor and in the basement.
The balcony off the master bedroom was in serious disrepair. We had to remove the flooring, repair and replace the support beams, install new decking, and repaint the rails to make it usable for the next owner. The underside of the balcony that acted as a roof over the front door had to be replaced twice, unfortunately, because of initial drainage issues.
Now the fun part – the finishes! The hardwood floors were in surprisingly good shape, so we had them stained a beautiful jacobean finish for a transitional appeal. The kitchen, now open to the dining and living rooms, needed hardwood flooring installed because the previous flooring was vinyl (plastic tiles from the ’50s, not luxury vinyl plank) and we wanted the rooms to flow organically. We left the original slate flooring in the mudroom and had it re-sealed to give it a fresh finish. In the basement, we went with luxury vinyl planks that look like wood, which are both waterproof and scratch-resistant.
We replaced most of the doors throughout the unit with the exception of the vented closet doors. Most vented doors today are honestly much flimsier, and although these had been painted over a few times with some drip marks, we thought the texture and original hardware helped give the home a more unique, warm atmosphere. For added contrast, we painted the interiors of the exterior doors (front and back) with Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron. We even kept the original light fixture in the entryway and brought it to life with a coat of matte black spray paint!
The kitchen was outfitted with gorgeous white shaker cabinets, Calcutta quartz countertops, and a matching slab backsplash. We even added under cabinet lighting for functionality and style. The cabinet hardware, a modern take on the classic country cup pull, featured a polished nickel finish that felt both classic and modern at the same time. The existing double wall oven was removed to make room for more cabinet space, and we replaced it with a stainless steel slide in gas range/oven (no back panel) with hood. And, we had the french door counter depth refrigerator built-in to the cabinets for a finished look. We also installed a hidden built-in microwave in the peninsula and a pull-out spice rack to the left of the deep, single basin stainless sink underneath the window overlooking the back patio. The simple metal black hanging lights over the new counter provided some color dimension without obstructing the beautiful new open concept view from the dining area.
In the powder room downstairs, we went with a classic penny tile floor, brand new toilet, and white single bowl vanity with marble top. The full guest bathroom upstairs was outfitted with a tub/shower combo, dark gray vanity with marble top, hexagon white porcelain floor tiles, Carrara porcelain wall tiles, and chrome hardware. Knowing the area, we were confident that these finishes – an updated take on traditional interiors – would attract buyers.
The master bathroom is probably one of our favorite rooms we’ve ever done – all genuine Carrara 12×24 floor and shower wall tiles (honed for the floor) and a Carrara marble basketweave shower floor. Plus, polished nickel finishes for the sconce lighting and hardware, and bright white double vanity with marble top and tons of storage.
Painting was the easy part! The powder room walls were painted Chelsea gray to give some dimension. For a slightly warmer shade of gray, we opted for Benjamin Classic Gray in the entryway and upstairs bathrooms. The rest of the place (living room, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms) was painted with Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist while the trim and basement walls were painted Benjamin Moore Simply White.
Before the project was even finished, we wound up moving into the home for three months. The goal was to stage the home with our own furnishings to help sell faster. Plus, we always had plans to renovate our condo downtown (coming on the market soon!), so being able to stay somewhere else for a few months while that work was being completed made our lives a lot easier.
Although this project had a ton of ups and downs, we’re incredibly proud of how everything turned out and the many sleepless nights we spent pulling every detail together seamlessly. The home wound up selling for $534,000 – $244,000 above the only offer before renovations – and the sellers walked away extremely happy.