Sunday, March 04, 2007

I could afford to live in a house like this? Well, sort of.

I almost didn't want to look at houses in Oak Park. First we thought it was too far from Wisconsin, situated as it is almost directly west of downtown and bordering the city. Then I did a Mapquest and found out that the drive from Oak Park to WI is only 10 minutes longer than it is from our current house. Then all the listings our agent sent us were at the upper end of our price range, and the higher taxes in Oak Park meant we'd be paying more in all than we really thought we could afford.

Then we went to Oak Park. And fell in love. And now I'm furiously crunching numbers and wondering how much money this stay-at-home mom could contribute to my family's income to make it realistic to get into one of these houses.

First of all, every house we saw in Oak Park was way nicer than any house we saw in Evanston, even the two that we really liked. Here's how they compare:

Our favorite Evanston house has no garage. Every OP house has a garage.
Our favorite E. house shows its age with some precarious tilting of floors and doorways. OP houses = no tilts, seem to be holding up well.

Both E. houses we liked were on busy streets in junky-looking neighborhoods.

This is where Oak Park really shines. While the best houses we could afford are in the less desirable part of OP, south of the freeway, you would never know this from the streets they are on. Every street we visited was quiet and low-traffic, with huge old trees lining it and these very cute street lights.

Everyone says OP schools are fantastic. They have SPANISH in the curriculum starting in kindergarten. They also keep the gifted kids in the regular classes and use differentiated learning, but I guess that is just the trend these days. The community seems more crunchy granola than others in the Chicago area.

But here is the clincher. Look at that house posted at the top. Yes, in the less desirable area which we have to walk on our own before we decide if we would be happy there. But look at that house.

Here are some interior shots:

There was another house that in some ways I liked even more -- it had some really beautiful vintage built-ins and woodwork, but it was clear that it needed more work than we could afford at the price, and it was closer to the sketchy Chicago neighborhood that borders Oak Park. This house is on a dead end street. Our agent tells us that Oak Park created a lot of dead end streets, etc., to discourage cruising from Chicago to OP.

How much of a drawback the location of this one is won't be clear until we explore OP a little more. The biggest problem I see now is that a lot of the things we'd walk to, like the nearby "arts district," the Metra, the library and the local pool are all either across the freeway (there are bridges over it) or right next to it. That worries me because of this article, which says that kids who live within 500 yards of a freeway have compromised lung growth that will affect them their entire lives. The house is just outside the 500-yard danger zone, but if we were spending our summers walking across the freeway or at the pool next to it, we're practically living on it, aren't we? Then again, it seems there are more cool playgrounds on our side of the freeway, so maybe if we lived on the "good" side, we'd still end up crossing the freeway more to get to them.

The other big drawback to the gorgeous house -- and it is a biggee -- is no bath, not even a half bath, on the ground floor. There's one in the basement and one upstairs. I can't remember if there was any spot on the ground floor that looked promising for installing one, but at the price, with the high taxes, it would be years before we could afford to put one in anyway. Definitely post potty-training years, which my grandma points out would be hell with no ground-floor bath.

Our agent has sent us a few houses that are more realistically in our price range, but of course none are as gorgeous. And there's one we've already seen that is also very cute and would probably be a more sensible buy. I can't post any pics of that one because its online listing expired.

Sure, we have misgivings about striking out to a town besides Evanston: most of our friends live on the north side of Chicago and a couple actually live in Evanston. OP is not a college town. We'd be living far from the gifted center at Northwestern where I'd hoped Nutmeg would attend programs like smart kids summer camp. We wouldn't be able to walk to the lake like we would in Evanston. And it would be a real financial stretch to get into this or one of the other houses we've seen there.

We shall see. Much weighs on our on foot exploring in OP, which I'm not sure when we'll be able to do since Epu's going out of town Tuesday and not coming back till Sunday afternoon. But in a felicitous development, our best friends in Chicago just told me today that THEY want to move to OP too.


ioio said...

I have two friends with families that live in Oak Park and all of their kids are literally brilliant and super cool.

One family has a set of boy twins in 3rd grade, and a daughter in 5th grade. Both parents work at Columbia College downtown and do theater in Chicago.

The other family has a 13 year-old and an 8 year old. My friend, their mother, owns a shop called Fly Bird in OP.

My only gripe with OP is that the town is filled churchs. I also think it may be a dry--no alcohol? (Or perhaps that is the town next to it.) Both E and OP offer advantages. You've got a really tough decision. The house you posted looks super.

Unknown said...

when we were looking for housing, evanston and oal park were first and foremost on our list too. especially because we also have close friends that live in both 'burbs.

that said, i really wish you would reconsider looking at beverly like we did. a few of my neighbors are wisconsin transplants and they travel there often.

beverly has

a) good schools (sutherland, morgan park academy, keller magnet school, close to lenart elementary - two schools in chicago's top ten),

b) an abundant, inexpensive, and architecturally beautiful/diverse housing stock. we have FLW homes here too!

c) beautiful tree lined streets and close to great parks and pools (hurley, ridge, graver, prospect, kennedy, maeve mcnicholas playlot and evergreen aqua park).

d) the commute to downtown is quick and easy with metra or the 95th red line stop.

e) i can walk for most anything i need (organic groceries, restaurants, cafes, bookstores, kids music/yoga/art classes, adult art classes, etc....)

ok. ok. getting off soapbox now... i think i'm just a little jealous that you'll be moving somewhere we couldn't. :)

Notta Wallflower said...

Well, at least you guys can afford an actual house in Chicago, as opposed to here in the Bay area. H and I will be saving up for a long while. :-/

Anonymous said...

Oak Park is a good area, most of it, once you get farther from Tinley Park and Orland Park. I grew up in Tinley, and it has sure gone downhill. I don't think I've ever been on the side of Op that you're talking about, but good luck!