Someone moving in to a condo unit is typically not big news. But when the condo unit in question is in the Forest Creek development in Brookfield, and when eight of those units are sold and occupied within the span of a week, it’s nothing short of miraculous.
It was a frigid morning in early January when Art Gurevich and Mark Boldun stood on the sidewalk on Forest Avenue and surveyed their new purchase. Abandoned in foreclosure, the 18-unit condo development known as Forest Creek was a bit of a wreck.
Water had damaged several of the unfinished units. Animals had found their way into others. At one point, one unit was completely unsecured. For a short time, someone set up housekeeping in a unit overlooking Salt Creek, furnishing it with a bed, a chair, some shelving. Beer cans were strewn on the floor.
On that day in January, Boldun said, “we can realistically finish the project in a year.”
At the time, the statement seemed optimistic.
The condominium development ran into trouble from the start. Pitched to the village in 2006, the condos ran into opposition from neighbors who felt it was too dense for the neighborhood and would crowd Forest Avenue with vehicles.
The village board approved the development anyway, but that didn’t make things any smoother. Construction didn’t start until 2007 and then stopped for two months when officials learned the builders hadn’t gotten all necessary permits. Just the exterior shell and one model unit was completed in 2008 when the bottom fell out of the real estate market and the development went into foreclosure after the owners defaulted on a $5.35 million construction loan.
Last week, just six months after Boldun made his prediction, Forest Creek has residents. And more are on the way.
Twelve of the development’s 18 units were either sold or under contract as of June 30. The first resident moved in June 28, and the second a couple of days later. Over the weekend, six more were slated to move in.
“As much as we didn’t want the condos here, I’d much rather have people living there than have an abandoned building,” said Cathy Curelo, who lives across the street from the development and had a ringside seat for the debacle. She never believed back in January that the development would be inhabited this quickly.
“Absolutely not,” Curelo said. “With the economy the way it is, I didn’t know how long we’d be stuck with a half-built, empty building.
“We were hoping they wouldn’t have to tear the whole thing down and build new.”
Don Lehman, who lives next door to the development, remembers finding one of the units unlocked and seeing evidence of someone squatting there.
“That’s what we were afraid of, someone catching the place on fire,” said Lehman, who called police to report what he found. “The door was open and we walked right in.”
Gurevich and Boldun, who had previous experience in Chicago buying distressed condo developments and turning them around quickly, got to work immediately.
“They came in and did an incredible job,” said Keith Sbiral, Brookfield’s assistant village manager and director of the village’s building and planning department. “We’ve had zero issues from a building department standpoint. They really turned something that was unfinished and not looking very good and made it more like part of the neighborhood and not an abandoned project.”
After buying the property for $1,275,000, Boldun and Gurevich took out a $1.5 million construction loan. Gurevich said they had to reframe nearly all of the units to get them ready for sale. Last week, workers were still finishing the framing in some of the units.
The units have sold briskly in part because the new owners lowered the prices of the units. Originally pitched to buyers at upwards of $375,000, the units list at about $249,000, more than a 30-percent reduction.
Karen Skiba, a former Riverside resident, moved into a two-bedroom unit overlooking Salt Creek, had already settled on buying a new townhome in Westchester, when she decided she wanted to be closer to the village where she lived for 23 years.
“I knew I had to move, because of the taxes and because the house was too big,” said Skiba, a local real estate broker. She had read about the Forest Creek development being sold and contacted the agent, whom she knew.
“I was the first one to look at these,” said Skiba. “I walked into this one, overlooking the creek and put in an offer right away.”
As Skiba was sorting through a condo packed with just-moved-in belongings, Lehman and his wife, Tonie, were out on the sidewalk, meeting the mother of another soon-to-be-neighbor, a doctor at Loyola University Medical Center.
He, too, never believed this day would come this soon.
“When it was empty I thought maybe with everything that’s happened, it just wouldn’t go,” Lehman said. “I’m happy everything is going fine. Probably parking will be a lot worse, but they widened the street, so I think that’ll work.”