Flip This Condo!

We've lived in the Chicago suburbs for almost 5 years now. 

We kept our Bucktown condo, and have been renting it out. 

But now, our original tenants are moving on, and we've decided to move on, too. Our condo is going on the market in 60 days. 

BUT FIRST.... we need to get this place looking its best. 
Up until 2012, we lived in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood - one of the best neighborhoods in the city - and by extension, the country/world.

Bucktown/Wicker Park is, somewhat unfairly, known as a "hipster mecca". 

That said... we live 1 door down from BFF Bikes (the Midwest's only women-specific bike shop!), and 2 doors down from a Starbucks, which is across the street from The Map Room, a famous craft beer bar. 

Feminist bike stores and bars serving exclusively obscure beers? A Starbucks with handlebar mustaches everywhere you turn? OK, it's kind of a hipster neighborhood. 

The Condo

Our condo is a "duplex down", in a 2-unit, 4-story building. 

That means that OUR unit is the first and second floors, with the first floor about 3 feet "under grade" (below street level). 

The 2nd floor is the "main floor" - with the kitchen and master bedroom. 

The front of the house is a wall of windows, with a balcony/railing that looks down to the lower level. 

The lower level is the family room, with a hallway leading to two bedrooms in back.   

The family room has access to a front patio, which is also 2-3 feet below grade. 

All told, it's been a pretty great place - it was a nice home for us as a young family, with good schools. 

It was a great place for our young-professional tenants, close to The 606 and all of the culture in Bucktown. 

That said, it's a 15 year old condo, and it's starting to show its age in some ways. 

The Projects

I have a tendency to get excited about renovation projects. We have to be careful not to overspend... its' not like this is a gut rehab project. 

But we are going to have to invest quite a bit - Bucktown is a competitive real estate market, and buyers expect a certain level of finishes. 

Our condo was built in 2002, so it's going to need updating in some places. It's a 15 year old condo, and buyers' preferences have changed.  

It's been a rental unit for 5 years, so it's also going to need a certain amount of upkeep. Condo buyers want a place that is move-in ready, and feels fresh. 

At the same time - some of these projects bring the potential for a win-win.... Updating our primary home with brand-new tech and finishes, and hand-me-downing our current stuff to the condo!

So, let's get started.

Appliances and Technology

This is one place where we won't have a TON of work to do. 

Our realtor recommended that the existing stainless appliances should stay (despite MY preference to buy fancy appliances for our suburban house, and hand-down our 2008-era appliances to the city.)

One place we WILL be able to utilize the hand-me-down principle - the thermostat. 

I'd like to send our 2nd Generation Nest thermostat to the city, and add an Ecobee 4 to our primary home.     
Ecobee 4 - Now With Amazon Alexa!

The Nest will be a massive upgrade over the current Honeywell standard programmable thermostat in the condo, and will add a bit of flair. 

The Ecobee4, on the other hand, will bring the AAAD household into the HomeKit era. 

(It will also be compatible with Alexa, should we end up going that way someday.... and that day may be coming soon. If Amazon gains Alexa control of Ecobee AND Sonos, while Apple sits on the sidelines... we'll have to check it out.)

The Ecobee also brings the potential for sensors in multiple rooms... this is a major advance. Our primary home has a single-zone HVAC, and it can get hot or cold upstairs, depending on the season. 

Ecobee 4 will be released on May 3rd, and I'll probably pick it up that day. 

We MAY want to re-mount our old 55" Sony Bravia, back where it was originally located. 

Our living room was somewhat difficult to stage, and it took a TON of trial-and-error to find the best configuration.

(This would have the happy side benefit of leaving our basement TV-less, so we can upgrade to a really big 75" screen.)

While we won't be making substantial changes to the kitchen, I'd like to make a couple of updates:

First off, a new kitchen faucet. It's a relatively easy and inexpensive update, and it will bring a more modern look.

Secondly, I'd like to update the fluorescent undercabinet light fixture, even if it's only to move to a similarly sized LED fixture.

Ideally, we can fundamentally change the undercabinet lights - LED pucks would be ideal. But this is a low-impact project, and may be more trouble than it's worth.

Flooring - Hardwoods

The entire main floor is hardwood, and it will have to be refinished - 15 years of wear will give you that. That's the "upkeep" portion of the project.

Fortunately, this will also give us the opportunity to make some "updates". We're going to change the stain color, to match modern sensibilities.  

These floors are currently a "natural" light wood color - we're going to darken them quite a bit. 

That will bring the condo into the 2010s, but changing the floor color brings some new issues: 

The kitchen will be quite a bit darker, and the stain color of the cabinets will no longer be a good match for the floors. 



Our kitchen has standard 2002-era black granite and stained maple cabinets. Physically, they're great. Aesthetically... they aren't white, and that's what people want today. 

We COULD try to DIY painting our cabinets. I'm not that much of a masochist. 

We've engaged a cabinet painting contractor, and we'll be getting this done in short order. 


And speaking of paint - the entire unit needs a fresh coat. 

We've been through multiple shades of beige over the years.... but that's not in style anymore. We'll be painting the place gray. Or "greige". 

Again - I'm not going to do this myself.... we've painted this condo too many times for one lifetime. 

(And besides, it gets really tricky to reach some corners over the edge of the balcony.)

We'll leave this to the pros, after we pick the color. 


We replaced the carpet in 2009 - moving from berber loop to a then-trendy twist/frieze. 

That style was always going to show wear, and after 5 years as a rental, the carpet simply has to go. 

Again, this is the kind of upkeep that also counts as an update -- changing the carpet will give us the opportunity to bring the condo in line with today's styles. 


This is one thing we hadn't considered, until our realtor brought it to our attention. 

Refinishing the floors and changing out the carpets will require the removal of the baseboards, and that's a good thing. 

Our baseboards are quite small and nondescript - they were probably the cheapest available as of 2002. 

For around $1.70-$2 per linear ft., we can really provide a premium look to the condo.  

Balcony Railing

This is the general idea.
The front of our house has one major "style" feature - an open balcony looking down to the living room below. 

As you can probably see from the exterior photo, our house is generally modern on the exterior - but the interior is awfully traditional. 

The railing over that interior balcony is as traditional as it gets - turned newels and so forth. 

We replaced the balusters with straight wrought iron, which made it a LITTLE bit cooler looking, 

Still, we'd prefer to replace the entire thing with a stainless steel-and-tension-cable railing for a truly modern look. 

Two Months to Go!

This will be a sprint to the finish, as we REALLY want to be on the market in July to catch at least some foot traffic during the warm-weather months. 

We've already finished one project last week - we had the front walkway removed and replaced. It had shifted pretty badly. 

Very excited to get started.... hopefully, our landlording days are almost behind us. 


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