When I was first looking at houses, I thought I had it all figured out. I came up with a checklist of what I wanted in a place. That checklist looked something like this:

  • In one of the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, West Town, or Wicker Park
  • An older (pre-World War II) home with character
  • Good curb appeal
  • Good bones
  • Good basics (dry roof, dry basement, good electrical, good plumbing, general maintenance)
  • Good natural light
  • Multi-family property (2 units or more)
  • Parking for at least 1 car
  • Close to the train and not too far from the highway
  • In my price range
  • Laundry on premises

One lesson learned right away: when you’re looking for a place in Chicago – you’re not the only one looking for all that stuff! Far from it. House hunting in any decent neighborhood is competitive, especially in a city with millions of people, many of whom have a lot more money than you. For the things I wanted at the price I wanted them, I couldn’t look in Wicker Park…or Humboldt Park…or Rogers Park. I would have been better off looking in a trailer park! So I started adjusting my expectations quite quickly. I ended up with a place that was:

  • In Bucktown (+)
  • Built in 1890 (+)
  • Pretty mediocre bones, and A LOT of osteoporosis (-)
  • Dry roof (+)
  • Wet basement (-)
  • Bad electrical (-)
  • Bad plumbing (-)
  • Lots of deferred maintenance (-)
  • Good natural light in lots of the house  (+)
  • But some pockets with terrible light (-)
  • 2 flat property (+)
  • 2 car garage (+)
  • 5 minute walk to the El train, 15 minute walk to the Metra train, short drive to highway (+)
  • In my price range (+)
  • Laundry was on premises, but the situation was bad (-)


I was a little scared of a fixer upper. I didn’t (and still don’t) know what I was doing. I’m no Bob Villa, but I also knew that even if money were no object, pretty much any house has its flaws. Something is a little off, a layout doesn’t make sense, you don’t like the previous owners’ tastes – it goes on and on. But I wanted projects, I wanted things I could do, I wanted to teach an old house new tricks. I wanted to bring this place back to life. Thus began the Bucktown Revival.


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