How rough have the past couple of years been for real estate developers? Alan Candea pulls off his knit cap. “I’m bald, and I’m only 34.”
After a two-year spell that Candea says “was Death Valley,” he and his brother Armand, who formed Candea Development in 2006, are exhibiting renewed confidence in Chicago’s condo market, having just snapped up a vacant lot in the 4800 block of North Damen Avenue, which he calls “one of the hottest areas in the city.” Preliminary plans call for three buildings; each will house nine three-bedroom/two-bathroom luxury units plus commercial space on the first floor (two storefronts per building).
“A lot of people seem to think commercial is bad,” Candea says. Pointing to Damen’s bustling foot traffic, the nearby El station and lack of vacancies, he sees plenty of room for additional retail and possibly even a restaurant.
Asked to estimate the cost of the project and the construction timeline, Candea says that it’s far too early in the process to hazard those kinds of guesses. “Right now we’re just testing the land.”
And testing the waters while they’re at it. Where other developers have shied away from condos of late, opting to go the rental route, the Candeas see demand for a very specific type of unit: in a word, large.
During the housing boom, the market was flooded with two-bedroom/two-bathroom units, creating a surplus that’s been difficult to unload even as prices have fallen. Larger condos, on the other hand, held their value and sell faster simply because demand exceeds supply, according to Candea.
“Space in the city comes at a premium,” he says. “People want big kitchens and big bathrooms, room for a dining table and a big master bath.” If that sounds vaguely like the description of a house, that’s exactly the point.
“We’re providing an alternative to single-family homes,” Candea says of the niche his company is carving out for itself.
To demonstrate the type of development that might ultimately rise up on Damen, Alan took us on a tour of a Candea work in progress at 2752 W. Argyle St. Each floor of the four-story building, which faces California Avenue, is a single, 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom/3-bathroom unit. Amenities include two-person showers in the master bath, walk-in closets and custom finishes. Oh, and the first floor unit comes with a private, deeded front and back yard. (The other buyers will have to make do with a terrace and nearby River Park.) Price tag: $399,000.
“You’re not going to be able to buy a brand new single-family home for $450,000,” Candea says. He believes he’s found the sweet spot between homes like the neighboring bungalows on California, which might seem affordable but are “complete guts,” and new construction in Lincoln Square, which often tops $1 million.
“I’m building for the middle class,” says Candea.
Though it’s possible that he’s really just an excellent salesman, Candea, who was born in Romania but grew up near Lincoln Square, seems the rare developer who considers the people who will be living in and around his buildings. He spent “a fortune on sound proofing” between floors at Argyle to mute the single biggest annoyance of condo living. Properties are frequently chosen based on surrounding trees, which Candea totally geeks out on, the availability of outdoor space, proximity to parks and the potential for natural lighting.
As Chicagoans, the Candea brothers also try to remain respectful of the city’s unique architecture. “We always try to make sure [our buildings] fit in with the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s not about you, it’s about the neighborhood.”