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Changing market means smaller homes next to custom houses

Home owners Cheryl Carbone (left) Stacy Harshbarger talk about manufactured homes being built their Grande Park Subdivisiwhile standing front Harshbargers

Home owners Cheryl Carbone (left) and Stacy Harshbarger talk about the manufactured homes being built in their Grande Park Subdivision while standing in front of Harshbargers custom built home in Plainfield, Illinois, Thursday, November 29, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:15AM



PLAINFIELD — Dozens of people bought custom homes in the Grande Park subdivision when the real estate market was flying high in 2005-2006.

But when the bubble burst, they were surrounded by empty lots that went into foreclosure. Now, a national home builder is buying up the lots and building partially pre-fabricated homes called production homes that are smaller and cost less, in some cases much less. Custom homes in the large subdivision in northwest Plainfield originally cost $400,000 to as much as $900,000. The new homes start as low as $230,000.

The original settlers of the subdivision are not happy, but there isn’t much they can do.

Village gains

The move is positive for the village because the lots will be developed. But the trend is viewed as a negative by residents who purchased custom homes that will be surrounded by smaller, less expensive production homes.

Stacy Harshbarger, who lives in the Anfield section of Grande Park, bought her home in 2006 for $502,000. The value has dropped at least $100,000 with the housing market crash. Now Harshbarger expects her value to sink another $30,000 to $40,000 because of the production homes being built all around her by Ryan Homes.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said.

Harshbarger lost her job in 2009 and she was just recently able to get a comparable position. But the new job won’t help the fact that she’s underwater on her home.

Cheryl Carbone, who lives in the Lakeside section of Grande Park, won’t be underwater, but she expects to lose all of her equity in her home.

“We invested our life savings into this place and we wanted to raise our family here,” she said. “This was our dream home.”

A lot of attention is paid to people whose homes are in foreclosure, Carbone said. But not too many people are aware of what is happening to residents of unfinished subdivisions.

“We might not be losing our homes, but we’re losing value,” she said. “We just want our neighborhood to look the way we were told (it would look) when we moved in.”

Village Planner Michael Garrigan said custom home owners are justified in being upset with the prospect of being surrounded by less expensive homes.

“I do feel for these people,” he said. “The problem is, the market is not there.”

Carbone disagrees. She said several $500,000 homes in her part of the subdivision sold this summer.

No legal recourse

While homeowners pushed for the village to intercede, “Legally, we cannot stop them from building homes,” Garrigan said of the large national builders that have come back to Plainfield to build smaller, cheaper homes.

Calista Mitchell, who bought her home in the Lakeside area of the Grande Park said residents of her subdivision aren’t being snobby when they oppose the less expensive homes. They’re happy to have new neighbors, but they’re just protecting their investments.

“We have been hit so hard already, and we understand everyone has, but this may be something we can’t come back from,” she said.

The smaller production homes aren’t going to look like “doll houses” next to some of the more expensive custom houses, she said.

“If they just made any effort to make them architecturally interesting, that would go a long way,” she said. “The look of the homes is completely different.”

The custom homes have brick fronts with elaborate roof lines and three-car garages. The production homes have flat fronts featuring more vinyl and smaller garages.

“They’re just so plain,” Mitchell said.

Helpless feeling

Mitchell said her group fought against the production homes to no avail. Neither the subdivision’s developer not the village budged, she said. Grande Park residents believe the new homes don’t abide by subdivision covenants to prevent monotony, but no one will back them up. They can’t even find a lawyer who will help them.

“They just swat us like flies and tell us to go away,” Mitchell said.

Carbone said even the subdivision’s homeowner’s association is controlled by a management company owned by the developer. Homeowner’s associations aren’t turned over to residents until the subdivision is completed, which was something no one realized until the trouble started.

“We had nobody to go to protect us,” Carbone said.

While village planners celebrate an uptick in home building permits and a return of the big home builders to Plainfield, Mitchell is bracing for production homes to arrive in her section of Grande Park.

“Every day when I get home from work, I’m waiting to see that they’ve started the first house.”



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