Matt D, Real Estate Pro in Mountain View, CA

How much does it cost to convert a brick two-flat in Chicago into a single family home? Is ther anyone willing to share their first hand experience?

Asked by Matt D, Mountain View, CA Sun Nov 28, 2010

I can't find any estimates or even ballpark figures out there, however many multi-units are advertised as 'great single family conversion'.

Help the community by answering this question:


Matt, my answer is really long, but it is important that you understand:

Back to Plumbing: Lack of water pressure has nothing to do with the galvanized piping shrinking inside. I have scoped umpteen homes and have yet to see a piece of galvanized clog inside but it has to do with the size of the water line. I cannot emphasize this enough. You can check with the City of Chicago Water Department to see what line is going from the street to the "B" box. Here's a hint: If the water line is on your side of the street, the cost is considerably less then should that main be on the other side of the street.
I'll continue this on the next post.

Kitchen cabinetry: Depending on Size and Quality: $6,000 all the way up to your hearts desire.

Granite countertops: You can go shopping for these yourself and get good deals from suppliers. I have a few names if you want them.

Doors: Solid core doors. Don't cut corners here or with your door hardware. Everybody that has gone into a home that I have designed and overseen always, always checks those two things first. The doors and the hardware.

Windows: Energy efficient: Ones that pull the heat in during the winter (like the back double doors) and kicks the heat out during the summer time. Lower E-windows for the areas that don't take much sun and that is where you can save money.

Velux is the best skylight out there. No getting around it.

Gutters and downspouts: Love the guys on Western Avenue as they create seamless gutters - Lakefront supply.

Now, Costs for renovation: Refinishing hardwood floors, updating bathrooms, updating electrical outlets, possible new roof, replacing or not to replace trim work - all depends upon the finish - if natural - and in good shape - I wouldn't mess with. New kitchen, finished basement, new furnace/boiler (?), central air (?), painting

Again Size: up to 2,000 $150K (minimal) as this includes permits, plans, and a new furnace. You also will have to redo the stairs should they not be structurally safe and this is an area that you need to really watch was the cost to put in a new landing runs roughly (from start to quality finish - to mirror the home's character) about $4,000 up to $7,000.

2,100 to 3,600 - you might as well do a total gut rehab with this type of square footage as those floor joists on the second floor are nasty.

No matter which way you choose, the most sure things that you will have to address are the waterline going into the house and the City will nail you for it right away, electrical, and most importantly to me, the structural integrity of the property as well as the energy efficiency. Drainage is a big huge for me as well, but structural is major. I have seen alot of secrets hidden under those ceilings and behind the walls. But when you know that there are no headers over windows or the doors and you wonder why you can feel the house shake when you close the front door? You're missing the headers and the structural for the span of today's style.

When people advertise that a multi-unit is good for a "great single family conversion" it is because the house requires alot of work because a floor is uneven, walls are not just straight, etc.

The biggest surprise we had in two homes was that both sellers "hid" the cracked wood beam that supports the entire house! That being the case, one of the great things with a brick two unit is that they have really high ceilings and you could raise the height of the first floor to allow for more head room in the basement instead of excavation in the ground, which is costly.

Hope this helps. My Grandfather used to say, "Any man can build a home, but very few can rehab them." Be careful who you hire but more importantly, look at what you have to invest in the conversion and if you can't afford it all right now, then consider what you need to do know to insure the structural integrity of your home and take it from there.

I've been there and done them.

Barb Van Stensel
Third Generation in Real Estate
Keller Williams LIncoln Square
Chicago, IL
1 vote Thank Flag Link Mon Nov 29, 2010
Hi Matt,

The extent of my experience has been with two of my clients in the past year who had purchased 2-unit properties and converted them into a single family home. Both utilized the FHA 203K loan product. The entire process takes some leg work and due diligence, but when it was all said and done, the end products my clients produced were spectacular.

In terms of estimates, it really varies on the convertibility of the specific building, finishes and contractor costs. The two that I was involved with ranged from $50K - $100K.

Hope that helps.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Mon Nov 29, 2010
It depends on many factors but here's a couple things to consider—How many units are in the building? How much will the layout change? Will plumbing or electrical have to be replaced or rerouted? Will stairways need to be moved or added? Will new heat/AC need to be added? How big is the new kitchen? How high of finishes? It’s a large process but it can be very rewarding if done right. If you’re attempting this for the first time, it’s always good to find a developer who can walk you through it; their fees will easily be compensated by how much you save you in errors and time lost. They will also give you advice on whether the project is worthwhile.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Feb 4, 2011
Hi there! This is a great question but also a very, very subjective one. There are soooo many factors to consider - like what the condition of the property is, what condition you desire the finished product to be (how upgraded you want your single family home to be), the zoning and whether you will have to apply to change it in order to convert, etc. etc. If you do not have a real estate expert helping you with your home search and your possible conversion, your best bet is to find one who is experienced in such transactions. You can find great agents with years and years of experience assisting homeowners or prospective homeowners like you here:
Good luck to you!
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Nov 30, 2010
Matt, first you must look at the zoning for the subject property. Will the zoning law allow the property to be converted into a SFR? The biggest flex in Zoning is R-3 whereby the property livable square footage can't exceed 90% of the total square footage of land. That being the case, it would tell you if you have options for further expansion down the road with the Brick Two Flat.

What if the square footage of the building exceeds the R-3 Zoning allowance of living square space? The building square footage stands where it is, however, you need to consider if there is an unfinished back porch and should the main portion of the building exceed the allowable living square footage, you may not be able to finish that back porch area.

Costs: Convert a Two Flat into a SFR requires a licensed architect in good standing to draw the plans you desire. Those costs go anywhere from $4,000 to $15K - depending upon the quality and type of service you require from your architect. There is no getting around it.

HOWEVER, the best part is that you can go to a satellite office here in Chicago, if the property is to be owner occupied and not for flipping purposes, as there is a huge fine in the "K's" should you lie on your permit application.

General Contractor: The homeowner can act as their own GC, if the there is no financing involved with a bank on this conversion. If there is financing involved, the you will need a GC to get the permit application, the bank loan.

Total gut rehab: Size: 1,500 - 2,000 square feet (material and labor) $250K Size: 2,100 - 3,600 (material and labor) $400 - $450K

That means gutting the entire building out! Replacing the non-code second floor "floor joists" as most older style homes usually have the old 2 x 6's across the entire span of the home and replacing with 11-7/8 x 3.5" x 20' I Posts because this would minimize the "bouncing effect" on your second floor.

Replacing all electrical wiring, plumbing, installing new energy efficient windows. Insu I prefer Soybean Bio Base Foam Insulation as it is healthier on the lungs, more energy efficient and will pay for itself in a couple of years and continue your savings down the road with heating and cooling bills.

Plumbing: Is the line from the "B" box into the house consisting of two different materials and what is the size of that line? Two different materials creates an electronic magnetic field that doesn't allow the pressure of the water supply to come into the building efficiently. It is because there are two different materials that eventually create this issue and is easily rectified by installing a new copper line that conforms with the City of Chicago Building Code requirements. Usually, it will be 1.5" should you be over 30 fixtures. (fixtures, is toilet, but sink, DW, Shower unit, tub, jacuzzi, ice maker, double sinks (each counts for one) utility room (washer, return basin, wet bar, etc.) It all adds up fast.

Do you have good drain tiles under the basement foundation? If this is an older building, there may not be drain tiles and the City will require that along with a sub-pump and an ejector pump for the protection of your home and finished basement (now or down the road).

Electrical: Most homes this age have roughly three different rehab jobs/additions on electrical and grandpa way back then, usually did this and you need to install all new.

Flat top roof? It is a complete tear off and if so, what is the integrity of that roof? New sub-roofing, new insulation? This is so critical and should be done now instead of later as it minimizes the output on costs. Better yet, if the roof is shot, you might want to consider a pitched roof for added height (but again you need to make sure that if you are with R-3, there is a cap on height of 35' ) unless the building has a height higher then 35' and it could be grandfathered in and allowed.

What else to expect behind the walls: there are no headers over doors, no headers over windows. The span between wall joists is roughly 18 - 20" and you need 16" OC. My floor joists for the second floor area, I put at 12" OC because it adds to the integrity and no bounce rule and that is a huge pet peeve you will find that most buyers will want on the resale.

Electrical outlets: Every 10' but your architect will help you with that.

Barb Van Stensel
Keller Williams
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Nov 29, 2010
This is more a question for a builder, contractor than to us Realtors...But it so much depends on what the
floor plan and current construction of the building is, what you want to convert it into, i.e. how much work is involved, how much updating is needed and is there any major plumbing and electrical work that will be required? How about the heating and cooling system, does the building have central air or not etc. etc.

It is the same as with an addition to a home, could be from the lowest to the highest.

Your very best way to get more definite answers is to have 2 or three different contractors visit the property or a property in question with you, and telling each one of them the exact same changes you want or need to make to the building to turn it into a single fam. home.... Then you have better numbers to work with....

At the end it always depends on how much you want done, how modern, how extensive the changes.

Good luck to you....
Edith YourRealtor4Life and Your Chicago Connection
Working always in the very BEST interest of her clients
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Nov 29, 2010
Its tough for anyone to tell you how much its costs without actually seeing the place. It could be as little as 20k job, to as high as 100k. I would get a few general contractors out there to look at it.

Legally, you will have to do a lot of work with the city to get the zoning changed. Its a pain, but once its done, its done.

Matt Laricy
Americorp Real Estate
Brokers Associate, e-PRO
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Nov 29, 2010
$50,000 - $200,000 Depending on the extent of work and the finishes
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
For a free no obligation estimate call Sean Mcguire (McVan Development) at: 312-388-7050 /

0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
Dear Matt:

Anyone who can answer this question without seeing the property would not being doing you any justice. It will vary depending on a variety of things:
1. The location and the availability in getting materials to the property.
2. The extent of the work involved.
3. The type of materials you chose.
4. The square footage of the overall project.
5. Your budget?
6. The current condition of the building.

Just to name a few. If you want an accurate answer get a licensed & experienced contractor involved like us.
Thank you and good luck.

John G. Moustis
Spartan Construction & Design, Inc.
Call/Fax:(630) 963-6020

Quality Building & Remodeling in the Chicagoland Area since 1991
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
I gutted a smaller 2 flat that had 4 rooms, 2 bedrooms on each floor. Acting as my own General Contractor, I organized permits, materials and subcontractors for a little over 50k. You could spend more.
Do you have a building or neighborhood in mind? I have several contractors and architects who could give estimates. Buying right, in a location you want is important. Maybe you might want to build a new home instead?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
Hi Matt, I have converted several two unit buildings in Chicago to single family homes. The real cost is in the finishes you choose. the rough work can be done for about 20k to 40k. you can spend an additional 20k to 100k and up on the finishes you choose. Let me know if you would like a real estimate I have an in house crew that could help you out. thanks Adam T Barrera.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
It can be as simple as making a doorway from the first floor to the stairs leading to the second floor or having to completely move the stairs... Depends on the layout. Moving stairs can cost appr. 12-19k. If it's just a doorway, probably under a grand. If both units have separate hvac then there's no worries because you'll just have zoned thermostats. If they aren't separate that can cost somewhere in the 10ks if there's no duct work. You'll obviously need to get rid of the kitchen on the second floor and that's really a matter of demo-ing it and replacing with drywall or patching it depending on what you want to do with the area. So probably under 10k. It really depends on the layout and what you want the second floor to become. Right now I have a complete rehab of a two-story single family priced out at near 100k. I do a lot of business in Chicago and have several excellent contractors that could give you bids. Email me if you're interested.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Nov 28, 2010
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