Larger condominiums in demand at Prairie Park

Jamie Smith joined the family business, Smith Family Construction of Wheeling, in 2009. He had just earned a degree in communications from Northwestern University and he was forced to use everything he had ever learned about communicating effectively during the worst housing recession in a generation.

"The market was atrocious then, so selling units in our Prairie Park condominium project wasn't easy. After that experience, I have learned to not take the good times for granted. Appreciate everything," the 27-year-old Smith said.

Today, by comparison, units are "flying off the shelf" at Prairie Park, located on Wolf Road, just west of Milwaukee Avenue. Only six units remain to be sold in the developer's existing buildings so Jamie and his parents, Mark and Vivian Smith, are hard at work drawing up floor plans for units in the fifth and final building in the complex.

"It has been a great experience to see things shift so much," Smith, now the firm's vice president of operations and admitted "jack of all trades," said. "It has been incredible how quickly things have come back. One buying couple told us they had sold their house in only eight hours."

We sat down with Smith to discuss the family business and current real estate market.

How did Smith Family Construction successfully weather the recession?

"Buyers realized that ours was a high-quality product. Many of them are downsizing from large, custom homes and they quickly recognized our high-end finishes and the quality of our construction. They also appreciated the beauty of the site and how comfortable the units are."

Tell us about your company's philosophy.

"We refuse to cut corners, even when it is costing us money. We want people to be happy so we treat them right and we do good work. We live in this community, so we want to add good properties to it and we don't want to run into unhappy buyers.

"In fact, my favorite part of working in the business is interacting with the clients. I enjoy running into people and having them tell me how happy they are. I like being a part of their lives since I also live at Prairie Park."

What is the biggest problem builders face today?

"For multifamily developers, the biggest problem is the lending restrictions that have been imposed. It is extremely difficult to start a new project today. That is why there are currently so few condominium projects starting - in the city or the suburbs.

"If you want to build an apartment project, you can get a loan. But you will have a hard time getting one for a condominium project. We are fortunate that we have an existing project because buyers can't get mortgages to buy units unless the project already has a certain occupancy rate. That isn't possible with a new project, obviously."

Since occupancy is based on the entire project, Smith Family Construction is able to start work on its fifth planned building because it is are already beyond the occupancy threshold, thanks to the first four buildings.

"We are hoping that these restrictions will soon start to loosen."

What are your future development plans?

"We hope to begin pre-sales on units in our fifth building this October. Units in this building will be larger than the existing 240 units because we are seeing much more demand for larger units."

Units in the first four buildings range from 1,289 to 2,300 square feet. In the next building, Smith says they will instead range from 1,580 to 2,400 square feet, including some three bedroom, three bathroom floor plans.

"When all floor plans were still available, units in the current building ranged from $250,000 to $500,000. In the fifth building we will be upgrading our standard features. For instance, hardwood floors will now be standard. So, I would expect a slight increase in prices over the previous buildings."

Smith Family Construction is also prepping the land they own off Lake-Cook Road and Milwaukee Avenue for future construction, addressing such concerns as water storage and soil compaction.

"We have some ideas about this parcel, but no firm plans yet." Smith said the company also is keeping an eye on several other parcels, both inside and outside of Wheeling.

For more information, visit or call (847) 541-9433.

  Only six new condominiums remain at Prairie Park in Wheeling. This is the developer's Winslow model home. Bob Chwedyk/
  Jamie Smith of Smith Family Construction said plans call for larger units in the next phase of construction at Prairie Park. Bob Chwedyk/
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