Sue Fox, @Properties. Direct 773.816.1788
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I’ve witnessed an interesting trend emerging in recent months, just by watching my own buyers as they move through the home-hunting process. And now I have some hard data to prove it: Chicago buyers are increasingly buying single-family houses, often skipping right past the condo stage that was once the point of entry for first-time buyers.
Five to ten years ago, if you were a North side buyer approved for a loan of $200,000 to $400,000, your best option was often to buy a condo if you wanted to live in a lively neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and shops (and sometimes even the lake) within walking distance. The Loop, South Loop, River North, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, North Center, Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Andersonville, Uptown, Edgewater — all of these areas were bursting with new condo developments that made the most of city living at prices that were affordable for first-time buyers. Most of these folks never even considered buying a single-family house.
But today, Chicago housing prices have fallen so far that decent 3-bedroom houses can now be had for the price of a condo. The demand for single-family houses has climbed rapidly, with 37 percent of Chicago buyers choosing a house in 2011, according to data gathered by the National Assn. of Realtors. Two years ago, only 27 percent of buyers made a similar choice.
Likewise, the appetite for condos has waned. Just 39 percent of Chicago buyers opted for a condo in a building with at least five units in 2011, compared with 54 percent in 2009. (The rest presumably bought townhouses, two-flats or some other type of residential property.)
Among my buyers, the shift seems to be happening because they realize that by compromising a bit on the neighborhood, they are able to find a house for $200,000 to $300,000. These houses generally are neither large nor new. They tend to be around 1200 to 1600 square feet (often a bungalow, a ranch house, or an A-frame home) and they often need some cosmetic updating, especially things like refinishing the floors and renovating the kitchen and baths. But they usually offer all the appeal of a single-family house — including a backyard, garage, and basement, while NOT including a condo association, upstairs or downstairs neighbors, or monthly assessments.
“I never dreamed we would be able to afford a house,” one of my buyers recently told me. But more and more buyers can — particularly if they are willing to look a bit further west than they may have lived previously. Instead of the neighborhoods mentioned above, areas like Irving Park, Albany Park, Avondale, Logan Square, Portage Park and Jefferson Park are now attracting Northsiders who want a house but may only have $250,000 or so to spend. At price points around $300,000 and above, you can sometimes find newly rehabbed houses with finished basements in these neighborhoods. There is literally nothing to do but move in (which, in years past, was often the appeal of many new and gut-rehabbed condos.)
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