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More Chicago buyers shun condos and choose houses instead

filed under: Albany Park, Buyers, First-time buyers, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Market conditions, Portage Park posted on February 5th, 2012

Irving Park, Chicago house

HOME SWEET HOUSE: More Chicago buyers are bypassing condos in favor of single-family houses. This 3-bedroom Irving Park house on an extra-large 50x163 lot recently sold for $225,000. It had a newer roof, but the listing noted that the house "will need some updating."

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.)

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Chicago Bungalow of the Week

filed under: Bungalows, Jefferson Park posted on January 21st, 2010

In keeping with my theme of Promoting Bungalow Awareness, this week I thought I’d point out a highly-upgraded Chicago bungalow that proves you don’t have to sacrifice space for style.

That’s the thing about bungalows: they’re small. Built in the early decades of the 20th century, many Chicago bungalows offer cozy, one-story layouts with three modest bedrooms and a bathroom. For many of today’s homeowners, this just isn’t enough elbow room (let alone bathroom space), and as a consequence Chicago is full of bungalows that have been chopped-up, added-on, blown-out, remodeled and often just plain remuddled in an effort to create more living space. Too bad so much of this renovation also includes ripping out built-in hutches and bookcases, original stained-glass windows, wood trim and beadboard, and generally stripping these lovely homes of their distinctive bungalow character.

A remodeled, but not remuddled, bungalow. Joy!

ROOM TO GROW: This Chicago bungalow, located in Jefferson Park, has been expanded to include 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a finished basement. But the remodel left intact its distinctive bungalow features -- including its curb appeal.

Now, check out this Chicago Bungalow of the Week: 4540 N Mason Ave. in Jefferson Park. It’s a bit pricey, as bungalows go: $509,900, just reduced from $525,000 after three months on the market. But it has been rehabbed with amenities like central air, a zoned heating system, a fireplace, and a finished basement with a rec room and a 5th bedroom and bath for guests.

What I like about this octagon bungalow (which is registered as a historic bungalow with the city of Chicago) is that it still looks and feels like a bungalow even after all the upgrades. The additions to the home were made at the rear, preserving the home’s charming curb appeal from the street. The living room still boasts its beautiful wall of eight windows and there are hardwood floors throughout.

But unlike so many of its neighbors, this bungalow has plenty of room for its occupants to spread out. In addition to a living room, dining room and kitchen, the main floor also features a 23×12 family room and a bedroom. There are three more bedrooms upstairs.

This is a real bonus, because many Chicago bungalows don’t have full second floors. Upstairs is usually an attic or a converted, cramped space where the roof slopes at such a steep angle that most adults are forced to stoop. But at 4540 N Mason, the rear addition takes care of that.

Where did they get all that space? The secret is revealed in the bungalow backyard.

BEHIND THE BUNGALOW: Instead of plunking a second-floor addition atop the entire house, the owners built out the bungalow's rear end, thereby preserving its beauty. Jack Guest of Century 21 McMullen has the listing.

In this market, I still think the price could come down a bit more. Ordinary, unimproved 3-bedroom bungalows are selling in the $225,000 to $300,000 range in Jefferson Park, so I certainly think this deluxe model could fetch upwards of $450,000. But since it may be out of the reach of first-time buyers, the price may have to drop below the half-million mark first.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.