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A partial recovery on the North Shore: Prices up in Wilmette and Winnetka

filed under: Market conditions, Suburbs posted on June 1st, 2010

PRICES UP IN WILMETTE: My buyers just closed on this 3-bedroom house in Wilmette, one of the North Shore communities where prices have started to rebound.

PRICES UP IN WILMETTE: My buyers just closed on this 3-bedroom house in Wilmette, one of the North Shore communities where prices have started to rebound.

With some of the priciest real estate in the Chicago region, the North Shore has definitely been pummeled along with everybody else. In the last couple years, the high end of the market (homes over $1 million) especially took a beating, as buyers became much more cautious about value and jumbo loans became costlier to obtain.

But a recent survey in the Chicago Tribune suggests that the North Shore is partly recovering — although somewhat unevenly, with prices in some towns bouncing back more quickly than others. Overall, prices in most north Cook County towns are still down over the same period a year earlier.

Wilmette, home to the esteemed New Trier school district, is doing much better than most of its neighboring areas. In the fall of 2009, 77 homes closed in Wilmette with a median price of $639,000 — a 9% increase over the same September to November period a year earlier, when 84 homes closed at a median price of $582,500. The autumn closings tend to reflect deals actually signed in the summer.

Winnetka is also faring well. In the fall of 2009, 46 Winnetka homes closed at a median price of $1,065,000. That’s almost 14% higher than the median price of $921,000 a year earlier, when 41 homes closed during the same three-month period.

Neighboring North Shore communities, however, have seen median price drops — perhaps the result of more properties changing hands at the lower (or middle) end of the market. That is certainly the case in Glencoe, where the median home price plunged 36% in a year. But that’s probably because Glencoe buyers were focusing on less expensive houses, whereas the more expensive properties simply weren’t selling. There were 37 homes sales in Glencoe in the fall of 2009 at a median price of $650,000, while a year earlier 27 homes closed at a median of $1,020,000.

Buyers, meanwhile, are enjoying a rare chance to get into nice homes in sought-after communities that once seemed out of reach. One of my buyers, a young couple with two children, closed last week on a lovely historic 3-bedroom home with a large yard in desirable east Wilmette. The house, priced at $630,000 when it was listed in February, sold for $571,000.

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Great houses for about $600,000 in Wilmette

filed under: Buyers, Suburbs posted on March 29th, 2010

HISTORIC WILMETTE: This classic 19xx home at 124 6th street in wilmette isnoe for sale at $659,000. Sharon Friedman of Coldwell Banker has the listing.

HISTORIC WILMETTE: This classic turn-of-the- century home at 124 6th street in Wilmette, a 4-bedroom, is now for sale at $659,000. Sharon Friedman of Coldwell Banker has the listing.

I was up in Wilmette this weekend, a lovely town that’s always been close to my heart (as my grandparents raised eight children there in the 1940s and 50s, including my mom). While Wilmette is full of charming 100-year-old houses and mid-century ranches, it is also¬† possessed of the wonderful New Trier school district, which makes it a magnet for today’s young families (who generally have fewer than eight children.)

One of my clients, a couple with two small children, has lived in Chicago for years but is now contemplating a move to Wilmette. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve looked at a dozen 3 or 4-bedroom houses in the $600,000 range, and there are quite a few attractive historic homes for sale that have been updated inside. Many of these houses were selling in the $700,000 to $800,000 range just three years ago, so this market is a great opportunity for buyers who want to get into the New Trier district.

I would say that these homes compare favorably to similar Chicago houses in the same price range (in Edgewater, Lincoln Square, North Center etc.). The Wilmette homes are in quieter neighborhoods, for the most part, and the school district is far better. And many of these homes are well-tended properties, often owned by the same family for 20 or 30 years, in great condition.

Still, the floor plans may feel a little cramped. The downstairs level generally offers the formal living room, dining room and kitchen layout that was popular 100 years ago. These kitchens seem very small to today’s buyers, who tend to prefer a more open layout with fewer walls dividing the rooms.

And in many Wilmette houses in this price range, the upstairs can also feel a tad crowded. Most homes of this vintage were built with only one bathroom upstairs, so unless the homeowner has expanded, the whole family could end up sharing a bathroom in the morning. I’m sure my grandparents wouldn’t have minded, but many people today want a master bath, down the hall from the kids.

But the lot sizes here feel huge by Chicago standards (several of the ones we visited were 50×150 feet, more than twice the standard lot size in the city.) Big backyards, two-car garages with basketball hoops, quiet leafy streets, kids on bicycles… no wonder so many people eventually pack up and move to the suburbs!

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