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The Good Life: Why Chicago and Its Suburbs Are The Place To Be

2021 was a boom year for real estate in the Chicago suburbs as people sought space during the pandemic lockdowns. So, what does the rest of 2022 hold for the area and the city?

According to the Illinois Association of REALTORS® , the median home sale price for the Chicago area increased by almost 12 percent in 2021 as demand for property in the suburbs rocketed during the pandemic. This trend has continued during 2022, with downtown Chicago also seeing buyers return to the city as life returns to normal.

The United States’ third largest city and surrounding areas have much to offer potential buyers, including numerous cultural attractions such as the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, museums, and theaters. And then there’s Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes by total water volume, with beaches, waterfront restaurants, and recreational activities, and property that remains competitively priced when compared with major coastal cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

Just outside the city there is an abundance of suburbs to choose from, each with its own downtown area, generous lots, and easy access into the city for work and leisure. Luxury Defined talks to the experts and takes a closer look at the investment potential and market trends in the North Shore, Hinsdale, and Chicago.

The Desirable North Shore 

Aerial view of the Baha'i Temple and Wilmette Harbor along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Wilmette, IL on a beautiful summer day.
The Baha'i House of Worship, the second such temple constructed and the oldest still standing, and Wilmette Harbor along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Source: Alamy

Buyers are attracted to the North Shore for the lifestyle and short commute into the city. Thomas Downing, Vice President of Brokerage Services, @properties Christie’s International Real Estate describes the area as “serene” and refers to music festivals (such as Ravinia, which has Culture Club on the bill in August), the Chicago Botanic Garden (celebrating 50 years this summer), shopping, and dining in the eight towns that comprise the region—including Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and Northfield—as some of the elements attracting people to set up home here.

Driven by the pandemic, buyers were so eager that Downing reports the largest sales on record for 2021, with his North Shore office alone—comprising 180 agents—selling real estate worth an impressive $1.3 billion. And while it’s clear that 2022 won’t achieve quite the same record-breaking figures, Downing describes the outlook for the rest of the year as “very solid,” and notes that “homes here hold their value.” He doesn’t expect the area to be as adversely impacted by increasing interest rates as other areas.

On the Market 

English-Style Tudor Home in East Kenilworth

External view of large Tudor-style property with a path to the front door
This impressive family home, built in 1910, has five bedrooms, four full baths, three partial baths. It enjoys 8,848 square feet (822 sq m) of interior space.

Set in 0.6 of an acre (0.2 ha), this exquisite English-Style Tudor home has been transformed by a two year refurbishment to blend original architectural details with modern light filled spaces. The showstopper of the house is the 1913 prohibition room, which is accessed through a hidden stairway and features preserved original wall writings. Meanwhile, the grand rooms have been reworked to improve flow and increase natural light by adding custom-made French doors and windows featuring antique glass, and solid brass hardware. Outside, there’s seamless indoor/outdoor entertaining with French doors leading to a patio with gas grill and gas firepit. It’s on the market with @properties Christie’s International Real Estate.

Magical Hinsdale 

exterior of memorial building in Hinsdale, Illinois
The Hinsdale Memorial Building was built in honor of residents who lost their lives in World War I. Later it also commemorated those who died in World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam War. Source: Alamy

In a story similar to the North Shore, Hinsdale attracts buyers for much the same reasons. According to Tricia Riberto, Vice President of Brokerage Services, @properties Christie’s International Real Estate Hinsdale offers, “proximity to the city—it’s only 20 miles (32 km) away—and is located between two major airports. It’s a magical little town that looks like it is from a movie.”

The market in Hinsdale boomed during the pandemic, and Riberto says some buyers looking for more space are moving to the area from the city with their young families. Relocation buyers are also on her radar. Many are drawn to Hinsdale for the city access. “For a while, there was a trend among millennials to raise families in the city, but the pandemic changed that,” she says, noting that this generation is following similar life paths to their parents but doing so later.

The pandemic has encouraged more buyers to seek additional space, creating what Riberto describes as a “frenzied market.” She says, “The demand year-over-year is consistent, but what’s variable is supply—our inventory is 40 percent lower than last year.” She predicts inventory—calculated by the number of active listings and pending sales on the last day of the month—will increase from one month to three by the end of the year.

As on the North Shore, Riberto reassures potential buyers that those looking for a long-term home, a “buy and hold,” will continue to do well. For investors looking to add to their portfolios, she recommends apartments and small single-family homes—both property types are in short supply and high demand.

In terms of outlook, Riberto suggests the market will stabilize and open up somewhat for buyers as inventory increases. “We’re moving away from the frenzy to a steadier market­—interest rates and the economy will slow the market down, which is needed,” she says.

On the Market 

Stately Stone Estate in southeast Hinsdale 

External view of a large family home in Hinsdale, Chicago
This stunning family home has eight bedrooms, nine full bathrooms, and one partial bathroom. Built in 2008, it comprises 13,703 square feet (1,273 sq m) of interior space.

This impressive estate sits on just under an acre (0.4 ha) of land in prestigious southeast Hinsdale. The exterior is landscaped, featuring a circular driveway and four heated garages. Outside there are multi-level stone terraces with seating areas, a built-in grill, a sound system, and a gas fire pit. Inside there is a two-story foyer, a gallery, and a feature staircase. Multiple entertaining options include a nine-seat theater, a games room, a sunroom, and a living room with fireplace and French doors leading to one of the stone terraces. The property is on the market with @properties Christie’s International Real Estate who describe it as “four levels of luxury living… with every imaginable detail thoughtfully executed.”

Eclectic Downtown

River between tall buildings in Chicago
Chicago, known for its bold architecture, has a skyline dominated by skyscrapers including the 1,451-foot (442 m) Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). Small boats and tourist ferries cruise on the river towards Lake Michigan. Source: Getty Images

The story of the pandemic is a very different one in downtown Chicago, however. Unlike the soaring demand in the suburbs and outlying city neighborhoods, as Chicago closed its restaurants and theaters in 2020 and 2021, the market stalled in the downtown central business district. However, as life returns to normal and restaurants, theaters, bars, and clubs reopen, buyers are returning too.

“One of my agents reports selling more condos in the last six months than in the previous two years,” says Paul Blackburn, Vice President of Brokerage Operations, @properties Christie’s International Real Estate. Buyers are a mix of people relocating to be closer to the office, and empty nesters selling their large family homes in the suburbs to head into the city.

Art Institute of Chicago Exterior view with lions in summer
The Art Institute, one of the world's great art museums, is located in downtown Chicago and houses an expansive collection of historical works from around the world. Source: Alamy

When asked for investment advice, Blackburn is clear. “The downtown market is the place to be and there are good deals to be had,” he says, describing the plethora of property options available to potential purchasers including high rise, low rise, and more. Rents are on the rise too, which is another factor encouraging buyers to join the property ladder.

Blackburn is equally clear and enthusiastic about what the Chicago lifestyle has to offer residents. “Restaurants are the number one draw,” he says. “The eclectic mix of people shines through the food, which includes Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian, and African. Dining options are authentic and wide ranging, with several James Beard award-winning restaurants.

Then there are the theaters, including The Second City, where lots of well-known comedians got their first break. Additionally, Chicago’s lakefront location is perfect for boaters and outdoor enthusiasts, who can enjoy all kinds of waterfront activities at its plentiful marinas, beaches and parks,” he says.

In terms of outlook, Blackburn expects the market to cool a bit during the summer months as historically low interest rates continue to move up. However, he anticipates demand picking up in the fall and the market continuing to perform robustly across the Chicagoland area.

There’s no better time to take a look at Chicago, says longtime Chicago resident Thad Wong, co-CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate. “If you’re looking to be in the middle of it all, Chicago’s incredible amenities, including award-winning restaurants, shopping, sports and theater productions, and miles of lakeshore make it a great place to call home. For those looking for a bit more space, the Chicago suburbs have plenty of fantastic options with easy access to the downtown area. Plus, Chicago is a relative bargain for luxury real estate as compared to similar large U.S. cities.”

On the Market

A Classic Masterpiece in East Lincoln Park

Large white kitchen with dark wood floors with large island and doors to outside space
This Chicago family home, which consists of 8,380 square feet (779 sq m) of interior space, features six bedrooms, six full bathrooms, and one partial bathroom. There’s also an attached four car garage plus storage.

Built on a wide lot, this timeless home was created by Melrose Partners in 2008 using elegant carved limestone and brick details, and the finest materials. On the market with @properties Christie’s International Real Estate, there’s a wine room, library, five-stop elevator, and media room with Savant system, state-of-the-art projection, and audio system. There’s also an incredible outdoor area with full kitchen and wood burning fireplace.

Banner image: The Chicago skyline. Credit: Getty Images