Cover Story – There Goes The Neighborhood

by Chicago Agent

With dozens of city neighborhoods and suburban communities available, Chicagoland has an area to fit every buyer’s tastes. We spoke with experts in a variety of up-and-coming locations throughout the city and suburbs to find out what makes these seven neighborhoods the ones to watch.
By Meghan Boyer

The only constant factor among Chicagoland neighborhoods is change, and it happens time and again. A once-industrial neighborhood becomes a popular area for loft dwellers, while an agricultural landscape sprouts a thriving city among the crops. Elsewhere, a neighborhood popular decades ago rises from disrepair with an influx of new construction and rehabbed buildings.

With neighborhoods invariably in flux, it’s important to stay on top of the shifting marketplace, which is why Chicago Agent has compiled a list of the latest up-and-coming and reemerging areas that your buyers need to know about. From areas packed with small-town charm to unique and diverse locations poised for growth, there’s a rising community available to fit every desire.

While it used to be known for its vintage homes and down-to-earth buyers, the Evanston of today is all about diversification. Contemporary housing is rising among classic buildings, and the new construction shows no signs of stopping, says Steven Sims, Realtor with Coldwell Banker in downtown Evanston. Ten years ago, Evanston was a mature community with little growth and few businesses, he says. “Today, I would call Evanston a mini Lincoln Park or Bucktown.” The area also can be compared to an urban Oak Park on the lakefront, says Sims.

Contemporary Evanston is able to offer many styles of living to meet the needs of different family types, Sims says. Buyers will find single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes and loft buildings available in a variety of prices: Single-family homes range from $200,000 to more than $3 million, while condominiums sell for $100,000 to more than $1 million, he says.

Mixing the new buildings among the old gives Evanston a diverse mix of architecture and charm, says Sims. Developments like the Kedzie 525 exemplify the area’s growth: “From its generous loft-like units to architecture expressively responsive to its site, it stands refreshingly emblematic of Evanston’s future as a vibrant urban suburb,” says David Haymes, founder and partner of Pappageorge/Haymes.

As the new developments moved into Evanston, so did a diverse selection of businesses and entertainment options. Residents never have to leave the area, because everything is available to them in Evanston, says Sims, adding that there are more than 80 restaurants and numerous retailers. Evanston is also close to the lake and parks, and features cultural attractions, he says.

The array of choices is luring all types of buyers from the city. “We have empty-nesters who are downsizing and moving from the North Shore as well as young people starting families moving from the city,” says Sims. While some buyers may feel reluctant to leave Chicago, Evanston’s attractions and proximity to the city and public transportation help ease their transition. Such buyers are “grateful that there is a town like Evanston for them to go because they would never go farther north than that,” he says.

A true up-and-coming neighborhood, Kenwood is home to new developments nestled among undeveloped lots where land prices are sky-rocketing. A lake-front neighborhood situated between the South Loop and Hyde Park, Kenwood is what Roscoe Village, University Village and West Loop were five years ago: “Lots of new housing development, but not much retail,” says Sheila Rugege Dantzler, a real estate consultant with Weichert Realtors – First Chicago.

Though retailers are slowly moving in (Rugege Dantzler predicts Kenwood will be saturated with new retailers in three years), buyers still can find numerous advantages to the neighborhood. The area retains the vintage aesthetic of a true Chicago neighborhood, with lots of green space, tree-lined boulevards and numerous parks. “North Kenwood has some of the most beautiful and historic vintage greystone buildings and mansions,” says Rugege Dantzler. The new homes in the area feature modern conveniences but maintain the area’s aesthetic, she says.

Kenwood is one of Chicago’s undiscovered neighborhoods, agrees Mark Sutherland, principal of Sutherland Pearsall Development Corp., developers of Drexel Parc Lofts and Drexel Square Townhomes in Kenwood. “It has everything that makes a great neighborhood in Chicago: terrific architecture, proximity to downtown and the lake, lots of new construction and expansive green areas,” he says, adding that buyers can get twice as much home for their money compared to some north-side neighborhoods.

A buyer can find a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with secured parking for less than $250,000, says Rugege Dantzler. Townhomes with three to four bedrooms sell from $350,000, and single-family homes start at $450,000. “There is a great mix of new construction and rehabs of beautiful greystones,” with a variety of housing styles and price ranges for buyers, she says. Both younger buyers and families are finding the area appealing, she adds.

While home prices are reasonable now, they will rise dramatically as developers continue to build in the area, says Rugege Dantzler, citing the fast-growing prices for vacant lots in the area. “The alderman has great plans for commercial and retail establishments, so in three years, it will be one of the most sought-after places to live in Chicago,” she says.

Geneva, situated west of Chicago on the Fox River, is a city rife with charm and small-town atmosphere. “Geneva is possibly the most charming village in the Chicagoland area,” says Marsha Wallace, broker and owner of Realty Executives Fox Valley. A unique downtown and plentiful housing choices in a community that prides itself on colorful year-round festivals and a riverfront lifestyle have helped make Geneva a booming community.

The Metra, with a station located in the city center, creates an easy commute for travelers and brings tourists in to enjoy Geneva’s many festivals and businesses. Housing downtown near the train station is particularly desirable, says Wallace. “There are many historic homes close to downtown,” she says. While downtown is popular, the Fox River is the centerpiece of Geneva, says Wallace. “We have parks, bike paths, inns and wonderful restaurants along our riverfront.”

The city’s active Historical Preservation Department keeps historic homes protected, while new construction creates additional choices for buyers, Wallace says. “We have practically every type of home and lifestyle available,” she says, adding that buyers can choose from historic homes, golf-course communities, suburban subdivisions, upscale townhomes and more rural residences. Home prices range from around $150,000 to more than $2 million, Wallace says.

Families fit in comfortably in Geneva, which has a solid selection of public and private schools and plenty of celebrations. “Festivals are the highlight of Geneva’s year,” says Wallace, naming Geneva’s Swedish Days, Christmas Walk and Fine Arts festivals, among others.

Geneva residents also can take advantage of the area’s mix of independent and chain retailers. Geneva Commons, which is similar to Oakbrook Center, features numerous retailers and restaurants, says Wallace. Downtown Geneva is also a shopping and eating destination, with unique stores and local restaurants, she says.

East Garfield Park
An abundance of affordable homes located in close proximity to downtown Chicago is fueling growth in East Garfield Park, an area close to I-290 and sandwiched between Douglas and Garfield Parks, two of Chicago’s largest parks. Compared to other Chicago neighborhoods, “this is an area that is affordable and where a homebuyer can maximize price per square foot,” says Steven J. Barton, sales associate with New West Realty.

The affordable housing is attracting first-time homebuyers, investors and young buyers tired of commuting to the Loop from the suburbs. “One of the fantastic benefits of this community is homeowners can obtain significantly more home for their money,” often with a garage included, says Barton. The commute to downtown on I-290 or on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line is short, he adds.

East Garfield Park buyers will find a plethora of new developments, from one-bedroom condominiums to three-story townhomes, says J.P. Sanavaitis, executive vice president of New West Realty Group Construction LLC, the developers of Heritage Homes in East Garfield Park. “This diverse product attracts a diverse group of people with different needs,” Sanavaitis says.

There is a lot of new-business development moving west along I-290. The neighborhood’s growth is similar to the tremendous boom experienced in the South Loop along the lakeshore for the past eight to 10 years, says Barton. “In addition to many new homes, there will be new stores and eateries coming to the community,” says Barton.

The neighborhood’s growth is expected to continue, especially if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics. The city plans on building an $80 million aquatic center in Douglas Park if it secures the Olympic games. The aquatic center will later be converted into a water park and tourist attraction after the games, says Barton.

Yorkville is a rural, hometown community situated in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, says Lauralee McElroy, Realtor with RE/MAX Great American II. Positioned in Kendall County near Route 47 and Ogden Avenue, Yorkville is attracting buyers interested in a quaint community near easy commuting routes. “The projections for our community all call for continued growth,” she says, adding that the influx of residential and commercial construction has been instrumental in bringing about the area’s change.

Despite its growth, Yorkville still maintains many small-town qualities, says McElroy. She describes a central park with a gazebo used for celebrations and free, family-friendly community events. The downtown area with its older, historic buildings sits on the Fox River, and residents regularly take part in fishing and canoeing. Such activities in “the natural setting by the river and the picturesque farmland that surrounds Yorkville helps to perverse that rural, hometown image,” says McElroy. It also is what attracts families to the area, she adds.

Most of Yorkville’s housing consists of single-family homes with three to four bedrooms, basements and two- to three-car garages, says McElroy. There is a mix of new and existing homes in the market, though the majority of offerings are new construction. Buyers also will find townhomes and duplexes. More than 10 new subdivisions are growing in the area, including an upscale golf community, says McElroy. Many of the subdivisions include an on-site school, pool, sport field and clubhouse. “The wide range of prices, styles and sizes being offered leaves the door wide open for most anyone to be able to find their dream home in Yorkville,” she says.

In addition to a variety of home options, buyers also will find new retailers and restaurants as well as healthcare and service providers, says McElroy. “Residents used to have to travel to the Aurora and Naperville areas to do their shopping and receive various services. That is no longer the case,” she says. Big box retailers have moved into the area and the community’s population growth has led to new schools and community buildings, including a new post office and library. For families looking for summer fun, a water park is another new Yorkville addition.

Albany Park
A diverse neighborhood rich in cultural history situated on Chicago’s north side, Albany Park is poised for change. “I anticipate Albany Park will finally be recognized as what it has been for generations: a great place to live, where you can raise a family, grow a business or get downtown with tremendous ease,” says Kathleen Weiss Boyle, Realtor with Century 21 McMullen Real Estate Inc. The area offers cultural diversity set among many parks, schools and retailers, making it a great area for families where buyers can still find bargains, she says.

The neighborhood is “like no other, but it has been overlooked for decades,” says Weiss Boyle. As the Thomas Edison Gifted School moves from Edison Park to Albany Park, she predicts more families will be moving to the area to be close to the top-rated school, spurring an increase in real estate values.

First-time buyers, families and empty-nesters alike will find plenty of housing options in Albany Park, says Weiss Boyle. Condominiums range from $90,000 to $545,000, and two- and four-flats are priced from $275,000 to $700,000. Single-family homes, some of which sit on the riverfront and hold water rights, range in price from $240,000 up to $900,000 she says.

Investors looking for rental units will appreciate the strong rental market in Albany Park, says Weiss Boyle. Multi-unit and mixed-use buildings suitable for apartment conversions are priced from $500,000 to more than $2.5 million. There also are ample commercial properties available, she adds.

Ultimately, Albany Park is the right place for buyers looking for a diverse mix of languages and cultures. “For some, diversity is something found on the menu at the hottest new restaurant,” says Weiss Boyle. “In Albany Park, it is found everywhere you look.”

Huntley, located along the I-90 corridor 45 minutes west of Chicago’s Loop, is a community in transition. Ten years ago, “Huntley was where the earth literally almost fell off,” says Tony Bellino, owner and broker of Huntley-based RE/MAX Superior Properties. Now the rural farming community situated among corn and soybean fields is attracting big retailers, new services and new developments as well as young families and retired couples, says Bellino. “Everything else is developed when you’re heading west. This is the next bastion of reasonably-priced real estate,” he says.

The community’s transition started when Del Webb established a 55-and-older community in Huntley. Once Dell Webb “took notice of Huntley, then everyone else started taking notice of it,” says Bellino. Sun City Huntley, the Del Webb community, tripled the size of Huntley and attracted numerous big box retailers, he says.

In addition to retirees, young buyers in their 30s and families are flocking to Huntley and taking advantage of its reasonable housing prices. “They all work east and commute from Huntley to Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates” and other nearby towns, says Bellino. Buyers will find mostly single-family detached homes averaging between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet and priced from mid-$200,000 to mid-$300,000, he says. Townhomes represent only 20 percent of the community’s housing growth, and there are few apartments and condominiums, says Bellino.

As Huntley continues its growth, new hospitals, schools and municipal buildings are moving into the area along with new housing developments. But despite the community’s advancement and forward thinking, it is unlikely that Huntley will lose its small-town charm, says Bellino. “Huntley always will have that small-town feel. The government is trying to maintain the integrity of the old town,” he says.

Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing at Del Webb agrees: Huntley and Sun City Huntley residents “enjoy the best of two worlds — a quaint downtown village atmosphere as well as newer restaurants, shopping and exciting plans for future amenities.” C.A.

Steven J. Barton
Sales Associate
New West Realty

Tony Bellino
RE/MAX Superior Properties

Kathleen Weiss Boyle
Century 21 McMullen Real Estate Inc.

Sheila Rugege Dantzler
Real Estate Consultant
Weichert Realtors, First Chicago

Lauralee McElroy
RE/MAX Great American II

Steven Sims
Coldwell Banker Residential, Downtown Evanston

Marsha Wallace
Realty Executives Fox Valley

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