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Best Suburbs for Move-Up Buyers

As increasing numbers of millennials trade up to a “forever home” (yes, they’re starting to hit that age), they are seeking more modest houses than their predecessors—less square footage and smaller lots—but still want safe streets, plenty of outdoor space, and access to good schools. This means that the best bets for growth are farther-flung suburbs that are short on McMansions and long on handsome but not oversize properties in well-established communities. Six suburbs offer excellent options in the $450,000 to $1 million range.

The Moodys
The Moodys: IT expert Anthony and forensic scientist Michelle bought their new four-bedroom house in Skokie for $595,000 and moved in last summer. It’s minutes on foot from their sons’ schools and the local library. Photo: Tim Klein

Arlington Heights

Median house sale price:$370,000
Change since 2006:–11%
Change since 2015:4%

With Metra access and a quaint main street, this suburb northwest of O’Hare attracts many kinds of buyers. But its tranquil feel and abundance of family-friendly community programs make it an especially popular choice for growing households eager to put down roots. There’s a nice mix of property, too, according to Collins-Mroz. “You’ll find some new builds as well as old beauties,” she says. For a buyer looking to move right in, a recently renovated six-bedroom house will cost around $750,000.

Aurora

Median house sale price:$185,350
Change since 2006:–13%
Change since 2015:9%

This far western suburb of 200,000 is drawing increasing numbers of homebuyers who are feeling crowded out of nearby Naperville, Wheaton, and Elmhurst. Aurora recently saw a surge in the construction of spacious single-family houses, but with two new Amazon warehouses promising to add jobs and a revitalized downtown boasting new dining and entertainment options—including an eclectic roster of events at the Paramount Theatre—that inventory will likely get snapped up quickly. Currently, a fully updated five-bedroom house on an acre and a half of land adjacent to a golf course—one of four—costs a little more than $500,000.

Bolingbrook

Median house sale price:$222,000
Change since 2006:–15%
Change since 2015:9%

With a considerable number of move-in-ready homes on big lots, and with lower prices than adjacent Naperville, this quiet western suburb is becoming a hub for growing families. “It’s a great move-up area,” says Shelly Askin of Coldwell Banker, “with plenty of new construction available.” You can find an updated six-bedroom home in Bolingbrook for less than $500,000.

Lake Zurich

Median house sale price:$320,000
Change since 2006:–11%
Change since 2015:4%

Public schools here outperform 90 percent of those in the state on standardized tests. This, and the possibility of being able to walk out your back door and go kayaking, makes the oft-overlooked northern suburb an increasingly popular choice for families looking to move up. A five-bedroom home on the shore of the pretty namesake lake sells for around $750,000.

A four-bedroom house in Prospect Heights
A four-bedroom house in Prospect Heights: $600,000 Photo: Courtesy of VHT

Prospect Heights

Median house sale price:$340,000
Change since 2006:–33%
Change since 2015:–5%

This northwestern suburb saw a sharper drop in prices during the crash than neighbors like Glenview, to the east. But with strong schools and easy access to I-294, it is poised for growth. A municipal quirk keeps home prices lower than those in comparable suburbs: Most properties in this somewhat rural-feeling town are not on a sewer or water grid. “It’s a little bit of a secret, especially for people who want big lots and are fine with well water and septic tanks,” says Holly Danielson Connors of @Properties.

Skokie

Median house sale price:$315,000
Change since 2006:–21%
Change since 2015:13%

Is Skokie the next Evanston? Not yet. This northwestern suburb lacks the critical mass of hip restaurants and main-street shopping. But give it a few years. Good schools, proximity to the city, and a top-notch park district—not to mention a farmers’ market, a good public library, and Kaufman’s Deli—portend strong growth. While much of the inventory needs updating, it’s still possible to get a 3,000-square-foot four-bedroom house for $500,000. A similar home in Evanston costs closer to $715,000. Properties in the southwestern part of the village, near the intersection of Oakton Street and Long Avenue, are experiencing the greatest appreciation right now.

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