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Where are the best bargain-priced homes in this battered real-estate market? Two sales in the city of Chicago can help answer that question. On an oversize lot in the South Shore neighborhood, a 90-year-old stucco bungalow recently updated with stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, and a stylish paint job was sold this past May for $230,000.
That same month, $230,000 also bought a house in Avondale (on the city’s Northwest Side, between the more expensive Irving Park and Logan Square neighborhoods). A foreclosed property with a grungy stucco exterior, the house needed some work inside as well: As the listing sheet put it, “A little TLC will go a long way.” Translation: “Yuck.”
Although both houses sit in attractive parts of town, the Avondale house is no steal, once you figure in the many thousands of dollars a rehab would likely require. The renovated South Shore house, already modernized, turns out to be the bargain, even though it is a little pricier than its immediate neighbors (most of them not yet brought up to date). And as it turns out, the South Shore stands out as one of seven city neighborhoods (along with seven suburbs) where today’s house hunters can find the best residential values.
Everybody who is looking for a home these days expects to find a once-in-a-decade bargain—and shoppers can, given the surfeit of unsold homes to choose from and the ongoing downward tilt of real-estate prices. But a superlow price isn’t the only criterion for calling a house a bargain. That’s where I come in.
Each week I roam the city and suburbs looking at real estate; over the past year I have looked closely at some 300 homes—and that doesn’t include the thousands of other places I casually observed as I traveled around. Using my years of experience, as well as the expertise of local sales agents, I have pinpointed 14 areas that, because of prices and other advantages—such as schools, parks, transportation, shopping, and dining—are bargain havens. Not all of these places have the same advantages, which is why I have highlighted the pluses and minuses for each area. (In some instances, where schools and other “advantages” are neither better nor worse than the norm, no comment is warranted.)
As you will see, many of these places benefit from their adjacency to a proven, popular, and often high-priced community. Each of these 14 neighborhoods and suburbs is a viable “off-brand” alternative that will likely grow steadily in value as the market makes its slow return to normalcy. Give them a few years and these places may be just as magnetic as the area’s more established—and more expensive—residential destinations.
For more detailed information on the price of real estate in these and more than 270 other neighborhoods and suburbs, see Chicago’s annual real-estate chart.
Illustration by Harry Campbell