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Chicago’s Sluggish Luxury Condo Market Still Beats NYC’s “Bloodbath”

A wellspring of new developments seems to be sating Chicago’s hunger for high-priced units — but more are still on the way.

An aerial view of One Bennett Park, one of a number of luxury residential towers that has sprung up downtown in recent years.   Photo: Courtesy of Related Midwest

Chicago’s luxury condo market has cooled off significantly since 2018, but don’t expect a Manhattan-style meltdown.

In a plunge described by commentators as a “bubble” and “bloodbath,” the median price of high-end condos and co-ops built in New York’s premier borough plummeted by 24 percent over the course of FY2019. Noting that nearly half of new units had remained unsold since 2015, the New York Times proclaimed last month that the residential tower boom that altered the city’s skyline in the 2010s had gone bust. The beginning of the 2020s would represent a “reckoning with reality,” in the words of one expert.

The news isn’t quite so grim for Chicago.

“The luxury market has been slowing down in a lot of cities, but New York is a different animal altogether,” says Matt Laricy, a broker at Americorp in River North. “The international super-rich want to buy expensive places there — it’s a bragging thing. As a result, [New York developers] overbuilt a lot, but here, it’s more slow and steady.”

The proof is in the numbers. Luxury condos and townhouse values fell here in 2019, but only by about three percent — significantly less than the 24 percent recorded in New York. That’s according to data provided by real estate site Zillow, which defines the nebulous term “luxury” as the 90th percentile of the market in terms of price per square foot.

More eyebrow-raising for developers and sellers is the 47 percent freefall of the number of luxury units sold in the city since 2017, as reflected by the same data: from 4,142 to 2,189 last year.

“The number of sales dropped off significantly across the board for condos, but even more for luxury,” says Jeff Tucker, an economist with Zillow.

At work is a typical chicken-and-egg effect between hesitant buyers and sellers. Wealthy condo seekers have been taking a wait-and-see approach when ponying up big bucks for new construction for a litany of reasons: uncertainty when it comes to interest rates, higher property taxes, and the overall local economy under a new mayor and governor. In turn, developers yank listings or pull projects.

For example, Crain’s reported earlier this month that Related Midwest, the developers behind One Bennett Park — the sparkling, ultra-luxe, 70-story Streeterville tower near Navy Pier — removed about 30 listings in late 2019, including three $14 million penthouses. You can currently snap up a two-bedroom, three-bath condo for $1.85 million, marked down from $1.95 million a few months ago. Likewise, a lack of demand for $1 million–plus luxury condos recently prompted developers to scrap plans to build a 12-story residential tower on the Near North Side in favor of a five-story boutique hotel.

According to Laricy, results also vary depending on the project. “One Bennett and the Tribune Tower are moving, but they’re not selling as well as you’d expect,” he says. “But the Hayden in the West Loop just crushed it.”

Signs also point to 2020 being something of a comeback year for Chicago’s luxury condo market. Zillow currently lists 369 more high-end units than they did in February 2019, and economic indicators nationwide are improving.

“Interest rates are coming back down and mortgage rates are down, while job reports are looking good,” Tucker says. “By now, a lot of question marks are gone.”

Rebecca Thomson, regional vice president at Coldwell Banker, is even more bullish on the future. She cited a UBS report published last year that ranked 24 global cities by risk of property price bubbles. Chicago was listed as the most undervalued and least risky, easily beating out other North American metropolises like New York, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

“Especially compared to coastal cities, Chicago is in a class of its own,” Thomson says. “You see luxury buildings still going up and steady gains since the Great Recession.”

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