Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune
Q: Hi, Dennis. My husband and I are considering buying our first condo. Our budget is $350,000, which limits us to two-bedrooms in most neighborhoods we have considered: West Town, East Village, Logan Square, Roscoe Village, and the periphery of Wicker Park and Bucktown. We found a beautiful condo in Avondale that was new construction in 2009. It has three bedrooms, which was a great advantage to us. It also has other amenities like a full-size laundry room, 2.5 baths, two balconies, and roof rights to build a rooftop deck.
However, we are not sure about the neighborhood and resale. Avondale appears to have more single-family homes and less condos. When we look to sell down the road, is it in a location that will be desirable to other condo buyers? Avondale is quieter, but there are some well known/newer restaurants. Avondale has close proximity to the expressway and public transportation. It borders Logan Square, but does not seem to be growing quite as fast.
We currently live in West Town. We love our location because it’s quiet, but we still have easy access to downtown and Wicker Park. Do you think that it would be a smart move to buy this condo in Avondale? —Lauren
A: Lauren, your dilemma is actually a pretty common one. You’re priced out of the best neighborhoods, so you’ve started looking in the next one over. This goes way back, especially in the years that neighborhoods on the North Side have been gentrifying.
Just 20 or 25 years ago, today’s established places like Bucktown and Wicker Park were less-expensive alternatives that some people went to when they couldn’t afford Lincoln Park. And before that, people got to Lincoln Park because they couldn’t afford the Gold Coast and Old Town. Of course there’s more to it than that—a lot of other factors also contributed to those neighborhoods gentrifying when they did—but my point here is that adjacency has its advantages.
You’ve already seen the key one: you can get more space and amenities in Avondale than in other neighborhoods you like.
You’re asking whether condo buyers will be interested when you go to sell. I guess I’d ask you a question: By then, do you expect condos to become any cheaper in Logan Square and the other places you’ve named, relative to Avondale? The desire to put down roots in the city—as opposed to spending young adulthood in the city and then hightailing it to the suburbs—seems to be growing all the time. While many families do still head for the suburbs, it’s not the only path anymore. I don’t foresee any slowing-down of the demand for housing in the neighborhoods you named. That’s both because many of the people who are already there will stay and because more will follow them.
The demand will almost inevitably spill over, and one of the places it’s very likely to go is Avondale, because Avondale is another step northwest after Logan Square and it has the transportation strengths you mentioned. We’ve already seen signs of that, and so have you, with new restaurants and other developments.
It hasn’t gentrified as fast as Logan Square, you’re right, but look at it this way: Logan Square was already well on its way when the downturn came. Avondale was the next in line, just getting started with some new construction. During the downturn, Avondale and other places like it took big hits. The latest construction and the latest buyers were among the ripest targets for foreclosure—and Avondale did end up with a swath of foreclosures. Also, for several years there was a greatly reduced flow of new investment into construction, restaurants and retail, the kinds of things that bring new excitement to a neighborhood. Which is to say: the party slowed down right when it was Avondale’s turn.
If our economy gets into a period of strong recovery—fingers crossed!—it seems likely, but not guaranteed, that Avondale would be a place where construction, retail and restaurants would start happening at a faster pace.
So somebody in your shoes has a decision to make: Buy a smaller home now in a better-established neighborhood, with the understanding that you may have to move on if your family changes and you need more space; or buy a larger place in the less-established neighborhood and be there if and when it starts to improve. I say “if” because nothing is guaranteed, but I really do think it’s a matter of when. It could be many years or just a few, depending on what happens with the Chicago region’s economy. In the meantime, all the shopping and dining of those other neighborhoods is easy to get to from Avondale.
Finally: you mentioned that your concern is partly that there are more houses than condos in the neighborhood. I don’t see why that would be a problem. We have many neighborhoods that are mixes of condos and houses, and I haven’t seen condo buyers being less interested when there are a lot of houses nearby. Houses imply (but don’t guarantee) stability, which a condo buyer would appreciate.
(Postscript: After I sent Lauren a reply but before we posted it today, she e-mailed back to say they’d decided to make an offer on the Avondale condo.)
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