Best Areas for First-Time Buyers
By Claire Zulkey
In this category, we looked for neighborhoods and fairly close suburbs that show good appreciation and low volatility for condos and small houses in the $150,000 to $450,000 range. We also looked at places with good schools—and not just because that’s often a big factor for first-timers. Even if you don’t have kids, strong schools bolster your investment, since they often go hand in hand with home price appreciation and stability.
In the City
Median house sale price:$313,750
Change since 2006:–16%
Change since 2015:10%
This quiet middle-class neighborhood on the Northwest Side has a distinctly suburban feel. But with its easy access to the Blue Line and the Kennedy Expressway—and steady postcrash growth—it’s becoming a draw for first-time homebuyers who want to live on a calm street but don’t want to leave the city altogether. A typical two-bedroom brick bungalow in Norwood Park can be had for less than $300,000.
Median condo sale price: $157,250
Change since 2006: –26%
Change since 2015: 1%
Experts say rising rents in this Far North Side neighborhood—up 12 percent over the past five years—bode well for home price appreciation. “The proximity to downtown is attractive to a lot of people,” says KoenigRubloff’s Chris Johnson. “There’s a lot at your disposal, like the shops and restaurants on Devon. Plus, the price per square foot is reasonable.” Improvements to the Loyola University lakefront campus and an influx of new businesses, including Target, are good signs of growth, too, as is Rogers Park’s inventory of stately prewar buildings. You can find a nice three-bedroom condo in Rogers Park for around $300,000.
Median condo sale price: $37,000
Change since 2006: –76%
Change since 2015: 23%
“This is probably the last affordable place in the city where you can own a bungalow walking distance from the lake and can still catch a bus downtown,” says community advocate Ava St. Claire. Yes, crime is higher in South Shore than in Hyde Park, just to the north, but the area is becoming popular with young professionals, who are drawn to a few good schools there, and it’s not as pricey: Currently, you can buy a rehabbed three-bedroom condo with a parking spot for about $180,000.
In the Suburbs
Median house sale price: $250,000
Change since 2006: –25%
Change since 2015: 3%
A common refrain among residents of this northwestern suburb is that you can enjoy the bustle of neighboring Park Ridge without paying Park Ridge prices. Schools in Des Plaines often fall lower in rankings, but the town recently introduced a new science curriculum for elementary school students as part of a push to boost test scores. Des Plaines also has a big, modern library, and the pharmaceutical company Vetter has announced the creation of 300 jobs at the plant it’s building there. “There’s now a huge influx of opportunity in Des Plaines, with lots of new condos,” says Marsha Collins-Mroz of HomeSmart Connect. A two-bedroom, two-bath brick home with a finished basement sells for less than $260,000.
Median house sale price: $170,000
Change since 2006: –36%
Change since 2015: 14%
It’s not unusual to find several generations of families living within blocks of each other in this tight-knit blue-collar western suburb. Melrose Park used to have a rough-and-tumble reputation, but today crime rates are actually lower than in tonier nearby suburbs, like Oak Park. “People all know each other here,” says Mike Coco, a resident who grew up in the area. “Everyone says hello.” A two-bedroom brick ranch house goes for about $185,000.
Median house sale price: $296,000
Change since 2006: –26%
Change since 2015: 7%
This near northwestern suburb has a particularly high number of residents aging out, which means young families willing to renovate will find lots of affordable options. “You can get a house for under $300,000, put $30,000 of work into it, and break even pretty soon,” says Mike Rickert of Rickert Realtors. Niles, which has a Metra stop nearby and free bus service, also recently launched a new initiative intended to enhance the village’s options for entertainment, fine arts, and dining.