While there is pressure on President-elect Barack Obama to help resuscitate the nation’s moribund real-estate scene, he has already helped at least one very localized segment of the Chicago market: Kenwood. Obama’s historic election has drawn worldwide attention to his hometown neighborhood and the better-known community just to the south, Hyde Park. Both neighborhoods have long been undervalued, their fantastic collection of houses—from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and from average-size to colossal—pulling down significantly smaller prices than counterparts on the North Side. But now, buoyed by the presence of the Midwestern White House, the tide may turn.
The first house to sell in “Obama-Wood” since the presidential election was a 12-room, three-story Georgian that closed on December 3rd with a sale price of $1.25 million. (That was also the asking price—and the house sold in under a week.) Built in 1924 and owned for the past three decades by a University of Chicago professor and his lawyer wife, the house sits just 50 feet outside the barricades that have gone up around the Obamas’ block.
The buyers, Laura Coe and Jill Harris, moved in from Bucktown. They didn’t come to Kenwood because of Obama—Coe grew up in Hyde Park and has several family members still living nearby—but they already appreciate the presence of the president-elect’s family. “There’s so much security in the neighborhood, I feel like our three-year-old could go out and dance in the middle of the street,” says Coe. “Security issues have always been a problem in Hyde Park and Kenwood. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for a while now.”
The couple actually made a deal to buy the house in early August, before the Democrats had officially anointed Obama as their nominee. Because of delays in the sellers’ closing on their next home, the sale here didn’t close for three months, during which time Obama sealed a deal of his own. Like others in the neighborhood, Coe thinks the Obama spotlight might gradually help close the gap between home values here and those on the North Side. “The North Side has boomed all the way up to Andersonville,” Coe says, “but the South Side has been slower. This is a chance for Kenwood and Hyde Park to catch up.” (It would also be nice, she says, if the neighborhoods caught up on retail and restaurant offerings, which are sparse; reporters have been flocking to Italian Fiesta Pizza, reportedly an Obama favorite at Lake Park Avenue and 47th Street.)
Diane Silverman, a longtime real-estate agent in the area—her company, Urban Search, sold the Obamas their house in 2005—notes that there was once a promotional campaign designed to attract homebuyers to the Hyde Park and Kenwood area. “Live Among Giants,” it urged, suggesting not only the enormous old houses and tall trees, but also the prominent people—such as the boxer Muhammad Ali, the Sears magnate Julius Rosenwald, and a slew of Nobel Prize winners—who have called the community home. “Having the President of the United States live in the neighborhood raises us to a whole new level,” Silverman says.