Five years ago, with the housing market still wobbling, you wouldn’t have found much demand for units in a Gold Coast high-rise with a golf simulation room, an in-house car and driver, and top-of-the-line everything. But when empty nesters Diane and Vince DiBenedetto recently had the chance to upgrade from their nearby not-too-shabby residence by buying into the ultraluxurious 9 West Walton, still under construction, they didn’t pause, despite the hefty price tag. (The couple wouldn’t say what they’re paying, but the building’s upper levels are in the $10 million range.)
Diane, an interior design consultant, and Vince, who owns an insurance company, will have 7,000 square feet on the 32nd floor, complete with panoramic views, a custom-carved marble fireplace, and amenities such as a two-story fitness center with yoga and Pilates studios. Moreover, the building’s developer, Jim Letchinger of JDL Development, is allowing buyers to customize their floor plans—virtually unheard of in multiunit living. “He said, ‘Whatever you want,’ ” Diane recalls. “Who does that?”
The 38-floor 9 West Walton, due to be completed in 2018, is part of a new generation of downtown condos catering to the upper 2 percent of homebuyers. (If you have to ask the cost, you can’t afford it.) Prices per square foot have surpassed even peak bubble levels, which maxed out around $600 to $750. Now $1,000 to $1,500 or more is not uncommon. “The high end has moved higher,” Letchinger says. The average price per square foot at 9 West Walton is $1,150, and units on the upper floors are fetching as much as $1,700.
The lavish prices don’t seem to be a deterrent. For example, 9 West Walton, which is scheduled to have 20 percent of its units completed next year and the rest in 2018, is 90 percent sold. And it isn’t the first out of the gate: The 35-unit 4 East Elm, also in the Gold Coast, with prices around $900 per square foot, and the 25-unit 400 W. Huron in River North, averaging around $700 per square foot, are mostly sold, brokers say.
Other luxe projects in the pipeline boast a who’s who of marquee architects. Jeanne Gang’s Vista Tower, at 363–401 East Wacker Drive in Lakeshore East, a venture of Magellan Development Group and China’s Dalian Wanda Group, will include 406 luxury units atop a 191-room hotel. Developers JK Equities, Oaks Capital, and Time Equities tapped Helmut Jahn to design a 73-story tower dubbed 1000M at 1000 South Michigan Avenue. One Bennett Park, Related Midwest’s project at 451 East Grand Avenue, designed by New York–based Robert A.M. Stern Architects, has 69 condos (and 279 rental units). All are expected to sell at $1,000 per square foot and up.
The spate of planned new buildings marks a transformation downtown. Thousands of standard units were constructed leading up to the 2008 recession. The bust left a glut of overpriced and unsold stock. Financing dried up for new projects, with rentals picking up the slack.
Although construction of midpriced condos continues to stagnate, developers seem to have tapped into a desire among wealthy buyers for more luxurious units within walking distance of restaurants and shops. “These are homes that people can keep for years to come, not way stations en route to larger homes in the suburbs,” says Rebecca Thomson, a vice president at @Properties and president-elect of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
Developers are wooing buyers with fancy finishes, such as flawless white Italian marble and translucent Brazilian quartzite that costs up to $200 per square foot, all coming standard with the units, says Chicago stone supplier Sandya Dandamudi, who is working on 9 West Walton and other projects. “Developers,” she notes, “are not skimping.”
Of course, this push represents a relatively small slice of the market. The number of homes, including condo units, closing for more than $1 million adds up to less than 2 percent of the 125,000 sales in the area during the past 12 months, says Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors. “There are a lot of developers chasing this demographic,” she adds. “It may reach a saturation point.”
A new generation of Chicago condos takes luxury amenities to new heights.
• Private residential entry featuring Robert A.M. Stern custom-designed bronze sconces and ornamental metalwork (One Bennett Park)
• Expansive terrace with fire pit, hot tub, and pool (Vista Tower)
• Full-height polished white statuario marble tile shower and wainscot surround (One Bennett Park)
• Wine storage, wine-tasting room, and demonstration kitchen (Vista Tower)
• Covered outdoor dog run (400 W. Huron)
• Screening room with plush theater seating and state-of-the-art audio-visual system (4 East Elm)