Illustration by: Supertotto
Best Places to Live in the Suburbs

Whether you’re looking for a new build or just hunting for more space, the burbs are beckoning. Here’s where to start the search for your dream home in your dream town.

May 21, 2024, 6:00 am

RELATED: Evanston vs. Oak Park: A Suburban Smackdown

Where You Can get a Big House For Less Than $1 Million

If you’re in a “Go big or don’t buy the home” mindset, these are the spots where you can find 4,000 square feet (and sometimes a lot more) without spending seven figures.

The Hurtado Reyeses
lemont | $725,000

Originally from Colombia, Augusto Hurtado and Catalina Reyes moved to the United States from Mexico three years ago. Last November, to give themselves and their 10-year-old twins plenty of space, they bought a 4,300-square-foot house in the far southwest suburbs. They’re putting in some work, such as repairing the roof, but Augusto sees a big upside: “Lemont is an area full of potential. It seems to be on the way up. We hope to stay here for a long time.”

Median sale price: $515,000
Five-year increase: 31%

This suburb just south of I-55 is booming. Over the past 20 years, its population has increased by a third, to 18,000. While housing prices have responded accordingly, you can still get a lot for your money. There’s a healthy inventory of massive properties under the $1 million mark, such as the 5,800-square-foot five-bedroom that sold for $899,900 this spring or the 6,300-square-foot six-bedroom with a six-foot-deep koi pond and a three-car garage that listed for $859,000. Nearly 40 percent of homes here have at least four bedrooms, compared with 17 percent across Cook County. Located along the Des Plaines River, Lemont also offers easy access to loads of outdoor opportunities, including biking trails along the Illinois and Michigan Canal, as well as the Forge, a 300-acre adventure park of ziplines, rope courses, and paddling.

$935,000 (sold) | 107 Bradwell Rd., 6 bedrooms, 5,300 sq. ft.
Photograph: Edward Sloka Photography
Median sale price: $762,000
Five-year increase: 37%

You’re not going to find a mansion for less than $1 million on the North Shore. But west of there, in Inverness, where two-thirds of the homes have at least four bedrooms, you’ll find similar footprints at better price points: say, just under $1 million for a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom estate, its interior nearly entirely updated since 2016. (For comparison: In Highland Park, a renovated four-bedroom listed for $925,000 this spring — but had 1,800 fewer square feet.) And if outdoor space is your priority, there are some stunners in this town of 7,000, like a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom ranch with a renovated open kitchen sitting on 1.5 acres along a lake. It recently sold for just under a million bucks. Some 35 miles northwest of the Loop, Inverness doesn’t have its own Metra stop, but Palatine’s station is a 10-minute drive away.

Median sale price: $495,000
Five-year increase: 46%

A million bucks buys you a lot of house almost anywhere south of I-80, but it’s hard to beat Frankfort. In this town of 21,000, more than half the homes have at least four bedrooms (and 16 percent have at least five) — and you don’t have to spend too big to get something really big. A 5,800-square-foot, five-bedroom ranch sold for $875,000 this spring, while a 5,200-square-foot four-bedroom with a basement theater sold for $775,000. If you want even more space, $900,000 could get you a staggering 7,000 square feet. Out here, an hour south of the Loop, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of open spaces around town, too: The 22-mile Old Plank Road Trail runs right through Frankfort’s downtown.

oak brook
Median sale price: $1.15 million
Five-year increase: 36%

Houses in this town of 8,000 are built with size in mind: Twenty-four percent boast at least five bedrooms. Many of those are priced in the seven figures. But a budget of less than $1 million can still land you something in the 4,000-square-foot range — with one caveat: Such properties will “need some polishing,” says Compass broker Kelly Stetler. “You’re getting a lot of land and a lot of space, but they’re generally outdated.” A prime example: a five-bedroom that recently sold for $849,000. Though the 4,800-square-foot property was the definition of luxury back when it was built in 1977, time has passed it by. A 4,900-square-foot five-bedroom that recently sold for $900,000 is further evidence that buyers who can see the potential in a dated property can score big. Bonus: Oak Brook doesn’t have a municipal property tax, unlike the vast majority of Illinois towns.

$930,000 | 36W568 Timber Ridge Ct., 4 bedrooms, 4,700 sq. ft.
Photograph: Fox Valley Media Arts
St. Charles
Median sale price: $485,000
Five-year increase: 39%

In this 33,000-resident town along the Fox River, you can stay below your $1 million budget and get massive spaces. For $899,900, one buyer recently managed to score a 5,900-square-foot, five-bedroom traditional home on more than five acres (equivalent to around four Soldier Fields), suitable for horse ownership. And if you want water views, look no further than the 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom riverfront home listed for $1 million in the spring. The property comes with a Sea-Doo landing pad, and when you’re done with water adventures, you can relax in the hot tub or sip wine by the fire pit. There’s plenty of room to stretch out beyond your backyard in this town, with more than 1,450 acres of park space.

Where You Can get a Pretty Big House for $500,000

You aren’t going to find a mansion at this price, but you can still get space — close to 3,000 square feet — as long as you don’t mind a long commute to the city in some cases.

$435,000 (sold) | 355 W. Winding Trail Cir., 4 bedrooms, 3,000 sq. ft.
Photograph: VHT Studios
round lake
Median sale price: $327,000
Five-year increase: 47%

You’ll be closer to the Wisconsin border than you will be to the Loop, but if you enjoy a work-from-home lifestyle, you’ll have plenty of room for a home office in this town of just over 18,000. With a median construction year of 2003, the homes out here are relatively young, and more than 35 percent have at least four bedrooms. The 3,600-square-foot four-bedroom that sold for $449,000 this spring is an example of just how far your dollars will stretch in Round Lake. And you might even be able to land a place with a just-remodeled feel, too, like the 3,700-square-foot four-bedroom with an updated kitchen that sold for $460,000 this spring. The tradeoff: The Metra ride to Union Station takes more than 90 minutes on the Milwaukee District North line.

$480,000 | 42 Graymoor Ln., 5 bedrooms, 4,000 sq. ft.
Photograph: Sheila Barney-Shannon/26.2 Realty
Olympia Fields
Median sale price: $339,000
Five-year increase: 59%

Olympia Fields, with fewer than 5,000 residents, is a small town that specializes in big spaces: 52 percent of the homes here have at least four bedrooms (compared with 17 percent for Cook County as a whole). And most come with a refreshingly approachable price tag, like the 4,000-square-foot five-bedroom on a full acre that recently sold for $480,000. Though the vast majority of the houses were built between 1940 and 1999, you can score one with a sizable footprint that feels new, like the 2,900-square-foot, four-bedroom number built in 1970 but featuring a fully renovated kitchen and finished basement that listed for $415,000 in the spring.

$476,000 | 1009 Grandview Dr., 4 bedrooms, 3,800 sq. ft.
Photograph: Kim Katsenes @properties
New Lenox
Median sale price: $425,000
Five-year increase: 42%

With a population of 28,000 and a mix of suburban and rural vibes, New Lenox feels like a small town, albeit one just 50 minutes from Chicago on Metra’s Rock Island line. The inventory here is ideal for space chasers: 41 percent of homes have at least four bedrooms, among them a 3,700-square-footer fresh off a 2021 rehab that listed for $498,500 this spring. With plenty of land here still to be developed, prices are reasonable, even for something brand new: In Darby Farm, a development by M/I Homes, $500,000 will get you four bedrooms and just under 3,000 square feet. That affordability helps explain why families make up 82 percent of households here. There’s plenty for them in town, too: New Lenox is in the early stages of developing a sister museum to KidsWork Children’s Museum in neighboring Frankfort, as well as a 100-acre sports complex.

Median sale price: $418,000
Five-year increase: 44%

Four bedrooms and 3,300 square feet for half a million bucks? It’s possible in Oswego, where 45 percent of the housing stock has at least four bedrooms. That includes the 3,400-square-foot home recently listed for $440,000. While it lies almost 50 miles from downtown Chicago, this village of 36,000, which straddles Will and Kendall Counties, has been booming in recent years as the urban sprawl continues westward. It’s not just exurban subdivisions, either — the historic downtown along the Fox River offers plenty to see, taste, and do. Adding to the appeal: Oswego is working to be part of a Metra extension into Kendall County. If this town’s ambitious plans are realized, it won’t be only commuters coming out here. City officials approved plans for a 24,000-seat professional cricket stadium — yes, cricket — late last year.

Where Your YOUNG Family Can Blossom

Your spouse, your kids, your dog — everyone will love it in these places, thanks to great parks, strong schools, low crime, and plenty of other families to socialize with.

The Diemers
flossmoor | $561,000

Jon and Jenna Diemer were renting in neighboring Homewood with their newborn, Lucas, before buying this four-bedroom house. The couple were drawn to Flossmoor not just by their own familial ties but by the town’s strong schools, sense of community, and diversity. “There’s something infectious about Flossmoor,” Jon says. “People like coming back or sticking around.”

Median sale price: $380,000
Five-year increase: 22%

If you’re already looking ahead to where your little ones will go when they’re not so little, consider Westmont, a town of 24,000. Mike Berg of Berg Properties calls it a “hidden gem” for families, largely due to its highly rated schools. And for commuters, it’s only 55 minutes on Metra’s BNSF line from Union Station. One benefit of being overlooked? The housing is significantly more affordable than in neighboring Hinsdale. A three-story, four-bedroom house within walking distance of the Metra station sold for $775,000 in the spring, a relative bargain for the area. Bonus: Its three garages can fit a total of 10 cars — or the recording studio for that family band you’ve always wanted to start.

Median sale price: $325,000
Five-year increase: 41%

Seventy-five percent of households in this town of 9,300 are family households, so your little ones won’t have much trouble finding a playmate. And when they get older, there’s the highly rated public high school Flossmoor shares with neighboring Homewood. The housing stock is on the older side (60 percent built before 1970) — such as the 1956 four-bedroom Cape Cod that sold for $315,000 this spring — but that allows buyers to get in at lower price points. For more money, you’ll find places with more room and less need for updates, like the 4,200-square-foot five-bedroom with a finished basement that recently sold for $625,000.

$812,000 (sold) | 433 Redstart Rd., 4 bedrooms, 2,800 sq. ft.
Photograph: Ryan Lynch/Creative Light Studios
Median sale price: $633,000
Five-year increase: 46%

From Knoch Park’s trails and ball fields to the 465-acre McDowell Grove Forest Preserve, there’s no shortage of green space in this town of 149,000. No wonder so many families live here. They constitute 75 percent of households, compared with 64 percent for the seven-county Chicago metro region. That’s not the only draw. “Naperville schools are phenomenal,” Compass broker Kelly Stetler says. And you can find plenty of space for a family here. A 3,000-square-foot four-bedroom with a finished basement and backyard pool recently sold for $750,000. If you’re on a tighter budget, you’ll want to start your search on the fringe of town. “The closer you get to downtown, the higher the prices,” says Berg.

Lake Arlington Park in Arlington Heights
Photograph: Mark Ukena/Pioneer Press
Arlington Heights
Median sale price: $485,000
Five-year increase: 29%

While it’s looking less and less likely the Bears will actually move to this town of 75,000, plenty of families are, drawn in part by top-rated schools like John Hersey High School. The inventory here offers plenty of room for growing your clan: This spring, more than half the homes listed for sale had at least four bedrooms. A 3,000-square-foot split-level next to Frontier Park, one of 58 parks maintained by the town, sold for $599,000 this spring. For an additional couple of hundred thousand, you can get something more modern, like the renovated bungalow with four bedrooms, a designer kitchen, and three designer bathrooms that recently closed for just under $800,000.

Where a Single Person Can Thrive

Swipe right to find a suburb you’re going to love, featuring dynamic downtowns, a healthy supply of condos, and lots of young people.

Note: The median sale figures in this category are for attached housing

Sketchbook Brewing Company in Evanston
Photograph: Sketchbokk Brewing CO.
Median sale price: $275,000
Five-year increase: 11%

Remember that cable news panelist who went viral a few years ago for claiming he was from Chicago when he was actually from its North Shore neighbor? (“Bruh, you’re from Evanston!”) He was deservedly mocked, but in fairness, this lakeside university town feels like an extension of the city. Boasting seven L stops and three Metra stations, this 76,000-resident suburb is one of the area’s most walkable, and there are plenty of entertainment options: You can enjoy a Detroit-style pizza from Union Squared before heading to SPACE to catch a major act in a minor-size venue, then finish your evening sipping craft cocktails at Ward Eight. Another draw for single buyers? The town’s stock of multifamily buildings. Thirty percent of the housing comes in buildings of 20 or more units, compared with just 19 percent for Cook County as a whole. And many of those units are relatively affordable. Consider the updated two-bedroom condo on Sheridan Road that sold for $229,000 this spring. One downside to some downtown condo living in Evanston, though: a lack of in-unit laundry.

Median sale price: $317,000
Five-year increase: 25%

“Elmhurst is a good place for young people,” says Litsa Lekatsos, a Compass broker. “[Developers] are building a lot of apartments there, including some studios, and there is great proximity to the city.” For renters, a studio at the Fynn, a new apartment complex a few blocks from the Metra station, starts at $1,860 a month. Four blocks away, Vyne on Haven has one-bedrooms for $2,300. A heads-up if you’re looking to buy: Condos come with big-city prices, such as the updated 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom listed for $439,000 this spring or the two-bedroom in the Hill, a luxury building downtown, that sold for $695,000. Elmhurst isn’t as pedestrian friendly as some suburbs closer to Chicago, but it bests most of its DuPage County neighbors in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s walkability index. And though it’s easy to get to the city from here, local night-out options like the Elmhurst Brewing Company and the supper-clubby 100 South Chop House and Grill might keep you close to home.

$210,000 (sold) | 4459 Timber Ridge Ct., 2 bedrooms, 1,200 sq. ft.
Photograph: Cris Cunningham
Median sale price: $246,000
Five-year increase: 49%

Some call it a suburb; others see it as a city in its own right — with 150,000 residents, the third largest in the state. No matter how you look at Joliet, one truth is clear: If you want some city amenities without forking out major dollars, this is the place to do it, particularly in the southwest suburbs. Just look at what you can get: A two-bedroom townhome with a two-car garage and a deck perfect for entertaining was on the market for $235,000 this spring, and upping your budget to $330,000 could get you a new-construction townhome with three beds, two and a half baths, and nearly 1,800 square feet in a development with tennis courts, a bike path, and a pool. And there’s plenty to do around town that will appeal to younger buyers: Play disc golf at one of the city’s three courses, or head to Cut 158 Chophouse for an upscale evening.

$220,000 (sold) | 7251 Randolph St., 3 bedrooms, 1,200 sq. ft.
Photograph: Salvatore Lazzara/Parkvue Realty
Forest Park
Median sale price: $158,000
Five-year increase: 22%

Oak Park gets plenty of love, but if you’re looking for a place to fly solo, don’t sleep on its neighbor to the west. More than half of Forest Park’s 14,000 residents fall into the “nonfamily” category, and nearly a quarter into the 20-to-34-year-old age group, so you’ll be able to find plenty of other young people who have moved west. You’ll also find contemporary condos like the $225,000 three-bedroom unit with an updated kitchen and shared rooftop space just a few blocks from the lively Madison Street corridor, which features everything from old-school Italian at Caffe De Luca to Latin-inspired cervezas at the new location of the craft brewer Casa Humilde. And if that’s not enough excitement for you, it’s easy to get into the Loop via the Blue Line, and the Green Line and Metra’s Union Pacific West line both have stops just across the Harlem Avenue border into Oak Park.

Where You Can Find a Brand-New HOME

We get it: You are sick of “vintage charm.” But with the pace of development slowing, new houses are in short supply these days. The reality: You’re going to have to pay a premium, especially closer to the city.

The Kellys
downers Grove | $1.4 million

“This is our forever house,” says Nicole Kelly. She and her husband, Brian, bought a new-construction modern farmhouse last summer within walking distance of downtown Downers Grove because they wanted something they could customize for their family of five. They also wanted the latest appliances, even if all that fancy new stuff takes some getting used to. “You can run the oven through Wi-Fi,” Nicole says, “but I still haven’t figured out how to do it.”

$1.4 million (sold) | 512 Wilson St., 4 bedrooms, 3,300 sq. ft.
Photograph: Positive Image/Chestnut Homes
downers grove
Median sale price: $480,000
Five-year increase: 26%

“Downers Grove is the most active market I’ve seen with new construction that’s actually available,” says Michael Freiburger, principal at the Wilmette-based builder Newlook. Translation: New homes in suburbs this close to the city are often snapped up before they ever hit the open market. That’s not as much the case in this town of 49,000. The bulk of new construction is happening between 63rd Street and Ogden Avenue, such as the four-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home two blocks from the Metra’s Belmont station recently listed for $620,000. You’ll have to pay more to be an easy walk from downtown, especially if you want more space: A new 4,300-square-foot, four-bed, four-and-a-half-bath modern farmhouse just off Main Street went on the market for $1.7 million this spring.

Median sale price: $525,000
Five-year increase: 14%

Since 2010, 45,000-resident Elmhurst has issued nearly 1,300 housing permits, making it one of the busiest markets per capita for new construction among the western burbs, according to Kelly Stetler of Compass. Developers here have long been eager to tear down and rebuild, confident that they’ll find a buyer in this sought-after suburb just 30 minutes from downtown via Metra’s Union Pacific West express service. In early April, more than 25 percent of single-family homes for sale here were new. The catch: You’ll have to spend close to $1.5 million for that new-house smell. A 2023 modern farmhouse that recently sold for $1.43 million had 3,600 square feet, four bedrooms, and 14 (yes, 14!) closets.

Des Plaines
Median sale price: $218,000 (attached housing)
Five-year increase: 28%

Good luck finding a brand-new single-family home in the north and northwest suburbs, where undeveloped plots are hard to come by. Des Plaines is an exception: Town officials have been working to redevelop vacant land in a long-term effort to attract a new Metra station on the North Central Service line. But what can you nab in this 59,000-resident suburb right now? A new townhome. Halston Market, a 125-unit development, features five floor plans, including the LaSalle, a three-bedroom model with a two-car garage that goes for about $460,000, and the Ontario, which offers a bigger footprint — more than 1,900 square feet — for just under $500,000.

Median sale price: $430,000
Five-year increase: 60%

Want to find a recent build south of the city? Tim Kavanaugh of eXp Realty suggests looking at this village of 10,000 near Joliet. Over half — 58% — of the town’s housing stock was built in 2000 or later. And in this far southwest suburb, there’s still room for more construction. Take Ivanhoe, D.R. Horton’s new development, where a four-bedroom with an open floor plan and smart-home technology runs about $420,000. If you have a bigger budget, you can get something more spacious, like the five-bedroom traditional house with a three-car garage that recently sold for $569,900. Homes aren’t the only new things popping up here: In late 2023, local officials greenlit a downtown development plan to attract more business and amenities.

NOTE: Median sale prices are for 2023. All data is for detached housing unless otherwise indicated.
SOURCE: Midwest Real Estate Data