The Lycee Francais, a French international school, has been operating in Chicago since 1995, but this past Tuesday it opened its new four-acre campus in Lincoln Square. Located at Wilson Avenue just east of Damen Avenue, the new complex's striking international design matches its international enrollment. In the four-year lead-up to the grand opening, Lincoln Square has, like North Side counterparts, marched its housing and business community out of recession and into new prosperity. Unlike in other close-by neighborhoods, the anticipation surrounding the relocation of this prestigious pre-K–12 school, with its 700 students and $18,200 tuition, has brought compounding actors to the local housing market.

It’s hard to quantify a private school’s precise impact on home values because no district lines exist to exert a geographic pull on families. The best indicator comes from looking at changes in market time for listings and price spikes in certain subsets of the housing stock. In Lincoln Square, for-sale inventory has been very low going back at least to 2011, when Lycee Francais announced its move, largely because people are laying roots for the long haul. Faced with the option of buying expensive new construction homes or converted two-flats, many newcomers choose the latter, sometimes doing the conversion themselves.

Two-flats directly opposite Lycee Francais on Wilson Avenue
Houses along Wilson Avenue, directly across from the new campus. Photo: Ian Spula

Multiple Listing Service (MLS) area surveys monitoring sales of two- to four-flats from Montrose to Lawrence and Ravenswood to Western, show a 40 percent increase in average sale price between 2011 and 2015, to date; from $444,000 to $619,000, a jump of 39 percent. The biggest jump in Lincoln Square, a full 33 percent, came from 2012 to 2013, and has slowed since. That one-year spike also existed in surrounding neighborhoods, but to a lesser extent: 7 percent in Albany Park, 19 in Edgewater, and 9 in North Center.

The sample set is small, but sales demonstrate climbing values each year. “In this part of town, 95 percent of these sales are two-flats, rather than three- or four-flats,” says Christy Sears, an agent with @properties and mother of a 2nd grader at Lycee Francais. As for time on the market, working within the same sub-neighborhood boundaries, it took the average two-flat 168 days to get a sales contract in 2011. This year so far, 99 days is the norm. Sears and her team have sold around 15 Lincoln Square homes in the last 18 months, “and with each there have been at least a couple of inquiries or offers from Lycee families.”

She and other agents have taken the initiative over the last few years to mention the new Lycee in listing materials. “When the school announcement came, it was the worst time in real estate. Market recovery has since worked in concert with the school’s draw to produce the surge in home value.”

It’s impossible to attribute an exact piece of that surge to the school, but a side-by-side comparison in two- to four-flat sales prices with high-performing neighbors Edgewater, North Center, and Albany Park from 2011 to 2015 gives the advantage to Lincoln Square: all have seen significant appreciation but Lincoln Square edged out piping hot Edgewater (+37%) and North Center (+28%), home of the coveted Bell School. Albany Park had an incredible 60 percent spike in this housing type, owing mostly to a low starting point ($223,000 in 2011) and rapid gentrification.

Back of the school, with soccer field and playground.

“There are a few private schools with strong geographical pull,” says Michael Hobbs, president of PahRoo Appraisal & Consultancy. “Francis Parker, Latin, and Emet Day come to mind. I think Lycee’s pull is at least as strong, maybe stronger, given its location in a somewhat affordable neighborhood.” Lower house prices versus Lincoln Park or Lakeview translates to ongoing property tax savings which helps offset Lycee’s $18,000 tuition.

For detached single-family homes in Lincoln Square, median sales price has climbed nearly $100,000 in 12 months per Hobbs’s data, from $577,000 to $676,000; in Lincoln Park the increase was only $20,000, from $1.58 to $1.6 million. “I expect to see more owners voting with their dollars for proximity to the school,” adds Hobbs. “Also, instead of selling, I’m seeing people reinvest in their homes. Unless you’re opting for the suburbs, where else in the city would you choose to move?”

Some of the school’s impact may be felt over time. The campus is a dramatic improvement to the streetscape over a vacant hospital structure, and many of the students and staff walk or bike to work, activating a somewhat peripheral part of the neighborhood. “Our school embodies a European approach to walkability and integration within the neighborhood,” says Lycee facilities committee chair Douglas Lyons, “The bike racks were jammed on opening day.” This obviously puts a premium on living close by, and the area’s multiple price points and housing types suit the school’s families, faculty, and staff.