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Suburbs get new look from city homebuyers


The below excerpt was written by Dennis Rodkin and originally published by Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday July 15th, 2020. Click here to read the full article.

It’s too soon for data that would show that the pandemic is causing buyers to shun city life for the suburbs, but interest is there.

Living 50 feet from the 606 trail, with hip restaurants and other amenities within easy reach, Colin Malone and Katie Boyle were committed to raising their family in the city. In the spring, with a second child on the way, the couple began house hunting for something bigger than their present address and were looking only in the city, largely in Ravenswood, Lincoln Square and Andersonville.

“I grew up in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove,” said Malone, a sales executive for a tech firm. “We prefer the city lifestyle.”

Then the COVID-19 shutdown prompted the 606 and many restaurants to close for months, and “we lost a lot of the lifestyle,” Malone said. They also considered that if future pandemics have a similar effect, “we will want to have more greenspace of our own than the little city backyard we have now.”

In June, the couple asked their agent, James Sheehan of Dream Town Realty, to shift the search into Oak Park, River Forest and a few other suburbs. They have not yet purchased, but they have their eyes on several Oak Park homes. The decision was “90 percent because of COVID-19,” Malone said.

Since the crisis first erupted, national press and local talk about real estate have been full of predictions that buyers would shun city life and flee to the suburbs. It’s too soon for data that would show where suburban buyers come from, and thus there’s no way to say definitively that a shift in buying priorities has or hasn’t happened.

But one thing is clear: City people are considering the suburbs more than they used to.

Sheehan and several other real estate agents and mortgage brokers say they’ve seen a significant increase in city residents shopping for homes in the suburbs. Jamie Roth, an agent in the Winnetka office of Engel & Volkers, said that in recent weeks he’s had inquiries on his listings from six buyers who live in Chicago. “Last year I would have told you one, maybe two,” Roth said.

Among the key reasons that Roth and Sheehan said city people are looking more at the suburbs is that working from home, which may last years or even become permanent, means commuting to work won’t be such a tiresome haul. “If they’ll only have to go into the office two or three times a week in the future,” Sheehan said, “it’s not as bad as having to ride that train, drive that expressway, every single day to work.”


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