Home sweet condo

Breanne Gilpatrick

When other students moved into dorm rooms and apartments last fall, Rebecca Chia moved into the condominium her parents bought for her.

“I feel really lucky,” Chia said, “because I know I have a really nice place.”

Chia’s parents’ decision could be part of a national trend in real estate, according to condo sales representatives. With developers such as Optima, Inc., and Roszak/ADC both building new properties in Evanston, some students’ parents have started to examine the option.

“My parents bought the condo last spring, I guess, because they thought it would be a good investment,” said Chia, a Medill junior. “And since I was going to be living off-campus anyway, they figured they would save on rent.”

Chia said her parents originally wanted a condo in Chicago for themselves. But when they came to visit Chia last year they saw the condos in Evanston and decided to buy a one-bedroom unit in Optima Views, 1720 Maple Ave. They plan to keep the condo once Chia graduates.

Optima sales representative Trish Sullivan said she has received about 10 inquiries from parents interested in condos in the company’s Evanston properties. Optima has three local condo complexes — Optima Views, Optima Towers, 1580 Sherman Ave., and Optima Horizons, which currently is under construction on the 1800 block of Sherman Avenue.

But undergraduates aren’t the only students in Optima properties. Approximately 15 Kellogg Graduate School of Management students have also contacted the company, Sullivan said.

Parents or students purchasing a $200,000 unit — the average price of a single-bedroom condo in Evanston — can expect the property to be worth $300,000 after four to six years, said Henry Apfelbach, branch manager at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Wilmette, Ill., the mortgage company that works with Optima.

“That’s a little better than rent,” Apfelbach said.

Apfelbach said about 10 parents contacted him about obtaining mortgages for student condos, but only half of those calls were about condos in Evanston. Local parents have contacted the home mortgage companies regarding mortgages for condos near other schools in states such as Ohio, Arizona and New York, Apfelbach said.

But he added that Evanston condos do have certain financial appeal.

“Being in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country,” Apfelbach said, “and being a half-mile off one of the prettiest lakes and near one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, it would be a little bit better an investment than someone who is buying a condo in, say, Lawrence, Kansas, near the University of Kansas.”

Despite location advantages, the student condo trend still doesn’t seem to be as popular in Evanston as in other college towns, said condo developer Thomas Roszak, president of Roszak/ADC, which has several condo complexes in downtown Evanston. He said he heard of parents buying condos at other universities and was surprised he has seen so little interest.

“We thought we’d have more,” Roszak said, “But of 250 units, we’ve probably only sold four to Northwestern students, and they’ve all been grad students.”

Roszak said he doesn’t know why he has seen so little interest from undergraduate students and parents. He said he thinks condos are a perfect living situation for students.

“It’s like a piggy bank,” Roszak said. “You’re putting money away. You’re not giving it away in rent to someone else.”

Parents or students interested in purchasing a condo need to rely on services outside of the university to secure housing, said Jake Hennes, an NU off-campus housing coordinator. The off-campus housing office does not provide condo listings because the university cannot operate as a real estate agency, Hennes said.

About a dozen parents have contacted the off-campus housing office with condo inquiries, Hennes said. The office usually directs these parents to online listings of local real-estate agents.

Students who don’t have the money to purchase a condo can sublet units.

Communication sophomore Jeremy Wimmer sublets a condo in Optima Towers with three friends. The group found the unit last summer through a local real estate office.

“We always used to joke about it,” Wimmer said. “We went into the condo place a few times and looked at the models and dreamed of living in fancy places.”