Dropping home prices, available inventory lead to increased demand among Evanston homebuyers

Edward Cox, Reporter

Longtime Evanston resident Dorothy King had lived in her spacious four-bedroom home for about 20 years and was ready to move to smaller living quarters.

King’s home was snapped up in six days last spring, and buyers wanted to move in quickly, giving King only a few months to find a condominium.

“The building went out so fast that I thought, ‘There can’t be much trouble in the real estate industry,’” King said.

Real estate brokers serving Evanston and the Cook County region at-large agree that the housing market is starting to recover from the fallout of the housing bubble’s late-2007 burst. Since 2008, the median home price in the region has declined by nearly a fourth, according to Midwest Real Estate Data.

The data aggregator reports that the combination of a decrease in home inventories and falling median prices have sparked demand for homes from investors and first-time buyers.

“We’re so hot right now everything coming in is selling … rates are low and prices are low,” housing broker Mary Summerville said, adding Evanston’s real estate situation is greatly impacted by the comings and goings of Northwestern faculty and students.

Several North Shore-area home brokers similarly said people’s feelings about the housing markets have changed. Homebuyers are cautiously but steadily competing for property, convinced the prices of homes on the market have already hit rock bottom.

The December 2012 median sales price for Evanston homes fell by 20 percent compared to December 2011, according to a Coldwell Banker report, accompanied by a similar increase in rising closed home sales.

Martin Walsh, chairman of the North Shore-Barrington association of the Illinois Association of Realtors, said first-time homebuyers are returning to the market, contributing to a “cascading effect” where buyers’ move to cities prompts sellers’ move to suburbs such as Evanston.

“(The market) is a lot less scary now, and first-time homebuyers are competing with investors,” Walsh said. “First-time homebuyers really drive the market, they’re the ones who buy the condominiums and townhouses in the city … and enable people who are married and have kids to move into the suburbs.”

In Evanston, typical sellers include “empty nesters,” families whose children have moved out, as well as people who have transferred jobs, Coldwell Banker agent Noah Seidenberg said. First-time homebuyers and investors hoping to rent out their properties are among those moving in.

“Evanston is a good place to move because it’s so close to the city and it does not have the suburban feel,” Seidenberg said. “People decide to move to Evanston to start a family.”

And if consumers feel cautious after the economic downturn, one broker said they may feel more attached to their homes.

Broker Hasani Steele (McCormick ’99), who is involved in home development, said clients are willing to pay moderately-high prices for a recently refurbished home.

“If someone has something that they really love, they are going to fight to keep it,” Steele said.

After selling her home, King had her eye on a cozy two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium on Central Street that she initially lost to another woman in a bidding war. Three weeks later, however, the transaction fell through and she bought it.

“It seems like there’s not enough houses to show people, I think things are loosening up,” King said of the housing market. “I may be sorry I sold when I did, but I think things are looking much better.”