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Should I Live in Downtown Chicago or the Suburbs?

Gentrification to major metros is a normal occurrence, but Chicago is seeing a shift in the market.

The beautiful Midwestern city by Lake Michigan goes by many names: the Windy City, Chi-Town, and Chicagoland to name a few, but more and more people are simply calling it “home.” Founded in 1833, Chicago is one of the oldest cities in the nation and was the birthplace of the United States’ first skyscraper (torn down in 1931). The history of the city lives on in the distinct culture of the region– its architecture, art scene, restaurants, coffee shops, public transportation, and diverse neighborhoods.

Recently, Chicago has seen a change in the typical manner in which people move from town to town within the larger metropolitan area. Historically and nationally, young families would move from the city center to the suburbs to enjoy the quiet, slower-paced life with their school-aged children. Typically, safety and school ratings are higher in suburbs than in the larger cities, making “the burbs” highly desirable for families with kids. Additionally, the median sales price of a home in a Chicago suburb is generally more affordable given the size, location, and local amenities available for all ages.

Once the last child has gone off to college, empty-nesters also typically continue to live in their kids’ childhood home. Although it may now be too large for them, it is simply the place they’ve spent much of their lives.

Now, empty nesters and young families seem to be flocking to, or staying in, the city as Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods have all the amenities of a suburb, but with very close proximity to city activities, restaurants, and more.

“In a lot of cities, the business district is downtown and people live in suburbs, but in Chicago there are a lot of options available,” says Janet Owen, realtor with KoenigRubloff Realty Group.

Overall, it seems that there is an overarching adjustment in how people are searching for their next home.

“A big trend that I’m seeing is that people are looking at space and location, they’re urban-centric, meaning they’re looking for the neighborhood that’s right for them,” says Debra Dobbs, real estate salesperson in Chicago. “Five years ago, it was about size: how many square feet, how the space feels, the finishes…I think that’s a healthy shift in the market.”

Brian Perreault, COO of Barrett’s Technology Solutions in Naperville, IL, has lived in a Chicago suburb for most of his adult life. “Chicago is a terrific city – there’s plenty to do. People actually live in the city of Chicago, it’s not just for commerce. There are museums, restaurants…you can work there, live there, and have a social life.”

In addition to the many restaurants and museums, locals find that Chicago is the only place they’ve been to where there is a beach right next to high-rise buildings in the downtown area. With lifeguards, actual sand, and a view of the third largest great lake, Lake Michigan beaches are walking distance from many downtown Chicago neighborhoods and activities, making it a hot spot for the diverse folk moving there.

Currently, the median sales price in Chicago is very affordable at $235,000 and a monthly rental median price of $1550, making Chicago unique amongst the largest metros around the country.

Renting in Chicago is also a great option to see how a community fits you,” Jen Rattie of adds. “It really lets you get to know the area and if it will be a good fit for your household.”

Residents of Chicago add that talking to locals and spending at least a weekend exploring the neighborhoods around and in the city is the best way to make the big move to the windy city.

“The city is fun, especially since there are always new things to discover,” says Meghan Adamo, designer with France and Sons. But, “there is a world beyond downtown. Get into the neighborhoods. A couple popular ones are Lincoln Square, Rosco Village, and Andersonville. The area around University of Chicago is also nice.”

Considering a move to Chicago? Ask our Chi-town experts a question below!