Chicago crime could dampen demand for downtown condos, real estate agents worry

Gwen Hughes, a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago agent, agrees. “Crime is on everyone’s minds, both buyers and sellers,” Hughes says an in email. As a result, she writes, “The downtown recovery has been slower than I expected. We are all hoping that the crime situation gets taken care of, and the market will start to improve.”

Many of the buyers of high-end downtown condos are suburban people either moving into the city as empty-nesters or buying weekend in-towns, and people from other parts of the Midwest who want a foothold in the dynamic city they love to visit. “If they keep seeing this news,” Farra says, “they’ll stay closer to home.”

The violence certainly doesn’t only threaten condo sales in pricey neighborhoods; it’s undermining daily life throughout Chicago.

Efforts by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department to get violence under control have had little effect, to the point that frustrated aldermen called a special City Council meeting in early July to push for better solutions to a frightening spate of shootings around the city. And the Illinois Retail Merchants Association wants more police patrols in the Loop to prevent violence from convincing downtown workers to stay home and work remotely.

It’s too soon for any data that would indicate whether recent spasms of disorder downtown have led to a falloff in the area’s condo sales.

Gail Spreen, a Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty agent and longtime Streeterville resident, says she doesn’t expect to see the market’s recovery slow down, for two reasons: All the great amenities downtown, such as restaurants and entertainment venues, outweigh violent incidents in buyers’ perception of the lakefront neighborhoods. And violence has become, essentially, white noise in the background of Chicago.

“We’ve been hearing about crime for so long, every weekend for years,” Spreen says. “It’s just another weekend.”

Spreen says she showed two suburban couples downtown condos on July 6 and 7 and neither expressed any concern about violence. “It didn’t come up,” she says.

Because of the long history of violence, Spreen says, “people are more careful when they go out. I’m more careful when I go out. But they want the energy of downtown living.”

The strongest sign yet that the appetite for downtown condos is back was the $11.25 million sale of a Lake Shore Drive penthouse last week. The sale price was the highest anyone has paid for a downtown condo since early 2019. That is, since long before the pandemic and episodes of social unrest punctured the downtown condo market.

Restaurants are reopening, theaters are getting ready to, and the lakefront path and parks beckon. “With everything opening up, people are seeing that downtown is where they want to be, where they have the opportunity to be with other folks and connect,” says Kimberly Bares, CEO of the Magnificent Mile Association, which boosts that area’s retail, entertainment and tourism options.

While she’s not involved in residential real estate, Bares says what she expects to see in the market is “people who didn’t buy during the downturn trying to get in before the prices go back up.”

Farra says she’s hoping for the same thing, although she’s surprised not to have seen more buyers flowing into the market when “the inventory is priced so aggressively” thanks to a giant backlog that built up during the two crises of 2020. And she attributes that, at least in part, to an overriding sense that downtown isn’t as safe as it once was.

“We have to turn around the perception that there’s no control,” Farra says.

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