Many older waterfront homes currently for sale on Suburban Chicago's North Shore feature views of majestic Lake Michigan, access to sandy beaches and glimpses of migrating birds and other wildlife. What these homes don't have, however, is buyers.
Anne Hunting's Lake Forest, IL, home has been on and off the market for more than a decade. ms. Hunting bought the 7,700-square-foot, 1928 Dutch-Colonial home for $2.3 million in 1998, according to public records, and modified it for modern living, turning the maid's quarters into a study, creating a family room out of the dining room and replacing the green linoleum floors with tile. She is currently asking $4.65 million, down from $9.675 million in 2007, according to Realtor.com.
To her, the home's top selling point is the water. "Living on the lake is like being on vacation every day," says the 61-year-old, who is active in nonprofits.
These days, it takes more than water to sell a waterfront home. Beyond the bucolic setting, many buyers want updated properties with open floor plans, the latest technology and luxury finishes. And Chicago, like many cities across the country, is seeing an influx of homeowners moving from the suburbs to a downtown that's is awash in new, luxury developments that are close to work, restaurants, shopping and nightlife.
When Mike and Patty Cohen first listed their 4,578-square-foot Midcentury Modern home in Glencoe, IL, in 2016, they asked $6.7 million. When it didn't sell, the Cohens renovated their master suite into a spa-like retreat and relisted the home for $6.4 million in 2017.
Now the 1955 home, which was purchased in 1985 for an undisclosed price, is asking $5.2 million. With a lower price the the couple hopes the property will sell, allowing them to downsize. "The grandkids are getting ready to go to college," says Mr. Cohen, 80, who owns an autoparts sourcing firm.
Lakefront homes can require more maintenance than inland properties. Owners typically need to repaint the exterior more often because of moisture and humidity. To mitigate the effects of water, Mr. Cohen installed durable composite siding and commercial-grade windows. "The facades take a beating," he adds.
Barbara and Robert Sherman paid $4.4 million in 2005 for their French Regencgy-style home in Winnetka, IL, according to public records. Then they spent more than $2 million to update it including a three-year project to maintain bluff and guard against erosion, says Ms. Sherman. The 6,300-square-foot, five-bedroom home was first listed for $7.25 million 2016 but is now asking $4.99 million. "We put a lot of love and finances into it," says Ms. Sherman, 67, who owns a mattress-manufacturing company with her husband and purchased the home in 2005.
Many homes on Lake Michigan were built between 1900 and the 1930s as weekend retreats for prominent Chicagoans, says Athur Miller, an emeritus archivist at Lake Forest College. By the 70's, properties that were once as large as 100 acres were subdivided, but some historic mansions remained, says Mr. Miller.
Century-old homes can be especially tricky to remodel for modern living. Kitchens once used by domestic staff don't face the lakefront, and formal dining spaces don't open up to the living room and kitches, says Chicago-based architect Phillip Liederbach, who has built or renovated a handful of lakefront properties. And renovations don't necessarily fix everything. "Sometimes you're lucky and sometimes it's not possible to do in a way that's elegant," he says.
When the overall market slows, large homes on the biggest lots are the toughest to sell, says Andra O'Neil, a real-estate broker with At Properties in Lake Forest. In the fall, Ms. O'Neil listed a 1931 David Adler-designed home in nearby Lake Bluff, IL, that measures nearly 30,000 square feet. The 5-acre estate, with seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, six half-baths, and 19 fireplaces, is listed for $6.995 million. The home has been on and off the market since 2014, when it was listed at $18 million, according to Realtor.com. "There's more inventory than we would love to have," with some would-be sellers holding tight to see if the market improves, she adds.
In total, there are about 300 lakefront properties with direct access to Lake Michigan, a location that adds a 45% premium to the price, says real-estate agent Jena Radnay, also with At Properties.
With baby boomers ready to downsize, more of these homes are coming on the market. Last year, the area saw modest growth. In 2018, the average price for a lakefront home was $6.1 million, up form $4.3 million in 2015, according to local MLS data provided by Ms. Radnay. There were 14 sales in 2018, compared with 10 in 2015.
To sell these properties, you need a buyer who loves the integrity of the house, but also has the money and can handle the headaches of renovating, says Ms. Radnay, who estimates that only one or two clients per year are looking for a historic lakefront home. "The price of rehabbing can be double the price of new construction," she notes.
Many of the sellers have the finances - and the patience - to wait for the right buyer of what has been their dream home. And even when a property does sell, not everyone is pleased.
Market Snapshot of the North Shore
At the turn of the 20th century, rapid industrilization and railroad expansion made Chicago steel tycoon Clyde Carr a wealthy man. In 1900, he built Wydelwoode, a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Lake Forest, IL. The eight-bedroom home still has historical details, notably a bronze metal front door with zodiac symbols and a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the dining room.
Wyldewoode went on the market in July with an asking price of $15 million, making it one of suburban Chicago's most expensive listings. Last year, homes for on Lake Michigan spent an average 132 days on the market, with the priciest home sale at $7 million. By comparison, in 2015, lakefront homes spent 98.5 days on the market with three sales over $10 million, according to MLS data.
Moving inland brings pri es down somewhat, but the time on the market is higher. Inland homes along Chicago's north shore suburbs prices at $4 million or more spent 200 days on the market. In 2015, the average was 146 days. Currently listed is a five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home in Lake Forest, asking $3.95 million. The home is newer - built in 2001 - but has Classicist-inspired elements and an English garden. Older Classicist-style homes accurately reflect their European counterparts in England and France, says Arthur Miller, an emeritus archivist at Lake Forest College. "People value them just as works of art, but you have to find the right people to buy them," he says.
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