The condo “pretty quickly was worth way less than I paid,” English recalls now. He estimates it was worth about $200,000 at the bottom of the housing market.
Over the years, English’s neighborhood improved dramatically, with the hot zones around Logan Square to his north and Bucktown to his east expanding in the 2010s and the 606 opening in 2015. An entrance to the popular recreation trail is a block south of English’s condo.
Thanks to the improvements all around his home, English’s condo is now worth about $385,000, he said, or roughly 30% more than he paid for it 15 years ago.
But the great majority of Chicago-area homeowners don’t live near the 606, or in the West Loop or a few other spots on the map whose home values soared in the 2010s. For much of the past decade, including the pandemic era, Chicago has had some of the slowest-rising home prices among major cities, as tracked by Case-Shiller.
A few weeks ago, just ahead of this month’s 15th anniversary of peak pricing, Case-Shiller reported Chicago prices were about 1.2% below their old peak as of June, while nationwide, prices were 41.3% above their old peak.
That old peak and the valley that followed mean little to people who weren’t in the housing market back then, but English remembers the anxiety. With the mortgage deeply underwater, “it’s a bad feeling, knowing you can’t move for years because you’ll take a financial hit,” said English, who works for a research institution.
Slow-rising home values can make Chicago homeowners feel they’ve invested poorly in a vehicle that has long been considered one of the U.S. economy’s most reliable generators of household wealth. That’s particularly true if they’re chatting about home values with friends and relatives in high-rising markets like Seattle, where according to Case-Shiller home values are up almost 75% since their old peak in July 2007. (Not all cities peaked at the same time, and none of these figures account for changes in the property tax burden.)
Yet two housing economists tell Crain’s the 15th anniversary of peak pricing is an occasion Chicagoans can mark with contentment, if not outright smugness.
“One question you can ask yourself is how much home a person who moves to Seattle can afford, and how much home a person who moves to Chicago can afford,” said Gabriel Chodorow-Reich, an associate professor of economics at Harvard University and one of three authors of an August paper that explored home price growth in U.S. cities over the past two decades.
In the city of Seattle, the median price of homes sold in the past year is just under $800,000, according to Redfin, the online real estate marketplace. In the city of Chicago, it’s $340,000.
Geoffrey J.D. Hewings echoes Chodorow-Reich. A professor of economics and geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hewings is the emeritus director of the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory, which tracks home…