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Chicago homebuying is less dependant on seasonal factors in 2020, says report

Why the “winter lull” may be a thing of the past

Brick single-family homes and multi-flat residential buildings on a tree-lined street in Chicago.
A row of homes in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood.
Photo by Carmen Troesser

As Chicago’s open house season ramps up, the city’s residential real estate market is coming off some unusually strong winter numbers. The data not only hints at a positive outlook for the year ahead, but also indicates a significant shift in seasonal timing for local buyers considering new homes.

Instead of experiencing the yearly “winter lull,” home sales soared 10.6 percent in December and 7.3 percent in January compared to the year before, according to numbers from the Chicago Association of Realtors appearing in a recent Chicago Tribune report.

Experts tell the newspaper that the shift is due to home sales being less dependant on the timing of traditional rental leases, which typically expire in May and October. They also point to the impact of baby boomers and other empty nesters shopping for “right-sized” homes. This demographic isn’t tied to the calendar considerations that influence families living with school-aged children.

The numbers looked especially strong for “move-in ready” homes, which already include desirable features like updated bathrooms or a dedicated home office. Chicago-area properties with these perks generally sold quickly, while those lacking upgrades have languished longer on the market and fetched lower prices.

While homebuying appears to be less connected to the seasons, rents in Chicago still adhere to monthly fluctuations—peaking around September and October and dipping to their lowest levels in March and April. It is also generally more affordable to rent than buy in Chicago, based on the percentage of income an average wage-earner needs to dedicate to housing.

But as rents rise faster than relative home values, more Chicago renters could consider buying. The situation may lead to an equilibrium in the market, suggests the Tribune report.

“We’re moving into a neutral market,” Maurice Hampton, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and Centered International Realty, tells the newspaper. “It’s not a buyer’s market and it’s not a seller’s market. It’s an opportunity for everybody.”