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Higher Costs Make Affordable New Condos Downtown A Fading Dream

If downtown developers could find a way to build new high-rise condominiums at lower price points, it’s likely that a condo boom would be underway in the Windy City in 2017.

Unfortunately, the illusive dream of affordable housing downtown is fading because “construction and land costs have rapidly escalated over the past two years,” reports notes the “Downtown Chicago Benchmark Report,” the latest analysis of the condo market by Appraisal Research Counselors Ltd.

At the end of the second quarter of 2017, there were 802 unsold new-construction condos and townhomes being marketed for sale downtown. Developers sold 107 new units during the first quarter of 2017, but sales slowed to 73 units in the second quarter.

The unsold new-construction condo and townhome inventory downtown totaled 663 units at the end of the first quarter of 2016. Inventory totaled 471 units in the first quarter of 2015.

However, these sales numbers aren’t impressive when analysts compare them to the condo construction boom years of 2004, when 6,298 units were sold, or 2005, when a whopping 8,162 units were sold. In 2006 a total of 5,783 units were marketed before the Great Recession hit.

“Banks are requiring higher equity requirements for construction loans, and boosting condo pre-sale requirements of up to 50%, depending on equity/sponsorship,” said Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research.

Another roadblock to new condo construction downtown is the proposed changes in the new Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), Lissner said.

Under the proposed changes to the existing ARO, developers seeking zoning changes would be required to price 15% to 20% of the project’s housing units affordably, instead of the current 10%. Targeted areas would include the Near North Side, Near West Side and the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor.

Veteran developer Steve Fifield of Fifield Companies, who has built 3,300 apartment units over the past decade, called the proposal “an absolute disaster.” Fifield said it would force landlords to boost rent $300 a month on a typical one-bedroom apartment.

Currently, developers of residential housing projects can fulfill 75% of the affordable housing requirement by paying an in-lieu fee, while the other 25% of the requirement must be fulfilled with actual on-site or off-site units. The new ordinance eliminates the in-lieu fee option.

Appraisal Research noted that the downtown condo inventory being marketed for sale by developers is heavily weighted towards the ultra-luxury segment of the market.

On a per-square-foot basis, 86% of the unsold new-construction condo inventory units are in buildings priced at an average of $700-plus per square foot. A total of 315 ultra-luxury units—some 39 percent of the unsold units—lead the market with prices pegged at $1,000-plus a square foot.

The top of the ultra-high end of the market downtown is the 94-story Wanda Vista Tower hotel and condominium complex now under construction at 363 E. Wacker Drive.

The tower will have 406 condo units and 191 hotel rooms. The tower’s 21 penthouses are priced in the $8 million to $10 million range, according to Magellan Development Group, co-developer with China’s Dalian Wanda Group.

Also under construction is One Bennett Park, a 68-story mixed-use project at 451 E. Grand Ave., which will feature 279 rental apartments and 69 ultra-luxury condos.

• Existing condo bargains. Buyers hunting for an affordable condo downtown should shop existing buildings for condo bargains, advised Ron DeVries, vice president of Appraisal Research.

An Appraisal Research survey of the 65 largest and most prominent existing downtown buildings with a total of 20,895 units found that prices have risen 4.6% in the first half of 2017 to an average of $433 per square foot. In 2012, condos in these buildings sold for average of $338 per square foot.

“Overall, prices in these 65 buildings have risen 28% above the worst point in the housing decline in 2012,” said DeVries.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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