Chicago’s diverse appeal as a second-home city

Chicago Tribune

When Stephan Jones moved to California five years ago, he followed in the footsteps of many Chicagoans leaving bitter winters behind.

But Jones, owner of Stephan Jones Interiors, also kept a foothold — his two-bedroom condo in a midcentury high-rise building in the Uptown neighborhood, which he lived in for 15 years before moving to Los Angeles.

“I’m a born-and-bred Midwesterner,” he said. Plus, “I still continue to have clients in Chicago.”



Jones is one of many who keep a Chicago pied-a-terre, a small apartment or condo in the city to stay in from time to time.

Some, like Jones, are former Chicagoans who return to visit friends or family. Some travel on business and don’t want to bother with hotels. Some simply appreciate a city outpost with arts and culture but more affordable real estate than San Francisco or New York.

“The clients are a little bit all over the map,” said Katherine Malkin, a broker at Baird & Warner with clients who have second homes downtown.

Most want flats, she said, in a building with amenities to accommodate the come-and-go lifestyle.

Buying in the city is slightly on the rise — investment purchases in urban areas increased to 29 percent from 26 percent in 2014, according to an April National Association of Realtors survey.

More than one-third (37 percent) plan to use property for vacations or a family retreat, while others purchase for future retirement or rental income.

The Gold Coast used to be the most in-demand area for pied-a-terres, Malkin said. But she added that River North is also popular, as are areas near Grant Park that are walking distance from museums and summer concerts.

Liz Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing for developer Belgravia Group, said many out-of-state apartment owners live in driving-distance states like Michigan.


“They come in with friends and relatives to entertain or for a quick weekend getaway,” she said.

One couple, for example, has a home in Ann Arbor, Mich., but keeps an apartment to visit their son and grandchildren in Lincoln Square. Another couple’s primary home is in Houston, yet one spouse regularly travels to Amsterdam and often stays in Chicago.

Pied-a-terres vary from a one-bedroom to apartments with extra bedrooms to entertain family for the holidays.

Key on the second-home shopping list? Amenities and a management company to take care of anything that needs fixing. For example, when a toilet exploded in Jones’ apartment.


“When you’re not living there on a full-time basis, it’s rather nerve-wracking,” Jones said. “What if there’s a leak going on, and you don’t find it until you go home weeks after it started?”

And many people investing in a pied-a-terre want a location where they can grab dinner or drinks with ease.

“They want room service,” Malkin said. “I want to call the kitchen at 5 o’clock and say, ‘I have seven people coming for cocktails in a couple hours.’”

Joe Hanauer lived in Chicago for decades before moving to Laguna Beach, Calif., in the 1980s.


He and his spouse often returned, staying in hotels.

“We recognized how much we missed Chicago,” he said. “Not just because we have a lot of friends, but also the culture, the feeling of the city.”

So 15 years ago, they bought a two-bedroom condo at the Drake Tower on East Lake Shore Drive. Hanauer had always loved the view of the city from that street, and its walking distance to downtown hot spots.

Ahead of visits, they call Treasure Island and get groceries delivered, which building personnel stock in the refrigerator.


When winter strikes, they love the convenience of simply walking downstairs to dine.

Now, unable to travel as often, the Hanauers have put the condo up for sale.

Another subset of people who invest in a second property downtown? Suburbanites. Often, it’s parents or grandparents whose grown children live downtown. Or people who love the symphony. Or frequent attendees of charity events.

“It’s fun to have a bit of both worlds,” Malkin said.


And, she noted, a pied-a-terre is often a welcome alternative to taking the Metra or snagging a last-minute hotel room.

It also allows people to “try out” city living, Malkin said.

“They’ll take a smaller apartment and try it for a while, or they’ll go the opposite way, and they’ll take a larger one if they know they want to move,” she said.

With second — or third — homes, clients often switch up decor or taste. If they already have a very contemporary home elsewhere, perhaps they look for something traditional, or vice versa.


And not everyone wants a place downtown.

Eileen Campbell, a broker at Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, has noticed Florida buyers flocking to Bannockburn, Ill. She said the area gives clients the feel of a Wisconsin getaway but easy access to O’Hare International Airport. These clients have grown children scattered around the world, she added, so they appreciate a central airport location.

One of them is Chuck Campbell. After moving to Bonita Springs, Fla., he and his wife wanted a bucolic setting to return to in Illinois.

They purchased a lot in Bannockburn, building a spacious four-bedroom home where they soaked up its fall foliage and wildlife.


Campbell returns for the holidays, but is now hoping to sell the home to someone who would enjoy the acreage.

But Jones, the interior designer, and his partner don’t expect to part ways with their stylish refuge anytime soon.

“It’s always been the place that I go back to,” he said. “I feel fortunate that Chicago was where I started from and that we have this foothold there.”


Twitter @byalisonbowen


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