Deal Estate: Where to Buy Now

What's the Madison real estate market like these days? With a slow and gradual rise in the economy, business is steady, say two local experts.

Suzy Favor Hamilton
Realtor, First Weber

How is business in general?
Business is busy; we’re seeing the return of a normal year. Last year’s market was driven by the first-time homebuyer’s tax credit, which produced higher than normal sales in April/May and a slow June/July. Interest rates are low (around 4.5 percent).

What are people now looking for in a home?
People are looking for smaller homes (approximately 2,000 square feet) with more amenities like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. The kitchen is a room that continues to be a major focal point for buyers (it’s also where sellers will see the best return on their investment). Some buyers are willing to do work, but the majority want a home that’s move-in ready. Updating is key!

What neighborhoods do people want to buy in now?
People understand that you can change features in a home but location is constant. Schools are a big reason that buyers choose a location.

Shorewood Hills has an amazing elementary school. There’s a swimming pool and you have [proximity to] everything. A lot of people also buy homes here to fix up and resell.

I have a ton of clients that want to live in Middleton Hills because they can get a relatively new home and it has all of the top amenities they want. Middleton Hills is a wonderful, tight-knit community.

In the Vilas neighborhood you’ll get an older home, but the only homes that are in demand are updated houses. And those houses just sell—I have clients waiting right now for Vilas.

Westmorland is also desirable. We’re turning into a more green society and people want walkability. In Westmorland you can get to the grocery store, parks and restaurants.

How does Madison compare to the nationwide real estate market?
We were lucky in Madison that we didn’t see the housing market take off like it did in places like Florida and Las Vegas, so there wasn’t a
dramatic drop when the bubble burst.

Some trends are similar—interest rates are low, and foreclosures continue to remain lower than last year at this time. [However] we’re not completely immune to the downturn in the housing market. We’re still seeing foreclosures of people that were trying to hold on to their home thinking the market would get better.

Debby Dines
Real estate broker/owner, Dines Inc. (which specializes in urban living)

How is business in general?
We’ve actually seen in the urban neighborhoods a substantial increase in this year to date. Our sales downtown are up—we closed $10.9 million in sales in 2010 around the Square and this year we’re already at $8.2 million. We are up from the same period a year ago.

What are people now looking for in a home?
What people are looking for varies. Some want new construction and units they can customize to their tastes.

Another segment of people are looking for specific characteristics. Lake views are number one—because most of the lake units are sold, people are looking for resale units instead. [For example] the original model unit in the Marina is up for resale—that has beautiful lake views. That type of view is popular regardless if the market is up or down.

Outdoor space is also a big plus. People want access to a deck or patio that they can garden or have pets on. At the Fourth Ward Lofts we have a unit with a private entry/ patio. We also have two attractive condos at the Livingston with expansive outdoor terraces.

Some want a property with character appeal. Like Union Transfer on Wilson Street. We’ve got a sixth-floor unit that replicates luxury loft
living that you’d only find in San Francisco or New York.

What neighborhoods do people want to buy in now?
Urban living continues to be in high demand. The Williamson/Winnebago Street thoroughfare from First Street to John Nolen Drive is being newly improved and will set the stage for continued renovation in these near-Capitol neighborhoods. That area is eclectic with shops, restaurants and parks.

The MarinaHow does Madison compare to the nationwide real estate market?
Madison has really grown to offer the type of variety found in larger cities around the country. The thing about Madison that you can’t duplicate anywhere else is the UW, four hospitals and it’s a capital city. We have big companies that are stable regardless of a downturn, like Oscar Mayer/Kraft and American Family Insurance. I don’t know of another city besides maybe Austin, Texas, that has that combination.

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

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