Chicago suburbs will be another sellers’ market this year: Coldwell Banker’s Dawn McKenna

Coldwell Banker’s Dawn McKenna talks suburban Chicago and city’s 2022 housing market outlook

Dawn McKenna (Dawn McKenna Group, iStock)
Dawn McKenna (Dawn McKenna Group, iStock)

Dawn McKenna, Coldwell Banker’s top broker in Illinois, and her team had their best year in 2021, recording more than $600 million in sales. This year, they’re pushing hard to top that, backed by strong sales in the suburbs.

“We are knocking on doors, I’ve never done that in my entire career,” she said.

Chicago’s housing market was favorable for sellers last year, fueled by low interest rates and gains in the stock market, which often led to bidding wars. Coldwell Banker’s top agent expects the suburban housing market to continue to be a sellers’ market as inventory remains tight and demand is strong.

While the suburban market will continue to be a bright spot, McKenna doesn’t expect the same for the city.

“The city is a bigger place and there’s more to choose from,” McKenna said. Selling a property requires a strategy – repositioning the price, timing it right to put it on the market to create a sense of urgency, which is what her team does best, McKenna said.

Read on for McKenna’s take on opportunities in this year’s housing market, her most expensive listing and areas with strong sales.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Chicago saw a frenetic housing market last year. How has the first month of this year been?

We have a real lack of inventory in the suburbs. I personally sold $33 million in seven deals this weekend in Hinsdale, which is the market I cover. In the city there’s more inventory to choose from and we’re not seeing as many multiple offers anymore.

You mentioned there is a lack of inventory in the suburbs. How has the turnout been for open houses in the suburbs? Are you still seeing multiple bids on a property?

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If something is priced well enough and that’s a fair value for the house, agents are putting them on the market. We do not do that. I think everything has to be pretty strategic. Last weekend, we had a property come on for $799,000 in Hinsdale. It’s very hard to find a property for that price in Winnetka or Hinsdale because they’re the closest to the city. We put it out on the market on a Thursday, and I had an open house on Saturday and Sunday. It was freezing this weekend but we had 172 people line out the door. I’ve known about that listing for four months. We got an offer and will close at the end of March.

Do you see a favorable market for sellers continuing this year?

I think in the suburbs 100%. In Hinsdale, I had 113 listings last year and right now I have eight. We are knocking on doors, I’ve never done that in my entire career. We get one, we sell the next. However, there’s not much good inventory in the city. What I mean by that is if something’s listed in the city, and it’s a box checker, but if it’s still sitting on the market, it’s overpriced. People are not spending that. The city is a bigger place and there’s more to choose from.

How does your team sell properties that other agents haven’t been able to?

Our listings sell very quickly. For instance, we have a new listing at the Waldorf Astoria that was with a different agent for a long time. We took the time, which took four weeks to stage the whole thing, we repositioned the price, and now we’re going to put it on the market on Thursday. We’re not going to take any showings until Monday. So that allows the people to absorb what they see online. What we’ve seen is people need a sense of urgency. So what we are doing is we’re spending breakfast, lunch and dinner in these homes on that Monday, so that we can say yes to everybody that wants to come through, and it creates a multiple offer.

What is the most expensive listing you have?

It’s the house at 222 West Van Buren, Naperville listed for $14.9 million. The house itself has every amenity you’d ever want. A spa, pool, heated garage, heated floors and wine room. The cool thing about it is it owns a lot. The lot that it’s adjacent to could be commercial. So this is my first property that could be a commercial application or a residential application. If people are smart, they take the commercial application and offset the costs of what goes on there and they get the house for free.

Which area in Chicago saw the strongest sales and why was that?

Lincoln Park, specifically, the single family home market has blown up. We’ve had top deals in that area selling 10 homes that were over $5 million in the past 12 months. Part of the reason why Lincoln Park wound up in the spot it did is because they don’t have the anchor stores like Gold Coast, which were hit these past two years with all of the violence that occurred in the city of Chicago. We’ve got several listings coming on in March, that probably might not even hit the market, because we can fill them from people leaving the suburbs. I have two coming on in very quiet streets, the finishes are there and both are on a lot and a half. There’s no supply within that category.

Are you seeing change in the demographics of people moving to the city and the suburbs? There was news of people fleeing the city at the start of the pandemic. How would you gauge people’s interest in moving back to the city?

There are a ton of hedge fund, tech people coming to Chicago. I place the top C suite people first. They never just come with one of them. There’s a plethora that join. So I’m very bullish on the Chicago market. There’s a ton coming from California, a ton coming from St. Louis, Kansas City, and a ton coming from New York. If you think about it, Chicago’s a very manageable New York. It’s the only city in the United States like it. From the city migration to the suburbs, it’s the usual suspects. It’s the husband and wife that have two plus kids that want to just get a little bit of peace and quiet and more space in their house. I also think it’s interesting to note, there are few really good rentals in the suburbs and the city right now. So people are being forced to buy. And they’re realizing that it’s actually cheaper because the interest rates are still low as that trend goes up. And as the supply increases, that’s going to be an interesting market.

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