The great Chicago condo divide: new vs. vintage

Older means bigger, in the world of Chicago condos.

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: My buyer recently purchased this 2-bedroom vintage condo, which features a front and rear sun room and separate dining room, for $248,500. A new condo at this price would have central air, an in-unit washer/dryer, and new kitchen and bath -- but it would be much smaller.

If you are thinking about buying a condo in Chicago, one of the main decisions ahead will be whether you prefer new (and small) or old (and big).

In many neighborhoods like Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Uptown, Andersonville, Edgewater and Rogers Park, it’s as simple as that: The same amount of money can fetch you a new (or, more often, gut-rehabbed) condo or an older, vintage condo with more space. Many buyers want a new kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, so the sleek new developments that feature such amenities (along with new marble-tiled baths with jacuzzi tubs) hold a lot of appeal.

Who can blame them? By the time they’re ready to buy, lots of Chicago dwellers have spent years living in vintage apartments. They have had enough of drafty wooden windows and creaky floors, clanking radiators and outdated kitchens. They don’t want to buy a condo that looks just like their rental apartment. They want something new.

I would say that the majority of condo buyers feel this way, and that’s why Chicago developers have spent the last decade merrily snapping up 90-year-old apartment buildings and converting them into newly-rehabbed condos. But developers are out to make a profit, and the more units they can fit in a building, the more money they make. This is why you rarely see much basement storage space in newer developments; the developer carved up most of the basement into “garden” units (otherwise known as condos in the basement). And even the condos above ground, while they may have lovely fixtures and finishes, are often rather small. The kitchen and living area are often combined, there is no separate dining room, and the second bedrooms are tiny.

How long do you plan to live there? How many people will live there, and are you planning to have children? How big is your furniture, and if it won’t fit are you willing to get rid of it? These are some important considerations when buying a newer condo. I can’t tell you how many times realtors sell a new 2-bedroom condo to a single person who calls them back in three years because now their girlfriend and two dogs have moved in, and they’ve already outgrown it.

So if space is important, consider a vintage condo. There aren’t as many of them out there anymore, but those that remain often feature separate dining rooms, sun rooms, and larger bedrooms. If you want a renovated kitchen, you can always upgrade the interior of your condo.

Still, in most older condo buildings it may be hard to add central air or a washer/dryer to your unit. So before you start condo shopping, think about what is more important to you: amenities or space. Because in the world of Chicago condos, that is often what your decision will boil down to.

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One Response to “The great Chicago condo divide: new vs. vintage”

  1. Rebecca Parrilla Says:

    Thank you for this convenient checklist of things to think about when deciding whether to buy new or vintage! Question: out of the neighborhoods you mentioned above, which one/s would you say offer the most vintage options?


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