Chicago has fewest houses for sale in over 13 years

As Grossman expected, the house was under contract eight days after it hit the market in early July. The sale of the 2,460-square-foot house on Leavitt Street closed in early September at $575,000. 

If Grossman wasn’t surprised at the swiftness of the sale, it’s only because “it’s been this way all summer,” she said. In Beverly the inventory of houses for sale is extremely low, as it is in many neighborhoods across the city. 

At the start of September, fewer single-family homes were on the market in Chicago than at any time since January 2007, the earliest data available from the Chicago Association of Realtors. The inventory has been low for a few years, but in the past few weeks it dipped below 2,400 for the first time. September began with 2,377 houses on the market. 

One of the old reasons for low inventory—the jump to a new house is too expensive—has been eroded by two conditions that go hand-in-hand: Ever-lower interest rates make affording a step up easier, and the work-from-home, school-at-home circumstances of the pandemic have sent countless people looking for homes that better suit their present lives. 

In Beverly, those two factors are intensified, Grossman said, by its feel of being suburban within the city, and its low house prices relative to neighborhoods on the North Side or closer to the Loop. Downtown renters looking to buy a home with outdoor space have been looking into Beverly, she said. Among them were the buyers of her listing on Leavitt. 

The result: The inventory available now is super-low in Beverly. 

In real estate, inventory is a measure of how many months of sales at the current pace could be fed by the number of houses on the market. Four to six months of inventory is usually considered a healthy, balanced market. Citywide as of Sept. 11, enough houses were on the market to fuel 1.6 months of sales at the current pace. 

In Beverly, there’s only a smidge over one month’s inventory on the market. In the past month, 36 houses sold in the neighborhood, and 38 are on the market. 

Other neighborhoods are also running low on inventory. In Logan Square, enough houses are on the market to fuel about 1.4 months of sales. In Edison Park, there’s one month’s worth of fuel. 

These figures are for houses. For attached housing, or condos and townhouses, inventory is going up. At the end of August, just under 7,400 condos were on the market in the city, the most since early 2012, when the market was slowly absorbing the tens of thousands of condos from the building boom of the early 2000s. 

As people have increasingly shifted their home shopping from high-rises and condos toward more pandemic-friendly houses with yards, the neighborhoods at the mouth of the Chicago River have developed a huge logjam of homes for sale. 

In the neighborhoods away from downtown, buyers have been forced to act fast. 

Nancy Lewis of Baird & Warner had clients who were being transferred to Chicago from another city and wanted a four-bedroom house in Logan Square. “As soon as something that worked for them came on the market,” Lewis said, “it would go under contract.” They finally snagged a house on Albany Avenue by “moving very quickly on it,” she said. 

The house, four bedrooms and 3,000 square feet built in 2015, was under contract to her clients in July eight days after going on the market at $850,000. The sale closed in September at $830,000. 

If the buyers are out there, why don’t more people put their houses on the market? One reason specific to 2020, Lewis said, is that some people fear having strangers trooping through their homes, potentially bringing COVID-19 with them. Despite real estate industry standards designed to minimize that threat, she said, “I think there are people who still don’t want to take the risk.”

In a hot sellers’ market, some people decide to take a “let them come to me” attitude. Rather than go through the effort and expense of preparing the house for the market, “they’ll say to their agent, ‘If someone is interested in my house, let me know,’” said Janet Owen, a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago agent. 

“That doesn’t work,” Owen said. If the house isn’t openly on the market, exposed to the largest possible number of potential buyers, she said, “you’re not going to get the best price you could.” 

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