Nicole Martin has lived in the Chicago area her entire life with the exception of five years in Lake Geneva.
When deciding to sell her home in Wisconsin and move back to Illinois last year, Martin asked herself two questions: Do I want to be in the city or the suburbs, and do I want to buy (again) or rent?
The sales manager chose the latter in both instances, moving to The Residences at Hamilton Lakes in Itasca.
“The biggest driver is: Where do you work, and where do you hang out, where are your friends and family, and where does your work take you?” she said. “If the answers to those questions are not within the city itself, I think it can make a lot of sense to live in a place like Hamilton Lakes that is so close to highways and minutes from the airport.” Dry-cleaning delivery service and swanky saunas were a bonus.Martin is not alone in her thinking. Some Chicagoans are making the move to suburbia not because of kids, the need for more space or cheaper housing options, but because they’re looking for a convenient location that allows for work/life balance. And while leaving the city means leaving some perks behind, many suburban developers are offering amenities on par with downtown high-rise living. Think gym facilities that rival commercial clubs, doggy spas, chic common areas and walkability to entertainment.
Stephanie Le has lived in The Residences of Wilmette for six months after a year of living downtown. The 30-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep works in Lake Forest and called the reverse commute “brutal.”
“I feel like I have a better work/life balance because my office isn’t as far,” she said. “Granted, the downtown isn’t as crazy as downtown Chicago, but this area is quiet, clean, I love my neighbors, and it has a small-town feel without being so far from downtown Chicago.” With a sauna, indoor Jacuzzi, business/conference space and close proximity to the Metra, Le said The Residences is comparable to apartments in the city.
Tony Rossi, president of M&R Development, the company behind the Wilmette and Itasca properties, agrees that the “explosion of amenities” seen downtown is starting to take hold in the suburbs as well. He said rent in the suburbs is usually two-thirds of rent in the city, but newer buildings with extra features will have a higher price tag. Martin pays about $1,925 a month for her one-bedroom and underground parking.
“There are amenities in what they’re offering residents that are every bit as good as downtown amenities — with the exception that you may not have a great bar next door,” he said. But what suburban properties lack in libations, many make up for in things like pet perks.
Rossi has been in the real estate business since the 1970s, and said 25 years ago there were few buildings that permitted pets. Now it’s not uncommon for 25 percent of a building’s population to have dogs. Which means dog grooming stations and indoor dog runs.
444 Social, a 302-unit apartment community in Lincolnshire, set for completion in summer 2019, also features fenced-in pet play areas and amenities galore — a gourmet chef's demonstration kitchen, stadium-style seating and a big-screen TV in a communal area, co-working space, a virtual reality golf simulator, fitness studios and kayaking on an adjacent lake.
A new resident of 444 Social, Kelso Sharp has experienced home ownership, military housing and apartment rentals throughout his 22-year Navy career. He said the complex ranks near the top, citing the large swimming pool, grilling and common areas. Sharp pays about $2,300 a month for his two-bedroom unit.
Proximity to the Great Lakes Naval Station means he can live close to work yet far enough away to keep his private time his own, he said. The Joliet native plans on staying for the year he has left on his orders.
“This is perfect for me,” he said. “They really want to get that sense of community going here. It’s just nice — the aesthetics of the place. It’s brand new, so to be the very first person to live in an apartment, that’s attractive to me.”
The goal of 444 Social was to meld residential living with the luxury of a hotel, all on acreage within walking distance of the CityPark shopping center, said Scott Greenberg the property’s developer, who also worked on theWit Hotel and Hotel EMC2 downtown.“In the city, sometimes you get these developments for the youngest and the hippest, and then you get the older communities — we designed this project to really attract a wide audience to encourage collaboration among all ages,” said Greenberg. “When you can create a community that has millennials in it, families in it and baby boomers, it’s actually better. If you just have young people and just have old people, that’s not good. But if you put them together, you can create some synergistic magic.”
Greenberg developed the project with more than 20 years of hospitality experience and considers design a key factor in changing the vibe and perception of suburban rental living. For example, adding color and art to corridors in apartment buildings, as hotels do, makes all the difference, he said.
And while some suburban developers merge residential and retail in the same physical structure — think storefronts at street level and housing on top — Greenberg said 444 Social is unique because the apartment building is new and located near (but not connected to) existing commercial facilities, like Regal Cinemas next door. It also has natural elements, like forests and a lake, nearby.
“This goes to part of the DNA of this place,” Greenberg said. “If you want to be happy, if you want to live a healthy life, if you want to stay active, you got to be social. … That is what is missing in apartments where it’s downtown or in the suburbs where you just go to a place and hole up. Here we’re actually creating a community, so it’s pushing that experience.”