Condo Mania

Photo by Tim EvansReal estate developer Barry Mandel stands at the window of his 17th-floor office Downtown and looks out on the blue expanse of Lake Michigan, at the buildings jutting up before him, at the miniature figure of a man crossing the street below. He considers the whole panorama of this changing urban landscape.“There’s not one part of the city I don’t have my eye on,” he says.That’s big talk, but in truth, his Mandel Group Inc. has $475 million worth of developments in the pipeline, with locations from Downtown to the suburbs. When the 36-story University Club Tower…

Photo by Tim Evans

Real estate developer Barry Mandel stands at the window of his 17th-floor office Downtown and looks out on the blue expanse of Lake Michigan, at the buildings jutting up before him, at the miniature figure of a man crossing the street below. He considers the whole panorama of this changing urban landscape.

“There’s not one part of the city I don’t have my eye on,” he says.

That’s big talk, but in truth, his Mandel Group Inc. has $475 million worth of developments in the pipeline, with locations from Downtown to the suburbs. When the 36-story University Club Tower is completed, Mandel will live on the top floor, raising his vantage point even more.

But he also knows that a handful of competing developers look out their own windows, watching the city just as closely.

In the midst of the boom in condo development, metro Milwaukee is rising up, yet getting closer together. Towers are altering the skyline, mid-rises are reworking entire neighborhoods and smaller developments in the outer suburbs continue to bring people out of their sprawling homes and into closer proximity, embracing urban density.

After five years of continued – and once unfathomable – growth, the market upswing will continue for the next 10 to 15 years, predicts Mandel. It is bringing suburbanites and even families with children Downtown, creating demand for new retail shops and restaurants to serve their needs and bringing residential density even to the suburbs, which are enjoying their own version of condo mania. Here’s a look at who’s building what, who’s moving where and why Milwaukee will never be the same.

The New Downtown
Russ Burmeister, 55, and wife Donna bought their 3,500-square-foot condo at The Waterfront, developed by Renner Architects, in the Fifth Ward (just south of Downtown and the Third Ward) in 2004. Burmeister owns Burmeister Woodwork in Hales Corners, which crafts high-end cabinets and millwork. The Burmeisters moved from The Highlands, a single-family golf course condo development in ­Mequon, where low density made driving everywhere a necessity.

“Now I park my car on Friday night and don’t get back in it until Monday morning,” says Burmeister. At The Waterfront, the Burmeisters have a boat slip on the Milwaukee River, and the Third Ward shops are just blocks away. Despite higher property taxes, the amenities and location make it worthwhile, he says.

Baby boomers like Burmeister are the driving force behind Milwaukee’s condo craze. Condo living allows well-to-do empty nesters to downsize and embrace a leisure life. It means no more ­mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow and more freedom to travel or spend winters in Florida. It’s about more socializing, feeling younger and more energetic. But can the trend last?

“The boomer market is bigger than we think. It’s even bigger than the boomers think,” says Scott Fergus of KeyBridge Development, whose Downtown developments include the 184-unit First Place on the River and the 80-unit 601 Lofts on Ogden Avenue.

Developer Boris Gokhman of New Land Enterprises agrees. Before 1999, he says, “You would not think of building hundreds of units.” But now his company alone is developing the 112-unit The Sterling (just north of Brady Street), among other developments.

“It’s like a chain reaction,” he says, as residential buildings, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses pop up next to each other. Both Gokhman and Fergus cite the East Pointe Pick ’n Save, part of the 1990s redevelopment of a nine-block area from Jefferson Street to Prospect Avenue by Mandel Group Inc., as an example of this trend. Now, Big Bend Development LLC plans 130 condo units nearby, on the former Milwaukee Center for Independence site at 1339 N. Milwaukee St. The Terraces, as it’s called, includes two largely transparent 13-story towers, a smaller eight-story building and 10 side-by-side townhouses.

Developers here are inspired by Minneapolis’ riverfront redevelopment, Denver’s rehabilitated warehouse district and Portland’s use of green spaces to enhance its downtown revival. And it’s a nationwide trend that is increasingly attracting other age groups.

Beyond Boomers
Younger professionals might not be able to afford the high-end units but, drawn by the nightlife and Downtown buzz, many are buying smaller units to be at the urban center. A condo offers a step up from renting and a chance to build equity without the hassles of a single-family home. After a few years, they outgrow the space and sell.

Chicago-area professionals with regular business here are buying Milwaukee condos, too, to use when they’re in town.

Even families with small children are starting to move Downtown, notes Renner Architects real estate agent Mary Beth Waite. One such family lives in The Harborfront (at the junction of the Milwaukee River and the lakefront), Waite says, and there are already nine children (now ages 6 months to 14 years) who will live at Hansen’s Landing, an 80-unit building on the river in the Third Ward, when it’s completed in 2006. Three children, ages 2-16, live in Cathedral Square Condominiums.

“The city is a fabulous place for children to grow up,” says Waite.

Lessandra Morel and her husband are raising their two kids, ages 2 and 6, in a 1,700-square-foot Cathedral Square condo. Morel actually has an extended family in the building: Her parents and brother live a few floors up and her 34-year-old sister owns a one-bedroom unit above them. The Morels lived in Whitefish Bay for two years before coming to Cathedral Square in fall 2004.

“I thought, when you get married and have kids, you move to Whitefish Bay,” she recalls. But her husband, a consultant, ­travels most of the week. She felt like an isolated suburban housewife. Now she sees her mother, Reina Pope, on a daily basis. They take the kids to the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s campus and fields to play Frisbee. Jazz in the Park is right outside their window. In this gas-gouging era, they can walk almost everywhere.

As for Pope, she is ecstatic to be Downtown. After 15 years of living in big houses in Racine and then on Milwaukee’s East Side, she craved the lifestyle she remembers from her childhood in Manhattan. There, she lived in the same lower west side building as her grandmother. “It was the equivalent of the small town,” she says. Now her own grandchildren are just as close.

The trend of families moving to Downtown Milwaukee is recent, but Pope, whose husband works in the Chicago area, marvels at the ease of living. She and Morel predict that other families will soon follow.

Catch the Energy
The mix of ages has now become a selling point. “We don’t want to be in a building with just older people,” says Sharon Canter. She and her husband, Richard, are classic empty nesters who had lived in Whitefish Bay for almost 30 years. They recently bought a unit in Marine Terminal Lofts (on the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward) and are wowed by their future neighborhood. “There are new lifestyle options in Milwaukee,” says Canter, a marketing consultant whose attorney husband works Downtown. “It’s like Chicago or New York without the hassle.”

Kathy and Richard Osborne will also live in Marine Terminal Lofts. They were happy to buy preconstruction because it gave them the freedom to customize their 2,800-square-foot corner unit overlooking the river. “After 2½ hours [of planning], we were literally skipping down the street, saying, ‘This is going to be so much fun!’ ” says Kathy, who is semi-retired from IBM (Richard is fully retired from Wisconsin Gas Company). The Osbornes made the move gradually; after living in Mequon, they moved to an East Side Windsor House condo for six years before coming Downtown.

Waite, director of sales and marketing for Renner Architects, sees the Downtown condo buyers “reinventing who they are. There is a dynamic in the city that energizes people,” she says. Living in just one Third Ward development, she notes, you’ll find a firefighter, public school teacher, banker and a couple expecting their first child. “It’s not just brick and mortar. These are living, breathing neighborhoods. There are wonderful relationships forming inside,” says Waite.

And she puts her money where her mouth is: Waite herself is a condo owner at Hansen’s Landing.

The Big Players
A number of developers have helped create the condo revolution in Milwaukee. But the godfather of the movement is Barry ­Mandel. Originally trained as a lawyer at Georgetown, he at first comes across as reserved. But it’s clear that real estate is his passion – get him talking about his company’s projects and a little smile ­crosses his lips. He can’t help mentioning the prestigious Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence his company won in 1999 for East Pointe, a nine-block neighborhood revitalization effort. Other Mandel condos include University Club Tower, RiverCrest, Marine Terminal Lofts, Norhardt Crossing and Edgewood Place.

No one will ever accuse Downtown condo developer Peter Renner of  being modest. “I don’t think we really have serious competition. We’ve set the standard,” he boasts. From his desk, Renner overlooks the Milwaukee River, but he often gets up to study the enlarged floor plans of his competitors’ developments that are tacked to his office wall. He keeps tabs on every unit being developed and sold Downtown. “You’ve got to be a bit crazy to be a developer,” he says. “Who’s going to build something like this from nothing? A rational person? No.” Rational or not, Renner Architects LLC has built such condos as The Waterfront, The Harborfront and Hansen’s Landing.

John Vetter is intense and articulate, almost academic, and conjures abstract and sweeping visions: “We’re trying to bring life and humanity to the multifamily market, which has typically been void of that.” He and partner ­Kelly Denk formed Vetter Denk Architecture in 1985. Of other Downtown developments, Vetter says: “Everything is so safe. There’s not the rigor that built the city.” ­Vetter Denk’s condos feel like modern art with their minimalist materials and rectangular shapes. He admits they’re not for everyone but is clearly proud of his unique designs. Vetter Denk ­Architecture developments include Beerline River Homes, Park Terrace Row Houses and Bluff Homes.

It’s not just Scott Fergus’ ­movie star looks that catch your attention. He’s so sharply dressed that he changes his expensive shoes before going into the gutted building that will become First Place on the River, his first big condo development. Statistics roll off of his tongue as he recounts the details of market studies. Born and raised in Racine, he was a state legislator before becoming a developer. A philosophy major in college, he eventually went back to his family’s construction roots and the six generations of Scottish stone masons that came before him. His KeyBridge Development condos include First Place on the River and 601 Lofts.

Tim Gokhman, 25, is the hip American version of his Russian immigrant father, Boris. Cool and casual with a bit of stubble, Gokhman carefully parks his new toy, a 1972 GMconvertible, and quickly converts to his sales pitch mode, putting a positive spin on every company project. An only child, he moved to Boston briefly after college (graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a double major in economics and real estate), only to return to Milwaukee three years ago to work in the family business. “It was hard to come back,” he says, but now he talks up Milwaukee like he’ll never leave.

Tim’s father, Boris Gokhman, who started New Land ­Enterprises LLP, had to give up one project in 2002 after he was indicted for Medicare fraud (he got off with only a fine), then it was back to business. This year, in mid-August, New Land was sued for $8 million by the Highbridge condo association. The allegations: defects in construction that caused water leaks, cracks and other damages and prevented condo owners wanting to sell from obtaining real estate brokers. The association also alleged fraud, charging that New Land knowingly marketed and sold 14 units without disclosing the problems. “We remain hopeful the matter will be resolved in the near future,” Tim Gokhman said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, the company is very active. New Land condo developments include Highbridge, Lyon Court, Cathedral Square, Riverbridge, The Sterling and City Green.

Finding Your Dream Condo
Of course, there are the exclusive, high-end places like University Club Tower, where nothing is priced below a million dollars. But there’s still a healthy mix of  Downtown units in roughly three price categories.

Entry Level ($150s–mid-$200s)
Just to afford a condo priced at $170,000, you have to make around $60,000 a year. But it’s hard to find a great place for under about $230,000. This is what John Vetter means when he talks about “illusionary demand”: People want to spend less, but what they actually picture in their heads is something in the $300,000-$400,000 range.

According to Fergus’ calculations, a whopping 42 percent of those looking for a Downtown condo fall in the $250,000 or under category. “It’s the biggest part of the demand curve,” he says. Mandel put the figure far higher, at 80 percent for the five-county metro area.

For $200,000, buyers have to compromise on something: space, location, view or amenities. For less than $200,000, expect a studio loft or one-bedroom unit; two bedrooms generally start in the low to mid-$200s.

One solution for the budget-conscious buyer is preconstruction deals. Vetter Denk’s Park Terrace row houses on Commerce Street were available for $219,000 before construction was completed; the price then climbed to $275,000.

“Preconstruction buyers are rewarded with a great price,” says Vetter. But you’re also taking a risk. You can’t really tell how much light your unit will get or exactly how you’ll feel standing inside it. The mixed-use Union Point development on Humboldt and Commerce streets offers a one-bedroom unit for $159,900, but will 726 square feet be enough room? At 601 Lofts, you can get a 963-square-foot one-bedroom unit for $192,600 preconstruction, but look at the floor plan: It’s a long, narrow rectangle with windows only along one of the short walls.

In fact, this kind of layout, featuring bedrooms without a view or a window, is becoming a trend. At Marine Terminal Lofts, there’s an 864-square-foot one-bedroom unit like this with a parking spot included for $194,900. At 601 Lofts (parking also included), you’ll pay $215,800 for a 1,079-square-foot one-bedroom unit.

In New York City, where housing costs are astronomical, the market has responded to windowless bedrooms. But Milwaukee?

“We’re not in New York, where people buy a closet for $1 million,” Boris Gokhman points out. Layouts of his company’s projects all include windows in the bedrooms. His windowed one-bedroom units (with one indoor parking spot included) start at $189,500 at Riverbridge and $176,500 at The Sterling.

In some Third Ward warehouse conversions, like the Lofts on Broadway, the smaller units often have a bedroom tucked behind a three-quarter wall that may not even have a door, so forget about privacy. Other developers seal that partial wall with a few feet of glass at the top. This way, even though the bedroom has no window, it can be closed off for privacy and still borrow light from the living room.

But developer Peter Renner is skeptical. “If there are enough people who want to buy those, I’ll be surprised,” he says. None of Renner’s developments use that type of layout. Windowless one-bedroom units sit on the market longer and appreciate less, says Renner salesperson Waite.

Renner’s Third Ward riverfront complex, Hansen’s Landing, offers a 941-square-foot one-bedroom unit with a large outdoor deck and windows in the bedroom for $221,500. But here’s the catch: A parking spot is $15,000 extra – $18,000 if you want storage space – pushing your price about 10 percent above the metro area’s median single-family home price of $216,800.

And about that parking spot. Honestly, you’re going to want at least one parking spot per unit, and probably one per bedroom, if only for resale. So make sure that if it’s not included, you have the option of buying it separately. Some developers in the population-dense Third Ward forgot to include enough parking in their buildings and even ran out of available spots before all of their condos sold. The Lofts on Broadway, for example, have no parking spots left with four units still unsold, so they’re offering rental parking down the street. River Renaissance has only 90 parking spots planned for 80 units (calculating demand at one parking spot per bedroom, that’s 42 spots too few). And an indoor parking spot at Commission House costs a whopping $31,000 – on top of the price of your unit.

One option at this price point is to look beyond Downtown. In nearby neighborhoods like Bay View and on the East Side, you can find new condos that make up in space and layout what you lose in location, and they’re only a 10-minute drive from Downtown.

Bay View Commons, developed by Big Bend Development LLC, offers two-bedroom loft-style condos with dramatic 18-foot-high windows on Kinnickinnic Avenue. A 1,209-square-foot two-bedroom two-bath unit is priced at $240,591. (One underground parking spot is included; for a second, add $14,000.)

Riverview condos, across from Riverside High School on the East Side, are beautiful but small two-bedroom, two-bath contemporary units with lots of light, wide-plank maple floors and one parking spot for $229,000.

Gordon Knoll, just west of the river at 1220 E. Locust St., has six two-bedroom, 2.5-bath townhouse units left for $249,000-$299,000. Square footage ranges from 1,595 to 2,146, and two indoor parking spots are included. With natural wood banisters, nine-foot ceilings, crown moldings and fireplaces in the spacious, open-concept living rooms, you get a lot for your money.

The Mid-ranges (High $200s, $300s, $400s)
Once you get into the mid-price range, you can demand more in both square footage and views. Standard appliance and finish packages also climb in quality. If outdoor space is a priority, look for large decks like those at Renner’s developments, big enough for a dinner table and chairs.

Mere price per square foot isn’t all you should consider, though, at any price point. Acoustic separation, for example, is a biggie. One condo owner at The Broadway didn’t realize that until his opera singer neighbor began practicing at all hours. Overhead footsteps are another sound you might not want to hear. There are a number of sound insulation techniques, but one of the most promising seems to be the 12 inches of poured concrete used in Renner’s buildings. Other new buildings feature “party walls,” which put a pocket of air between insulation to muffle noise.

Boris Gokhman admits that the mid-priced $300,000-$400,000 category is “not exactly a no-man’s land, but it’s a tough segment to work with” – it’s often too expensive for young professionals yet may lack the quality baby boomers demand. They want two parking spots, two bedrooms, a spacious layout and high-quality finishes, he says. In-unit storage space and fabulous views are also expected. “People are getting much pickier,” notes real estate agent Kristin Noll of  First Weber, adding that sales in the mid-market have started to stall, while they’ve remained brisk at the luxury and entry levels.

But while you may not get it all at this price, there are some nice-sized, quality units available:

With spacious outdoor decks and unique acoustic separation, Renner’s Hansen’s Landing development is likely to do as well as his sold-out Waterfront and nearly sold-out Harborfront. On the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward, Hansen’s Landing comes equipped with boat slips ($40,000-$70,000) and a swimming pool. For a two-bedroom, two-bath top-floor unit with skylights, you’ll pay $379,500 for 1,413 square feet plus a 234-square-foot deck. (Two parking spots, plus storage, would be $36,000 extra.) Other selling points include a large U-shaped entertainment bar that makes the kitchen the focal point of the living space. Marble bathrooms, walk-in closets and three-panel solid-maple doors raise the bar on quality as well.

Right down the street from Hansen’s Landing is the Marine -Terminal Loftsdevelopment by Mandel Group, which will relocate its business office to the first floor later this year. The original mushroom-capped columns of this renovated World War I riverfront building will remain intact. Otherwise, it’s being gutted and redone, with many units featuring 18-foot ceilings, dramatic windows and lofted bedrooms. At the mid-price range, there are townhome units on the fourth and fifth floors, like a 1,339-square-foot one-bedroom, 1.5-bath unit with den facing the river with two parking spots for $349,900.

RiverCrest is also a Mandel development but with a very different feel from its Third Ward condos. Down the hill from the Jewel-Osco at Humboldt and North avenues and across the street from the Beerline neighborhood along Commerce Street, these townhomes have attached, private two-car garages, low density per building and a traditionally suburban feel, yet the location is quite urban. Buyers’ ­choices include a 1,372-square-foot two bedroom, 1.5-bath unit for $292,900 and a 1,825-square-foot two-bedroom, 2.5-bath unit for $384,900.

Located a block north of the vibrant corner of Farwell Avenue and Brady Street, the upper floors in New Land’s The -Sterling(currently under construction) have spectacular views of Lake Michigan, Downtown and the beautiful homes surrounding it. A sample price is $376,600 for an 1,868-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath unit with a windowless den.

The buyer for the Park Terrace Row Housesis a “younger, more avant-garde bohemian professional,” says developer John Vetter. These row houses are built on a bluff near the river on Commerce Street. Reminiscent of warehouse-conversion projects, with their exposed concrete walls and electrical work, they’re actually new construction featuring German-made Grohe faucets and a unique third-floor garage. Parking on top frees up the street level for a pedestrian walkway. The row houses range from 1,376 square feet ($275,000-$289,000) to 1,717 square feet ($349,900).

Reservoir Court’s charming one-of-a-kind duplex units and townhomes with garages in the Brewer’s Hill neighborhood are filled with character. Features include bay windows, huge porches, built-in cabinets, cathedral ceilings and amenities like whirlpool baths, double vanities, granite countertops and stainless-steel kitchen appliances. Prices range from $260,000 for 1,300 square feet to $425,000 for 2,434 square feet. Lots of other condos are popping up in this revived area near Roots Restaurant.

The High-end Luxury Market ($500,000 and up)
At this price point, buyers expect the best in amenities, layouts and location, and there’s a wide range of choices:

University Club Tower (825 N. Prospect Ave.) will be “one of the most luxurious high-rise condo developments in the Midwest,” boasts Mandel. He cites the building’s privacy (elevators directly into each unit) and amenities (concierge service) as putting the development above even Chicago’s more expensive towers.

But it’s not cheap: With prices from $1.1 million to $3.4 million per unit ($450 per square foot), the tower will house Milwaukee’s moneyed elite, including new Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. Sixty-five percent of the building’s 57 units were pre-sold, with buyers predominantly in the 50-64 age group. Most are selling large upscale suburban homes to move Downtown.

With a 17,000-square-foot park on the roof of the parking garage for dog walking, an 8,500-square-foot fitness center, room service and a cold storage room for grocery deliveries, residents almost don’t have to leave the building. Each unit also has a private terrace that’s 12-by-26 – big enough to seat 20 for dinner. Not to mention the building’s wine tasting room, wine cellars and a third-floor community room overlooking the lake.

Architect Peter Ellis of Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLC has designed residential units in Toronto, Istanbul and Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. When he visited Milwaukee a few years ago, he was struck by the “exquisitely poetic” beauty of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum. So struck, in fact, that he had to sit down and re-evaluate his own career. When Mandel called nine months later, Ellis jumped at the chance to design a residential tower to complement the Calatrava.

Next door to the University Club ­Tower site stands Fiduciary Real Estate Development’s completed 33-story Kilbourn Tower. A narrow structure with transparent glass walls on the sold-out northern side, the building features spacious, contemporary units with large, open living/dining rooms overlooking the lake to the east. Since views to the south will be blocked by University Club Tower, about half of the southern units remain unsold. Several penthouses are still available (at 6,214 square feet, they range from $2.35 million to $2.65 million).

Life at Kilbourn Tower won’t lack in luxury either: The building features concierge service, a dramatic two-story open lobby, a community room, wine cellars, fitness center and Burmeister cabinets. Most remaining units are priced between $700,000 and $1 million.

New additions in the Third Ward also include luxury units. Hansen’s Landing, with its marble bathrooms and spectacular kitchens, offers a 2,785-square-foot three-bedroom, three-bath corner unit overlooking the river for $749,500 (a private three-car garage is $75,000 extra). The large corner units on the top floors at Marine Terminal Loftsinclude wide expanses of windows and private roof terraces. Buyers like attorney Tim Frautschi and his wife, Sue, are excited about the modern feel their two-story corner unit will have. They’re selling their East Side Terrace Avenue home to buy one of the biggest and most expensive units – $899,000 for 3,600 square feet. Their 124-foot-long patio wraps around the corner of the building, providing space for entertaining and gardening.

Top-floor and corner units also define luxury at KeyBridge Development’s new projects, 601 Lofts and First Place on the River. The former, in the heart of the East Towne area, will include two-story luxury units on the top floors, all with lake views. One example: $722,400 for a 2,408-square-foot unit. The Fifth Ward’s First Place on the River will feature a $1.7 million 12th-floor luxury penthouse that’s 4,265 square feet, with four parking spots and views to the west, south and east. (A 2,300-square-foot ninth-floor two-bedroom unit goes for a mere $711,000.) Upscale finishes include maple or cherry hardwood floors and cabinets, Kohler fixtures, GE Profile appliances, granite and marble countertops and ceramic floors.

Vetter Denk’s single-family Park Terrace Bluff Home condos (three to four stories each and located on Reservoir Street) start at $450,000 preconstruction. Six of the 16 slender, modern-looking homes modeled after Vetter Denk’s Aperture House on Moose Lake are sold, one to a buyer who sold his 6,000-square-foot Lake Country home to move to his 3,600-square-foot new Downtown condo. With big expanses of glass and a side yard, Bluff Homes will compete on price point with luxury high-rises.

If a yard and garden are important to you, keep your eye on the three-story townhomes at The Terraces, being planned by Big Bend Development in the Park East area. Each will have a front and rear yard. Though these homes are not yet on the market, developer Randy Scoville predicts that they will be selling in the $600s.

City Green, a New Land Enterprises luxury 10-story high-rise in the Yankee Hill neighborhood, will feature a contemporary design, with floor-to-ceiling windows, gas fireplaces and marble baths. Units start at $355,000, but most are priced at more than $500,000. A 2,205-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath eighth-floor unit is $650,000. But that may not be on the market long – the penthouse units sold out before construction even began.

Will condos appreciate the way homes have?
Older condos can’t always get the same price per square foot as new developments, but certain features – including corner units with lots of light, square layouts with a split-bedroom floor plan, ample parking and good views – always pay off on resale. By contrast, says -Realty Executives’ Nancy B. Meeks, a 20th-floor condo won’t resell for much more than a comparable unit a few floors down, as long as both have a view, even though developers initially charged owners a premium for the higher floor.

But some condos have appreciated so much that they compete with new construction. Astor Court, developed by Mandel Group in 1994, is one example. Each three-story townhouse in the desirable East Pointe neighborhood includes a two-car garage, private garden, back common area with green space and relatively low density. Originally $225,000 to $325,000, one in the 1400 block of North Humboldt Avenue recently sold for more than $800,000.

The right condo in the suburbs can do just as well. Water’s Edge Condominiums on Lake Na-gawicka in Delafield are among the most desirable, worth more than a million dollars each. What makes them special? It’s having just two units per building, each facing the lake with gorgeous, resort-like views, and some with boat slips. And they’re huge: 3,200-3,500 square feet. Built between 1992 and 1997, they originally sold for $600,000-$700,000, according to developer Wayne Foster.

If that’s not enough proof, look at Lake Shore Club, a five-story mid-rise overlooking Lac La Belle. Built in 1992, it’s still the high-end lake condo development in Oconomowoc. In 2004, a top-floor unit sold for $719,000 after only one day on the market, and a second-floor unit sold for $649,000. With just three units per floor and lake views and balconies on both sides, residents can watch the sunset over the lake to the west and summer band concerts to the east.

Condo Fees
One of the main reasons people choose condo living is for the maintenance-free lifestyle, but that comes at a cost. Aside from mortgage payments and property taxes, condo owners pay monthly association fees.

Some fees cover utilities like heat and hot water, even cable TV. Amenities like 24-hour security, a concierge, fitness center, common room or pool will add to the cost. Then there are the standard expenses, like the elevator service contract, snow removal, building insurance, common area maintenance and utili-ties. Lower-density projects have fewer units to share the costs, so fees are higher. Older buildings may have higher maintenance expenses.

The fee should also include an amount for a reserve fund. Tim Gokhman of New Land Enterprises LLP says that should be 20 percent to 25 percent of the fee to ensure that residents are not hit with unex-pected special assessments down the road. But Jeff Hunt of Hunt Management, which oversees a number of Downtown condo developments, says there is no standard reserve fund percentage. Since condo buildings differ in age, amenities and construction type, savvy buyers should study the association’s budget closely and make sure they understand it. Older associations will also have a reserve study that itemizes the expected cost of replacing things, such as the roof. Buyers should ask whether enough money is being put away.

Hunt advises comparing a unit you like to one at about the same price per square foot with similar amenities in comparable buildings. If one has substantially lower fees, “The light should go on,” he says. “Look at the budget, see if it makes sense and ask a lot of questions.”

Elm Grove
Mandel Group’s next development, The Watermark, will also be within walking distance of this village’s shopping area. The three-story building at Watertown Plank Road and Juneau Boulevard will feature 36 condos with a very high-end finish, including granite countertops and hardwood floors. The 1,500-square-foot units will be offered for $350,000 and 2,000-square-foot units for $450,000.

The Norhardt Crossing development transformed a rural road with ditches on either side into a vibrant, walkable neighborhood just blocks from the heart of Brookfield, including the Ruby Isle shopping center, post office, library and farmers’ market.

“Originally, people said, ‘This is too urban for Brookfield,’ but now they love it,” says Bob Monnat, chief operating officer for Mandel Group. The pedestrian-friendly neighborhood is a major draw for everyone from first-time homebuyers to empty nesters. -Ranches start at $289,900 and townhomes at $324,900.

You get all of the latest finishes – granite countertops, gas fireplaces, beautiful woodwork and ceramic tile bathroom floors – at Capitol Heights in Brookfield. These two- and three-bedroom units are priced from $319,900 for 1,585 square feet to $490,900 for 1,896 square feet. A courtyard, complete with gazebo, separates this building from the Capitol Heights senior apartments. Re-tail and office space are also planned for the site.

Lake Country
Downtown Delafield is getting ready for a makeover. Developer Robert Lang of Lang Homes Ltd. is planning a mixed-use 3.5-story condo and retail development called Delafield Square on Genesee Street. The 1,600- to 2,800-square-foot units will be priced at $400,000 to $700,000. For Lake Country residents used to the quieter, small-town lifestyle, the amenities will come to them; Gagliano Brothers of the Sendiks family will open a 12,000-square-foot grocery on the first floor.

Echoing the same trend, Rockwell Village in downtown Oconomowoc, a proposed redevelopment of a two-block area, including townhome condos and a mixed-use mid-rise overlooking Fowler Lake, would breathe new life into the area. The five-story development would bring a coffee shop, spa and local artisans and retail on the first floor. Proposed condos start at an affordable $189,900 for one-bedroom loft-style units, with some penthouse units also available. A quaint boutique hotel, independent movie theater and well-known – but as yet unnamed – local restaurant are part of the vision, as is a walkway with trees and benches. Pending city approval, the project would start in 2006.

Suburban subdivisions like Pewaukee’s Meadowbrook Village condos offer affordable prices in quiet, landscaped settings. But let’s face it: Suburban subdivisions can be bland. Franklin-based Icon De-velopment aims to change that with its plan for Silver Lake in Oconomowoc. The lakeside condos of Vespera at Porticello will look like an Italian villa, with Mediterranean tile roofs, stone-walled turrets and Tuscan architecture. French doors and wide interior corridors will open onto a first-floor entertaining area, while outside fireplaces extend the use of outdoor space into the cooler months. The 36 owners will also have a private beach with boat slips available and a beach-front restaurant. Prices start around $700,000 for the 2,600- to 3,200-square-foot units.

For value at a lower price point, there’s Pioneeridge, a new five-building Oconomowoc development located on a hill (east of the LaBelle Cemetery), with views of Fowler Lake. Most units in the three-story buildings will have two bedrooms plus a den (1,500-1,800 square feet with a split-bedroom layout) and be priced between $204,900 and $259,900. From the stone exterior to the Jamie Wilke-designed interiors, this development promises to be classy as well as affordable.

Julie Sensat Waldren is a regular Milwaukee Magazine contributor.