Inside Southeastern Wisconsin’s Unpredictable Real Estate Market

Three local real estate experts share tips on finding the best deals in metro Milwaukee. (Hint: It’s still a seller’s market.)


LISTEN TO THE ROUNDTABLE:


Beth Jaworski 

Realtor, Shorewest

Justin Ippoliti

Realtor, Shorewest 

Tammy Klemmer

VP and Senior Loan Officer, Johnson Financial Group


Milwaukee Magazine: First off, what is the metro Milwaukee real estate market looking like right now?  

Jaworski: The interest rate hike did exactly what it was designed to do. It took the market from absolute insanity, which was unsustainable, back to a more normal market. It’s still a very fast-moving market here in the metro area. People coming from other locations are surprised that we’re still getting two, three, four offers on many listings, but it definitely has slowed down. I specialize in Wauwatosa, and we had been seeing maybe five to eight active properties [for sale] at a time. Now we’re seeing in the 30s.  

Ippoliti: This spring was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, just the challenge of getting any buyers accepted offers. I don’t think that’s a healthy market. I don’t think it’s a sustainable market. I think people who are qualified and want to buy a home should be able to do that. So I’m glad that the foot has come off the gas pedal a little bit, but by no means is it a situation where buyers are negotiating big discounts on houses or having their pick of 10 houses. It’s still a seller’s market. It’s just not an insane seller’s market like it was a few months ago. 

Klemmer: I’ll chime in from a lending perspective. I echo what Beth and Justin are saying about the market. It’s, if we dare say, normalized a bit. We have our hot [areas], but there are some areas that are very lovely that are more normal. If you’re interested, get out there. Discuss what you’re looking to do. Find out the financial zone you should be looking for and proceed from there. Don’t be swayed by what you’re hearing about the market, the water cooler talk or headlines. Get the facts from experts.

Photo by Getty Images

MM: Tammy mentioned some areas in the market that are less competitive. If people are looking for deals, are there places they can find them? 

Ippoliti: I really like some of our metro pockets. You have some of our great Milwaukee neighborhoods in the Mount Mary area, the Bluemound corridor. I tell people, if you put a blindfold on and took it off, I don’t think you’d know if you’re in Tosa or not. Going south of Milwaukee to the Caledonia/Mount Pleasant area, you can get great value for your money and have close proximity to Milwaukee, Chicago, the lake.  

Jaworski: I definitely agree with Justin. I’ve had a few buyers head down [to the Caledonia area]. You get a lot of house for your dollar compared to up here. And definitely you get a very nice house with a lower price just north of Center [Street] in Tosa, whether you’re talking Enderis Park or west of there. The Cooper Park neighborhood is also very popular and very nice, great values. That Bluemound corridor has always been strong. We’re seeing a lot of people from Wauwatosa creep into West Allis. Now it’s competitive there. And it’s a foodie town now, with all these trendy restaurants. If you’re willing to open your mind and not just hit all those hot neighborhoods everybody talks about, you can find a nice house. 

MM: What are some of those hot, competitive areas right now?

Jaworski: East Tosa is always hot. Shorewood is crazy hot. I mean, there’s barely anything on the market in Shorewood right now, and everybody wants it. Bay View is still very hot. New Berlin in the [$200,000-$400,000] range, oh my goodness. 

Ippoliti: Ozaukee County, staying on the [Interstate] 43 line, is super competitive. Milwaukee’s East Side, Mequon, Grafton, Cedarburg. People see a lot of value there, and there’s only so much supply to go around. Our southern suburbs are really strong: Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield. People are paying a premium to live in those areas.   

Photo by Getty Images

MM: And how are the rising interest rates affecting affordability?

Klemmer: It all comes down, in my opinion, to being comfortable with your monthly payment. A number of people who are renting are getting 20% or 30% rent increases. And even though [media] outlets are saying, “Interest rates are sky high,” they’re still below the 1981 rates of 16% to 18%. So we need to put things into perspective. Look at a monthly [mortgage] payment. Are you comfortable with that monthly payment compared to what you’re paying in rent? And what will rent be next year and the year after? You can’t be paralyzed because an interest rate is higher than it was last year at this time. 

Jaworski: It sounds cliche, but we don’t want to be a nation of renters. We want to be a nation of homeowners because it truly is the path to wealth-building and stability. Having a fixed-rate mortgage is the best hedge against inflation right now.

Ippoliti: I love being in southeast Wisconsin because our economy stays pretty stable and steady. We’re not California or Colorado, where you see 30% to 50% spikes and drops. For the last 10 years with real estate, you’ve seen upward trending progression. This isn’t just a one-to-two-year hot zone – this is a long, steady stream of upward progression that you can rely on. That’s so much potential for a buyer to benefit from. I sit down with people who have owned a house for five years, and they have six figures in equity sitting there for them. What would that have been if they would have paid rent for that time? So I highly recommend anyone who’s at all qualified to look into what they’re comfortable with for monthly payment.

MM: What do buyers need to know about those financing options?

Klemmer: Interest rate is important, but that’s not the only factor. Start off by having a conversation [with a lender] to explore what your options are. If you own a home, are you planning on buying before you sell? Do you need a bridge loan? Where do your down payment funds come from? There’s a lot that goes into those initial conversations so that you and your lender are on the same page. Ultimately, we want to be in position with a fully underwritten pre-approval. Everyone else that’s writing an offer is going to have a pre-approval letter, but we want to present yours in such a way that you stand out from the rest of the offers. 

We offer a lock-and-shop program. You can lock into the interest rate for 180 days at the beginning of the process before you have an offer, with a free “float down” option if rates are lower when you do have an accepted offer. 

MM: What about folks who want to downsize? What areas have smaller options available? 

Jaworski: It’s tough. For ranches and condos, there just barely is anything, and it’s super competitive. There’s New Berlin and Menomonee Falls. A lot of people will go Downtown and to the East Side. Although sometimes that’s too busy for people used to a more quiet community. You have to be willing to explore. The further out you get, the slower the market and you have a little more breathing room. It’s a little quieter, a little more open, and it’s not quite as competitive.

Ippoliti: We have some great condo options in the south suburb areas: South Milwaukee, Franklin. 

Jaworski: Cudahy, St. Francis, South Milwaukee are overlooked a lot. Butler [too]. They are great communities that have very nice homes. 

Ippoliti: You’re close to the lake. And for what you can get for your money there, it’s a treasure of a spot. 

MM: What suburbs have grown the most in the past 10 years? 

Ippoliti: Oconomowoc has seen a lot of development. Caledonia and Mount Pleasant have a lot of development. Washington County has seen a lot happen. Past West Bend and Hartford, there’s been a lot. You’re still within an hour of Milwaukee. 

Jaworski: Oak Creek, I think, has developed even more with Drexel Town Square.

MM: While the market has normalized somewhat, like you said, it’s still competitive. What are some ways buyers can improve their chances of getting an accepted offer?

Ippoliti: I cannot speak enough to working with a local lending institution. We have some amazing established local financial institutions like Johnson Financial Group. I can tell you, any listing agent who is in a competitive situation will look very closely at the bank letters they’re getting, and if there are three or four offers that are similar, and one of them is from a great local lending institution, that’s going to be a competitive advantage. 

Jaworski: One big mistake I see buyers make is using an out-of-state lender. Real estate is state-specific. The laws change from state to state. And working with a professional Realtor will help you make the most competitive offer. Because every seller is different. Some people want a quick closing, some people want to close [months out] because they’re building a house and it won’t be done until then. 

Ippoliti: Good agents talk to each other, too. I can call Beth and say, “What is your seller looking for in an offer?” and get really good insight. If you’re working with an agent who doesn’t take the time to be connected in our market, that can also be a big disadvantage in competitive situations.

Klemmer: Work with individuals that are knowledgeable and as passionate about you getting your dream home as you are. Make sure the communication is there, the accessibility is there. So as everything is coming together, you have the group of people surrounding you that are going to get you to the table. 

Ippoliti: It’s really easy to drive around, call off a listing sign, and get connected to an agent. But when buyers do that, they don’t have someone who’s representing them, who’s looking out for their best interests. Take the time to meet buyer’s agents because this is the biggest purchase of most people’s lives.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s October issue.

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