Rainy Day Funds

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.  * Last July, heavy rains pummeled southeastern Wisconsin, turning streets into rivers and basements into backed-up swimming pools. Unfortunately for Fran Verito of Whitefish Bay, her home lacks a basement, so her first floor was hardest hit, with close to $30,000 in damages. “It was pretty crazy,” she says. “Water came rushing through the doors, and I had about a foot of water throughout my main living area.” Still, Verito considers herself fortunate. “I was able to save some furniture and things. But a lot of stuff needed to…

The Price of Paradise

Door County is a beautiful and popular vacation spot for Wisconsinites. But the recession’s ugly impact hit all areas, no matter how lovely the setting. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of waterfront homes sold in Door County dropped from 99 a year to 41. The median sales price in this upscale getaway started at $331,700, peaked in 2006 at $487,500, then fell back to $362,500 by 2009. Condominiums didn’t fare much better. The plight of the primary home market has generated considerable scrutiny; the state’s recreational market – vacation and second homes – has hardly prompted a word. Values…

Period of Adjustment

A broken dishwasher used to be a great excuse for homeowners to remodel a whole kitchen. Not anymore. Now, says remodeler David Pekel, a broken dishwasher means that the appliance alone needs replacing. And that’s it. The tentacles of the recession have reached into the remodeling industry, changing the dynamics of decision-making and the purview of projects. Remodeling is still a draw, but now industry players see homeowners working within the original geography of a room and making choices that deliver maximum bang per buck instead of gutting a room or knocking down walls. Necessity is also driving some remodeling.…

Vanishing Village

Off Highway 175 in rural Richfield, some 25 miles northwest of Downtown Milwaukee, sits 114 acres of largely unused land. The plan was to create a walkable hamlet with multiuse trails, shops and homes reminiscent of the early 1900s. But on this warm May day, a gas station attendant down the road hasn’t even heard of the vintage-inspired Reflections Village, and the bare bones of nine homes-to-be are mere glimpses of what so many hoped would be a completed subdivision. Planning began in 2005, with developers aiming for nostalgia, a small-town, community-oriented feel and no home styles more modern than…

California Boston…and Milwaukee?

When it comes to analyzing the nation’s real estate prices, Milwaukee barely exists. The blue book for the industry is the, ahem, S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, whose clunky name belies how it revolutionized home value analysis. Created in the 1980s and a favorite source for the media, the report uses a complicated formula measuring repeat sales of homes over time in 20 of the largest U.S. metro areas. But alas, Milwaukee has never made the 20-city cut. Co-author Karl Case suggests Milwaukeeans consult the Chicago information: “Milwaukee certainly does the same thing that Chicago does.” But Mike Ruzicka, president of…

Small Times

The economy has dealt serious blows to metro Milwaukee’s homebuilding market – but no knockout punch. Smart builders have adjusted, changing quickly to stay in the game. The five busiest builders in metro Milwaukee, listed below, have found that smaller homes are more likely to sell. In fact, the majority of houses they constructed in 2009 were about 2,000 to 2,400 square feet. In the past, 3,000-square-foot homes – or larger – were hot. Ranch-style homes are even replacing previously popular McMansions. Jakki Brunn, selections and design manager for Kaerek Homes Inc. – the builder that tops the list with…

Common Cents

Never was wisdom more needed than in this grim economy. Although some real estate maxims stand the test of time, others are being revised, revamped or even replaced in the wake of the tough real estate market.Location, location, location. The ultimate conventional wisdom still stands. In the eyes of local real estate agents, where a home is located still trumps all else. “It’s still the No. 1 priority,” says Terry Donahue, president and owner of Prudential Absolute Realtors. “Location is key.” It’s also one of the easier, if not the easiest, decisions for buyers to make.Don’t buy the most expensive…

Dead on Arrival

Once upon a time, the Downtown alderman was king of Milwaukee development. For 15 years, that area had been booming, driven by the explosion of new condos. But not anymore. “Slowing down would be the wrong word,” Ald. Bob Bauman says of new developments. “They’ve stopped.” As the economy tanked, real estate developers suddenly found it impossible to get financing. Banks simply won’t lend. In January 2009, the Park East 22-story Palomar condo and hotel hybrid was killed because of poor sales. In July, Catalyst, the mixed-use project at West Wisconsin Avenue and North Fourth Street, died. Desperate developers have…

Good Stock

In the 1990s, when exaggerated gables and McMansions ruled the day, the ranch-style home seemed doomed to extinction. Now, thanks to the baby boomers contemplating old age and the prospect of someday being unable to climb stairs, these homes are hot again.   That’s been true since around 2004, says Mark Brunner, senior real estate specialist for Shorewest-Mequon. The economic downturn has only added to that popularity, he says, because homebuyers are more cost-conscious and ranches can be built relatively cheaply. But the ranch home is only one of nine classic home styles common to Milwaukee that continues to endure.…

Gourmet Home

  Wisconsin’s answer to Julia Child, organic cooking pioneer and design maven Madame Liane C. Kuony, died in April of 2005. But the contents of her Fond du Lac home, the base for her Postilion Restaurant, School of Culinary Arts and Studio of Interior Design, didn’t hit the market until this summer. “It was hard for the family to sell her things. They’d really hoped to find someone who’d continue to run the culinary school or use the home [an 1850s Federalist structure in Fond du Lac’s historic district] as a bed and breakfast,” says Barb Vitucci-Wade, owner of Fox…