Head west! Four areas to consider in your home search.
This is where city folks go to hike, shop and get some fresh air. But what’s it like to live in Waukesha County? Historic homes are harder to find – outside of pockets in downtown Waukesha and Delafield, where Victorians dot tree-lined streets – but if you want to build your dream house, the land is calling. Schools here are among the state’s best and, depending on your industry, you might score a job in commercial centers like Brookfield and do away with the icky commute into Milwaukee. Come Memorial Day, affluent Lake Country residents with lake homes (Beaver, Nagawicka, Pewaukee and Okauchee, for example) are in bliss.
Median Single-Family Price: $527,791
Operating under a split personality – it has both a historical downtown and sprawling housing developments farther out – “Delafield has been a highly sought-after suburban location” for about a decade, according to Cindy Fleming, a broker with First Weber Realtors’ Brookfield office. She says buyers like the highly rated school district and the “upscale” housing that features amenities including walk-in closets, master-bedroom suites, soaring great room ceilings and finished lower levels. It’s not hard to drop $600,000-$700,000 on a five-bedroom house less than 15 years old. New retail development (most recently Sierra Trading Post, to scoop up polar fleece for hikes or cross-country skiing at nearby Lapham Peak) adds to the allure. “A wonderful place to raise your family,” Fleming says. “It is located in Lake Country, so water and hiking trails are a draw.”
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Median Single-Family Price: $238,915
Guitar god Les Paul grew up here and a road is named after him (Les Paul Parkway). Today’s residents of this county-seat city (pop. 70,718) get access to live music in a vibrant downtown with not only bars, but also a community theater, antiques shops, and sidewalks and benches lining the banks of the Fox River. Carroll University hosts cultural events, too. It’s also got the county’s most ethnically diverse restaurant scene – a reflection of the city’s substantial Latino population. “Now that the water issues seem to be settled in Waukesha,” says Pat Ginter of RE/Max Realty 100’s Brookfield office, referring to the water rights to Lake Michigan that were granted last year, “I’ve noticed a greater interest in the area.” Luxury condos range from a loft-style, exposed-brick unit a few blocks from downtown listing for $275,000, to a townhouse-style condo farther out for around $300,000, or a three-bedroom home starting at $250,000. All are ideal gateways to the western region.
Twice in the last six years Waukesha has ranked high on national lists of “best places to live” – eighth by 24/7 Wall Street in 2015 and 98th by Money Magazine in 2012.
Median Single-Family Price: $350,048
Located between Madison and Milwaukee – perfect for households with relatives in both cities – this community of just under 16,000 features a growing, walkable downtown along Wisconsin Avenue with fun boutiques selling everything from purses to dog treats and is adjacent to Lake Fowler and Lac La Belle. “Lake living abounds in this community and it offers a wonderful lifestyle and affordable housing,” says Cindy Fleming, a broker with First Weber Realtors’ Brookfield office. A 1950s-era ranch will run you around $235,000 to $275,000 while a downtown two-bedroom, two-bath condo lists for around $275,000 to $280,000. Plus, the 1,500-acre Pabst Farms development, where ground broke last year on 300 new homes, also hosts a Pick ‘n Save and YMCA. The 8-year-old Aurora Medical Center is nearby, in Summit.
Newbies often struggle to pronounce the names of Waukesha County communities that are derived from Potawatomi and other American Indian languages. In Potawatomi, Oconomowoc means “waterfall.”
Median Single-Family Price: $349,506
Brookfield’s housing is diverse. You can score a ranch in the city’s eastern parts for as low as $275,000 or a mansion for a million bucks. Either way, the schools (Elmbrook School District) are good, crime is minimal and shopping rules: Between the two, Brookfield Square and The Corners of Brookfield have retailers to outfit your home and wardrobe. Some might even say it’s an exurb (city outside of a city). It’s also a popular spot for non-Wisconsinites, so keep your ears open for East Coast accents. “Brookfield continues to be attractive to transplants from other areas of the country. Buyers are more likely to find others who have experienced what they are going through,” says Pat Ginter, of RE/MAX Realty 100’s Brookfield office.
Brookfield residents can easily be well-heeled – literally. The year-old Von Maur store in The Corners of Brookfield boasts one of the best designer-shoe collections in our area.
Buy or Build: Pros and Cons
David Clark, an economics professor at Marquette University, says there are four reasons why now is a great time to build: low housing inventory (finding an existing home fulfilling all items on your wish list will be a challenge), plenty of land in rural areas near Milwaukee and historically low mortgage rates (Last December’s 3.9% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was close to the record low of 3.35% in late 2012). The fourth reason is low inventory, again: Odds are, your current home will sell fast in this market. “The best position someone could be in would be selling their home in an urban area and building a home in a rural area,” Clark says. “One county to really keep an eye on is Walworth.” It’s bordered by Racine, Kenosha and Waukesha counties, all with employment growth and low unemployment rates, he says. In addition, “Menomonee Falls has a lot of inventory of new lots,” says David Belman, president of Belman Homes. Elsewhere, “anything along that I-94 corridor is going to be strong.” He advises to keep an eye out for hidden costs such as finished driveways, window treatments, water softeners and landscaping. But newer homes require less maintenance, so it may all even out. According to ProMatcher cost data, the average cost of new-home construction in the Milwaukee area is $125.35 per square foot.