To determine where the buying and selling action is the most intense, we looked over the 2020 MLS data for Milwaukee County in search of the ZIP codes with the lowest median days on market, a median sale price over $200,000 and more than 100 homes sold. Here’s what we found:
BEST FOR COUPLES WHO LOVE TO SOCIALIZE
ZIP Code: 53213 | 453 Homes Sold | Median Days on Market: 5 | Median Sale Price: $279,000
BUYING IN THE East Tosa market is a competitive sport, with buyers furiously outbidding each other for a spot in the coveted neighborhood.
“Everybody talks about East Tosa,” Beth Jaworski of Shorewest says. “It’s been so strong for so long. It’s kind of an insane market.”
And the area is not the place to look if you’re hoping to snag a bargain. When asked if there are good deals to be had in East Tosa right now, Suzanne Powers of Powers Realty says simply, “No.” The inventory is very low and offers are made quickly – and often above asking.
So what’s the attraction? Location is certainly key – East Tosa is close to the city, while just suburban enough. It also has great walkability.
“You can walk out your front door and go grab one of the best donuts made in the entire state of Wisconsin, go grab a beer, get dinner,” says Powers. “The food selection in East Tosa is amazing – they have some of the best restaurants in Milwaukee within walking distance.”
The East Tosa age range tends toward the late 30s to early 50s for new buyers. While there isn’t recent construction, the older homes offer enough space for young families, who appreciate the highly regarded school district.
Jaworski and Powers see no signs of the East Tosa market slowing in the near future. The price per square foot is rising with every month, and multiple offers keep flowing in.
“If you’re looking for a good deal, the deal you should be looking for is on your mortgage rates,” Powers says. “But as far as housing goes, it’s more competitive than ever.”
WAUWATOSA VILLAGE: This cluster of historic buildings nestled along the banks of the Menomonee River houses shops and restaurants, and evokes the feeling of a European square.
NORTH AVENUE: The place to be after dark. The corridor is lined with bars, breweries and restaurants, like Vennture Brew and Ca’Lucchenzo, plus the Rosebud Cinema, a historic theater updated with comfortable recliners and a plentiful drink selection.
HOYT PARK: With a popular pool, a banquet hall and The Landing, one of the best area beer gardens, this is where East Tosa families congregate on hot summer days.
BEST FOR HIPSTERS
ZIP Code: 53207 | 587 Homes Sold | Median Days on Market: 6 | Median Sale Price: $210,000
IF YOU’D REALLY rather live in Brooklyn, but you’re bound to Milwaukee, Bay View is calling your name. With its quirky stores, vintage theater and trendy restaurants, what used to be a working-class neighborhood now attracts the type of professionals under 40 who demand kale at every meal and easy access to vintage vinyl.
Homes there are even harder to snatch up than other areas of Milwaukee and require constant vigilance.
“I looked at Bay View last night, and I didn’t see one available house,” says Powers. “In some locations, we’re down to zero inventory. That’s a real scary thing.”
With a plethora of bars, a farmers market, popular arts and culture events, and the benefits of the lakefront, Bay View’s ongoing popularity isn’t shocking.
Jaworski notes that Bay View faced some competition this year. Nearby Fernwood, along with Story Hill, Enderis Park and Washington Heights are all trending markets near Downtown that may be easier to snag a place in than Bay View.
CHILL ON THE HILL: Although this popular concert series, like everything else, was cancelled in 2020, it’s currently set to return this summer with a lineup of local music every Tuesday night at Humboldt Park’s band shell.
AVALON ATMOSPHERIC THEATER: Opened in 1929, this theater’s ceiling twinkles like the night sky, so if the movie is a bore, you can just look up. Order drinks and food from your seat, or book a table at Mistral, located in the lobby.
BEST FOR SMALL-TOWN CHARM
ZIP Code: 53129 | 184 Homes Sold | Median Days on Market: 6 | Median Sale Price: $259,3000
When I started looking to buy a place in the Milwaukee area with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I pictured us moving to a condo somewhere cool like Bay View. At the time, I considered the suburbs to be a barren wasteland of lawns and driveways, and I didn’t want to buy a house because that meant I would become the kind of person who talks about mortgages and hardware stores.
Fast forward six months: We bought a house in the ’burbs (cue my dad saying “I told you so,” here).
My dad was the first person to recommend Greendale to me. He felt the “originals” – 366 tiny, almost European-looking houses built during the Depression with an average square footage of 1,370 feet – could be a condo alternative. The houses are connected by paths that also take you to parks and restaurants.
But the buying market in Greendale was relentless. We toured dozens of originals, usually two at a time, and each one sold faster than the last, sometimes even $15,000 over asking. The average original sold for $187,252 in 2020. The only reason we were able to buy our house was because we made an offer before it hit the market sight unseen, which is, admittedly, a crazy thing to do.
“Greendale has a sense of being a close-knit community and the homes listed are few and far between,” says my Realtor, Warren Matson from First Weber. “So you really have to know if these houses are going to be listed ahead of time.”
When I walk around Greendale, I don’t see the cookie cutter suburb I dreaded when I first started looking to buy. I see shops and restaurants that resemble what I might find in the city, paired with the charm of a small village. For me, it’s a suburb done right.
BEST FOR YOUNG FAMILIES
ZIP Code: 53154 | 408 Homes Sold | Median Days on Market: 7 | Median Sale Price: $263,250
PRIOR TO THE last 10 years, Oak Creek served as a quiet suburb to Milwaukee. But with the 2014 opening of Drexel Town Square, plus a great deal of corporate investment and new housing stock, the city has developed its own heartbeat, with a variety of restaurants, bars and stores. “I think Oak Creek is on the cusp of greatness,” says Powers.
Younger buyers and families are attracted to the city’s affordably priced stock of ranch homes. But with its miles of lakefront, the area is also tempting for empty nesters looking to downsize.
New jobs help drive demand in the area. Master Lock moved its headquarters to Oak Creek in 2017, IKEA opened a new store in 2018, and most recently, an Amazon fulllment center opened this past October.
With so few houses available anywhere near Milwaukee, new housing construction in Oak Creek has been a major source of growth.
Over the past three years, the city has added relatively affordable mid-size homes to the extremely low-inventory metro market. With Lakeshore Commons, a 35-acre housing development breaking ground around Lake Vista Park by 2022, that growth looks set to continue.
BENDER PARK: A beautiful, secluded park on Lake Michi-gan, with hiking trails and a boat ramp for a summer day on the lake.
OAK CREEK FARMERS MARKET: Fresh, local, seasonal produce and goods are available every weekend at this market.
BEST FOR NEWER HOMES
ZIP Code: 53132 | 590 Homes Sold | Median Days on Market: 8 | Median Sale Price: $301,000
IN A SOMEWHAT unexpected twist, Franklin has proven to be very popular this past year. Like Oak Creek, it’s benefitting from expansion to the south of Milwaukee. Also, buyers who previously lived in Chicago appreciate the ease with which they can travel back to Illinois from this and other southern suburbs of Milwaukee, according to Powers.
Franklin also appeals to buyers who don’t want the headaches that can accompany an older home. “You can get relatively new construction in Franklin for an affordable price,” Powers says.
The population in Franklin skews somewhat older than nearby neighborhoods, with a median age of 43 as of 2018 and 18.3% of the population over 65. And the feeling is more suburban, meaning that there isn’t a lively dining scene or retail areas that you can walk to. But the drive to Downtown Milwaukee is only 15-20 minutes, making it easy to access a night out.
For buyers in the higher-end market, Franklin is an increasingly popular option. Sixty of its homes went for over $500,000 this past year, and bidding on those homes is competitive.
“For the first time in a long time, luxury is doing really well,” Powers says. You can almost certainly expect a fight.
THE ROCK SNOWPARK: If you refuse to let the Wisco winter keep you inside, The Rock’s the place to go for skiing and snowboarding. They even light up the hillside in red, green and blue for snow tubing on weekend nights.
The North Shore: River Hills, Fox Point & Whitefish Bay
BEST FOR LUXURY HOMES
ZIP Code: 53217 | 47 Homes Sold Over $827,000 | Median Days on Market: 17 | Median Sale Price: $970,000
WHEN IT COMES to fast-moving luxury in metro Milwaukee, there are many contenders for the top spot – Elm Grove, Mequon, Delafield and Brookfield – but the standout for fastest-moving last year was the long-reigning king of the hill in Milwaukee’s luxury market, the North Shore.
The 53217 ZIP code runs along the lakefront, making up the northern edge of Whitefish Bay, and then Fox Point and River Hills above it.
The housing stock in the area is older and sometimes requires renovation. More frequently than in the past, some buyers are tearing down existing homes and building new ones. Aside from that, there’s no new construction available. With inventory at an all-time low, multiple offers are standard for any home in the area, and the competition can sometimes be mind-boggling.
“Twice this year, I’ve written on a property that was coming soon,” Powers says. “The buyer never set foot in the house. … All they saw was a front-facing photo, and they’re writing a non-contingent offer, cash, no inspection, sight unseen. In the 20 years I’ve been selling real estate, that is new.”
Offers on those properties go for well over asking, especially if the property has been renovated and repaired.
The population in 53217 is certainly high-income. In 2018, the median income was $98,750, a number topped by only four other ZIP codes in metro Milwaukee (Elm Grove, Okauchee, Mequon and Colgate).
Parents are drawn heavily to Whitefish Bay, which boasts one of the best area school districts – Whitefish Bay High School is ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin by U.S. News and World Report. As a result, the area has a higher number of under-18s than nearby communities, with 31% of the total population in 2018, as compared to 21% in Wauwatosa.
While it lacks the cultural vibrancy of Bay View and East Tosa, Whitefish Bay boasts an impressive downtown area and shopping district with quaint stores, bakeries and cafes, making the neighborhood more walkable than the other high-end towns in the same ZIP code. It’s a trade off: in River Hills and Fox Point, the lots are more spacious; perfect if you want to get away from it all.
“Houses move in days, hours sometimes,” Powers says. “The North Shore is hotter than it’s ever been.”
LYNDEN SCULPTURE GARDEN River Hills is home to this unique art experience. More than 50 sculptures are arranged across the beautiful garden.
SILVER SPRING DRIVE: This road cuts through the center of Whitefish Bay’s shopping district. Grab a drink, visit an art gallery, browse for home furnishings or shop for toys at Winkie’s – whatever suits your interest.
DOCTORS PARK: Enjoy Lake Michigan without the crowds at this small-but-picturesque park in Fox Point.