While the North Shore is well known for its grand estates and beautiful mansions, what’s often overlooked is the sense of community its cities and villages have to offer, with award-winning schools, charming neighborhoods, and quaint, walkable downtowns.
With the fall real estate season in full force, local real estate professionals shared their recent experiences and perspective on the role community contributes to the quality of life on the North Shore.
“I feel like a lot of my clients now are coming back to their hometowns. They lived in the city and now they’re coming back to where they grew up,” says Ted Pickus, a broker with @properties in Highland Park. “You may go somewhere else, but I sell a lot in Highland Park and Deerfield and I’m finding a lot of young parents with small children, or they’ve just gotten married, and they’re coming back.”
Pickus says these young families remember the parks and other amenities, and they want their kids to have a similar experience.
It was the COVID-19 pandemic that made these families realize how important it was to be able to walk their children home from school or have a beach day. Increasing options to work from home was also a spark.
“Maybe they’re only commuting three days a week and it’s worth living out in the suburbs and raising their children the way they were raised,” says Pickus “They all went to the city and were thinking they had to live in the city for a job, but now that has changed.”
One other twist, Pickus says, is that younger buyers don’t necessarily want that pristine new or updated house. They’re looking for character. Too many were watching too much HGTV but now their desires have changed.
“I just sold a home to a client on Linden in Highland Park. It’s a classic older, colonial red brick house, and that’s what she grew up and she just loves it,” Pickus says. “This house reminds her of her childhood home, and not only the house’s style, but the community also where she grew up. It was very refreshing, a couple of buyer clients who were looking for old and charm instead of new.”
Michael Mitchell, with @properties in Glencoe, says the appeal of communities on the North Shore is that they’re made up of villages, rather than suburban sprawl. Some brokers refer to it as “Mayberry on the Lake.”
“I’m based in Glencoe, and I do a lot all over. Including the city, but what I think the North Shore offers is small town living, not suburban living. It feels less suburban than most suburbs,” Mitchell says. “When you buy on the North Shore, you’re buying in established communities that have huge trees and diverse housing stock.”
Mitchell says the charm is to be found in meeting neighbors in communities that have neighbors who have been there for 50 years and neighbors that have just moved in.
“It was great when we bought in our neighborhood in Glencoe in 1993. We were one of the first of the young couples to buy and saw what it was like to be surrounded by grandparents and we were so thrilled,” he says. “They got such a kick out of the fact that we were the young family with kids.”
Mitchell takes regular advantage of the amenities Glencoe has to offer, such as the golf courses, tennis courts, ample parks, and nearby Botanic Gardens.
“There’s always a tennis court to be found on a weekend if we want to go hit,” he says. “I mean, I can go on and on, but you know, it’s for those reasons that I think the life is so rich.”
Mitchell cites the example of a client who relocated from Glencoe to Des Moines and was homesick. Even though she wasn’t brought up in Glencoe she loved the charm of the North Shore and couldn’t wait to get back.
“You know the postman, you know the grocery, you know the couple of restaurants… everybody kind of knows everybody,” he says.
Highland Park @properties broker Susan Brown Burklin says even within the larger community of Highland Park you can find small villages within it that help to form relationships for a lifetime
“Because Highland Park is comprised of small villages within a city, the communities enable residents to build lifelong friendships,” Burklin says. “Children grow up being able to walk to school and the small classrooms forge strong relationships that all four of my children have carried into their adulthood.”
Burklin says her oldest son is still best friends with his childhood friend and that his closest friends now are pals with whom he played travel baseball. Going to childhood sporting events week after week and year after year created strong neighborhood bonds and connections.
“My daughter is one a group of six girls who became friends in 6th grade and all of them, regardless of where they are geographically, remain extremely tight knit,” she says. “Collectively, the bond we have created watching our children evolve and sharing one another’s joys and, unfortunately, tragedies is what community is all about. We are there for each other, our children are there for each other, and together we are strong.”
Family ties and connections are crucial for Chris Veech, with @properties in Winnetka. Veech grew up in Evanston and raised her three sons in Winnetka. Her son recently married a woman from Wilmette who was his prom date at Loyola Academy, and another son lives with his girlfriend who is from Northfield.
“This topic really speaks to my heart,” Veech says. “We are so blessed to be living on 26 miles of gorgeous lakefront communities built for raising families, just minutes to the world class city of Chicago where I was born.”
People come to the North Shore for the amenities—schools, convenient train stations, charming downtowns, beaches, park districts, and pretty neighborhood homes—but Veech says they quickly meet neighbors and form friendships that can last a lifetime.
“Neighbors on the North Shore raise their children together and bond like crazy over the incredible shared experience of parenthood,” she says. “We celebrate the daily joys, fun times, sports teams, school life, and birthdays together … and the years of shared history build quickly, even if some of the days are long.”
Veech says the community also turns up during difficult times, rallying around friends facing adversity with the “strength of an army,” to provide support and ease their burdens.
“In addition to building community through our schools, our incredible array of churches and temples, clubs, service organizations, and fitness outlets offer endless opportunities for strong and lasting friendship bonds to form,” she says. “There are so many great people here to meet, and it’s a wonderful combination of families that have been here for generations and new people arriving from the city, from all over the country, and the globe.”
Connie Dornan, a broker, with @properties in Winnetka, she can identify with her clients who are contemplating a move to the North Shore because clients have similar reasons for moving to the area that her and her family did when they moved here. While schools are always a top priority for parents, events and other activities bring communities together.
“Being part of a community that has all sorts of social functions for adults is really engaging and fun, from block parties to art fairs, to volunteering within the community, music festivals, and more,” Dornan says. “The cultural aspect is far ranging for all ages.”
Julie Dowdle Rogers, with @properties in Winnetka, says she’s never had a dissatisfied client who’s purchase a home on the North Shore.
“I’ve never had a client not settle well; they are very happy to the point when I ask them how everything is going, nobody has a bad thing to say,” Rogers says. “No matter what your age or interest, you can find it up here. It’s friendly and welcoming. It’s Camelot.”