The State of Real Estate in Chicago in 2021

It’s the trend we never saw coming. Due to the pandemic, real estate has experienced an unprecedented busy year, as being stuck at home had many homeowners realizing they were ready to move — craving more space, roomy surrounds, and peaceful outdoor areas. In 2021, experts are expecting Chicago real estate trends to continue to grow, with spring season starting earlier than usual in what’s become a highly competitive market. We talked with three local real estate agents about the impact of Covid on Chicago’s real estate market, what buyers are looking for right now, and tips for both buyers and sellers looking to make a change this year. (And if you missed it, also check out our post on top interior design trends for 2021!)

Nicole Oertel
The Oertel Group

What impact has Covid had on the real estate market in Chicago?

The pandemic has definitely changed buyers’ search criteria. Most families want more space, more rooms for working from home and e-learning, private pools, gardens, and serene outdoor spaces — or as close to all of the above as they can get. Of course, fabulous kitchen that include walk-in pantries, command centers, mud rooms and lots of storage are all the rage.

Neighborhoods matter a lot, too. Great public and private schools along with amenities like beautiful beaches, outdoor trails, and cute downtowns are all very popular among suburban shoppers. That’s why the North Shore has once again become the “it” place for those looking to take advantage of everything the greater Chicagoland area has to offer while still being within a short commute into the city. Working from home has certainly had the biggest impact on this, and those who thought they would never leave the city are now rushing to these beautiful shoreline towns. We even have buyers looking for second homes, such as a downtown condo, while living the majority of the time in their serene North Shore home.

Can you share a few tips for navigating the spring home search season?

The real estate market is set to be strong and competitive throughout 2021, so start early and be well prepared. Contacting an agent early in the year will ensure that we can get you set up on a search, and have you fully organized and qualified, and give you an advantage over the competition, whether you’re buying or selling.

What are buyers looking for in a home these days? 

A majority of buyers want an updated, modern home. Most (not all, of course) don’t want a major project, so making the improvements before you sell will help catch buyers’ attention and help you to sell quickly and for a higher purchase price. However, if you are not willing to make major improvements prior to selling, we can help suggest smaller tips and tricks to show the home’s potential. Vintage homes with great bones and desired floor plans are also in high demand.

Best tips for buyers?

Contacting us months before you think you want to buy is best. When we work with first-time buyers (or any buyer) we want them to be as strong as possible so when we find the house they love and go to write an offer, they are fully capable and ready to go. This allows our buyers to come across stronger than competing buyers, and can even help them to save money due to being well organized and well qualified with our team of professionals — especially in multiple-offer situations.

Best tips for sellers?

Preparation is key to getting your home sold fast and for top value. Getting us in your home to assess it and give you a value sooner is better. In many cases, we may be able to advise on improvements in your home to increase its value before you sell.

What are some advantages of working with The Oertel Group?

Our full-service concierge approach allows us to fully manage the process for our clients. We help sellers with small projects like painting, decluttering, and staging, as well as larger ones like updating a bathroom or kitchen to substantially increase the home’s value before going to market. [By the way, Centered by Design has a fantastic guide to renovating your kitchen — check it out here.] We can even pay for the improvements upfront to take the hassle and stress out of our clients’ hands. Once your home is ready to market with us, the fun part begins with professional, Instagram-worthy photography, drone videos and virtual walk-throughs. Making sure your home and its unique characteristics are represented properly and put in front of the right audience is so important.

Can you share a few of your featured listings?

395 N Green Bay, Lake Forest

Luxury living doesn’t get any better than Two Gables (above), a fully renovated North Shore home with custom vintage design.

2414 W Erie, Chicago

This custom new-construction home is situated in Chicago’s coveted West Town neighborhood and is ready for a kitchen makeover.

For more, follow @theoertelgroup on Instagram. Questions? Email nicole.oertel@compass.com.


Shanley Henry
Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty

What impact has Covid had on the real estate market in Chicago?

A lot of families that had a move to the suburbs in their five-year plan have moved that up and are leaving the city now, so the suburbs have seen a lot more activity than they have in decades. But the city market has still been very strong with younger buyers becoming more eager to own their first home and wanting to stay in the city.

Due to Covid, buyers are making decisions much faster. Typically, my buyers see anywhere from five to 20 or more homes before making a decision. In 2020, I didn’t have any buyer see more than 10, and most made a decision after seeing six or fewer places.

Also, Covid has impacted interest rates. They are at historical lows, which has helped bring a lot of buyers to the market. Even though buyers may not get a “deal” in this market, when you look at the interest rates, you’ll be spending less than when prices may fall, but interest rates go back up by a half percent or more.

What are buyers looking for in a home these days? 

Buyers want move-in ready homes, outdoor space, and a place to work from home. A lot of buyers do not want to do work; even minor things like changing cabinet colors, can turn off buyers. Outdoor space has always been important, but with Covid it’s almost a non-negotiable — and the same with a space for a home office. It doesn’t necessarily need to be its own room, but having a den or a nook area for a desk is very important to buyers right now.

Can you share a few tips for navigating the spring home search season?

We’ve been seeing spring buying season inch up each year and this year it looks like it will start very early.  Usually we real estate agents say spring market kicks off (no pun intended) after the Super Bowl, but this year I think it will get busy in January. Covid has made a lot of people question where they live and either look to improve the space they have or look for a new one. And with limited distractions (people not going on vacations, traveling during the holidays, etc.) there’s a lot of time for home shopping.

If you’re thinking of buying this year, it’s time to talk to a real estate agent and a lender. Your agent will help guide you through the process and can recommend a trusted lender. The lender will help you figure out how much money you can spend and what that will look like in terms of monthly payments. Even if you’re still a ways out from buying, it’s still a good idea to get in touch with your lender because you can get started on improving your financial situation — meaning the amount of money you may qualify to borrow and the rate you can get.

Best tips for buyers?

Decide what your must-haves are and what are nice-to-haves. I always tell my buyers to focus on things that cannot be changed or are very hard to change, like location and the bones of a home. Things like paint colors, light fixtures, and flooring can all be swapped out to make the home your own. Also, if you are willing to do some work, you will have a lot more options. Many buyers want move-in ready, so homes with updated kitchens and baths tend to go quickly. If you’re willing to redo a kitchen you will pay less, create a space you really love, and put some value into the home right from the start.

Buyers should also get pre-approved with a lender. It looks like it will be a very busy market, which means it will be competitive. You can’t wait until after you find a home to get pre-approved, as there’s a very good chance the home will be gone.

Best tips for sellers?

Get your home ready now. The buyers are out there looking early, and you want to take advantage of that. A lot of sellers wait until the more traditional spring market, but I think sellers who are ready to list early will have a lot of activity without the same competition of other homes on the market.

Start doing any work you need to do before listing. Although there are a lot of buyers looking, they’re not willing to compromise on a space they don’t like. Even smaller projects like painting and swapping light fixtures can have a huge impact on how your home looks. Also declutter, declutter, declutter. Put things in storage if you need to; it’s crucial to have minimal clutter (kids’ toys, extra furniture, etc.) so buyers can really get a feel for your home and how they would live in it.

Can you share a featured listing?

2145 N Racine, Chicago

This gorgeous two-bed, two-bath condo has an extra-wide layout and tons of natural light.

For more, follow @shanley-henry on Instagram and Facebook. Questions? Email shanley@shanleyhenry.com.


Hayley Westoff
CompassMacPherson Westhoff

What impact has Covid had on the real estate market in Chicago?

Covid has actually stimulated the market. Being stuck inside your home during lockdown with lots of time to think has made people across the nation realize they want to upgrade their home to something with more space, more outdoor areas, and more updates. Larger properties with all of those things have thrived during Covid. Unfortunately, smaller properties with less than three bedrooms or no outdoor space, and high-rise properties have gone in the opposite direction as the demand for them is at an all-time low.

Can you share a few tips for navigating the spring home search season?

Work with an agent who has access to all of the off-market networks. The market is going to be competitive, so getting in before others is key! Second, buyers should look for the bones, not the shiny finishes of a home — as there will always be more competition for those. Find the property with the best bones in the best location that needs work and put some sweat equity into it. Finally, do your homework now so you are ready to act fast. Some properties will sell the first day on the market, so be prepared and feel confident about what you want going into spring.

Best tips for sellers?

Do cost-effective renovations. They’re more important now than ever with Covid, as buyers don’t want people in their homes and are craving updated spaces after being cooped up in a home they are dying to upgrade. Also, be realistic with price. Overpricing will end up hurting your sales price in the end. You should capitalize on this market that will be active and buyers’ sense of urgency, but not so much so that after that “new listing” honeymoon period is over and your home becomes a stale listing. Take care to spruce up your outdoor spaces, too.  Properties that have appealing areas outdoors are red-hot .

Can you share a featured listing?

2721 N Southport Ave, Chicago

A gorgeous, spacious kitchen with quartz countertops and wine fridge is a highlight of this 4-bed, 2.5-bath duplex in Lincoln Park.

For more, follow @hayleywestoff_realtor on Instagram. Questions? Email hayley.w@compass.com.


Are you looking to get your home ready to sell in 2021? Or perhaps you just purchased a new home and are needing interior design to make it your own? Centered by Design can help! Contact us here to share more about your project.