At home in Wisconsin

Diverse housing options are key to attracting workforce talent

Wauwatosa bungalows are charming inside and out.

Whether it’s a loft apartment in historic downtown La Crosse, a condominium overlooking the Fox River or a bungalow in one of the hip, walkable neighborhoods in Milwaukee, housing stock throughout Wisconsin is abundant, diverse and affordable.

According to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, the median home price statewide is $165,000.

“When you look at affordability for the nation,” said David Clark, executive associate dean for the College of Business Administration at Marquette University, the least costly areas are the Midwest and the South. Wisconsin is actually more affordable than the Midwest average.”

Diversity galore

“We’re very lucky to live in an area that has such a great variety of architectural styles,” said Jaime Kristof, a realtor at Wauwatosa’s Firefly Real Estate, of the diverse mix of housing in Milwaukee.

Many Victorian homes retain their character today.
Many Victorian homes retain their character today.

Kristof noted the city’s bungalow homes with hip roofs, leaded glass doors and windows, covered porches, stained-glass built-in dining room buffets and swinging butler doors, all hallmarks of the bungalow style.

“The natural woodwork, hardwood floors and coved ceilings make bungalows a great pick if a buyer likes that ‘old world’ feeling,” she said.

Homebuyers targeting Milwaukee’s bungalow neighborhoods are typically in their late 20s and 30s.

Many Victorian homes retain their character today.
Many Victorian homes retain their character today.

“They’re looking for a sense of community; the ability to walk their kids to school or a restaurant, ride their bikes to the park,” Kristof said. “Many buyers in this age group are tired of living in apartments and want to have a yard for the dog now. They want a sense of belonging.”

While some Milwaukee-area homeowners prefer the charm of the bungalow, others flock to Cape Cods, Queen Anne Victorians or mid-century modern homes on the city’s east side and north shore.

Eau Claire also boasts a rich mix of housing stock, some with features unique to the area.

“Originally, Eau Claire was a lumber town, so we have quite a few of the old lumber mansions – housing with the look distinct to the lumber era. A lot of that is in the third ward district, fairly close to the university,” said Mike Schatz, economic development director for the City of Eau Claire. “Then we have the traditional upscale neighborhoods, high-value homes. We have quite a few of multi-family areas, starter neighborhoods with a lot of young families. We have the historic Randall Park neighborhood, and there’s development around golf courses.”

Downtown living

Statewide, the demographics drawn to city centers are young professionals eager to be part of the downtown vibe, and empty nesters looking to downsize and live closer to restaurants, shopping and entertainment. In La Crosse, there are currently about 1,000 residential units in the downtown footprint, with many more in the vicinity of downtown. La Crosse expects 500 additional units to be added in the downtown district in 2017.

Belle Square, a recently completed, $68 million mixed-use project in downtown La Crosse, includes 96 housing units.

“Those new apartments are now on the market. They are beautiful studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, some of them overlooking the river right in the heart of downtown. That is kind of raising the bar for housing in that area,” said Robin Moses, executive director of Downtown Mainstreet Inc.

Whether historic, chic modern or warehouse style, condominiums are the downtown dwelling of choice for many.

“Condos are a great fit for those who perhaps travel for work and appreciate the conveniences of condo living, close to nightlife and recreational activities along the lake,” Kristof said.

In Madison, the downtown condo market is competitive, notes Dan Breunig, a realtor for Lake & City Homes in Madison.

“Condos are where it’s at downtown, perhaps because all the single-family homes are either quite expensive or are student rentals,” he said.

Breunig noted that employees of major Madison employer Epic Systems Corp. in Verona rival the student population in their demand for downtown living space.

“These Epic employees are recent graduates of universities nationwide and are not quite ready to give up the campus lifestyle. That’s why there is high demand for upscale condos and rentals downtown,” Breunig said.

The Moderne in downtown Milwaukee has luxury condos and apartments, plus Carson's Ribs on the first floor.
The Moderne in downtown Milwaukee has luxury condos and apartments, plus Carson’s Ribs on the first floor.

Downtown is also the place to be in northeast Wisconsin, where both Appleton and Green Bay have added housing to their downtown areas.

In Appleton, a mix of apartments and condos along the Fox River occupy land once used by manufacturers. RiverHeath is a mixed-use development featuring businesses and co-working space, as well as apartments and condos with high-end finishes and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river.

Residents are drawn to the site’s natural beauty – eagles are frequently seen gliding along the river – and also to its proximity to downtown Appleton and Lawrence University.

“You are within walking distance of Lawrence University and shops and restaurants, and at the same time you are in this beautiful natural sanctuary with the river and the trails and the park,” said Mark Geall, principal at RiverHeath developer Tanesay Development.

One of two buildings at the RiverHeath development along the Fox River.
One of two buildings at the RiverHeath development along the Fox River.

In downtown Green Bay, Metreau Apartments and Platten Place are the two newest condo offers, but developers are looking at more ways to take advantage of Fox River views and a revived downtown.

As Green Bay, Ashwaubenon and the Green Bay Packers invest millions into the new Titletown District around Lambeau Field, Kevin Vonck, City of Green Bay economic development director, said the area east of Lambeau Field – known as the Legends District – is garnering attention.

“It is another alternative for those who want to live close to amenities, live close to entertainment centers, so we will be working on plans to attract developers to that area,” he said.

Seller’s market

Ryan Fulcer, regional vice president at Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group, which covers a large portion of northeast and central Wisconsin, said it is definitely a seller’s market.

“We are low on good inventory of homes. There’s not a lot available,” he said. “We are seeing more step-up buyers – not new homebuyers – so these are people selling their homes and looking for something bigger.”

Fulcer has noticed an interesting trend: people want to be closer to cities.

“It used to be everyone wanted some place out in the country with a couple of acres,”  he said. “Now, more are moving back into town and wanting to be closer to churches, shops, schools. I’m not sure if it’s a convenience factor or if the winters around here take a toll and people don’t want to deal with the extra work of living in the country.”

As trends, markets and preferences change across the state, housing remains a quality-of-life factor important to attracting and retaining an area’s workforce.

“Attracting people to your community is the No. 1 factor in filling jobs,” Schatz said. “We spend a lot more time in economic development now recruiting people and talent, not just recruiting businesses. Housing plays a role in people’s choice. They want to live in a place that is affordable, cool and safe.” 

LIVE---Wisconsin-Map---Median-Home-PriceMedian home price in regions of Wisconsin

North $148,950

West $170,000

Central $129,900

Northeast $143,325

SouthWest $186,000

Southeast $176,900

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