MAR 30, 2012
Homes near recreational amenities score big with buyers
By Erik J Martin, Special to the Tribune
For more than 25 years, Todd Serpico has been cheering on the White Sox as a perennial season ticket holder, ever faithful that each season could be a magical one for his beloved ball club.
Though 2011 didn't bring home a pennant for the Sox, it did prove to be a winning year for Serpico, who moved his growing family into a new residence at Lexington Square in Bridgeport only a mile away from U.S. Cellular Field, which can be easily seen from his rooftop balcony.
"Living within close proximity of my favorite team's ballpark was a significant factor in our decision to purchase at this community," said Serpico, 32, whose wife, Lori, gave birth to their first child, Max, in September, just a few months after they closed on their home.
"It's a nice luxury to be able to walk to ballgames and grill out on our deck. Plus, my friends and family can park by us for free and join us at the game," he said. "It's a die-hard fan's dream come true to live so close to his favorite team."
Being a hop, skip and a home run away from the stadium isn't the only recreational benefit that Todd and Lori are looking forward to this spring. They also chose the Lexington Homes community of 39 row homes because it's close to Donovan Park, which features two baseball fields, a basketball court and a playground, ideal for a growing boy and two sports-minded parents.
The Serpicos aren't alone among buyers who prefer to live near athletic facilities and recreational attractions. Many new-construction shoppers gravitate toward places that are conveniently accessible to recreational opportunities.
Case in point: Allison Nichols, who recently settled into her new condo at 550 St. Clair, a high-rise in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood that has 111 condos built by Sutherland Pearsall Development Corp.
Aside from its proximity to her job in River North, which she can now walk to, Nichols selected the building for its ample playtime perks.
"It's very close to the lakeshore, where I can go running or biking, and I can play volleyball in the summer at North Avenue Beach," said Nichols, 29, who works out "religiously" and enjoys playing flag football with friends.
"My fitness center is just a few blocks away, and there's a dog park within five minutes where I can let my Chihuahua, Max, run around and let off some steam. And if I ever want to take in a Bears game, Soldier Field is nice and close."
Court Airhart, president of West Chicago-based Airhart Construction, said purchasing preferences have changed for many homebuyers, who now place a higher value on partaking in pastimes, staying in shape and socializing with other active friends and loved ones.
"Physical health has become much more important, and healthy lifestyles are key, since we are all living longer," Airhart said. "People's time needs are changing, and their focus has changed from backyards to what is beyond."
Airhart noted that his College Station development of 14 cottage-style single-family homes in Wheaton is attracting attention in large part due to its location near the biking-and-jogging-friendly Illinois Prairie Path, as well as Triangle Park, featuring a basketball court and children's play area.
"We have a large segment of our population that has really taken on athletic activities as part of their lifestyle," said Airhart. "So a purchasing decision for them involves asking, 'How does this home or location expand those possibilities?'"
"Buyers are looking to save time and money as the economy has shifted. Having affordable recreational options right by the home means saving both. Also, people are traveling less, and a stay-cation or special weekend activity is more attainable and fun when recreation is nearby," said John Wozniak, president of Wheaton-based J. Lawrence Homes, builders of Midlane Country Club, a new-home development in Wadsworth where residents can enjoy an on-site golf course, driving range, fitness center and swimming pool.
The latter helped persuade Tim and Kris Kester to buy a William Ryan Homes two-story single-family house at Highland Woods, Crown Community Development's subdivision in Elgin offering attached and detached homes. An Owners Club complex on the property provides homeowners with access to tennis, volleyball and basketball courts in addition to a water slide, splash park and swimming pool.
"Our kids love the water, so having a pool and a kids swimming area on site really impressed us," said Kris Kester, 35, mother of 6-year-old twins Dylan and Corryn. "My husband and I also work out at the fitness center. We're a pretty active family."
Other neighborhood attributes for the active-minded that are in demand, said Jeff Benach, co-principal of Chicago-headquartered Lexington Homes, are recreational buildings hosting exercise classes and sports programs; nature preserves, rivers and streams; beaches; sledding hills; and ice and roller skating rinks.
"People are especially interested in ice skating facilities to take kids to hockey practice with the increasingly popularity of hockey, particularly due to the Blackhawks' recent Stanley Cup win," said Benach. "Being near major professional sports stadiums and arenas is also a big draw, especially in a city like Chicago where it can be a hassle to drive in traffic and deal with parking at the games."
Additionally, "being near parks is always a plus, especially in the city. But the park needs to be no more than about a three-minute walk away to be meaningful," Benach said.
Other valued amenities "should be within walking distance or less than a five-minute drive away. They should be conveniently close, but not on top of you to cause significant traffic or disruption of privacy," he said.
Tim Kester recommends that buyers carefully examine athletic and recreational features before choosing a home.
"You have to look at the amenities as a whole and determine how accessible they are to you, because you're only going to use them if they're convenient," he said.
"Nobody wants to come home after work when they're tired and then drive another 15 or 20 minutes to get to the health club. But if it's five minutes away or less, that's a different story."
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