Along the Milwaukee area’s north shore and elsewhere, the current high-flying housing market has observant Jews struggling to find a place in walking distance from synagogue, and less observant Jews competing for too few homes.
The pandemic seems to have pumped up the real estate market.
Real estate agents are ethically bound to not steer people to neighborhoods, and they did not do so for this article.
But it’s common knowledge that the north shore, up at least through Mequon, is traditionally more Jewish than other parts of the Milwaukee area. Jews today are choosing to live throughout Wisconsin, sometimes choosing the north shore, and sometimes compromising to find that one special house that’s a few blocks from an Orthodox synagogue.
Less observant Jews “are not as driven by location,” said real estate agent Lorie Wertheimer. “Rather, they’re driven by the homes that they love, by the schools that they want their kids to be in, and perhaps by the taxes.”
Ozaukee County has a lower tax levy than Milwaukee County, and that has made Mequon desirable for some, Wertheimer said.
Rick Ruvin, lead partner at the North Shore-focused Falk Ruvin Gallagher Team, said that much has changed since the 1960s and 1970s, when the Jewish community was concentrated in the central North Shore and West Side. “Now you have a substantial number of Jewish families in Whitefish Bay and Mequon,” said Ruvin, who emphasized that he is a strong proponent of fair housing and does not steer people into neighborhoods.
In fact, people from the Jewish community are more likely today to live anywhere, Ruvin said.
“If you go back generations, there were neighborhoods that were Jewish neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s kind of gone. You don’t really have neighborhoods.”
Walking distance and updated?
The observant community seems to be growing, said Wertheimer, of Realty Executives. Observant Jews often want to be close to synagogue – within a few blocks is best. A lifestyle of visiting with friends on Shabbat without driving, and walking to synagogue for Shabbat services, makes a home that’s even just a mile from synagogue far less desirable, Wertheimer said.
“There has been a shortage of inventory and demand has been high,” agreed north shore-based realtor Elissa Berkoff, in a separate interview.
“I do a fair amount of business in Glendale,” Wertheimer said. “There’s not a lot of houses in comfortable walking distance to those shuls.”
Adding to the geographical pressure is that Kletzsch Park sits just to the east of several Orthodox synagogues. “You’ve already lost a lot of home availability because there’s a wonderfully green, great park, but that doesn’t help with housing,” she said.
The result, she said: Walking distance homes are going for more than the asking price.
Wertheimer recalls working with one observant family that wanted walking distance, with updates and a certain number of bedrooms, at a given price.
She knew, she said, that “no animal exists like this in this market,” and the family eventually agreed to a beautiful home in walking distance but in need of updates.
The market is on fire
“Historically the real estate market slows down this time of year. This year however, we continue to have strong buyer activity and demand in the marketplace,” said Berkoff, of Keller Williams Realty. “We’re still seeing competition as there is a slowdown of new inventory coming to the market and properties going under contract remain consistent. It isn’t as competitive as what we experienced this past spring/summer. As an example, I wrote offers this past month for 3 different clients. Each property received 2-3 other offers. This past spring, the number of offers would have likely been 10 or more.”
Demand for homes is high, with millennials now on the hunt and competing with baby boomers for real estate, Ruvin said. Interest rates are low, and the pandemic has helped people fall in love with the concept of home.
“People have been working out of their homes and they’ve not been traveling, so they’ve got money,” Wertheimer said.
Meanwhile, hedge funds and other institutional buyers are snapping up homes nationwide, Ruvin said.
In general, real estate agents say they are seeing higher prices, multiple bids and quicker sales.
“There is a lack of inventory,” Wertheimer said. “There is a lack of desirable inventory and when I say desirable I mean the turn-key.”
Many people want updated homes, she said. Gone are the days when if you updated your home, you knew you would not recoup what you spent.
“That is no longer true in today’s market. An updated house is done. If you’re going to buy that updated house at a little bit higher dollar amount, you’re going to amortize it over a thirty-year note,” Wertheimer said.
Buyers start with seeking what they can afford, the type of house they want, how many bedrooms and bathrooms are needed, and the locations they prefer, Berkoff said. “Then we discuss their other ‘must have’ items, if there are any. This is typically the scenario when buyers begin their home search. It has been a challenging market though for home buyers, and the selection of homes from which to choose has been limited. As a result, buyers who have a ‘must have’ list might find themselves paring it down, if it’s possible for them to do,” she said.
The years 2020 and 2021 have been banner years in real estate, Wertheimer said.
“None of us really have a crystal ball,” Wertheimer said. “Nobody knows what 2022 is going to bring.”