Comparing Housing Markets: Milwaukee

What kind of house can you buy with $206,000 — the national median? In the more subdued Milwaukee real estate market, Wisconsin Public Radio's Chuck Quirmbach finds a suburban house with 3 bedrooms, a garden and more than enough garage space.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Fridays, we focus on your money. Today, how much house your money will buy. The National Association of Realtors announced this week that the median sale price of existing homes rose to $206,000 last month, topping the $200,000 mark for the first time. We checked to see what that amount would buy in two different markets.

First, Milwaukee where the median home price nears national prices. Here's Wisconsin Public Radio's Chuck Quirmbach.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH reporting:

At 1801 Milwaukee Avenue in the city of South Milwaukee sits a three-bedroom ranch-style home on a corner lot. Sixteen hundred square feet of living space tucked into less than a quarter acre. The house was in the process of being sold for about $205,000. That's a bit more than some of the homes in this middle-class residential area. But, as you might expect, the real estate agent says this place, built in 1958, is a beaut.

(Soundbite of a door closing)

QUIRMBACH: Regina Snead(ph) of Bay View Homes enters the house and moves to what she says is key to its appeal, an updated kitchen.

Ms. REGINA SNEAD (Real Estate Agent, Bay View Homes): There's a brand-new dishwasher, the refrigerator's new. It's a really nice Maytag fridge and, as you see, a Jenn-Air stove here.

(Soundbite of a door closing)

Ms. SNEAD: That's a really nice--and tons of cabinets. That's what people want.

QUIRMBACH: Snead says the home has other unusual amenities for middle-class residents, including three bathrooms and two two-car garages.

(Soundbite of a garage door opening)

QUIRMBACH: Snead triggers the door opener on the garage that's attached to the home and says she doesn't know why the house has two garages. But she says the space comes in handy.

Ms. SNEAD: All I know, with all the things that people own, all the toys and boats and Wave runners and all that, and certainly people come to a relationship with two cars or even three cars if they have teen-age children, it certainly works now in 2005.

(Soundbite of a car door opening)

QUIRMBACH: Dick Pepe and Lorelie Stein are in the process of buying this house. They have three children. They say the home has plenty of space, and they plan to enjoy the patio and flower garden. Pepe says he's bought homes in other states and thinks his new house in Wisconsin measures up well.

Mr. DICK PEPE (Buying Home in Milwaukee): For the house and the way it is, it's a good value for the $200,000 that it's worth. We looked around. Oh, we must have looked at how many houses?

Ms. LORELIE STEIN (Buying Home in Milwaukee): Ten, 15?

Mr. PEPE: Yeah, something like that. This gave us the best mix of everything.

QUIRMBACH: South Milwaukee is an older, closed-in suburb where the commute is short and the schools are considered pretty good. Realtor Julie Litkin(ph) says rising home prices in a metropolitan area have many people searching older neighborhoods for that special house.

Ms. JULIE LITKIN (Real Estate Agent): The character of the older home, the crown moulding or solid-core doors, you know, things that you wouldn't find in a new-construction home, they find that very appealing.

QUIRMBACH: Litkin notes that low mortgage rates will likely keep demand strong. 1801 Milwaukee Avenue was only on the market for about two weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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