This is the ninth installment in Inman’s “12 in ’21” hot neighborhoods series, which explores areas with both booming real estate markets and dense amenities. To read previous stories in the series, click here.
When she lived in Milwaukee’s lakeside Northpoint community a decade ago, Vanessa Kurtz didn’t own a car. She didn’t need one.
“I walked, I took the bus, I rode a bike,” Kurtz said of her time there. “It’s amazing, and even the busy streets aren’t that busy.”
The combination of Northpoint’s walkable access to city life and direct connection to the natural amenities off the picturesque lake shore make the district one of this Wisconsin city’s most desirable places to purchase a high-end condo or large detached home, according to residents and real estate professionals familiar with the area.
In recent years, Northpoint has also boasted one of the area’s highest-performing housing markets, posting the highest year-over-year dollar value increase of any neighborhood in the Milwaukee metro area, according to Zillow records.
“There aren’t a lot of places,” Northpoint resident Jim Schleif said, “where you’re this close to the water, surrounded by so much nature, that you can spend this kind of money.”
What is Northpoint?
Milwaukee’s downtown is known for its bustling business community, breweries and activities. But if you head just a bit farther north and stick to the shoreline, you’ll find yourself among the parks and residential areas that make up Milwaukee’s Northpoint district.
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The district hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline and is loosely bounded to the west by Downer and Prospect avenues. It extends from its northern edge near Lake Park down to the marina boat docks further to the south.
Schleif is a real estate agent who not only lives in Northpoint, but helps buyers and sellers conduct 20 to 25 home transactions a year in the district for Shorewest Realtors.
The unique advantages of the area are apparent to buyers, he told Inman. Few high-end residential communities are so tightly embedded in “the fabric of the city,” he said.
Residents frequent the Downer District — a roughly three-block stretch of cafes, shops, restaurants and grocery stores near Northpoint’s detached residential housing.
But the small business community extends south toward Northpoint’s condos and apartments, and includes a bevy of breweries, restaurants and bars further to the west.
Kurtz’s former home in Northpoint was a few minutes’ walk from nearby employment centers and small business hubs on the Lower East Side, just north of the Wisconsin city’s downtown. She could also bike through her neighborhood’s expansive green parks, passing museums and an iconic lighthouse along the way.
The neighborhood is also nearby the nearby campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as hospitals and medical centers.
Kurtz has since moved from Northpoint a few miles up the shoreline to the village of Bayside. But as a resident of the area and a marketing associate for Mahler Sotheby’s International Realty, she still keeps tabs on her old haunts — and their residential home market.
“That still is a very desirable area,” she said. “Anything that is close to the lake, we continue to see a lot of [home market] activity.”
And behind the flurry of transactions and rising prices throughout the pandemic, Milwaukee’s housing market harbors an unusual trend.
Northpoint real estate
Northpoint, already one of Milwaukee’s most expensive communities to live in, also enjoyed the most dollar-value price appreciation in the Milwaukee area during the pandemic.
In June of 2020, the typical home in Northpoint was worth $656,914, according to the Zillow Home Value Index. A year later, that same home would fetch sellers $786,116.
This continued growth suggests this already popular lakeside residential district has continued to draw interest from buyers throughout the pandemic.
Northpoint also finds itself near the heart of one of America’s most unusual home market trends.
Like most of the country, Milwaukee’s home prices have risen sharply throughout the pandemic. But amid the severe inventory shortage nationwide, there is evidence that this city has been better off than the vast majority of large metros.
Official estimates disagree on the exact state of the Milwaukee area’s home inventory.
The county’s active single-family listings totaled 3,641 in June, according to numbers provided to Inman by Dan Zielinski of the county’s Metro MLS. Compared to the same period two years ago, that 28 percent decline in home inventory is significantly better than the 42 percent drop registered nationwide.
Another national database was even more bullish on Milwaukee’s inventory situation. Zillow’s best estimate suggests the metro’s for-sale inventory may have actually increased by 6 percent over that same two-year span.
The two measures of inventory use different boundaries and data sources to reach their conclusions. Their estimates may have even captured information from different segments of time in the month of June, Zillow communications specialist Alex Lacter said.
“It’s a small nuance but it can make a difference, especially in a fast-moving market,” Lacter wrote in an email.
Regardless of which number is closer to the mark, both describe a Milwaukee home market inventory that would qualify as one of the most resilient of any major metro area, according to Zillow’s database of the nation’s hundred largest metros.
Schleif, the Northpoint resident and agent, said sellers in Milwaukee definitely became more comfortable in the months following the vaccine rollout, with more listings coming online and more real estate activity in general.
Like the rest of the country, Milwaukee is “still in a seller’s market, no question,” Schleif said, but one where there’s been “a little more breathing room” for buyers.
And within that relatively healthier housing market, home sellers in the Northpoint district have continued to thrive.
Renters drawn to Northpoint will pay a premium for their lakefront location. But they’ll also get a discount compared to rental units in Milwaukee’s downtown.
The average rent in the Northpoint district was $1,483 in June, according to Rentcafe. That’s the seventh-highest rent of any neighborhood in the city.
Overall, renting in Northpoint is 20 percent more expensive than in the typical Milwaukee neighborhood. But that figure is still roughly in line with the national average rent, an illustration of how money goes further in Milwaukee.
Like other communities throughout the U.S., the city’s rental market has been on the rise. Average rents were up 3 percent year over year throughout the city, according to Rentcafe’s data.
“I think as the country focuses on new urbanism and more affordable places to live, Milwaukee is getting a ton of attention,” Schleif said.
Janine Werner, a partner at Jay Schmidt Group, has done business in the Northpoint district for about eight years. She said the neighborhood has maintained good resale value in recent years and benefits from having a variety of residents in different stages of life.
“Honestly it’s a very eclectic mix of first-time homebuyers [and] people who have lived there 50-plus years,” Werner said.
Residents have also benefited from investment on the lake shore. Two decades ago, there wasn’t much going on at Bradford Beach, she said. Today, there’s a bustling lakeside activity zone along the shoreline — and a much more active marina community just to the south.
“I have a boat at the marina,” Werner said. “Eight years ago you could easily find tons of slips open. Now? No way. There’s a waiting list.”
In recent years, real estate professionals who work in Northpoint say that the area has attracted a wide variety of buyers, from young professionals seeking their first home to retirees looking for a beautiful and active place to settle.
Northpoint has the aesthetic qualities of some of the communities to the north and the west. But it’s less disconnected to the bustling energy of city life than some of those outlying areas, Schleif said.
“We have people moving out of the North Shore suburbs and coming to the city of Milwaukee just because it’s more fun, it’s more accessible, it’s always been a dream [for them] to come back downtown,” Schleif said.