Residential Living

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“Lots of younger people are moving into affordable Waukegan,” said Steve Snarski.

He should know. At 29, he makes his living selling real estate in Lake County with one of the Chicago area’s biggest brokerages, @properties. But he didn’t have to move to Waukegan. He grew up in a duplex on Genesee Street, just a few doors down from a park. And after finishing college he moved in across the street from another park, within walking distance of the Lake Michigan beach.

With some 180 years of history behind it, “Waukegan is great for a young buyer who is looking for a home with some character rather than just a cookie-cutter tract house,” Snarski said. “Maybe they want turrets and carved woodwork.

“Some people like me grew up in Waukegan and want to come home or stay home. But a lot of our home buyers are people moving out of Chicago to escape the traffic and congestion. They discover that this is a place where you can start a family at a price that’s much more affordable than in the city or in the close-in North Shore suburbs.”

Waukegan offers a mix of single- and multi-family dwellings. Homes on the market recently ranged from a $60,000 fixer-upper aimed at the investor/flipper to a comfortable two-bedroom bungalow for $99,900 to a luxurious five-bedroom showplace for $385,000.

“In the $199,000 price range you can find something pretty good with four or five bedrooms,” Snarski said.

James D. Smith, a Realtor with RE/MAX Showcase, said the desirable housing stock, affordable prices, access to jobs and community amenities have led to an explosion of demand for local homes greater than he has seen in his 29 years in the business.

“There is more demand for homes in Waukegan than there are properties on the market,” Smith said. “A lot of times people will put their home on the market and end up with multiple offers. I just closed on one home that found a buyer the first day.”

Waukegan also gives a homeowner of any age plenty to do, beginning with the glories of blue Lake Michigan. “I’ve been going to the beach forever, and when  I was a teenager, I was a lifeguard at the lakefront,” Snarski said. “We see music events down at the harbor, and I see people younger than me stepping up to organize these things.”

Lake County’s county seat and biggest city has become a center of the fine arts, a magnet for big-name entertainment, and a home base for boating and summer fun. A monthly project with the punning name “Art Wauk” has helped turn downtown Waukegan into a beehive of activity for visual artists.

Also downtown, the almost-century-old Genesee Theatre has been taken over by the city and totally renovated. It now draws people from all over the region to see shows by a who’s-who of A List musicians and comedians each week. The Three Brothers Theatre stages live community plays. A new interactive museum/attraction called The Ray Bradbury Experience will offer a 21st-century immersion in the ideas and fantasies of that world-famous, Waukegan-reared science fiction author.

“The Waukegan Park District continues to set an example nationwide of how a park district should be run,” Snarski added. “They recently updated the fieldhouse and added an aquatic center at Hinkston Park with a pool, basketball courts, a track and a climbing wall.”

Many Waukegan residents commute, sometimes to the same jobs they left behind when they moved out of Chicago. The Metra rail service connects Waukegan with Chicago, just an hour to the south, and Kenosha, Wis., a few minutes to the north. Along the way riders can get off at such stops as Ravinia Festival music park, Great Lakes Naval Base and Northwestern University.

Pace Suburban Bus Service provides rides within Waukegan. Interstate 94 and other highways connect Waukegan not only with the Windy City but with Milwaukee (a short drive to the north) and with the numerous corporate headquarters and office parks that have located in other northern suburbs.