A North Shore buyer’s guide to Chicago’s Gold Coast

Gold Coast


Chicago has many vibrant neighborhoods, but the Gold Coast is the destination of choice for many North Shore residents looking for a pied-à-terre or a new permanent residence in the city. It stands alone among Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods in its almost exclusively residential character, offering an instant ”at home” experience to people who’ve become accustomed to North Shore living.

Gold Coast location

The Gold Coast is less than two miles north of the heart of Chicago’s Loop.

If you ask a sampling of real estate agents to define the boundaries of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, you’ll get a wide variety of answers – many of them wildly inaccurate.

This Guide adopts the traditional boundaries of the Gold Coast fixed decades ago by the Gold Coast Neighbors Association.

The Immediately adjacent area has, over the years, taken on many of the characteristics of the traditional Gold Coast, primarily its affluence, but differs in subtle yet important respects. YoChicago adopts a slightly more expansive definition of the Gold Coast’s boundaries.

Who lives in the Gold Coast?

Gold Coast residents are predominantly singles and couples spanning a wide age range. Fewer than 5% of the households are families with children. College students and the post-collegiate crowd generally shun the area.

The typical Gold Coast resident is educated and affluent. Nearly 80% of residents have a bachelor’s degree, and over 40% have a master’s degree or higher. The median household income is over $83,000, and nearly 1 in 3 households has an annual income exceeding $150,000.
Joeff Davis photo, Benetton shopper, Chicago, IL
The Gold Coast is more than 90% white, only 2% African-American, 1% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. Women outnumber men by an almost 4:3 ratio. The median age is higher in the Gold Coast than other downtown neighborhoods.

Why people buy in the Gold Coast

The defining characteristics of the Gold Coast, unique among Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods, are its predominantly residential character, its pedestrian scale and its aura of permanence. While other parts of downtown Chicago have undergone rapid change, the Gold Coast has seen almost no new construction in the past 30 years, and is likely to see little in the next 30.

Joeff Davis photo, Oak Street beach, Chicago, ILThe Gold Coast enjoys greater access to Lake Michigan than any of Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods. The ranks of high-rises along Lake Shore Drive have the lake as their front yard. The Oak Street and North Avenue beaches book-end the neighborhood.

Lincoln Park is the area’s back yard to the north, and the glittering shops and boutiques along Oak Street and the Magnificent Mile are immediately adjacent to the south. The Gold coast has ready access to the best of the city’s dining, cultural, sports and recreational attractions.

The Gold Coast hosts many of Chicago’s most prestigious residences, and offers a broader and more varied array of luxury homes than can be found in other downtown neighborhoods.

The Gold Coast has great access to public transportation, but for many residents the ubiquitous taxis, summoned within seconds by a doorman or a building’s cab light, are the preferred form of public transit.

Why people don’t buy in the Gold Coast

The vast majority of Gold Coast properties are more than forty years old. Newer buildings in other downtown areas often offer more extensive unit amenities (washer / dryers, balconies), better views, lower assessments, and common-area amenities that are scarce in the Gold Coast, including pools, elaborate fitness facilities, business centers, and more ample parking.

Joeff Davis photo, Horse carriage on Pearson, Chicago, ILThe lack of racial diversity is a concern for some.

Some people are wary of the Division Street bar scene and the so-called Viagra Triangle along Rush Street, but those areas have virtually no impact once you advance a few steps away from them.

Access to the North Shore and other parts of Chicago is far more convenient to a number of downtown areas with better proximity to the Expressways.

Gold Coast housing stock

Astor Street Home, Chicago, IL. Joeff Davis photoThe Gold Coast encompasses, in theory, a wide variety of housing stock. In practice, single-family homes, townhomes, and walk-up flats are scarce, as are rental buildings.

The majority of Gold Coast housing consists of owner-occupied mid-rise and high-rise condos and co-ops, in a wide variety of vintage and contemporary styles. The Gold Coast is dotted with vintage architectural treasures, but many of its 60s and 70s-era buildings have what the critics, at their most charitable, refer to as “undistinguished” architecture.

What it costs to buy here

When it comes to housing prices, the Gold Coast’s median conceals as much as it reveals. The median price is just shy of $600,000, but studio, 1 and 2-bedroom units can be surprisingly affordable in many buildings.

Condo vs co-op

Joeff Davis photo, Gold Coast home, Chicago, ILA number of Gold Coast buildings, including some of the most desirable ones, are co-ops or cooperative apartments, while the great majority of buildings are condominiums.

You should consult your attorney as to the legal differences between the two forms of ownership, but be alert to some of the practical implications. Co-ops, as long as they comply with applicable fair housing laws, have more control than condos over who may purchase (and rent) in the building and what percentage of their purchase buyers are allowed to finance. As a result, buying a co-op often proves to be a lengthier and more complex transaction that can be facilitated by the guidance of an experienced real estate agent.

Pet policies

If you’re planning to bring the family pet along with you, plan to investigate a building’s pet policies very carefully. Many Gold Coast buildings restrict the size, type and number of pets, and some completely ban pets.

Parking

The Gold Coast’s density, and the age of many of its buildings, translate to scarce parking for residents and guests. A number of buildings have parking available, but there may be a lengthy waiting list.

Gold Coast alternatives

North Shore buyers who can’t find what they want in the Gold Coast typically opt for Streeterville, River North, the New East Side, the Museum Park area of the South Loop, or the West Loop – pretty much in that order of preference. Each of those areas has its advantages, but none of them have the residential ambiance and walkability of the Gold Coast.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

mcluskyist July 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM

FYI: You have an image of 600 N Lakeshore embedded for this story which is (even using generous assumptions for Gold Coast boundaries) in Streeterville.

Reply

Joe Zekas July 6, 2011 at 2:15 PM

mcluskyist,

You’re correct that 600 is not in the Gold Coast – not even close. The image belongs in the right column, since 600 is referenced there. I’ve moved the image.

Reply

A.M. July 10, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Joe,

Just curious…I always had the perception that the Gold Coast had many families…Not only less than 5%. With many single family residences (expensive), one would think it would be much higher than 5%.

Reply

Joe Zekas July 10, 2011 at 11:55 PM

A.M.

As I noted in the Guide, single-family homes and townhomes are scarce in the Gold Coast. The GC does not have “many families” and most of the ones there live in high-rises.

Reply

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