I want to get a little bit more granular and talk about the different neighborhoods, different suburbs and municipalities, because Milwaukee comes in so many different flavors.
So what are the best places to live in Milwaukee? I would say that depends very much on your personal preference and on your personal lifestyle. Here are some of my personal favorites.
Before we go into this specific neighborhoods, let me just give you quickly a geographic orientation so you know the the lay of the land. When people are talking about Milwaukee, it is often not clear if they’re referring to the city of Milwaukee or the County of Milwaukee.
The City of Milwaukee takes up most of the space within the County, but there’s also 19 other municipalities within the County of Milwaukee, some of them really nice, and we’re going to talk about those. But, they’re all within the County of Milwaukee.
When we talk about the Milwaukee Metro area or the greater Milwaukee area, that’s a total of four counties, which you have Milwaukee County, Ozaukee County to the North, which is where I live, then you’ve got Washington County to the Northwest and Waukesha County to the West. On the East side, you have Lake Michigan.
So in total, the population is about 1.6 million people here, and we have a good size housing inventory. About 16,000 single family homes gets sold every year, about 1,800 duplexes, which are perfect for house hacking by the way, and then we have about 3,400 condos that gets sold or got sold in 2019.
People who have never been to Milwaukee, sometimes seem to have a particular idea how the city is going to look and feel like. When they physically get here and they start exploring different neighborhoods and driving around, they are pleasantly surprised about the variety that they are finding. Milwaukee can accommodate anything from an urban lifestyle to a more suburban lifestyle. Or if you like your house with acreage and some woods behind, you can find that as well. The same is true for budget. No matter if you’re looking for entry level or for a multi-million dollar mansion or condo, you’ll definitely have a lot of different options.
Speaking of budgets, Milwaukee is usually known for lower cost of living, particularly compared to the East coast and the West coast. That’s definitely true. But, along with the changes that we’re seeing in Milwaukee, we’re also seeing real estate prices rising.
If you look at the median sales price of a single family home in the County of Milwaukee in 2015, that was $135,000. Last year in September, that was $175,000. This year in September, you’re looking at $192,000. So that’s a huge increase over the last five years in particular over the last year. So you can see how strong the demand for single family homes in Milwaukee is.
Let’s talk about my personal favorite areas to live in Milwaukee in no particular order. We have to start with the downtown area, which is located right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
There are two parts to that, the Historic Third Ward, and then you have the Lower East Side. This is probably one of the most scenic parts of Milwaukee. You’re looking right down on the Lake shore of Lake Michigan, especially from these high rise condos. You have absolutely mind blowing views of the sunrise in the morning when the sun is coming up on the horizon of Lake Michigan. You see people jogging and biking down on Veterans Park, it’s an absolutely great area to live. You have a front row seat to one of the best views that Milwaukee has to offer. Veterans Park is right there. There’s also the Summerfest grounds right there. So there’s lots of festivals and stuff going on in the summer. You’ll also have really good access to nightlife entertainment, bars, and restaurants. Everything’s really close by. You have the typical urban setting where everything is accessible just by walking or just by riding a bike, which a lot of people are choosing downtown.
From a real estate point of view there’s a lot of condos, both in the Historic Third Ward and in the Lower East Side. Price-wise you can have anything, I would say starting point about $300,000 all the way up to multi-million dollars. So we see listings going up to two or $3 million, usually very large condos and with spectacular views of the Lake. There’s also a good amount of really grand single family homes that have been built close to the Lake shore in the 1920s. As you’re going a little bit more inland, there’s also some spectacular duplexes. So if you’re interested in the luxury house hack, that might be a good option there. You find them in various different conditions. You have some of these buildings, they are more or less in need of work, original condition, and you can get them for relatively good price. Or, you can pick something up that has been completely remodeled. Of course, it comes with a much higher price.
The one downside that you will see when you are shopping for real estate in that area is that property taxes are a little bit higher there. So downtown provides for a very cool urban lifestyle, but it is probably not the most kid friendly. So let’s move on to something that’s a whole lot more family-friendly. Let’s go a little further to the North, right on the lakefront of the North Shore communities. The North Shore is located between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee river. And there a number of municipalities in there. They’re all together and get referred to as the North Shore. You have Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, which is where my Keller Williams office is. You have Foxpoint and Brown Deer just to name a few. All of them have their own thing going on and a little different flavor, but all of them are generally referred to as the North Shore communities.
They’re very family friendly, very kid friendly. The schools are very highly regarded, some of the best in the state. The North Shore in many statistics shows up as amongst the top five places, depending on which community you look at. It’s a quite an exclusive area. There’s only 45,000 people living in the North Shore communities, which is just about 3% of the population of the Metro area. With that, of course, you see also a little higher prices. Median single family homes in the North Shores is about $350k. You can sometimes find a small fixer-upper in the 250 range, maybe. But, if you prefer something that’s bigger and that’s already fixed up or updated, you’re probably looking more in the five to $600,000 range.
The closer you get to the Lake, the more exclusive things become, and then you get in close to a million and into the multimillion dollar properties that are right on the Lake Shore. Oftentimes, people are not moving out from the North Shore communities after their kids are done with school, because they enjoy the neighborhood so much. It feels like a community. People know each other. They know the neighbors. There’s lots of trees, lots of parks. It’s a very green area with very good walking scores. People enjoy walking to a coffee shop or walking to get groceries. You don’t necessarily need a car.
What’s the downside of the North Shore? I would mention property taxes with the higher property values.
If the North Shore is still a little bit too busy and feels a little bit too tight and packed for you, you might want to take a look at Ozaukee County. Ozaukee County is right to the North of Milwaukee and directly on Lake Michigan as well.
It breaks down into a number of communities. In the south closest to Milwaukee, you have Mequon and Thiensville. Then a little bit further up, you have Cedarburg and Grafton. From there a little further up, you have Port Washington with a beautiful Marina located right on the Lake shore of Lake Michigan. In total, about 90,000 people live in Ozaukee County. This is where I live. I live right between Mequon and Cedarburg so we can just hop on our bikes, get on the bike trail and grab a bite to eat or a drink either in Cedarburg or in Mequon.
Ozaukee County is generally close enough to downtown. So from where I live, it takes me about 20, 25 minutes. If you live a little bit further up North, it may take you 30 minutes to go all the way directly to downtown Milwaukee. So if you’re looking for a luxury residence, if you’re looking for a more open field, some more land, Ozaukee County is definitely worth taking a look.
The individual communities all have a different flavor. Mequon has the highest price point on average. The median sales price in Mequon is about $400,000. But you can easily go up to 600 and million and over. Mequon is sometimes known for old money. The difference between East Mequon and West Mequon is that East Mequon is close to the freeway so it’s very easy to jump on the freeway and get downtown. West Mequon is a little bit more rural and it takes you a little bit longer to get to a grocery store, get to the freeway. So the prices are also a little bit lower there.
Next would be Cedarburg, which is a very interesting community. It has a very quaint, small town feel. It’s a tourist destination. So, a lot of people go to Cedarburg for the weekend. There’s a lot of shopping going on. They have fantastic restaurants, a lot of festivals in the summer, Strawberry Fest to mention just one. Median prices are usually in the $300k, maybe $350k. So they’re priced a little bit lower than Mequon. But, I would say in the last years, it’s the hottest real estate market because it’s just such a quaint little town and really a fantastic place to raise a family. Schools by the way, in all of these communities, are outstanding. So a lot of the reason why people are moving to Ozaukee County are the fantastic schools, which are top rated in the state and also the very, very low property taxes.
So if you compare property taxes with Milwaukee, you’ll find that, especially in a higher end property, the dollar amount difference per month or per year is significant. Then if you go further up North, you have Port Washington. In my opinion, Port Washington is one of the better kept secrets. It seems like in the last few years, builders have figured that out because there’s five or six new condo developments that I know about where you can overlook the Lake. The cost of living with the Lake view is a lot, but a lot less than if you’re going to downtown Milwaukee. If Ozaukee County is not exactly your cup of tea, you might want to take a look at the more Western part of the Metro area. There are two big municipalities there, Wauwatosa and Brookfield, and a number of smaller ones that surround them.
But they’re all located in the Western part of the Milwaukee Metro area and very centrally located from a traffic point of view. So you’re right at the zoo interchange, which is a big freeway intersection, and that gets you very quickly into all four directions. So if your job, for example, requires that you’re frequently going to the airport, that is a good location to be.
It’s also in many other ways, a good mix between urban and suburban lifestyle. You have a little bit of both there. Wauwatosa, or “Tosa” as locals call it, is a community with about 48,000 people. Median house prices are about $250k to $300,000 for a single family home. If you want to go a little bit bigger and a little bit nicer and fully updated, you’re typically looking at five to $600k in that area.
Wauwatosa is one of the best rated neighborhoods for young professionals, but they also have a good school district there. So it’s not a bad area to raise a family either. Then as you go west from there, you’re actually getting outside of Milwaukee County into Waukesha County, and you get into Brookfield.
Brookfield is about 40,000 people in population with single family homes, mostly median price about $300k – $350k. For bigger properties, you can go up to five, $600,000, and you have very generous, larger lots there. What makes Brookfield interesting? There is a lot of new retail there. Lots of restaurants, entertainment, shopping malls. So from that point of view, that was always a draw for Brookfield. But it’s also very family friendly. They have a very good school district.
Next to Brookfield is a small municipality called Elm Grove. It’s at a tiny municipality. There’s only 6,000 people living there, very exclusive. Elm Grove is now a number one rated school district in the state. It’s also number one rated for being family friendly. Little bit on the pricey side. Median about $400,000. And you can go up from there. There’s some very, very expensive properties in Elm Grove.
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