Co-ops: The Living is Large






We asked three premier realtors—Julie Harron, Janet Owen, and Jim Kinney—to tell us about Chicago’s co-op market through the lens of the luxurious apartments from their portfolios. They agreed that Chicago’s co-ops offer the opportunity to live in historically significant buildings with superior services; terrific views, almost always; neighborly camaraderie; and some of the best addresses in town.


Clockwise from top: Jim Kinney, Janet Owen, and Julie Harron.

Julie, Janet, and Jim talked with us recently about the advantages of purchasing co-ops in today’s market.

Julie Harron, Vice President for Sales for the Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, head of the Julie Harron Real Estate Group, and a trustee of the Chicago Association of Realtors Foundation, chose 232 East Walton to tell the story of co-op living in the Windy City.


232 East Walton.


The stately dining room.

“This treetop apartment is definitely on a grand scale with large rooms and a classic and elegant feel throughout. Co-ops give you more space. Period. They benefit from unique floor plans that you don’t find in modern construction.

“You often get few units on one floor and may even have a whole floor to yourself. The co-op might span multiple levels as a duplex up and down. Transition spaces, like grand entryways and barrel-vaulted hallways, add to living large.  

“This East Walton co-op is like living in a house, and the rooms are classic and on a large scale. There is also an amazing outdoor playground for baseball and a patio area for grilling, all tucked back behind East Lake Shore Drive.

 “The building has been well maintained, with new elevators. As you read about the destruction of buildings in Florida and Texas, know that Chicago co-ops are as strong as they come. The infrastructure is marvelous.”


The spacious kitchen.


With extra storage space and a work area.


A cheerful living room.

Janet Owen, a member of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Chairman’s Circle Diamond Award for highest level of achievement, chose 199 East Lake Shore Drive:

I have spent my career selling cooperatives, so I will tell you a little about my most recent cooperative sale just a few months ago in this beautiful Benjamin Marshall building.

“The columned rotunda, the handsome bronzed entry, the symmetrical architectural detail, and the landscaped front garden combine to create an intimate yet grand feeling. The east side of the building is comprised of single-floor apartments, and the west side features duplex homes.”


The exterior.

“The particular one I just represented is residence six/seven west and has spectacular, unobstructed lake and city views from seven oversized picture windows on both levels. It truly feels like a single-family home with bedrooms on the upper level and even a charming terrace, which is perfect for morning coffee while enjoying stunning Lake Michigan views.”


The light-filled living room.


Exquisite views from the master bedroom.

“A young couple moved in when they had two children and moved out when they had four, needing another bedroom. Like many co-ops, it featured huge, walk-in closets, and this one offered two offices as well. One was wood-paneled, off the master bedroom.”


Another view of the living room.

Jim Kinney, who spearheads Baird & Warner’s Luxury Portfolio program, chose the fourth-floor apartment in the Philip Maher Art Deco masterpiece at 1260 Astor as his co-op example.


1260 North Astor.

“Planned by Chicago industrialist Louis Sudler and the architect Philip Maher in December 1929, 1260 Astor was the last luxury apartment building completed in that era. It was built on the corner lot where one of the city’s oldest residences, owned by Mrs. Charles Dana, stood. Her daughter, Mary, lived in this apartment as its first owner.

“I like to say it has the charm of vintage with one coat of paint. The previous owners did a complete renovation, so they stripped off layers of paint but left the beautiful walls, plaster, and molding.”


The spacious living room and dining room beyond.


A big, bright kitchen.

“It has four exposures and lots of light at its tree-top level. Maher left the apartments raw, and each owner built out their apartments; no two are alike.”


A stylish bathroom for two.


A walk-in closet that dreams are made of.

Julie, Janet, and Jim talked about things to consider when buying a co-op. Julie furnished the fundamentals:

“You definitely have a lot of options when you are in the Chicago real estate market. Unlike a condo, you are not buying an individual unit, you buy shares in a corporation that owns the entire building. You get a stake-hold to a specific unit.  

“Not all co-ops allow mortgages, and if they do, they may require at least 25 percent down. You are paying your unit’s share of the corporation’s property tax each month as part of the assessment. Taxes tend to be lower in a co-op compared to a condo in the same sales price range.

“You must receive board approval and will most likely complete a Thomas Report—an in-depth review of finances and background check.”

Jim Kinney has been selling co-ops as part of his portfolio since 1979, his first year as a realtor. He has been a leader in local, national, and international real estate organizations since then.

“There are currently 60 co-ops on the market, and approximately 60 have sold in the past 12 months. What you are hearing now is that at the upper end some of the expectations in the market place have been too optimistic. If we are all realistic, we can anticipate strong gains.”

He adds, “Co-ops sit on prime lands with great addresses and often fine lake views. They are almost all pre-World War II buildings and are in solid shape.”

Janet, who was recently voted by Real Trends as one of the best real estate agents in America, commented:

I only sell in the neighborhoods where I have lived because I am not only selling the apartment or the single family home, but I am also selling the lifestyle. The cooperative lifestyle is, indeed, very special.  

“I have sold in buildings designed by the well-known pre-war architects such as Benjamin Marshall, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Andrew Rebori, Robert DeGolyer, and many others. I adore the tall ceilings, the timeless design, incredible architecture, classical moldings, wood burning fireplaces, wood paneled libraries, and the special rooms.

“There is a certain cohesiveness and sense of real community. Many high profile Chicagoans desiring privacy and a low-key, intimate lifestyle are drawn to cooperatives living. Owners tend to stay for many years, and when they decide to sell, these residences often attract buyers who love and appreciate these very same details.” 

Many of those building co-ops today are made up of empty nesters from the suburbs. We asked if co-ops are good choices for younger buyers, as well. Julie assured, “The price per square foot is an ultimate value proposition in Chicago for a co-op as compared to a condo.”

Janet seconded that thought:

“They are a wonderful choice because the buyers will be provided with the beauty of living in a building with historical significance. Also, many cooperative residences have been owned by the same residents for a long time, so it gives the new, younger buyer an opportunity to remodel or renovate the home to their own taste but still have the basic beautiful architecture.”

We asked Jim, past president of the Illinois Association of Realtors, “What is the difference between co-ops in New York and Chicago?”

“In New York there are definitely more co-ops than condominiums. Historically, we have heard a lot about Hollywood stars and politicians being turned down by co-op boards in New York. It used to be that you needed a pedigree for many of these buildings, but since the 1980s, it is really focused and is all about balance sheets.

“They follow the same procedure that we do in Chicago to make sure that financial help is there for the person if it is needed, and that assessments do not put on undue pressure.”

A leader in philanthropic organizations in Chicago, including the Joffrey Ballet and the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago, Julie summed up what’s superior about co-ops: 

“In the city of Chicago, as in New York and Washington, D.C., co-op buildings are in the most desirable locations and take advantage of the best views.

“In Chicago, you can find co-op buildings lining Lake Shore Drive from the Gold Coast up to Evanston with views of the lake, city, and green space. Exit any one of these buildings and you are surrounded by the best shopping, restaurants, and transportation, not to mention unparalleled access to miles of lakefront paths and parks.”

From breathtaking views to unparalleled design, Chicago co-ops are well worth a closer look.