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Sue Solmos just happened to be home with the flu the day NBC-TV’s “Today” show featured housing expert Barbara Corcoran and her list of top 10 cities nationwide with the best housing values.
That’s how she just happened to hear that Corcoran had placed South Bend in the No. 1 slot, based on the homebuyer’s ability to buy “more house for your dollar” within a context of local job growth and steadily rising housing prices.
The fact that the show was featuring that story came as a pleasant surprise, says Solmos, residential marketing specialist for the City. “They did that on their own initiative,” she says. “We didn’t even know they were working on it.”
Far less surprising, however, was the fact that South Bend had done so well in the rankings.
“South Bend has more substantial, attractive neighborhoods with high-quality construction than any city in Indiana,” Solmos says. “In terms of architectural design, structural integrity, and quality of building materials, our housing stock is simply not matched anywhere else in the state.”
Not only that, but that housing stock is available at significantly lower prices than the national average. Taking into account other factors such as quality of life and cost of living, the ability to buy a distinctive, well-built home in a variety of architectural styles makes South Bend an exceptional place to call home.
Local housing experts point to South Bend’s history as a world-class city in the 19th and early 20th centuries due to its leadership in industry as a key reason for the abundance of first-rate housing stock.
“This town had internationally known companies creating tremendous wealth,” says Todd Zeiger, citing such industrial giants as Studebaker, Oliver, Singer and Bendix, all of which based their massive operations here.
“They were able to hire world-renowned architects and build with the highest-quality building materials,” says Zeiger, executive director of Indiana Landmarks’ Northern Regional Office in South Bend. “And it wasn’t just the top executives who were building beautiful mansions. Even the workers were sufficiently well-paid to be able to afford high-quality, well-built homes.”
The influence of the city’s industrial wealth extends well beyond the 19th century, resulting in an eclectic mix of neighborhoods of exceptional quality scattered throughout the city, reflecting a variety of housing styles – from ornate Victorians to cozy World War II bungalows to sleek ranch styles to up-to-the-minute contemporary – in every price range.
Genuine communities …
For those seeking to buy a home in a historic neighborhood, South Bend has a wealth of them of varying vintages – more, in fact, than any other city in Indiana. There are 18 historic districts in all – nine local historic districts, and nine that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Chapin Park has the unique distinction of having both a local historic designation and a listing on the national register.
Those particular neighborhoods represent a distinctive draw to many homebuyers from outside the area.
“They’re our calling card,” Zeiger says. “When people familiar with historic districts in other communities look to relocate to South Bend, they are specifically attracted to our historic neighborhoods.”
For Kate Marshall, the charm of the Chapin Park historic neighborhood made it the perfect choice when she was looking to buy a home last year. Having lived in an apartment in the neighborhood previously, she was well-acquainted with the neighborhood’s appeal: brick streets; plenty of sidewalks; good neighbors; proximity to the river, downtown, and the Farmer’s Market; block upon block of charmingly distinctive and unique historic homes.
Most important of all, however, is the genuine sense of community.
“I know all my neighbors,” says Marshall, an English professor at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s fun to be able to walk to a friend’s house for dinner.”
Indeed, she can reel off the names of at least a half-dozen colleagues who live within a few blocks of her house.
Marshall grew up in San Diego, where the cost of living is astronomical compared to here. She marvels that she went from earning little income as a student to getting her first job and, on an assistant professor’s salary, being able to buy an appealing historic home in a beautiful neighborhood.
“I have two home offices to do my work in,” she says. And like many homes from the Victorian era, this one holds a quirky secret: a hidden cupboard tucked away behind an innocent-looking built-in wall shelf.
… And so much more
For example, when Dave Weiss, CEO of Weiss Homes, is considering a new housing development, the first step is to develop a plan that takes into account the existing neighborhood, beginning with the school. A typical Weiss Homes development incorporates features such as shopping, connections to major highways, and proximity to shopping and other city amenities. (See related business profile on Weiss Homes.) Still, if stately Victorians aren’t your cup of tea, not to worry: You can find that sense of community in a number of new developments that are specifically designed to enhance the neighborhood feel.
“We could build individual homes and be content with that,” says Kym Baker, vice president of marketing and sales at Weiss Homes. “But it’s more fun to build communities.”
Weiss (rhymes with peace) recently completed a housing development near downtown, Notre Dame Avenue Homes, and is considering building more.
People are often surprised to discover that they can afford to buy a new home in downtown South Bend. One reason Weiss is able to build affordable homes is because the City of South Bend is very supportive of such projects.
“The City worked well with us to work out a tax abatement,” Weiss says. “That’s beneficial to the buyer, because it allows us to pass the savings along.”
The advantages of living near downtown are numerous, according to Solmos.
“South Bend is a much more cosmopolitan city than other cities of its size because of the many institutions of higher learning,” she observes. “They in turn have a tremendous influence on the arts and culture, which are of superior quality.”
Solmos lists the South Bend Civic Theatre, the Morris Civic Performing Arts Center and Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center as high-profile institutions on the local arts scene that have received national recognition. In addition, the city is within easy driving distance of many fine vineyards, a major state park, Amish country, and dune-covered beaches along Lake Michigan’s lakeshore.
Buy well, live well
To the outsider looking in, the local housing stock is so appealing that it often is a decisive factor for professionals choosing employment in South Bend versus other cities where real estate is more expensive.
“In terms of quality of life, quality of construction, the ability to own a truly unique home … all of that is unsurpassed pretty much anywhere else in the state,” Zeiger says. “Here you can afford to live in a well-designed home with interesting architecture. You can buy well and live well.”
For her part, Kate Marshall declares herself “completely besotted” with her adopted neighborhood and city, as she lists three wonders of nature she has experienced for the first time in her life since coming here from California:
And honeycrisp apples. She picks them herself at a nearby orchard … accompanied by a group of friends from the neighborhood, of course.
To view the Today Show clip featuring Barbara Corcoran’s Top 10 list, click here.
Click here to browse photo galleries and explore histories of South Bend neighborhoods.