Close to Home: Milwaukee home sales maintain even keel

Milwaukee has long been known as the beer capital of the world. But last year, its only remaining large brewery, Miller, agreed to merge with Colorado-based Coors.

The headquarters of the new company will be in Chicago, and about 175 of Miller's corporate jobs will move there from Milwaukee. But, fortunately, the change at Miller will have little or no impact on the local housing market.

The brewery itself is staying in the city, and brewery jobs in Milwaukee may expand, says Bret Mayborne, economic research director for Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

In addition, some of the Miller executives have chosen to stay in Milwaukee and commute to their jobs in Chicago, says Katie Falk, a partner at Prudential Absolute Realtors.

In recent years, Milwaukee's housing market has not been as hard hit by the mortgage crisis as many other cities. Although home sales have never gone way up, they also have never gone way down, Falk says.

In part, that is because Milwaukee has a diverse and stable local economy. It is mostly dependent on manufacturing and medical technology, Mayborne says. Among the companies with corporate headquarters in Milwaukee: Harley-Davidson and Northwestern Mutual.

And in Milwaukee County are Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, which bring in a constant influx of residents who tend to buy homes, says Beth Jaworski, chairwoman of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors.

The local housing market also did not greatly suffer from overbuilding, speculation and subprime lending.

"We didn't get caught up in the crazy financing that was available at the height of the market," Jaworski says.

This year, home sales began showing some signs of recovery.

"Investors are sensing that the market is hitting bottom and now is the time to scoop up some of the good buys," Jaworski says.

Unfortunately, home sales in Milwaukee have hit a snag. Because of the problems in the broader economy, some home buyers are holding back and adopting a wait-and-see attitude, Falk says.

"I think we are poised to make a quick recovery," Mayborne says. "But I don't know when that recovery will start. That's the million-dollar question."

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