THE BLOG
05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Chicago Zip Code Offers the Most Bang for Your Buck?

There was a time not long ago when zip code status meant everything -- when liberal lending meant almost anyone could take advantage of that realty exhortation: location, location, location.

But with the market meltdown, status has frequently taken a backseat to savings. So if living in the right part of town is still important to you, but you're living on a recession budget, which Chicago area neighborhood offers the most bang for your buck?

Chicago and its environs offer a cornucopia of residential options. So much so that the decision on where to live can be daunting: Looking for thriving nightlife? Sidewalk cafes? Bucolic 'burbs? Lakefront property? Bugaboos and Maclaren's cruising every block? Diversity? Finding your flavor, and what's most important to you, is the first step in the money-saving matrix.

I recently read an article right here on the Huffington Post about President Obama's BFFs, whom he reportedly met around his Hyde Park neighborhood years ago and who now get to accompany him on various jaunts around the world on Air Force One. (Nice!)

Hyde Park is, of course, home to the University of Chicago, but for decades it's also been considered a mecca for influential and wealthy African Americans within the city limits, attractive for its diversity and culture.

Home prices in Hyde Park run the gamut, but if you're targeting Mr. Obama's tony Kenwood neighborhood, property is definitely on the high end. And if you're seeking the house right next door to the President of the United States, you're in the neighborhood of $1.85 million.

It turns out cachet costs, but a lot less than it used to these days. According to real estate website trulia.com the median sales price of homes in Hyde Park dropped 27.3 percent from the same time period last year. So in addition to having the bragging rights of living in the same hood as the POTUS, you might be able to find comparatively bargain digs in Hyde Park as well.

Hyde Park certainly has a lot to offer, but unfortunately, in Chicago, directional orientation is a big driver of zip code status, with much of the city segregated by race. To wit: The South Side and southern suburbs are heavily African American, and the North Side and northern suburbs significantly white. This invisible racial borderline between the two sides of the city puts different perspectives on home "value" and "bargain" real estate, depending whom you ask. Many people who live in Lincoln Park, where median home values are $365,000, would never consider living in Hyde Park, where median home values are $212,000 (and vice versa). But if you could find a nice, spacious home, good schools, thriving retail and restaurants in both locations, which would offer the most bang for your buck?

In many ways home "value" remains in the eye of the beholder, rather than in objective qualification, even in a down real estate market and in a city Forbes named one of the best to bargain for a home.

Another example: The median home price in Flossmoor, an affluent southern suburb is $200,000. But if you head straight north for about forty-five minutes, you'll find median home prices in the lovely northern suburb of Wimette at $541,000. Both are well known, sought after suburbs with large homes and safe streets with easy access to downtown. But directional orientation means that the definition of getting bang for your buck in Chicago, remains segregated.

For many, where you live has been as important as how you dress or what you drive - it's all a part of the presentation. But maybe it's time to re-think the importance of zip code status - just like brand names such as Escalade, Prada and Gucci just aren't as important as they used to be.