Nancy and Chris Shepherd's desire for an old Victorian home in a nice downtown area drew them to Wheaton's charming center with its small-town feel -- just what they wanted.
Later, after they purchased the Victorian home, the couple bought a 1920s house-turned-shop -- Serenade -- that showcases antique jewelry, boutique clothing and home accessories.
Listing sheetPrice range: $225,000 to $900,000
Age of homes: 1910 to new; most built 1920-1940
Schools: Longfellow Elementary, Franklin Middle and Wheaton North High schools in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200
Parks: Wheaton Park District
"Everyone has been so welcoming, and I've been able to do really well," Nancy said. "People have been so loyal. They support the downtown, and they love walking around town and visiting all the unique shops."
Many Wheaton homes were built around the railroad in the early 1900s when the railroad came west from Chicago, and these distinctive homes mingle with newer residences to make up Wheaton's downtown residential area.
"Downtown is my favorite part of Wheaton," said Beth Lindner, broker and Realtor with Keller Williams Realty.
"It's very diverse with older people who have raised their kids, single professionals and young families. Newer condo buildings attract city commuters as well as grandparents who sold the big house so they could own a condo here and a second home in a warm climate. The condos are close to the train in downtown Wheaton, and their resale is still really strong," Lindner said.
People love the downtown area because of the different types of architecture of older buildings and homes along with teardowns with brand new homes that have been built next to an older ranch or bungalow, and they both sell. It's one of the few communities where people will tear down because they love the area, Lindner said.
"In Wheaton's downtown area, small starter homes go for about $225,000 while newer luxury homes area can go up to $900,000," Lindner said.
"Wheaton is a hot bed of real estate activity. On Thursday and Friday last week I had four offers on four different homes. It's incredible. It's a great time to get your house on the market. No one is getting the price they could have gotten a few years ago, but my team is having the best year ever in 11 years even though we're in a down economy and down housing market.
"Wheaton is a very desirable place to live, and people are making the move. My middle daughter was able to buy a home in Wheaton, which she couldn't have done three years ago. But now young professionals can actually afford to buy a house here."
Residents of Wheaton's downtown area appreciate the value of walking to the train, restaurants, the Friday night vintage car show and all the park district festivals. A popular event is the weekly outdoor French market, presenting local wares, fresh vegetables and bread smiths every Saturday from April through October.
Founded in 1860, Wheaton College is another draw for the community. Nancy and Chris Shepherd now live in an English cottage near the college and a little farther from town. They still experience all the downtown amenities along with those of the college.
"The campus is beautiful, and we walk it all the time," Nancy said. "It's another awesome part of Wheaton, and it's nice that the public is allowed to run the track and play on the football field when there's no game. My husband works out there. They have great facilities."
Lindner echoes Nancy's spin on Wheaton College. "They have excellent theater and music performances and, of course, the sports. And even though we have dorms right in the neighborhood, people view that as a positive. A lot of people hire students to baby-sit, do lawn work," Lindner said. "We just embrace the school and the students."
The Shepherds consider the north side as one big neighborhood. It's not like a subdivision. It's a different feeling, Nancy said. "We go everywhere. We're big walkers and bike riders. We don't just stay in our little circle."
Many landmarks from Wheaton's past still exist today as reminders of its distinctive history and culture. Wheaton's roots can be seen in the presence of the railroad, former county courthouse and Wheaton College, all important aspects of the community.