Northern Kentucky hasn't always been known for luxury real estate, but that's changing thanks to young creatives and empty-nesters who've recently begun migrating en masse to the urban core, seeking space, affordability and quick downtown access.
In response, luxury condos and rentals have sprung up across Newport and Covington. Those pricey developments only scratch the surface of a real estate explosion taking shape from the six riverfront cities all the way to the suburbs of Fort Mitchell -- and even farther south to places such as fast-growing Union in Boone County.
Unlike highly visible expansion projects such as Newport's newly opened Aqua on the Levee, a fast-growing trend in Northern Kentucky real estate is to subtly embed new "small batch" builds among longstanding historic residences.
Bellevue is one such riverfront area to watch, with hidden-gem developments like Rivertown, which currently consists of three modern, upscale townhomes quietly tucked away at the corner of Ross Avenue and Robson Lane. Two Rivertown properties are occupied, with the third currently listed to sell for $549,000.
Adam Cheney, who represents Rivertown developers Terrace Holdings, said the group is currently eyeing two more Bellevue properties for potential redevelopment.
"Our development has two major advantages," Cheney said. "The first is that Bellevue is a very desirable area right now, and the second is the outstanding views that our location provides."
Along similar strategy lines, Redknot Homes purchased hillside land three years ago and will break ground this spring on 19 luxury homes perched on the river-facing hillside of Dayton, which offers breathtaking views of the downtown Cincinnati skyline and Ohio River Valley. The homes will range in price from $400,000 to the mid-$700,000s and will be equipped with upmarket options like custom finishing, high-end materials and whole-home smart audio systems.
"I certainly think the trend of hillside development will continue," said Redknot owner Mark Pottebaum. Redknot has completed similar view-driven projects in Walnut Hills, Columbia Tusculum, Mount Lookout and Hyde Park. "People want to live close to the city with great views, but they also want a nice, custom home. That's something that can still be found in Northern Kentucky."
Local realtor Rebecca Weber agrees, but believes that because hillside developments are often slow to take shape due to of zoning and environmental constraints, buyers seeking upscale full-home accommodations shouldn't limit their search strictly to areas with a river view.
"One of the hottest areas we're seeing right now is the south end of Covington's Mainstrasse Village," said Weber. "There's really a huge turnaround going on down there, with property values appreciating and homes being snatched up very quickly."
Weber thinks that can be attributed to buyers seeking "more bang for their buck" than they are currently finding in Cincinnati neighborhoods. "Downtown, you're more likely to have to live in an apartment or flat for the same price you'd pay in Northern Kentucky for a whole house with a yard and maybe even a garage."
Ludlow is another up-and-coming locale to watch, according to Weber and other Northern Kentucky housing experts like Joe Klare, who was part of The Catalytic Fund team that organized last year's "Beyond the Curb" tour series. The tours, which were designed to showcase unique commercial and residential opportunities in Northern Kentucky, drew hundreds of visitors to Newport, Covington, Bellevue, Dayton and, most recently, Ludlow.
"(Ludlow) is kind of 'out of sight, out of mind' for a lot of people because it's around the bend of the river," said Klare. "But the October event helped people realize what's there. The homes are generally historic, (have) a lot of sturdy, brick construction, and it's about five minutes from downtown Cincinnati. Plus, there are a lot of great restaurants and things to come, so it's a good time for people to get involved down there."
Klare, like his colleagues, identified Bellevue, Dayton and Mainstrasse as riverfront neighborhoods on the rise, while offering Fort Mitchell, Villa Hills, Fort Wright, Alexandria and Highland Heights as examples of Northern Kentucky destinations that offer great school districts, within reasonable distance to downtown.
But Klare said that although the region's desirable housing is by no means limited to the riverfront, "at the end of the day, the river cities win out because they have those same amenities in addition to views of downtown, public parks and retail offerings that make it an exciting place to live."