Where should I look for my condo?
October 20, 2005 2:59 PM   Subscribe

AskChicagoFilter: I want to buy a condo in Chicago. I want to be near a couple of specific things - what neighborhoods should I look at? Oh yeah, I'm not rich.

So I make a little over 50k right now - not chump change, but I'm not living large by any means either. I'm looking for a neighborhood in Chicago that is affordable, but fun. I would like to be near a decent live music venue (like Double Door in Bucktown, Metro in Wrigleyville, etc), and be near a Metra line to the NW suburbs for work.

My problems:

1) There's so many neighborhood names, and SO many condo listings, and it's so freakin' hard to know what cool stuff is contained in that neighborhood. I can certainly just look at lists of condos on a place like craigslist and see what I can afford, but I don't know of a good resource that says "ok, what cool stuff is in Bucktown?"

2) I'm guessing 50k is enough to afford what, a 200k mortgage at best? I do anticipate a raise in the near future, but it won't be huge.

3) I grew up in the suburbs (yuck), so I'm not intimately familiar with the neighborhood names, geography, etc.
posted by twiggy to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here you can find out what cool stuff is in Bucktown as well as several other neighborhoods.

Here are some photos of many neighborhoods as well as a map to orient you.

This site has some info on life in various neighborhoods.

I got these all by googling "Chicago neighborhoods"; you can probably pull up much more with a determined search.
posted by keatsandyeats at 3:37 PM on October 20, 2005

I have an ex who was looking at condos about a year ago in the ~200k range in St. Ben's (on some of the smaller streets off Lincoln Ave., between Montrose and Irving Park).
posted by scody at 3:40 PM on October 20, 2005

oh, and I meant to add: St. Ben's is just south of Ravenswood and just north of Roscoe Village -- plenty of access to music, movie theatres, shops, restaurants, etc. There's also a Metra stop in Ravenswood, but I'm not sure which line it is, so don't know if it's the one you'd need to get up to the NW suburbs.
posted by scody at 3:43 PM on October 20, 2005

Um, you're going to have trouble on 50k a year in most of the hoods. Look in Uptown, Logan's Square, Edgewater, southside. Me and Jennyb are just starting to send out the feelers. I make less than you and she's in law school, so we are at least 2 years away. I don't think we'll be able to afford where we are now (andersonville).

How much do you have to put down?
posted by corpse at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2005

Response by poster: corpse: I can put down 10k.. maybe more, but not a ton more... thank goodness for stock I can sell, and poker winnings.. hah..

What kind of mortgage can I expect to afford on 50k/year? What if it bumps up to 55 or so when I get the raise/promotion I expect? any significant jump?
posted by twiggy at 4:24 PM on October 20, 2005

How much space do you need? A decent 3-br condo on the South Side (Hyde Park/Kenwood area, near the U of C) will set you back at least $190K.

Ideally, you want to make a 20% down payment in order to avoid PMI (and qualify for a higher mortgage). Making 50K/yr and with only 10K as a down payment, you're probably going to qualify somewhere in the 100-125K range--assuming you have no other debts, which will affect the bank's calculations.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:55 PM on October 20, 2005

Your credit score can greatly affect the size of the loan that you can get. A few years ago my wife was cleared for a 150K loan with no down payment and a salary of less than 35k a year. (She has fantastic credit.)
posted by oddman at 8:00 PM on October 20, 2005

$200K seems out of reach with a salary of $50K, unless you plan on taking on a roommate. In fact, a $200,000 mortgage is going to cost you $1,135 a month in principal and interest only (with a 30-year mortgage at 5.5%). You also need to consider the cost of assessments, property taxes and homeowners insurance, which can add several hundred dollars a month to your mortgage. (Visit interest.com for their mortgage calculators to crunch some numbers.)

That said, don't rely on a Web site to determine your budget. You really need to be tracking your expenses to see how much you can realistically afford to pay. Homebuying for Dummies was very helpful on this point; I'd recommend picking up a copy.

Also, don't rely on a broker, bank or real estate agent to tell you what you can afford. They have a very real financial incentive to get you to buy the most expensive home you can qualify for, even if it means you'll be eating Ramen every meal for next ten years.

As for Chicago-specific advice, I live over in West Logan Square (defined as Kimball-Pulaski, Armitage-Diversey). I bought a house a year ago for $305K; there are a lot of condos in this area and prices range from $120-260K.

It's not the neighborhood for everyone. We do have problems with gangs, concentrated on a few blocks (if you want to pursue this further, e-mail me and I can provide specifics). There are not a lot of neighborhood amenities yet, either, especially west of Central Park Avenue.

But there's a very active neighbors group and a lot of the folks who have more recently moved here are definitely part of the so-called artistic class. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who's in a band. There are great shows at the Logan Square Auditorium (Pitchfork is headquartered in the same building incidentally) and the Hotti Biscotti at Fullerton and Drake has recently started hosting shows.

Transportation is pretty decent. I'm two minutes away from Metra or a 20-minute walk to the blue line.

Another neighborhood you may want to check out is West Rogers Park. I know a couple who is looking for a three-bedroom for around $250K in that area and there seems to be decent inventory out that way.

I had a really excellent realtor and would be happy to recommend her, if you're interested. I also really liked the broker I worked with--he definitely got me the best deal without any sleazy sales crap--and I can provide his name if you want too.

Don't forget that the city now has the Tax Smart mortgage program, which benefits first-time homebuyers. There are also groups like the Neighborhood Housing Services that have great financing deals if you qualify.

Incidentally, you can easily avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you don't have 20% by using an 80/10/10 or 80/15/5 financing deal. This, along with using part of your 401K to fund your first home purchase, is covered in great detail in the Dummies book.

Good luck and feel free to e-mail me for more info.

PS There have been a lot of problems with new construction condos in the city. I would definitely Google around on the topic to find out more. I know the Sun-Times ran a series about a few years ago. Most of the issues stem from shitty masonry work.
posted by Sully6 at 8:32 PM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much to everyone who has replied.

I do have very good credit, so I think I might be able to swing a 200k mortgage ... we'll see though...

Again - thanks very much to everyone who has replied.. it has been very useful. Ask Metafilter kicks ass.
posted by twiggy at 1:22 PM on October 21, 2005

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