Step-by-step apartment hunting in Chicago
February 27, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the Chicago version of this answer to NYC apartment hunting.

How do I have all my "shit together" for getting an apartment in Chicago, and what specifically constitutes my shit?

Decent north/central neighborhood; 0, 1 or 2 bedroom for between $700-$1000. Moving from out-of-state. I'd be able to spend a 3-5 days sometime in during the summer to find a place to move into on August 1.

Things like "letter of employment on company letterhead stating your salary" worry me because I'm a freelancer, but I make decent money (so that's not an issue). Is Chicago as harsh?
posted by c:\awesome to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Chicago isn't nearly as harsh. I own now, but when I rented it was first month, last month + security deposit. You'll need to fill out an application, and the landlord will run a credit / background check. Some places will ask for a previous landlord as a reference on the application.

YMMV. A few years ago when all the renters were buying condos, some places were offer free utilities or a free months rent. It all depends on how tight the rental market is these days. But I don't think it's ever as bad as NYC.

Depending on where you work and what sort of scene you're after, you probably want to look at Wicker Park/Bucktown, Lakeview/Lincoln Park, or Lincoln Square/Andersonville. There are the areas that most new residents gravitate to. Many other very, very fine neighborhoods, but if you're young and value proximity to the El and lots of fun shops, bars, music, cafes, etc. those are good bets. Each has a different scene however. Be sure to visit each.
posted by centerweight at 8:41 PM on February 27, 2008

In my experience, no--Chicago is not harsh at all. As far as I can tell, having money to put down a deposit and having ok-enough credit to pass the credit check (though I'd never heard of bringing a hard copy of your credit report) is far more important than proving employment. Don't worry about it. Schedule a trip, look at some apartments. Barring something very unusual, it shouldn't be too much hassle or require too much preparation in advance.

Anecdotally, I used an apartment-finding service to look at some apartments (they have a deal with the landlord that they get the first month's rent, you don't pay any extra--though you do pay the deposit and the first month's rent at the same time), didn't think to compile any information beforehand since I was "just looking" and didn't think I'd be signing a lease that day, barely remembered the address of the company where I was soon to start my new job, and everything worked out fine. I live in Ravenswood, trendier areas might be different.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:47 PM on February 27, 2008

Yeah, it's not that big of a deal in Chicago, though having some of those items together could make a difference.

I've seen apartments at the same time as other parties, and - while some groups are strictly first-come, first-served - some might be impressed enough by your preparation to give you an edge (though many might not care).
posted by asuprenant at 9:49 PM on February 27, 2008

Woah - getting a place here is so not a big deal. Every place I've been (three apartments in five years) didn't even ask about employment, references, etc. Just credit check, deposit, first months rent and I was in. Also, I've been told it's mostly a renters market here.

A few thoughts though:

- Some of the bigger rental agencies are moving away from security deposits and asking for a non-refundable sum - usually half a month's rent, but sometimes an arbitrary amount such as $250 or $300 dollars. You don't get this money back. It's not 100% clear if this is even on the up and up. Generally landlords have to give you your money back plus interest. Before you sign a lease make sure you know whats up the deposit.

- There are a few apartment brokers in town. I used them when I first moved here. The cool thing is that they can drive you around town. In their car. If you do this, take a CTA map with you (get one at any L stop) and make the agent point out where on the map you are. That way you'll know if a place is close to L and bus stops.

- In your price range don't expect to much in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park. If it's north of the Loop and close to the Lake it's going to be expensive. You maybe able to find an "okay" studio in that price range in one of those neighborhoods. If you go a little further north toward Uptown or Edgewater you may find a bigger place for the same money, although these neighborhoods aren't the deal they were a few years ago. Stay out of Wrigleyville unless you love bars with lots of TVs, Cubs fans with a sense of entitlement, and stepping over puke on the sidewalks. Ugh... Worst. Neighborhood. Ever.

- Looking westward from the Loop there are still some good deals in Ukranian Village. Avoid Wicker Park. You'll learn why when you go there. I see lots of apartments advertised in Logan Square - but it's really far out. Humboldt Park is getting better, but is still semi-war zoneish. I live in Pilsen. It's awesome, but don't tell anybody, please! If I had it do over again I think I'd search for an apartment in Chinatown. What the hell? It looks cheap and the L runs right though it.

- The CTA is screwed in a major way right now. In fact they are cutting trains on the important redline corridor this year - which means even more hellish commutes to downtown for people living on the northside. Since you work for yourself, hopefully this wouldn't be a problem. If you were going to rely on the CTA to get to the Loop reliably every day I would seriously consider moving to the west or southside just to avoid the hassle. Yes, it is that bad.

- Hmm... what else do you need to know? Buy a bicycle. Cubs or Sox - pick one, stay with it. No ketchup on hot dogs.

I can wax endlessly about living here. I love this town and I enjoy talking about it. If you have specific questions feel free to send me Mefi Mail.
posted by wfrgms at 12:14 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think in Chicago finding two-three areas to concentrate on will really help you finding a place. North/central is really, really broad. Second, August is a popular month to move here. I might take your trip in June (call an area apartment hunting firm possibly to see the best time to look).

The apartment hunting firms are great for your 1st day of looking (and your last if you find nothing otherwise), but you won't find the value of a Craigslist/Chicago Reader find. Sublets (usually it involes taking over the remainder of the lease) are often good deals (you have the rental rate from a few months back), and you can resign the lease if you like the place, and if it really doesn't fit you can move out after the 4 months or whatever is left...

Things I didn't know before I moved here:
-The Chicago express buses close to the lake are just as faster or faster than the EL, so don't discount them. Note: Chicago buses are now on Google Maps, as well as L stops.
- There's a definite trade-off between walkability (easy no-car life) and finding parking. Kind of a no-brainer, but a big issue with my friends in which neighborhoods they choose to live in.
- Yelp, Centerstage (virtual L navigator), Citysearch also still help me find nearby places.
posted by ejaned8 at 9:32 AM on February 28, 2008

We live in Lincoln Park (Sheffield, technically...) and love it here. Our rent is under $1000/month with one bed/one bath/washer & dryer/central air. Admittedly, we got a great deal, but the company that owns our building own several others in the area. We're about six to eight blocks west of the red line (fullerton) and close to the Dan Ryan. We paid no security deposit but did pay a non-refundable administrative fee of $400. We paid our first month's rent the day we moved in. And, the people in the office are really laid back and not at all pushy. Considering the place we'd just left, we love love loved working with ICM.

Hope that helps! If you need anymore info, feel free to send me a message.
posted by santojulieta at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2008

Durr! I just re-read your question, and I'd say the list in the NY question is appropriate.

Get as much of that junk together as possible. I had pay stubs, tax returns, previous landlord stuff, bank account statements and numbers, my passport (for good measure), about $2000 in cash (in my bank, not my pocket), and that was about it. I don't recall needing too much for our lease. They didn't even copy my paystub or anything. They just ran my credit and took my personal check. Definitely better safe than sorry though.
posted by santojulieta at 11:46 AM on February 28, 2008

I've used Chicago Apartment Finders, and last time I scored a one-bedroom in Boystown (East Lakeview, Lincoln Park) very near the lake for only $725/month. I'd never have found this place without them, since the rental company only goes through agencies and doesn't advertise in papers and whatnot. They will also tell you ahead of time exactly what you need for various companies, which I found helpful. A lot of people don't like using services, but I've only had good luck with them; and they're free, so it's a convenient option.

I've never needed to take anything in besides my driver's license and a paycheck stub. In my experience, prospective landlords always run a credit check and call references I've listed on the application (usually just one landlord and one employer), and I've never been subjected to anything more invasive than that. I've had five apartments in the city, fwiw, and I've always needed to lay out a month's rent, upfront, as a security deposit.
posted by heyho at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2008

I moved from Bloomington, Indiana, to Chicago in a matter of unexpectedly short weeks.

I came up one weekend to scope out neighborhoods, and ended up on Roger's Park because I wanted to be close to the lake but also not spend much money (I have a one bedroom for $760). If you also want to be near the lake, it's great. If you want to have a short trip downtown or be near lots of bars, cafes, restaurants, etc, it is definitely not so much the place for you (it has all those things, just much fewer and much less trendy versions of them).

Between that week and the next I was hired for a job that wanted me in two weeks, so I immediately came back up and scoped out a dozen apartments in the neighborhood (found via the Chicago Reader). I ended up applying for two, to hedge my bets, but neither were terribly concerned with employment -- both just wanted a credit check and one wanted my previous landlord. I applied Sunday and was approved by both places on Monday.

To give you an idea how easy going things were, I moved in the next weekend before I had signed the lease or given them money.
posted by ztdavis at 7:20 PM on February 28, 2008

I second and third and fourth Edgewater. Not as hip as some further south but if you want to hit the lower part of your range and get a nice, safe place that's the spot. Spring is the best time of the year for finding apts (at least in Edgewater, speaking from experience) but I think you should be fine in August, as long as you beat the returning students to it.

I've found apartment finder companies to be mostly a pain, especially if you are sub $1000. It seemed that none of the agents were enthusiastic about being put on that commission. YMMV.

Craigslist is the holy grail for Chicago apt hunts. And you can put foot to pavement in an area that feels comfortable to you-- I've found some great places just calling the management numbers posted on the sides of buildings. Have a wander. It doesn't take a boatload of luck in Chicago.
posted by bdizzy at 11:14 AM on March 3, 2008

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