By Samantha Reid
The end of a semester means, for many, the end of apartment leases. This leaves students clambering through Craigslist ads and classifieds listings, trying their best to find an apartment in a good neighborhood that also happens to be in their budget.
For both continuing students and graduating seniors, the hunt for an off-campus apartment can seem daunting. The Torch has gathered some tips and tricks for which companies to use, what neighborhoods to look for and what questions to ask before signing a new lease.
The hardest part of finding an apartment is knowing where to start. Some students opt for apartment brokers or real estate companies, but it’s important to be wary of the fees that can be associated with the extra help. There are some free services, including Chicago Apartment Finders, which has several locations scattered around the city.
Students can call Chicago Apartment Finders and describe the kind of place they’re in the market for. The company then searches their listings and finds a handful that fit the description. Finally, the service makes the process even easier, as an agent will spend the day driving prospective renters around to viewings.
Don’t find anything in their listings? Other apartment hunting sites include Domu.com and ApartmentPeople.com. If all else fails, Craigslist can actually be a great resource. Everyone from brokers to those looking to sublet use the site, so it tends to have the widest variety of listings.
But since anyone can post on Craigslist, it’s important to be alert to scams and never go on viewings alone.
Where to Live
Odds are most students can’t afford the high rent prices of the Loop, so potential renters have to acquaint themselves with Chicago’s various neighborhoods. With so many to choose from, there seems to be a section of the city for each personality and budget.
Each year, the Chicago Reader ranks the best neighborhoods in the city based on a number of categories. In 2013, Logan Square won best overall. It’s conveniently located off the Blue Line, home to a number of quaint shops and restaurants, and rent prices tend to be much lower than locales closer to downtown. Logan Square also won in the category of “Most Affordable.”
According to the list, renters looking for nightlife need to check out Wicker Park. Also off the Blue Line but slightly closer to the Loop, Wicker Park boasts a wide variety of bars and restaurants, including Big Star, home of the best margaritas in Chicago, according to Zagat.
Looking forward in 2014, Chicago Magazine did its own neighborhood rankings based on safety, nearby transportation and the overall feel of the community. They found Lincoln Park, Bridgeport, Edgewater, and West Town to be standouts, among a few others.
For first-time renters, it’s easy to get caught up in the process and miss the opportunity to ask important questions. It’s important to know what the lease actually states before signing the legally binding document.
It’s nice if the apartment is aesthetically appealing, but there are other important questions that need to be answered. What’s the crime rate like in the neighborhood? Is there an astronomical security deposit? Is there a grocery store nearby, and an El stop? Many landlords will want a guarantor on a lease for young people who have yet to build up credit, so college renters may need a parent or guardian on board.
Because plans are never set in stone, it’s also important to ask if subletting is allowed. If for some reason the renter needs to pick up and move elsewhere, it’s key to know the way out of the lease. It’s also pertinent to ask if the lease is collective. If it is, and a roommate moves out, the other tenants may be responsible for making up their share of the rent.
Renter’s insurance is something to consider as well. A number of companies offer it for cheap, with the average at about $200 a year. It’s wise not to try to go without it –– the insurance can cover belongings in the event of a fire, flood or other unforeseen disaster.
Potential renters should also ask the technical questions, like which utilities are and are not included, and how to request maintenance if something breaks. All in all, it’s important to review the lease with a fine tooth comb –– and preferably someone who knows their way around a legal document –– before signing.