How to Apartment Hunt in Chicago

Jules Banks
Staff Reporter

An example of apartments available for rent in Little Italy. Photo by realtor.com.

Renting apartments or condos in Chicago is no easy feat. With rising post-recession rental prices, the cost of renting can seem intimidating at first, and the lack of apartment vacancies means that finding available real estate in a specific desired area can be frustrating. Although Chicago recently underwent a moderate apartment boom, in which thousands of new apartments went under construction, it became one the causes of rent hikes around the city. With availability and price in mind, a young adult can easily become intimidated by their first hunt for a home. However, there are some ways to soften the blow and create an easier transition for both one’s life and wallet.

When apartment hunting herself, Shan Wofford, junior psychology major, laid out her home-hunting plan months before she planned on moving in. Although she doesn’t regret her preparedness, Wofford claimed that she actually may have started too early.

“We reached out to a couple of apartments in February and the realtor in February, and they were like ‘Yeah, it’s way too early for you to look,’” Wofford said. “So then we tried to get in in March, and even in March, they were like, ‘It’s way too early for you to look.’ So we decided after spring break – it was about the third week of March when we saw our first apartment, that was when it was pretty feasible for us to maybe get something.”

Wofford said she was adamant that although the long search wielded slow results, it was still much better than the alternative.

“Too late is two weeks before, because the two weeks before is when everyone is signing a lease. So whatever the first of the month is, two weeks before is too late,” said Wofford.

According to a study done by ApartmentGuide, the unofficial but popular “signing season” for leases is early spring into early summer. Many factors contribute to this: not only does the better weather encourage people to venture out to view apartments, but the end of school means graduations, moving and new jobs for many of the city’s residents. This is when apartments begin to rapidly fill.

Students like Wofford begin to funnel into the complexes to live in the city for the summer. She and her three roommates will soon be moving into a three-bedroom off Taylor St. near Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. Location was a large deciding factor for her as well as for many other Chicagoans: although the 77 neighborhoods showcase a wide array of options for renters, often college, work or school districts become factors that the renters must consider. For Wofford, college and work were in the South Loop.

“I would say, the very first step that you need to do is to find two to three neighborhoods that you really, really like. And I say two to three – have a plan A, B and C, because you could look at like ten different apartments in A, and you don’t like any of them, and then in B, they’re all too expensive, and in C finally you find one but maybe you don’t get approved for the first one,” said Wofford. “The biggest factor for us was location as in like distance to school and work. So the three of us obviously go to school here, Roosevelt, and then I also work in the Loop. So it was important than it was less than a 45 minute commute.”

Cameron Jones, junior psychology major, had a simple but effective approach to find a place to suit his needs.

“I would just search one bedroom apartments near Chicago’s Rogers park area because it’s more quiet and since I’ve lived in the loop four years I needed a secluded place to stay,” Jones said. “It’s important to look for places near transit because my job and school would require me to either drive or take the train.”

Although this spring marks these students’ first apartment hunting attempts, they were both ultimately successful in their search. Other students were not so lucky. Alexa Jones, freshman criminal justice major, and her fellow potential roommates faced disappointments this leasing season.

“We just wanted our own apartment, our own area…we all saw ourselves living in Chicago for a few years too, so we were just going to keep that apartment and keep renting it, and over the summer we were planning on living there too,” said Jones.

However, her and her roommates faced issues with timing, as they all are from different parts of the country.

“Res Life makes you have a bill to your new home by August 1, which is kind of difficult whenever it’s different people from different areas all trying to get there by August 1…we would have to be there by sometime in July, and then school doesn’t even start until the end of August anyway, so it’s kind of like we would be paying an extra two months of rent just to have that bill,” said Jones.

Along with this issue of timing, Jones had a difficult time contacting tenants, saying that none would respond to her or her friends when they emailed expressing interest. She thought perhaps that due to her lower price point for renting, renters passed over her in favor of other Chicagoans willing to pay more. She offered up her advice for future property-seekers.

“If you’re choosing between living off campus and living at Wabash, I would start immediately, as soon as you can, looking at houses because the housing here is very competitive and maybe you’ll get better luck than I do,” said Jones.

There is no set blueprint to apartment hunting. Due to the difference in needs regarding location, amount of roommates, and desired size, everyone has different requirements that must be filled out. However, realize the stress is universal and expected.

“It is a lot more stressful than you think,” Wofford said. “Do a lot of prep work beforehand. Narrow down the neighborhoods, figure out what’s important to you.”

Jones, too, had advice for new renters. He urged them to never be complacent with conditions they found unsatisfactory.

“Don’t settle! If you’re paying out of your own pocket, find the best place for you, because once you sign a lease it’s very hard to get out of,” Jones said.



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