Finding an apartment you love anywhere can be a difficult process, but in Chicago, it can be a serious uphill battle. Among the hundreds of apartments that may be on the market at any one time, there will only be a few that meet all your needs, and even those could have their own set of problems.
When you finally hit the jackpot, though, the whole process of climbing up to every third-floor walk-up in the city and negotiating with every landlord you can get in touch with feels completely worth it. If you're about to embark on a mission to find your perfect Chicago apartment, here are six pieces of advice that may help you find it a little sooner:
1. Set a budget.
The first step to finding an apartment in Chicago, or any city really, is setting a firm budget. Apps like Budget Boss and Mint can help you sort out your expenses and figure out how much money you'll be able to spend on rent, utilities and any other bills you'll pick up. Once you create a budget, make sure you stick to it. Looking at apartments that are even a few hundred dollars more than you can spend will give you dangerous illusions of grandeur.
2. Research neighborhoods first.
Chicago is unique in that it's one big city made up of distinct neighborhoods – all of which have their own personality. This can actually be a huge help for narrowing down your apartment search.
Limit your neighborhood options in two ways: First, find two or three neighborhoods you think would suit you best. Are you interested in a more hipster area like Wicker Park or do you see yourself being more comfortable in a college zone like Lincoln Park or East Rogers Park?
Next, add your budget into the equation. Areas like River North and The Loop are highly competitive for renters, making them more expensive – the median rental rates for a one-bedroom apartment are $2,570 and $2,455 respectively. Conversely, neighborhoods like Edgewater and North Center will likely give you more bang for your buck. The median rental rate for a one-bedroom in both neighborhoods is only $1,150, according to Rent.com data.
3. Hold off until winter.
Nobody wants to move during Chicago winters, when the weather is likely to include subzero temperatures, snow or both – but that's the very reason you should consider an offseason move. Finding an apartment in Chicago is much less competitive during the winter, which means you're more likely to get the amenities, price and location you're looking for without having to apply within the first 30 seconds of finding a place.
4. Look for security.
Chicago's one of the largest cities in the country, which means security should be one of your top priorities. While apartment hunting, make sure you're also taking the neighborhood and the building into consideration. If you know the neighborhood is dangerous or the building isn't secure enough to meet your needs, just move on.
5. Ask about heating and cooling.
While Chicago has months of beautiful, temperate weather, it can get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, so it's important to make sure your apartment is adequately prepared for the swings in temperature. Many apartments in Chicago include heating costs in their rent, which can make it a bit easier to stay within budget, so ask which utilities are included. Either way, see if both heating and cooling are available, and ask if it's possible to test them out during your tour of the apartment.
6. Be prepared to apply.
It can't be said enough: The Chicago apartment rental market is extremely competitive. When you decide to start looking for apartments, be prepared to apply immediately, or risk losing the apartment. Here's what you need in order to apply for most apartments in the city:
- Enough money. Many places require application and/or processing fees upon applying. It's also typical for landlords to ask for the first month's rent or a security deposit as soon as you're approved.
- Pay stubs. Most landlords will ask to see proof of income, so bring three recent pay stubs.
- Identification. To perform credit and background checks, you will likely need at least one form of ID. Bring two along just in case.
- References. Make sure you have the names and contact information for your current and past employers and landlords. Landlords will need your employment information and rental history.