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5 things to know when looking for an apartment in Chicago

Written by
Courtney Jacquin

From now until October, Chicago is officially in the midst of apartment-hunting season. That can be exciting or terrifying, depending on which school of thought you come from (secret answer: it’s only terrifying).

During this incredibly competitive period, it’s important to know what you want out of your apartment search. If you’re moving to Chicago for the first time, that can be even more complicated, but nothing a little preparation can’t fix.

I’ve moved between July and September for the last four years in Chicago, and every time I’ve considered just giving up and living in a garbage can after just a few weeks in.

Melanie Stone, real estate broker at Coldwell Banker, is a pro when it comes to knowing how to find an apartment. She shared her tips for making this time as stress-free as possible.

1. Get help: “Apartment hunting is insanely stressful,” Stone said. “When you work with a realtor, he or she does the leg work for you. We'll send you listings, drive you around to see your favorites and help you negotiate a lease.” Using services such as Chicago Apartment Finders or Apartment People can also alleviate stress, and all services are free. Don’t just troll Craigslist and hope something will come along, you’ll be pulling your hair out a week into the process.

2. One month out is the ideal time to look: “Start looking about a month before the day you want to begin your lease,” Stone said. “That's when the most inventory is up for grabs.” Some landlords will start to post listings as far as two months out, but know that more availability will be opening up in a few weeks."

3. Know your budget and know the difference from your needs and your wants: Sure it might be nice to have in-unit laundry, but that might not happen if you’re looking for cheaper rent. “You've got to be willing to sacrifice some things if you're on a tight budget,” Stone said. “It's OK to want a decent-sized bedroom and a dishwasher, but don't expect granite countertops and a garage parking spot. Also, remember that a rental is a temporary home. Chances are, you'll find another place in one year. Settle for now. Once you're ready to buy a condo, it'll be another story.”

4. The market moves fast, and you need to as well: Use sites such as Padmapper and Domu a few months ahead of your search to get a feel for what you can get in your ideal neighborhood for your ideal price. When you start to look at places, you’ll need to know if something will work for you because you won’t have the luxury to wait around for something potentially better. “Summer is competitive, be prepared to apply for an apartment on the day that you see it,” Stone said. “Last week, my clients inquired about a particular rental in the South Loop. It racked up 11 applications in one weekend. Crazy!”

5. Know where you want to live: In a city with 77 community areas, choosing where to live can be stressful before the moving process even begins. Things to consider: access to public transit, parking availability, proximity to the lake, noise level, outdoor space, etc. If you’re new to Chicago, Stone recommends turning to the trusted folks of the Internet for some help. “I consider Reddit to be one of the most honest places on the Internet, so if you want to get an overall opinion on Bucktown vs. Lakeview, ask the people of r/chicago.”

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