Things to Consider When Apartment Hunting


As I write this one of my favorite HGTV shows, For Rent, is playing in the background. It is more than appropriate since this post is about my recent experience apartment hunting in Chicago. According to HGTV’s website, host Jodi Gilmour “guides desperate but hopeful renters to a home that fits their budget.” I would certainly place myself in the “desperate but hopeful” category since I only had a week in Chicago to find a decent apartment. Unfortunately, I did not have Jodi Gilmour as a guide. Instead I consulted every and anyone I could find with some connection to Chicago and of course the Internet. If you are planning to move to Chicago I would highly recommend checking out YoChicago for information about neighborhoods in the area.

One of my future co-workers (yay!) gave me a list of neighborhoods to target. The neighborhoods on the list were (1) Rogers Park, (2) Lincoln Park/Lakeview, (3) Bucktown/Wicker Park, (4) Logan Square and (5) Hyde Park.

Here’s what I took away from the apartment hunting experience:

  1. Much like the rent in Washington, DC the rent in Chicago is “too damn high.”
  2. My co-worker’s list of neighborhoods was right on point!

I ended up choosing to live in a nice building located in one of the aforementioned neighborhoods. But, let me tell you I had to kiss a few frogs first.

My Top Three Apartment Hunting OMG-WTH-I Can’t Moments:

3. I wish I was allowed to take a picture of this unit. In one of the studios I literally could not open the refrigerator door more than six inches. There was a wall directly in front of it. In fact, my arm got stuck when I tried to reach inside. That’s definitely a no no for a Foodie like me.

2. The following is a picture of a studio apartment I visited. It was by far the smallest and yet oddly enough the most expensive apartment I came across. You could literally cook from your bed, enough said.

1. Prior to coming across my future apartment the nicest apartment I saw also happened to be the absolute smelliest apartment on Earth. Seriously.

I used a free apartment finding service to help me search for apartments during my first few days in the city. The guy from the service really helped me learn more about the city and bring me back down to Earth in regards to my wish list and budget. However, the last place we visited was disgusting beyond belief.

Let me set the scene for you.

At first, I started swooning over the building because it is located right by a metro line and the beach. I could literally walk less than three minutes to the beach each day if I wanted to. I later found out that being so close to the beach isn’t a good thing. According to some random lady I met the closer you are to the beach the closer you are to “the hood.” Her words, not mine. So, we walk into the one-bedroom apartment and the current tenant is home. Awkward. The apartment is much like its tenant: sloppy and disheveled. I’m not being rude, just being honest here.

The guy from the apartment service and I were both welcomed with the overwhelming stench of God-knows-what. We exchange worried looks, discreetly hold our breaths, and forge on. I’ll skip the part when I peek into the bathroom because I’ll get night terrors trying to recall what I saw. But, if you’re into gross things I’ll share with you what I saw in the bedroom. Picture this: a mattress with no bedsheets, pillows, or comforter with a hula hoop sized brown stain on it. Okay, so we’re done here.

After years of watching hours of HGTV I thought I pretty much had the whole “find your perfect apartment” thing down pact. However, no amount of HGTV can really prepare for what’s out there. But, it sure can help.

Here are some things to consider when apartment hunting:

1. Plan your trip. Do your due diligence and learn everything you can about your target neighborhoods. Ask people you know, talk to strangers, go on web forums, spend hours on your search engine of choice. Learn as much as you can. For example, I looked up the crime statistics of my target neighborhoods and checked how far each perspective building was from work by public transit. If the place was too far, or the rent and the crime rate was too damn high I crossed it off my list quickly.

2. Come armed with a wish list of apartment features. Identify what your must-haves are and also what you can be flexible about. My must-haves included a “safe” building (security cameras at least) in a walkable area close to public transit. I was flexible about living in a building with a fitness room (no, gym costs!) and hardwood floors. I ended up getting a place with a fitness room, but carpet instead of hardwood floors on the condition that management would clean the carpet before my arrival.

3. Visit potential apartments during different times of the day.  A place may look nice in the morning or in the afternoon, but make sure it looks nice later in the day too. There’s a reason they say the freaks come out at night.

4. Think about whether you want roommates. After spending the last three years living in a house with five other people I figured I have had my fill of roommates. Plus, I didn’t want to risk living with a crazy stranger. There are pros and cons to living with roommates versus living alone.

5. Don’t rely on only the Internet to find a place. One of the best ways to find an apartment in the neighborhood of your choice is to actually visit the neighborhood. I spent hours walking around neighborhoods and walking into buildings that I liked. Randomly walking into the right place at the right time is how I found the building I will be moving into next month. Leaving my computer and walking around helped me learn more about my target neighborhoods and made it easier to envision myself living there.

6. Take online ratings and reviews with a grain of salt. Yelp ratings and similar sites can be extremely helpful because they give you insight that you can’t get from management. However, they can also be full of haters and perpetrators.  One thing I did when the opportunity presented itself was to stop a current tenant during a visit to ask them how they liked the building. I got some great advice and insight that way.

I look forward to moving next month and decorating my new place. Yes, of course I’ll share some pictures and probably a DIY project or two. Now excuse me while I lurk around Pinterest.

(Photo Credit: PinkMoose