Apartment Searching in the City

Apartment Searching in the City

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It’s that time of year again. My lease is up, and I’m looking for new digs. And, since the deadline for accepting Columbia’s offer is just right around the corner, I figured that Admitted Students would like to know what it’s like to search for an apartment and where other people in the program live. [flickr id=”8614160805″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”false” size=”original” group=”” align=”center”]

Chicago is a renter’s city. There are so many apartment finding services that are free, and Craigslist and Padmapper have tons of listings daily, especially during the spring and summer months.

If you aren’t familiar with Padmapper, you should be! Just plug in a zip code, and the website pulls from a variety of other websites that list apartments for rent in the city. Then it marks them on a map, letting you remove apartments that do not fit your criteria and saving the ones that do. I love a list, so a list of apartments that I am interested in is right up my alley.

When you begin your apartment search, it’s important to know what neighborhood you want to live in. Chicago’s neighborhoods are very different from one another. For instance, where I live now and have lived for the past two years, Lakeview, is a very convenient neighborhood (Walgreens and CVS on every corner and three grocery stores within walking distance).

Lakeview is a great starter neighborhood, especially if you are making the transition from suburbs to big city. Transportation is super easy, because you have access to three EL lines—Red, Brown, and Purple—and countless major bus routes. Rents in Lakeview can be on the pricey end, so if you’re looking for more affordable neighborhoods, I know plenty of people who live in Lincoln Square (off the Brown Line) and Logan Square (off the Blue Line).

The difference between neighborhoods like Lakeview and Logan Square is that Logan Square doesn’t have a lot of chain retail stores, and grocery stores are small and independently owned. The area has some of the most beautiful parks and architecture in the city, and some of my favorite bars in the city.

Other neighborhoods that students at Columbia choose are Edgewater, Andersonville, Roscoe Village, Wicker Park, and Bucktown. Check out Columbia’s Relocation Guide for information about neighborhoods, and also take a look at Apartment People and Domu for more neighborhood descriptions and average rental prices.

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It’s also a good idea, if you can, to visit the area that you are interested in on foot. Walk around and see what there is to do in the area. Visit the area at different times of day. You want to make sure that you not only like the apartment that you choose but that you will also like the area.

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And, here are a few other tips (for insiders):

Garden Apartments—they sound lovely don’t they, like they come with a garden. They might come with a garden, but what the term “garden” refers to is where you’ll be living—literally at eye level (and mostly under) the garden. It’s essentially a basement apartment. Rent is cheaper for these apartments, but it is good to know that you don’t get a free garden with that rent.

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Lower floors versus top floors: If you move to the top floor, more than likely you will be moving ALL of your furniture up to the top floor. If this is something that you dread, make sure that your building has an elevator. Otherwise, lift you will—the couch, the bed, the oddly shaped bookshelf. BUT, this being said—the top floor is sometimes the best floor, because sometimes in an older building you will hear every footstep from the neighbors above you. This isn’t the worst thing and not all buildings will be like this, and you do get used to it, but stilettos at 4am every night can get a little irritating.

Moving Companies: A lot of moving companies in Chicago are not that expensive (a father and son team with a truck or a van). This can save time and sanity if you have a lot of stuff to move or the building you are moving into doesn’t have an elevator.

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Public Transit: Make sure you are close to the EL or a major bus route. What do I mean by major bus route? I mean one that doesn’t stop running at midnight. And, if you have to take two buses and a train to school, that is NOT convenient and more than likely you will tire of the commute very quickly. I have about a 10-12 minute walk to the brown line, which isn’t bad at all, but in the winter months (i.e. when it’s -15), that 10 minutes can seem like eternity. Definitely consider your proximity to public transit when choosing an apartment.

I’ll be spending the next month on foot searching for a new place, and if you decide to come to Columbia, this will be you very soon. I wish you the best of luck and hope that these little insider tidbits prove useful!