Apartment Safari

Apartment Safari

View from the Roof on July 4

For most MFA students at Columbia, June-August is apartment hunting season, and I am no exception. We moved into our apartment last August after a two-day drive from Florida. As I mentioned in my previous tweets and posts, we currently live in a convertible studio apartment, which was great for us when we first moved here, even though it was smaller than what we were used to. Now that both of us do the majority of our work from home, a larger apartment was in order.  Additionally, my fiance’s sister will be moving up to Chicago for school and will be living with us, so our apartment hunt this season began with some pretty specific criteria. Although it was challenging at times, I am happy to report that we found a beautiful apartment and are set to move in on August first. Read more to learn about my apartment hunting saga and advice!

Yesterday we signed the lease and are set to move August first into a beautiful two bedroom apartment with an office(!) in Lincoln Square. Last year when we were looking for our first apartment to say we were burned by realtors/leasing agents was an understatement—we had made appointments with some management companies after reviewing listings online, but some had forgotten our appointments, some cancelled the day of, and on top of it all we had four days to find an apartment, apply, and hopefully sign a lease. We ended up finding our current apartment by walking around the neighborhood after finding out an apartment we found on Craigslist had been rented moments before we arrived.

Padmapper Website

This time around, with much more time to search and browse listings, we attended open houses, browsed listings on Trulia, Craigslist, and Padmapper, and worked with a realtor. In the end the apartment we found was posted on Craigslist and had been up for a mere three hours when I called to set up the showing!

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I tweeted last week asking Chicago apartment hunting veterans what they wished someone had told them before they got their first Chicago apartment. Here are some of my best Chicago apartment hunting tips:

1. Try to find a unit with heat included (may say free heat on the listing) – Heating costs can get pricey in the winter here, so having that included in the rent is great if you are on a strict budget so there won’t be a drastic change in your bills when winter rolls around. If heat isn’t included, always ask for a monthly average of the heating costs for winter.

2. When it comes to pricing, Chicago is affordable compared to some other major cities, but you might still be in for a shock, depending on where you are moving from. From my own experience and based on accounts of friends, finding a studio apartment for under $700/month is almost unheard of. It’s not impossible, but certainly more challenging. Between $700-$800 is the average my friends and classmates pay for studios. If you can deal with a roommate(s), your rent can be a lot cheaper when split multiple ways.

3. Craigslist is your friend! Some people get skeeved out by Craigslist, but I and a number of my friends and classmates have found amazing apartments using good ol’ Craigslist. If you’re uncertain about something, go with your gut, and use common sense safety tips like bring a friend with you to visit listings and meet landlords.

4. Although it may differ in other parts of the country, generally, Chicago apartment listings go up 30-45 days before the unit is available and most leases start on the first of the month.

5. If you have a friend or know someone who already lives here, get advice from them and learn from their experience! People love talking about their neighborhoods and places they have lived in the city. Talking to people who live in a neighborhood you’re interested in is the best way to get a feel of it. I also recommend walking around and seeing what shops or restaurants are in the area once you think you’ve found something. Grab a coffee, sit, and people watch for a bit!

Have any tips, tricks, or questions about Chicago apartment hunting? Comment below!  Also, check out the Graduate Relocation Guide for more information and tips.

P.S. Are you attending Pitchfork Music Festival next weekend? Be sure to stop by Columbia’s booth and say “Hi!”