Apartment hunting in Chicago can be a contact sport. Prospective renters have to be ready to move quickly for prime spaces — especially in the May-through-August peak season, when roughly as many leases are signed as in the other eight months of the year.
Yet there’s a difference between being quick and being in a hurry. These tips will help you feel nimble instead of rushed.
Know When to Get Serious
Rents in most cities tend to be cheaper from December through March. If you don’t have the luxury of moving in that window, remember that there’s a window regardless.
Most listings get posted not much more than a month before they’re available. Looking more than two months out from the day you want to begin your lease might seem like a good way to secure the best place well in advance, but you’re more likely limiting your options.
Nonetheless, shortening your search window doesn’t mean you can’t plan for that moment.
Getting Ready to Get Serious
- Get a broker. An established real estate agent will know neighborhoods, buildings, prevailing rates and typical amenities, and can help you negotiate. This professional can also help you differentiate between wants and needs. Before signing on with a real estate agent, though, meet him or her to assess your compatibility and whether you’ll be a priority.
- Pick a neighborhood. Do you value access to the lakefront? Do you want to be able to walk to your job in the Loop? Do you hope to be near the Blue Line for easy travel to O’Hare, or the Red Line to get to Wrigley? If you have kids and pets, schools and parks rate high. If you don’t have a car, easy access to shopping, dining and entertainment hold sway.
- Make a list. Budget isn’t the only item. Is a second bedroom more important than a balcony? Some renters would gladly trade a view for a parking spot, others would never consider it. Would you rather have a gym or a doorman? A shared rooftop deck or a personal storage locker? Does it matter if the laundry is in-unit or merely on-site? If you can’t find a place that checks all the boxes, you should know which boxes are musts and which are bonuses.
- Ask questions. Sometimes, “pet-friendly” means cats are OK, but dogs aren’t. Chicago has brutal winters and humid summers, so how is the apartment heated and cooled? Also, can you test the air conditioning? Are days and times excluded for moving? Do you have to reserve an elevator or parking on move-in day? What are the rules regarding security deposits and other potential fees? It also doesn’t hurt to ask if a building — especially new or recently renovated or sold ones — are running any sort of promotion that might benefit you.
- Have your paperwork ready. You should be prepared to apply as soon as you see a place you like, or risk losing it. Most apartments will require:
- Application or processing fees
- Three recent pay stubs as proof of income
- First month’s rent and/or security deposit upon approval
Getting It Right
Just remember, a wrong choice on a residence can make a lease feel like a life sentence. Proper planning can give you the luxury of being picky — and being confident enough to make a move the moment you see that perfect pick.