Category Archives: New to Chicago

Students are Back!

Students have a lot on their mind, especially ones new to the city.

Renting a place for the first time in a new city can be stressful and a challenging.

Here are some common problems, and how an agent can help.

1. They don’t know the month they’re moving, or if they’re even moving at all!  They don’t know where to start.

This is how an agent can help: I can let you know when is a better time to move as far as when you’d have more options (September over October) and how far in advance to start looking (about two months). The important thing is to be settled before classes begin.

2. Some students have come to me saying they want to spend “$x/person” but they’re not sure if  their friends will be moving with them. “Studio or three bedroom” is not a number of bedrooms.

This is how an agent can help: I can’t find an apartment that is at the same time a studio and three bedroom. Get non-flaky friends. The positive side to living with others is that the price per person goes down.

3. They don’t know how much they can spend or what they can get for the money.

This is how an agent can help: Thirty percent or less of your income is what you can spend. Start there. And Lincoln Park is more expensive than Rogers Park. Walkable areas always cost more. People underestimate Craig’s List to do a survey of what’s out available.

Finding a place in a new city can be tough. We’re here to help.

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Why Making Appointments “Just to Look” Before You’re Ready to Move is Stupid

People do this because:

1. They like to feel like they’re getting their best for their money.

2. They like going to open houses just to “see what’s out there.”

Don’t do this. Why? Because:

1. Why worry about what you “could have” gotten? You’re not going to get it. It’s like researching  for a vacation you’ll be taking five years from now and expecting rates to stay the same.

2. You can “see what’s out there” by using Craig’s List. Granted, sometimes the information isn’t completely accurate. But you can ascertain the bare facts.

In short, the only thing looking at an apartment is good for is to ‘get a feel’ for the place and confirm what’s in the ad to see if you could live there. And those things don’t matter until you are actually looking for a place to live.

Lost in Chicago: California Blue Line Logan Square

Some call this area “West Bucktown” some call it “Logan Square.” Either way, here’s what to do:

Best Place for Ears: The Congress Theater is actually a music venue. Like may Chicago music venues, it’s very pretty-ugly inside. It used to be splendiferous, and now is looking a bit worn, a neighborhood staple with noise violations.

Best Place for Eyes: No art galleries around here (yet.) There’s a store front on the 2300 block of Milwaukee that has weird art-things in the windows, like enormous origami paper cranes.


Best Place for Noms: Taqueria Moran. The mouth waters thinking of this place. So good. Get the sope with the pollo desembrado. Because there’s mole sauce. This place also has beer! It’s cheap, no frills, delicious. I hope it stays here forever.

Noms Honorable Mention: The tie is between the Boiler Room and Revolution Brewery. Boiler Room wins because they manage to make pizza not boring, and even if they don’t make their own beer like Revolution, they win because they don’t have sports on TV. Be advised that it’s cash only.

Best Place after a Long Day: The Two Way at Fullerton and Milwaukee. There’s a great mix in this bar- everyone drinks here. Sometimes there’s a special: a pitcher and two shots for $8.

Long Day Honorable Mention: Cole’s Bar. Grungy, hoodie, feels familar even if it’s your first time there. Plus, pool tables.

Best Place for Brain: Go to the corner store and practice your Spanish reading skills. They’ve got interesting candy and food there, and exposing your brain to new things makes you smarter.

Brain Honorable Mention: Sorry, you’re out of luck. Vas Foremost Liquors has a great selection to help you kill it.

Best Place for Coffee: Cafe Mustache. Because it’s the only place for coffee (besides Cozy Pancakes and Taqueria Moran), and their website is very cute.

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How to Not Go Insane Looking for an Apartment

Yes, it’s real. BLOB MONSTER!! (at 400 N Noble- at Hubbard)

The reasons that people move can be spiritual or practical, but are usually both. They want to find the perfect apartment where they feel comfortable, yet also want a place that speaks to them and their dreams. They’re afraid to narrow it down to Andersonville when they fear their ideal apartment could be languishing in Lakeview.

 I get people looking all over the city for apartments. When I ask them to narrow down what they want by neighborhood, they name about half the neighborhoods in the city.

It’s absolutely insane to think that naming half the city counts as “narrowing it down.” But I totally get it because I’ve done it myself.

Home is an expression of self, and helping someone find a place can be personal. The reality is that location is the most important thing. If you’re looking all over the city, it means you’re still in the start of your search, and the idea of what you’re looking for hasn’t gelled yet. When you’re in this stage, you’re not ready to actually look at apartments in person.

I’ll just tell you now to save you the trouble: you’re probably in the right neighborhood where you live now. Visit other neighborhoods, don’t move there. Here’s a post about exceptions to this rule.

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If You’re From Out Of Town: Weirdness About Looking for an Apartment in Chicago

I get a lot of calls from people out of town. They don’t understand the rental market in Chicago- how could they? They’re from out of town.

Here are some scenarios I’ve come across a few times. Maybe they’ll be beneficial to you.

1. I had a client looking for a place in Wicker Park- two to three bedrooms, dining room, lots of space, close to the train, parking spot included. For $1100. I absolutely did not laugh. I tried to let her down gently. She didn’t know how expensive Wicker Park was compared to other neighborhoods, but she had heard good things about it. If you’re not familiar with Wicker Park, a rehabbed, nicer vintage 1 bedroom will be about $1450 in a prime spot (pictured below.) I told her if she wanted to stay at that price and still have space and amenities, she might be better off looking further north or west, as Wicker Park is a very popular (read: expensive) neighborhood. We worked together to find a place that could accommodate her budget and preferred amenities.

Click on the picture. It's available for a move in on 6/1/12.

2. I had someone looking for a place in “West Chicago.” Turns out that that’s actually a suburb north and west of Chicago. In the city where he was from, searching for the major city also included apartment options in the suburbs. Google searching for “apartments in Chicago” will not turn up suburban options. A suburb of Chicago is not Chicago. Be specific in your Google searches.

3. Dogs are harder to find an apartment for. This surprises people who are downsizing from a house and moving into the city. Some have even been surprised that an extra deposit and/or fee is required. Everyone who has a dog insists that they don’t bark, and that they’re well behaved and trained. Landlords have heard it all. It only takes one tenant to let a dog ruin a place for the landlord to say “never again,” unfortunately. And if your dog doesn’t bark when you’re home, it surely barks when you’re out. Other tenants will have a problem with that.

At the end of the day, you get to pick two out of three:

(a) cheap price

(b) upgraded loveliness and amenities

(c) prime location

Part of the fun of the hunt is seeing where you can get the most for your money. We can help you with that. Give us a call (773) 697-5100.

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What’s the Best Neighborhood in Chicago?

What’s the best neighborhood is like asking who would win if Han Solo and Chuck Norris got in a fight. It’s a bargument; there’s no answer.

Do you like to walk to a restaurant, stuff yourself, and then walk home?

Are you a fan of bacon?

Do you need live music in your life?

Do you want to be able to have wine or beer delivered to you?

Do you want live poetry, music, or art with your coffee?

Where should you live? Well, what is important to you?

Do a Yelp search (or Google) and see where there’re more live music venues, bacon infused cocktails, restaurants. Only you can decide what is the best neighborhood for you.

However, have caution in making your life too convenient. One of my clients told me that he lost weight while living in the suburbs. I asked him how that was possible given that there’s more driving and less walking. He told me that he always went out to eat due to the plethora of good restaurants within walking distance, so he never stayed home and cooked; thus the weight gain. I myself live near an amazing gelato place. Because its such a temptation, I sometimes wish I didn’t.

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How Soon is Too Soon?

When should you start looking for an apartment? Whenever you want.

Look at all the myriad apartment websites that are out there. Swim. Bask. Imagine.

If you want to make an effective use of your time, though, probably two months in advance at the earliest. Why?

Because landlords usually find out if their tenants will be moving out around that time. Also, because there is turnover in what’s available. What’s available in, say, summer, will be rented by fall. I got an email from one person looking with a move in date nine months from now wanting to make appointments to look at places. I guess this is common practice in other cities, but you don’t need to do that here in Chicago. Also, if someone has a ‘flexible’ move in date, I tend not to believe them. If you don’t have a move in date, you’re still in the swim/bask/imagine period. Committing to a date (give or take a bit) is essential for success.

Landlords are looking for tenants who can move in right after their other tenants move out, so as not to skip a month of rental income. If you’re not ready to move when an apartment is ready for new tenants, there is no point in looking at it in person. The rental market changes drastically and frequently in summer. More units are available and get snapped up as quickly as they come on the market. Once I rented an apartment that had only been on the market for 7 hours.

If you have questions about the rental process, please feel free to contact me: 773-697-5100. I’ll do my best to help.

Happy hunting!

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Bad Rental Advice

Sometimes I think I’m too exacting or specific when giving advice a client about how to find a place that’s right for them.

Then I meet someone who I have to remind that the goal of looking is to find something. Any activity without a defined goal is pointless. You’re just going to waste your time.

If you’re not an expert (and if this isn’t your job, you’re probably not an expert) it’s important that you find someone you can trust to educate you about what’s available.

That’s my job. For example, radiator heating will be in older buildings, new construction usually has granite and stainless steel, and if a place is pet friendly it might not be as nice.

granite, stainless kitchen

This unit is not pet friendly

Examples of bad advice:

1. Take your time: Once I showed a guy and his roommate a place in a very popular neighborhood for a great price during high season. I rented it the next day. Two weeks later, they decided they wanted to take it.

2. Assume that once you get in to the apartment, all the things you didn’t like from the listing will fade away: If you need an apartment at a lower price but can’t stand garden apartments, the apartment will not un-garden itself once you’re in. This is a hard one to face.

3. Say you don’t have pets when making an appointment to see a unit that doesn’t allow pets, then after the showing admit that you have a 60lb dog: Your agent should know how serious about pets the landlord is. It’s best to be up front with their agent so they can do some negotiating for you. Some have a $2000 fee if you bring an animal into a building.

4. Assume you’re going to find a place outside your preferred neighborhood. I think I’ve beat this topic to death.

5. Don’t tell the agent you have Section 8: This is bad advice because the buildings have to be certified for Section 8 compliance. A landlord doesn’t have to certify their building. Even if you like the place, you can’t use your vouchers.

Getting into a place and looking at an apartment will not help you if you don’t know what you want. Talking about needs and wants always helps my clients get a clearer visions of what their needs are, and brings us closer to finding a solution that works for them. Have a vision first. Then start looking.

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Dangling Uvulas and Your Apartment Search

It can be disorienting to move. Here’re a few tips on how to read listings:

-In Chicago, most listings don’t mention appliances. This is because appliances stay in the unit for the next tenant to use. In the some areas of California, tenants must bring their own appliances from apartment to apartment. Be glad we’re in Illinios.

-Even if the ad doesn’t mention them, the landlord is responsible for water, sewage, and trash removal.

-If a client is looking for a newer building, utilities are almost never included in the rental price. If heat is included, that usually means an older building with radiator heat- no granite and stainless steel. The exception to this is a high rise. I’m guessing it would be too much of a hassle to bill everyone separately for their energy, so the landlord just includes average usage with the rent price.

Being unfamiliar with the area can make decisions about where to live very difficult. Some clients are afraid to narrow their search because they don’t want to rule out anything just because they don’t know what’s normal. Here’s an example of some bad rental advice. When I have a client moving from out of state, it’s my job to make them comfortable with what kinds of apartments they’ll find in this city. One guy got so comfortable he started telling me about his surgery for his dangling uvula, which was both horrifying and fascinating. (Meeting people with interesting stories is a definite perk to the job!)

uvula diagram

This is a uvula (from

He also told me that he liked hardwood floors, preferred to ride the EL to work, and didn’t have pets. I found him and his no longer dangling uvula a nice gut rehabbed place in Logan Square.

If you have any more questions about the rental process or would like to get started with your search, contact me.

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How to do the Craig’s List Scan

The Craig’s List Scan is the foundation first step of any apartment search, especially if you’re new to the city. You will feel better having done your research, and more ready to pounce when you see something good.

There’s no secret stash of apartments that are cheap, good looking, and in the best location ever. There’s just not.

During the summer, people just look at apartments every weekend for several weekends in a row. Even if they see the perfect one, that only convinces them that there must be something better.

In general, places are priced at what the market will bear. The Craig’s List Scan will give you an idea of how much things cost in a neighborhood. If something’s cheap but looks really good, it’s because the area or amenities aren’t popular. If an apartment looks amazing in photos and seems to go against this general trend, check it out. It will end up going with the trend.

So how do you search the seemingly infinite number of listings? Type in your max and minimum rent, number of bedrooms you want, and click. This will help show you what you can get for which neighborhoods.

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