Tuesday, January 29th, 2019
The Chicago real estate market is abundant with opportunities and competitors who are ready to jump on that perfect pad. Before you sign a year lease, make sure you know what to look for (and what to avoid) when apartment hunting in Chicago.
Here are the top 15 tips we give our clients:
1. Know what you want (and what you can afford). Before you even browse listings, think about what you want and what you can afford. How many bedrooms? What amenities? Vintage building or new luxury condo? Look at your budget and determine what you can realistically afford. If you start searching without this data, you run the risk of falling in love with someplace you can’t afford.
2. Start your search early. Savvy apartment hunters leave themselves two to three months to find their next Chicago apartment, so they can see what’s out there and find something ideal. The Chicago real estate market can be tight. Waiting until the last minute may not give you as many options
3. Look in spring or fall. Summer is the most popular move time in Chicago, which means peak competition and pricing. If you can move in spring or fall, you’ll enjoy better inventory and may even save money.
4. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Yes, you can still get a good deal on a Chicago apartment, but there are many scams out there. Use your discretion. If something feels off about the landlord or the situation, trust your gut. If an apartment is listed for way below market price, then it might not be available.
5. Don’t overlook hidden costs of commuting. If you work across the city, you’ll have higher commuting costs. Over the lifetime of your lease, you will pay hundreds of dollars more in commuting fees. Crunching the numbers puts that in context and can help you decide what’s a better deal — that perfect apartment on the outskirts or the runner-up that’s walking distance from work.
6. Never overlook the neighborhood. There are tons of great neighborhoods in Chicago, but not all are right for you. It’s better to have a good apartment in a great area than a dream apartment in a neighborhood you don’t enjoy.
7. Work with an apartment company. Navigating the rental market yourself is stressful. Get help from an apartment company that knows the Chicago real estate market.
8. Ask about AC. In Chicago, you need an air conditioner, yet not all buildings come with central air. Always ask, never assume. If there is no central air, inquire whether the landlord provides window units (and if so, how many) or whether it’s your responsibility. If it falls to you, measure the windows and make sure they accommodate a standard unit, so you don’t have to purchase a pricey specialty unit to beat the heat.
9. Check the water pressure. Check the water pressure — make sure you have more than a trickle before moving in.
10. Don’t try to hide bad credit. If your credit is poor, it will come out sooner or later. Be upfront with your real estate agent, so he or she can identify landlords who place less importance on a credit check.
11. Drill down with crime data. Chicago neighborhoods can vary block by block. Rather than be spooked over something you hear, check the crime statistics for your block and the surrounding areas. CLEARMAP from the Chicago Police Department is one tool to use.
12. Never pay cash. Think about it: If someone is asking for cash for first, last and security, he or she doesn’t want a paper trail. What is the likelihood that he or she is a legitimate landlord versus a con? The Chicago area has seen many scams where someone rented an Airbnb apartment and posed as a landlord advertising a rental. If someone needs immediate payment and asks for cash, find a store that sells money orders and keep the stub as proof of payment.
13. Be ready. Competition is steep. When you find a place that fits your criteria, do your due diligence, but do it quickly. If everything checks out, take the apartment or someone else will.
14. Always read the lease. Even if a landlord tells you the lease is boilerplate, read it and make sure you understand what you’re signing. Some landlords require tenants to pay a portion of maintenance costs. If so, this should be written in the lease.
15. Always get renters insurance. Not only is renters insurance required by many landlords, but it’s the best way to safeguard your possessions from theft or damage and protect yourself from liability. You never know what could happen, so don’t go without.