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City Guide
Basic Tips on Chicago Living

Everyone knows you don’t put ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dog, and everyone knows that trying to travel through Wrigleyville during a Cubs game will be a mob scene. Here are a few other bits of city-specific advice for fledgling Chicagoans. Though renting stand-alone houses is definitely not unheard of here, the most common living arrangements are apartments and condominiums, the latter of which are sometimes rented out privately by their owners. The range of styles, ages and quality amongst them, however, varies depending on where you’re looking and how much you’re willing to spend. Knowing this, how on earth do you even get started?

How to Find an Apartment

It’s always best to know what you want in an apartment first. What’s important to you? What’s your price range? Are you willing to sacrifice size for location? Do you want a vintage flat, a hole-in-the-wall studio, or an updated 40th floor pad with a panoramic view of Lake Michigan? One great thing about apartment hunting in Chicago is that there are multiple services that will take down all your criteria, and then drive you around the city to see multiple options, free of charge. Of course, there are always Internet listings, newspaper ads, and for many areas, a simple walk through the neighborhood to glimpse “for rent” signs will suffice.

Chicago really has no defined “rental season”. Apartments are available year-round, though if anything, there are more options and they tend to go quicker and rent higher in the spring and fall. During these seasons, you’re more likely to lose a good dwelling to another contender if you don’t act fast. Renting a place out in the middle of January may give you a price or time advantage, but moving a couch up to the fourth floor of a walk-up building when the back staircase is covered in ice may also cause you to think twice.

What to Expect From A Chicago Pad

Quality and Style: As previously stated, Chicago has every type of dwelling imaginable, though different neighborhoods and price ranges will yield different results. Multi-unit high-rise buildings usually have amenities included, such as a concierge/doorman, a communal rooftop deck, a pool, or a fitness center. These types of buildings will also have more restrictions or fees for moving in and out. Older buildings with radiator heat will often have gas and heat included in the rent, which is a huge advantage in the winter months when heating prices can break $150 - $200 or more a month. Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find an apartment in the city of Chicago that requires you to pay your own water bill.

Common Logistics: A 12-month lease is standard, though occasionally a larger company will throw in financial perks for signing a longer lease. Short-term or month-to-month leases are hard to come by unless you’re subletting or renting from a private landlord. As far as security deposits go, the standard is equivalent to one month’s rent. More and more often, though, management companies are requiring a non-refundable move-in fee (usually between $150 and $300 per person) instead of a security deposit.

Your Renting Arsenal: Here is a list of common things that will be required for a rental application:

  • Photo ID for all applicants
  • It’s perfectly normal (especially with management companies) to require a $25 - $50 non-refundable credit/background check fee per applicant.
  • Expect to provide information on an application including (but not limited to) current employer information, financial information, previous landlord contact information, and personal or professional references.
  • Many larger management companies will require previous bank statements or pay stubs as proof of income
Chicago Neighborhoods

Within the city of Chicago, there are over 200 unique neighborhoods that are fluid and socially constructed, each with their own quirks and day-to-day life. On a much larger (and more general) scale, the city can be broken up into four massive sections. Consider this a “jumping off” point in finding your ‘hood. Once you decide which side of the city is best for you, look into doing some research on that area’s neighborhoods to find the best fit. A semi-official map of Chicago’s neighborhoods can be found here.

The Loop: The central hub of Chicago, dubbed “the loop” due to the circular path that the elevated trains take around it, is mainly considered a commercial area. It boasts the quintessential Chicago landmarks, including skyscrapers, museums, Grant and Millennium Parks, a theatre district, and a large shopping district. Housing in the loop tends to be sparser and located more toward the perimeter. This area is bustling during the day. Living spaces are compact high-rise condominium and apartment buildings. Generally, the further your living proximity from the loop, the lower cost, more spacious, and more “residential” your apartment will tend to be.

North side: Closer to the loop and Michigan Avenue’s “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. There are many town houses around these neighborhoods, too. As you continue north, rent drops a little and the streets become tree-lined, yet population rises considerably. The north side, as a whole, is the most densely populated section of the city, especially along the lakefront. This area has a lot of neighborhood amenities, parks, and nightlife. It boasts a pretty even number of two and three-flat buildings, vintage courtyard buildings, and high-rises of all different types, with pockets of single-family homes woven in.

South side: The south side covers a much larger land area. Some parts of the south side are quaint, residential communities, and some are rather old and historic.The neighborhoods here have more single-family homes and smaller buildings. Millions of Chicagoans still call it home.

West side: Just west of the loop has historically been an industrial zone; the famous Chicago Union Stockyards were once located here. Closer to downtown, you’ll find loft-style condominiums and old warehouses converted into restaurants and galleries, as well as one of the largest medical districts in the United States. Further out, more stand-alone houses, town homes and bungalows appear.

Urban Circulation

If this city had a heartbeat, its veins would be rich with commuters. The question is really not whether you’ll be able to get around the city, but how you will get around the city. As with any metropolis, Chicago is easily walk-able, but some distances are just too far.

Public Transit: Chicago has the second largest public transportation system in the United States. Eight train lines (both elevated and underground) and over 140 bus routes operate daily all over the city; some run 24/7, others only at peak hours. For commuting further from the city limits, the regional transit authority operates 11 Metra rail lines and suburban buses that service over 200 stations in cities ranging as far as southern Wisconsin and northern Indiana.

Biking: Chicago is a big city for biking (surprisingly) year-round. Bike lanes can be spotted along many major streets. Bike paths also run along large portions of the lakefront for a more leisurely commute.

Driving: Generally one of the least desirable forms of transportation in Chicago, yet a lot of people still do it. Finding an apartment with a designated parking spot can be difficult and pricey in many areas of the city (think an extra $150 - $200 a month for a spot in a parking garage or outdoor lot), and street parking is a cutthroat battle. Don’t even get me started on driving through the city at rush hour. If you need to have a car in Chicago, be forewarned that it will probably become very expensive and frustrating very quickly.

Chicago is rich in history and culture, while still being a modern city. With this much variety, you’ll be able to find the right place for your lifestyle or budget, all within an exciting urban setting. Hopefully this guide has given you a more concrete idea of what to expect and how to get started on your search. Happy hunting!

Rental Price Monitor
February 2015 Chicago Rental Price Monitor

Rent Growth: Chicago vs the US

February rent for a 1 bedroom unit in the city of Chicago averaged $1610, while 2 bedroom rents averaged $1700. Across the Chicago metro area, average rents were $1650 for a 2 bedroom, which is more than 1.7 times the national average.

Rent in the Chicago metro has fallen significantly since the middle of last year and is now down 0.1% year over year, based on 2 bedroom units. By contrast, rents have risen 2.7% nationally.

Rents in Top Chicago Suburbs

Nine out of ten of Chicago’s top suburbs have rents above the national average. Here are some key statistics:

  • Oak Park is Chicago’s most expensive major suburb, with 1 bedrooms averaging $1570 and 2 bedrooms averaging $1560. Oak Park has shown the biggest decline since February 2014, however, with prices down 5.5%.
  • Directly behind Oak Park for most expensive Chicago suburbs are Naperville ($1470) and Wheeling ($1450). Prices in those cities are also among the fastest-growing in the area, with Wheeling marking the biggest spike since 2014 at 10.2%.
  • Elgin is the only city in the Chicago metro area with 2 bedroom prices below the national average. Rent for a 1 bedroom averaged $770 in February (compared to a national average of $890), while 2 bedrooms averaged $930 (compared to $960

Top 10 Most Expensive Chicago Neighborhoods

  • The Loop is Chicago’s most expensive neighborhood. The neighborhood averages $2100 for a 1 bedroom and $2870 for a 2 bedroom. That’s 69% above the city’s average 2-bedroom price.
  • Lawndale is up 12.6% from February 2014, the biggest increase of any Chicago neighborhood. With an average 2 bedroom price of $930, however, it is still below the national averages.
  • The most affordable Chicago neighborhood is West Englewood, which averages $750 for a 2 bedroom. That’s 28% below national averages and less than half the cost of the average 2 bedroom in the Chicago metro area.

Full Data:

City Median Price (1BR) M/M Change (1BR) Y/Y Change (1BR) Median Price (2BR) M/M Change (2BR) Y/Y Change (2 BR)
Chicago $1610 0.3% 1.5% $1700 0.2% -0.7%
Oak Park $1570 -2.7% -1.0% $1560 -1.9% -5.5%
Naperville $1230 -0.7% 3.4% $1470 1.2% 4.6%
Wheeling $1390 0.2% 12.4% $1450 -0.2% 10.2%
Lombard $1130 0.3% -0.2% $1380 1.6% 0.5%
Schaumburg $1100 0.0% 5.0% $1250 -1.3% 1.7%
Arlington Heights $1360 0.9% 7.5% $1210 0.7% 4.0%
Carol Stream $940 -2.1% 2.0% $1190 -1.0% 5.9%
Westmont $940 -0.3% 5.0% $1140 0.1% 5.4%
Neighborhood Median Price (1BR) Median Price (2BR)
The Loop $2100 $2870
Near North Side $2040 $2810
West Loop $1950 $2700
Near West Side $1940 $2630
Goose Island $2170 $2500
West Town $1900 $2480
South Loop $1710 $2240
University Village - Little Italy - $2170
Lincoln Park $1500 $2150
Bucktown $1750 $2000
DePaul $1450 $2000
Jefferson Park $1250 $1800
Lakeview $1300 $1780
North Center - $1730
Ukrainian Village $1200 $1680
Ravenswood $1150 $1600
Roscoe Village $1250 $1600
Wicker Park - $1600
Uptown $990 $1520
Avondale - $1500
Logan Square $1060 $1500
Pilsen - $1400
Bronzeville $1010 $1350
Irving Park $880 $1350
Albany Park $980 $1300
Humboldt Park $1770 $1270
Hyde Park $1050 $1270
Edgewater - $1250
Lincoln Square $950 $1250
Kenwood $1060 $1220
Kilbourn Park $790 $1100
Old Irving Park - $1100
West Rogers Park $950 $1100
Portage Park - $1030
Belmont Gardens $830 $1000
West Garfield Park - $1000
West Pullman - $960
Englewood $650 $950
Grand Crossing $650 $950
Morgan Park - $950
Washington Park $800 $950
Woodlawn $800 $950
Back of the Yards - $930
Bridgeport - $930
Cragin $860 $930
Lawndale - $930
Marquette Park $630 $920
East Garfield Park $720 $900
Brainerd - $880
Burnside - $860
Park Manor $650 $860
South Chicago $610 $860
Austin $700 $830
Calumet Heights $650 $820
South Shore $660 $810
Chatham $650 $800
Chicago Lawn $620 $800
Gresham $670 $800
Roseland - $800
Avalon Park $650 $760
West Englewood - $750


Apartment List RPM data is drawn from several hundred thousand monthly listings on our site. All average prices are calculated as the median for the specified size and time period. For top city rankings, we calculated median 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom rents in 100 top cities and then ranked them by 2 bedroom rents. Price changes are calculated using a “same unit” methodology similar to the Case-Shiller “repeat sales” home prices methodology, and averages are not value weighted.