Anyone familiar with Chicago or its suburbs already knows that life is a bit more expensive in and around the Windy City than it is in other Midwestern haunts, and Des Plaines is no exception. The city’s cost of living index, which takes into consideration expenses for necessities like utilities, groceries, and Bears tickets, is 21 percentage points higher than the national mean. However, if you’re accustomed to big brother Chicago’s pricey standards for apartments, Des Plaines is actually quite a steal. Studios can be found in the $700 range, modest 1BR units are often available for $800 or so, and even a few 3BR family-style apartments currently go for as low as $1300. If you’re the high-rolling, big-balling type, meanwhile, you’ll be glad to know the city is also equipped with some super-lavish, ultramodern, uber-spacious luxury lofts in the $1700-$3700 range.
No matter what type of apartment you decide to call home, though, make sure to give it a good once-over before settling in, since a few clunkers are mixed into the Des Plaines apartment scene as well. Check the pipes, sinks, and faucets for leaks and drips, make sure your utilities and appliances function properly, and examine the walls, ceilings, and floors for cracks, watermarks, and other blemishes. Des Plaines apartments, for the most part, aren’t falling apart by any means, but less than 5 percent of all housing units were constructed in the past 15 years. Obviously, older units can have major and minor infrastructural and cosmetic pockmarks that newer ones don’t, so again, inspect your new place carefully, preferably with an objective third party, before taking up residence.
Renters are a bit of a rarity in Des Plaines, which is dominated by homeowners who account for nearly 80 percent of residents. That doesn’t mean, however, that apartments are slim pickings or vacancies are hard to come by. In fact, most properties have units available year-round. Because there’s no distinct renting season in Des Plaines, however, renting rates rarely fluctuate, so don’t bother holding out for a better deal later in the year once you’ve found an apartment you can’t live without.
The ambiance and landscape in Des Plaines is a little different than many other northern Chicago suburbs. Much of Des Plaines remains dotted with farmland (moo). Other neighborhoods resemble any other slice of modern American suburbia, while still other parts of town, particularly the inner core, exude a decidedly urban vibe. Des Plaines is one of the rare Chicago ‘burbs that has housing for everyone, whether you’re looking for a low-income Section 8 slum apartment (and who doesn’t love a good slum apartment these days?!), a cozy suburban crash pad, or a lavish downtown high rise that would make even Oprah jealous. Ok, maybe not Oprah.
Crime rates, meanwhile, certainly aren’t out of control in Des Plaines, and you won’t find any East St. Louis-esque danger zones, but we still suggest spending plenty of time in a potential neighborhood to make sure you’re comfortable with it before signing your John Hancock on a lease agreement.
A common complaint among Chicagolanders is that Des Plaines, because of its proximity to the airport, tends to be both noisy and congested. Others insist such claims are extremely exaggerated, but again, the best way to find out whether or not a neighborhood is right for you is to see it with your own eyes (and hear with your own ears, in this case).
Economically speaking, the city received a gargantuan boost in July of 2011, when the nearly 150,000 square foot casino and entertainment hotspot, River Road Casino, opened to rave reviews. The facility has pumped tons of greenbacks into the Des Plaines economy and bolstered the local workforce, which also leans heavily on local petroleum, medical, and educational employers to bring home the bacon. Factor in an endless number of job opportunities throughout the rest of the Chicago area, and you shouldn’t have any problem paying your rent and saving a pretty penny or two at the same time.
Because much of Des Plaines is extremely spread out and characterized by strip malls, wide roads, and long distances between residences and businesses, most locals rely on their own set of wheels to bum around town. Our advice: Use your own gas guzzler to travel throughout Des Plaines itself, but avoid a daily, soul-sucking dose of gridlock by using the Metra commuter train when you want to go into Chi-Town. Even though the Loop is less than 20 miles away, drivers often find themselves gripping their steering wheels in bouts of white-knuckled rage for more than an hour before completing their journey. The commuter train is a particularly ideal option for downtown apartment dwellers who enjoy the benefit of living within walking distance of the Metra terminal.
If you want a mega-dose of culture and nightlife, your best bet is hitting up Chicago, but that doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, make Des Plaines a mere “bedroom community.” Numerous eateries, specialty shops, galleries, and drinking establishments dot the downtown streets. Live music venues, sports bars, and unique restaurants are spread throughout the city as well. Des Plaines is also home to a variety of outdoors attractions, including two park districts that cover more than 700 acres of land and include numerous hiking, biking, and horseback trails, two golf courses, and a family aquatic center.
And now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s do what we do best and find you the dwellings of your dreams. Welcome aboard and happy hunting!