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How to Find an Apartment in Chicago [Guide]

By: Sania Tran and Susan Finch
January 1, 2020

Making a move to the Windy City and wondering how to find an apartment in Chicago? Apartment hunting can be stressful, and moving to an unfamiliar place can make it even more daunting. Worry not, we’ve got you covered. Here is everything you need to find an apartment in Chicago.

Apartment Hunting in Chicago: Pick the right neighborhood  

Before you even start asking yourself “How to find an apartment in Chicago”, you need to get your priorities straight and pick a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle.

Living in Chicago comes with perks like lakefront views, competitive sports teams, and a fascinating past fueled by the misdeeds of Al Capone. Chicago also delivers on delicious food. You can enjoy everything from namesake hot dogs to deep dish pizza, sausage, and Michelin star dining options.

If you’re ready to move to the Windy City, you’ll have no shortage of fabulous neighborhoods and cultural diversity to choose from. Here’s where to get started!

1. Edgewater

If you’re going to live in Chicago, you should take advantage of sweeping views of Lake Michigan and its shoreline. Waterfront prices often come at a premium in Chicago.

However, Edgewater leans more reasonable than most. Avoid the tourist crowds at nearby beaches and settle in for a picnic with the locals.

The neighborhood is also undergoing a “Broadway Renaissance” with new businesses cropping up along this bustling corridor. Choose from mid- and high-rise apartment complexes to get the best views of beautiful Lake Michigan.

Edgewater is also popular with families looking for reputable schools and safety. Hop on the L Red Line or bus, and you’ll be down in the Loop or up to the Northern Chicago suburbs in no time.

2. Edison Park

Capture that suburban feel without leaving the city in Edison Park. Spend your evenings sampling the neighborhood’s multi-ethnic cuisine. You can also see a show at the Work-In-Progress (WIP) Theater, which is funded solely by donations.

The area is also home to the annual Edison Park Fest. There, you can experience live entertainment, cold beer, and carnival rides.

This family-friendly neighborhood is home to a mix of working-class people. They include police officers, young professionals, and families who send their kids to the well-regarded local schools in the neighborhood. Just hop on the Blue Line and sail into Downtown.

3. Gold Coast/ River North

If your ideal weekend includes fine dining, shopping, and hitting up the latest late night spots, Chicago’s Gold Coast and River North neighborhoods may be the perfect place for you.

Residents flock to the coveted street of N Michigan Ave, also known as Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, to enjoy their pick of luxury retail and name brand department stores.

Located right next to beautiful Lake Michigan, residents head to Oak Street beach to soak in the sun and cityscape views.

The area also hosts a variety of restaurants, bars and nightlife options. Many live in high-rise buildings with the amenities to match.

With such close proximity to Downtown Chicago, real estate there is in high demand and rent prices come at a bit of a premium compared to other neighborhoods. Yet, your daily commute is likely only a few L Red Line stops or scenic riverwalk away.

4. Hyde Park

Chicago may be windy, but nature lovers still need green space. Hyde Park is home to young professionals, University of Chicago students, families, and dog lovers who crave time outdoors and room to stretch out. Schools are well-regarded, and the neighborhood safety is reasonable and improving. That said, remain vigilant in Hyde Park’s surrounding areas.

Take your pick of single-family homes or apartment complexes with an east side shoreline. Rent prices are still relatively reasonable in comparison to other lakefront communities and northern neighborhoods.

The few miles to get up to Downtown Chicago are simple. Just hop on the L Green Line or bus to make your way across Chicago.

5.Lakeview

Given its namesake, it’s no surprise Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is well-regarded for its scenic views.

6. Lincoln Park

Just south of Lakeview, Lincoln Park is home to luxury condos, historic homes, and lakefront views. Lincoln Park is one of Chicago’s most desirable neighborhoods within miles of Downtown Chicago.

Named after the largest park in Chicago, Lincoln Park is also home to the free Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago History Museum, Nature Museum, and much more.

University students, young professionals, established pros, and families all call Lincoln Park home. Schools are well-regarded and safety is the norm.

Locals enjoy walking their dogs and strollers along streets lined with a mix of pricey single-family homes and luxury apartments. Take your pick of the L Red or Brown line and buses for an easy commute.

7. Logan Square

Welcome to the millennial paradise that is Logan Square. Here, you can be the first to try the latest trendy restaurant or bar.

Logan Square has that “anything can happen” feel. You can find macro, micro, and artisanal everything in Logan Square’s hip restaurants and eateries and music venues.

The self-proclaimed “Logan Locals”, include university students, boho-chic hipsters, and young professionals. As the neighborhood continues to grow in popularity so have its rental costs, but the neighborhood remains relatively affordable compared to its Red Line neighbors in Lincoln Park and Gold Coast.

This neighborhood is considered reasonably safe but, as with any neighborhood known for thriving nightlife, it requires caution when walking to your high-rise apartment complex or bungalow. Conveniently located on the L Blue Line, Logan Square is a quick trip away from Downtown Chicago or O’Hare International Airport.

6. West Loop

Foodies rejoice in an industrial area turned hip West Loop neighborhood where some of the best restaurants in Chicago call home. Locals eat their way through, the esteemed eateries of Randolph Street, also known as Restaurant Row. Then, they move on to pubs, bars, and music venues. You can also browse the vintage wares at the Randolph Street Market.

Young professionals, urban lovers, and die-hard foodies snatch up residential lofts, new apartments, and dog-friendly developments. West Loop is highly walkable to area amenities and nightlife.

However, it does require a proactive approach to safety. Take the Green, Pink, or Blue Line or hop on the bus to get around the Greater Chicago area.

7. Wicker Park/Bucktown

Young professionals flock to Wicker Park/Bucktown for bars, restaurants, and a laid-back vibe. Despite its hipster draw, families are still welcome in the neighborhood. There’s a wealth of quality schools to choose from.

Live music, whirly ball, and biking are also popular in this booming neighborhood. Hop on your bike and sail across the elevated trail at the nearby 606. This is also called the Bloomington Trail.

Residents choose from historic brick and stone homes as well as newer apartment complexes. This highly walkable and culturally diverse Chicago neighborhood is also considered safe and welcoming. Take the L Blue Line, bus or Kennedy Expressway for your transportation needs.

Determine Your Budget

The Chicago rental market is not as competitive as in other large cities. However, it can still be hard to find the perfect apartment in an ideal location on a budget.

Median rents in Chicago stand at $941 for a studio apartment, $1,093 for a one-bedroom apartment. A two-bedroom apartment will run you around $1,285 a month, and a three-bedroom apartment – around $1,644 a month.

Rents have increased slightly in Chicago in the past year. However, the Windy City is still more affordable than most other large cities across the country.

If these prices are well above your budget, consider looking at studios and micro-units. You could also consider getting a roommate.

Here are two tips to help you to determine your budget:

1. Use the 30% Rule to Decide What You Can Afford to Spend on Rent

The 30% rule that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses states that a household should spend no more than 30% of its income on housing costs. To decide how much money you need to make to rent an apartment in Chicago, we can use the 30% rule and the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

Do you want to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment priced at the median rent of $1,093? Then your gross income should be at least $3,643 a month. That comes out to $43,720 a year.

Do you plan on adding a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment priced at the median rent of $1,285? If so, your combined gross income should be around $4,283 a month. That equals $51,400 a year.

If you already know your income, try using a rent calculator to figure out your budget. Also see our suggestions for apartments in Chicago within your budget.

2. Consider Additional Expenses to Determine the True Cost of Renting

Oftentimes, people forget about all the costs associated with renting an apartment. Living in that dream Chicago two-bedroom costs more than just the monthly rent. Make sure to budget for those additional costs of renting an apartment

  • Application fee: Before you move into your new apartment, you’ll have to complete an apartment application. You may want to complete more than one if you want to have options. Many Chicago landlords ask for an application fee. It’s now always refundable. Application fees usually range between $25 and $100.
  • Security Deposit: Illinois law does not stipulate a maximum or minimum legal amount of security deposit. Therefore, the amount varies from property to property with the most common equaling one month’s rent. It is usually refundable, however, you have to be smart to get your security deposit back.
  • Pet Fees: If you’re in the market for a pet-friendly apartment, prepare to incur additional costs. The majority of pet-friendly apartment complexes require a pet deposit and/or pet rent.
  • Parking: If you have a car and decide on a neighborhood that doesn’t have much street parking, prepare to shell out around $100-$175 a month on a reserved parking spot in your apartment building. Also, keep in mind, you don’t really have to drive in Chicago. That is, unless you are going to be living in one of its suburbs. 
  • Amenities: Are you accustomed to having a free gym in your apartment building? If so, that’s definitely a cost you might overlook when searching for an apartment.

When is the Best Time to Move to a Chicago Apartment?

Before we get to answering “How to find an apartment in Chicago”, there is another important question to address – “When is best time to start apartment hunting?”

While the Chicago apartment rental market is not as competitive as in New York or San Francisco, it will still take a lot of effort and planning to find that perfect apartment for the right price.Looking for a good deal? December and January are typically the best times of the year to move into a new apartment.

Winters in Chicago can be brutal. The demand for housing during those months is usually low.

Let’s be honest, no one wants to move all their belongings during a snowstorm. Therefore, landlords may be more willing to give you a discount to fill their vacancies.

Keep in mind, though, more leases end during the summer. As a result, you’ll have a larger selection to choose from in June through August.

Commuting in Chicago

Chicago is ranked the 6th most walkable city in the country. It’s also #6 for transit-friendliness. 

If you work in the Loop, commuting there from most Chicago neighborhoods would take you around 30-45 minutes if you decide to use public transportation and take Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains or buses. Depending on traffic and weather, driving or taking an Uber would take you about the same amount of time.

Keep in mind that parking in the Loop can be expensive. The median hourly parking rate in downtown Chicago is around $17. The median daily rate is close to $30. So make sure to consider your commute before signing the lease on an apartment.

So…How to Find an Apartment in Chicago?

Once you’ve set your priorities, decided on the perfect neighborhood, and figured out your future commute and budget, it’s time to start apartment hunting!

Instead of paying a real estate agent, use Apartment List’s free search service to make your apartment search process seamless. Just answer a couple of questions on your preferred amenities, your commute preferences, and your budget. Then, we’ll match you with Chicago apartments that fit your criteria.

Prepare for Tours

To avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure to visit the apartment before signing a lease. Even if everything looks good on paper, come prepared with questions to ask before renting an apartment for your potential landlord. 

Applying for Your Chicago Apartment

Make sure to bring your paperwork with you on your apartment tours. In case you find the apartment of your dreams, you’ll want to secure it ASAP.

Most landlords and property managers will require your ID, proof of employment and/or income, and references. If you already know that your credit score isn’t the best, be proactive. Find a cosigner in advance.

Make sure to bring money to pay for the application fee. If you are a first-time renter, study up on the apartment application process.

How to Find an Apartment in Chicago and Avoid Rental Scams

According to a report by Apartment List, 36.2% of Chicago renters encountered fraudulent apartment listings. Additionally, 2.1% lost money to rental scammers. To avoid becoming part of that 36.2%, take the following steps when looking for an apartment:

  1. Visit the property in person
  2. Verify the landlord
  3. Talk to current tenants
  4. Rent from reliable property management companies
  5. Avoid paying with cash or a wire transfer
  6. Be careful with your personal information 
  7. Confirm prices and features before signing a lease

Additionally, make sure to check out a list of Problem Landlords published by the City of Chicago.

Here’s wishing you the Chicago apartment of your dreams!

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