Taking an approach that borders on being almost too nice, Madtown’s rental scene (stocked with an abundance of affordable houses, apartments and shared living spaces for the college set) is run by agents—not apartment brokers—that operate with a focus on quality service. They make finding a sweet apartment so easy it makes Sunday mornings seem stressful.
More than a Score: A good credit score is as important as a financial consistency. Unlike many other cities, many rental agents and property management companies look at your payment patterns when they run your background check in order to get a sense of your financial behavior—not just your overall credit score.
References Matter: Not only will many landlords and property managers call your previous landlords, they’ll also call your employers to verify income (an offer letter is accepted for people moving to the area for a new job).
Sort of Totally Ideal: Application fees (around $50) are often returned if you’re declined. If you’re accepted, this fee will be put towards your first month’s rent. That’s basically the most awesome deal ever created since man started charging man for temporary inhabitance.
Carved into an hourglass by Lake Mendota and Lake Monona—with Downtown running between them—the city’s East and West Sides are home to the majority of the student population and residential areas (not to mention significantly less traffic than Downtown).
East Side: Hip graduate students that migrate away from the University (particularly in Atwood/Willy) have made this area the hotspot for boutique shopping, co-ops, and an arty but easy-going bar scene. Expect: cute bungalows, lots of shared housing and a sprinkling of young families.
West Side: Home of the University of Wisconsin—Madison, the Westside is where all things college-related, like indie music venues, coffee shops, used book stores and co-eds, flourish. Overall the housing is—appropriately—geared toward students, so expect the associated shabbiness/ruckus. If you’re young, enjoy beer pong and/or don’t mind living with numerous other people inexpensively, call this side of Mad City your own. And whatever you do, make sure to check out the pocket of quirk that is Monroe (you can thank us for the tip later).
Isthmus/Downtown: Downtown, which looks homey yet cosmopolitan when viewed from across the lakes, is urban Madison. More crowded, stacked with modern condos featuring shimmering water views, sleek restaurants and a non-beer-centric nightlife help separate it from the rest of the city: this is where the grown-ups come to play and live. But since we’re in ma and pa country, even on this reed-thin slice of metropolitan glitz you can find plenty of dive bars, family-run eateries and the errant UW reveler.
The Minutiae of Madison
These details are the buttercream frosting on your insider-knowledge cake: enjoy responsibly.
The Seasons: You’ll hear this joke a lot in our town: “Madison has two seasons: winter and road construction.” And both of these “seasons” mean more traffic for you.
- Well, road conditions are bad in a city you can’t entirely plow after a foot of overnight snowfall. It’s also hard to drive on ice. What can we say? The winters are cray-cray. We hope you like your shovel. Remember your chains. Salt your sidewalks. Don’t risk a wreck if you’re not absolutely positive you’re an ace in the frosty weather and good luck.
- The two main drags through Downtown (East Johnson and Gorham) are both two-lane one-ways (running in opposite directions) and a nightmare during peak traffic hours (avoid!). The good news is you can take I-151 thru downtown to get from the East to West side (recommended). The bad news is they’re being resurfaced in 2014 (yay?). The so-so news is that they might be expanded into two-ways (we’ll see).
Convert Four Wheels to Two: You can blame the yucky road congestion, or the fact that the scenery is bonkers-beautiful EVERYWHERE, or the flat expanses, or the liberal atmosphere, but for whatever reason, Madison is a biker’s paradise with an inexhaustible number of trails. Join the movement to make friends, fit in, go green and get some exercise.
And remember: go Badgers!