Monday, February 4, 2013

On Finding A Place in Chicago

I think more practical posts regarding moving across the country would be useful, don't you?  So here's one about how we found our apartment.  We currently live in the Streeterville area in a high rise building with a doorman.  It is a quintessential city-living experience that we knew we wouldn't get anywhere else (since we have plans to move back to San Diego after his program is done), so we thought we would spend a little more on housing during his time here to be in the area we wanted to live in.  Plus, any housing in Chicago is still cheaper than LA (which is where I moved from, and was paying $1850 for a 2 bedroom/2 bath).  Additionally, having never been to Chicago before, concerns about security were eased with both the doorman and the proximity to touristy areas (which are usually pretty nice/safe because that's where much money is coming from).

 Before we moved, we made a list of things we wanted.  Mine included the following:

  • washer and dryer in unit
  • gym or pool (not that I planned on using the gym) as a perk
  • full walls--no studios (so we could close a door between the two of us for peace of mind, having never lived together before)
  • enough closet/storage space!  I have a lot of clothing.
  • safe location/close to attractions (attractions to me meant shopping)
  • close grocery stores
  • close to L (short for "elevated train" and sometimes spelled "El") stops for easy transportation
Once he found out he got into Booth, we booked a weekend trip to Chicago to look at places and so I could get to know the city in which I would be living for the next 3-odd years.  We planned a long weekend in Chicago (this was in July, so I could see the city in sunshine), and he booked a few appointments with a real estate agent.  Honestly, this was the best decision we could make--we used a variety of websites to browse places first, but the agent toured us around 4 different places and I liked 3/4 of them.  This was completely unexpected, because I'm pretty picky in terms of where I'm going to stay.  The best part was that we didn't have to pay the agent anything because she got a cut on the other end (i.e., from the person renting out the place), and we gave her our list of "wants" and she matched up what she could.  She also gave us more insider info on the different neighborhood options.

If you don't want to get a real estate agent, we used some of the following websites:

  • Craigslist
  • Housing Maps - this website uses Google maps and applies a really useful interface over it.  I used this a lot to map these locations on a personalized Google Map, where I put links to the Craigslist ad, etc. and any notes (e.g., old bathroom, lots of storage space)
Some of the places we looked had some great perks (washer & dryer IN the closet?!  Genius idea!!), but we ended up renting a place that is in a condo building.  We rent from the owner, who lives elsewhere.  The perk of this is that the Maintenance in the building is FANTASTIC--we email our landlord (i.e., the owner) and he often gets someone here to fix anything we need in the same day!  The building also has an amazing gym with a sauna, indoor pool, and weight room.  Pretty nice!

In terms of my list, we ended up giving up on the washer/dryer in unit.  Everything else on the list is pretty much hit--including close to shopping.  We are two blocks down from the Gap on Michigan Ave. (Magnificent Mile), and there are a number of Anthropologies within walking distance, as well as Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, and (my favorite!) BHLDN (the Anthro wedding brand).

One key discussion we needed to have with locals before our move (which we didn't have) had to do with "neighborhoods."  Chicago is comprised of a bunch of neighborhoods, all with their own distinct feel.  Streeterville has a very "downtown" feel, with downtown pricing (if you catch my drift).  Lincoln Park, on the other hand, has more of a homey vibe with brownstones/brick buildings, young post-college people, and cute shops.  I think it's also slightly cheaper, but I wouldn't really know considering I don't live there.  Old Town is an area that has also been recommended to us frequently; it's cheaper than anything more in the heart of downtown, but is close by the L.  Wicker Park is the more hipster area that is much cheaper living, close to a vibrant nightlife with bars and the like, but also a little less clean/sterile than the downtown area.  The Loop is a little more busy, with many residences mixed in with the downtown office buildings.  River East (New Eastside) is more subdued (and south of the river), with some beautiful lake views and access to a lot of big parks.  Fulton Market has a stretch of super nice expensive foodie dream's restaurants, but the places to live are tucked away and less of a neighborhood feel (this is where the meatpacking district used to be, so there are a lot of warehouses).  Anyway, I'm sure you get my point.  Like any city, you have to find the right place for you so you are happy there.  If you haven't found it, you won't like your stay.

Another consideration is parking: if you plan on bringing a car to Chicago, be prepared to pay a lot in parking.  We are renting a spot in our building for $200/month.  Anything downtown is pricey, especially hourly parking.

Readers--any other questions about living in Chicago or moving here?  I'm happy to answer any questions about prices as well.

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