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