Treasure Hunt : Chicago Apartments

In Chicago you have a few options for living situations:

- Apartment

- Condo

- Single Family Home

The majority of the 20-40 somethings I know go with an apartment. It is temporary, nothing is your responsibility to fix or maintain, if you find a nut-job roommate off Craigslist you ONLY have to sleep with a knife under your pillow for one year.   Water off a duck's back. 

A year in, I have lived in two apartments here - The first I left because of "louse" issues. Coming from small-town Ohio, I was not prepared to shop around for the things I assumed came standard in an apartment because I never really had to - it was typically trashy, so-so or nice. I promised myself that the next time I box up and scoot into a new pad, I would be prepared and know exactly what to look for/consider & what absolutely won't work.  I'm clearly not a pro but I'm one particular guy and I pride myself on having a comfortable home. 

I present you with:

My Guide to Neighborhood

Apartment Hunting in Chicago 

Important Terms (and what they really mean)

• Charming - Small

• Vintage - Old and probably a bit busted

• Renovated - New Microwave

• Easily Accessible - Within 1 mile

• Carpet - Run. Run away fast. 

A lot of the apartments buildings here are very old.  At least the structures are old. Now one of the things I do love about Chicago is that there is always a building somewhere being completely gutted and renovated beyond a new microwave or light switch cover.  The masonry and architecture here is pretty much stunning as well and there are a lot of hidden treasures tucked into random nooks and crannies. 

Old units, while they have their charm, come with a slew of issues with which you might not be accustomed to dealing...

Vintage

Old Pipes

Garbage disposals became more readily available in the 1940-50s but that doesn't mean they were installed or, if they were, updated in apartment buildings. Pipes gunk and close off smaller and smaller until they are almost unusable without the assistance of a plumber. Some landlords will pay for a visit and some won't. Check for a garbage disposal and know that if its not there, u need to be careful what goes down the kitchen drain. If you cook a lot, that could definitely end up an issue.  I don't know about you all but those little drain catcher things that let water through but hold all the food parts... gah-ross.  That totally freaks me out touching a bunch of cold, wet food nibblets.

 Water is always included in rent in Chicago so check how everything drains. Just pretend to use the restroom or I mean, I guess you could actually use it but they still might wonder why you turned on the sink, shower, and flushed the toilet.

Paint/Fixtures 

The walls and baseboards in a vintage unit have probably been painted 100 times. Anything like a built in cabinet or old French doors will probably have that thick-with-paint look and stick whenever you open or close them. Don't expect clean lines and the paint is usually super glossy white.  I mean will this affect your living situation?  Not necessarily.  But depending how old the building is and how it settled you can have separations between baseboards and the floor WHICH can lead to bug problems.  Also, buildings in the 1950's weren't made to accommodate 6 TVs, a computer, 8 iPhone plugs, etc. There usually isn't an abundance of electrical outlets peppered throughout every room so keep that in mind when you mentally place you furniture. 

Water Pressure

Water pressure issues happen more often than not. Older buildings can have TERRIBLE water pressure. Ever tried to shave or shampoo your hair on a campground and rinse off in front of a mist of needle-water from those terrible, cheap shower heads?  Yea, that's what was in my new apartment and it was a complete gut/remodel. Thankfully I was able to really address the problem with a replacement shower head from Bed Bath & Beyond for about $60. This clearly doesn't affect the water from the sinks though or if you have a dishwasher or washing machine in your unit. This is another easy thing to check for when you're taking the pipes for a test drive. 

Sound

Things are gonna creak.  They might even rattle, bang, shebang, wiggle, and thwack.  Wood floors are great for cleaning reasons but if your upstairs neighbor does... well, anything, you're probably going to hear it.  Babies crying, dogs barking, sex (sounds hot in theory but you end up feeling like a fucking creep even when all you're trying to do is read the latest issue of Marie Claire).  If you check out a new place in the day this is going to be a hard one to judge but if you can get in around 6ish you should be able to get a good idea of what goes on after dinner.

Careful Considerations

Location

If you don't have a car the CTA becomes your lifeline. Or is it the bane of your existence...?  Either way your distance from the train will factor into your daily commute, the noise level from the tracks, your rent, and your neighborhood. 

I lived very close to the tracks at first and I couldn't open my windows without hearing trains zooming by. Trains are not quiet. But I was 100ft from the entrance so I was basically home as soon as I got off the platform.  When I moved I went to a location that's about a 7 min walk to the nearest platform. Doesn't seem like a lot but if you miss that one train you can be standing there for another 7 minutes and u just added 15 to your daily commute. 

Most people live close to the redline followed by the brown and blue lines. Rent tends to be more expensive near the red line, being the main north to south line in Chicago #convenience. The further north and west you go the lower your rent but clearly the longer your commute to do everything centrally located off the redline.  

Floor

It matters.  Garden units are darker, usually have tiny windows, are more susceptible to bug infestation AND they are easier to break into.  Personally I couldn't imagine feeling like I am living in someone's basement but I think the pull is that they are usually a little less expensive.  

The higher up you go the hotter your unit is going to be and in a vintage building with radiator heat it can get PRETTY toasty up in there.  I prefer the highest possible unit because of noise.  Ever had a morbidly obese person stomp around on your ceiling at 2:30 in the morning?  Yea, me too until I snatched 'em up and hung them out to dry... and by that I mean I just laid in bed and talked shit about them to myself until I passed out again.

I've had two apartment buildings and I have seen roaches in both of them on the ground levels.  While roaches don't always make it up to the tip top of the buildings if they do regular, monthly spraying, you might save yourself a headache by trying to make it up as high as possible.  This, of course, hinges on whether or not it's an elevator building which I'll get to in a few secs.

Phone Reception

Look at your phone. Does it work?  Does it work in the bedroom but not anywhere else?  Are you going to have to keep it on a window ledge to make sure you receive your texts and phone calls?  The nice thing about some phones is that they enable wi-fi calling which can be a quick fix. It's nice to know this before you lie down in bed for the first time in your new place and realized your phone is basically only good for an alarm clock. 

"LUXURY" Items

No, I don't mean angora stolls and crystal chandeliers. Air conditioning/Central Air, washer/dryer hookups, a dish washer, a separate kitchen/dining space and/or a kitchen with grown-up sized appliances - all examples of things you shouldn't expect to find unless you are WTP... Willing. To. Pay. 

Kitchen

If your appliances are smaller some of your cookware might not fit.  If you cook a lot (everyday) you could find yourself washing dishes for hours a week without a dishwasher. Walking down two floors to do laundry isn't too bad until you start losing dollar after dollar in broken machines that don't drain the water out or dryers that don't get hot... Plus you start finding random panties stuck in your pillow case which makes me a little uneasy. #bedbugs

Central Air 

You nasty beast. Since when did u become reserved for the elite?! Chicago isn't always hot but when it is, expect to sweat through you sheets, take cold showers, and walk around completely naked STRICTLY out of necessity. Some buildings let u install window units and some don't. Some make u pay to have one and some will let you buy your own but schedule a time for maintenance to install it. I thought I could make it this year... I got to June 23rd and refused to go anymore.  

Radiator heat comes with its own set of special characteristics too. First of all a radiator is hot so yes, you CAN burn/melt things on one. They can also bang if cold water stays in the pipes when the hot steam starts to go through it. They hiss, they make bubble sounds, they can melt your floors if the building uses laminate rather than hard wood and they can warp hard wood if they leak. Keep it in mind when ur placing furniture bc whatever is by it is gonna get warm. 

I woke up once bc I rolled over and slapped my foot right on it.  Just right down on it. 

In Unit/Building Laundry

I would say 85% of the buildings I have seen have an in-building laundry area. That can mean a few things:

1. It's in the basement of your building and you can reach it from the interior

2. It's in the basement of your building and you can reach it from the exterior

I have been fortunate enough to live in buildings where I could walk downstairs to the laundry room which has about 3 washers and 3 dryers. More expensive buildings (closer to downtown) have larger and newer facilities where you could be looking at about 8 washers/dryers. Now if you're someone who just throws it in and forgets it, the location of the facility probably doesn't matter BUT if you're like me laundry can go a little like this:

- Haul everything downstairs and hope the washers are free. 

- Load em up and then hope the washers actually fill with water after you've put in your money. 

- If they fill up you have 18 minutes before you have to come back down and pour in your fabric softener (I don't care what you say - dryer sheets do NOT make your clothes soft). 

- If the washer is broken and doesn't drain you get to wring everything out, put it in a laundry bag and wait to switch it into a washer that does work in another 20-25 minutes. 

- Come back downstairs and switch everything into dryers. You can select the temperature setting but it's usually, in reality, "Hot", "Super Hot", and "Surface of the Sun".

- Come back down in an hour and haul it all back upstairs 

NOTE:

I would not recommend leaving soap, softener, or quarters unattended or leaving your clothes in a machine too long. Even in a 3-5 floors low-rise people are fighting over the machines. 

If your laundry room is accessible from the exterior just know that your "commute" time is going to be even more and you will have to deal with going out in the dark and the weather. Ever had to wear snow boots to walk and snatch your whites?

Laundromats are my favorite (always have been) because you can wash 12 loads at once and be done in two hours PLUS you can watch Spanish soap operas. If you do a load once a week though you can alleviate a lot of this hassle but who has time for that?  This is Chicago and we've all got fun shit to do. 

Elevators

If you are in the market for a smaller building in one of the neighborhoods you may or may not have an elevator.   On a normal day it's really just a minor inconvenience. On moving day, though, it can severely affect your progress and level of perspiration. Are you moving yourself or are you hiring movers?  Will your furniture fit up the stairs?  You are going to have to put down a move-in deposit but if you bang the shit out the stairway you might not get it back. 

Grocery day can prove difficult as well.  I have a small cart I can use when I really need to stock up but then I'm wheeling 75 pounds around with ease and giving myself a hernia walking up 4 flights of stairs.  It also can become an issue if you have someone elderly visit who can't easily go up and down stairs or if you travel a lot and have to travel with medium or large suitcases. 

I don't even have to revisit the laundry situation if you're on 6 and it's in the basement, right?

In Building Maintainence/Management 

My first building didn't have it and my second did. There are actually differences in renter laws that hinge on whether management is located on the premise:

If your management is on-site it seems to be a "better" option. There is always someone in the office to address issues or concerns, it's easy to let someone know about a repair that needs to be done, and the small things tend to be handled a bit faster. There is also somewhere to have packages delivered. 

Now... I'm gonna be honest here - dealing with any kind of landlord is a fucking nightmare. Sometimes things get fixed if they HAVE to be fixed but other things can still fall in the cracks. I've been where I am a year and I still don't have my name in the call box outside but they installed my AC the same day I called.  Pick your battles?

Conclusion

Whew!  So hopefully this gave you a bit of insight into apartment shopping in Chicago neighborhoods.  As I said before - I'm no pro. This is a blog and it's just for fun but if I missed something you have experienced drop me a line!

Happy hunting folks. Good luck. God speed. Mazel tov.