This time last year I was freaking out about finding my first apartment. I had so many questions and concerns. After experiencing the process myself, I compiled a list of important things to consider when looking for your very first Chicago apartment:
Before you start apartment hunting, you’re going to need to figure out who you’re living with (unless you can afford to live on your own in which case proceed to #2). I don’t necessarily recommend living with your friends unless you have a close relationship where you feel comfortable being honest. I live with my friends currently, and for the most part it’s fine. Personally, I feel comfortable asking them to pick up after themselves or clean the mess they made, so if you do not have the ability to do that, I suggest finding people you are not friends with. There are Facebook groups like “DePaul Students Living off Campus” where DePaul students are constantly posting for roommates-joining that page is a must. If you feel comfortable enough, Craigslist is always an option as well. I think your best bet is asking around-who knows, that girl you talk to in accounting might also need a roommate!
2. What to look for
When you start your apartment hunting it’s important to know what you want. Make a list of “deal breakers”-components of the apartment you cannot live without. For my roommates our necessities were 2 bedrooms (preferably 3), one bathroom, easy access to the L, and under $1800/month. Other things you might consider: neighborhood/location, parking, pets, security, and proximity to grocery stores or restaurants. When you see an apartment that excludes one of your deal breakers, move on to the next.
With the previous step, keep in mind you might have to make compromises. If you find a great apartment that has how many bedrooms you need, is close to campus, and is in your price range, but the washer/dryer is not in unit-take it. If what’s missing is not a deal breaker-sign the lease because property is hot in Chicago, and if you don’t take it someone else will. No apartment is perfect, especially in the lower budget range, so be mindful, and remember this is your college apartment, not your dream home.
For my roommates and I, budget was our most important factor, our biggest “deal breaker.” Talk with whoever is paying your rent and determine how much you are comfortable spending per month. Then multiply that by however many roommates you have, and that is your total rent for the month. For example, my roommates and I did not want to spend over $600/month each ($1,800 total). When you start researching apartments, do not even bother looking at places above your budget. Make sure to note there may be additional costs like a security deposit, move in fee, or the first month’s rent due when you sign the lease. Signing a lease and moving in general have hidden fees, so make sure to factor those into your budget, and ask the landlord about these fees when you schedule a showing.
Time was one of the most stressful parts about apartment hunting. My roommates and I felt so anxious because we did not have an apartment set at the end of the school year. The thing with “real apartment hunting” is landlords list apartments that have lease starts only 1-2 months in advance. Other universities have their students sign leases in September or October, and then the lease starts the next school year. This is not the case in Chicago. Most apartment listings are short notice, so if you find a place in April, the lease might actually start in May or June. This is fine if you plan on moving in then, but my roommates and I wanted a lease starting August or September because we did not want to live in Chicago for that summer. This meant our hunting was pushed back until July.
A few additional notes:
My two roommates live out of state, so when school ended it was up to me to go to Chicago and find an apartment alone. When I met the landlord for each property I visited, I made sure to let them know my roommates were out of state and would need to sign the lease electronically. In most cases this is fine, but there may be a hesitant landlord out there, so be upfront and honest from the beginning.
Let your landlord know you have a cosigner. Unless at age 19 you have excellent credit, you will need a cosigner to sign the lease. Some landlords do not want cosigners, so be honest and let them know you will need a cosigner on the lease.
Be prepared to apply the day you visit the property. My current landlord told me there were serval other applicants for the apartment I wanted, but I applied anyway, and we ended up getting the apartment. Real estate works fast, so be prepared. Also note, a landlord may lie and say there are many applicants for the apartment, but don't let that deter you, he or she may just be saying that because they want you to commit early. (You should commit early, but don't think you should not apply becuase others have applied before you.)
Actually read the lease. If you don’t know how to read a lease, ask a family member or friend to translate the lawyer lingo. There may be important information hidden in the lease that you may not feel comfortable signing off to.
Good luck, and happy hunting!