Comprehensive Guide to Finding an Apartment in Chicago

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There are lots of quality apartments for rent in the city and beyond. I’m sharing my guide and checklist to give you get the best tips on finding an apartment in Chicago and live in one of the best neighborhoods.

A Methodical Approach to Finding an Apartment

If you are considering an extended vacation stay, or you are a Chicago expat, finding an apartment that suits your needs is key.

You probably feel overwhelmed with the thought of finding an affordable place to live. I started searching too after putting our home on the market and thought “…geez, why are Chicago apartments so expensive?”.

Then I remembered the time when I searched for an apartment after college. After seeing three or four prospects, I couldn’t remember one from the other. I felt so disorganized. So, I created a worksheet to help me with finding a cheap apartment in Chicago. And it worked!

I figured out what criteria was important, what information to capture after each apartment visit. I filled out the worksheet while viewing so that the data would be accurate, and I wouldn’t have to rely on memorizing the details.

Is Chicago an Affordable City

chart of rental costs
Source: Zumper

Absolutely! The cost of living in Chicago is affordable when you consider similar metropolitan cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

According to the New York Times, these cities have the highest one-bedroom rentals in 2022. It is a bit comforting to know that Chicago is not in the top 15 list of cities.

This data confirms that apartments for rent in Chicago are not as expensive in comparison to other metropolitan cities.

How Much Can You Afford for an Apartment in Chicago

As a rule of thumb, the monthly expense of an apartment rental should be about 30% of your total monthly net income (after taxes are paid).

When I used this calculator and worksheet, I found it helpful to stay within my price range. That doesn’t mean you have to use the full 30% so be conservative with the percentage that you choose.

Here’s why. Rental expenses will start to increase after a year or two. You should always store extra cash, when possible, for unexpected costs, like a broken microwave or car repairs.

For that reason, I recommend 25% of your monthly net income.

Use this calculator to determine how much your monthly rental expense should be and tell me if it works for you.

This amount does not include other expenses like homeowner’s insurance, groceries, gas, entertainment, etc. This amount will only cover the cost of the dwelling, plus basic utilities (e.g., electricity, gas, water, and heat).

If water is already included in the monthly rent, that’s great. Keep the wiggle room and stick to the monthly percentage that you are most comfortable with.

Monthly Rent Calculator

Enter Net Monthly Salary: $ (Whole number only)
Salary Percentage: 20% (Use slider to adjust)

Maximum Monthly Rent =

The Best Neighborhoods to Live in Chicago

There are 66 Chicago neighborhoods in total. Some neighborhoods are enviable and highly desired in Chicago, but the apartments are quite pricey.

Downtown Chicago (also called the Loop) is centrally located. The city extends to the north, south, east, and west sides. Each side is named for its direction from the city center and each side has its neighborhoods.

The most visited neighborhoods are touristy and more expensive. They include Downtown (The Loop), River North, Streeterville, Old Town, the Gold Coast, Central Station, the South Loop, Printer’s Row, Greek Town, and the Near West Side (also called West Loop or Fulton Market).

If you have a generous income and want to be in the trendiest part of Chicago, these neighborhoods should be among your first choice.

If you are looking for lower price points, your best deals will be found on the outskirts of Chicago.

Living in Chicago has great advantages and can offer many experiences that add to the quality of life. Also, where you live can be extremely important, but finding an affordable apartment doesn’t have to break the bank or be a headache.

There are lots of quality apartments for rent in the city and beyond. I’m sharing my guide and checklist to give you get the best tips on finding an apartment in Chicago and live in one of the best neighborhoods.

How to Find an Apartment in Chicago

As with any commitment, there has to be some due diligence so that you know what you are signing up for. I have a friend who lives in a building, and she is scared to death of dogs. Every time she gets on the elevator, she met another tenant’s fur-baby.

This is a killer worksheet and it the information collected is thorough. When I used it, apartment owners and rental agencies thought I was a building inspector with the city of Chicago.

The apartment finder worksheet was created to help you dig into the details of what it will be like to live in your rented space. So give some thought to the must-haves, and would-like-to-have, add them to the worksheet (if need), then follow this process:

1) Decide what neighborhood you want to live in? Are there public transportation stops nearby? What kind of commute do you want? If you are like most who work from home, it may not be a critical criterion.

2) Decide how much you can afford to spend and want to spend on the monthly rental and stick to it. Listers will try to upsell you!

3) Use the apartment worksheet to keep track, rate, and compare rentals. When you visit, take photos if needed to remind you of things you like or don’t like in the rental. Also note the square footage of the rental. If the square footage is on the high end, make sure it accounts for livable space instead of a long hallway.

4) If you make an appointment for a second look at the apartment, try to schedule it during a different time of the day (e.g., after school or during rush hours). It will give you a different perspective of your surroundings. Note if there is ongoing construction in the area.

5) Lastly, be prepared to make a decision. If there is high demand in Chicago apartments for your price point, make sure you have everything you need (e.g., payroll stubs, bank statements, and other financial documents) to seal the deal!

empty apartment with closet doors

What are the Best Apartment Rental Websites

If you want to know how to find apartments for rent, the best source is through advertisements. Some websites are popular within the US like Apartments.com but don’t stop there.

Check local media publications listings like the Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Reader. We also recommend a search on Craigs List for Chicago apartments.

Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

You should be prepared to ask questions during the tour of the apartment. It will help you in the decision-making process. Here are some questions to ask, especially when renting for the first time:

  • Are you allowed to paint the walls?
  • What’s the policy for visitors and their parking?
  • What happens if I need to break my lease?
  • Is there a move-in fee?
  • Are there restrictions (e.g., no waterbeds)?
  • What is the grace period for late payments?
  • How much are late payment fees?
  • How far in advance must I give notice?
  • Can I sublet the apartment?
  • What utilities are covered with rent?

When your lease has expired and you want to renew, you may even want to ask if you can negotiate a lower rate for a longer lease (assuming you have established a good leasing relationship).

Final Thoughts on Renting an Apartment in Chicago

Don’t let the price of renting turn you away from Chicago. Many people choose to live here for its convenient access to cultural attractions and employment opportunities. To add, an apartment in Chicago can serve as a comfortable and convenient home base for exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

Just keep in mind that securing an apartment in Chicago’s popular neighborhoods may require acting quickly due to competitive rental market. So, before signing a lease for an apartment in Chicago, it’s important to thoroughly inspect the unit and understand the terms of the agreement.

Don’t forget to subscribe for more information. Here is the apartment hunting worksheet that you can download.

Happy apartment hunting!


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