So, you’re about to embark on the next chapter. With your college career almost behind you, it’s time to think about where you’ll call home as you launch your adult life. Chicago has much to offer young professionals and there’s no shortage of options to consider when it comes to housing in a city that boasts over 200 distinctive neighborhoods. To help sort out what will be the best fit for your post-college life, we’ve compiled a few things to consider before you start the apartment search.
An Imperfect Formula: Budget + Space
It’s likely that budget and space will be the biggest factors in where and how you live. A city as large as Chicago offers a wide range of housing options but the prescribed value and price tag can vary widely — and wildly. The average rental rate in Chicago’s market is $1,830, up from 8.2% from last year, but still faring better than other major cities in the country. When considering what works best for your current life and wallet, it’s important to take a hard, honest look at what you need vs what you want in your living space. You don’t want your entire paycheck to go to rent, and you don’t want to resent your housing choice, since you’ll be there for the length of a lease.
A room of one’s own might be enough for Virginia Woolf to get some work done, but is it enough for a bed, kitchen, desk, and a shoe collection? Some studios are light-filled and airy, others can feel like sad dungeons; some bedrooms might have extra square footage, but then lack storage space. The size and dimensions of apartments can fluctuate, so having an idea of how much space you need vs what you can comfortably afford is a good place to set your house-hunting parameters.
To figure that out, measure the dimensions of your moving must-haves, such as a bedframe, bulky furniture, and storage options for clothing and housewares. If you can, graph out your preferred sizing options to help keep the visual reality in perspective while shopping for apartments. Most importantly, be realistic with yourself. It’s easy to justify a small place by telling yourself you can pare down your life and live with less, but that takes discipline to maintain. Your home should be a relaxing place to recharge and rest, not a storage unit with a mattress.
If you love a neighborhood but can’t make the math work, consider finding a roommate or two. The price of units increases with the number of bedrooms, but you’ll be splitting the common amenities, like electricity, internet, and utilities. A larger unit will also offer common spaces, like bigger kitchens, living rooms, and outdoor space, so there is more room to relax and hang out, compared to a studio where all your living happens in one room.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Getting Around
Chicago is a highly walkable town — in fact, it’s the fifth most walkable city and routinely cited as a walker’s paradise because most errands can be done without a car. Furthermore, Chicago is one of the most connected transportation systems — between the famous El (elevated) train system, the crisscrossing bus network, Metra and Amtrak train service, and over 400 miles of bike lanes, getting around the Windy City is a breeze.
Having a car in Chicago can be helpful…as well as a hindrance. Street parking spaces are limited in dense neighborhoods with a lot of commerce, with specific rules for street cleaning days, winter season, and street closures for events. When looking at apartments, consider if you’ll want to shovel out your car in a snowdrift, join the Dibs winter games, or even deal with the risk of potential thefts, dings, and devalue of having a car on the city streets.
One of the best ways to determine accessibility is to map out the important destinations — workplace, grocery store, friends’ homes, etc — that you expect to be at often and explore which mode of transportation will be the easiest, safest route from various neighborhoods on a daily basis. Does a 20-minute commute on the El work for you? Do you want to be able to bike to the lake? Do you want to be able to walk to entertainment districts? Knowing these answers will help narrow the field.
Bright Lights, Big City: What to Do
Chicago is the third largest metropolis in the country, with a population of almost 3 million, and all those people need places to shop, eat, gather, and find support. The city has 77 community areas blending together, making it uniquely tailored to the history and residents of each area. Some neighborhoods are rich cultural hubs for different ethnic backgrounds, such as Chinatown, Little Poland, Devon Street, Beverly, and Ukrainian Village, to name a few; whereas other neighborhoods highlight their cultural diversity — such as Albany Park, Wicker Park, and Logan Square.
To suss out which neighborhood will best fit your lifestyle, consider how you will likely spend your free time. If you are a runner and look forward to collecting miles on the lakefront path, you probably won’t want a 30-min train ride to get there every day. If you like the bustle of nightlife and plenty of bars and restaurants, look into Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and River North. If you like more quiet and serene tree-lined streets, give Roscoe Village and Ravenswood a look. For an artsy, creative vibe, try Pilsen, Noble Square, or West Loop.
Home, wherever it may be, should be your personal haven, a place you find comfort and energy, happiness and calm. And making this big decision can feel daunting and overwhelming, so research is key. Learning everything you can about your next big move will help you narrow the options and hone in on the neighborhood that is the best fit for you at this time in your life. If possible, spend a weekend in different neighborhoods to see how it fits. Check out hyperlocal news outlets to see upcoming events and news, and follow Grotto Chicago on Instagram to see what real locals have to say about their ‘hood.
Wherever you land, know that the City of Big Shoulders is primed to give you a big welcoming hug.