Saturday, June 15, 2013

Apartment hunting in the city-advice on finding that perfect apartment within budget.

My first apartment in the city was in an up and coming neighborhood called the South Loop here in Chicago. It was fabulous-a two bedroom loft with a great rooftop overlooking the downtown skyline and walking distance to Soldier Field. It was about $1250 a month which I was splitting with a roommate. I was about to start graduate school and it was up my alley because all I had to do was hop on the #3 bus and I was there in no time. 

What I didn't know that even though I was splitting the rent with a roommate, the numbers added up quickly when you threw in utilities such as heat, air, gas, electricity and so forth. Also, I had a car and paid about $100/month for parking which is normal where I come from.

Let's just say I burned through my savings really fast. Sure, it was conveniently located downtown, and super close to my school, and in a great great neighborhood, very close to Michigan Ave. and all its perks. I suppose it was ok for those couple years of graduate school but before you know it I was moving back home with my parents for two years. When I got a job after grad school and moved out to the city again, I was able to not make that same mistake again. Here is some advice that you should follow when finding that perfect apartment in the city...

First of all, get a job. You are probably thinking wait a minute, I thought this was about apartment hunting! I am mentioning the job part because the job you are going to hold while living in the city will set the bar for how much you can and should spend on an apartment. Once you land that job take a look at your monthly budget and see how much you can incorporate your rent without going broke at the end or even worse, owing more than you can afford. I did have a Hosting gig downtown that paid decent but I was BARELY making ends meet, even at times here and there had some financial help from family. Ouch. 

When I moved back to the city I played it smart this time. Since I was jobless for 10 months, I only had a couple thousand in my name when I did land that new job. I opted for a small studio in a not so glamorous neighborhood but still close to public transportation should I want to go downtown or any other parts of the city where all the action was. I had free street parking, and my utilities were included in the rent which is a HUGE plus and can save you a ton of money if you can find a place that includes heat, air, gas and electricity. 

Everybody's situation is different. If you have been saving a good deal of money prior to your move to the city-great! You may be able to go a little bigger than a studio. But you should still have a stable job lined up because I am telling you right now, you will burn through your savings fast living in a big city. The savings should be there as an emergency fund should you for whatever reason lose your job or something unexpected comes up. 

Don't listen to your friends or peers or even that roommate you have lined up that they want to go "big" in an apartment in a ritzy part of town. That is what I did and I regretted it. Their financial situation could be different than yours and maybe they can afford that pricey apartment in that high rise downtown. Don't do it.  If they are your true friends, they would understand. When I first moved, I had also heard that there were many people from my high school that also moved to the city. Before you know it, they were back in my hometown because they all decided to live in a trendy part of town known for it's pricey real estate and shopping and most likely, burned through their money pretty quickly. Let's just say they don't live in these parts no more.

My view from apartment #3 before I bought my condo-not shabby and within my budget.

So if you can find an apartment within your budget, that includes heat, air, gas, electricity and free parking, you are off to a great start. Also, keep in mind that you will most likely need to put down a security deposit plus one month's rent in some cases. If you can try to find an apartment where you won't need to do this, great, but the odds can be pretty slim that you can find a landlord that doesn't require this. I heard every state can have different tenant laws too so check with your location on what those tenant laws are, there may not be such a requirement. 

So here are some tips to think about in summary:

1. Get a job lined up.

2. Take a look at how much you bring in a month and base your rent off of that, leaving room for expenses such as groceries, insurance, student loans, car payments etc.

3. To get more bang for your buck, find an apartment that includes heat/air, gas, electricity and possibly free parking if you must bring your car. If public transportation is available and you work in the city I highly suggest you drop the car which can really save you a ton of money on gas, insurance, and parking.

4. Consider living in a not so popular part of town. Usually the touristy parts are more expensive.

5. See if you can find a roommate that can split the costs even further, but if they don't match your values on finding an apartment within budget, then I would stay clear of them and go solo if you have to.

You want to have money left over so you can enjoy your new city! If your entire paycheck goes to your apartment, enjoying the city will then have its limitations, and that is no fun, you moved here to experience the city, not to be confined in it!

If you have a particular place in mind and not sure if you can afford it, email me or write in the comments below-I can help! I will give you that no nonsense answer that you need, not what you want to hear. Tough love here :-)


  1. What great tips! It sounds like your second apartment was a really wise choice.

    1. I was glad I found it when I did-it helped me save enough money when I eventually purchased my home :-)