Nancy Negotiator (young professional working downtown) did a killer job finding a 1-br apartment in a Gold Coast high-rise. Most interesting about her process is that she negotiated with her landlord for a full kitchen renovation (cabinets, counter tops, and appliances) prior to her move-in at a low additional rent cost. Here’s how she thought about and executed her search process:
Nancy, you’re clearly an ace apartment hunter and you seem to have enjoyed the process. What do you like apartment hunting?
I think housing is cool and like any millennial I enjoy watching HGTV and fantasizing about living in an awesome apartment/condo/house. Every couple of days I like to spend 30 minutes or so browsing apartment listings, and I hope that every housing move I make will be an upgrade. I check listings regularly to:
- Get a sense of what you can get for your money in different Chicago neighborhoods.
- Get ideas for great neighborhoods/buildings/apartments in which I could someday live.
- Imagine living in awesome places that I’ll never be able to afford.
The process of actively looking for a new apartment is exciting because I get to apply what I’ve learned through this passive searching and dig deeper on neighborhoods and buildings I really like by actually getting out and visiting places.
I want every move I make to be an upgrade!
For how long have you nurtured this minor obsession with Chicago’s apartment rental market?
I’ve lived in Chicago for 4 years as an adult and have lived in three apartments in two different buildings during that time. My minor obsession began on day 1 and shows no signs of diminishing.
So what were you looking for during your most recent move that landed you in Gold Coast?
My criteria were as follows:
- 1 br
- Doorman (living solo as a female makes this important)
- Less than $2,000/mo
- One of the following neighborhoods: Old Town, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast
What resources did you use on your search?
To find apartments listed by single-unit owners: I mostly look at websites Zillow and Urban Real Estate for these types of places. Craigslist is OK but you really have to dig to find good places.
To find apartments listed by building management companies: I just googled buildings I had heard about during my passive reading and buildings friends had recommended. You see some managed listings on Zillow, Craigslist, etc. as well.
What are your impressions of the current state of the market?
Really seems to vary neighborhood-to-neighborhood, but the near north (Old Town, Gold Coast, etc) 1br market seems to be pretty expensive at the moment.
There seem to have been a ton of new high-rise buildings constructed around town during the past couple of years and I wonder who’s supposed to be able to afford all of these units. I suppose prices for high-end luxury buildings should drop as the supply builds, who knows.
What has been your experience with brokers?
I did not use brokers during this apartment search. I used a broker when I first moved to Chicago and had a terrible experience – the broker didn’t adhere to my criteria when selecting units to show me and then pressured me hard to sign a particular lease when we finally found an apartment I liked.
I went so far as to back out on an apartment he had found me for which my application had been accepted because I decided after submitting the app that I had been hustled.
Brokers’ incentives are obviously misaligned – the first thing this guy did once I indicated interest in a place was to get on the phone with the landlord and start negotiating his commission while I stood there watching him.
So then how were you introduced to your new landlord in Gold Coast?
I called the building’s leasing office and scheduled my own appointment.
Tell us about your new apartment.
- 1 bedroom on an upper floor
- $1,850/mo plus utilities
- $740 “rent credit” applied against my second month
- Application fee: $350
- Security deposit: First month’s rent
- Move-in fee: None
- Move-out fee: None
- 18 month lease (I signed a lease this long in hopes of getting off the summer rental cycle – I think there’s more value to be found during the winter months)
What sort of people live in your apartment?
Seems to be upper-middle class professionals, but trends younger.
You successfully negotiated a full kitchen renovation – How were you able to do so?
The property manager showed me a few different units and I found myself facing a tricky trade-off. I could have a units with either:
- Hardwood floors throughout the apartment but an out-dated kitchen, OR
- Carpet throughout the apartment with a renovated kitchen
I really wanted hard wood floors but the available unit with these nice floors had a nasty old kitchen. I told a good friend my dilemma and she responded: “Why not just ask them to fix the kitchen?”
The brutal simplicity of my friend’s suggestion blew my mind, but I tried it and the manager said “Sure, we’ll do that if you pay us an extra $50/mo in rent.”
I countered: “$30/mo extra and it’s a done deal.”
The building manager agreed and the following work is being done in preparation for my lease start:
- New appliances (refrigerator, range, microwave)
- New cabinets
- New counter tops
- New sink and faucet
The aggregate additional cost to me is 18 x $30 = $540, which I think is a great price to pay for a new kitchen.
Do you have any advice for fellow Chicago apartment hunters?
- Look at a lot of places (certainly online but ideally in person) before you rent.
- Decide what’s important to you and be willing to pay for that (e.g. I paid a premium for a doorman).
- Keep in mind the fundamental trade-off you’ll always have to make:
- Neighborhood v. location in neighborhood v. fit and finish v. age
- Because of market conditions now seems to be a good time to rent a high-rise!