Finding a new place to live can be a daunting experience, especially in a large city. You peruse through Craigslist, newspaper classified ads and web pages for weeks without finding what you're looking for. You can even walk through potential neighborhood blocks, scouring for a "For Rent" sign and then cold-calling apartment managers and sub letters. You can walk all over town, from the good side to the bad. OR: You can just have someone else do it.
This was my conclusion the second year I lived in Chicago. After a year of living with roommates and spending at least two hours a day commuting to my work in the North Chicago suburb, Evanston, I was ready to be on my own and to cut down my time spent going to and from work and home. But there was just too much information. I saw an ad for an apartment finding service. The only stipulation is that you pay your first month's rent when signing the lease, rather than waiting for the first of the month (this is their fee). Other than that, they did all the legwork. Checking with friends, one who lives in New York City advised me that they don't have the greatest selection and can be very pushy. Needless to say, I was hesitant, but I also was beginning to feel desperate.
After filling out a lengthy application detailing my income, work background and previous rental experience, they sat me down with a consultant. Together we mapped out which neighborhoods I wanted to be in and how much was I willing to spend. I wanted to be near the CTA Red Line, the elevated train branch that ran into Evanston. I couldn't go over $750 a month etc. We scheduled for an agent to pick me up from my apartment that following weekend and check out some of the various listings.
My agent, Dylan, picked me up that following Saturday. He had six apartments he wanted me to look at, most in the Ravenswood and Uptown neighborhoods of North Chicago. Being driven around was terrific. Dylan was far more interested what sort or music I listened to than selling me an apartment I didn't want. However, what my NYC friend said turned out to be true: All six of the apartments we looked at had serious flaws. One was across the street from one of the loudest 4AM bars in Chicago. Another one had been put under contract 10 minutes before we were scheduled to look at it. I was beginning to despair.
After the sixth apartment, Dylan said there's one more he wanted me to check out. It was in a very nice neighborhood farther west than I wanted and well above my preferred price range, but I didn't see the harm. The end to my story is, of course, this particular apartment was perfect. Big windows, pretty courtyard, calm neighbors who were my age. I immediately asked to put this under contract for me.
So, as my epilogue, I ask you, reader: Would I have found something better on my own? Something cheaper or closer to work? Although they take a great deal of pressure off finding a place you'll like and can live in for a year, you might be missing out on something you love.