Tag Archives: room sizes

Pig Latin: Confusing Chicago Regional Real Estate Terms

We Real Estate folk talk pretty funny sometimes. Here’s some terms that are often confused, even by supposed “professionals.” Today I’m going to be discussing how they should be used within the Chicago regional real estate market. I’ll also give some warnings as to how the terms are misused by certain real estate practitioners who don’t know their stuff.

Deposit vs Fee. A deposit is basically collateral. It’s held for a specified time period and returned to you if you behave yourself. A fee, on the other hand, is never refunded. I have unfortunately seen terms such as “non-refundable deposit” get tossed around, which is just outright incorrect.

Deposit vs. Down Payment. For first time renters, it’s easy to get these two terms confused. For rentals you put down a security deposit. For new home purchases you put in a down payment. I’ve heard many prospective renters ask me how much of a down payment is required by the landlord. While it’s pretty easy for me to translate in my head, those renters immediately give away their lack of experience in the market.

Eaves, Fascia, Soffits, Gutters and Downspouts. The eaves are the part of a roof that stick out from the side of the building. The roof will have a certain amount of thickness to it, meaning that it doesn’t meet up with the wall in a perfect point. The fascia spans the gap between the roof and the wall like a bandage. If your roof protrudes substantially from the side of your house, you will have a soffit underneath the overhang. This is another “bandage” to cover the gap underneath the roof. A gutter is a semicircular tube that runs along the point of an eave furthest from the building where the roof and the fascia meet. Water collects in the gutters and runs through them to a central drainage point. Connected to that drainage point is a downspout, a vertical tube that runs down the side of the building.

From renovationexperts.com. You’re welcome.

Scavenger. When you’re looking at a real estate listing in Chicago, “Scavenger” is the term used to refer to trash collection. As a general rule of thumb you will not have to pay for trash pickup if you’re renting in Chicago. If you’re a homeowner in a building with fewer than seven units the city will provide pickup, covered by taxpayer funds. If you’re owning in a larger building your trash collection will be outsourced to a third-party hauler. The cost will be included in your assessments. Some new Chicagoans will interpret “scavenger” to mean pest control. Don’t confuse the two terms.

School District vs. School Attendance Boundary. The entirety of the Chicago public school system is referred to in state terms as “District #299.” You heard right. Every public school student in Chicago is in the same district. However, some of the schools have geographic attendance boundaries. If you live within those boundaries, your children will be expected to attend the designated neighborhood school. However, in many cases you can opt to send your child to a different nearby school, a magnet, or a charter.

Ceci n'est pas un ranch.

It’s a penthouse! It’s a garden unit! It’s all of the above!

Penthouse. In television lingo a “penthouse” refers to a single unit protruding from the roof of a skyscraper. They’re usually large and luxurious, and possibly the only unit on that particular level. Chicago uses the term more generically. A penthouse in Chicago real estate refers to any top floor property in a multi-unit building.

Rehab vs. Renovation. There was a time when “rehabbing” a property meant a whole-hog, full-on repurposing of a failing structure. Rooms were moved around, entire sections of wall were replaced. Renovation, on the other hand, took a property in decent but dated condition and freshened it up with new finishes and modern amenities. The two terms are now used interchangeably. If you see that a property was “recently rehabbed” it could mean something as basic as replacing the carpet in a couple of rooms.

We’ll call it the Amy Wine House.(Too soon?)

Dining Room. I’ve discussed my issues with counting rooms before, so I won’t dwell on this. It will suffice to say that with “combo” dining rooms a viable option in real estate listings, all a “dining room” signifies is that a real estate agent thinks you’ll be able to fit a 6 person table in some corner of another room.

Deck vs. Porch. In Chicago, those wooden (sometimes metal) structures attached to the back of buildings as fire escapes are called porches. If it’s attached and stacked in multiple levels up the back of a building, it’s a porch. If it’s freestanding and uncovered, it’s a deck.

Any Questions?

Township. When you’re looking at a Chicago real estate listing you’ll see mention of a “township.” Many home seekers get confused and think that this refers to the neighborhood of the property. Chicago only has eight townships. They’re relics from the old days before Chicago was quite so large, and basically delineate the different towns that Chicago swallowed as it grew. There are eight townships: Rogers Park, Jefferson, Lake View, North, West, Lake, South and Hyde Park.
These days township boundaries are only used by Cook County for dividing up property tax appeal deadlines. So, if you’re looking in Edgewater don’t be surprised to see that your property is listed in Rogers Park Township.


Do you have any terms that confuse you from the Chicago housing market? Let me know and I’ll try to cover them in another installment of Pig Latin.

Square footage, room counts and other lies my agent told me

Back in 2007 I received an interesting email from a local landlord in response to one of my Craigslist ads for an apartment:

Just a word of advice, if you say it’s 930 square feet no one is going to come to see it.  You’re in competition with landlords who would describe this apartment as at least 1300, 1400 square feet.  Tenants’ expectations of square footage are inflated because they’re judging square footage by what they’ve seen.  Describe this place as 1300 square feet and you’ll get more traffic.  They don’t have to rent it if they don’t like it.  Good luck.

The floorplan of the apartment in question.

The floorplan of the apartment in question.

Square footage is for engineers. Room sizes are for the rest of us.

I had measured this apartment, CAD rendered the floorplan – it was 930 usable square feet, give or take a few. I spoke with my client at the time and discussed this feedback with him. He and I agreed to continue listing the actual measured square footage. Neither of us wanted to waste our time or the time of prospective tenants who “didn’t have to rent it if they didn’t like it.”

So let’s get things straight. I’ve measured thousands of apartments and CAD rendered the results. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Standard Chicago vintage studio: 200-400 sq ft.
  • Standard Chicago vintage 1 bed w/ eat in kitchen: 400-600 sq ft.
  • Standard Chicago vintage 1 bed w/ dining room or smaller 2 bed: 550-800 sq ft.
  • Standard Chicago vintage 2 bed w/ dining room 700-900 sq ft.

Above measurements are for Pre WWII walk-up buildings. Anything larger than that and the agent is either counting walls as part of the area or just guesstimating based on how the space “feels.” (more…)

Chicago Real Estate Statistics: Bedroom sizes in Chicago Apartments

Stack of mattresses showing comparative sizes

My, what a large mattress you've got!

Queen and King size beds were invented in the late 1950’s. Before that time, a full size mattress was the largest you could purchase. According to City Data, the median construction date for houses in Chicago is 1949, and for apartments it’s 1944. This means that the vast majority of the housing stock for both home buyers and renters was not built to house modern mattresses, let alone large beds with frames that extend beyond the mattress boundaries.

While some homeowners and landlords in Chicago have rearranged walls and in many cases, re-purposed old dining rooms into additional bedrooms with the addition of doors and closets, it certainly feels like most north side bedrooms will only fit a twin bed, or at most, a full size mattress.  I decided to do some analysis and see if this is true.

For each of the charts below, I used a benchmark of four times the area of each standard mattress size as a “comfortable fit.” So, for a bedroom to comfortably hold a twin bed, it had to be at least 101 square feet. For a full, at least 110 sq ft. For a king size bed, it had to  be 171 square feet or more. (more…)