When Should You Start Looking for an Apartment?

How soon should you start looking? Well that depends on what you need.

I get this question all the time. How far in advance should a renter start looking for an apartment in Chicago? The answer is extremely varied and depends on your needs, of course. However, there are some definite deciding factors that may help you to schedule things properly. Of course, I've got some handy charts to help as well!

Who can use these charts at face value?

These charts are intended for renters who are looking in Chicago with agent representation. Maybe you want a high end rental, or you're moving from out of town. Maybe you're working with a tight schedule and can only attend a handful of showings. Or perhaps you know you're really picky and want the biggest range of options available to you.

Regardless of your reasons, if you've chosen to work with an agent or locator these charts will probably work for you at face value.

If you're working alone, back up your start date.

The numbers I was able to wring out of my research uses the MLS exclusively. When dealing with rentals in the MLS you must remember that many landlords will try to rent their apartment on their own before they agree to pay an agent's commission. This means that if you're willing to go door to door and crawl through the Chicago Reader looking for spaces you may be able to find something as much as a month earlier than my charts here will show. You can still use them as a benchmark, though - just add 4 weeks what's displayed on the charts.

[Landlords can use this info to calculate when best to launch their listing!]

Many of the bigger & cheaper property managers will hit the market as early as they can. Apartments covered by the CRLTO can be shown as early as 60 days in advance. So in addition to those Type-A folks who feel comfortable cruising the blocks without a representation, the renters looking for the cheapest budget rentals will also want to start a month earlier than these charts show. (This year that means below $1500 if you're on the north side of Chicago.)

What you can learn from these charts:

  • If you're looking for a rental in the offseason, like for March 1 or April 1 moves, the market peaks much later than it does in high-activity months like May 1 and June 1.
  • As I discussed at length in my prior entry You Do Not Live in Chicago, availability can vary wildly between neighborhoods. If you're looking in a popular district, start earlier.
  • Across the board if you're looking for an apartment in a popular area with the help of an agent, your best bet in the three areas I studied is to head out about 3-4 weeks before your move date.
  • These charts completely scupper the myth that May 1 sees the most apartment inventory in Chicago. The June numbers (grey bars) are universally higher on every chart.

The Charts

For the Lakeview chart I used all rentals in the Lakeview Community area of Chicago listed in the MLS.

Bar chart of apartment availability by week in Lakeview, Chicago

Apartment availability by week in Lakeview, Chicago, 2012. Note that the May and June listings peak much earlier than the March & April ones.

For the West Loop area I used the boundaries of Grand Avenue, the Chicago River, the Eisenhower/I-290, and Ashland Avenue. This is a much smaller district than Lakeview, and less well-known. However, its stock tends towards very high-end lofts and rentals and its emerging as a very popular area. Notice that its peak is a lot more consistent from month to month than we see in Lakeview, which got picked over early in the busier months.

Bar chart of apartment inventory in the West Loop section of Chicago

Apartment availability by week in West Loop, Chicago, 2012.

For the Loyola-Rogers Park chart I used a 1.5 circular radius around the Loyola University Rogers Park Campus, which pushes the boundary out to approximately Ridge Ave. Loyola in the far north of the city peaks far later than its more expensive southern neighbors, with the bulk of the fresh listings coming on within 2 weeks of the current tenants' move-out date. One can assume this is due to the messy nature of college students - you don't want to start showing an apartment if there's a good chance that its been trashed.

Loyola area apartments simply take much longer to get market-ready. (Aside to landlords looking in this area: keep this in mind and build in an extra month empty to your cash flow calculations!)

Bar chart showing apartment inventory surrounding Loyola's Lakefront campus, Chicago

Apartment availability by week in the area immediately around Loyola's Rogers Park campus, Chicago, 2012.

If you're a renter looking to figure out a plan for searching, I'm happy to run charts like this for any neighborhood you choose. Please contact me or leave a comment below. Oh, and by the way, if you're an agent looking to reproduce this research, the interim step involves a Gantt chart.