Tag Archives: rentals

Rent Bacon: March 2013

No Foolin’.

The Rent Bacon index number is an indicator of how a district is performing compared to the HUD Fair Market Rents. Landlords can use it to figure out how much more to charge this year. Tenants can figure out how much more it will cost to move.

New month, new Rent Bacon. Rent Bacon gauges the change in actual value of apartments in Chicago on a quarterly basis using rental data from the local MLS. The index takes into account the rent rates, market times, and ratio of rented units compared to listed units. This month we’re looking at 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartments throughout the city. For more info on how the index is calculated, check out this explanatory post.

Observation #1: Better value

Now this is not something obvious from the chart above, but it is quite clear if you compare it against last month’s results for 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartments. The index value for 2 beds is considerably higher, peaking over 300 for the smaller units. Does this mean that they’re actually a better value? Yes, absolutely. (more…)

Rent Bacon: February 2013

Let’s talk about 3 bedroom apartments.

The Rent Bacon index number is an indicator of how a district is performing compared to the HUD Fair Market Rents. Landlords can use it to figure out how much more to charge this year. Tenants can figure out how much more it will cost to move.

It’s March. That means it’s time to see how the Chicago rental market performed over the past three months in that fancy statistical analysis we like to call Rent Bacon. As a reminder, we changed formats last month to make this monthly feature more useful. In the process we created a rent index which can be used as a means of comparing value between neighborhoods and gauging how much rent could go up or down over the next year. If you want to read more about what the numbers mean, check this explanatory post about the new Rent Bacon.

This month we’re talking about 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom apartments, and investigating how they’ve performed over the past three months. This is the first time we’ve really looked at 3 beds, which are pretty much the top end in terms of size as Chicago apartments go. You might be able to find something larger in a single family home for rent, but they’re few and far between.

Observation #1: The Gap

In a previous installment of Rent Bacon, I remarked that I saw indicators of people flowing from very expensive Zone 1 to moderately priced Zone 2 when rents got really high downtown. However, that movement didn’t continue from Zone 2 to the even lower-priced Zone 3. My surmise was that the folks who live in Zone 3 – the outskirts of the city – are more likely to move up in size in their same area instead of moving further inwards when their situations changed.

Today in reviewing the index prices we see another potential reason – the gap between Zone 3 housing costs and the inner districts is massive, especially when it comes to apartments large enough to house a big family. Look at the chart above. Look at the gap between the bottom two lines. The average 3 bedroom apartment in Zone 3 is fully 33% cheaper than anywhere else in the city. This is not just a matter of people on the city outskirts loving their neighborhoods. The price gap may be completely insurmountable. A family would have to be earning $84k per year to meet the “affordable housing” limits in Zone 1 or 2. Unless you’ve got a white collar breadwinner or two blue collar/no collar working adults in the family, that just isn’t going to happen.

Observation #2: The winter really blows for 3 beds.

Winter is a tough time to move for the families that tend to occupy 3 beds. It means uprooting the kids from school and packing up a massive amount of stuff during the worst possible weather of the year. The rental market in Chicago generally slows way down in the winter, but for 3 beds it’s a bit more extreme than we see with smaller apartments. All three of the zones saw major drops in the 4th quarter every year going back to 2010. This year has been particularly nasty.

Zone 3′s values took a major hit, falling 11 points since the same time last year and 78 points since the 3rd quarter of 2012. Rent rates actually improved, so the change in value is largely attributable to a glut of extra units coming on the market. As I discussed in an earlier article, January is always a big month for relationships to fall apart and one bedroom rentals spike upwards accordingly. The improving economy has allowed large groups of roommates to split up, which may be resulting in more large units on the market.

Zones 1 and 2 are sitting pretty and showing growth compared to last year. However, the growth is drastically slowed. Last summer the downtown index peaked at 295.65 and the Zone 2 index at 292.99, so we’ve fallen off a bit from those lofty heights. However, when compared with last winter, an equally slow season, the inner districts actually gained 10-14 points.

Zone 1 is seeing static rents and steadily increasing market times. However, this trend should reverse itself once the spring market hits, so don’t count on it being a trend that we’ll see through the year. Meanwhile, Zone 2′s market times are stable, but the rent rates have relaxed a bit and is suffering from a slight inventory glut that’s hurting it’s rent-to-list ratios. Again, this should be remedied by the spring market when a large number of renters suddenly hit the scene all at once to snap up the leftovers from a slow winter season.

Observation #3: That Chart is Too Steep to Sustain

That’s a pretty nasty slope on that chart. Zone 3′s values at their peak last year had inflated to reach downtown’s 2010 values. That kind of growth is far too rapid for renters – traditionally the poorer members of society – to sustain on an ongoing basis. While the rents in Zone 3 have remained largely stable, the rental pace and market demand out there have made it very difficult for someone working 50+ hours a week to find anything good. Meanwhile, in Zones 1 and 2 average rents have increased by between $400-500 for a 3 bed in just 3 years. This means that the average 3 bedroom renter has to be earning between $14k and $18k more in 2013 than they were in 2010. I somehow don’t think that’s realistic.

Chicago has earned the envy of other northern US cities for a long time when it comes to our roomy apartments and comparatively low rents. When you stack downtown Chicago rents against New York ($6000 for a 3 bed) or San Francisco ($4500) prices we’re still pretty cheap. Even so, 18% growth in rents over 3 years is about twice the pace that an average renter can handle. There must be a slowdown. I see it happening within the next 2 years.

The Numbers

Table indicates values for 1 bedroom/1 bathroom rentals based on MLS data.

 Average RentAverage Market TimeUnits Rented | ListedIndex
Zone 1
Dec 2011-Feb 2012 $252359 days60 | 107261.19
Dec 2012-Feb 2013 $254748 days64 | 98271.08
Zone 2
Dec 2011-Feb 2012 $218843 days95 | 123226.78
Dec 2012-Feb 2013 $233742 days75 | 102241.59
Zone 3
Dec 2011-Feb 2012 $149553 days38 | 6760.52
Dec 2012-Feb 2013 $157460 days22 | 4749.41

The Zones

The Chicago neighborhood zones remain consistent between this version and the last.

Zone 1 covers central Chicago from South Loop through Lincoln Park. (Actual coordinates: 2000 South to 2000 North, from Western Ave to the Lake).

Zone 2 covers the near North side of Chicago, including Lakeview, Bucktown, Uptown, Lincoln Square, Roscoe Village and NorthCenter. (Actual coordinates: 2000 North to 5200 North, from Western Ave to the Lake.)

Zone 3 covers the Far North and Near South side of Chicago, including Edgewater, Andersonville, Rogers Park, West Ridge, Chinatown, Bridgeport and Douglas. (Actual coordinates: 5200-7600 North plus 2000-4500 South, from Western Ave to the Lake.)

I’ll be back on Wednesday with some advice for a renter who got a nasty surprise this month. See you then!

Cook Eviction Stats Part 8: Lawyers and Juries

We’re talking about lawyers and juries and how they affect the eviction numbers today, along with some interesting data that I picked up along the way. This article is deviating a bit from the its predecessors in the series, in that I’m not going to be relying too heavily on the numbers I got from the Cook County Clerk. I’ve had to reach beyond to do some additional research. Instead of footnoting everything like I usually do, I will instead provided a bibliography of sources down at the bottom so you can read all of the reports at your leisure, if that’s your thing.

You can fit a couple of eviction hearings in the time it takes to cook Ramen.

I want you to imagine a scenario with me for a moment. You are a landlord. A tenant moved into your apartment in October. It is now February and you have not seen a rent check since the first month. The tenant has moved in a whole crew of additional occupants, and a pit bull. They have also apparently spent their rent money on a big screen TV, because you can see it on the floor of their apartment, leaning against the wall underneath the big hole that it left when it fell down.

You filed to evict in after the 2nd missed rent payment, in early December, like any good landlord. Due to the wait and the holiday season, your court date was scheduled for early February. You arrive in court. You’re ready to tell your whole story.

Talk fast. You’ve got 90 seconds in front of the judge. You have to split that with the tenant if they decide to mount a defense. Better know your stuff. (more…)

Cook Eviction Stats Part 4: Comparing Districts

How this article started

It is a peculiarity of American evictions that they are held at the county/parish level instead of at the city/municipal level as one might expect. This means that even though Chicago rentals are generally protected by Chicago-specific laws, evictions are handled by the Cook County District courts, of which there are six.

District/Location Coverage
1st, Chicago City of Chicago
2nd, Skokie Northern Suburbs
3rd, Rolling Meadows Northwestern Suburbs
4th, Maywood Western Suburbs
5th, Bridgeview Southwestern Suburbs
6th, Markham Southern Suburbs


Rent Bacon, January 2013 – New Format!

New. Improved. Actually Useful.

Rent Bacon, January 2013: 1 bed/1 bath rentals Chicago

The Rent Bacon index number is an indicator of how a district is performing compared to the HUD Fair Market Rents. Landlords can use it to figure out how much more to charge this year. Tenants can figure out how much more it will cost to move.

Welcome to the new Rent Bacon. As I explained last month, I've redesigned the Rent Bacon concept to be more comprehensive and more recent. I've spent quite some time over the past month thinking about the goals for this monthly series and I've got some really exciting results for you.

First of all, we will be rotating monthly through 1 bed/1 bath apartments, 2 bed/2 bath apartments, and 3 bed/2 bath apartments so that we hit all three of the most popular apartment sizes at least once a quarter.

Secondly, we will be looking at 3 month averages instead of one month averages in order to get a decent sample size in each of our zones.

Thirdly, and this is most exciting, the index is actually useful. The new Rent Bacon Index is a rough estimate for how much more the same apartment is worth this year over last year. This means that if you're a landlord, you can use it to figure out how much to increase rents this year. If you're a tenant, you can figure out how much more or less you can expect to pay to move to the same size apartment in the same area.

About The Graphic (more…)

Apartments: Is Bigger Really Better? (Tenant Version)

I used to work for a theatre company that did most of its work in a very large performance hall. It had 25 rows and stadium seating, and the stage was 25 feet wide and three stories tall. (That's the width of a standard Chicago lot - pretty substantial for a city perfoming space.) It would have been a fantastic hall for big musicals, operas, and large scale events. The problem was, this company was a tiny one. They were not doing big shows, but in order to fill that huge space they had to spend tons on scenery and sound amplification in order to make it work for them. In this case, the bigger space was definitely a detriment.

When it comes to apartments, you can have one or the other but not both.

When it comes to apartments, you can have one or the other but not both.

So let's say you and your roommate have $1600 to spend between yourselves for an apartment. You have the choice between a 1000 square foot high-end, loft style condo in Lakeview with two bedrooms, and a 2000 square foot vintage unit with a basic set of appliances and four bedrooms in Irving Park. There are a large number of renters out there who would automatically say that the four bedroom unit is the better deal, even if they don't pick up extra roommates to fill the additional rooms. Bigger = better, right? I have five reasons here to help you explain to your roommate why this is not necessarily the case.

Rental Site Review: SearchChicago.com

There's a ton of sites you can use to look for apartments in Chicago. Not all of them are fabulous. Most have a mash-up of private landlords, locator services, realtor listings and fake/scam rental listings. The inimitable Joe Zekas of YoChicago is taking on some of the more problematic listings in his own way this year through his Craigslist Apartment Cleanup effort, which I applaud even though it may make my job tougher if any of my legit exclusive listings accidentally get caught up in his dragnet.

However, I thought it would be worthwhile to go through some of the sites that I've experienced to let you know how they stack up. I'll be rating each site I review based on the diversity of listings, the legitimacy of those listings, ease of use, and the freshness of the listings, since the apartment market moves pretty fast. A site can score up to 40 points. Today we'll be starting with SearchChicago.com, the online classifieds section of the Chicago Sun-Times.

SearchChicago.com logo property of Sun-Times Media.

SearchChicago.com logo property of Sun-Times Media.

SearchChicago Scored 14 out of 40 points. Find out Why. (more…)

Rent Bacon: November AND December 2012

This is the end of Rent Bacon as we know it.

Today I'm posting the Rent Bacon data for two months: November and December 2012. It is the last time you'll see it in this format. Next month we're going to repurpose Rent Bacon in three ways.

More timely.

One of my pet peeves with the Chicago rental industry is the tendency of Realtors to leave their listings active for just a little too long. I've discussed this concern over leaving listings active for too long at length before. However, I took this matter into consideration when I started doing Rent Bacon last year. In order to make sure all of the leases for a given month are included in the stats, I've been waiting an entire extra month and therefore running 2 months behind with the data by the time it's printed here.

November Rent Bacon.

November Rent Bacon.

We aren't going to do that anymore. (more…)

StrawStickStone Rent Index: 4th Quarter 2012


It's winter in Chicago. We've discussed the Chicago rental off-season before and you'll be seeing it reflected in all of the Q4 numbers today. Nearly every sector is down, and that's to be expected. Market activity has fallen off by 40-50% since Q3 as happens every year. What's important in a situation like this is to look at the sectors of the market that bucked the downward trend.

4th quarter Chicago rental market activity has been the worst so far this year. All told it's amazing prices have only dropped by less than 10% in most places.

Downtown, the smallest units saw upward movement on the price points. Studios and small one beds were in demand, which is pretty much always going to be the case in downtown Chicago. Students & in-town business make up most of the tenant population and their demand is consistent. Interestingly, the price point for 3 beds was also elevated. Given that we're looking at an average price point over $5000 per month for these units, I'm thinking that the more budget-minded families stayed put in their units for the holidays while groups of adults and the extremely wealthy were able to move. This would tilt the price point towards the more expensive units favored by the latter group.

In name brand neighborhoods people are scaling down their expectations - vintage 1 beds and 2 beds were up while the more fancy units were down. In fact, even though only 10 vintage 1-beds rented in this zone, their average rent rate was higher than their modern counterparts. This may indicate that the drawing power of granite, stainless & condo-quality has weakened among the renting contingent in these trendy areas. I don't think it reflects renters "settling" for the lesser quality vintage. It reflects a view that both styles, vintage and new, are seen as closer to equal now. Overall what I'm seeing in these areas is that the demand for space & privacy is paramount, outstripping high-end finishes and deluxe appliances. Studios and single family homes increased in value. The larger vintage units increased as well. That's one claustrophobic, isolationist group of renters in the trendy areas this fall.

One other factor may be inspiring the shift in the name brand areas - vintage units are far more likely to come with heat included, and the fourth quarter brings the concern about heating costs to the forefront of tenants' minds. The individually controlled (and funded) central heat in the newer condos is not so attractive when you're looking at 4 months of below-freezing temps immediately upon moving in.

Moving out to the generic, budget-friendly neighborhoods in our outer ring, it's a story abount laundry. The only segment to see an increase in rent out here during Q4 was the one bedroom apartments with laundry in the unit. Meanwhile, looking at the 3 bedroom rental activity, I'm seeing equal numbers of apartments in the "3 bedroom condo" and "3 bedroom with laundry" segments. Some of the rentals with laundry were likely single family homes instead of condos. However, we must remember that for every unit rented, several were passed over and remain vacant. The lesson we learn here is that renters working through the MLS for 3 beds in the outer ring expect in-unit laundry. Washer/dryer in unit is no longer optional. In the slower market where tenants can pick and choose, they're basically ignoring buildings with coin laundry and absent laundry.

gonna have a bad time

Again, this may be due to the onset of winter. Many basement laundry rooms require trekking down a rear outdoor stairwell, frequently icy and usually cold, in order to get laundry done. Wintertime makes in-unit laundry far more critical, especially among the larger family groups that favor the "generic" neighborhoods for their lower rents.


The real estate industry took a while to learn how to sell short back when the market first started to dive. Former homeowners who short sold during this time have seen their short sales drop off their credit already and have been able to buy for some time. However, many were so burned by the experience that they chose to remain renters. However, 2010 was when the first-time homebuyer tax credit ended. The folks who short sold towards the end of 2010 got Realtors who knew what they were doing. They are likely to be more optimistic and they will be able to buy again this year. I see them leaving the rental market pretty quickly as soon as they can buy.

Therefore, I predict overall market stasis for Chicago rentals next year, based on the trends we were seeing in Q2 and Q3 2012, as well as signs of life from the sales market. I anticipate a slow flow of renters back into the purchase market this year, especially in late Q3 and Q4 of 2013. This will lengthen market times a bit and the rent rates may stagnate, especially in the generic neighborhoods, but I think it will be another year before the rent rates decrease at all.

I'm going to repeat the advice that I gave last quarter. If you're an accidental landlord, it's time to consider selling this year. You can help keep the rental rates up and solve some of your own headaches. Sales inventory is at an all time low. I'm seeing properties spend less than a week on the market, and in some cases renters are purchasing their rented condos.

As for those who stay in the rental market, I do think that in-unit laundry is going to jump from "a nice luxury" to mandatory in the generic neighborhoods this year, at least among the renters who work with Realtors. I already see most of my renter clients demanding it and these wintertime numbers are very telling.

The Numbers

Avg (Count) Change since Q3 Low / High
Studio $1323 (63) Up 0.4% $790 / $2700
1 bed, Vintage Invalid (0) n/a
1 bed, Condo $1904 (305) Up 7.0% $1100 / $9500
1 bed w In-Unit laundry $2058 (161) No Change $1275 / $9500
2 bed, Vintage Invalid (1) $1550 / $1550
2 bed, Condo $2741 (237) Down 2.0% $1300 / $6500
2 bed w In-Unit Laundry $2859 (158) Down 2.1% $1300 / $6500
3 bed, Vintage Invalid (1) $4200 / $4200
3 bed, Condo $5502 (40) Up 1.5% $2000 / $11500
3 bed w In-Unit Laundry $5695 (30) Up 7.7% $2900 / $11500
3 bed Single Family Invalid (0) n/a
Pets**** Dogs OK: $2457 | No Pets: $2295 | Cats Only $2052
Name Brand Neighborhoods*
Avg (Count) Change since Q3 Low / High
Studio $1057 (35) Up 2.7% $975 / $1250
1 bed, Vintage $1677 (10) Up 23.0% $1100 / $2800
1 bed, Condo $1504 (121) Down 1.8% $995 / $2700
1 bed w In-Unit laundry $1537 (35) Down 6.2% $1000 / $2700
2 bed, Vintage $1985 (12) Up 13% $1150 / $2800
2 bed, Condo $2213 (187) Down 2.9% $1150 / $4000
2 bed w In-Unit Laundry $2289 (144) Down 2.7% $1150 / $4000
3 bed, Vintage Invalid (5) $2050 / $4000
3 bed, Condo $2965 (67) Down 1.1% $1300 / $5600
3 bed w In-Unit Laundry $3162 (99) Down 0.3% $1950 / $6000
3 bed Single Family $3696 (16) Up 12.4% $2300 / $6000
Pets**** Dogs OK: $2537 | No Pets: $1973 | Cats Only $1640
Generic Neighborhoods***
Avg (Count) Change since Q3 Low / High
Studio $817 (22) Down 6.5% $550 / $1175
1 bed, Vintage Invalid (5) $800 / $1375
1 bed, Condo $1358 (108) Down 0.9% $800 / $2300
1 bed w In-Unit laundry $1573 (42) Up 5.4% $900 / $2600
2 bed, Vintage $1287 (15) Down 12.4% $800 / $2300
2 bed, Condo $1636 (214) Down 3.3% $650 / $3250
2 bed w In-Unit Laundry $1725 (139) Down 0.9% $920 / $3250
3 bed, Vintage Invalid (7) $1200 / $2850
3 bed, Condo $2087 (58) Down 7.1% $1100 / $3900
3 bed w In-Unit Laundry $2095 (59) Down 5.4% $1150 / $3900
3 bed Single Family $1669 (16) Down 13.7% $850 / $2900
Pets**** Dogs OK: $1902 | No Pets: $1771 | Cats Only $1477

* Downtown: Within 1.25 miles of the intersection of State & Madison, Chicago
** Name Brand Neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Wrigleyville / Lakeview
*** Generic Neighborhoods: Uptown, NorthCenter, Logan Square, Avondale, Irving Park, Humboldt Park
**** Average rent rates based on pet policy across all sizes of apartments.

Read more about Name Brand & Generic Neighborhoods.
Read more about why cat-friendly apartments are cheaper.

Stats based on printed rent rates for the fourth quarter of 2012 as listed in MRED LLC’s ConnectMLS for the city of Chicago. Completed rentals only, no active listings.

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Lingua Franca: Thinking About the Language of Apartment Leases

Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare in school? For me it was in seventh grade. I'd heard a lot of hype about him up until that point, but nobody had warned me about the strange, antique form of English he used and how difficult it was to understand. I hacked through it, but for a kid who was used to whipping through a couple of novels a day it was a pretty chastening experience. To paraphrase "Star Trek," it was English, but not as I knew it.

So here's an interesting bit of trivia. If you threaten to sue someone in the process of working on a Wikipedia article, you'll lose your editing privileges. The reasoning behind it stems from the "chilling effect" that legal threats have on other writers. Most folks are pretty scared of getting dragged into a courtroom, even if it's just as a witness. It's time consuming and the threat of going to jail or racking up massive fines is always present. TV shows like "Law and Order" have contributed to this idea that court is definitely a place to avoid.