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Rental markets tighten up in Chicago

The Chicago skyline looms in the background in this view from the North West Tower in Chicago''s Wicker Park neighborhood. Renters trying to find places in hot up-and-coming neighborhoods in Chicago find themselves facing big price increases and stiff competition.

Jeff Horwich: Chicago has long been known as a good city for renters: reasonable rents, lots of cool neighborhoods to choose from. Compare it to New York, where people follow the obituaries to try to score an affordable place. But lately, renters looking in the hippest neighborhoods in Chicago are surprised to find themselves scrambling for a spot.

From WBEZ in Chicago, here's Lauren Chooljian.


Lauren Chooljian: Megan Russell has been renting in Chicago for four years now, but this time she's moving in with her boyfriend. They want to live near the Wicker Park neighborhood. It's a pretty hip area on the northwest side of the city -- lots of dive bars, vegan restaurants and bike shops. She says renting in Chicago used to be a breeze, but ask her how it's going this year...

Megan Russell: Horrible! Thing have been going crazy fast. I've been looking for about two to three weeks, and I've been on Craigslist non-stop, calling on, walking around streets, calling, and places are going faster than I could even see them.

Russell's standing outside a two-bedroom apartment nearby. It's just 1,100 square feet, and it isn't even finished. There aren't any cabinets, countertops, or light fixtures. Yet in the course of an hour, almost a dozen other people come to see it.

Russell: A couple years ago, you could see a place and think about it. Now it's like if you don't sign the lease when you see it, you're screwed.

Sure enough. The unit she was looking at rents just two days later -- to someone else.

Dennis Rodkin: A lot of people were buying who now realize it's not quite the best idea.

Dennis Rodkin write a column for Chicago Magazine. He's the real estate guru in the city. He says many of those younger, would-be buyers a few years ago have now become renters.

Rodkin: There's also an inflow of people who were owners, who for whatever reason can't afford to own anymore. They've been foreclosed, and they've converted to renting.

And Rodkin says that means more expensive rent. That little unit Russell is looking at, for example, is going for $1,500 a month. The property manager there says five years ago, it would have gone for a grand. But Rodkin says this won't ruin Chicago's reputation as a renter-friendly city.  Renters will just have to accept they might not live in the center of everything.

Rodkin: People will push those boundaries. They'll go out to some of the neighborhoods they haven't already looked in and the tradeoff would be you have to commute in to go to the great restaurants you like, but you've got far more space and you've found an apartment.

So how did things end up for Megan Russell? She and her boyfriend snagged a one-bedroom loft with central air and a dishwasher for $1,250 a month -- two neighborhoods south of Wicker Park.

For Marketplace, I'm Lauren Chooljian in Chicago.

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