Photo by Keith Cooper via CC BY 2.0

5 Tips for Researching New Neighborhoods in Chicago

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods—more than 200 of them, along with about 70 different suburbs. With such large numbers, it’s nearly impossible to know the ins-and-outs of each one. Matthew D. Walton, owner of Chicago real estate agency Current Properties, filled us in on the advice you’ll need if you’re thinking about buying a new home and relocating from one neighborhood to another, or from the city to the ‘burbs.

Here’s the scoop on getting to know your new neighborhood before you make it your permanent home.

1. See as many places as possible.

“First and foremost, take your time,” Walton says. “See as many places as possible, get a feel for what things cost.” Don’t rush to a decision; it may take a few months, even a year, to narrow down the neighborhood and home, he says.

2. Explore the neighborhood.

The advice of family and friends can be helpful, but Walton says the more you can find out by actually being in the neighborhood the better off you’ll be. “Walking an area is a good way to start,” he says.

Chicago has been ranked one of the nation’s most walkable cities, right behind New York, San Francisco and Boston, according to the most recent report from Walk Score. Put on your sneakers and spend the day walking through your could-be neighborhood. Be sure to walk your block as well as a couple blocks over—Chicago neighborhoods can change dramatically from block to block.

Stopping into local businesses is another way to get a vibe. “Grab a coffee in a local coffee house; take in lunch or dinner in a neighborhood restaurant,” Walton suggests.

3. Do your research.

Before you move to a new location, research the crime rate and public school ratings on a site like Neighborhood Scout. “Most real estate agents can also offer a wealth of information about an area and what’s happening, good or bad,” Walton says. You can also check news on your specific neighborhood—from a crime story to one about a restaurant opening—on a local news site like DNAinfo Chicago.

4. Practice your commute.

The average one-way daily commute for Chicagoans is about 31 minutes—that’s the fourth longest commute in the nation, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. And besides the drive being a hassle, a new study says commuters who travel long distances suffer from higher blood pressure, stress and heart disease.

“If you’ll be commuting to a job, take a practice run to see what it’s like,” Walton says.

See how long your new ride to work will take you, and if you can handle it. Also, check to see if your new home is close to the Metra or a CTA line—even though the commute may take a little longer by train, on the upside, you can get some work done, and avoid the frustrations of stop-and-go traffic.

5. Take more time if you need it.

“If you just can’t get a feel for an area, rent for a few months while you get things figured out,” Walton suggests. Just be sure you’ve saved a bit—the cost of renting in a neighborhood like River North was about $300 more than the average monthly mortgage payment, according to recent Crain’s article.


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