Find your next apartment with foot power

The worst mistake Chicago apartment hunters make is not getting a solid fix on where they want to live and satisfying themselves that acceptable apartments are available in their target area and price range. If you’re too flexible on location you won’t be able to focus enough to find the best deals in your preferred location.

You don’t need to be a veteran Chicagoan to zero in on your neighborhood of choice. There’s more than enough information available online and through your friends, acquaintances and work and business contacts to enable you to zero in on a target area, preferably no more than 8 to 12 square blocks in size.

The next mistake to avoid is waiting too long to begin your apartment search. The most desirable apartments rent quickly and often rent well in advance of their availability date. Begin your search at least 60 days in advance of your move date and no later than 45 days in advance.

Limiting your search to online venues such as Craigslist is also a mistake – a huge mistake if you’re looking to rent in a smaller building or in a less-dense neighborhood away from the lake. In some neighborhoods hardly any of the apartments are advertised online or listed with the apartment rental services that pollute Craigslist daily with 1,000s of bait-and-switch spam ads.

Your best bet to find the best apartments in smaller buildings is a block-by-block canvas of your target area. Walk, bike or drive the neighborhood looking for FOR RENT signs – you’ll find a surprising number of them, even in prime locations.

By way of example, I saw two 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath apartments for rent steps from Oz Park, Carnival Foods and the Four Farthings while walking to a Lincoln Park video appointment yesterday. I also passed several mid-sized buildings with FOR RENT signs posted.

Many of the smaller buildings in an area may be condos. You can search MLS-listed condos for rent at major brokerage sites, which almost always disclose the address of listed properties. If a site doesn’t list exact addresses for rental properties, move on to one that does.