Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chicago Apartment Search


Friday morning we woke, packed, and headed towards the airport.  Fog had delayed all planes leaving San Francisco for the day, so we spent a while hanging out in the airport.  Finally the fog burned away, and we were off.

Landing in Chicago and hailing a cab, we did not know we were taking our lives into our hands!  This weekend was the Taste of Chicago, and our cab driver seemed determined to score a kill on one of the pedestrians out in the warm night.  Men in shorts and sandals and women in tiny tops crowded the sidewalks of Millennium Park, sometimes so packed that arms or legs or small children dangled perilously out over the road.  Our cab driver sped past them, accelerating between stoplights sometimes up to 50 miles per hour, to screech to a stop at the next light.  Will and I sat silent and tense in the back, ready to shout out “Stop!”

We settled down in Hotel Allegro, a small, trendy place in the theater district and literally built around a theater (they were showing “Shriek the Musical” which did not sound like something we were interested in seeing).  I am continuously surprised by the differences between how far a dollar goes in Chicago, New York, San Franciso.  For $100 per night, we were able to stay in a pretty centrally located, beautiful if simple hotel in Chicago.  For the same amount in New York, I pretty much ended up in a hostel (see my blog post on that here), and then got so disgusted that I had to pay double that amount for comparable accommodations at the Washington Square Hotel.  I’m thrilled at this turn of events.

That night, we ventured out into the city.  I was impressed by the large trains overhead that thunder past like huge screaming herds of horses, just as was portrayed in The Blues Brothers.  For dinner, we found a highly Yelp-recommended crepe place about a block away with a French interior, a fantastically beautiful Euro waitress, and thumping Russian MTV music videos.  Will bemoaned the amount of cheese that he had eaten earlier that morning in the airport, and I started on my first fruity martini drink.  We finished with a warm nutella and banana crepe, which I had loved in Paris.

Then we went next door to the Monk’s Pub, which had a fantastic beer list.  The place was great – all dark woods, clean, with one wall full of books, a juke box with Roiksop playing, and huge screen tv’s.  Will got “the best beer in the world,” a lovely golden beer without any bitterness, and I had a white beer which by that time I was too drunk to finish.  Excited about our finds, we headed back to the hotel and fell fast asleep.


On Saturday we woke up bright and early to eat breakfast and prepare to meet Jim Gust at 9:30 AM.  Jim was a real estate agent whom we found with a fantastic stroke of luck.  During my last few days at Huckleberry Youth Programs, I had been telling my friends that I was concerned that we did not know anyone in Chicago and was anxious about going in cold.  Talking about it more, I realized that each one of my coworkers – Aglae, Jenn, and Heather – had either parents or spouses from Chicago, and were constantly in the city.  Aglae’s mother, also named Aglae, was not only a real estate agent who could help us find an apartment or condo to rent, but also was a charming woman and a fantastic cook.  Bruce Fisher, my boss, had many a great story about Aglae’s mother, whom he met at Aglae’s wedding.

After a few phone calls with Mrs. Velasco, her famed charm and vivacity became clear.  She was confident and reassuring, so kindly ready to extend her help.  Although she would be in San Francisco cooking a benefit dinner for Huckleberry during the weekend that we were in town, Mrs. Velasco still pulled up listings and gave advice about where we could look.

Jim was kind, knowledgeable, and funny.  On Saturday morning, he spent several hours taking us around the city and looking at condos and apartments in different parts – River North, Gold Coast, and Streetersville.  We got a good feel for the lay of the land and the possibilities.  Although many of the apartments and condos were lovely, none of them had everything we were looking for – one was especially beautiful, but was not in the center of things; several were very centrally located but were not especially nice; one was in a great apartment building in the adorable Gold Coast neighborhood, but was not as lovely as another we had seen. 

When Jim said goodbye to Will and I at the end of the day, we had a lot to think about.  We were planning on meeting a friend for the afternoon, but when that fell through, we decided to stop by at Chicago Apartment Finders, and other agency that I had found before meeting Jim and Aglae (Aglae San Francisco’s mom).  I felt uncertain about Chicago Apartment Finders, which is why I had cancelled the appointment in the first place and had been so excited to find Jim and Aglae.  Over the phone and internet, I could not tell how legitimate their business was, especially since they did not allow me to be matched with an agent ahead of time, and therefore could not schedule appointments with apartments ahead of time.  This all seemed very off-the-cuff to me, and I was worried about spending our one day in Chicago for apartment searching with them.

However, we had another stroke of luck with them.  Yelp had mixed reviews of Chicago Apartment Finders, but we did notice that every time there was a five-star review, Paul was the agent.  We went early to CAF, with me dragging along a sad, tired, Will and his unfinished pad thai (who immediately perked up after eating some of it), and asked specifically for Paul.  Boy, was this the right move.  Paul was concerned that we were coming in at 3:30 PM on a Saturday, with no chance of coming back any other time.  After a series of rapid phone calls, it looked like all apartments fitting our needs were booked.  However, in the midst of Paul’s frantic calling, one finally called back!  Someone had cancelled, and we were in!  Paul was pleased – he said that this apartment complex was one of the best within our price range, and that if we could only see one, then this was a good one to see.  We were thrilled.

It took us 3 minutes to get to the apartment because it was located only a few blocks from CAF, downtown Chicago.  One East Delaware was beautiful and modern, in the Gold Coast, within walking distance from Northwestern Law and also the Google Offices.  Walking to either Google or Northwestern Law would be like walking from our current apartment (Castro Street and High School Way) to the Caltrain Station in Mountain View.  Perfect!  There is a huge neighborhood grocery store and a hair salon on the bottom floor, and only a couple blocks away the heart of the Gold Coast, complete with upscale restaurants and Hermes and Chanel shops.  Hurray!

When toured the spacious two-room apartments and learned that the available unit would be a corner facing southwest – good for both the fantastic view to the south, the open space view to the west, and receiving plenty of sunlight in the wintertime (something that Gina had warned me about – when living in a city with long winters, you want southern-looking windows).  When we heard that rent would still be $200 less than our current rent, we were pretty confident; after a quick walk around the neighborhood, we were sold.  Instead of mailing in papers, we spun around on our heels, walked back to the apartment, and put down our deposit right as the office was closing at 5 PM.  Victory!

I felt very lucky about this whole process.  First, we were lucky to have connections to find us Jim, who gave us so much information about the city that we were confident, knowledgeable consumers when we finally did find the right apartment.  Second, we were lucky that we decided to try Chicago Apartment Finders, asked specifically for Paul, and had that one opening to view One East Delaware.  Finally, I am excited to know three people in Chicago now – Aglae Velasco and Jim Gust, whom I am still hoping we can take out to dinner, and Paul, who (as it turns out) is an improvisation comedian who graduated from Second City, and whom I am excited will email us about his shows.  Very, very cool.

Come visit us anytime!  We got a second room as a guest room (and study)!

Love, Will + Lauren