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A list of strategies and keywords to look out for during your next apartment search.

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I’ve recently been scouring all facets of the Internet, the print classifieds, and the offices of rental agencies for an available and affordable 2-bedroom apartment in Chicago. Not counting my current summer sublease, I’ve lived in the same apartment for two years, and frankly, forgot just how grueling the entire process can be from start to finish. First comes the most obvious route: craigslist, the posting-based website where users can post anything for sale or rent, from apartments to sofas to pet cats. Then comes the print ads, which can be a gamble because you can’t always tell how recently they were published or whether the publishers of the newspaper mis-printed information from the landlord (which was the case a few times in my own search.)

Dirty carpets. Photo by rocknroll_guitar on Flickr

Last comes the meeting with a leasing agency, which is free for tenants to use, but means that you’ll probably pay $50 for a credit check, plus an outrageous application fee. The process can be quick and effective, but you’ve got to be serious and act fast about renting the place you’re truly interested in. And then, as a last (but surprisingly successful) strategy, try strolling through the streets of the neighborhood you want to live in and simply looking for “For Rent” signs in the window. Call the number, and voila, sometimes the landlord will drive over and meet you and show you the place right on the spot. Plus, dealing directly with the landlord and cutting out the middle man can sometimes save you time and money.

After searching through pages of craigslist postings and Reader classifieds with keywords like “adorable” and “affordable,” I began to learn that certain keywords require a bit of decoding. When I finally found the perfect apartment (thanks to the classified ads— who knew? Sometimes old-school is the way to go!) it was through an ad that simply stated the facts about the bedrooms, rent, location, and utilities. It didn’t include outrageous statements like “Live on Cloud Nine!” “Live the Good Life!” or “Luxury At Last!”

Here’s my list of some of the most popular (and misleading) keywords I came across in my apartment search:

Cozy: The use of this word in the title almost always means that the apartment is shoe-box small. The kitchen is probably a small corridor in which the 1970s-esque oven, stove, microwave, and fridge are all stacked on top of each other, and the bedrooms just might be able to fit a full-size mattress and not much else. Sure, it’s hard to open and close the bedroom door with an actual bed in there, but it’s just so cozy, right?

Vintage : This word is hip to throw around when going thrift-shopping for dresses or jewelry, but it probably shouldn’t be used to describe your next apartment, even if you want to live in a place built in the 1880s. The word “vintage” doesn’t necessarily mean that your building will have an ornate copper rooftop or stone angel heads protruding from the window sills; instead, it probably denotes outdated appliances, linoleum floors, orange carpeting, and floral wallpaper. Still think you’re into vintage?

Wicker Park/Bucktown : The mention of any sort of hip neighborhood probably means that the apartment is in an adjacent neighborhood that might not be as hip as you think. Wicker Park/Bucktown might refer to a number of areas near Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Avondale, West Town, or Ukrainian Village. Here’s a tip from a leasing agent: Anything West of Western Avenue, South of Chicago Avenue, and East of the I-90/94 is no longer technically Wicker Park/Bucktown.

Safe: This can be a hard word to decode. It might mean that your neighbor is a Police Department, but you also have to hear the sirens of every cop car that gets dispatched in your area. It might also mean that crime doesn’t get reported as often in your area as in other neighborhoods.

Luxury : The use of this word is almost always used for apartments in Gold Coast or River North. It basically means that you will pay exponentially more for granite counter tops, the use of a gym, and maybe a balcony.

Sunny: Curiously enough, this word is almost always used for garden apartments, those below-ground-level bungalows that occasionally have windows that let you peek out from below the sidewalk. Apparently, they get lots of sun.

Adorable: Outside of the realm of craigslist, we might use this word to describe a mangy cat missing a leg or a helpless baby that constantly burps and barfs. There’s something over-the-top, and in turn, condescending about this word, that makes it prime for describing awkwardly-built apartments with very different-sized bedrooms and a bathroom that you need to climb a ladder in order to get to. There might also only be a back-entrance, a window that faces a brick wall, and cabinets that are placed at a convenient height for children or elves. Adorable!

Happy apartment-hunting and don’t settle for any place too cozy or too adorable!

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