Condo Versus Rental Living

TCW blog 1.14

Last summer, when the Chicago residential real estate market was rising at a fairly active pace, I sold my condominium in the Gold Coast for almost break-even, which I thought was good, after so many years of decreased values. I sold my unit because I wanted the cash and was unsure about how steady the real estate market was in Chicago. I was right; the market is sluggish again due to more foreclosures and more people putting their residences up for sale. Too much property for sale and not enough buyers leads to decreased values.

Yet, after 10 years of living in my condo, I was truly comfortable in my building which had only 46 units, a part-time on-site manager, a live-in engineer and a stable door staff. I was president of the Board for many years and with the other Board members, we made sure our building remained a quality place to live for its residents.

After cashing out, with my money neatly tucked away in a low interest saving account, I was in no mood to purchase another condo. It had been years since I had rented an apartment. Actually the last time I had rented an apartment was over twenty years ago at 750 North Dearborn (AsburyPlaza), which was one of my favorite units in all the buildings I had lived in over the years.

What I found out after looking for a luxury apartment, especially with a dog, is just how tight the rental market is. It seems that many people of all ages have opted to rent rather than own their home. With real estate values still tenuous and Chicago real estate taxes soaring, many people are taking a break from owning.

Last summer when I was looking for a two-bedroom apartment within my ‘Up to $3000/mo.’ budget, which I thought was generous, I only had two choices for an apartment. One was on West Erie overlooking the El tracks and the other was at Ohio & McClurg, where I now live in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment for somewhere close to my budget. I signed a 15-month lease to get the best deal.

Settled into my apartment the end of July, I had a few great months of summer on my deck off my kitchen. Life was good for those two months, until my kitchen sink overflowed with 50 floors of sink waste from a clogged community pipe, which over flowed twice before the engineer finally called someone in to clean out the trap. The debris had the texture and size of a base ball!  The building manager even called me on this one, reassuring me that everything was going to be alright.  The dryer door also kept whacking me in the face because the building had settled after three years and the floors were not level; nearly lost my right eye one day.

Being on the 3rd floor of this 50+ high-rise, I realized that I only had a view of other high-rise buildings with only a bit of direct sun. I was so close to the street, my dog barked at every single dog that walked by in an effort to protect me. Then I heard that a mega high-rise was scheduled this spring to be built across the street from my apartment. Can you imagine what my dog would do when he saw a crane?

I immediately called the leasing agent and moved to the other side of the building. But, by this point I missed my old condo. I missed driving and dropping my grocery bags with the doorman who would place them by my door, instead of me having to carry two heavy bags on foot for blocks, or carry them from the parking garage to my apartment on the 18th floor. I missed someone actually going out in the snow, wind and rain to flag down a cab for me rather than just turning on the taxi light and me having to hail a cab.

I also miss the sense of community of knowing most of my neighbors, their dogs and my laundry partner, Ted who was 80 years old, but we discussed life every Saturday morning at 8am. I think about him often, hoping he is okay. I now have a w/d unit in my apartment, but doing laundry is not the same without Ted.

There will always be a place in someone’s lives for both a condo and a rental apartment. Sometimes it just makes sense to rent rather than buy. If you are new to the area or planning to leave Chicago soon, it makes no sense to purchase a home that may even go down in value based on our unstable real estate market. Yet, owning a condo does help you develop friends you will remember. It offers a much higher level of service and building maintenance and sense of community. I would choose owning over rentals.

In the meantime, I remain in my apartment for another year paying $500 for my electric bill, vacuuming my own hallway since no one ever seems to clean it and having items spill out of my closets because as we all know, apartment never have enough closets!


About Terri Lee Ryan

Terri Lee Ryan is a former Chicago commercial real estate broker, marketing consultant and hotel developer. An avid writer, she is the author of Life Is One Big To-Do List. In “People, Places and Property” she dishes on leaders in real estate, new places in your neighborhood and deals being done in Chicago.