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March 20, 2014

How to find an apartment with a (big) dog: Part 1

As I mentioned a couple days ago, our landlord is selling the apartment so we’re on the hunt for a new place. For my own benefit I thought it would be helpful to document the process to make sure I find the best place for Emily, Eko and myself.
As I mentioned a couple days ago, our landlord is selling the apartment so we’re on the hunt for a new place. For my own benefit I thought it would be helpful to document the process to make sure I find the best place for Emily, Eko and myself. Hopefully it might also offer a template for future city-dwellers on their own quest for a pet-friendly domicile. (Domicile is one of my favorite words, by the way.) So how do you open the door on a new beginning in a new apartment?

When one door closes, another opens. Or you open it yourself!

As someone who has nearly bludgeoned himself to death because he didn’t take time to read the IKEA instructions, I know exactly how important it is to prepare ahead of time. Preparation is key for anyone about to begin an apartment search, but doubly so for anyone with a dog. Here is my initial checklist. Budget – Unless Eko’s bet with Warren Buffet pays out, we’re apartment hunting on a budget. My first order of business was to establish a monthly budget which includes rent, utilities and any other recurring payments. I also left myself a note to remember to ask about one time fees – application fees, move in fees, pet fees, etc. – which can easily eat up money.

Fees can eat money faster than even Eko could

Location – With a general budget in mind, it was time to choose a location. Chicago has a lot of great neighborhoods and each offers its own perks. Rather than compare each one, it was easier to first limit my choices. For work, Emily needs to be within a reasonable proximity to the hospital. For Eko, we need a neighborhood where it’s convenient to walk him (aka not a highrise), there’s somewhere nearby he can run off leash, and preferably we’re close enough to jog to the lakefront.

Correction: Close to the lake is a priority. No way I could deny Eko this much fun

A quick tally of these needs leaves us with three major neighborhoods: Old Town, Lincoln Park (where we live now) and Lakeview. By reducing our choices and limiting our options it actually makes it more likely we’ll find a place we’re happy with. Sounds unintuitive but check out this TED talk on the paradox of choice for a cool explanation.. Amenities – We have a budget and a location but we’re not quite ready to start looking just yet. I find it helpful to separate amenities into “wants” and “needs.” The most basic need is a dog-friendly building. Unfortunately, not all such buildings are created equal. Last time we searched for an apartment in Chicago we wasted a lot of time looking at apartments with weight limits.  Weight restrictions make no sense, but I’ll save that for another post. For now it just matters I’m cognizant to check the apartments are big-dog-friendly. Beyond that, we can have plenty of wants (an in unit washer/dryer would be a nice upgrade) and wishes (a fireplace as good as our current one? no chance) but I think it’s best to be flexible.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago, marking our territory

Have to enjoy these fires while we still can

Search tools – We are coming into the high season for Chicago rentals. May kicks off a flurry of moving which lasts through the summer. There are dozens of services and middlemen who offer to help you navigate the overwhelming number of listings. While many of these services are undoubtedly helpful, I’ve found you can achieve better results if you strike out on your own, especially if you have pets. Brokers have a specific selection of properties, a large number of clients and not a lot of time to devote to each person. I’m my only client and I’m naturally willing to put in more effort on my behalf than anyone else would or should. I have found the most helpful tool in managing my search is Padmapper.com Padmapper.com transforms overwhelming rental listings into a simple and manageable interface. One of the major benefits of searching on your own with padmapper is that you are more likely to find an owner who only manages a small number of properties and is willing to negotiate when it comes to pets.  Additionally, some owners will post directly to craigslist so padmapper finds offerings which third party services might not have listed. This is how we found our current apartment. So with a budget, location, amenities and search tool all laid out, let’s check out a map of my first search effort:

All the gray icons are apartments that for one reason or another won’t work. Cue The Price is Right losing horns. But this brings me to my last and most important point…

Persistence – I have not failed, I have simply found 10,000 apartments that do not work. Ok, maybe not 10,000, but it starts to feel that way. Even when well prepared, the search for a new place to live can be time consuming, tedious and frustrating. Some places I looked at were too small, for other places Eko was too big (unfortunately padmapper can’t filter out places with weight restrictions). For one reason or another, none of these apartments added up to the right fit. It may seem like I have nothing to show for my efforts, but knowing what won’t work is vital to knowing what will work. If we’re going to be living in a place for a year or two it’s worth the effort.

“Don’t worry, Will. We’ll find a place.”

I’m not the first or the last person to need to find an apartment with a big dog, I’m just the latest. I’m going to keep plugging away at the search, but if you have any helpful tips or advice from your own experiences it would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Comments for How to find an apartment with a (big) dog: Part 1

  1. meANXIETYme says:

    I have no great suggestions for you as we’ve been lucky enough to buy and not rent. But I understand your pain because initially we were going to rent and couldn’t find any place workable that would take big dogs.
    We’ve got lots of crossed paws (and fingers) that you find just the right place for your whole family! Good luck!

  2. I can only cross my paws for you and I will do it. Or you can place an ad on your blog and we all share it, maybe you will find a perfect home this way. The madness with weight limits became popular here too. They never met our fox terrier, who could wreck every room faster than the Sex Pistols :o)

  3. scarlybobs says:

    It’s always stressful trying to find a place to rent, but it’s definitely more stressful when you have a dog or two!

    We found it helpful to write out a CV type thing that we could ask to be passed on to the landlord. We included things like the age of our dogs, the fact they were crate trained, both had basic training, were house trained etc. If we found a place we really fell in love with we would offer to pay a higher deposit / bond due to the pups too, although no landlord has ever taken us up on that offer it’s still good to throw it out there 🙂

    Having Eko meet the landlord is a great idea too…I wish either of our pups were calm enough to do that XD

    Good luck, I hope you find a great place soon 🙂

  4. stevebuddy says:

    To bad Will that you guys want/have to stick to the city ?
    Because for what you will be paying in rent there, you can rent a nice house with everything you want and more, like a big backyard in the west burbs. In the west burbs you would be about 30 minutes from downtown, via: car, train or the L.
    Just thought I would toss this out to you guys.
    Well good luck on your search, I know what you guys are going though, apt hunting in the city is no fun, I have been then before, that’s why I bought a house in the west burbs.
    I save a lot in taxes, price of gas and just about everything else. But I do miss the the feeling of the city, the smell of the city and the noise of the city. But not the traffic ! LOL

  5. Victoria says:

    Tell them he weighs a lot but fits in a suitcase – you have posted that pic before!! Maybe better yet – let them meet him – no one can say no once they meet him.

  6. Boomdeeadda says:

    I’d say, incorporate Social Media. If you have a big friend list on FB. Ask them to share a link with your search details. It’s often who you know more than what you know. That’s how we got in this condo. Someone’s bound to know someone who knows someone with an opportunity for you. Good Luck Will.

  7. I was surprised at how tough it was to find a rental with two big dogs here in Longmont (a dog friendly place). I lucked out by being able to rent a house in the end so I wish you lots of luck with your search. I know the right place is out there for you guys!

  8. Elyse says:

    I suggest that once you find some options that you (1) refer them to your blog; and (2) mention that you work at home. Dogs don’t get into nearly so much trouble when they aren’t sad and lonely.

    Perhaps even ask your current landlord for a testimonial.

    Me, I had a maniac of a dog. We rented a few places but ended up buying. In the end that’s really best — because nobody can put size limits on what you own!

  9. Ogee says:

    Who wouldn’t want a dog that comes with his own fan club? It will happen. 🙂

  10. Casey says:

    Thank you for sharing your apartment search with us! I live in Chicago as well and I just found out that my landlord foreclosed on our unit so the future of my living arrangement is up in the air. My pup is about 45 lbs and I’m really hoping I don’t have to start searching for a new place but it will be very helpful to read about your experience. Thanks!

  11. It’s pretty early in the process, but it sounds like you have a great plan. And a few great failures under your belt, so that’s done. Good luck in the search. Soon you’ll find a PERFECT new home.

  12. mollieandalfie says:

    Oh don’t cry, I know you guys will find the perfect and Pawfect place. Renting is always a bummer as they hold loads of restrictions. NO PETS. Our fingers are crossed that Eko’s bet pays off, if we win millions on the lottery, then you will have your own home.. Keep ya paws crossed for me LOL xxxoxxx

    Mollie and Alfie

  13. Emma says:

    At least you only have one pet! It is a major hassle finding a rental with a dog over 20 lbs which really makes no sense since the small dogs jump and run and yip yap more than big dogs. Big dogs tend to be so mellow and not so “chatty”. But some silly human came up with this crazy idea I guess!

  14. Contact HGTV!! You could go on House Hunters !! 🙂

  15. As the owner of two albeit small dogs, I understand the hardship of apartment hunting. Best of luck to you and Eko.

  16. Marcela says:

    Wow! I wish more people would keep their furry kids in mind when choosing an apartment. You are doing a great job Will. I hope you find your new place soon. Have a great weekend:-)

  17. OhMelvin says:

    We love you guys! And we love lists and priorities! Keep us posted!!!

  18. Misaki says:

    Hope you find something soon, we don’t rent so I’m afraid we can’t really help.But maybe mention your search to friends on fb etc, someone might know of somewhere in your area. Best of luck

  19. Caitlin Gath says:

    Yes, weight restrictions make no sense!!! It also kills me when they say, “no aggressive breeds.” Blergh!

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