New to Area and Seeking Thoughts/opinions on Where to Live

Updated on October 23, 2009
M.K. asks from Seattle, WA
30 answers

Hey Mamas,
We're new to Chicago, having just moved from Beijing and before that living in St. Louis.
My husband works at the Merchandise Mart and we're currently staying in corporate housing on Washington but by December 1st we need to be in a home. But where? That's what I really have no clue about since we've never lived here before.
Our Real Estate agent has helped guide us some towards Evanston/Wilmette or Oak Park based on the information we've given her (family oriented 'neighborhood' feel, quickest possible commute for my husband to work, easy walk to shops/library/transport stops, etc). We'd love to live in a city neighborhood but our budget disallows a city home rental (we're renting for 1 year prior to buying, as we need to be out of corporate housing on December 1st and aren't confident we would be able to find our 'dream' home in 1.5 months).
I don't have school age kids, but would like to put my 3.5 year old in pre school in January.
If anyone has any guidance here, and can offer up insights I'd appreciate it.
Thanks so much!

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I.B.

answers from Chicago on

Consider Hyde Park. It's a city neighborhood, diverse, affordable, has everything you could want for kids, a neighborhood feel, close to downtown, good schools and preschools, and great parks. We love it here.

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S.S.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M.
We live in the city in the Lakeview neighborhood. We absolutely love it but it is very expensive. My sister lives in Oak Park and they love it there. Up north, Park Ridge is great. And if you go south, orland park and new lenox are really nice.
Good luck.

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D.L.

answers from Chicago on

Evanston is lovely, but property taxes are high & the schools are just OK. Andersonville & Sauganash are really nice neighborhoods in the city, but if you live in the city you'll probably need to do private schools. Skokie & Lincolnwood are close to the city & the 94 highway. The EL Train stops in Skokie, so you're husband can ride the train to the Mart. Schools are great & property taxes are low. Good luck & welcome to Chicago.

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C.P.

answers from Chicago on

I've lived in Chicago for 16 years, in various neighborhoods, and we have 2 small kids. So here goes. Oak Park is nice. It has the qualities you've described. And the commute downtown would be quick. We prefer Evanston/Wilmette to Oak Park because there's more to do, more shopping, more of everything, and it's on the lakefront, which has lots to offer. Oak Park is probably less expensive. I find it hard to believe that you're going to rent a house in Evanston or Wilmette for less than you'd pay in a good neighborhood in the city, though. The "north shore" as it's called is very, very pricey. So you might explore your city options!!! Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Roscoe Village (very family oriented), Lincoln Square or Ravenswood Manor (also very family oriented).... These north-side neighborhoods have easy access to the el and walking to everything from cafes to restaurants to bars to parks.... I'd really recommend exploring the northside a bit, as well as driving around the northshore and oak park, to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. The city will be much more diverse, even in those areas I've mentioned, than what you'll find in the burbs. But if that's not important, than another factor will probably be schools!!! The schools in the burbs, especially Wilmette or parts of Evanston, will be better than chicago public schools generally speaking. Also, good luck getting into a pre-k mid year! That might be a challenge! Most schools have application deadlines more than a full year in advance and long waiting lists. I'm totally NOT exaggerating either. But I'm sure in the burbs you might find more options. Or if you look at some of the less popular private schools...
How exciting to be looking for a new home : ) I know how tough that is with two small children. But there are TONS of properties for rent, at least in the city. You shouldn't have trouble finding something you love. And I wouldn't be afraid to negotiate rental prices a bit either. Many properties are sitting vacant all over the place! It's a great time to find something ; ) Good luck to you!

2 moms found this helpful
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L.G.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M. --

You might want to look into Riverside. It's located a bit south and west of Oak Park. It's a very small suburb and therefore has a neighborhood feel. We moved here three years ago from Chicago. The Metra train (commuter train that goes into Union Station) has two stops in Riverside. It takes about 20 - 25 minutes to get downtown. We also have two great preschools here and the public school system is very strong. Riverside-Brookfield High School is one of the top ranked in Illinois. My daughter attended Riverside Presbyterian Church Preschool for two years. She loved it! I can't say enough about the teachers and their program. Their phone number is ###-###-####. I think they a few openings for January.

I hope this helps a bit. Good luck!
L. G.

1 mom found this helpful
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I.N.

answers from Chicago on

M., several people have already mentioned Lakeview. It's a neighborhood in the city and is near the Red/Brown/Purple lines, which would get your husband to the Mart.

We actually just recently put our townhome on the market, so, if you'd like additional details about it, please e-mail me.

It's a 3 bedroom townhome within a gated community with a 2 car attached garage.

S.R.

answers from Chicago on

Hey M.!

We have just moved from the UK and are in corp accom till Dec 1st in the city centre.I have a 3 1/2 year old I want to send to preschool too and an 18 month old who will stay at home with me.The preschools I have spoken to are approx $190 a week for 5 x 5 hours.
We visited lots of suburbs with a location agent. We liked Wilmette, Evanston, Lincoln Park, Old Town and Buck town.Naperville was lovely and had fab schools but apparently there is a 7 year waiting list for a car park space at the station.Glen View and Glen Coe were lovely but really expensive.Hinsdale was a little less expensive and had a train station to town.All were quite pricey really. We have decided to rent for a year at North Harbour Towers right next to Millenium park so my hubby can enjoy a short walk to work, we don't have to run a car and we can take our time to consider a suburb.Let me know what people suggest as I am in the same boat! Can't face moving again Dec 1st!!!But looking forward to our kids toys arriving then!

S.

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S.E.

answers from Chicago on

It's a buyers market right now. I have lived in Edgewater/Andersonville area since I moved to Chicago in 1986. Public transportation is great - 20 minutes to downtown. Great schools. And whoever said if you live in Chicago you will have to do private school is WRONG!!! Great shopping, restaurants, library, parks. Great diversity and family focused.

I briefly lived in Hyde Park and moved back to Edgewater.

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L.R.

answers from Chicago on

Try Lincoln Square. It is the strip of Lincoln between Lawrence and Montrose. There are tons of kids! Just walk around Lincoln Square on a weekend day and you will see (any day really). There are also a couple great parks in the area (Winnemac and Welles). It is accessible from the Brown Line, which takes you right to Merchandise Mart. There are great schools - St. Matthias if you are looking for a private school. If you go more towards the south end of the square, there is a public school called Coonley, which was just made a Regional Gifted Center a couple years ago (also has a great neighborhood school program). I would avoid Evanston, mostly because of the high taxes and the commute is actually quite long because it is so far north (schools are spotty there, too, so you really have to look into which school it is). Oak Park is ok, but again, commute will be longer than Lincoln Square. If you want a suburb - I would check out Glenview. It's a quick Metra ride. There are lots of new shops and restaurants on The Glen. And GREAT real-estate deals right now! Oh yeah - and the public schools are great up there. That's it! Hope that helps!

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R.J.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M.,

Oak Park sounds like the idea place for you. When buying in Oak Park the taxes are very high. You are very close to the city for easy commuting. I used to work at the Mart myself. Other neighborhing suburbs are Forest Park, River Forest, Franklin Park, Melrose Park, Maywood, Berwyn,

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D.G.

answers from Chicago on

M.,
I suggest you also check out Skokie which is the suburb just south of wilmette and just west of evanston (neighboring burb). The north part of skokie, school district 69 Highland/Devonshire is fantastic. You can get a nice house for the money, close to public transportation, can be in the city in under half an hour, close to mall, library, etc. I grew up there, moved to the city, and afer having 2 kids decided to move back. I lived in evanston for some time also, and love it, but the taxes are very high and to be in a good school you have to fork up a lot of money for a house! Skokie has a great neighborhood feel, diverse, and very friendly.
Good luck!

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K.T.

answers from Chicago on

the Old Irving neighborhood of Chicago has that very "neighborhoody" feel with townhouses, rowhouses and tons of single family homes....you should look there as you can find rentals as well as MANY things for sale right now. There is a metra line right there as well as the blue line for the El! good luck!

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J.G.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M..

I have lived in Hyde Park for 4 years and LOVE it. We are within walking distance to the lakefront and just 10-15 minutes south of downtown. The neighborhood is very laid back, diverse, and family oriented. It's a great walking neighborhood and there is easy access to the Metra and CTA bus stops. There are bookstores, a huge community library, restaurants, shops, and so many activities for children (parks, playgrounds, Museum of Science and Industry, Marsha's Music Together, Hyde Park Suzuki Institute, etc.) The University of Chicago Laboratory School (preschool through highschool) is right in the neighborhood and is excellent.

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J.C.

answers from Chicago on

We also moved from elsewhere, lived in the city, and then looked at Oak Park and Evanston about 10 years ago. We bought in Oak Park (south area) and love it, but we have several good friends in Evanston and always enjoy visiting and going to the beach. It does has some of that north shore insularity, which can be cozy or offputting, depending on who you talk to.

I'm not sure if you have a car now, but if either of you needs to do any travel or drive anywhere, research the commute and driving times. Oak Park is pretty close to both airports and has a metra line (and others just north and south of OP) and two L lines (that run normal hours).

I love it here. Love the diversity of the people, not just race and income, but professions and interests. If you want to be part of a community, I don't know of one where I'd rather put down roots, and we're still growing and changing so this is a place where you can make a difference (visit our Arts District!) We are well supplied with excellent preschools, too!

But the taxes are high, it's an urban suburb, housing stock is old, etc.

Good luck in your search. Don't forget to have your husband try the commutes (for your top choices) at rush hour and the weekend. Welcome!

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P.P.

answers from Chicago on

M.,

We live in Brookfield and love it. It has a city feel to it due to the style of homes here, the detached garages and alleys. Although we live on an "old" block (most of our neighbors have either recently passed away, or aren't far from it), most blocks have a LOT of younger families. My brother and numerous friends who also live in Brookfield and are always doing things with their neighbors.

There are 3 Metra stops here so you're bound to be close to one of them. We are closest to the one that is the last stop of an "express" train to Union Station so it takes us just over 15 minutes to get downtown.

The grade schools are good, and the high schools are ranked some of the highest in the state. Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township seem to go back and forth in which is ranked higher, so you can't go wrong there.

Brookfield itself has a pretty meager downtown area. There is a cute little grocery store, a CVS, a bank...but the rest of the storefronts are barber shops or beauty parlors or insurance offices or something along those lines. However, downtown LaGrange is not far (we walk it consistently during the summer) and that is a fantastic downtown area. So we get to take advantage of those great restaurants and stores without having to pay the taxes we would if we LIVED in LaGrange.

As for day care, I have my 3 year old son at one right by a train station so I can just drop him off and run across the street to catch the train, and the place is amazing. Not only is he learning things that I didn't have to learn until I was in kindergarten, but they also have dance class and art studio sessions every week to invoke a love of the arts in the children. And while day care is always expensive, I'm paying less per week than I did when I had my son at KinderCare several towns away.

It's certainly worth a look! Good luck!

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M.P.

answers from Chicago on

We live in Oak Park and also have a 3 1/2 year old and a 20 month old. It's an awesome suburb without the ultra suburban feel. It's very urban, diverse, hip and unfortunately high home prices and high taxes. But it's a quick commute downtown on either the blue line or green line or metra and has an awesome library, great schools and decent downtown area. I think I have more available to me in walking distance now than I did living in the city. My daughter goes to First United Church Nursery School in Oak Park and absolutely loves it. Her teacher is Mrs. Bente and she is doing great there. It is a very homey atmosphere with an open door policy. It's next to the library which is so convenient when you have another child. Good luck.

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M.S.

answers from Chicago on

Welcome! The Chicago area is very diverse and each neighborhood has a different flavor. I'm a native and have lived all over the North side: from Andersonville, Ravenswood, DePaul, Lincoln Park, Boys Town, Roscoe Village, Buck town, Wicker Park, Ukranian Village, Humboldt Park.

For your husbands commute neighborhoods along the CTA Brown (Ravenswood), the Yellow (Skokie Swift) or the Purple (Evanston) lines; they all go directly to the Merchandise Mart.

The Ravenswood/Ravenswood Manor/Lincoln Sqr area has a very European in feel; filled w/ quaint shops, great restaurants, Tons of kid activities, Old Town School of Music, Sultzer Library (one of the largest in the area), great parks... extremely family oriented and not as congested as Lincoln Park/Old Town (which are both lovely).

Skokie and Evanston are both older established suburbs. Evanston, which is closer to the lake, has more of an upscale, college town feel due to NWestern University. With a vibrant art community, it is the gateway between Chicago and the Northshore community (the more affluent suburbs in the Chicago-area). Evanston, west side can be a bit has a few rougher elements. Skokie is W of Evanston with a historically older Jewish community, good schools, good restaurants (great delis :-)

Oak Park as many have mentioned is a "hippyish", great old houses - Home to the Frank Loyd Wright studio and several of his "Prairie-style homes." The neighboring Forest Park area is not as pricey but affords an equally charming and distinct flare. Commute wise you are on the CTA Blue and Green lines, as well as the Metra.

The Andersonville area has great restaurants, is near the lake and offers many interesting things to do. The CTA red line runs on its East side, which allows for an easy train transfer (no extra charge) for your husbands commute.

Try Schooldigger.com when researching your schools. There are plenty of preschool options. Both public, magnet and private.

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R.S.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M.,

I would look into Lakeview/Roscoe Village. There are a lot of families, it's walkable and a short commute. I don't think you'd be able to rent a single family home, but a 3-bedroom apt. or townhouse might be doable. There are a lot of parks and classes for kids, etc., in the area.

I grew up in Evanston, which was great, but it's pretty expensive these days.

I'd be happy to discuss this with you more -- just send me a message.

Best of luck,
R.

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E.R.

answers from Chicago on

I've lived in two of the places I am going to recommend and have good friends in Evanston, so I've spent a lot of time in all of these places. I also lived in the city for several years, so I get what you mean by wanting some of the perks of an 'urban' neighborhood.

I am not a big fan of the Wilmette/Winnetka area. I just find it a little stuffy and snobby for me. Beautiful houses and right by the lake, but very expensive and definitely not any 'urban' feel to it at all.

Evanston is very nice, but you will pay a lot more for being so close to the lake, so you would have to decide if that is a priority for you. It IS really nice, but also the Northwestern U campus is right there as well, so you will have a lot more of a 'college' atmosphere. But it's a very nice place with decent schools. It reminds me most of a college town.

I would definitely recommend the Oak Park/River Forest area for a nice 'neighborhood' feel with old houses, big trees, good schools, great libraries and more of a 'city' feeling because the Green Line runs right there and it is an easy commute downtown.We lived there for several years and still work and have lots of friends and relatives in the neighborhood. Particularly in south Oak Park, there are beautiful bungalows and lots of very creative, artistic people.

It is also extremely diverse in every way, much more so than many average 'suburbs'.
If you visit, check out the Magic Tree Children's Bookstore on Lake and Oak Park Ave and also Geppetto's Toy Store around the corner on Lake street. They are both GREAT local resources and terrific privately owned family businesses and can give you a feel for the area.

Housing prices in Oak Park used to be through the roof, but in this economy you can probably look at a nice selection of homes that are reasonable. Taxes are high though and it is a very 'regulated' villages- lots of rules about where you can park, remodeling your house, etc.
I see that someone else recommended Riverside as well, which is sort of between the Oak Park and La Grange areas. Riverside is also really nice, great schools, lovely homes, very old fashioned.

A little further south and west, I would also recommend you check out La Grange for a lovely downtown, great schools and nice older homes. We live in Countryside, which is also right there and shares the same school district and are very happy in that area. The Metra train runs downtown which is slightly less convenient for your husband if he is planning to take public trans to work, but still totally do-able. LaGrange is a slightly more 'suburban' area, but in an old-fashioned way and the downtown is really pleasant and busy. It is surrounded by forest preserve with bike trails and is still an easy 25 minutes to downtown most days.

I hope this helps you out! Each area has its own unique character and all of them are very easy to get to from downtown. Best of luck finding the perfect fit for your family, and please don't hesitate to contact me with any other questions. I've lived in and around Chicago for over 15 years and have lived in all parts of the city, so let me know if I can be helpful to you!

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C.R.

answers from Chicago on

All of the suburbs you mentioned are expensive to live in. Although Oak Park is very nice and I would definitely live there if I could afford it. There you are close to the city, great park district and excellent schools.
If you want to stay in the city check out Buck Town/ Wicker park or Logan Square. Both of these areas are very nice and would be a very easy commute for your husband. Both of these neighborhoods have great park district programs and a few really good schools. Best Wishes!
C.

K.H.

answers from Chicago on

I will second the Andersonville recommendation. I've lived in this neighborhood for about 13 years and LOVE it. There's everything you want in an urban neighborhood--shops, restaurants, services, all within walking distance PLUS a great neighborhood public school (Peirce.) They have a pre-k program with award-winning teachers. My kids have been very happy here and so have I. Good luck to you!

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K.B.

answers from Chicago on

You should check out Riverside. It's as far west as Oak Park, but South of there on the Metra line.

GREAT schools, small community feel, and wonderful curvy streets.

http://www.riverside.il.us/
LaGrange would be a good choice too.

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S.H.

answers from Chicago on

M., welcome to Chicago and welcome back to the US! I live in the Andersonville area of the north side and think this neighborhood in the city could provide you with many,if not all, of the things you are seeking. This is an older area with some new constructions as well. Clark Street is full of stores of all kinds. There are some nearby preschools. Look Foster to Bryn Mawr, Glenwood to Ravenswood. I've lived in this area for 6.5 years but in this part of the city since 1981 for most of that time. Good luck and if you have any questions, please write off list to
[email protected]____.com

S.

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L.C.

answers from Chicago on

love love love oak park!!! i lived on the north shore (winnetka) and in chicago, but so prefer oak park to either for all the reasons everyone is listing. big town with a great small town feeling and lots of real people. you don't have to keep up with the jones in oak park!!!

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J.S.

answers from Chicago on

I lived in Oak Park the past few years, and in June we moved to Evanston, so I have first-hand knowledge of both. Both towns are great. Oak Park has a smaller, small-town kind of feel to it. You run into people you know quite often. It's closer to downtown Chicago. Evanston is a bigger town with almost it's own city feel, and it's further from downtown Chicago. Both towns have el and metra stops that make it easy to get into Chicago. Evanston has several shopping districts - Noyes, Central Street, Dempster and Chicago, Main and Chicago, and the whole downtown Evanston area. Oak Park basically just has downtown Oak Park - two ends of Lake Street (at Harlem and at Oak Park Ave). Both towns are wonderful. I personally found Oak Park to be a bit more "hippy-ish", and Evanston to be a little more reserved.

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M.S.

answers from Chicago on

Although I grew up at the outskirts of Chicago (right by O'Hare), I now have a 15 month old boy with a second due by Thanksgiving, and we are planning to give up our house (my dad built, and I grew up), and move to Itasca. My husband works by LaSalle and the river, and takes the Metra daily, and Itasca has the same train running through. The schools in Itasca are great (two of my three brothers raised their kids there) and the area has lots of open air, a great nature center, library, parks, and near to less congested areas as Evaston and Oak Park and a great family atmosphere. Please check it out!

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K.A.

answers from Chicago on

Welcome! I have lived in the City my entire life. I now live in Ravenswood, and it is lovely. It is close to the Metra and train, for you husband. I have 2 girls am a single mom and feel safe here. I was going to move and the only suburb I have not noticed anyone mention is Park Ridge. I have friends there and it fits a lot of your criteria. I do also like the other suggestions: Andersonville-Lakewood/Balmoral, to be specific, but good luck getting in there, it's my favorite neighborhood in the city, Lincoln Square, smaller lot sizes and Ravenswood Manor. Honestly, first things first, if you do decide to stay in the city, start with the schools. CPS is tough to get into a good one, and when we decided to stay here I committed to private school. They will do public for high school.

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D.F.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M.,

Welcome to Chicago! It's a beautiful city, with lot's to see. Some of the areas you should look at are: Near South, Near West, Near North, Hyde Park, Oak Lawn, Edgewater, Andersonville, Lincoln Park and Rogers Park. You'll find something that suits your taste.

All the Best!

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A.

answers from Chicago on

Elmhurst has a really lovely downtown area with a Metra station for a quick commute to downtown Chicago. I went to college there and it is definitely a family friendly town with beautiful homes and real neighborhoods. Good luck with your house hunt.

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D.B.

answers from Chicago on

I grew up in Evanston and LOVED it; we plan to move there from Chicago as soon as we can. The schools are good, the diversity is awesome, it's close to everything, the houses are lovely, and there is something for everyone!

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