Author Topic: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed  (Read 2992 times)

chesebert

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Family of 3 moving from China back to the States at the end of November. I will be working downtown and needs some advice on living in Chicago in general.

Housing:

Currently we are only considering Lincoln Park, Lake View and Gold Coast (these are the areas that we are more familiar with, but will consider other areas). I work in professional services and my hours are unpredictable, and I may need to be at the office on short notice. Therefore, living close to work is one of the most important factors in choosing a residence. In addition, I do not want to drive to work due to the expensive parking and traffic congestion, so living close to public transportation is equally important in my search criteria. My office is just a step away from Grand Central, so metro/CTA will be the preferred method of getting to work.

I have a budget of $2300-3000 per month for housing (in the case of owned residence, that amount would need to include all taxes, annual repair/maintenance costs, etc) and we are prepared to either buy or rent, depending on whichever makes more financial sense. I am currently paying $2600 per month in rent for my apartment in China. I have about 80-100k for down payment if purchasing a property makes more sense. <note: budgeted amount will comprise a relatively small portion of the take home pay and networth, respectively, and we are not looking to lower the amount>

Does it make more sense to buy or rent? Are there any other areas we should consider given the above criteria?

Education:

My kid is turning 6 and will be going to kindergarten when we move back and go to elementary school in the fall of next year. She is currently in a private kindergarten (paid for by employer) but will transition into public kindergarten (if there is such a thing) and go to a public elementary school. We have done some initial research and all the good public schools appear to be clustered around Gold Coast and Lincoln Park areas. Would appreciate it to get some feedback on schools in the different areas of the city from other MMM parents living/had lived in the city.

Car:

We thought about going car-less and rely solely on public transportation, Uber, zip car and weekend rentals. However, we have decided it makes sense to buy a car. Given that we plan to live in the city, how convenient is it to get the car serviced if it brakes down? If there are dealers offering repair services or independent shops in the city, we may consider purchasing an older car with higher mileage; otherwise we may decide to spend more to purchase a newer car or a new car. I am currently leaning toward E91 (had an E39 for 10 years before I moved to China and loved driving a BMW), but that may change depending on if I can get it serviced in the city and the then available inventory, as I do not plan to purchase a car right away when I move back.

For MMM with cars in Chicago, how much do you drive in a month and what are your monthly costs?

Other Transportation:

I have thought about taking up biking when I move back to the States (not safe in China, as no one appears to obey the traffic rules). However, I have not ridden a bike in over 10 years and I am not sure where to start. I have driven through Chicago and the different areas, and to be honest I would be a little scared riding with traffic if I were to do it when I move back. I need a step plan to ease myself into biking and to become a more competent rider.

Are there any other transportation tips anyone can offer (e.g., how often do you use zip car and like services (if at all), is it convenient, etc.) Any useful apps that we should have for biking, driving, using zip car-like services and taking public transportation?

Grocery/Restaurant:

We have accumulated some bad habits living in China, including having a cook/helper, dining out whenever, buying lunch everyday, etc. However, as these services/indulgences tend to cost a lot more in the States, we will need to pare down. The plan is to cook all our own food for the weekdays, including bring lunches to work. We still want to dine out on the weekends.

For MMM living in the city, where do you do most of your grocery shopping at? What's a reasonable monthly food budget for a family of 3 (ex restaurant)? If professional house cleaning is required, what's a good service provider and how much do they charge for cleaning?

Misc:

Are there any MMM gathering in Chicago where we can learn more about efficient living? We have visited Chicago numerous times, have family members living in the burbs have never actually lived in the city, so this will be an all new experience for us. We would appreciate any advice on making the move and transition as painless as possible.



MaggieD

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2015, 10:27:27 AM »
I can't help with everything, but I'll ask a few questions and make a few suggestions on a few things I do know about.

Office Commute:

When you say "Grand Central", what do you mean as far as your office being nearby?  There is the Metra which is focused on being a commuter train with lines that run from downtown out to the suburbs in many directions, but there are some city stops.  The CTA is the city train and bus system with only a couple jaunts outside the city.  Metra's two main hubs are Union Station and Ogilvie.  Some places would have a super short Metra commute but a longer CTA commute such as near the Ravenswood Metra stop along the brown line.  You can see Metra schedules at metrarail.com.  The Lincoln Square/Ravenswood area is going to be more affordable and residential than the other neighborhoods you mentioned, and it seems to be very family-friendly.  If you're going in occasionally at times that don't cooperate well with the Metra, this gives you the brown line or uber/carshare/your car as likely those times would have less traffic.  Friends live in this area, and it is also bikeable to downtown and away from cars once you get to the Lake Shore path.

www.transitchicago.com is the CTA's website.  The transit trackers are great and available via app (Metra also has an app).  The CTA system is easy to use.  You will want to purchase a Ventra card and register it - you can do this online and have it handy for when you arrive.

Buying vs Renting:

In my neighborhood, buying made a lot of sense, but I think you'll have to run the numbers yourselves.  I would probably plan on increased property taxes compared to the current ones for the property in your analysis as that is a strong possibility to deal with Chicago's budget shortfalls.

Owning a car:

There are car shops & dealerships in the city, but there's a higher density of them in pockets the further out of the core you get.  The IL registration and Chicago city stickers are reasonable here (200-225/yr combined?), but the big thing that could cost you a lot is parking.  Parking spots range from 50 (likely cheaper than the neighborhoods you mention) to hundreds/month.  You may want to decide on the car after you find a place as I doubt you want your new BMW in tight street parking getting rubbed regularly.  Gas is definitely pricier in the city than in the suburbs so generally fill up when visiting family or the like.  Keep in mind without an off-street parking spot you'll need to pay attention to things like street sweeping, permits, meters, snow removal routes, and general signage for no parking for utility work, etc. - the permits/meters should be much more about an awareness when selecting vs an ongoing commitment.  Ask people when you're out looking around about parking and traffic in the neighborhood during other seasons - around Lincoln Park south of Belmont there may be easily available street parking on a cold, drizzly November day, but that doesn't likely represent summer or when the snow piles up.

Car-share:

The best one for you (zipcar, enterprise, and hertz are the main ones I'm aware of) is probably going to depend on where you end up living as you want something that has a few options that are convenient for you.  My boyfriend uses it for when he needs to work in the suburbs and I have something going on where the car works better for me that day (I work in the 'burbs daily but sometimes take public transit).  Enterprise's starts at 40/year and depending on the miles vs time you're looking for have different plans that may work better for you - hourly except overnight start around 7/hour and generally run 65-100+ for a 24-hour rental.  The 100+ usually is for something like a big cargo van vs your regular commuter type vehicle.  I think all of the car share programs have their own apps.  The ones I'm familiar with you always return to the location you picked them up from, and you can't put your car in the spot while you take the car-share spot out.  It has worked well - occasionally the closest pick-up isn't available so he'll have to go a little bit further than would be ideal/convenient, but it is far cheaper and easier than having a 2nd car between us.  I'm planning to sign up soon as a membership is a lot cheaper than it used to be and worth it if I need to get out to an emergency with my horses in the far 'burbs and he has my car or it is in the shop, etc.

Biking:

Go to www.divvybikes.com for Chicago's bike-share public transit-like program.  Buy a helmet first, and then try somewhere off the street and away from crowds to get comfortable riding again before getting on the crazy streets.  Horner Park is an example of one park I'm aware of that has them and some space to ride around on a path without the streets or congestion of a more popular place like the Lake Shore path which can be overwhelming for a new biker.

I'm not all that frugal with grocery shopping - I have a busy career, commute, etc. and basically tell myself whatever I get at the grocery store is way cheaper than not getting it at the grocery store.  We tend to go to Mariano's for big trips, the local produce market which has a focus on the Mexican/Central & South American populations for smaller trips, and sometimes Jewel when it is more convenient.  We also do a CSA, but the one I use doesn't have any options in the city so it isn't that helpful for you.  We pay ~220/mo for all the fruit, veggies, dairy, and meat we can eat and supplement with other things from the store/Amazon to maybe another 40/week right now?  We'll also have meat and cheese for months once the summer shares are over.  There's Aldi and Costco, but really if you're just starting on trying to not eat out Mariano's or Jewel might make the easiest transition if there's one in your neighborhood.  There are also some delivery services.




frugaliknowit

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2015, 12:26:47 PM »
I would zero in on school choice first.  Keep in mind Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast are "fancy pants" neighborhoods with big sticker prices and rents.

Once you've zeroed in on the school, I would look for a rental.  I see no reason to buy until you know the city and are sure you will hold it 10 years or more.  In your transit planning, please note that the red line is not very pleasant.  The brown line is much more comfortable.

BMW, are you kidding?  There ARE plenty of places to service cars, including a Beemer Dealership.

chesebert

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2015, 09:12:03 PM »
@ Maggie, I meant "Union Station" - morning brain fart. I promise I know more about Chicago than my OP would lead you to believe. DW and I grew up in the midwest and her side of the family lives in Chicago burbs. We have a rental in Lincoln Park and so far it has been a good investment (good appreciation and cash flow). I have ridden the metra many times (during non-peak hours), but have not gotten on the CTA. I understand the red line can be crowded during peak hours, what about the other lines?

We are looking for places with garage included in the purchase price/rent price. I do not fancy parking on the street and having to move it from time to time. We are definitely buying an old car that's at least 5 years old, given we do not plan to do a lot of driving.

I have looked at the zipcar rates and I think it doesn't quite work as a primary car (daily rate is staggering) but would be a good backup car in rare emergency situations.

I have looked at Divvy and are now planning my living situation around Divvy station in addition to my other criteria. There are several Divvy stations near my office and I think I would want to bike to work at least during good weather (that kind of limits me to Lincoln Park, Gold Coast and Old Town areas and maybe Lakeview).

What's CSA and "summer share" and does Amazon now sell groceries? Tell me about the delivery services (won't buy a car initially, maybe sometime next year).

@lhamo, thanks for the school recommendation. I will ask DW to take a look. Would be good to connect with another MMM in the city (you did tell him about MMM, right :p)

@frugaliknowit, good to know the car service can be taken care of in the city. We are staying put in Chicago for good.


MaggieD

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2015, 09:01:35 AM »
frugaliknowit,

Have you been on the red line since the remodeling-type improvements they did?  It is much nicer, though if you mean the sometimes interesting characters, well, that's just a part of public transit.

chesebert,

I think they're all more crowded during peak hours.  The red line's peak hours also includes Cubs games and to a lesser degree on the north side, Sox games.  There are some express buses from various neighborhoods as well so be sure to check those out using your normal range of commute times when evaluating CTA access - they may take Lake Shore and skip a bunch from downtown up to Belmont, for instance, like the 146.

Another thing to consider on the car rentals is often a day or two from O'Hare or another more traditional rental agency is a lot cheaper than the car-share pricing.  I would recommend you check into getting your own non-owner liability insurance while you're doing the rentals if their liability coverage isn't up to the levels you would like.

CSA is community-supported agriculture, also called a "farm share", and one of the seasons is a "summer share".  Basically, you sign up for a box of vegetables every week or 2 weeks, and since I am really not a fan of grocery shopping and it is really convenient to my workplace, I like it.  The one I use has grows all but a couple of the vegetables at their local farms, raises the meat, and partners with others in neighboring states for the dairy and fruit components which are bought separately.

For delivery, I know I got a coupon in the mail recently about some delivery service and it included Costco.  It may have been Google Express?  There are also services like Peapod that deliver groceries.  I haven't used them, but I see the Peapod trucks regularly making deliveries.  Amazon I use for a few things I like such as gluten-free breakfast bars that are much cheaper than the grocery store (and yes, I know these aren't grocery "needs", but I'm happy with this luxury spending).

chesebert

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2015, 07:43:16 AM »
frugaliknowit,

Have you been on the red line since the remodeling-type improvements they did?  It is much nicer, though if you mean the sometimes interesting characters, well, that's just a part of public transit.

chesebert,

I think they're all more crowded during peak hours.  The red line's peak hours also includes Cubs games and to a lesser degree on the north side, Sox games.  There are some express buses from various neighborhoods as well so be sure to check those out using your normal range of commute times when evaluating CTA access - they may take Lake Shore and skip a bunch from downtown up to Belmont, for instance, like the 146.

Another thing to consider on the car rentals is often a day or two from O'Hare or another more traditional rental agency is a lot cheaper than the car-share pricing.  I would recommend you check into getting your own non-owner liability insurance while you're doing the rentals if their liability coverage isn't up to the levels you would like.

CSA is community-supported agriculture, also called a "farm share", and one of the seasons is a "summer share".  Basically, you sign up for a box of vegetables every week or 2 weeks, and since I am really not a fan of grocery shopping and it is really convenient to my workplace, I like it.  The one I use has grows all but a couple of the vegetables at their local farms, raises the meat, and partners with others in neighboring states for the dairy and fruit components which are bought separately.

For delivery, I know I got a coupon in the mail recently about some delivery service and it included Costco.  It may have been Google Express?  There are also services like Peapod that deliver groceries.  I haven't used them, but I see the Peapod trucks regularly making deliveries.  Amazon I use for a few things I like such as gluten-free breakfast bars that are much cheaper than the grocery store (and yes, I know these aren't grocery "needs", but I'm happy with this luxury spending).

Many thanks!

I am debating if it makes sense to live in Gold Coast and not drive or live further out and drive. I find convenience of living in Gold Coast is pretty amazing and I am now leaning toward that area. Too fancy pants?

Jellyfish

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2015, 09:32:45 AM »
chesebert - you seem pretty focused on living in the city, but have you considered one of the near suburbs as an alternative?  Oak Park would have single family homes that sound like they would be in your price range, has the CTA blue line and green line that would get you into downtown quickly, and has great schools.  It's about 9 miles from downtown on the Eisenhower by driving as well, great libraries, farmer's markets, and access.

chesebert

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Re: Family of 3 moving to Chicago from China - House, Car, Living Advice Needed
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2015, 09:26:52 PM »
chesebert - you seem pretty focused on living in the city, but have you considered one of the near suburbs as an alternative?  Oak Park would have single family homes that sound like they would be in your price range, has the CTA blue line and green line that would get you into downtown quickly, and has great schools.  It's about 9 miles from downtown on the Eisenhower by driving as well, great libraries, farmer's markets, and access.

I think we are fairly set on living in the city. My job sometimes requires me to stay well past midnight and I would rather have short 5 min cab ride home or bike home then taking the CTA (do they even run the CTA past midnight)? I would also want to stay within 10-15min bike riding distance so I can have dinner with family and be back at the office.

We might go carless initially and see how the expenses stack up. The one thing that did surprise me was how high the HOA fees are in the city - probably more than more MMM's mortgage payments...

Yeah, having a huge HOA fee  delay my FIRE by 1-2 years.... will see how I feel about working the extra years when I am closer to the target date.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2015, 10:00:55 PM by chesebert »