High Rise Living in Chicago

by Becky BlantonJuly 28, 2017

Best-selling author and publisher Melissa G Wilson and her husband Craig have a panoramic view of Chicago’s best neighborhoods. They live and work in two side-by-side condos with a total of 2,400-square feet inside and a 1,500-square foot deck 9-stories up on Chicago’s West Loop.

“I love the fun of getting to go to so many world-class restaurants, outdoor activities and plays within a half hour or less. Being in the center of Chicago gives us lots of options for connection and learning. There’s unlimited variety and learning daily here,” Wilson said. The downsides to high-rise living are the same as working in a city – “People toss their trash and garbage anywhere but in the garbage receptacles, and there’s more congestion as people move into the area, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now.”
A high-rise building is defined as a structure at least 115 feet, or 12 to 39 stories tall, and there’s no shortage of height in Chicago. The Windy City is known for its luxurious high-rise living. With 52 different high-rise buildings, including Trump Tower at 96 stories, and the Waldorf-Astoria at 60 stories, and every size in-between, great views are rarely an issue. There’s a price and building personality for every budget.

Recent fires and fire fatalities in a number of high rise buildings around the world have prompted people to ask, “Is it safe to live in a high rise?” For those considering moving up in the world, fire safety is just one of the questions buyers need to consider before condo or apartment shopping in a high-rise building.

Myths, Stereotypes and Misconceptions

Stereotype: High rise condos and apartments are cold, sterile, and have no personality.
Fact: It’s true that many high-rise buildings are impersonal and bland, but that’s true of many apartment complexes. There are “vintage” condos with personality and style, as well as newer buildings with their own vibe as well.

Stereotype: High rise condos aren’t safe from crime, or earthquakes, fires or natural disasters.
Fact: Actually, quality built high rise condos are safer than a house. The high-rise fires recently in the news were of high-rise structures already reported to be in hazardous condition and in poor upkeep. Modern high-rises have extensive sprinkler and fire safety standards – much more stringent building codes than for a standard home. As far as crime, criminals can’t just pull up a car, break a window or kick in a door. Most high rises have key cards to get on the elevator, or even in the front door. There are security cameras, doormen, most often metal or solid wood doors and metal doorframes. It’s difficult to move items in and out and window access is almost impossible unless you’re a superhero. It’s not impossible to be burgled in a high-rise, just much less likely. Taller buildings are engineered for earthquakes and high winds. In fact, the taller a structure the more “flexible” they are and the more likely they are to ride out an earthquake with ease. Short buildings (under three stories) have a short wavelength and less reinforcement and are more likely to collapse in an earthquake or tornado.

Lifestyle Questions

If you’re thinking about high-rise living, consider your life-style and how it would fit. “We don’t have a dog or children,” Wilson said, “But it seems to be a popular thing to have. I don’t know that I’d like making that trip up and down every day with a dog.” The couple are grandparents and do have infant grandchildren, but a park or play area hasn’t been an issue for them yet. “Your lifestyle is definitely something you want to consider before buying a condo,” she said. “We love being able to walk to almost any event in the area, and the proximity to the world class theatre and restaurants, museums and businesses is perfect for us.”

Things you need to consider

  1. Are you a pet owner? If you have a dog, are you prepared to make the trek up and down the stairs or elevator several times a day to walk them? Is there “green space,” like a park, dog park or other area nearby where your pet can play or do their business? Chicago is one of many US cities that promotes green roofs – essentially a park on top of a high rise. Chicago’s city hall is one of several such buildings to have a park on its roof.
  2. If you have a dog, do they bark? Noise control, be it parties or pets, is often one of the strictest rules any high-rise community has. Ask about how soundproof the units are. If you don’t have a dog, your neighbors might. Find out how pet friendly, or not, a building is.
  3. How much stuff do you have? Unlike a house, high-rises don’t have attics, garages or room for a storage unit in the back yard. They may have storage units for rent, but are you willing to pay that extra fee?
  4. Do you have children? Children can adapt to high-rise living if they have a park, play-area and opportunity to be loud and rambunctious. Trying to keep the noise down in any apartment or close quarters can be a task.
  5. Just like gated communities with houses, condos have Home Owner Associations (HOA) and HOA dues. These dues pay for repair, insurance and amenities for the building. It doesn’t matter if you’re not going to use the gym, the pool, etc. You still have to pay for it if you live there.
  6. Parking. Part of the joy of living downtown in a high-rise is that you’re close enough to walk to where you want to go, but if you have a car, where will you park it? Some high-rises come with one or two spaces assigned to your unit, others charge extra.
  7. Amenities. Many high-rises come with roof access, a pool, barbecuing or community gardening or patio access and other shared space. What do you get with your purchase or rental?


Legal issues

It’s important to know what your HOA’s rules, regulations and restrictions are. Get a copy and read them thoroughly before looking at the property.

  1. How much DIY can you do? Painting is one thing, but replacing walls, lighting and redirecting plumbing is another. You may feel qualified to tackle the job, but your HOA may insist on only licensed contractors doing much of the work. “We’re going through the lengthy process of getting our two condos connected,” Wilson said. “Altering your condo is definitely something to ask about if you want to make major changes.”
  2. How financially secure is the HOA? Check the minutes and meeting notes of at least the past six months to see what legal issues, if any, the HOA faces. Is the reserve fund adequate? What maintenance issues are there – especially with water, air-conditioning, security issues, roofing repair and heating.
  3. Can you lease your space if you choose to? What about AirBnB?
  4. Visitor parking. Where can your guests park? And if you’re not using your parking space, can you rent it out?

High rise living isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy an affordable, efficient alternative to a daily commute to the city, living in a high-rise might just be the answer.

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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.

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