Real Estate Blog:

If understanding the utility costs of your next apartment feels more like deciphering the tax code, you’re not alone. The good news is, while it sounds a bit confusing, it really is simpler than you think. Starting with the basics, if you’re looking to live in a low, mid or high-rise apartment, you’re likely to hear one of three different programs: utilities offered, utilities included or a utility package. Each represents something a little different, so let’s break down the various types of utilities offered so you can figure out which works best for you!

Utilities Included

Some buildings will advertise that they include utilities in the rent, referencing some combination of the following: water, sewer, trash, gas, heat, air conditioning, electric, cable, and internet. It’s important to clarify which utilities are included since not all of the aforementioned will be included. Wouldn’t that be a sweet deal! Regardless, a building including some utilities is always nice.

Utilities Not Included

Simply put, this means that you pay for your utilities outside of your rent payment. There are two types of scenarios for this. The first is the “Allocation System”. It’s the socialist way (the good socialist, of course) of sharing the costs. The building receives one giant bill for their water, sewer, trash and gas and sends each tenant a bill based on the square footage of their apartment. It’s a little tricky if you’re never home, and kind of awesome if you’re always home, but overall it works quite well and for everyone life is a little easier.

The second is the “Personal Usage System”. Yep, just like it sounds, you pay for everything based on your personal usage- all calculated through your own meter. A slightly more capitalist approach, I think someone referred to this as the “eat whatcha kill” utility program.

Utility Package

This is great, because Amazon actually delivers your utilities to your door each month, packaged up in their little brown boxes with their cool tape and swoosh smile. Okay, that’s not true, but don’t be surprised if one day they do this too.

Actually, utility packages are pretty awesome. The property simply bundles your utilities into one package for a fixed monthly cost. And, it’s always the same so you don’t have to worry about fluctuating monthly charges.

Most utility packages range from $65-95 for studios, $90-110 for 1 beds, $120-150 for 2 beds and $150-200 for 3 beds. They usually include water, sewer, trash, gas, heat, air conditioning, cable and internet. The cable packages are nice, too, with tons of channels, movie channels, and some even come with DVR boxes! Your only additional expense is electric, which is minimal because it’s only for your plug ins and lights.

What About Those Heating Bills?

People tend to get nervous moving into a building that doesn’t have a utility package or that doesn’t include heat. Please don’t worry about this. Believe it or not, heat is NOT that expensive in a high rise.

I often hear crazy stories of people paying $200-$300 a month for their heat to later find out that they’re living in an old walk up with terrible insulation, bad windows or just poor construction. High-rises already have to pay to generate heat for the building itself- things like hallways, amenities, lobby and all of the common areas.

I’ll never forget January of 2010; it was one of the coldest winters that I remember in Chicago. I paid my own heating bill, which was a little scary considering how cold Chicago winters get. Turns out, I only had to turn on my heat for 2 really cold weeks in January. The overall building generated so much of its own heat that my heating bill was something like $30. Bottom line… don’t sweat the heating bill!

If you’re the type that likes to get as much information up front, pay attention to buildings that have electric heat and AC and make sure that you get disclosures of the average monthly electric bill. Call ComEd (800-334-7661) and ask for usage disclosures for each apartment home you’re considering. I personally like to ask about 3 floors in the same apartment building. So if you’re looking to move into apartment #1402, ask for disclosures for #1302 and #1502 and use the average of the three.

Keep in mind that each building has its own utility program they use. You don’t get to choose (I wish!). Personally, I love utility packages because I think they’re a great value and worry free. But, a lot of people are moving away from cable, preferring things like Netflix to stream shows and movies, which is a great idea.

At the end of the day, the difference between a utility package and having to pay for your own utilities doesn’t add up to that much of a price difference unless you get cable. So, if you’re a big cable user and you find an apartment you love that has a great utility package- bingo, you scored! Let us help you find that apartment. Contact HotSpotRentals to get started.

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