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Chicago vs. LA

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Maureen Wilkey

Writer on real estate from any angle

I finally got fed up with Chicago winters and hauled off to Los Angeles to visit a friend who had formerly lived in Chicago last week. While I'm definitely thrilled to have enjoyed 70-75 degree days and 50-60 degree evenings, I'm not sure LA trumps Chicago in terms of living conditions.

According to mysalary.com, I might get paid 3.2 percent more for a similar job in Los Angeles, but I'm likely to have a 22 percent higher cost of living, which means my expendable income would go down by about 20 percent. I  asked my friend about this and while her share of the rent in a two bedroom is about the same I paid for my first half-a-two-bedroom in Chicago, she spends a lot more on transportation costs. The 30-40 minute drive to work each day, plus driving to get places after work and on weekends, can add up. BUT there is public transportation emerging if you live and work in the right areas, and it's actually half the price to get on LA's Metro as it is to get on the L.

The cost of actually buying a place is a lot more expensive too. This citydata.com entry suggests that buying a house or condo in Chicago would start around $350,000, whereas a house or condo in LA would start at $700,000. From the few people I surveyed out there who were looking, most were looking in the $800,000 to $1.2 million range, which would buy you a pretty nice place in Chicago. Based on some of the pictures of homes I took in or near Griffith Park reflected you might get a nice home there as well.

One thing that I definitely noticed was that architectural footprints of buildings tend to be a lot bigger in LA. Buildings generally aren't as tall- I didn't see a whole lot of high-rise residential buildings outside of the downtown. This makes it so neighborhoods aren't as dense, I would venture to guess that LA has higher per capita retail stores than Chicago.

Direct comparison of the two cities is hard- they're clearly planned very differently. If you like the outdoors, driving and more spread out neighborhoods, LA is probably worth the extra money. If you prefer density, public transportation and don't mind the occassional -20 degree day, stick with Chicago.  

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