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As one of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas, Washington, DC’s population is expected to surpass 700,000 residents soon. That’s hardly surprising considering our nation’s capital has a lot to offer including robust job growth, a rich history, and eclectic neighborhoods.
That also means if you’re planning on moving to the District of Columbia you may find the apartment search challenging. Here are some tips on how to find the best apartments in DC and what you can do to maximize your chances of securing the unit of your dreams.
When to Start Looking for Apartments
You should prepare to spend about two months on your apartment hunt, particularly in DC. That’s about the average amount of time it takes to find the ideal unit in large U.S. cities.
For more affordable prices and a greater selection, the winter months — December through March — are the best time to search for an apartment in DC. The same can be said for most major American cities for a few reasons.
During the warmer months you’re competing with more prospective renters including new grads, job hoppers, and relocating families, so landlords raise rents. Many people also prefer not to venture out in the cold to look at units. So bundle up, get out there, and take advantage of rent drops over the winter if possible.
Establish a Budget
You’ll also need to know what kind of rent you can afford before you begin your apartment search. Calculate your total monthly income first. Next, make a list of estimated expenses such as groceries and utilities (if they aren’t included in the rent) as well as your monthly phone bill, car payments, and student loans.
If you plan on having cable and/or WiFi access while in your new space, you’ll need to factor those expenses in as well. Sometimes your property management company will offer service at a specially negotiated price that is bundled with your rent, although you don’t need to buy it.
Getting these expenses on paper will help you determine what you can afford for rent on your own, and if you may need to consider getting a roommate to help with costs. Ideally, you should have a rent price range in mind that is no higher than one-third of your total monthly income.
If you plan on bringing a pet with you, you’ll obviously need to only look at pet-friendly apartments and be aware of their rules and any limitations. Some places have limits on how large a dog can be or how many cats can live in the unit.
Make sure to review parking options for apartments you’re interested in. Any parking fees can definitely take a chunk out of your disposable income.
Get to Know Each Neighborhood
DC is made up of four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Each of these sections contains neighborhoods with their own unique flavor and attractions to offer, such as Georgetown, Woodley Park, and Dupont Circle. Do research on each one including their crime rate, commuting options, proximity to your place of employment, and whatever else is important to you.
Local neighborhood guides will also provide a snapshot of each neighborhood, giving you an idea of the demographics, diversity, local attractions, and housing options.
Have some fun by actually visiting the neighborhoods you’re interested in and check out the local scene. As great as an area may sound online, nothing beats seeing it in person and chatting up the locals. If you can, talk to residents and small business owners to get their opinions of the neighborhood and any recommendations.
This will help narrow down your search, and you should have a few DC neighborhoods in mind before you start looking at listings.
Be Paperwork Prepared
Since apartment hunting in DC tends to be competitive, you should have all the necessary paperwork ready before starting your search. This will make the lease signing process go much smoother once you find the right place. Documents you will need include:
- Your two most recent pay stubs or other proof of income
- An ID such as a driver’s license or passport
- Written references from past landlords or, if it’s your first apartment, from employers
Make sure you also have enough money saved to cover the first month’s deposit and to buy food, cleaning supplies, and any furniture you’ll need once you’ve settled into your new dig
Get to Know Each Neighborhood
The first obvious place to begin your apartment hunt is online. Craigslist is a popular and now searchable site, but you do need to be aware of scams. Use a trusted apartment search site like ours to ensure you’re seeing only authentic listings.
If you don’t mind paying a fee in exchange for freeing up some time and stress from the apartment hunting process, working with a DC-area rental agency may be the way to go. Some of these companies act like an online matchmaker, emailing you only listings that fit your criteria.
You may also want to take reviews from other renters into consideration when choosing a DC apartment complex. ApartmentRatings is like a Yelp for renters, revealing how a property scores on the noise level, safety, maintenance and more. Written reviews are provided by residents as well.
You should be able to locate reviews online of property management companies and landlords.
Additional Info on DC Apartments
Our blog contains a wealth of additional information on choosing the right apartments in DC from the best places to eat in each neighborhood to commuting options. Check it out to assist you in your quest for the perfect DC apartment!
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