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Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 06/20/2012

Apartment hunter: From college student to renter

I graduated from American University last month with a bachelor of arts degree in justice and law. It was quite the accomplishment, but there were a few details I needed to straighten out before walking across the stage. First, I needed to make sure my bout with senioritis didn’t jeopardize the whole thing. I also needed to find a job. I was fortunate enough to land one before graduating; but I wasn’t in the clear just yet. I had to face the fact that in approximately three months I was going to have nowhere to live.

At the time, the prospect of transitioning from college student to bonafide yuppie was exciting. I even made a “Post Graduation Digs Wishlist” consisting of such non-negotiables as stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors. But most important was location. I love living in D.C. I grew up in a suburban area of Charlotte, and shortly after moving to D.C., I ditched my SUV for a Smartrip. Every neighborhood in D.C. has its own flavor, and the convenience of jumping on the bus or Metro and having the entire city at my fingertips is what makes me feel most like a true Washingtonian. For me, living within the city limits was my biggest non-negotiable.
Jon Fox (Photo by Samantha Sabol)

I’m not the living-alone type, so I decided to continue living with one of my best friends from college. Our relationship is very Will and Grace, with one exception; Will and Grace undoubtedly never shared a bathroom, otherwise they wouldn’t have made it eight seasons. She has grown tired of stepping over my sweaty gym clothes, and I’ve grown tired of shaving in the morning while peering at myself in the shadow of a hair straightener. For our friendship’s sake, we added another non-negotiable: two bathrooms. We also added one more person to the mix, knowing that it would decrease the cost per bedroom. With that, our threesome began the search for a modern, three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a happening neighborhood; preferably close to our jobs in Foggy Bottom. All for $3,000 per month (or less).

Well, those of you who are more well versed in D.C. rental prices, you can stop laughing. We are well aware that the only thing we could get around Foggy Bottom for $3,000 a month was a reality check. That dream fell by the wayside early in our apartment search. But we didn’t lose hope, we knew our promised land was out there — a place where young professionals with entry-level salaries could live comfortably.

Sure enough, we found it. Four neighborhoods with young people in similar stages of life: Bloomingdale, Columbia Heights, the H Street Corridor and Capitol Hill. Bloomingdale flies under the radar. While it doesn’t have great nightlife it’s a stone’s throw from other livelier areas. Columbia Heights is full-fledged metropolis with just about anything you could want. Of course, the H Street Corridor is the current “It” neighborhood, and Capitol Hill can best be described as “old faithful.”  While none of them are terribly close to our jobs, the public transit in those areas is said to be even more reliable than other parts of the city.

Now, I must admit, getting my roommates to open their minds to those neighborhoods wasn’t easy. Thanks to student loans and our parent’s generosity we have lived near AU in upper Northwest. It’s suburb-like. None of the neighborhoods we have decided to live in are anything like that.

We found amazing houses in our price range but by the time we tried to schedule a viewing they were already taken. Finally, last week, we struck gold. We landed at an open house for a great place in Bloomingdale and fell in love. It had everything we could have wanted; big bedrooms, renovated bathrooms, and plenty of storage; all for $2,400 per month. We called the agent the next day and learned the property was taken. We were heartbroken but chalked it up to a learning experience. We knew this was a marathon, not a sprint. We quickly licked our wounds and got back out there. The next place was a three bedroom in Bloomingdale for $2,500 per month. We went armed with our checkbooks. We walked in and... oh boy. I’m not sure if it was the lack of air conditioning, the moldy carpets, or the presence of dirt that was older than me — but this place was not a good fit.

Feeling defeated but not destroyed, we took to Craigslist and sure enough found another amazing place. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, renovated kitchen and even a back yard in Capitol Hill. It was at the top of our budget at $2,900 per month, but utilities were included. We quickly scheduled an appointment. The next day upon clicking the listing link we learned that the rent had increased more than $500 overnight. Come on, seriously?

So here we are, a month into our search and we have nothing except our high hopes. I’d be lying if I said that at night while I fall asleep, I’m not thinking “Hmm, maybe it’s time to negotiate those non-negotiables.”



By Jon Fox  |  05:30 AM ET, 06/20/2012

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