If you’re under the age of 50 and have owned a television at some point in your life, you’ve probably seen “Friends.” I never really followed “Friends,” but whenever it’s on T.V. (which is quite often), I always enjoy it. At least, until recently that is.
Now, every night when I flip through the channels and see the ubiquitous “Friends” rerun my blood begins to boil. My hatred has nothing to do with Jennifer Aniston’s delightfully relatable qualities. It has to do with the fact that “Friends” makes it look way too easy; six “20-something” friends living in a great apartment in a convenient location in the city. Why can’t my friends and I find that? Now I’m fully aware that TV shows are not real, but since beginning my apartment search I’ve come to realize that Washington is a little unreal, too.
Armed with a budget of $3,000 per month, my two friends and I began our second month of searching. Our goal: a three-bedroom, two-bath place in a safe neighborhood that wouldn’t require a car. I must admit we’ve become considerably less discriminating since we began this journey. In the beginning, my inner monologue when seeing a place was something like this: “central air conditioning, check; space to entertain our friends, check.” Now we are fine with a fan and/or a cool breeze and maybe having our friends come to our parties in shifts would make for a more exciting evening.
Even so, the reality of Washington is that it isn’t about what features a property has, it is about a property's location and demand — macroeconomics 101.
A few weeks ago, our search brought us to a beautiful row house in Bloomingdale. It was in a convenient location, had stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors for $2,700 per month. There were so many people at the open house you would have thought they were giving away gold. By the time we got home and sent an e-mail, the place had already been reserved.
A few days later, we saw another row house in the same neighborhood for the same price. The first house was like a Rembrandt, picture perfect. The second was more like a Monet; it looked like one thing from far away but something much different upon closer examination. Though it wasn’t nearly as nice, we saw the value in the location and the space it offered and so we decided to apply. Our efforts were in vain; the house was reserved before the property manager could even e-mail us the application.
Shortly after, we tried to see a place in Eckington. When we arrived, the only person there was the current resident who was definitely not expecting us. The property manager had forgotten we had scheduled an appointment to see the house. We tried our hand at an H Street Corridor home. It was beautiful, in our price range and convenient to a number of bus lines. The house had been for rent for quite some time, so we were hopeful we’d found something that just might work out.
After receiving the application we learned the landlord planned to remove the washer and dryer prior to move in. But who needs a washer and dryer? Oh yes, that’s right, I need a washer and dryer. Moreover, we were all required to have our leases guaranteed. Having a guarantor on a lease is not uncommon, but typically it is because of a lack of credit, bad credit or because the renter doesn’t meet the income requirements.
In our case, it was because of a clause that required all individuals who had been full-time students in the past year to have guarantors regardless of their income. After four years of hard work and support from my family, I’ve finally finished college this spring, graduating American University with a bachelor of arts degree in justice and law. And I have a good job to show for it. Call me stubborn, but I want to do things for myself (and I fully recognize I just might be the first kid to voluntarily cut the purse strings from his parents in the history of the universe).
Our group has gone from excited, to optimistic, to hopeful, to doubtful. We’ve even considered going our separate ways. Interestingly, as a true testament to the District’s inflated rental market, joining a group with a preexisting lease is considerably cheaper than starting a new one at Summer 2012 prices. Unfortunately, the probability of finding more than one, let alone three available rooms in a group house is pretty slim.
Yes, it’s time to get real in this unreal D.C. rental market. Our trio has some difficult decisions ahead. If only we lived in one of those beautiful, affordable dream neighborhoods like in “Friends” where a freelance masseur can afford a Manhattan apartment and still, you know, eat.
Jon Fox is a recent graduate from American University. In his occasional column, he will share his experience of looking for an apartment in Washington.