The Apartment Hunt (with 100-lb dog): The search narrows


(Coleen O’Lear/Stalla, taking a snooze.)

Low vacancy rates and high demand make Washington a tough place to find an apartment. Factor a dog into the equation and you’ve got Mission: Impossible. Or so it can feel.

With our lease coming to an end in Arlington, my boyfriend and I had high hopes for finding a one-bedroom in the District , closer to friends and work. But we had one little problem: Our 95-pound bullmastiff.

After calling and seeing what felt like every high-rise building from Dupont Circle to Navy Yard, we decided to concentrate our search on privately owned apartments that might offer a little more flexibility than large buildings operated by property management companies.

We decided to shift our focus to rowhouses. It was easy to see the benefits for a dog owner. Rowhouses are often older buildings, and we thought we could afford more space for our dollar than we could in a high-rise building with stainless steel appliances and a 24-hour front desk.


(Coleen O’Lear/Stella, our bullmastiff, basks in the sun in the courtyard of our current home.)

Homeowners who rent out their properties usually are more flexible when it comes to pets, as well. With big buildings, we found lots of additional pet fees and one-size-fits-all restrictions. An individual owner, on the other hand, can approach each situation on a case-by-case basis. We found that some landlords often asked to meet Stella as part of the interview process, giving them an opportunity to take into account her overall temperament and energy level. They also used the opportunity to see how we interact with her. Would she pass? Of course -- with a good walk before.

We scoured Craigslist, HotPads and other Web sites for English basements or privately owned apartments. We even got Stella involved, taking walks each week through different neighborhoods on the lookout for “For Rent” signs and new leads.

We looked at about three apartments a week since the New Year, and with each new appointment we were becoming more and more flexible -- (i.e. compromising on what we were willing to spend and where we were willing to live.)

So when we came across a listing for a basement apartment in the Shaw neighborhood of the District that looked from the photos as if it had been tagged with graffiti and then white-washed over, we didn’t hesitate to book an appointment. The apartment was pet-friendly and appeared to be a decent size from the photos.The price was a little high, but we could work it out if we liked the place and neighborhood.

The middle-aged woman who owned the building lived across the street and seemed nice, but the place didn’t feel right from the minute we stepped in the door. The “second bedroom” listed in the ad was really the living room. Down the narrow hall was the actual bedroom, which was tiny, with what looked like a pantry instead of a closet. The kitchen was spacious, but the appliances were old and the cabinets and countertops were straight out of the 1970s and could use a good scrubbing. We walked away disappointed.

The space wasn’t very practical for us and more than anything, it was dingy and dark. I couldn’t picture coming home there. So we moved on. Two weeks later, the owner e-mailed us to say the price had been lowered after some negative feedback. But we weren’t turning around.

On Craigslist, we came across a real estate agent’s listing for a condominium at 555 Massachusetts Ave. NW, a 14-story high-rise building in the Mount Vernon Square District that a few wise commenters also suggested.

The area would be great for us. It’s only a few blocks away from two Metro stations and my boyfriend could walk to work if he wanted. With a park across the street and dog treats at the front desk, how could Stella not like this building?

We met the real estate agent in the lobby and she took us up to see the apartment. It was cozy and clean, with an updated kitchen and an orange living room wall that brightened up the place. After we saw the apartment, we took a quick tour of the building and heard about the rooftop terrace and pool.

Though the amenities and location were great, the apartment was small and with the additional pet rent and parking fees each month, it was going to be too expensive. But we asked the agent to let us know if anything else opened up.

We’d called a few real estate offices earlier in our search but they didn’t have rental units, so we were surprised when the real estate agent offered to set up an online search for us. If only we’d known this trick earlier. She took down our information -- budget, desired location, wants and needs -- and set up a query in the Long & Foster database. Every time her office gets a new listing that meets our criteria, we get an automatically generated e-mail. If we like what we see, we call the office and she sets up the appointment.

With less than a month before we had to make a decision on whether to stay in our current building, we hoped one of our new strategies would pay off.

Next installment: The hunt for a dog-friendly apartment ends.

Coleen O’Lear is a web producer at The Washington Post.

Previous installment: 100-pound dogs need not apply

Do you have an apartment hunt story to share? E-mail us at realestate@washpost.com.

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