Five tips for snagging a great rental

July 1, 2013

Morris, a D.C. real estate agent and investor, offers advice on how to find an apartment in the city.

Washington is an exciting place to live and work. Cosmopolitan and historic, with a strong and stable economy, the District consistently ranks among the top destinations in the country for relocation.

But for many of the thousands of people who move to D.C. each year, the high cost of housing comes as a bit of a shock. The going rate for a two-bedroom apartment near a Metro station could very easily cover an entire monthly budget for a family of four (including a mortgage, food, car payment and other expenses) in most other parts of the country.

Reasonably priced rentals in good neighborhoods are difficult to come by and navigating this competitive market can be a challenge. Most people learn the ins and outs by trial and error.

Here are some tips for finding a great rental property quickly, in your budget, and having your application accepted in a competitive situation:

• Spread the word that you’re looking for a rental in D.C. Networking is the best way to find off-market (less expensive, non-advertised) opportunities. Co-workers, friends of friends, literally anyone you know could be the source of a lead on a great apartment. Many rentals never hit the market because some landlords prefer to secure tenants through recommendations from current tenants, or other people they know.

• Check out Craigslist.com. Craigslist.com has more local real estate rental listings than anywhere else because their listings are placed by real estate agents, property managers and property owners directly.

But be careful on Craigslist. If something looks too good to be true, assume that it is. A common scam is to take legitimate information and photos from a sales listing and use it to create a bogus rental ad for a beautiful property in a great neighborhood at a ridiculously inexpensive price. So if you see an ad for a three-bedroom house in Dupont Circle for $1,500 a month, don’t waste your time; and never send a deposit to a “landlord” without seeing the interior of the property in person.

• Scout out your neighborhoods of choice. Many apartment buildings in D.C. do not advertise. You’d be surprised how many properties rely on “for lease” signs in their front lawn to find tenants. It would not be a waste of time to drive around, take note of those signs and call.

• Research real estate management companies with buildings in neighborhoods you are interest in, and call them. I recommend calling them a few months in advance to learn about current as well as upcoming vacancies that may be appropriate. You might be able to lock in a great apartment before it hits the market.

• If you are in a competitive situation (multiple applications for a property) and really want the apartment, offering a longer lease or a bit higher rent is the way to go if you can afford it and it makes sense.

This tactic is particularly effective with individual owners who would personally benefit from your offer.

Djana Morris is a real estate agent with Long & Foster and a real estate investor. She can be reached at Djana.morris@longandfoster.com. 

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