How to land a great rental in the competitive D.C. market

January 29

(Photo by Andrew Starrs) Village at McLean Gardens condominium

The D.C. region is one of the more competitive rental markets in the country. Reasonably priced rentals are becoming harder to find than bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

Then one day you stumble upon a great apartment. It looks like where one of the characters in “Scandal” might live. This is home. It checks off all your must-haves. The wood floors are beautiful; the light is just right. It’s charming but still has modern touches such as a dishwasher and a concierge. And it’s right near the Metro.

Unfortunately, 10 people are at the open house looking just as enamored with the apartment as you are. Calm down, all is not lost. The best approach is simply to make yourself as attractive to the prospective landlord as possible. Landlords are people, too, and like any other endeavor, presenting yourself in the best way possible is the key to success.

Here are just a few tips to help you get that perfect apartment and be the envy of your friends.

Don’t be too personal with personal information. Be prepared to divulge your salary and how much you have in savings, but don’t provide account numbers. Landlords need to know how you’re going to pay the rent. Bring pay stubs or an offer letter, as well as contacts at work to provide a reference. If you’re a great employee, let them know. It’ll work in your favor.

Download a generic rental application and have it filled out and ready to give the landlord or agent. Chances are they’ll need you to fill out their application anyway, but they can look over your information while you’re doing that. If you have the time, fill out their application on the spot. People lose places all the time over waiting a few hours to get the application back to the landlord.

Bring your checkbook and a credit card. If you want to apply on the spot, chances are you’ll be required to pay at least an application fee. Some communities might even require a deposit. Make sure, before signing anything, what the policy is on whether your deposit will be returned in the event you decide not to lease the apartment. Chances are you won’t get the application fee back, so be prepared to lose that money. It’s usually around $50 and that can add up.

Prepare a rental resume. Renting is kind of like applying for a job, so a resume never hurts. It shows the landlord you’re serious and the type who takes care of details. List your current landlord as well as the previous two or three, including all the pertinent contact information (phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.) If you can get letters of recommendation from prior landlords, do it. You may also want to include a copy of your credit report (with pertinent numbers removed or obscured, of course). They’ll likely check your credit anyway, but again, it’s proof that you’re prepared and eligible.

Ask leading questions. Find out what the landlord’s preferences are regarding lease terms, move-in date, etc. Be prepared to be flexible and to accommodate his or her schedule. You’d be surprised how many people lose apartments over a difference of two or three days.

Dress for success. Sure, it’s Sunday afternoon and you’ve just rolled out of bed, but you don’t have to look like it. Take the extra 20 minutes to shower and make yourself presentable.

Finding a place to rent in today’s busy and competitive market can be a daunting and difficult task, but it can also be a rewarding one. A little advance preparation on your part can set you apart from the crowd and get you into that perfect place.

Nancy Simmons Starrs is president and founder of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment search service.

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