Your Renter’s Playbook

We asked property managers what they wish prospective tenants knew

August 23, 2013

Michael Sun, the community director at The Winston House in Foggy Bottom, says it’s helpful to him when prospective renters have a clear budget in mind.

You’ve given your landlord notice, scoured Craigslist for available apartments and set aside a full Saturday to search for a new place to live. But is that enough? Before you hit the pavement, there are actually a few more things you should consider when apartment hunting.

No one knows the rental game quite like landlords and property managers, so we went to them for tips that should make things a little easier for you — and for them, too.

It Takes More Time Than You Think to Find an Apartment

If you’re in a time crunch to find that perfect place, things will get stressful. So don’t procrastinate.

“Many renters do not know how long it may take from applying for an apartment to the real move-in date,” says Charlie Hoskins, the resident manager at 1916 R apartments (1916 R St. NW; 202-387-1916).

Don’t expect to find an apartment one day and move in the next. Units on the market may not be available for weeks or months. That’s because most buildings require the current tenant to give 30 to 60 days’ notice before leaving. After that, the building’s staff needs a few days to turn over each vacant apartment, often taking time to replace the rugs or paint.

“Many people can’t wait that long and are looking to move in now,” Hoskins says.

Consider not just starting early, but starting really early: In larger buildings, even if the leasing office doesn’t have a unit available within 30 or 60 days, they’ll accept your application and keep it on file. Get an application in early to get on their radar. If they know what you’re looking for and that you’re serious, you could get priority. In the meantime, they can show you available units similar to what you want.

When Hoskins accepts early applications, he doesn’t ask for the usual application fee until a property is actually available. “I have a waitlist, and I don’t charge anybody to be on the waitlist,” he says.

If you get an application in about two months before your desired move-in date, you’ll be first in line at the 30-day notice mark, and (hopefully!) there won’t be any friends’ couches in your future.

Do Your Research

These days, details about available apartments are easy to find online. Websites such as Trulia and Zillow let you search by location, price and size.

“For some unknown reason, we receive calls daily asking the price and availability of our units,” says S.T. Tucker, owner and manager of Adams Morgan Suites (1715 Euclid St. NW; 202-320-7020). Tucker says that information is all listed on the building’s website.

Save everyone time, and only contact a property manger once you’ve looked at what’s online.

Run the Numbers

Figure out how much you can pay before you start looking, and tell the leasing agent.

“Most people say ‘I want a cheap apartment,’ ” says Michael Sun, community director at The Winston House (2140 L St. NW; 202-785-2200). “But ‘cheap’ in Virginia doesn’t mean ‘cheap’ in D.C. You have to have an actual number.”

Sun says he can help a prospective renter find the right fit if he knows exactly what he or she wants to pay.

Have a Wish List

Make a list of your “must-haves” — and be prepared to compromise.

Washington is expensive, so you will likely have to trade one thing to get another. When you’re thinking about trade-offs, consider what really matters to you. For example, Hoskins says, “I think some people are paying more for newer apartments, but not necessarily in the location they’ll be happy with in the long run.”

If you share your wish list, property managers can try to help you make it come true. As the Rolling Stones say, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you can get a reasonably priced rental not too far from Metro.

Be Nice!

Your relationship with the building’s property manager doesn’t end once you sign the lease. In fact, it’s just the beginning of at least a year of interaction.

Remember that you’ll be calling your property manager when your AC is broken or your toilet is overflowing in the middle of the night.

“Being nice will get you better deals and service,” Sun says. “Once you’re nice, people are just more than willing to help you.”

Just remember: The stress of looking for a place will be short-lived, and in the end, it’s all worth it.

“A very large percentage of renters are moving for positive events happening in their lives: new job, new city, a fresh start,” Hoskins says. “This makes my job very easy.” Chelsea Huang (For Express)

 

 

 

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