Jeff Freeman, 48, learned this summer he needed to act fast if he had any hopes of signing a lease. In four out of the six properties he applied for in Alexandria and Arlington, Freeman was shocked to learn that he’d lost out to other applicants. They were either quicker to apply than he was or offered more money than the landlord was asking.
“I just thought there were so many properties out there, that this can’t happen,” Freeman says. “But it was happening.”
Despite thousands of swanky new high-rise apartment units in the Washington area — many of which come with offers of a month or two of free rent to entice would-be dwellers — some renters are opting instead to duke it out over privately run homes. Bidding wars are commonplace over uniquely designed condos, houses and townhouses, especially if they are located in hot neighborhoods such as Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria, or have a fenced-in yard.
“It’s amazing,” says Bryan Zupan, director of business development for Urban Igloo (1808 I St. NW, 877-445-6632). “With all the units out there on the market, there are still certain units that are creating this type of competition.”
For those special properties, rental shoppers are aggressively courting landlords. Strategies include your basic higher-rent offer as well as promising longer lease terms. A personal plea can be helpful too.
Katie Lewis, 31, and her husband, Matt, 29, lost out on the first two houses they applied for this summer. They needed a fenced-in yard for their 100-plus-pound golden retrievers Albie and Rufus, and the competition for a suitable home was stiff. “You end up going against the same few families as houses come up on the market,” Lewis says.
Their Realtor, Matt Leighton of Century 21 Redwood Realty, set up an automated search in the Multiple Listing Service for the couple to receive emails about new properties as soon as they entered the market. When the next “perfect” house popped into their inbox, Leighton told them it was time to “sweeten the deal,” Lewis says.
The three-bedroom brick colonial in north Arlington listed on day one for $2,995 per month. On day two, the couple offered $3,200. Two other parties put in bids that day and one matched their price.
“Matt suggested we offer more money,” Lewis says, “but I couldn’t do it.”
Instead, she handwrote a letter to the landlord — after some prodding by Leighton — explaining why they would be the perfect renters and why the house was ideal for them. “I’ve never been on a dating website, but it felt a little bit like that … like presenting the best side of yourself or something,” she says.
It worked. They move in this month.
Freeman’s story is a bit different. He didn’t actively participate in any bidding wars; each time the feeding frenzy started he just moved on to the next property. He knew what his spending cap was and wouldn’t go above it.
“I wouldn’t put too much emotion into it,” the certified public accountant says. “If the price went above my number I’d think, ‘OK, well, there’s got to be something else out there for me.’ ”
That something else turned out to be a quiet two-story unit in an Old Town Alexandria boutique condo building.
Freeman saw the property on Trulia.com when it first listed and hurried over with a check in hand. The landlord opted to lease out the place to the first qualified renter rather than engage in a bidding war. (Three people did offer higher rents.)
Still, it’s best to be prepared for the price of a home to go up when you’re out shopping, says Lewis. “Make room to offer a few hundred dollars more than what the house is listed for. In other words, leave room to outbid other interested renters.”
Prepare to win
Time matters when applying for a highly sought-after home, so come prepared, says Olivia Kibler, a property manager at Crescent Property Management (3711 Macomb St., NW, No. 3B; 202-505-5454). Here are some things to bring with you to expedite the application process.
A current credit report (no more than 30 days old)
Employment verification, such as recent paystubs or job offer letter, if you are new to the area
A check so you can put down a deposit on the spot (usually about a month’s rent, but it varies)
And it can’t hurt to have same taste as the landlord. Renters won a recent Georgetown bidding war by opting to buy much of the landlord’s furniture, Kibler says. They also signed a three-year lease with yearly built-in rent increases.
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