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Ground rules: The pros and cons of renting a first-floor apartment

Molly Walsh for Express

Spencer MacDonald appreciates good housekeeping efforts. But the early-morning vacuuming of the lobby he heard each day while renting a first-floor Adams Morgan studio eventually got on his nerves. “It was a well-kept building,” he says, “much to my disadvantage.”

And the carpet cleaning was just the start of the noise problem. MacDonald, 23, learned over his eight months of living there that residents visited the nearby mailboxes at all hours of the day, clanking the metal doors closed and striking up loud conversations with their neighbors. Exchanges between the doorman and guests also drifted into his unit.

“It was hard to find an apartment in my price range, and once I found it I thought I could put up with any noise,” he says. “But then it got worse, as I noticed everything once I moved in. The primary reason I broke my lease and moved out was definitely noise.”

First-floor apartments can certainly come with plenty of challenges. In addition to potentially being loud, they’re often not as private as an upper-floor unit. Curtains or blinds are a must to keep people from peeking into your pad. But the first floor also brings some benefits, such as a lower price.

“You can live in a popular area in a nice building at a lower rental rate if you’re willing to live on the ground level,” says Mark Wellborn, editor-in-chief and co-founder of UrbanTurf, an online publication that covers residential real estate in the D.C. area. “That is one of the big pros, getting in a neighborhood or building you might not otherwise be able to afford.”

Jamie Grigg, an agent with DCRE Residential who writes the apartment-focused blog Exposed Brick DC, saw this firsthand recently. She rents a studio on the sixth floor in the Norwood in Adams Morgan. When a first-floor one-bedroom became available for around the same price as her studio, she took a look out of curiosity.

“The unit on the first floor had a dishwasher, so the building did something there to try to entice people,” she says. “I think it’s important to go and see a first-floor place. This unit, for example, was elevated [with new amenities].”

A first-floor apartment can also simplify life in some ways, making it easy to carry in groceries or take your dog for a walk. “It can be super-
convenient to not ever worry about whether the elevator is working or not,” says Jaime Willis, a D.C.-area Realtor with Compass.

She does admit that units on the first three floors might be noisier, but says that not everyone minds it. “People choose a neighborhood where they like the noise,” Willis says. “If they like going out and being a part of the nightlife, then they’re choosing those neighborhoods and don’t care about noise. If they’re sensitive to noise, they’re living in a completely residential area.”

There are some things you can watch for when considering a first-floor apartment. Newer buildings tend to have thicker, more modern windows that are better at keeping noise out. “In an older unit there’s more likelihood of having single-pane glass windows versus double-pane, which makes a huge difference,” says Eric Suissa, director of sales for the DC Apartment Company.

Where the apartment is positioned in the building is also key. “Choose something away from the central action, which is typically a better choice than being right in front of the package room or office,” says Suissa.

MacDonald knows that fact well. He’s since moved to New York for his job in public relations, but he’s gained some valuable rental insight from his time in Adams Morgan.

“Moving in and out of the apartment was extremely easy,” he says. “And it was on the same floor as the laundry and gym, so my commute within the building was lovely. But if you’re thinking about a first-floor apartment, make sure to visit the building and see whether you’re next to the elevator or how much foot traffic there is. Because it all equals noise.”

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