Low vacancies are not limited to rental properties in the Mount Vernon area. Vacancies are low everywhere in D.C. And in the places where units are available, you can expect that rents will be high.
In the District, salaries are not rising as quickly as rents. Twenty percent of renters in the D.C. area are spending more than half their income on rent, according to a study conducted by DC Fiscal Policy Institute. That is not ideal if you want to save for a future home purchase and retirement.
Here are some ways you can navigate the city’s competitive market:
• When you are viewing properties, be ready to immediately submit an application on something you like, especially if you have to move within a month or less. If you find a rental you like, you have to be ready to move forward quickly on an application.
If you walk away for an hour or two, the apartment you like might be snapped up by someone else. Have a check ready for application fees and deposits. Have an offer letter prepared stating your salary or copies of recent pay stubs. Have your employer contacts ready for confirmation of salary. Have your current and previous landlord contact information, and employment contact information for up to the past five years.
If you have a pet, have veterinary records and current and prior landlord pet references prepared. If you are a homeowner, have your mortgage payment and balance owed information. If you are a homeowner and rent that property, have the rental amount you are receiving monthly with you.
Some people who are relocating to the area have been homeowners and may opt to rent here a short while. If you have owned a home for five years, you won’t have a history of rent payments to show on an application for a prospective landlord, so you’ll have to supply your mortgage payment history.
• If you’re coming from out of town for a few days to view rentals, don’t just rely on friends and online ads for leads. Plan ahead with a property manager or a real estate agent to make the most of your available time and so you won’t end up seeing properties that have been taken or are out of your price range.
Also find out if your company has a relocation package that will allow for a short-term stay in corporate housing; that could help allow for a little more time and a little more flexibility on a later lease start date. Short-term furnished studio apartments can cost between $2,500 and $3,000 plus 14.5 percent hotel tax in D.C. for a stay less than three months, depending on the location. So you want to be sure that is covered.
• If you can be flexible with your lease term, longer or shorter, that can help you get a better rent. Many rental properties are on a system that can give you a better price, based on the lease ending at the best time for the apartment to be put back on the market. Some properties that are not on that type of system may give a better rent for a lease term that’s a bit longer.
Individual owners who are not thinking of selling their home in the near future may prefer a longer lease term and might be willing to offer a slightly lower rent for a longer than one-year lease term. There is also the benefit to having your rent stay the same for a longer term as long as you feel comfortable with a longer lease term.
• If the rental prices are just too high to keep you close to work, consider having a roommate to help you share the costs.
• To save money, consider an apartment that’s a bit farther from a Metro station. Check the Metro trip planner at wmata.com to see bus schedules. There are also a few transit apps — Transit App and Movitapp for example — available for iPhones or smartphones where you can find out all nearby options of departure times.
Knowing what you are looking for and being prepared to take action when you find it will save you a lot of headache and heartache in finding the rental home that best suits your needs.
Nancy Simmons Starrs is founder and president of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment search service.