Typically, the pace of the Washington rental market starts to pick up a little bit in April.
Rental prices start to increase, and apartments start to rent a little faster. When the market truly picks up speed and prices start increasing at a faster rate is typically in May. That pace keeps on getting faster and prices continue to increase up until August.
This year is different.
We have had a change of administration in the White House, and this does affect the rental market. Many might think that the opposite would be true and that suddenly a bunch of occupied apartments will become available. That is not the case.
I have seen this transition a few times in the past 20 years working in this rental market. The rental market picked up the pace about a month earlier than it typically does this year. Prices started to increase sooner and at a more rapid pace. Apartments started renting faster.
For example, earlier this month I had a client ask about a one-bedroom apartment that she saw listed for $2,400 on a Thursday. I called the next day to schedule an appointment for my client at that rental property and the price for the one-bedroom had increased to $2,435. Another one-bedroom at that same property increased to $2,500. The average price for a one-bedroom in downtown Washington, Logan Circle and Dupont Circle is about $2,300 to $2,750. You can find one-bedroom apartments for less in older buildings, with fewer amenities and smaller square footage. Those properties are having a lower amount of vacancies, and those apartments are getting rented very quickly.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate this market if you are planning to move.
• Start your search two months prior to your move date. Ideally, if you can be searching in the first week of a month, two months prior to your move date, that will be best for more choices and better prices in most cases.
• Know what your budget is and what major priorities you have when you are looking for a rental home. Make a list of mandatory items and a list of nice-to-have items that you are looking for in a home. Think about what on your list of priorities you can be flexible on and what priorities are non-negotiable items. For example, if you work 12-hour days, a shorter commute may be necessary. If budget is a top priority, can you consider being flexible with a little longer commute for better prices?
• Plan to have a day or two when you can view apartments. Even if you currently live here and have the luxury of being able to view apartments here and there, it is best to view a few properties within a day or two and be able to make a decision. If you view one apartment on one weekend and another the next, the one you saw the week prior most likely will not still be available and you might have missed a good rental price. If you see several in a day or two, you will in most cases have a chance to go back and submit an application on the one you liked before someone else submits an application. If you really think you have seen a rental home that you like, don’t wait to submit an application.
• See the rental units you really think you like as soon as possible. If you live locally, consider viewing before work, at your lunch hour or after work to avoid the weekend when more people will see it. If you live locally, you have an advantage over people who are not currently in town and have to wait until the weekend to view units. If there is going to be an open house, ask to view the unit before the open house. Be early, if not on time, to appointments. Even if you are not meeting the landlord, you may be meeting a person who represents the landlord and you want to make a good impression.
• Ask how applications are being reviewed. Every individual or management company will have a different process. You need to know what that process is so you can have a game plan. Ask if they review applications on a first-come, first-served basis or if they will be reviewing multiple applications. If they are reviewing multiple applications, you will want to prepare to adjust your application to look as attractive as possible with better terms that the landlord will find appealing. Ask what type of lease term the landlord prefers and when the landlord would like a lease to start. Then decide if you like the apartment and what you will feel comfortable offering in a multiple-application situation.
• Things to consider offering to make your application appealing to a landlord are: a little bit higher rent; a lease start date close to the landlord’s preference; letting the landlord know that you are fine with the existing paint if acceptable to you to save the landlord the cost of repainting; and lease term that will appeal to the landlord.
• If there is an apartment available a little sooner than your lease start date and it makes financial sense and will save you rent money over the course of a year, it is something you might want to consider. Ask the leasing agent if they can push the lease start date a little closer to your lease start date desired without affecting the price. Every management company is different, it is always worth asking the question.
• Be ready to submit an application on a rental home that you like. Have your offer letter, pay stubs or proof of income ready. Have checks for application fees and deposits. Have contact information for your current landlord and landlords for the past five years. Have a copy of your photo ID with you. If you think you might need a co-signer, have them ready to submit an application. Applications can be sent by email, mail or completed online in most cases. Some properties will need a local co-signer or won’t allow a co-signer, so that will have to be one of the first questions you need to ask if you know a co-signer will be required.
• Ask for help from a real estate professional, especially if you are not familiar with the D.C. market. A real estate professional can help guide you in determining what is possible for you within your budget and what is not possible.
• Once you have established that you might be in the area for a while, think about buying a home. Having a mortgage on a home is the best way to keep the housing portion of your cost of living the same as you advance in your career over time.
Nancy Simmons Starrs is founder and president of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment-search service.