The apartment market is fairly consistent in DC: there exists a set of criteria and stipulations that virtually every apartment manager and landlord will follow. Memorize these brief mnemonic tips to prevent an unhappy surprise.
Lease Me, Lease Me, Say That You’ll Lease Me: No landlord worth trusting will go for less than a six month lease and a deposit of two-thirds rent. That said, most of the more upscale units should be fully furnished, so you can count on cutting some costs in your move.
Utilitarianism: Most apartment contracts around the District don’t include utilities. If your college yearbook designated you “Frugal Freddy,” budget around $250/month for a 1BR/1BA. “Indulgent Ira” can expect to pay a bit more. Penny-pinch much? Consider a room in a house (or go in on a house with some friends)—there are lots of gems in DC that power-drunk Princeton grads don’t seek out because apartmenting is perceived as less stressful. Also if you want to save a few additional dollars on utilities forgo air conditioning, however many of the new apartments include central air conditioning at no additional charge.
Car Talk: Parking in a secure garage or lot runs about $100-$200/month, if it’s an option at all. Street parking is slightly less expensive (you may obtain a Residential Parking Permit for only $15/year) if you’re a comfortable risk-taker. Though spaces are often hard to find: if you take this route, don’t plan on using your car much unless your favorite pastime is playing sardines amongst the library stacks… Also, if you have friends in Virginia or Maryland, you may want to register your car there: DC insurance is bound to be double what you’ll pay if you’re “parking” outside the Beltway.
OK Commuter: If you plan to commute anywhere else in the city, study the transit map and live within a 15 minute walk of the station. Car commuters find the DC metro freeways a major headache, and if you’re working in Virginia you can bet on 45 minutes and a protracted morning bridge-cross. Parking in the DC area can be very limited so when signing a lease ensure that your apartment building offers either a parking garage or a dedicated parking space.
Milo & Otis: As a kid, I loved watching this squatty pug and his best friend (a yellow tabby; who else?) meander through the Ohio countryside. Unfortunately, it seems DC planners and landlords weren’t so keen. Dogs are hard to keep due to the scarcity of dog parks, however many buildings offer on property dog parks and proivde specifically pet friendly apartments. Also, expect a flat fee (up to $300) and monthly pet rent (around $30/month). Be sure to ask your landlord or management company about size and breed restrictions—Otis usually passes; Butch, maybe not. Cats are almost always allowed, and usually more practical, but cats still incur the fees mentioned above.
Laundry Service: Hunt down the apartment buildings that offers in unit washer and dryer accessibility at either no extra charge or at no extra travel. If you’re not this lucky, budget around $10-15/month as well as the time needed to tote your dirties to the laundromat.
Neighborhoods are like presidents. Some are old, some new—and some are known only by their flaws. Pay due notice to what you’ve heard, but also try to explore new areas with an open mind. After all, you may find the next “diamond in the rough” by stumbling into some hip forest no one else can see for the trees.
John F. Kennedy: Mr. Popularity. We all want to be his friend. No one can recount any of the great stuff he accomplished (some influential speeches concerning civil rights?), but dang!—that man carried himself well. Elegantly manicured, Northwest DC is best described this way. Apartment-seekers flock left, right, and cross-ways to get in on the action. (Doesn’t help that it’s the largest quadrant…) The reality is that you can find most of the same amenities in a less inflated market elsewhere. Nevertheless, here’s the skinny on some of the most popular spots:
• Downtown Washington, DC borders some less fashionable but historic and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. If you can stand Convention Center parking headaches, you might find a 1BD/1BA for as little as $2100/month in Chinatown.
• Outside of Downtown, Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom are where it’s at in NW. In Dupont, be prepared to pay an average of $2800-$3500/month for 2BD/2BA; you’ll be jumping for joy if you find a studio or 1BR/1BA for two-thirds of that figure. Foggy’s the choice for commuters to Downtown and Rosslyn, Va. Mind you, this is still an expensive area—studios under $1400 are unheard of. But you get what you pay for, that’s for sure.
• Everyone and their mom who can’t afford the above neighborhoods want to be in AdMo (insider slang for Adams Morgan). The upper range for studios is $2200/month; add $600/month for one bedroom / one bath units in this area.
• Georgetown’s aesthetic is impeccable, but don’t get your hopes up for living in a quaint two bedroom / one bath row house down a cobblestone lane unless you can drop $3150/month. Additionally, this area is fairly impractical: commuters to Virginia will need to walk across the Key Bridge to Rosslyn, and shopping around here may be described as exclusively boutique-y.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: FDR is like the inverse of JFK. Visually boring, he set the Union on a trajectory toward modernism few would question. Everything east of N Capitol St. and north of E Capitol St. encapsulates this spirit. Classic as well as diverse, Northeast DC boasts a few gems you simply must consider:
• Capitol Hill isn’t just for politicians and lobbyists. (For one thing, the historic homes are too small for these jokers!) $1600/month for a 1BD/1BA near Eastern Market.
• Atlas District and Trinidad name two grimy (but equally hip) areas. The range around H St. is $900-$1200/month for 1BD/1BA and $1000-$1500/month for 2BD/1BA. Trinidad is the less expensiveof the two areas: just be careful where you land.
• Brookland/Catholic University of America is probably the most economical neighborhood in NE. You may feel marooned, but in all truth the Red Line in to Capitol Hill is 10 minutes max. One can usually find a 1BD/1BA for under $1000/month (under $1500/month for a second bedroom).
Grover Cleveland: Barely worth mention, the Southwest Waterfront is the smallest of DC’s quadrants. That’s not to say there aren’t some great apartments if you love that feeling of being stranded. (No Metro stops; but you could walk to Capitol Hill and Navy Yard if you absolutely had to.) Efficiency condos start at $1400/month and luxury 1BD/1BA average $1850/month. What, did you expect some fun facts about Cleveland’s tenure? There aren’t any.
James Polk: Plagued by controversy and overall messiness (need I mention the Trail of Tears?), Polk’s presidency was brief—but hugely influential. In other words, he’s the greatest president no one ever talks about. That’s Southeast DC. Folks who live here will regale its charms: Eastern Market, Anacostia Park, and on and on.
• Historically the industrial area, Navy Yard is currently enjoying revitalization along the lines of condos and high-rises. All this competition, though, doesn’t drive the price very low: look hard and you may find a 1BD for $1500/month or a 2BD for $2000/month.
• Anacostia is the Brooklyn of DC. It’s where those Navy Yard dockworkers went home to. $800/month is an average price for a 1BD/1BA; and it’s not unusual to find a 2BD unit for less than $1000/month.
Thanks for tuning in to this week’s segment of “Lives of the Presidents”… However, the best way to get a handle on these neighborhoods is to walk a mile in their shoes. Make a commitment to spending five consecutive hours in a few of these areas. Grab a meal, walk the streets (in daylight, please). Chances are, one of ‘em will charm you more than the others. Then simply choose your house and paint it white!