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How to Find an Apartment in Washington, DC

By: Emily Kho
September 16, 2021

A move to Washington, DC, offers residents countless employment opportunities, excellent public transit, national museums aplenty, and mouth-watering restaurants. You can determine how to find an apartment in Washington, DC independently or use our guide to simplify the process and make sure you find the best rental possible.

Here’s how you can find the best neighborhood and apartment amenities in DC.

How to Find the Best DC Neighborhood

As the nation’s capital, DC offers a rich history, including countless historic national monuments and famous museums. Residents of Washington, DC have an unbeatable quality of life, with endless entertainment, arts, and culture all around.

Washington, DC boasts a wide assortment of housing options, making it an inviting place for all who are considering moving there. From apartments to condos to single-family houses and more, the city offers everything. Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find the quality of life you're looking for.

Here's where to get started!

1. Adams Morgan

Washington, DC is filled with history, and the neighborhood of Adams Morgan is no exception. The streets of this quaint, small neighborhood are filled with 19th-century row houses. Plus, Adams Morgan is both highly walkable and bike-friendly

On a community level, Adams Morgan offers an unbeatable garden, several parks, and the annual Adams Morgan Day Festival. Millennials flock to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, for its vibrant vibe paired with easy access to commuting in and out of the city for work with the Metro Red Line.

2. Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle, another Washington, DC neighborhood, has been named after the historic traffic circle in the center of this area. In addition to being an entertainment center, Dupont Circle provides residents with a small green space to get outside and enjoy the sunny DC days.

The buildings of Dupont Circle are post-Civil War era and are beaming with history. The neighborhood is also home to Embassy Row, where over one hundred international embassies, missions, and residences can be found.

3. Georgetown

The famous university of Georgetown is one of the most noteworthy aspects of this Washington, DC neighborhood. With so much history at its roots, this neighborhood has been designated as a historic site.

The modern-day resident still has plenty to enjoy in this college town, which boasts plenty of shopping opportunities. Stores range from high-end designer boutiques to staple retailers found across the country. To escape some of the business of shopping, you can walk down to Georgetown Waterfront Park.

4. Capitol Hill

The neighborhood of Capitol Hill has been appropriately named as home to countless U.S. government buildings, including the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court. Most people working in the government reside in this Washington, DC neighborhood.

However, you don’t have to be heavy into politics to find enjoyment in living in Capitol Hill. You’ll find plenty to do in Capitol Hill, including shopping along vintage storefronts or dining at some of the top restaurants in the area. When living in Capitol Hill, you have to make it a point to visit the Eastern Market, home to tons of products, arts, and great food.

5. Foggy Bottom

Quite possibly, the most uniquely named neighborhood of Washington, DC is Foggy Bottom. The name comes from the eerie fog that tends to roll in and out of this DC region. Despite the fog, Foggy Bottom is one of the safest neighborhoods in Washington, DC.

The JFK Center for Performing Arts is found in Foggy Bottom, where artists tend to flock. Here you can find year-round performances matched with houses dating back to the 1800s. The crown jewel of Foggy Bottom is Rock Creek Park, which is over a century old and includes activities like horse trails, Civil War forts, and a planetarium.

How Much are Apartments in DC

Considering the move to DC? Before you get started packing your things, you’ll want to first learn about the average rent prices in the area.

Average Rent in DC

DC rents have decreased by 2.51% compared to last month and are down by 3.67% compared to the previous year. Here’s more information to help you determine your budget:

  • 0% of apartments in Washington, DC cost less than $1,000 per month.
  • 42% of apartments in Washington, DC cost between $1,000-$1,999 per month.
  • 39% of apartments in Washington, DC cost between $2,000-$2,999 per month.
  • 19% of apartments in Washington, DC cost over $3,000 per month.

How to Find Cheap Apartments in DC

Finding out how to find an apartment in DC is one thing, though if you’re looking to find a cheap apartment, you’ll have to do some serious research. With the help of online resources, you are sure to find something you can afford.

Learning how to budget for your first apartment is one of the first steps of the process. There are plenty of expenses to account for, but some of the crucial ones to include in your budget are:

  • Rent
  • Moving expenses
  • Heating and gas
  • Cable/internet
  • Electricity
  • Etc.

Don’t worry if you’re starting to feel a bit overwhelmed as you begin totaling up all of your expenses. There are plenty of ways to reduce your costs. For example, you should always take advantage of seasonality when renting and seek out different move-in specials.

What’s the Best Time to Find an Apartment in DC

Pay attention to the rental market’s seasonality while you are apartment hunting. Washington, DC, similar to the rest of the nation, consistently shows that seasonality can impact rent prices.

It’s common to find more apartments available during the winter months as people are less interested in moving during this time of year. As a result, the summer months are more popular, making this time more competitive and more expensive.

Regardless of the season, you’re apartment hunting, you’ll want to come prepared to look at apartments in DC with all your documentation. The ticket to you beating out your competition could depend on you being ready to sign a lease agreement on the spot.

How to Find an Apartment?

Learn the steps to finding an apartment in DC! Here’s the process:

Determine Your Budget

Part of finding your perfect apartment in DC means considering your budget. A simple way to calculate your rental budget is by following the recommended 30% rule. According to the 30% rule, your sent should not take up more than 30% of your gross income or pre-taxed monthly take-home pay. If you want to figure it out based on your annual income, just divide your gross annual salary by 40.

If you are looking for a one-bedroom apartment in DC with an average rent price of $1,729, you can use the 30% rule to determine your minimum gross income. Based on this rule, your gross income should hit right around $5,187 per month or about $62,244 annually.

Understand the Trust Cost of Renting

While the 30% rule is a helpful budgeting tool, it works best as a baseline. There are also hidden costs for renting that the 30% rule does not account for in terms of budgeting.

So, if you’re wondering how much apartment rent can you really afford, we’ll need to take a closer look at some of the hidden apartment expenses. Some of the big ones include:

Your specific financial circumstance will also play a pivotal role in how much rent you can afford. Renters who have high bills for different financial needs, including medical expenses, student debt repayment, etc., may quickly realize that the 30% rule doesn’t quite gel with their budget and will have to adjust accordingly.

For this reason, it’s essential to determine how much rent you can afford to pay, including all of the additional expenses. The Apartment List’s Rent Calculator is a beneficial tool that has been put together with renters in mind. Using this calculator will help you to understand better what type of rental budget you are working with for your move to Washington, DC.

Set Your Apartment Priorities

Washington, DC boasts dozens of historic homes and apartment buildings, as well as brand new apartment buildings and condos. When you’ve established your budget, you can begin narrowing your search and find the best apartment for you by figuring out your priorities regarding specific amenities.

Amenities

Start by brainstorming a list of needs and wants for your apartment in Washington, DC. Your list should include all the amenities you love. Depending on your preferred transportation methods, some things worth considering maybe proximity to public transportation, bike storage, or covered parking.

The more you can identify what you want versus what you need, the easier it will be to narrow down your options and find your perfect apartment.

DC Location/Neighborhood

Finding the best neighborhood in Washington, DC, comes down to personal preference with so many great options to choose from. Factor in things like the overall vibe, walkability, and convenience. If you’re looking for more space for a pet or quieter evenings, try looking for apartments outside the booming downtown area.

Otherwise, you might opt for a more lively neighborhood with nightlife and excitement to make the most of your leisure time. To determine which is best for you, measure your desire for accessibility to extracurriculars, including what types, before signing your next lease in your ideal Washington, DC neighborhood.

Consider Your Commute Time

Your next apartment in Washington, DC, should factor in commute time, as well as your dream location.

Washington, DC's walk score is an astonishing 76, with a transit score of 71. In addition to these excellent scores, people also love biking around Washington, DC, thanks to its bike score of 69. This information is good to know because it means that it is possible to find a great Washington, DC apartment within walking or biking distance to work.

Public Transportation in DC

Thankfully, Washington, DC's public transportation makes getting around the city relatively easy. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) serves Washington, DC, and the surrounding areas. You can plan out your trip ahead of time by utilizing the online trip planner, which details your trip fares.

In addition to excellent public transportation, Washington, DC is very walkable and bike-friendly, perfect for anyone looking to opt out of vehicle ownership while living in the city. If you’re looking to help reduce your monthly expenses, you might choose an apartment in Washington, DC, near your work or bike paths.

Prepare for Apartment Tours

You’ll want to take part in an apartment tour before signing a lease for your new Washington, DC apartment. When it’s time for your apartment tour appointment, don’t forget to bring documentation, including ID, references, and your application fee. Property managers may accept cash, credit card, or check for the application fee, depending on their preference.

Find out how the application process works before you go on your apartment tour.

Take your time on the apartment tour and don’t feel rushed. You’ll want to ensure all the amenities in the listing are functioning correctly. You can also jot down a list of questions you may have, such as rules about pets, painting, and other building rules.

Get a good idea of 20 questions to ask when renting an apartment, so you know what questions to ask the property manager during your apartment tour.

Applying for Your DC Apartment

Once you’ve completed your apartment tour and have found the Washington, DC unit that checks all the boxes, it’s time to submit your application.

You should already have the necessary materials gathered for your tour, so that part should be easy. In addition to the basic application, credit check, etc., you’ll also more than likely need to include rental references. Most landlords want previous landlord references, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you don’t have any previous rental history. Sometimes, property managers will also accept personal references.

Regardless of who your references may be, make sure you have reached out to these individuals ahead of time so they can anticipate the call and respond at a quicker rate on your behalf.

Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

According to a rental fraud report by Apartment List, 34.1% of renters in Washington, DC have encountered an apartment listing they have suspected was fraudulent. Sadly, 9.3% of these DC renters have lost money from one of these rental scams. Don’t fall victim to one of these scams. Always be cautious and follow these tips for avoiding rental scams to keep yourself protected.

Using Apartment List to Find Your DC Apartment

Of course, don’t forget to enjoy your apartment hunting process! Congratulations to you for starting your search for a beautiful new apartment and life in Washington, DC!

Here’s how it works: We’ll take a minute to get to know you first by having you answer a few simple questions so that we can quickly match you to apartments explicitly tailored to fit your desires. Then, we’ll mix and match your personalized results to help make it easy to discover places with the perfect combination of price, location, and amenities for you.

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EMILY KHO
Emily is a professionally trained writer who covers a wide range of topics but specializes in business and hospitality content. With over a decade of professional writing experience in the hospitality industry, Emily comes from a strong background in the field backed with a BS from the world-renowned William F. Read More
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