Needle in a Haystack: Apartment Hunting in DC

by Bryce Baschuk


For the past six months, Julia Gitis has been subletting a room for $1,000 a month in an Adams Morgan house, but recently, the 25-year-old federal analyst has been looking around for a more permanent place of her own.

However, despite searching in what are considered the off-season months, she is learning that reasonably affordable rentals are few and far between within the District borders.

“Apartments in good locations at reasonable rents get snatched up extremely quickly,” Gitis told UrbanTurf, noting that rental rates in DC are higher than in both Boston and San Francisco where she used to live. “There are plenty of young professionals willing to shell out a lot of money for small studios or one-bedroom apartments.”

Gitis’ story has become an all too familiar one for apartment seekers this year. Area leasing managers noted that application rates for apartments in DC neighborhoods have increased dramatically in recent months while vacancy hovers around 2 percent.

“The number of applicants and the level of competition for quite a few locations has gone up noticeably,” said Tim Touchette of Attache Property Management. “We now even have people asking to pay more than the asking rent to secure an apartment.”

Touchette told UrbanTurf that he was recently marketing a two-bedroom apartment in Dupont Circle that had received an initial offer just prior to the open house. Two anxious prospective tenants showed up early to the open house and told Touchette that they would be willing to pay a higher monthly rent if he gave them the apartment. (He turned this offer down saying that applicants are assessed on a first-come, first-served basis.)

It isn’t just the prime housing markets that have tightened. David Hall, leasing coordinator at Evolve Properties, said he has seen a jump in demand for his buildings in emerging Northeast DC neighborhoods like Eckington and the H Street Corridor.

“This summer was phenomenally busy for us,” Hall told UrbanTurf. “Out of the 569 units I manage, I only have 15 still on the market.”

Hall remembers a prospective tenant who tried to jump in front of another person with an existing appointment by offering him cash to see the apartment first. “I told him he needed to set up an appointment as we deal on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

Regardless of where one decides to rent in the DC area, their troubles will not be solely limited to low vacancy. The Washington Post reported this past weekend that one in five renters in the DC area spends more than half their income on rent, far exceeding the 30 percent benchmark that has been the standard for decades.

Krystal Laeger is now experiencing this reality firsthand. For the past year, Laeger has rented an 81 square-foot room in a three-bedroom townhouse in downtown DC for just $500 a month. Two weeks ago, she found out that her roommates were moving out and she would have to find a new place to live. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laeger said she is used to renting two-bedroom urban apartments for no more than $800 a month, so when she initially started looking, it was for a studio apartment or a one-bedroom unit in the range of $500 to $700 a month.

“I soon realized that this is next to impossible even when looking to rent out the basement in a single-family home,” Laeger said. “I’ve increased my range to $900, but it is hard to find anyone offering their places for less that $1,000 to $1,500 per month.”

Laeger’s research has shown that finding housing for around $1,200 to $1,500 before utilities would be a snap, but that is prohibitively high for many young professionals in the city.

“I find it odd that so many college-educated people in their late twenties and early thirties, myself included, still have to live with other people in order to stretch our money enough to have a life.”

See other articles related to: renting in dc, editors choice

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/needle_in_a_haystack_apartment_hunting_in_dc/2711


  1. JFREED said at 12:44 pm on Monday November 29, 2010:

    It has never been harder (finding an apt in the city). I looked for 3 months and at what seemed like a million buildings before finding a place. The Post article was particularly sobering this weekend, too.

  1. Mike said at 5:39 pm on Monday November 29, 2010:

    I looked this summer for something on Capitol Hill, and every open house had 20+ people.  The rents were very high when compared to the condition of most of the places; landlords definitely know they control this situation and can have a pick of many applicants.  I highly suggest starting well in advance if looking for a place to rent and expect to pay $$.

  1. alissa said at 6:16 pm on Monday November 29, 2010:

    This is definitely true. I rented out my old 1br in Dupont for my landlord when I bought a condo this summer. I had about 25-30 emails from my craigslist post within 24 hours, and nearly all of them showed up to the open house I held. The apartment ended up renting to the first people who got in the door.

  1. moving companies Lincoln NE said at 4:58 am on Monday December 5, 2011:

    Searching for an apartment is really hard for most rental owners are practicing a first come first serve basis so that it would be more organized because doing this will lessen future problem that owner might encounter if he/she will not be following this policy. That is why it would be better if you have lots of sources so that there will be a bigger chance that you will be able to get a perfect place for you. In case you were able to get one you can call http://www.nebraskalandmoving.com for they can help you out. They will be taking charge everything so that you will not get tired.

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