7 Tips for the Frustrated Apartment Hunter

When the housing bubble popped a few years ago, the home-building industry wasn’t the only one left deflated. The construction of new apartment buildings fizzled out as well. Nonetheless, the spate of recent foreclosures and a still-high unemployment rate have led many in the DC, VA and MD region to seek refuge in rental housing. The problem is that supply hasn’t yet caught up with the demand of all of these new renters, creating one of the tightest rental markets in the nation.

In fact, among major metro areas, DC’s vacancy rate in the first quarter of 2012 (3.8%) was the second lowest in the country, lurking just behind New York. Let’s face it: It’s tough to find an apartment in this area. But as new apartment buildings become available over the next few years, that trend will reverse itself and the market will loosen up. This should make it easier to find affordable apartments in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.


The Miramar

Big box: While rents tend to be higher in the city, the sheer number of units should make your apartment search a bit easier. (NCinDC via Flickr)


Improve Your Chances of Finding an Apartment

Until then, here are some steps you can take right now to give yourself an edge in the hunt for a new rental:

1. Raise your credit. Landlords will check your credit score as part of the application process, and applicants with the best scores will generally have first crack at vacancies. There are lots of sites out there that’ll tell you your score; a search for “free credit score” ought to do it. Anything above 600 is decent, but you’ll likely want to aim for something in the 700s. One easy way to boost your score is to pay off your credit card balances while leaving the accounts active. It’s the ratio between your available credit and your balance that’s important. Paying off a card and then closing the account can actually hurt your credit score. Better to leave it open.

2. Shack up with someone. If you’re willing to take on a roommate, you can expand your apartment search to include two- and three-bedroom units. If that building you love doesn’t have a vacant one bedroom but they’ve got a nice deal on a two, then you might want to acquiesce and get a roommate.

3. Head for the sticks. OK, “sticks” might be pushing it, but consider moving away from the city and toward the ‘burbs. Demand for apartments tends to drop the farther you move from the center of downtown, and you should see a steady decline in prices as well.

4. But I love this town! On the other hand, there are more apartment buildings in DC. If you can afford the jump in rent, think about taking advantage of the broader apartment selection the city offers.  If money is an issue, consider ditching your car and taking the Metro to work. If you opt to live in the city, you’ll likely be near a Metro stop anyway.

5. Cut down on expenses. This is probably good advice no matter what your living situation is, but it’s particularly relevant here. Cutting the unnecessary fat from your budget will increase the amount of money you can devote to rent, thereby increasing your rental options.

6. Flattery will get you everywhere. Impress your next potential landlord with a list of character references. Ask your boss or co-workers if you can use their names. If you really want to make your application stand out, try to include a letter of recommendation from a former landlord.

7. Keep your options open. When you do find an apartment, think about signing a short-term lease, say six months. That way, if another place – a better or cheaper place – opens up, you’re free to move on to greener pastures.

Find your next apartment in the area with Apartment Showcase.

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