What's the going rate for a pleasant apartment in DC?
December 13, 2008 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Specific question about apartment hunting in DC/Northern Virginia...

Hi! I've browsed previous threads on the topic, but didn't this particular issue addressed. I am, very likely, moving to the DC area from a land far, far away, where $700 will get you a very nice one bedroom, there's lots of free parking, and it's perfectly safe to walk anywhere at any hour of the night. I have a pretty good idea of where to look for an apartment, but I'm not so sure for what I'm looking.
I don't need much space, a tiny studio is fine, but I do need functional heating, cooling, and appliances, freedom from roaches and other pestilence, and, generally, a place that won't make my family and friends shudder when they come visit. In what price range should I be looking? I've been browsing $1200-1300 places, but if I need to be thinking closer to 1500, that's okay, I'd just rather know ahead of time. When I travel back to apartment hunt, I'm going to need to make a quick decision, so I don't want to get there and discover that all the buildings on my list are shady. Realistically, I could pay more than that if I need to to be somewhere pleasant and liveable, but I'd rather not. I just don't have any concept of what to expect for a given price in a larger city.
Other potentially relevant information: My job will be near the Foggy Bottom metro station, so I'm thinking near the red line, as long as it's not too far out, or orange line over on the Virginia side. I'm a female in my mid-20s, and as I said I'm used to being able to wander around any time of the night without concern. I would like to be able to safely go for a stroll alone at night. I like the idea of living near fun stuff, but that's not requisite; I've managed to find fun stuff in a lot of different locales there, and I don't mind travelling out of my way to do cool things. Also, I do own a car, but I would prefer to use it as little as possible unless I'm actually leaving town.
Or, y'know, if you want to tell me that you hate DC and this is a terrible mistake, that's also a welcome answer...it's not too late for me to choose some other city! I've been lurking for years and gotten a lot of excellent information here, but this is my first question. Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by little e to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A 1 bedroom walking distance to the orange line will strain your $1500, but it's doable if you live near the Vienna station, which is safe and one of the least boring parts of Northern VA (less boring would be Arlington and Alexandria). My dad lives in a 1 bedroom apartment about a 12 minute drive from Vienna metro station, I believe he pays right around $1300 for a fairly pleasant neighborhood. In my opinion, the whole area is safe to walk around in at night (most of DC is too). If you're willing to take a bus or drive a short distance from the orange line, you shouldn't have much problem finding a place within your price range. Stuff below $1200 or so will probably be in older, inconveniently placed apartment buildings. Avoid Tyson's Corners, it's a horrible area to live in.

If I were a 20-something female in your situation, I think I'd look at Alexandria Courthouse metro area first, but it might be out of your price range, not sure. Good luck!
posted by bluejayk at 10:34 PM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: I would look in Arlington - you can find 1 bedrooms in that price range around the Courthouse, Clarendon, Rosslyn metro stops. I know people that have places in all those areas for that price range. That way you can easily grab the orange line into DC and to Foggy Bottom. Parking should be cheap or included.

DC will be pricier in that area, and parking will be very difficult.

Hope that helps? Ask away if you need more thoughts.
posted by waylaid at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: We live 15 minutes walking distance from the Courthouse metro in Arlington, and we pay $1050 for a one bedroom. It's in an old building, so it's not as nice as I would prefer, but we have working appliances and a decent standard of living. Now, we have been here forever so you can't get that rate anymore, but 1200-1300 is definitely eminently doable for what you are looking for in the Arlington area.

Alexandria will be a lot more expensive, as will Rosslyn, so you are better off looking on the Orange line around Courthouse and Clarendon. There are some nice places around the Virginia Square/Ballston areas too, but it's harder to walk around there. Vienna would work too.

If you want some additional info on specific places you have been looking at, feel free to shoot me an email (in profile).
posted by gemmy at 11:09 PM on December 13, 2008

Oh, and Google Maps just added Northern Virginia - including Arlington/Alexandria to Street View, so you can get a feel for the area around where you are looking.

Courthouse Metro Station on Street View

posted by gemmy at 11:16 PM on December 13, 2008

I would look more on the Red-line, NW side. Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, and Van Ness are all very nice neighborhoods with lots of apartments available, and good walkability / amenities. All are very safe areas, though as in any major city it is wise to exercise caution.

Farragut North is within easy walking distance of Foggy Bottom, or you could transfer at Metro Center and get right to the GWU-Foggy Bottom stop- a good option in icky weather or if you're in a huge rush.

Since you have a car, Northern Virginia would be totally workable, but I just get the feeling that most of the younger action is in the NW neighborhoods.

Just be careful about parking; you're going to pay out the nose for it if you're remotely close to a metro stop. DC is so walkable that I would seriously consider selling the car; there are plenty of Zip cars, rental places, etc. and the parking, insurance, gas, and general maintenance of a car in a big city can add up fast.

Good luck with your decision!
posted by charmcityblues at 1:43 AM on December 14, 2008

The Post has a nice apartment search engine with a Metro stop proximity feature. My own experience has been that it's difficult to find a nice 1-bedroom w/i walking distance of a station w/o paying in the vicinity of $1500+ (assuming you don't want roommates).
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:37 AM on December 14, 2008

Another vote for the orange line corridor in Arlington -- but I'm biased from growing up there. My brother (mid-20s) lives near Virginia Square/Clarendon, and there are a fair amount of young people in the area. The location couldn't be better, and I think you could definitely find something reasonable in that area. The brother commutes on the Metro farther than Foggy Bottom and it isn't too bad, so a Clarendon/Courthouse trip to Foggy Bottom would be quite short. Good luck!
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 5:51 AM on December 14, 2008

I'll second the Woodley Park area. Upper Northwest is a bit cheaper than the trendier NW neighborhoods (like Dupont Circle) and you're a metro ride from a lot of the 20-something scene, though there are lots of restaurants and bars in Woodley Park as well. You should be able to get a studio in a nice building there for about $1,200. You said you're OK with a studio, and it will be so worth having less space it to actually be in the city, too. (If you stay out late and want to take a cab home, it will be way less of a hassle than getting to Northern Virginia, for instance.)

Also, don't be committed to being on a certain metro line to get you into work. In DC, the buses are often a more efficient way to get around within the city.

Don't live anywhere where you have to drive to the metro to take it into work. That means you're probably not around anything else either. Parking and taking the metro from a far-out suburb will get expensive fast. Plus, those parking lots fill up early.

Also, seriously consider ditching your car, unless there's something you absolutely need it for. If you're not driving it every day (which you probably won't in DC), it's a hassle to worry about street-cleaning days. You can rent a car when you go out of town, and not having insurance will save you at least $100/month.
posted by Airhen at 5:53 AM on December 14, 2008

I grew up along the orange line on the Virginia side and have friends who live in the District. I agree with the above comments suggesting Arlington on the orange line or DC proper (I know a lot of folks who like living in the Mt. Pleasant area). Parts of Northern Virginia are suburban homes and new apartment buildings.

I would not recommend giving up your car, especially if you decide to live outside of the District.

Finally, I don't know what you like in a place and I think it is possible to find interesting things to do anywhere, but if you have other options aside from DC, I would carefully consider them. I have had some amazing experiences in DC, but I've also lived in Brooklyn, Portland, OR and a few other great places... and DC/Northern Virginia seems to me to be sort of boring in comparison. However, you should take that statement with a grain of salt because I did grow around here and that probably makes it hard for me to see it differently.
posted by val5a at 6:19 AM on December 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks very much everyone, that really gives me a better idea what to look for. Sounds like I probably ought to go ahead and give a closer look to the 1500 range. I'd actually like to have roommates, but at this point the only option there is random strangers. As much as I enjoy hanging out with random strangers, jumping in and living with them is another matter. I initially looked at some ads for shared places, but I'm just afraid it's not feasible to get to know people well enough from afar in the amount of time I'll have. I figure by the time this lease is up, I'll have made friends and I can find myself a roomie or two. I do think I need to keep my car...part of what attracts me to the area is that I'll still be able to meet friends from elsewhere in WV or VA for camping and such. And if I'm going to spend a long weekend sleeping in a backseat at a music festival, I'd much rather it be my own :) Thanks again, guess I'm heading back to the classifieds!
posted by little e at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: I've lived up in NW DC on the Red line, as well as out in Arlington on the Orange line, and if you want to keep your car I'd definitely focus on the Northern Virginia area. I can't recall any apartment complexes that offered a parking space with the apartment rental when I was living in the Cleveland Park / Van Ness area--it was usually $100 extra for parking, even in buildings that had parking garages on the basement level. On the other hand, most of the big apartment complexes I looked at on the Orange line did include a free parking space in your rent--you only had to pay for a second space.

I think this is probably because it's much easier to function without a car at all if you're living on the Red Line in DC--there were 3 or 4 grocery stores within walking distance of my apartment, and my car basically never got used when I was living there. Where I live in Arlington now (about a 3 minute walk from a metro stop), on the other hand, it's definitely not possible to walk to a grocery store--you have to have a car. If you don't want to give your car up, and don't want to deal with the headache of street parking, you might want to consider focusing on the orange line.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:23 AM on December 14, 2008

Why are you looking at the 1500 range? You can find a studio with what you're looking for for less. I would start off on the Orange Line

When people say 'older' building, they are fine. No roaches, broken pipes, etc. Just means that it's not new construction, granite countertops, etc. That goes for VA, MD or DC.

Anyways, you may find a car a liability when you get here, particularly if you plan to live in DC. Remember you can still easily rent or use a ZipCar when you're here.

...by the way, I would ask around here what apartment buildings people recommend. Those buildings are huge and will have openings anytime, and our advice here on MeFi is probably better than jumping in blind!
posted by waylaid at 8:00 AM on December 14, 2008

Response by poster: Actually, yes, recommendations on specific apartment buildings would be excellent...
posted by little e at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and 1500 because I was half asleep when I was reading the thread this morning, and missed the one bedroom vs. studio thing.
posted by little e at 10:15 AM on December 14, 2008

I know you said orange and red specifically, but don't shy away from the blue line - it runs to foggy bottom too. You could probably be able to find a nice apartment in the Crystal City area in your price range, with a bit more amenities for what you'll pay. When I moved to DC last year, we had to rent our apartment over the internet, sight unseen - I don't recommend this, by the way. But we did choose to live well outside of DC (still walkable to a metro stop though) so we could have a dishwasher and a washer/dryer in our 1 bedroom apartment for less than $1500. Just decide on what you absolutely have to have and go from there :) Good luck!
posted by kerning at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2008

When people say 'older' building, they are fine.

I was just discussing this with someone the other day, and in a lot of ways older (as in pre-1970s) is better since the construction is usually more sound. (Vietnam, Watergate, and crappy building materials...that's actually a pretty good guide to the '70s and Foggy Bottom.)

Upper Northwest is a bit cheaper than the trendier NW neighborhoods (like Dupont Circle) and you're a metro ride from a lot of the 20-something scene...

What makes the trendier neighborhoods (Dupont, Logan, West End, etc.) trendy is that they tend to have a lot of old rowhouses, which can actually be pretty affordable if you (a) move into a group house (which it sounds like you're not ready to do yet) or (b) move into an English basement apartment, which tend to be one-bedrooms and allow for privacy--with a separate front entrance--but a potentially positive relationship with your landlords, who will likely be living upstairs (and in a trendy neighborhood are likely to be a middle-age gay couple who can sympathize with and look out for a single gal new to town).
posted by kittyprecious at 11:29 AM on December 14, 2008

I'm 3.5 miles from the Vienna Metro (Orange Line), with a bus stop for Metrobus and Cue buses in front of the apartment. Your list of must-haves is almost identical to mine. I am very satisfied with both my apartment complex's management and rental cost (currently $1185; it was less three years ago when I moved in. The apartment is one bedroom, 700 square feet, sunny, third floor, balcony, and permits pets. There is a pool and the neighborhood is safe and pleasant to walk in. Next door is an elementary school; a half mile away is a major chain grocery store. So the neighborhood is even a little boring. But at this stage of my life, boring is good--if I want excitement / fancier places to eat, I'll hop on the Metro or drive somewhere. Although given the location, I probably could live without a car if I had to.

I think my apartment was built in the late sixties/early seventies; the construction is solid, the building is well-insulated. If this interests you, MeMail me for specifics.
posted by apartment dweller at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: About Dupont Circle - you can walk around at night here, with no problem for the most part, I don't advocate walking alone down a dimly lit side street at 2am though. Court House/Clarendon/Virginia Square/Ballston (all orange line) have lots of 20s/30s age people and are pretty safe. It's really yuppie there so.. uh, you will find a lot of restaurants and bars, but if you want to go clubbing, you'd have to go into DC.

In the city, U Street/Adams Morgan are funkier (though still gentrified basically) and Dupont is great but.. having a car there is horribly annoying and parking is a nightmare. If you go up Connecticut Avenue from Woodley Park to Cleveland Park you might find a good building with parking, probably very easy at Van Ness (and there is a fair amount of street parking in that neighborhood), Van Ness is realllllly dull at night and quiet, though safe.

So.. I'd definitely go with the Orange Line places in Virginia. I've had the experience of moving to DC and finding a random apartment, I think I did it wrong - it would have been much less stressful to find a nice, quiet, even boring place in suburban Virginia, and then think about moving into DC later once I knew my way around. Especially since you can afford to get a nice comfy place. I would strongly advise against one of DC's famous "english basement" apartments - you might get space, but they don't get much light, but mostly it's because if there are bugs anywhere around, that is where they show up (with old rowhouses, it's hard to help that.. not necessarily roaches but things like house centipedes and spiders and stuff).
posted by citron at 12:26 AM on December 15, 2008

Oh, and DC's an okay place to live. it's not New York, but I expect when all the Obama people arrive it'll be a little more exciting than before.. It does lean toward being conservative and career-oriented, frankly.. lots of 20 somethings.. can be fairly transient, lots of people move to the area for a time mostly for work, and then move away. Also it might be a good choice now because as the economy continues to tank.. DC is a bit more insulated since the government (and all the contractors and industries connected to it) are not going out of business of course - there's that stability here that some other cities might not have. The better arts/music scene & generally funkier and less uptight place is Baltimore IMHO, whereas there are more jobs here and less crime..

Some of DC is not safe to walk around in at night, including parts of Northeast and Southeast, many many people in the area basically treat DC as Northwest from the Red Line to U Street, Adams Morgan, and getting into Columbia Heights, plus Capitol Hill. I'm guilty of this myself because I don't know which parts of NE and SE are particularly unsafe, but I can say that if you live out toward Potomac Yard metro east of Capitol Hill, for instance, it's not a good idea to go strolling by yourself at night, I'd say that about Columbia Heights too - just use good judgment and stick to well lit busy streets, I'd worry most about walking alone down side streets where there aren't any people around and lighting is poor.
posted by citron at 12:48 AM on December 15, 2008

Response by poster: Follow-up: I took the job, and I have an apartment! I ended up with a place near the Courthouse metro station. It's smallish, but does have a washer and dryer, and is in a great location. For anyone who comes across this thread later, I found that several places had discounts that weren't advertised, so it's worth your while to call around. I ended up with 2 months free rent. Thanks for your help!
posted by little e at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2009

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