Still looking for an apartment in the D.C/NOVA area
July 20, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Still looking for an apartment in the D.C/NOVA area

This is a follow up to a previous question:
Going to school in Fairfax, VA (not GMU). Looking for an apartment where we won't get knifed or offered crack.
My wife and I are moving to the Fairfax area for graduate school, but can't afford to check it out in person beforehand. It is just to costly to visit from Springfield, Missouri, so we are looking for help from the hive. We would like to be somewhere within an hour of Fairfax.

We've never rented before and don't want to get ripped off. We would like to be in the safest possible area for the money. We've checked out specific complexes online, but there can't seem to find an affordable place for newlyweds.

The details:
1. Less than $1,000/month.
2. No less than 450 square feet.
3. Near public transportation (bus or metro).
4. Parking.
5. Laundry access.

A one bedroom would be great, but we don't mind a studio (as long as it has a decent kitchen).

If you know of any specific apartment buildings that fit the bill please let us know. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

posted by carefulmonkey to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I can give a good recommendation, but I would I would strongly urge you to avoid the Circle Towers complex on Lee Highway. Do not do it. No matter how desperate you are.

Less than $1000/month is going to be very difficult, unless you are willing to live with roommates. Would you guys consider renting an "in-law" basement in someone's house, or maybe a shared townhouse?
posted by raztaj at 2:29 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't lived in the area since 2005, but it seemed to me that 1) and 3) were pretty much mutually exclusive. You could get under $1,000 if you were willing to live way out past Ashburn or Chantilly, but public transport out that far is basically non-existant.
posted by Oktober at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2011

Could you provide information on what you tried from the answers from your previous AskMe? What worked or didn't work out for you?

I am also in the process of a long-distance housing search, and what I did was to check out listings through the local universities' off-campus housing services, as well as use PadMapper. Looking at a lot of listings helped me develop an idea of what the going rates were in the area for different housing options. So this gave me an idea of whether my initial budget was realistic or not. From the answers to your previous AskMe, it sounds like your budget may not be realistic for the area - if you can truly only afford that, you're going to have to budge on some of your other requirements. Repeatedly asking to find the impossible on AskMe won't help much.
posted by needled at 2:46 PM on July 20, 2011

You gave no new information since the last post, nor have you said what did or didn't help from the suggestions there. You haven't specified anything regarding what types of public transportation are acceptable (bus, Metro, commuter/VRE trains, or a mix of any of those).

And perhaps if you stopped referring to crack and stabbings in your posts, you might get more help. It's nonsensical, condescending, and makes it seem like you're either elitist or extremely naive, especially since you've already been told it's not true. I'm almost positive people are ignoring this question based on your characterization. Do some research on the area before you go around throwing around generalizations that are at best 30 years old and 20 miles off the mark.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2011 [19 favorites]

Check out some of the apartments listed by Johnson Associates. If you find one that fits the bill, call them (they never respond to email). In my experience, most of their 1BR apartments are around $1000 (some under), near bus routes (and sometimes metro too), have ample street parking (and sometimes designated spots, depending on the complex), and access to shared coin-operated laundry facilities.

All of their properties are in Arlington or Alexandria -- you are unlikely to get knifed or offered crack in most parts of Arlington or Alexandria (or Fairfax, for that matter).
posted by sa3z at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've lived around fairfax circle almost my entire life, and it's probably what you're looking for. its a long but very possible walk to thr vienna metro around there. avoid circle towers, as has been stated. there's a nice little cooperative behind and around draper drive, I'd suggest you look at some of the complexes there. when I was a lad they were primarily inhabited by working immigrants, often middle eastern or salvadorian, but upon returning home I was surprised to find the area looking beautiful (shaded by trees, sun breaking through to e complex's main thoroughfare) and the demographics changing (gentrifying?). I'd bet they're still pretty cheap.

mefi me for details, addresses.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2011

Is this a serious question? The Washington, DC metro area is one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. Northern Virginia as a crack den? Are you serious?

Look, you've been told what I just wrote a dozen or more times in this and the previous question on this topic you asked; the answers have not changed.

Perhaps you are naive, or young, or really just clueless about large-ish metro areas. But, really, both your budget and your attitude are unrealistic.
posted by dfriedman at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

In re: zombieflanders
My wife and I have been looking for apartments in the area for over a month and a half. The reason I put in the knife and crack reference is because we spent over 8 hours finding nothing but bad reviews that mentioned knifing and crack (I know I should take it with a grain of salt). If you bothered to take a moment and reread the beginning of the question, we state we are from South West Missouri and have never rented before. We are naive!!! I'm sorry the comment upset so much and I'll keep it in mind. I will also ask the mods to delete the statement.
posted by carefulmonkey at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2011

Just as a data point - I rent my one-bedroom, 857 square foot apartment with laundry/parking in Ashburn, VA (Loudoun Co, right next to Fairfax Co) for 1200 a month. It is no where near public transport. Further in, you are probably going to have a problem finding a place under 1,000 with the square footage and the amenities you desire.

I lived in NoVa for over 10 years (I am NYC now) and my first apartment (in Alexandria, VA) was around 900 a month.

Have you considered calling a local realtor that does rentals? They might provide you with a wider range of options or be able to help you focus on areas where there might possibly be rentals in your price range. The person who rents my apartment for me (who is also a friend) does a robust rental business and has listings that you don't always see on Craigslist or by going through a large apartment complex.

To your comment about crack and being knifed - Fairfax County (and the surrounding areas) are very safe, on par with a typical suburb.
posted by carmenghia at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've lived in the area for 12+ years and agree with previous answer-ers that you're asking for too much* for too little in rent. That said, my experience tells me that looking at "complexes" online isn't going to be very fruitful. "Complex" generally = management office, landscaping, common areas requiring upkeep = higher rents. Focus on singly available apartments rented out by individuals and posted on craigslist or by your school.

Also, I don't understand the reference to "newlywed." Is there some special housing/pricing requirement that makes an apartment "an affordable place for newlyweds" as opposed to "an affordable place"?

*And by "too much" I mean the sq ft and parking, not the safety stuff. Yeah, your stabbing/crack references are offensive, but more significantly it indicates such a misunderstanding of what the area is like that it's likely you're not equipped to conduct an informed, realistic apartment search.
posted by celilo at 3:14 PM on July 20, 2011

The fact that you are newlyweds and have never rented before makes me think that you both have only lived in dorms or with family. I suggest watching a couple of episodes of a show called "My First Place" which is available on Hulu. It's about buying houses, not renting, but it will show you the kind of compromises people regularly make when choosing a living situation. Each couple starts out with a wishlist, like yours, and things inevitably get crossed off as they learn what the market really has to offer.

Also, you worry about being "ripped off." In my experience with renting, you are unlikely to find either a ripoff or an excellent deal. Rental markets don't vary like that. Similar amenities in a similar area will all have a similar price. Unless you are willing to get a roommate, you really need to listen to the people who are familiar with this area and are telling you that you need to change your expectations.
posted by that's how you get ants at 3:55 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

People have covered most of what I was going to say, but keep in mind studios are pretty rare out here and I don't think I've ever heard of one for less than $1000. Honestly your best bet is probably finding a room to rent in a house or townhouse. There are lots of options around Fairfax for that sort of setup.
posted by brilliantine at 4:32 PM on July 20, 2011

The thing about living in the greater DC area is that when you're young and a student, you're going to live in a very bare-bones (or even shitty) place unless you compromise on things like super safe areas, multiple roommates, etc. It's not like a mid-sized city when you can get a good kitchen, lots of space, and easy access to public transportation without paying 75% of your monthly income (and obviously, no one should do that).

Honestly, you should really come out here. Things turn over SO FAST on craigslist, and I don't think there's any substitute for seeing places in person. Even if just you come out for a day (fly out in the morning, fly back at night), and look at a bunch of places, it would be worth it. Or take a long weekend and drive out here to check stuff out. Your price point means that you're going to need to find a truly unusual bargain, and you won't be able to do that long-distance...typically, the kind of big complexes that will let you rent sight unseen will be pricier.
posted by LizzyBee at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2011

With your price limit, your best bet may be a basement studio (hopefully with a private entrance). But with a (relatively) low rent, I would be more concerned about maintenance issues (signs of mold, cockroaches, etc) than getting knifed, especially for the area of Fairfax County you're looking at.

I agree with LizzyBee, the value of seeing a place before committing yourself to any financial obligation cannot be underestimated.
posted by invisible ink at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2011

Again, you're going to have to let up on a few of your criteria OR move somewhere temporarily while you try to find that perfect place. Watch Craigslist for sublets or do some sort of VRBO/AirBnB and come out ~3 weeks earlier than you planned to find a place.

Honestly, once you move somewhere, it is way easier to find a place to live. In my ~year of looking into DC rentals, it seems that a lot of them are friend-to-friend deals and you're bound to have more luck through your classmates-to-be.

Stop focusing on getting ripped off. Sometimes that happens.

Those big ass apartment buildings, IMHO, suck in terms of living space. If it were you I'd focus on something a little more fun.
posted by k8t at 7:30 PM on July 20, 2011

I live in NoVA. OP, giving a more specific location and expected schedule for your grad program would help us give you more specific advice. "Lee Highway in Fairfax" describes at least several linear miles of varying public-transit accessibility, and there are some parts of Fairfax City that aren't within an hour of other parts of Fairfax City during rush hour. Places that could make great sense for a 9-5 schedule could be rotten for a "professional" evening program.

My strong recommendation would be to find a room-for-rent situation (ideally without a lease) that would get you in or close to Fairfax -- which would be quite do-able on your budget -- and then see how it goes. You might find living with people isn't too bad. Due to the housing costs, living with housemates doesn't have the stigma it does in other places I've lived. In fact, a remarkable number of successful young professionals in this area live with their parents. (How I envy them, financially speaking.)

Of course, living with people is its own kind of hell. But you'll be here and thus be in a much better position to look for the right place to live on your own and perhaps find jobs in the fairly strong NoVA economy that'll expand your budget.
posted by backupjesus at 8:54 PM on July 20, 2011

Ha, not going to happen. Back in 2006, I paid $750 a month to live in an enclosed *balcony* in Arlington. If I were you, I would really really consider the house share/roommates idea. Yes it will suck to live with other people (especially as newlyweds), but it's really the only way you're going to be able to live in a nice place, in a safe neighborhood, and near public transportation. Start looking now -- you may be able to find the kind of thing where the other person isn't even there half the week or something. Those come up rather frequently in a place like Washington, where people are splitting there time among different places.

Good luck!
posted by imalaowai at 10:48 PM on July 20, 2011

Do you know where on Lee Highway your classes will be? Could you give the address, or a nearby cross street if you don't want to give the exact address? Lee Highway is a long road. Fairfax is both a city and a county, and both are big and contain multitudes.

The DC area is much more populous than the area you're coming from and the traffic can be truly terrible, so you're definitely on the right track to think about what the commute will be like. Will your classes be day classes or night classes? Will either of you have a job elsewhere in the area that you know about yet (if so, where)?

Depending on the nature of your graduate program, they might be able to put you in touch with other incoming students, or with current students who might have a lead on housing.

You could also check George Mason's website and see if they have listings of local apartments that cater to their students.

Living with housemates is not bad, usually, and might actually be a good way to meet other people/get some guidance about the area.

The suggestion to call up a real estate agent who deals with rentals is an excellent one. (Typically you would not pay the agent, they will get money from the landlord if you choose to rent a place. You can ask them about the fee arrangements on the phone, so you know where you stand.) Be aware there are some kinds of things real estate agents can't discuss with you, such as whether a certain neighborhood is "bad."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:14 PM on July 20, 2011

Fairfax City is essentially a small town. About 6 square miles in size, but well served with Metrobus (regional) and CUE (FFX city) buses--which give you access to Metrorail. The further out you go, the fewer mass transit options you will have.

Under $1K month = not going to happen in Fairfax City unless you are in shared housing. In the past I've heard of 2 couples sharing a townhouse in NoVa without too many hassles.

If you went WAY further out west--say an hour and 15 minutes west on I-66--which I do NOT recommend because of winter driving issues and regular traffic hassles, and because you will then never have the time to explore all the good stuff that the DC area has to offer--you *could* rent for under $1k in, say, Front Royal. Link to rental info in the Front Royal area newspaper, The Northern Virginia Daily. You could also check out the closer-in towns of Warrenton, Haymarket, or Gainesville, all off I-66 and ringed with pseudo-suburban townhouse communities (though the rent is going to be significantly higher than $1K/mo.). But in these cases, you are giving up public transit.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2011

I live in Alexandria; even in this bad real estate market, you would pay to rent a one-bedroom in my (older) condo building for something in the neighborhood of $1500-$1700/monthly: sorry, but your $1000 price limit is wildly unrealistic for this region, with or without your other requirements. And Fairfax County is a pretty big place (assuming you do mean FFX County, and not FFX City? They're two separate entities), with lots of traffic: please don't assume that because it takes you x minutes to drive ten miles in Missouri, it will still take that same x minutes to drive ten miles in northern Va.: that just ain't gonna happen. As others say, if we knew where you need to be & when, we could give better advice.

(And I too am a little insulted at the knifings & crack comment.)
posted by easily confused at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2011

Data point:

We rent out the basement of our townhouse in Chantilly in Fair Oaks as a studio for $900 a month, utilities included (currently have a tenant). It's near the Hwy 50 bus line, probably 30 - 40 minutes via bus to GMU and the Vienna metro stop, and includes all of the things you're looking for except it's probably closer to 350 sq ft than 450. We do all of our postings via Craigslist, like most people in this area renting out individual units, and aren't going to rent to someone unless we can meet them first.

You're going to have a tough time getting everything you want in this area at the price you want.
posted by Gori Girl at 10:49 AM on July 21, 2011

Get a place short-term at a local Oakwood so you'll have a base of operations for your search. Very expensive, but your safety requirements will be met there. Note that any real apartment in NoVa (as opposed to somebody's spare room) will have parking, laundry facilities and a decent kitchen.
posted by Rash at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2011

I lived in DC for several years and paid $800/month for a room in a group house, in a neighborhood that is hip now but was considered "sketchy" when I first moved in, located a solid mile from the nearest Metro stop, and the utilities (not included) were through the roof. My friends STILL all thought my place was a complete steal (and indeed, I did love it). $1000 to live in your own space with those requirements is probably just not going to happen in that area. I would estimate that most people I knew were paying more like $1200/month. There are some good deals to be found on Craigslist for basements apartments and that sort of thing, but there is so much competition for them that there's no way someone would choose you without having met your first.
posted by naoko at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2011

Suck it up, and find some roommates.

I had the choice between paying $X for a shit-hole 30 miles outside of the city, or sharing a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment a 10-minute walk from work with one other person (who turned out to be a great guy) for $X-$100.

Guess which one I chose.

Also, don't look at managed buildings or apartment reviews (happy people don't review their apartments). Check out craigslist and various subletting opportunities.

If you can swing a temporary one-month rental, you'll be in a much better place to pick a place to live.
posted by schmod at 8:18 AM on August 11, 2011

Oh. One other thing: Realtors are explicitly not allowed to advertise housing as being "family friendly" or "suitable for newlyweds" by federal law. (Mainly because it's a small step away from including "White neighborhood" in the listing)

So, don't go expecting much advice in that department.
posted by schmod at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2011

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