Subletting in Cambridge and DC
February 20, 2014 10:07 PM   Subscribe

I will be subleasing my room in Cambridge (MA) and subletting in DC this summer. I know next to nothing about subleasing/subletting in either place and have many questions, including how to price my somewhat strangely set-up room.

So I've just accepted an internship offer (yay!) in DC for this summer. However, now I'm faced with the logistic challenge of finding a place to live and to sublet my place in Cambridge. I've never sublet or subleased a place before so would love some guidance in the process, especially keeping in mind my specific geographies.

Dates: June 1 through August 15 (more or less)
Me: mid-20s male grad student
Cambridge place: Central Square
DC place: looking for a place off Red Line

General questions that apply to both Cambridge (subleasing) and DC (subletting):
- Is it normal to expect full upfront payment before the sublet begins in either place? Is a safety deposit normal?
- What do people normally do about utilities?
- When should I start listing my Cambridge place? When should I start looking for a DC place? Craigslist for both places?
- What are good questions to ask as both a sublessor and subletter?
- Do you bargain the price or is it assumed to be fixed?
- Should I post in the "housing wanted" sections on Craigslist (and look in those sections for subletters)?
- Anything else I should know?

Cambridge questions
I'm worried about being able to sublet my room and also don't know how to price it. The location is good: 8 min walk to Central Square, 15 min walk to MIT, close to grocery, bars, stores, etc. and it's a large room (plenty of space for queen bed, desk, wardrobe) in a 3 bed 1 bath in a small building. However, we have a weird setup where to get from my room to the rest of the apartment you technically have to cut through the hallway (but the door to my room is literally right next to the door to the rest of the apartment. As in, I open my bedroom door into the hall and immediately to my right is the door to the rest of the apartment.)

I am currently paying about $830 for this room but I'm worried that this bizarro setup will put people off. Should I mention this in the ad upfront? Do I need to charge way below market to account for this?

DC questions
I will be working in Rockville super close to the Metro but want to live in DC proper, so to minimize my commute I want to be off the Red Line. Given that I would like to be in a walkable, fun area (think your typical twentysomething yuppie) it seems like the most likely neighborhoods to check out would be either the Woodley/Dupont areas or close to Union Station.

What should my budget be? Is staying under $1300/mo at all possible? Ideally I'd be looking for a bedroom and the ability to use a kitchen. Laundry in-building would be nice, but I can put up with a laundromat for a summer. I'm also curious how prevalent AC is and how much of a premium I would expect to pay for that.

Thank you in advance for all of your help!
posted by andrewesque to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
The rental market in DC moves ridiculously fast, and it can be especially hard to find a place if you're not in town - if you're able, I'd plan to come down a couple of weeks before you're planning to move and just go sublet hunting. Craigslist is probably a good bet.

I've only looked for somewhat longer-term places, but I'd think your budget should be fine. I'd probably look toward the west side of the area you're considering on the Red Line, just to cut down on commuting time/costs: NoMa to Rockville is 17 stops and $5.75 one-way at peak. It's a little quieter, but still relatively easy to get downtown.
posted by eponym at 10:39 PM on February 20, 2014

DC is a craigslist housing town, so you're correct on that count. I've mostly seen people list subleases with one monthly price, rounded up for utilities. It's not usually worth your time dividing out utilities for just 3 months.

Housing also moves very fast in DC, and especially on the west leg of the red line. Haggling? No. More like you need to decide in 5 minutes if you are going to hand this person a wad of money.

AC is going to be pretty welcomed come August. Most places have window units or in-wall units in the areas you're listing. Few will have central AC, and that will come with newer buildings (and higher rents).

Are you looking for a one bedroom unit? Or are you ok with roommates? $1300 is going to be really tight for a 1br. You might need to look past 1mi to metro. Maybe a studio. There are fewer group rental houses on the redline, more big buildings, which adds to the price.

Van Ness and North Cleveland Park (which, confusingly is not the northern end of Cleveland Park) would be good places to look for bargains on the redline. Are you working at White Flint Metro station or Rockville metro? There is lots of new housing around the Rockville town center and it's not bad, even a few bars.

But honestly, I might consider just sucking it up and pay a premium for 3 months and live in Cleveland Park. Depends on if you're able to swing that financially or not.
posted by fontophilic at 6:02 AM on February 21, 2014

Just to clarify:

- Roommates are definitely OK and I have no expectations about having a place to myself for my budget. Are there maybe any more student-heavy areas that would be more likely to have people clear out during the summer?
- Wondering in general about any kind of AC, central not necessary

I'm also going to be reaching out via my friends/alumni network there of course, but am trying to attack this on all fronts.
posted by andrewesque at 6:10 AM on February 21, 2014

I'm in Cambridge. I've sublet my room a bunch of times over the years. Here's my advice for that end:

Start working on your Craigslist ad now, with the goal of getting it up in a week or two. You can keep it up as long as it takes to find someone you feel awesome about. Put some work into it and emphasize not only the size & location but the "personality" of the place - talk about what your roommates do, if you hang out with them, what's fun to do in Central Square, etc. Put up pictures of the entire apartment, but don't mention the flaw about the entrance specifically in the ad. I'd price the room at $850 - that's a pretty good deal for the location you're describing. I don't think you'll need to bargain, but you could drop the $50 if it got you a person you really wanted.

Your goal with your very charming and appealing ad should be to get enough people interested in the room that you can be super-picky with whom you select. The thing with subletting is that you are taking a risk and your roommates are taking an even bigger one by living with this rando all summer. You want to get someone who you feel good about trusting. Someone who has a personal connection - even a vague one - to someone in the apartment would be ideal. Say, someone who goes to your school, or knows a friend of a friend. You might think about posting on Facebook and just asking around if anyone you know might be interested. I have done all of my housing via Craigslist and the only way it works is to be a snob. If someone rubs you the wrong way, even slightly, move on.

I've never known any subletters who paid the full price up front, or agrees to a safety deposit, though if someone agrees to do so, that's lovely. Even so, I would go with "do I gut-trust this person' over "does this person have a lot of money to throw around" if it comes down to it. I think the norm would be they send you the first month's rent to hold the room and then pay at the same time as the rest of the roommate's throughout the summer. Yes, they should pay utilities.

Questions to ask them:

What are you doing in Cambridge this summer?
What's your schedule like?
What do you do for fun?
Do you mind that my door opens directly into the hallway?
Can you pay the first month's rent up front?

You're almost certainly going to end up with a grad student. Aim for a grad student who seems quiet-ish, but friendly and not overtly Type-A in a way that might end up causing problems if your roommates breathe too loudly while he's trying to study. Don't take the person who just seems the least offensive; take someone whom you think you might conceivably want to go have a beer with. It's a dumb way to vote for President, but from what I've found, it's a remarkably effective way of finding someone who'll take good care of your space. Oh, and bring your roommates in on this decision! They're the ones who are going to have to live with this dude (or lady) for the summer.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

For sure write a personality filled Craigslist ad, and be sure to describe your relationship with your roommates.

Private room, with two awesome dudes. We do taco night on Tuesdays and Beer around the world on the weekends. We're pretty quiet most of the time.

Private room, with a couple of nice folks. We don't mix and mingle all that much, but we're all very cordial. We're not neat freaks, but we do expect roommates to tidy up after themselves.

Private room, with two lovely ladies. Quilting on weekends, and Bible Study on Sunday. No drinking or 420.

Do bring your roommates into the discussion. Also, contact the housing department of local schools, sometimes they have students or instructors who need a sublet for the summer.

As for renting, Craigslist and the housing department of the school you're going to. I wouldn't turn my nose up at a dorm room for a few months, so see if that's a possibility, especially if I wouldn't have to have a roommate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding everything fontophilic said, as a fellow DC-ite, but you may also want to consider going a little further up the Red Line to Tenleytown (very student-y, as it's home to American University) or Chevy Chase (a little quieter but very walkable and there is some fun stuff up there like Comet Ping Pong; your metro station will be Friendship Heights).

$1300 is tough for a one-room rental on the Metro but with roommates as part of the equation, you should be able to find something.
posted by capricorn at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2014

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