DC Apartment Buildings
September 22, 2014 6:48 AM   Subscribe

My friend and I are looking to room together in Washington, DC, and we've decided to expand our search to include larger, company-managed buildings in addition to smaller, privately-owned buildings. I've rented twice from private landlords so I know how that works just fine, but big building rentals are new for both of us. Any advice, MetaFilter?

More details: our budget is about $2000 before utilities; we want a quiet and pet-friendly building; we don't need parking.

Neighborhoods of particular interest include: Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, U St/Meridian Hill, Logan Circle.

My questions:
-Given our price range, are there any particularly awesome buildings/companies in these neighborhoods, or in DC in general (not MD/VA, please) that we should know about? (Don't worry about informing us about ones you don't like...I don't want this thread to attract any cease-and-desists.)
-What's the usual turnaround time from filling out an application to moving in?
-Should we bring things like paystubs, credit report, etc like people are advised to do in rental markets like NY/SF, or is this not really a thing in DC?
-I already know the standard advice like "always make sure the unit you see is the unit you're getting", but any other general advice?
posted by capricorn to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and of course I should mention we want a 2 bedroom unit! I previewed this four times and everything...
posted by capricorn at 6:49 AM on September 22, 2014

I just moved out of DC, but I lived [and rented] there for the past 12 years. I think 2000/mo for a two bedroom in any of the desirable neighborhoods in which you mention will be hard enough on its own so that you won't get much choice in which owners/management companies you're dealing with.
Big buildings in DC-I've had no problem with either Archstone/Charles E Smith or Avalon. Plenty of people hate them, but my expectations were: concierge/package signing, fixing anything broken quickly, having an online payment system that functioned correctly. And those were all met easily.
posted by atomicstone at 7:17 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. The likelihood of finding a 2 bedroom for 2K west of the river is slim, and you will not find them in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, U St/Meridian Hill, or Logan Circle. I would focus your search east of Georgia Ave. / 7th St. (e.g. neighborhoods like Petworth, Woodridge, Eckington, Bloomingdale, Trinidad, etc. - largely complete list of DC neighborhoods by ward here) and be prepared to either pay more or split a 1 bedroom. The DC market for rentals belongs to sellers for everything below the luxury end right now.

2. I've rented from two of the large apartment management companies in D.C., and both ran a credit check when I applied (you'll be asked to fill out a form). Turnaround time was a few days to a week.

Wish you guys luck.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2014

Best answer: $2k is certainly doable in NW and rents are on a slight downward slope despite the plague that is putting in granite countertops and calling it "luxury."

That is, $2k in NW for a 2 BR may be on the edge of doable these days, but it's doable.

Once you find a property manager that you like/can live with, give them a call and they can help show you units. I found Calomiris via Yelp reviews. They ended up being the same mixed bag as most property managers but they were human in the ways that count and I still recommend them.

My friend that lived in the Quebec House was happy. You might get lucky on a rent controlled unit. That property manager is Community Realty Co.
posted by Skwirl at 7:52 AM on September 22, 2014

Response by poster: Our budget is not a hardline "$2k or less", in case that's not clear! Thanks for the responses so far; I will try to stop threadsitting now.
posted by capricorn at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2014

Renting an apartment in DC is especially easy compared to what I've heard about NY (and SF I guess). You won't need paystubs & credit reports yourself, though they might ask you your income and your permission to run a credit check. There's competition as a renter, but it's not rough and it's pretty much only expressed through price. According to online rating sites, no one likes any management company, but they're all usually fine and are easy to deal with in terms of paying rent and requesting repairs. Turnaround is nothing to worry about - listings will tell you how soon they want you to move in - mostly the beginning of the next month, but sometimes immediately (and in those cases they'll be motivated to get you in as soon as possible). The only thing you really have to worry about is finding a place with the best price/benefit trade-off.
posted by deathmaven at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2014

Best answer: Check out Harvard Hall. It's not quite Adams Morgan, not quite Mt. Pleasant. (I think it is technically lanier heights?) It's a nice quiet street, easy walk to stores, longer walk to metro.

The building is older, and frankly has some really weird/dumb renovations over its lifespan, but has huge 1br + den units for around $2300 and is pet friendly.

In a bigger, less competitive, building like this, you don't really need to worry about the paystubs, or short turn around times. They'll probably have a unit open now, and a few more in a month. They will do a credit check on you. It will cost $50. Bring a check book or know where your bank is for a cashiers check.
posted by fontophilic at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2014

Check out Southwest...the little quadrant that could, and the newer parts of Southeast.

I've been living here for 3 years and my wife for over 10 and we both really like it. Far less traffic and people than other parts of DC, and with all the new stuff opening up right on the east side of the stadium (Yards Park, by the Navy Yard metro, which is Southeast, but just a couple blocks from Southwest) it's gotten to be a downright great place to live. Zoned for lower buildings and more parks, it seems.

There are quite a few condo buildings around 4th and I st. SW that have property management, and there are some brand-new large apartment buildings called SkyHouse at 4th and M SW, which is right on top of the Waterfront Metro.

There is also the new Camden South Capitol building directly across the street from Nationals Ballpark. It's very nice.

In Southeast, you have the Foundry lofts and a few other new buildings going in, plus 4-5 very large new buildings near 2nd and New Jersey SE and First and M SE, and I and New Jersey SE. All nice places, and all in your price range.

Most 2 BD places I've seen around here go for about $2500 a month, but you could score something relatively easily. I don't think anywhere - especially the last few in SE that I mentioned, are totally full or hard to get into at all.
posted by Thistledown at 10:57 AM on September 22, 2014

Are you stuck on those neighborhoods? Brookland and Takoma Park, for example, will definetly have stuff in that range.
posted by waylaid at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2014

Best answer: a lot of the newer "luxury" buildings offer these weird deals - 1 month free rent, for example, that will amortize your overall monthly cost so it CAN be slightly more affordable. if you end up talking to some of those management companies, many will try to strike a deal with you to get your rent closer to your price range, and it also doesn't hurt to ASK either.

i had a fair amount of luck with the prince of petworth real estate listings when i was looking for an apartment. some of the local realtors put their stuff on there which is nice.
posted by kerning at 2:51 PM on September 22, 2014

When I ran the numbers and made a heat map a year and a half ago, the average cost-per-bedroom for a rental in the neighborhoods you specify was about $1300/mo. After that post and map went up I played around a bit more with the numbers, and IIRC the median price for the entire DC area (including outlying suburbs) was about $1100 per bedroom. The central neighborhoods you mention have only become more desirable and expensive since then (like, say, the Seventh Flats building directly on top of Shaw Metro, which wasn't reflected in the data in February 2013). The farther you are willing to be from a Metro station, the cheaper the rent will be.

As a rough guess you will be lucky to find any two bedroom apartment in your target neighborhoods for less than $2400/mo, and you can expect to pay a premium for any managed building with a front desk. You may find something listed as a "1BR + Den" for a little less, but legally a den is not a bedroom (usually for lack of egress, sometimes for lack of closet, and sometimes for both reasons). That said, lots of people live in dens in expensive neighborhoods in DC, because they're cheaper than bedrooms (and because property managers will look the other way after you lie your way into the lease). And as kerning says, in large buildings there are often promotions that will reduce the total rent you'll pay over a year, along the lines of waiving one or more months rent, the security deposit, move-in fees, or amenity fees.

As an example of that sort of promotion: we were very early tenants in a 1BR in Park Place (managed, but not owned, by Bozzuto) and got two months free rent, a few months of free parking, and a waived amenity fee the first year. Every year after that they'd raise our official rent and then knock some amount off as a negotiating tactic (so, "rent" - "promotion" = what we actually paid), and they'd claw back something like the free parking or the amenity fee. They also charged a non-refundable one-time pet fee (which they called a "pet deposit" until they got in trouble for it) and monthly pet rent. With all of that our total charges went up by around $100 more per month every year after the first year. But the apartment was lovely, the building had a great rooftop, and the management was mostly good. We would recommend Bozzuto with reservations, as Cook's Illustrated says: they have a good system and the company itself is run pretty well, promoting from within, so employees have incentives to make tenants happy. On the other hand our move-out experience was hugely tarnished by the last property manager, who screwed up their policies and made an entirely preventable bureaucratic mess that other people had to clean up for him. Bozzuto also manages the Ellington (at 13th & U, across from the U St Metro) and Highland Park (14th & Irving, above the Columbia Heights Metro) and I have talked to numerous people who have had similar appraisals of the management at both buildings.

Since fontophilic mentioned Harvard Hall, I'll chime in to say I know people who've lived there (and somebody who was president of the tenant association, in fact). It's a good location and comparatively cheap, but the elevators are tiny and noisy and hard to reserve for your move-in day. The Dorchester (across from Meridian Hill Park on 16th) would probably be worth looking at the same day. It's got a desirable (but small) rooftop deck that tenants can reserve, which a friend used to use for movie nights. Since both of those buildings are, well, old, they might be less "desirable" now thanks to all the recent construction in the area, but they're both very livable.

If you're willing to expand your neighborhood search, upper NW along Connecticut Ave (from Cleveland Park north) has taken a bit of a hit because of all the growth around 14th St, and you might be able to find some deals up there. You'd be losing nightlife, but maybe gaining some nighttime peace and quiet and less of the woo crowd that you'd find around 14th & U or Columbia Heights.
posted by fedward at 5:47 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

As long as you take the reviews with a grain of salt (ignoring obviously fake reviews), Apartmentratings.com can help you get a sense of how well (or poorly) each building is managed. That helped me find a decently run building in the DC area.

Also nthing that you will pay a premium for easy walking distance to a Metro station. So the further you can comfortably live away from that (maybe taking a bus to the Metro), the more money you'll save.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:23 PM on September 22, 2014

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