Help me move to Washington DC
August 18, 2006 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to Washington, DC. What do I need to know?

I am flying to Reagan National tomorrow to spend the next four days looking for an apartment. What do I need to know about moving to DC? What neighborhoods are safe, and how affordable are certain areas? What kind of things would a guy from Chicago not know, but need to know about DC?

Anything else that be helpful....
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That's a BIG question... but, here goes:

Do you want to live in the city or suburbs? i.e. do you want to live in DC proper or in Northern Virginia or Maryland?

Will you have a car? Do-able if you live in DC, a disaster otherwise.

Everything is expensive. Do you want to buy or rent?
There's no such thing as a 'safe' neighborhood in DC - but I would stay out of the SouthEast part of town if you can.

How old are you? Adams Morgan, Dupont, Capitol Hill and Georgetown are hipster enough...

Check out
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posted by matty at 4:49 PM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: We would prefer to live in the city, but are not opposed to living in Northern Virginia.

We do not have a car (we are planning on buying one in the next 6 months) but we have seen that FlexCar (which is called iGo here in Chicago) has many locations in the DC area.

We are looking to rent.

We are both 25.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:51 PM on August 18, 2006

Where are you working? The biggest issue is rent, and the second biggest the commute. (Omits story about spending $25 one way on a daily commute by cab.)
posted by orthogonality at 4:55 PM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: Work is at approximately M Street NW & 5th Street NW.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:02 PM on August 18, 2006

Ok, on the other side of the Convention Center. Be glad not to have a car. But where is she working?

You can look on the Hill or even some of the "high rises" around the waterfront may have decent prices. But a one bedroom is going to be minimum $1300/mo. Used to be 9th & M was questionable, but it's gentrifying fast. These days, anything West of 13th and North of the White House is pretty much safe. The Catholic U area I think is still questionable. I'll ask some friends who may be more up to date.

Here a crime map.
posted by orthogonality at 5:16 PM on August 18, 2006

Have you ever experienced a traffic circle? They threw me for a loop (HA!) the first time I saw one.
posted by lekvar at 5:52 PM on August 18, 2006

I just had a very positive experience using an apartment realtor to look for an apartment in the D.C. area. It hasn't gotten to the point in D.C. where you have to have one--but it sure did help narrow down all my options.

And there was no charge to boot, since he picks up a commission off the apartment complex when I sign a lease.
posted by divka at 6:09 PM on August 18, 2006

I'm a diplomat living in DC and before we bought a car we used Zipcar, which is similar to flexcar, but more numerous I think. We found that even living in the city we needed a full-time car.

As for the traffic circle (or roundabouts as we call them), there are like 5 in the city: nothing really to get worried about. No Americans seem to be able to use them correctly anyway!

posted by tonylord at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2006

I'm from Chicago but moved to DC for three years after college (lived in Arlington, worked in Foggy Bottom). I was really happy in Arlington (Pentagon City area) and it's as close to the city as you can get w/o living *in* the city.

The thing that's probably going to be toughest to get used to is the cost of living. You'll be surprised how much more it can be than in Chicago...even 30 minutes outside the city. The City Paper will be your new best friend -- it's like the Reader, and housing classifieds go online on Tuesdays if I remember correctly.

Also, be prepared for the traffic. I developed a severe case of road rage in DC to the point where I gave a guy the finger on the Memorial Bridge when he was just trying to point out that I had a flat tire. Oops.

I loved it for three years and had an absolute blast, but I'm back in Chicago now. I missed the skyscrapers and the lake and living somewhere that wasn't quite so transient (seriously, no one is actually *from* DC, it seems). Feel free to email me if you have any questions from one Chicago-to-DCer to another -- my email is in my profile.
posted by awegz at 7:03 PM on August 18, 2006

I moved from Chicago to DC 2 years ago - specifically from Wicker Park to Logan Circle, which I LOVE. And actually based on where you're working, my neighborhood or Shaw, which is east of here and totally on the gentrification bandwagon would both be very convenient. Or Penn Quarter/Chinatown, but it's expensive there.

Actually, if you could tell us where in chicago you live and what you're interested in having in your neighborhood, it would help. The neighborhoods here definitely aren't as distinct and with as much character as those in chicago, but they definitely have different feels to them - particularly the difference between Northern Virginia, DC, and Montgomery County, MD. For example, a lot of people love Arlington (Clarendon, etc.), because it's young, hip, etc., but personally, I find it far too boring and without any character.

And like awegz, totally feel free to email me -- since college, I've moved from chicago to DC twice (and am trying to move back to chicago actually), so I'm pretty familiar with both cities.
posted by echo0720 at 7:42 PM on August 18, 2006

I feel like I posted a similar response to someone a while ago... might be worth trawling through the archives:

The one thing that seriously surprised me about looking for apartments in DC was how ridiculously bureaucratic the process was (which reflects the city as a whole, actually). All landlords expected the two most recent paystubs, credit report, and last three landlords of everyone who would be living in the place when applying. No other city I've lived in has required that amount of documentation just to apply to live somewhere. Just have photocopies of those on hand when you're looking.

The other thing I would say is be aware that "garden apartment" means "in the basement." I know that definition varies by location, too.
posted by occhiblu at 8:02 PM on August 18, 2006

I lived in dc for twelve years. here are some useful things to know: 1. you do not need a car if you live in any of the following areas [and these are good places for young people]: a. dupont circle - pricey, lots of great bookstores and restaurants, also known as the gay area b. capitol hill- a bit more crime, but cheaper, lots of bookstores and restaurants c. cathedral heights, no crime, easy bus access to georgetown and metro, your neighbors are h. clinton and d. cheney, and the apts on wisconsin and idaho can be affordable; pentagon city- I highly recommend the riverhouse apts. cheap and right across from the pentagon city mall, lots of restaurants and bars; ballston and clarendon, fun and cityish, but pricey 2. things to know: armand's has the closest thing to chicago pizza, cactus cantina has the best margaritas, virginia wine country can be fun, the mad hatter is a fun bar, afterwords is a great café bookstore, don't try to go to the beach, do take advantage of the proximity to nyc, don't drive on the beltway at rush hour, dc is a great place to meet people, but those people tend to move away, do check out meetin dc and the maryland outdoor club, take advantage of rock creek park, georgetown is for college kids, marines and tourists. dc is a fantastic city. you'll love it. I miss it. oh and the brickskeller has 700 plus types of beer.
posted by bananafish at 8:07 PM on August 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Man, that thread was hard to track down. The DC apartment-hunting thread I remembered.
posted by occhiblu at 8:08 PM on August 18, 2006

Others have hit many of the major issues. I'll just throw in some encouragment to take as much advantage of Metro as possible -- You will be working a couple of blocks from the Convention Center Metro stop on the Yellow and Green lines, and within a few stops of the transfer points from all the other lines. Metro is remarkably clean and efficient. System maps and trip planners are available at the WMATA web site.

The ticket protocol involves purchasing a ticket at a machine, then inserting it in the front of the turnstile and grabbing it when it pops out the top when entering and exiting stations. You pay based on the distance travelled, and whether it is a peak time or not.

When on the escalators at Metro stations, please for the love of all that is holy, stand to the right and walk to the left. Also, when preparing to board a train, stand to the side of the doors until everyone gets off before trying to get on. Finally, if you are going to stand on the train, move toward the center of the car, and away from the doors. The stations are a bit too symmetrical, and therefore somewhat confusing to newbies. The direction of trains is indicated by listing the end station (e.g., Blue line trains are either Franconia-Springfield (South/West) or Largo (North/East) trains).

Note that the Yellow line bridge over the Potomac is closed for repairs this weekend, and the yellow line will not be running north of the Pentagon on Saturday and Sunday. This means if you are heading from National airport into DC this weekend, you should take the Blue line (toward Largo).
posted by i love cheese at 8:17 PM on August 18, 2006

How much do you want to spend and what size apartment do you want?

We looked mostly at condos being leased by their owners, advertised on Craigslist. (We also looked at a few apartment buildings, but they were mostly inferior. We wanted hardwoods and a nice kitchen.) We looked in Arlington (Clarendon mostly), U Street, Bethesda, and a few places in the downtown/Penn Quarterish areas. If I had to do it today (as I probably will in a year), I would add Logan Circle and maybe Adams Morgan (though that's not particularly pleasant without a car) or Dupont Circle. All these areas are fairly expensive - think $1500+ for a 1BR and $2500+ for a 2BR.

Don't live in southeast or northeast or southwest unless you're within walking distance of the capitol in one of the nice areas (or on the waterfront).

Pay close attention to whether there's a Zipcar/Flexcar nearby; you will want access to one.
posted by raf at 8:37 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, provides a nice Google Maps interface to Craigslist housing listings.
posted by i love cheese at 8:40 PM on August 18, 2006

Don't, no matter what you do, stay away from SE and NE D.C. just because people here tell you to do so. There is so much irrational fear (often none-too-subtly coded racism) about Southeast especially (when in fact, crimes against strangers are not common anywhere in D.C.). I worked in the heart of Anacostia for two years and am so happy that I did-- my sense of D.C. as a city, as a diverse place to live, is informed by that experience.

So here's one thing you should know before moving to D.C.: it's worth your time to experience as much of the city as you can, most especially if you are white.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:28 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Rent in Mt. Pleasant - colorful neighborhood, not quite jumped the shark yet, close to the zoo, Rock Creek Park and a metro stop. Lock your bike up with at least two locks. Go mountain biking in nearby state parks in MD and northern VA. DO go to the beaches (and sea kayaking) on the Eastern Shore of VA, they're practically deserted. Take advantage of all the free cultural stuff while you're there, not just when people visit.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:40 PM on August 18, 2006

Oh! I totally forgot about the "stand right, walk left" thing. Thanks, i love cheese. You will get dirty looks and maybe elbows if you don't obey this -- particularly during 'tourist season', also known as the summer.

I've tried to import that to Chicago in general and I've failed miserably. My DC/east coast rage is definitely still hanging around since I've moved back to Chicago. But really, if you can handle the CTA, you'll be more than fine on the Metro -- just try not to gasp when you see how clean it is. (although you might be a tad disappointed at its limited hours...hello? 24-hour CTA red line)
posted by awegz at 12:01 AM on August 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thirding the stand-right-walk-left metro etiquette. Driving in DC is miserable. I highly recommend a bicycle. Real estate/rent is outrageously expensive (for my tastes, anyway - YMMV etc.) I loved living in Mount Pleasant, but prices there have gone up significantly since I left DC. Smithsonian museums are free - yay! So is sitting around in Dupont Circle and watching the world go by.
posted by zoinks at 1:16 AM on August 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help everyone! I'm off to catch my flight.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:36 AM on August 19, 2006

I realize you're already on your way here, but in case you need a point of contact in Silver Spring (but I've lived in Tenleytown and Alexandria in the time I've been here) feel free to email me.
posted by arco at 8:31 AM on August 19, 2006

Here's the deal on crime and neighborhoods. It varies by block, unlike Chicago, which is my hometown. Here, it is really a crap shoot, but there are certain areas where its less likely to be good. The secret is the night time. If you find a place you like, take a cab back there at like 9PM. That's gonna tell you if the place is right for you.

I remember calling the Washington Post's apartment hunter line when I first got here in '97. The woman on the other end was an obvious native and the first thing she said was you can't pick out a neighborhood and say its either good or bad. She was really spot on. If you have any more questions, E-mail me off my profile.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2006

1. You do not need a car if you live in any of the following areas [in DC]

Nonsense -- only true if you also work in DC. Or work and live real close to a Metro station.

2. Don't try to go to the beach, do take advantage of the proximity to NYC

By "the beach" many DC people mean Ocean City, MD, a prime example of how commercialization ruins a beach. Driving time there is four hours. Driving time to NYC is five hours. Driving time to the quality local beach, the Outer Banks of NC, is under six hours.

One more Thing to Know: the year lease is a standard component of the bureaucratic annoyances associated with renting in the DC area.
posted by Rash at 2:57 PM on August 19, 2006

If you're big into activism, there are protests/rallys all the time, many NGO headquarters, and many active local initiatives and issues (eg, housing situation) -- but it's a double-edged sword.

D.C. only gets a non-voting representative in the House of Representatives, and no say at all in the Senate.
posted by cowbellemoo at 4:46 PM on August 19, 2006

I wrote about Flexcar and Zipcar and the promotions/reimbursements some neighborhoods do to encourage you to use them.

Hope your search is going well.
posted by phearlez at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2006

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