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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — September 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm 467 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Overwhelmed by searching for rentals in the DC metro area market? Maybe you should enlist the help of a real estate agent. Here are some of the advantages to working with an agent in your rental search:

Expertise – If you’re new to the area, the expertise of a local agent could save you a lot of headache and stress. A local agent knows the area, knows the properties and can act as a matchmaker to find a great rental in an area you’ll enjoy. You may not have a lot of time to actually spend in the areas you’ve researched. An agent can help steer you to the right neighborhoods based on your wants, needs and hobbies. Your perfect neighborhood may be one you never considered.

More Options – Navigating the rental market alone, your search is limited to apartment websites, Craigslist etc. An agent will have access to the database the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. Agents can research properties and schedule showings. While you may be able to find properties on the MLS without an agent, you will have to contact the listing agents and arrange the showings on your own. Rental agents may also know about specials coming up at particular buildings before they are made public, helping you score a deal on your apartment.

Representation and Cost – Ask the agent to provide a disclosure that they represent you and will be paid by the landlord. With this, they can help you negotiate and understand the terms of your lease.

Time – A rental agent can save you time. Again, they know the area, they know what buildings meet your criteria and they know the current rates and availability. They make calls and set appointments for you, saving you countless hours.

What else you need to know – Most rental agents don’t work with all properties and landlords in the area, so keep that in mind. That’s why they might tell you they can’t show you a particular property but they should be able to tell you how it compares to what you have seen.

  • Rental prices can change daily in managed apartment buildings. The pricing is based on the vacancy rate, and is often automatically adjusted with rent-optimizer algorithms. Just because you saw something on a website last week at one price does not mean that same price is available now.
  • Most rental agents won’t show you a dozen units. Just as your time is valuable, so is theirs. If they’ve shown you four units within your criteria, you are in pretty good shape. At that point, you should make a decision on the area and building you like best, as many apartments look similar and offer similar features. Seeing 10 more of the same category of units likely won’t make your decision any easier — in fact, it may make you more frustrated.
  • Agents can’t tell you everything. The Fair Housing Act prohibits agents from giving you specifics about demographics of a neighborhood or building. So they can’t answer questions like, “Are there young professionals in this building?” Don’t hold that against them, as they are just trying to keep the playing field fair for all.
  • Give them all the details. If you are going to need a co-signer for your apartment, let the agent know. Not all properties will accept co-signers. You don’t want them to waste your time showing you a unit if it isn’t going to work for you. If you have a dog, be sure to mention that in your first conversation. Many properties don’t allow pets, or they charge a fee or additional rent money. The agent will need to factor that in when selecting units for you. If you need to be close to the Metro, let them know, and let them know what close means to you. Every person is different. Tell them a little about yourself, what you enjoy doing, what type of food you like and where you work. Every little bit of information helps them find you a great place.
  • Not all agents are created equal. It is beneficial to find an agent who is licensed, and who specializes in rentals. This way you are sure to find a professional who understands your needs and is willing to take the time to work with you. You want someone who is going to listen and find you a rental that will make you truly happy.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — September 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm 568 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

You’ve decided to dive in to the landlord pool. Don’t start your landlord adventure with a belly flop. Some landlords have no trouble managing rentals themselves, but others need some help, especially new landlords. Hiring a property manager can save time, headaches and even some legal troubles, but is it right for you? Here’s what you should consider.

How much time do you have? – Do you have the time to devote to managing a property? Getting tenants in the door is just one task on a laundry list of property management to-dos. Even before you find the right tenants, you will need to set up your business, educate yourself on landlord tenant law, prepare your marketing plan, determine your tenant qualifications and find services for credit reporting and lease documents. While you are marketing the property, you will need to talk to prospective renters and show the property. For a first time landlord, navigating through these tasks can be overwhelming and they can cut into work and leisure time. Once you have tenants, collecting payments and handling maintenance issues also dip in to your time. Are you able to handle a leaking shower during your Tuesday staff meeting, or an A/C unit on the fritz during your vacation? Some things can’t wait.

How much does it cost? – In general, property management services are broken down into leasing the property and then ongoing property management. The general cost for leasing is one month’s rent, and ongoing property management is generally 8 percent of the monthly rent. For a $2000 unit, the leasing will cost $2000, and the management for a 12-month lease costs $160 per month or $1920 for the year. Total cost is $3920. To some, that sounds like a good bit of money, but to others, that is a small price to pay for to keep their business running smoothly.

Other considerations – If you live out of town, a property management may be necessary. They are nearby to handle emergencies and check out other maintenance issues to determine the best solution. It is impossible to do that on your own when you are out of state or out of the county. Some renters will favor renting a professionally managed unit over one managed by the landlord themselves, especially if the landlord isn’t local. A property management firm (or leasing agency) likely will rent your unit faster than if you try to rent it yourself, which in turn can actually save you money. So you need to weigh that cost in addition to the cost of your time.

A property management firm is also going to make sure you get paid. If you don’t, they will be the ones handling collections, court and evictions. While hopefully this is never an issue, it is good to have someone familiar with that process to help you out.

Lastly, a property manager knows the rules. They understand landlord-tenant law and relations, and will make sure you are doing things by the book. This can also save you time and money in the event that a tenant has a complaint or issue.

Be sure to find a licensed property manager. Check their references, and be sure to understand you contract. For most landlords who are new to the business or only have one property, a property management company can save a lot of headache as well as money.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — August 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

These days, earth friendly living tips are everywhere. Most people know the basics: change the light bulbs to LEDs, use non-toxic cleaning products, take reusable bags to the grocery store, and of course the 3 “R”s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. We have a few more suggestions for taking care of Mother Nature and yourself while living in an apartment.

Size, Direction and Windows – When looking for a place, consider a smaller unit. A smaller apartment is easier to heat and cool. Think about the size of the windows. We all love a lot of light, but floor to ceiling windows may be an issue if not properly insulated, and of course the extra light generates heat, which requires more energy for cooling in the summer. The extra heat may be welcome in the winter, but if not properly insulated, you could be battling the winter winds coming through the windows.

Same theory goes for the direction of the windows. If the apartment gets the afternoon western sun, it is going to get much warmer in the afternoon. If you really like having that afternoon light on the weekend, you can at least keep the blinds closed during the day when you are at work to help keep it cool.

Recycling – We mentioned recycling above, but sometimes the building recycling doesn’t accept all items. Think about items such as water filters, compact fluorescent light bulbs, ink cartridges and electronics. Most likely, you have to go the extra mile for these items. Water filters like a Brita filter can be recycled through the Gimme 5 program (which has drop bins at most Whole Foods). Gimme 5 also has an app where you can earn Recylebank Rewards for dropping off your items.

Arlington County accepts electronics, most for free, and small fees for things like TVs and computer monitors. Take your CFL’s to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot, as most have bins to recycle those. While you are there you can check to see if they have battery recycling. You didn’t think you were supposed to throw those in the trash did you? How about earning cash rewards for recycling ink cartridges? Both Staples and Office Depot will take your ink cartridges and give you points towards cash rewards to use in their stores.

Air Quality – Most of us know to changing our air filters helps with not only air quality but efficiency too. But what else helps with air quality in the home? Less carpet for one. Carpet and furniture are treated with several chemicals including flame retardants. Not to mention they trap dust, dirt and allergens. So finding a place with wood, concrete or tile in most areas definitely improves the air quality in the home.

Find out what kind of paint they are using in the building. Many buildings are switching to low VOC, which stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, paints. Low VOC paint helps lower harmful chemicals in the air. Another tip with paint — the lighter the color, the lower the VOCs because the more pigment in the paint increases the level of VOCs, however there are some brands that use no VOC pigments. The simplest way to improve air quality is to get some plants. Plants purify our air for us and improve mood. If you don’t have a green thumb try plants like a Zeezee Plant, Dracaena or Philodendron, which are pretty low maintenance.

Buy Local – The local food movement continues to gain popularity, and luckily in Arlington and the Metro D.C. area there is no shortage of local markets to pick up healthy treats. In Arlington, you can find a farmers market in Clarendon, Courthouse and Crystal City. Nearby in Alexandria, the Old Town Farmers market takes place every Saturday. And of course the trek to Eastern Market via the Orange or Blue Line is always worth it.

Lastly, look for LEED Certified apartments. These newer apartment buildings are built to certain efficiency standards set by the EPA. They will have better insulation, building materials and Energy Star appliances. They will also use low VOC paints, and most likely have excellent recycling programs. Need help on where to find a LEED apartment in Arlington? Find a local agent for help. Below are just a few LEED certified apartments in the area.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — August 7, 2014 at 11:45 am 362 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Now that you’ve found the perfect place, the hard part is over, right? Well, almost. You still have some work to do, but it doesn’t have to be a headache. We have a few tips to help make your move a bit easier.

The Paperwork – First, you’ll need to change your address for all of your important accounts such as your bank, student loans, car loan, insurance, credit cards, cell phone provider and so on. Then you need to notify your family and friends. You may need a two-pronged approach for that since maybe your grandma doesn’t have email. There are some great options for “We’ve Moved” e-cards and regular mail cards. Get that set up and ready to go, so you don’t miss those birthday cards and wedding invites. Don’t forget about your magazine subscriptions. Most magazines allow you to do this easily online these days, and as long as you remember to forward all of your mail at the Post Office, you shouldn’t miss an issue.

More Paperwork – If you are new to the Arlington area, then you will have to do a few more things as you settle in. You need to get your Virginia Driver’s license. If you are bringing a car, you need to register it in the state of Virginia, and you will need to register your vehicle with the county of Arlington for your parking sticker and personal property tax. All of which should be done within 60 days or your move, unless you are military, in which case you may be exempt. And don’t forget to register to vote in your new district.

Set Up Utilities – Most likely, your new building will give you information on setting up utilities for your unit. But it never hurts to be proactive. This page shows all the utility services for the Arlington area. Check with your building or landlord to find out whether you have Comcast or Verizon service for cable and internet. You may have a choice.

Get Organized – Find a moving company or a moving truck. Start going through your things. Most likely, you have a lot of items to donate or throw out. Check out Good Donor to schedule a pickup of the items you plan to donate.

If you are handling the packing and moving yourself, an app like BoxMeUp is a great choice for staying organized. It is especially helpful if you will have some items headed to your unit, and others headed for storage. You can label your boxes with QR codes, and then enter a content description for the box. This way, you can easily search and organize your items without having to dig through boxes to find your party platters.

Moving can be an exciting and stressful time. Having a good plan of action can help avoid most of the hiccups. If this is your first big move, get some tips from family and friends as well. Somebody will always have a great tip, or remember something most of us forget. Happy Moving!

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — July 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm 769 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

You found a great apartment in your budget in a great location. Then the first morning you wake up to a barking dog. You say to yourself, “I didn’t hear that dog when I was on my tour.” Now what?

Well, not much you can do after the fact, but on the front end there are several things to think about, that you might not consider. Here are our top recommendations for additional questions to ask when looking at a potential rental.

Is it noisy? Let’s face it, city living isn’t quiet. But there are some places that are noisier than others. When you look out the window, what do you see? Is there a dumpster down below? That means you may wake up to the trash truck banging and beeping a few days a week. Are you on top of some retail or restaurants? Check to make sure you don’t overlook the loading dock if you’re looking for peace and quiet. If you get a chance to talk with potential neighbors, ask them about any odd noise you might not know about. In Arlington, there is an airport, so take a listen to see if you can hear the planes, or if it is tolerable noise.

What about the heat and A/C? In some buildings, the units are on shared systems. Find out when they turn the heat on for the winter or A/C for the summer. If it isn’t shared, then is it electric, gas, or radiator? Do the apartments have window A/C units? Find out when they install/remove the units for the season. Same goes for the water heater. Does your unit have an individual water heater or is it shared?

What about odd smells and fresh air? OK, this is a strange one, but check the area around your building. Is there a water treatment plant nearby? If so, you can expect some unpleasant smells coming through the window. Are you near a power plant? What are the environmental considerations that go with that? Maybe the apartment is above a restaurant or bar. Will you like the smell of food every day? What about folks smoking outside — will it come in to your unit?

What about cell signal? It seems like anywhere in a city should have cell signal these days, but that is not necessarily true. Take a look at your phone, and make some calls. Some areas of the building may be better than others, so make sure you check in the unit you will be renting. You don’t want to have to hang off your balcony just to make a call.

This is just a short list of a few things some folks don’t think about in the excitement of finding a place they really like. Take a little extra time after you learn about the amenities and neighborhood to be sure the actual unit you are leasing is going to work for you. It can save a big headache later.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — July 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm 850 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

If you are moving in to an apartment or condo in Arlington, chances are it is a high-rise, or at least a mid-rise building. Moving in to a building can be challenging, especially if you aren’t prepared. We have a few suggestions so hopefully the only worry you have on moving day is trying to find the box with your coffee mug.

Before Moving Day

  • Find out the building’s move-in policies. This is a question to ask prior to lease signing. Most buildings have some rules about scheduling move-ins, especially private condo buildings. Remember, you probably aren’t the only person hoping to move in on a given day, but most buildings only allow use of one elevator, so you want to reserve early. You wouldn’t want to sign a lease for a place only to find out you can’t move in until two weeks later.
  • Learn if there are move-in fees. Apartment buildings should provide you a list of fees when you apply. When working with an independent landlord or agent, be sure to find out if there are fees involved to move in. These fees are generally to cover administrative costs for the building management. You may have to pay an elevator fee or deposit as well, to cover any damage to the elevator.
  • Check out the loading dock. Most buildings have a loading dock area, and a special freight elevator for residents to move in. Make sure your moving truck will fit near the loading dock or find out where you will need to park your moving truck. If you need street parking, you will have to arrange that with Arlington County early, at least a minimum of 72 hours in advance. The fee is $34 for the permit, plus additional fees for meter closures based on size of the space needed.

Moving Day

  • Make sure you start on time. As stated above, you may not be the only person moving in that day, and if someone is waiting on you to finish your move, you don’t want to cut in to their time. Nothing worse than starting out on the wrong foot with the neighbors.
  • Keep an eye on the clock. Some buildings are very strict about cut off times. If they tell you that you need to be done by 5:00 p.m., don’t assume that means they will let you go to 5:30 p.m. They may shut you down with your bed still on the moving truck. And many places will fine you if they catch you trying to move items in after hours or in an undesignated elevator. Get the big stuff out first, and maybe you can move a few boxes or suitcases later.
  • Make sure all helpers/movers know the rules as well. And if you have a tight window of time to move, make sure they aren’t taking too many pizza breaks. Also, make sure they are careful, not just with your stuff, but with the elevator and common areas. That deposit you pay may go to damage of common areas as well, if your coffee table just happens to put a big scratch in the hall paint.
  • Have fees on hand. You may need to pay move in fees and elevator deposits ahead of time when you schedule your move, or you may just need to pay them on moving day. Come prepared with your checkbook or check ahead of time if they accept other forms of payment.

It goes without saying, but we’ll still say it: be courteous to other residents and your new neighbors. Keep noise to a minimum, and respect the designated hours. Many of these rules and restrictions are bit more lenient in managed apartment buildings versus private condo buildings. So be sure to ask any questions you have early. And of course, check out the local take out places so you can grab a quick meal after a day of hard work.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com — June 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,028 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

In the D.C. area, good rentals are a hot commodity. Locals may have an advantage when looking to move, as they better know the ins and outs of looking for their next great space. But for those who are relocating, the process can be very overwhelming.

To add to it, many of our renters are frustrated to learn that they cannot find their apartments as far in advance as they would like. If you know you are moving to D.C. six months from now, when should you start looking? If you are able, come to town a few months out and check out neighborhoods. Narrowing down your search to a few locations you like and can afford prior to looking at actual units helps ease the stress of the search.

If you can’t come ahead of your actual search, try to do some online research. There’s plenty of great blogs and websites with information to help you get a feel for certain areas. Also make sure what you are reading is current. With all the development happening in this area, new hot spots are popping up all over.

Once you hone in on the neighborhoods in which you are interested, plan to come to town between 30-60 days prior from your move date to find your actual apartment. In Virginia, renters are required to give 60 days notice to vacate, so apartment buildings and individual landlords will know their availability within that time.

When you plan your trip, be ready to rent a unit you like while you are here. More often than not, if you walk away from a unit you like, it won’t be there a few weeks from now. While you are visiting, be sure to have everything you will need to apply for an apartment. At a minimum, you need a form of identification, proof of income (2 recent paystubs, W-2, or offer letter from a new position), and monies for an application fee and deposit.

Application fees generally run around $30-60 depending on the property. At a managed apartment, you may have to pay a deposit upon application of a few hundred dollars to reserve the unit if you are approved. Some places take credit cards and some don’t, so be prepared with a checkbook, or possibly certified funds. When applying for an individual rental, requirements vary as well, but be ready with an application fee, security deposit (usually equal to one month rent, but in Virginia it can be up to two months) and the first month’s rent.

Every real estate broker does this differently, but generally they will ask for personal checks upon application. Once your application is approved, and you may move forward with the lease, they will give you your checks back and ask for certified funds when you sign the lease. With individual units, you will sign the lease right away to secure the unit for your move date.

A few other tips:  (more…)

by ARLnow.com — June 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm 497 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

In a previous article (Where Do I Start My Apartment Search), we discussed focusing your apartment search on thre things: price, quality and location.

You know your price. So most likely, your next decision is location. Then you’ll figure out what type of quality you can afford for that area. But when deciding on locations there are several factors to consider. Aside from recommendations from friends, what else should think about? If you can really dig in on the following five questions, you are well on your way to finding the perfect neighborhood for your personal tastes.

  1. What do I like/dislike about my current location? This question can really help focus your search and rule out some areas. This area has something to offer everyone, but discovering your perfect neighborhood can be tough. If you opt to work with an agent, knowing your preferences can help them make good recommendations. So answers like: I like to walk to the grocery store, or I don’t want to be on a busy street, or I want to be able to walk right outside my door to take my dog out will help to start the search on the right foot.
  2. What are my transportation needs? With several public transit options in the D.C. area, it is important to determine what your transportation needs are. If you know you have to drive to work because of the location of your office, then perhaps living within a half mile of the Metro isn’t necessary. Living a little further away can save you money on the apartment and parking, affording you to rent a little bigger and/or nicer place. If you do need public transportation, don’t forget about the bus system. In many cities, the bus system is not always a great choice for transport, but in the D.C. area, buses are a big part of the landscape. Maybe you prefer to bike to work. Be sure to look at your route, and maybe you want to live somewhere near the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run to enjoy the view on your ride every day.
  3. Is the neighborhood safe? This is a question we get a lot, and so do the leasing agents at apartment buildings. Because of Fair Housing Laws, agents and property employees are not allowed to give opinions on safety or to give you information on demographics of a building or area. So to answer this question you need to research on your own. You can look up crime rates and demographic data. With so much development happening, a neighborhood that was less than desirable in 2012 may be a great place to score a deal on a brand new apartment now, with great amenities and location to boot. (more…)

by ARLnow.com — May 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm 674 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

With winter finally out of the picture, it is time to enjoy some summertime fun. There’s no shortage of outdoor activities in the D.C. area for you to soak up every minute of the warm weather. Sometimes, though, you just want to keep it casual and hang out at home. If you live in a building with a pool, patio, or rooftop deck, you are in luck! We have a few tips to take advantage of your building’s amenities and throw the perfect summer soiree.

Book Early – Odds are you aren’t the only one planning to host a summer get together on the roof or at the pool, especially on a Friday or Saturday evening. Contact your management office ASAP to reserve the space, if they allow exclusive reservations. If they don’t — find out if you can section off a certain area for your get together. It can’t hurt to offer a snack or refreshment to the rest of the neighbors hanging out. They may not take you up on it, but they will feel better about all the extra bodies on their otherwise quiet pool deck.

Consider the Guest List – Keep the guest list reasonable, especially if you don’t have exclusive use of the facilities. Remember there is a maximum capacity for the game rooms and roof/pool decks. So you have to consider your guest list and the neighbors. Not to mention, you don’t want your nice gathering turning in to a scene from Animal House. The more is not always the merrier, particularly in small spaces.

Tell the Concierge – If you have a concierge, make sure they are aware of your gathering. Give them a copy of the guest list so they know whom to let in. Maybe bring them a hors d’oeuvre or two since they are going to be dealing with a few extra folks coming to the door that night.  If you don’t have a concierge, but you do have controlled access – be sure your guests know what to do when they get to your building. Nothing puts a damper on an evening faster than not being able to get into the party.

Gather Party Supplies – Since you are going to be hauling your stuff up and down either via the stairs or elevator, be sure to plan accordingly. Also know the rules of the deck. Check to see if glass is allowed. If not, you might have to rethink your beverage menu. Keep everything lightweight. Snatch up a few trays to help you carry things up and down as well as for serving. Don’t forget clean up. Be sure to have extra trash bags, and it probably can’t hurt to have an extra can or two out (maybe one for trash and one for recycling) so you don’t have to spend the whole party cleaning up everyone’s trash.

Man the Grill – If you are planning to use the grills before the party, double check what you need for them to work. You should be aware of the fire codes. Make sure you have something to clean up the grill when you are done (and unfortunately maybe before too).

Keep it simple. Remember the key is to enjoy having an outdoor party with your guests. Not running back and forth to your apartment for supplies and things you forgot. Be clear on your invites and tell your guests what type of food to expect. It’s a bummer heading to a party expecting some delicious burgers and showing up only to find crackers and watermelon.

Head on over to Pinterest for summer party food and décor ideas, and enjoy.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com — May 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm 852 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Not so long ago, an independent landlord in the D.C.Metro area could barely get the words, “I have a rental available,” out of their mouth before they had a line of applicants out the door.

But these days, there are hundreds of new units coming on the market every quarter making it much more competitive for landlords. It is especially difficult when these brand new units come not only with shiny new fixtures, appliances and amenities, but they often boast free rent, flat screen TVs and iPads. Independent landlords need not fear, we have a few tips on what you can offer to attract renters to your property.

Based on requests we get from renters daily — here are our top recommendations. Before you consider all or some of these, we suggest you also research what the large apartment buildings are offering for specials to get a sense of market conditions.

  1. Utilities — If you can swing including utilities as part of the rent, or even partial utilities in rent, renters will love it. This is probably a top request. And there are ways to control usage.
  2. Parking — If you have parking available for your unit it is best to figure it into rent. Be sure to advertise “PARKING INCLUDED!”
  3. Move-In Fees — Many condo associations charge a move in or elevator fee to new residents. This fee is usually a few hundred dollars. Renters already have to come up with their first month’s rent and a security deposit, so covering even just these few hundred dollars is a good gesture, and it is attractive to potential renters. Potentially you can add value by amortizing it into the rent monthly.
  4. New Paint — Offering to put on a fresh coat of paint is one thing, but offering to paint in colors the renter selects is even better. If painting the entire unit is out of the question, maybe just offer up the bedrooms. Make sure you have a signed lease before you break out the paint roller.
  5. Housekeeping — Include house cleaning monthly. A cleaning service is very attractive to renters and it helps protect your investment. Some renters may pay their rent on time, but they might not be the best at shower cleaning.
  6. Landscaping — If you have a yard or even a small space by the sidewalk, including maintenance is great. Many renters don’t like yard work or simply don’t have the time. Including landscape maintenance is definitely appealing, and it keeps up that curb appeal for when you need to start showing the unit again.
  7. Security Deposit — By law in Virginia, landlords can collect up to two month’s rent for a security deposit, but it doesn’t mean you have to take that much. It is common for independent landlords to charge one month, but many multifamily properties only collect a few hundred dollars. Knocking a few hundred dollars off for renters with excellent credit and landlord references is a great way to start off the lease. Just be sure you have the standards laid out and clear ahead of time, such as a minimum credit score of 720 and a spotless landlord reference to qualify. You don’t want to appear discriminatory.
  8. Get creative — Consider offering a gift card to the closest grocery store or a loaded Metro card.

Many renters are looking for a more unique property and would prefer to rent from an independent landlord. But they can still be lured away with some free rent, so it can’t hurt to consider one or two perks to help turn your property over sooner.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com — May 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm 2,203 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Arlington is considered a fairly walkable place with an overall Walk Score of 67. If you live in here, you know that some neighborhoods within Arlington score much higher. But for newcomers, here is a quick rundown of the most convenient neighborhoods on the Arlington Walk Score map.

Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor – These are the neighborhoods between the Rosslyn Metro Station and Glebe Road along Wilson Boulevard.  All of the subareas within the R-B Corridor (Ballston-Virginia Square, Clarendon-Courthouse, Rosslyn) score over 90. You can Metro, Bus, Cab, Walk or Bike to work, school, shopping and restaurants.

Shopping here includes Clarendon Market Common and the Ballston Mall. For groceries, there are Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Harris Teeter and Giant. As for entertainment, there’s no shortage of nightlife along Wilson. Or if you are looking for something more low key, there is an AMC Theater just a short walk from the Courthouse Metro station. And if you get tapped out on all this area has to offer (which is tough to do) Georgetown is just over the Key Bridge from Rosslyn.

Crystal City/Pentagon City – Another active area is the Pentagon City/Crystal City area of Arlington. This area has two Metro Stations, plenty of bus access, and is right next to Reagan National Airport. There’s plenty of hotels and offices, and has easy access to GW Parkway, Highway 1 and 395. Of course you can’t forget access to miles of biking and running paths via Four Mile Run and Mount Vernon Trail.

Shopping here includes Costco, Nordstrom Rack and the Pentagon City Mall. In Crystal City you have access to food and shops underground, which is great for those cold and windy days. Need more info? Check out our article Reasons to Consider Crystal City and Pentagon City for more details about this all-inclusive location.

There are a few more spots of highly walkable areas that are worth a look. Living in these areas you may still need a car for getting to work, but for after work and weekend activity you may be just fine on foot.

Shirlington – Shirlington is a great little oasis off of 395 with some fabulous restaurants, unique shops and theaters. If you find yourself apartment hunting in Shirlington, be sure to stop by Guapos for some great Mexican cuisine. Don’t forget the guacamole made fresh tableside! In Shirlington you are also close to Four Mile Run for biking, walking and jogging. This central spot is a quick ride to Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria or Pentagon City. No Metro access here, but definitely a great area away from the hustle and bustle with all the comforts of a walkable neighborhood.

Columbia Pike – Columbia Pike is an area in transition. It has seen great revitalization in the last few years, with hundreds of new apartments, a new Giant shopping center and new restaurants. If you need a quick break from apartment hunting, be sure to stop at Rappahannock Coffee for coffee and a quick sandwich. In the spring and summer, head out on Sunday morning for the Columbia Pike Farmer’s Market. Columbia Pike has easy access to Route 50 and 395. Not to mention bus service which will take you to Pentagon City in just a few short minutes. And you are only a few miles from the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor as well. Of course, there may be many more accessible neighborhoods with a new streetcar on Columbia Pike. This is another great central location that will get you a lot of the amenities of a walkable neighborhood, but may not carry the hefty price tag of a Metro accessible neighborhood.

Much of Arlington has easy access to just about anything apartment hunters desire. There are plenty more neighborhoods worth a look, but these top neighborhoods according to Walk Score have every convenience and more just outside your door.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com — April 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm 555 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Now that spring is finally here, the rental business is ramping up as well. This time of year, we get a lot of renters looking for units with one or more roommates. Looking for a place to rent can be tough whether it is for just you, or for you and 3 others. Here are a few tips to help you get through the apartment search and into a great home with your group.

Discuss the basics before you start looking. Make sure you are on the same page with what you want. Knowing what you all collectively want will save everyone wasted efforts. Be sure to discuss: what areas work best for all parties, what type of unit you are hoping to find, and what you can each afford.

Discover any pitfalls. The last thing you want to happen is to find the perfect place, take the time to apply and pay the application fees, only to find out the landlord denied the applications because your roommate has terrible credit. It isn’t the easiest discussion to have, as it is deeply personal. Just remember, you are entering in to a legal agreement with this person, so you need to know that you won’t be stuck either homeless because you can’t qualify, or in a place you can’t afford because your roommate can’t or won’t pay.

Know the legal ramifications. That brings us to these four little words: jointly and severally liable. This means that all parties on the lease are responsible for the entire lease. If someone leaves, the remaining renters are responsible for that portion of the lease as well. Co-signers, too, are not just responsible for one person, but for all those on the lease. And this isn’t just the financial issue — does your roommate have a pet? Guess what? That baseboard the dog just chewed up is your responsibility, too.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way, what about the actual search?

Coordination is key. Work out a time where you can both view apartments together. It isn’t always easy, but this way, if there is a great place out there, you don’t risk losing it because someone can’t get there for a few days. Also, remember it isn’t just your time that is valuable, but the time of the property manager, on-site leasing agent, or real estate agent as well.

Sometimes looking together isn’t always possible. If everyone is on board with needs and wants, assign one person the ability to make a decision quickly if necessary.

Have one contact person. This is especially helpful with groups working with agents. This person can coordinate with the other roommates, the agent, and the property manager/landlord.

Be ready to apply. This is particularly important with larger groups. Make sure everyone is ready with application fees, security deposit (in Virginia can be up to two months’ rent) and the first month’s rent. Most likely, the payments will need to be in certified funds.  Everyone will need to fill out an application and provide proof of income which can be two most recent pay stubs, an offer letter from a new employer, or tax documents.  That reasonably-priced four bedroom house with Metro access won’t be on the market long. Having all your ducks in a row will ensure you will get the place and will be ready for a much-deserved housewarming party in July. (more…)

by ARLnow.com — April 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm 996 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

If you are a new landlord, or maybe you’ve had a string of bad luck with tenants, you should establish a quality tenant screening process. Be sure to keep your expectations realistic. Not everyone is going to look perfect on paper, but you can still save time, headaches and money by following some of these tips.

Pre-Screening – If you are advertising and screening the applicants on your own – make sure your standards are clear up front. This helps weed out potential tenants who will waste your time: you only want to show and screen those who are qualified. Explain if you accept pets or short term rentals. Learn their backstory. Get their move details.

When are they looking to move? How many people will be living in the unit? Where will they be working? Where did they live previously? If they are local, why are they looking to move? If they have an issue with their current place, it will help you figure out if that issue will also continue in your unit – not enough space, or parking is needed, or they want to get a dog.

If you decide to deny a tenant, you want to be able to clearly explain why, and be sure there are no issues with discrimination. You never want to be on the receiving end of a Fair Housing suit. Be sure you know the protected classes, and that you do not discriminate in advertising, showing practices or by denying applications based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. And in Virginia, those over the age of 55 are also protected. Once you’ve decided to move forward, the next tips will help you through the formal screening process.

Income – Obviously, the top question is can the tenant afford the rent? Generally, a good rule is for the tenant or tenants to have a combined monthly gross income of three times the monthly rent. If the prospective tenants don’t meet that minimum then you have to decide if you will accept co-signers. Co-signers will need to complete the full application process as well, and remember, they not only need to make up for the income difference on the rent for your property, but also be able to afford their other commitments as well.

Employment Verification – Do they have a job? How long have they been in their current position? Is there relative stability in their position? Especially in the Metro DC area, many renters are not only new to the area but possibly new to the job market. An offer letter from their new job will to need to suffice for employment verification. Depending on the position, some offer letters will note if their position is temporary, or permanent.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,180 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Unlike many other markets in the country, the D.C. Metro real estate market is robust for both rentals and sales. If D.C. isn’t just a quick stop on your life path, you might be thinking about buying a home. But is buying the best option for you?

The answer is that it depends on your needs and lifestyle.

Benefits of Renting

  1. Minimal down payment – when renting in the DC area, you generally will have to part with your first month’s rent and a security deposit prior to move in, as well as an application fee. Depending on the type and location of the rental, a security deposit can range from a few hundred dollars up to two month’s rent (in Marlyand and Virginia — D.C. only allows for one month). According to Trulia, the average home price in Arlington is just over $755,000. At 20 percent down, buyers need $151,000 for a home purchase. That is out of reach for a lot of people. Not to mention, it isn’t easy to qualify for a mortgage that high.
  2. Repair work is a phone call away – well technically that’s the case for either, but with a rental the landlord is likely to pay the bill.
  3. Less extra costs – Renters don’t have to pay property taxes on their home. Generally, renters will not pay any HOA or condo fees, as the landlord will cover those.
  4. Flexibility – If by chance your life path changes quickly, you aren’t tied down for long. You don’t have to worry about selling your home (or worse, not selling your home.) If you have to move during your lease, the maximum amount you stand to lose is the balance owed on your lease.

Benefits of Buying

  1. Ownership – Once you sign on the dotted line, the home is yours to change however you please.
  2. Buying is cheaper – Sure, we said it costs a lot to buy a house, and that is true. According to Trulia and Urban Turf, it is 34 percent cheaper to buy in the D.C. area. But be careful, it isn’t cheaper for everyone. There is a great calculator to help you figure out if it is true for your situation.
  3. Investment – As long as you chose wisely, pay the right price, and inspect the property carefully, you are adding an asset to your portfolio.

What about rent to own?

While rent to own is not common, it is making a comeback due to the increasing number of people who can’t qualify for a mortgage. And a rent-to-own option isn’t just attractive to renter/buyer but to the landlord/owner as well.

Renters get to put part of their rent towards the purchase price. Landlords get tenants who are invested in maintaining the home, since the idea is they will buy it in a few years. Renters can lock in on a price of the home, if they chose that option. Landlords get a guarantee of sale (at least in theory). Of course, there are a few downfalls too — rent is usually higher because you are paying additional toward the down payment and the renters could choose not to buy at the end of the contract.

So what’s the best choice? Think about your situation. Are you staying in the area for a while, and you can afford to put the cash down? Buying a home is probably the smarter investment. Not sure how long you are going to be in the area? Not sure how much space you really want in a home? Rent for some time until you know what your needs are. What about if you know you want a home, but don’t have the cash or credit to buy right away? Maybe check out some rent-to-own options. You may be able to find that dream home in a desirable neighborhood.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

by ARLnow.com — March 6, 2014 at 11:00 am 442 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Moving in to an apartment doesn’t have to doom you to neutral colors and bare walls. There are plenty of options renters have when decorating their new digs. But what can renters do to spruce up their place while still following the rules?

First: Review your lease. The decorating rules may already be spelled out. Discuss with your landlord anything that isn’t specifically mentioned and get written permission if it is something other than rugs and curtains.

Paint: Some apartments or individual condo rentals will allow renters to paint at their own expense. Sometimes it is as simple as getting the colors approved by the landlord prior to painting, but sometimes you may have to return the unit to the original color when you move out.  Some private landlords will even let you pick colors prior to move in if they are planning to repaint. It can’t hurt to ask, and be sure to put it in your offer and lease if they do agree.

Top Tip: If you are painting in a small space, and you are likely to have neighbors, look in to low VOC paint to keep the fumes to a minimum for your benefit and those around you.

Tip No. 2: Don’t want to paint but want to add some character? Consider some removable wall stickers. With so many options out there, you can inexpensively add a border or backdrop to your wall with minimal effort. Just be sure the stickers are removable, or you will end up painting those walls anyway.

Rugs: Add some color and style to your unit with some nice area rugs. Rugs come in all shapes, sizes and styles as well as price ranges. They don’t have to break the bank. Also consider different materials and textures to add character to different rooms. Keep in mind if you are in a unit with wood floors your lease will likely require you to cover up to 80 percent of your floor with rugs. This is a pretty common requirement to help with sound issues in close quarters.

Top Tip: Because carpet can harbor allergens, bacteria and other interesting critters it is probably best to go new with rugs, and save the Craigslist finds for end tables and desks.

Wall Hangings: Hanging pictures and art is a great way to add life in to bland walls, especially if painting isn’t allowed, or just not in your budget. Checking out Pinterest these days leaves you with no shortage of budget friendly wall art.

Top Tip: Use Command Strips for hanging your new Pinterest-worthy art so you won’t have to fill holes in the walls at the end of your lease.

Other Accessories: Throw pillows, blankets, tablecloths, lamps and plants are all great ways to add splashes of color and character to your space. For studio apartments you may want to look at ways to split up your space with a screen or temporary wall.

Shelves and Closet Units: Depending on the type and how they are installed, some landlords may not have a problem with adding shelves if they are easily removed and the walls can be repaired. If you are looking in to something a little more permanent like built-in closet units — talk it over with them — if done well and installed properly the landlord may welcome the change, not ask that you remove them later, and possibly even help with the cost. If not, take a look at a unit that can be removed when you leave.

Just because your new space may start out on the boring side doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Top Tip: Always get written permission, and expect to foot the bill. Landlords can be pretty flexible as long as you are open and discuss it with them up front.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

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