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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — June 25, 2015 at 2:30 pm 347 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.

So you’ve searched and interviewed potential roommates, and you’ve finally found someone you think fits the bill. There are still a few things to work out.

The Lease – In Virginia, anyone over the age of 18 will need to apply and qualify for any rental, and all roommates will be named on the lease. This makes you jointly and severally liable, meaning no matter what, all parties named on the lease are financially responsible. Regardless of whether or not you both live there for the full term. So if your roommate bails, you are still 100% responsible for the apartment. Likewise, if you take off, you are absolutely still responsible for the remainder of the rent payments.

Roommate Agreement – It is a good idea to draft some sort of roommate agreement. While you certainly don’t need to be as detailed as Sheldon, it might be good to know if your roommate does expect a ride to work every day, or if they expect to split their bi-weekly Costco expenses with you. Hammer out the important details as to how you will split utilities, and who is responsible for making the payments. Does the other party want proof of payment?

The last thing that you want is to come home to no lights, or an eviction notice on the door when you paid your portion of the bills. Is rent split evenly, or did one of you say they will pay more for the bigger bedroom? Get that in writing. What about buying essential supplies like toilet paper and cleaning supplies? What about chores? You don’t necessarily have to have full details here, but note some general expectations on cleanliness. You may also want to cover expectations on pets and guests.

Useful Tools – Luckily, the daily business of roommate life is pretty simple these days. A few apps can make your arrangement a smooth operation. Check out Homeslice, which is basically a project management tool for roommates. There is a Whiteboard that is basically the app dashboard showing all the messages, chores, supplies and bills due. Once your roommate posts that you owe $27.05 for the electric, you can head over to Venmo to pay them your portion.

Be sure to not to get clever on your payment description, save your emojis for happy hour and late night pizza, and actually post what you are paying for so you have a record. Lastly, you can use something like Cozy for your rent payment. It is free, everyone can submit their portion of the payment and send over one payment to your landlord.

While some of this might seem a bit dry, it is important to treat a roommate relationship as a business, as that is exactly what it is. You are making a financial commitment to someone, and you want to make sure the business side is handled, so you can then move forward to enjoying life, and perhaps making a lifelong friend.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — June 11, 2015 at 3:30 pm 622 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 our last column, we discussed searching for a potential roommate. Now that you’ve found a good candidate, you need to meet up and get to know each other a bit to see if you are a match.

When chatting with a potential roommate, it is good to put it all out there. Letting them know what you like and what you don’t. What you are hoping to get out of the roommate relationship is important to lay on the table up front. You are going to be sharing space with this person for at least 12 months, so you want to do your best to keep conflict to a minimum.

Here’s a sample list of a few questions to ask:

  • Where are you going to be working or going to school? What are the hours you’ll come and go?
  • What are your hobbies? (Do they share your interests, or do something you find annoying?)
  • Do you plan to have a lot of friends over, overnight visitors etc? Do you mind if I do?
  • Are you a night owl or an early riser?
  • What about your lifestyle? Physically active? Vegetarian?
  • Do you have a pet, or want to get one? If you have one, do you expect your roommate to assist with pet care?
  • Do you have a car? Are you willing to share?
  • What do you consider clean?
  • Do you smoke? Drink?
  • What are you hoping this arrangement to be?
  • Can you give me an example of a past roommate issue, and how you resolved it?

While some questions may seem a bit nosy, keep in mind you are likely sharing no more a thousand square feet, give or take. It is important to know as much as you can up front to minimize headaches later. Little annoyances can turn in to big deals when you spend so much time with someone, so you want to find out now if they only eat steak, and you are a vegan, or if they are a couch potato on the weekend, and you are the weekend warrior type.

Think of the interview as speed dating with a 12 month commitment. You aren’t trying to impress a person, but get to know as much as you can in a short period of time before signing on the dotted line together.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — May 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm 964 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.

Finding a roommate is hard. Living with a roommate can be even harder. In the D.C. market, roommates are a must for many renters. In this three part series, we will share our tips to make the roommate relationship a little easier.

If you are moving to the area blind, you’ll either want to find a roommate first, or an apartment first. At a minimum, figure out what neighborhoods you like, set your budget, and determine your must-have amenities, and then you and your new roommate can apartment hunt together. (Check out: Apartment Hunting with a Roommate.)

You can use websites such as Roomster, Roommates.com and Craigslist to search for potential roommates. Or if you are starting at a new company, sometimes the HR department can connect you with other people moving to the area. Lastly, ask friends or family. They may either know someone looking for a roommate, or know someone you could ask about potential roommates.

If you do go the website route, make sure when reviewing listings you look for specific traits and qualities you will or won’t accept. Sometimes this involves reading between the lines. “Friendly, outgoing grad student” may mean exactly that, but it could mean they like to have a lot of friends over, or they want to be social with you on a regular basis. This works for some, but not others. “Loves to cook,” may sound spectacular if you don’t. But what do they cook? If they only cook fish and sauerkraut and that isn’t your thing, you might have a problem.

Some listings may include pictures. It might be a good idea to check those photos like a CSI detective. They can tell you a lot about the person. Cleanliness, hobbies, pets etc might be right there for you to see.

After you’ve selected a few you are ready to contact, you’ll want to come up with a list of questions or things to discuss. You may also want to sit down and really think about what they should know about you. What are your quirks they should know about? Are you really private, or are you allergic to dust? Those are important things to share with someone you may live with.

Safety Tip: Make sure if you are doing an in-person meetup, do it somewhere public and safe for the first time. If you are going to look at a place where they are just looking to add a roommate, take somebody with you not just for safety, but a friend may pick up on something you don’t.

The search is probably the hardest part. So once you narrow it down, hopefully the next steps go faster and easier for you. In the next article, we will cover questions to ask potential roommates.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — May 14, 2015 at 2:45 pm 1,514 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.

The D.C. area has hundreds of neighborhoods, each with their own character and charm. Arlington is no exception. Arlington offers something for everyone, making it one of the top neighborhoods in the D.C. Metro area. What makes it so great? While this list could be very long, we narrowed down what we think are the best of the best reasons to live in Arlington.

Food

For Happy Hour, or anything in between, check out Whitlow’s on Wilson. Voted Virginia’s Most Popular Bar by Buzzfeed in 2013, Whitlow’s offers a casual fun atmosphere. In the warmer month’s diners enjoy the Rooftop Tiki Bar, and don’t forget to hit up the Bloody Mary bar while enjoying brunch.

For traditional American food try the Silver Diner. While the Silver Diner may look like the old school diners of the past, don’t let that fool you. They offer local, farm fresh foods, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes and healthy options for the kids. The Silver Diner is open 7 days a week, and is open late in case you get a craving for a midnight snack.

For something a little more ethnic, head over to Jaleo for spectacular tapas and wine. Jaleo was created by renowned chef José Andrés and it has won several “Best of” awards. Jaleo has three locations in the area including Crystal City, Bethesda, and Penn Quarter in DC.

There is no shortage of excellent food in Arlington. Head out anywhere on Wilson/Clarendon Blvds in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or over to Pentagon Row and Crystal City and you shouldn’t have a problem finding something to suit all your cravings. Not to be forgotten, check out Shirlington where you can get great food from all around the world.

Fitness

After sampling some of the delicious food in Arlington you may want to head over to one of the local area fitness centers. Check out Revolve, SuperNova, or LA Fitness to work off those extra calories. Arlington County Recreation also offers several fitness classes for the whole family at facilities all over the county.

If you prefer outdoor activities try Four Mile Run, Mount Vernon Trail or the Custis Trail for biking, running or walking.

Sightseeing and Activities

Arlington is home to several historical sites and monuments including Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and the Air Force Memorial just to name a few.

Mondays in the summer check out Crystal Screen, the outdoor movies in Crystal City. Just a few blocks from the Crystal City Metro, bring a picnic and enjoy a movie with friends.

No winter season in Arlington would be complete without taking at least one trip to the Pentagon Row ice rink.

Additionally, Arlington practically has a farmer’s market for every day of the week. In peak season, you may barely need to head to the grocery store.

Work

Arlington has the lowest unemployment rate in the region at 3.4 percent according to the county profile. Arlington has several large employers including Deloitte, SAIC and Marriott International. But you don’t have to work in Arlington to enjoy living there, as Arlington has easy access to D.C. and other Virginia suburbs via the Metro, Bus or the VRE. Access to I-395, I-66, Route 50 and GW Parkway make it a great choice to live no matter where you work in the Metro D.C. area.

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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — April 30, 2015 at 2:30 pm 896 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.

One of the great parts about city living is having everything just outside your door. Convenience is especially important when you don’t have a car to help get the things you need. Luckily, the Arlington area has an abundance of options to get toilet paper or milk to your apartment in a snap.

We have a few suggestions on where to stock up on your favorite groceries close to your apartment in Ballston-Clarendon-Courthouse.

Grocery Stores:

Trader Joe’s — Less than a block from the Clarendon Metro station, Trader Joe’s is always a favorite for shoppers. They carry plenty of healthy food choices at great prices. They also have a good wine selection and great prices on cut flowers, when you need to pick up party gift on the fly.

Harris Teeter — In the Ballston area on Glebe Road, Harris Teeter offers a great selection of traditional groceries.

Whole Foods — Centrally located between Clarendon and Courthouse Metro stations, just across from the Market Common, is the best place in town to stock up on organic and fair trade groceries.

Giant – Just a block from the Virginia Square Metro station, this local Giant store is just what you need for picking up last minute dinner items.

Delivery:

Don’t have time to go to the store? Try online services Instacart or Peapod for groceries delivered right to your door.

Farmer’s Markets:

If local, farm fresh foods are your thing, Arlington has enough markets open nearly every day of the week, so you are sure to get the freshest items in town.

Arlington Farmer’s Market – closer to the Courthouse side of things is the Arlington Farmer’s Market, located just a block from the Courthouse Metro Station. This market is open year-round offering fresh, local produce along with other great seasonal goodies. Come out on Saturday morning to support local growers and vendors while stocking up for the week.

Clarendon Farmer’s Market – Open every Wednesday from 3-7, April through December. Located right outside the Clarendon Metro station, this market offers a variety of goods from local farms and vendors. An excellent choice to stock up mid-week on your local favorites.

Farm Fresh Delivery:

Relay FoodsWant the best of both worlds? Have local, farm fresh foods delivered right to your door. This site lets you browse meal plans and recipes, and simplifies the shopping process by adding all the items to your cart with just a click. You can even add your own recipes for easy shopping for your favorite meal. Prices range around $4-8 per serving. Be sure to share the service with your friends and earn a $30 coupon.

If you need to find one of the apartments with convenience at your door, check here!

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — April 16, 2015 at 3:15 pm 585 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.

Every apartment search has its challenges. An apartment search coupled with a job search adds to the challenge, but unemployment does not immediately disqualify you for an apartment. Going into your search well-armed will help you find a great place to live with minimal difficulty.

When searching for an apartment while in between jobs, enlisting the help of an agent will likely save you time and trouble, freeing up more of your  time to focus on the job search. If you decide to go at it alone, have a package ready to prove previous employment, good credit and rental history. Having money saved up to prove the ability to pay a few months while still searching is also a good idea if you are able.

Those applicants who are new to the job market, such as recent grads, may need to be ready to provide a co-signer as well. Keep in mind, some landlords will only accept in-state co-signers, so don’t let that surprise you. The co-signer also needs good credit and employment history, as well as proof that they are able to not only pay your rent should you be unable, but they must have income significant enough to cover their own bills as well.

Fair Housing laws do not protect the unemployed, so a landlord can still deny the application on this basis alone. However, if you are unemployed due to a disability, you are protected under Fair Housing provided you have good credit and proof of income from disability payments or another source.

Landlords are allowed to have minimum qualifications renters must meet, and they should be able to give you these qualifications upfront. In Virginia, they are allowed to collect a security deposit equal to two months rent, and if you want to and have the ability to pay rent up front, the landlord is required to keep all pre-paid rent in an escrow account until it becomes due. Cash on hand is helpful, but that should not be the only thing you have to offer. Proof of previous employment, schooling, etc. should also provide the landlord with some piece of mind.

As with any apartment search, preparation helps ease the stress. Keep in mind that a qualified agent may know of specific properties that will consider your situation and can help you get into a great place so you can focus on settling in and finding a job.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — April 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm 342 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.

The D.C. area is no stranger to residents from all parts of the world. Navigating the rental market can be troublesome for those renters new to the area.

It can be especially daunting as an international applicant because some landlords and property managers may not be experienced in handling a rental transaction with an international tenant. But it is certainly easy to move through the lease process simply and quickly with a little preparation.

Be sure to have all your documentation ready. You need to have, at a minimum, a copy of your work visa, passport, and proof of employment. The potential landlord may not understand that you will likely not have a Social Security number if you are new to the U.S., which also means you do not have any U.S. credit history.

It is important that they do understand you are in the U.S. legally, and that being granted a work visa also provides some assurances you have proved to the State Department your ability to support yourself (and your family) while in the U.S. It may be helpful to enlist the help of a real estate agent to help communicate with private landlords.

Real estate agents in the D.C. area typically get paid by the landlord, so it should not cost you anything to work with an agent. If you are looking at managed properties, ask up front what is required when you do not have a Social Security number or work/rental/credit histories in the U.S.

While citizenship status is not covered as a protected class under Fair Housing, landlords still need to be consistent in their screening processes, and they still must follow the law with respect to security deposits and pre-paid rent. In Virginia, landlords are allowed to request a security deposit of up to two months’ rent. And under Virginia law, the landlord must keep all pre-paid rent in an escrow account until it becomes due.

If you’ve been in the States for at least a year, and you have established a rental history, having your current landlord provide a reference may be helpful to your prospective landlord.

While being an international applicant may throw up a road block or two, good preparation and communication can help get you through the process with ease. It may be helpful to think of it from the landlord’s point of view, as they are trying to minimize their risk and any applicant out of the norm presents an additional level of risk. Being aware of their concerns and providing as much documentation to prove yourself as a good tenant will get you off to a good start in your tenant/landlord relationship.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — March 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm 476 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.

Sometimes an unavoidable life event happens that damages credit such as divorce, illness, or unemployment. Does it mean you are doomed for the dark basement apartment you found on a bulletin board with a landlord who can only be reached by pager?

Not necessarily. The key is communication. Plan ahead and know your rights before you start your search, and you can still find a great place to live.

Start the dialogue early, so there are no surprises after going through the application process. Since you will not have the good credit on hand to show, other items such as landlord references, employment history, and proof of ability to pay are essential. Sometimes landlords will accept co-signers for challenged credit, and sometimes they will not. Just make sure your co-signer has good credit and enough income where they can cover not only their own expenses but your rent as well. Otherwise, they are not likely to be approved.

You should also understand your rights as a renter under Virginia law. You cannot be required to pay more than two months’ rent for a security deposit. Also, if you do have the ability to pre-pay some of your rent, the landlord is required to keep the pre-paid rent in an escrow account, and only distribute the amounts as it becomes due. People with poor credit are not directly protected under Fair Housing laws, but landlords should be up-front with their screening requirements, so you know ahead of time whether or not to pursue a particular place.

It is also a good idea to think of the situation through the eyes of the landlord. What would make you feel comfortable? Someone with no credit and a lot of cash may make a landlord uneasy, and they have an obligation to make sure their tenant is not involved in anything illegal. More information is always better. You are entering into a financial contract with this person, and all parties need to be happy.

Lastly, know where to look. Private landlords are often more likely to work with renters with challenged credit. Managed apartment buildings may not have as much flexibility with screening requirements. Enlisting an agent is also beneficial as they may know who is willing to work with you.

If you have challenged credit, you should go into the search with the understanding not everyone will be able to work with you. Be prepared up front, communicate, and make your case, and you can still come away with a great new home.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — March 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm 426 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.

Hopefully the non-stop winter weather will soon come to an end, but the last few months have been wreaking havoc on fitness routines. The constant snow, ice and wind test even the heartiest of winter warriors. Aside from hitting your local gym, what can apartment dwellers do to fight off the winter blues with fitness? Here are a few of our ideas.

Make Use of Building Amenities — Sure your community gym is the obvious choice, but what about organizing a weekly group yoga or strength training class in your community room? This choice comes with the added benefit of meeting your neighbors.

Set up a Home Gym — This is easier than it sounds. You can get in a great workout with little to no equipment. Resistance bands are probably the best option for space saving and portability. There are plenty of body weight exercises that require zero equipment yet still give you a great workout. Just be mindful of your neighbors, and maybe keep the high impact stuff for the outside workouts. Here is a good workout designed just for apartments to keep the noise to a minimum.

Exercise Videos — Long gone are the days of Richard Simmons work out videos, and now we have great options with things like Insanity, P90X and the like. But if exercise videos are only a last resort, there are plenty of options through cable (Comcast has several fitness options On Demand) and Internet for free. Check out Gaiam or Fitness Blender for some great options online if you don’t have cable.

Find a Workout Partner — Nothing says couch potato like cold winter mornings. Find someone to keep you motivated on the days you find it hard to get out of bed. Even if you don’t work out together, find someone who will call or text you to get you moving. Or you could use an app or fitness community to keep you motivated. Gym Pact is a fun way to stay motivated, as you can earn rewards for meeting your goals. Websites like Spark People have a robust community to keep you going.

Not only do these workout options work well on snow days, but they are great for travel, too. Sometimes body weight and a tablet are all you need to get the job done. Just keep up the good work, as spring is right around the corner, and you’ll want all the extra energy to enjoy a D.C. spring.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — February 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm 670 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.

(Updated at 5:50 p.m.Q: Why is the rent on the apartment I looked at last week higher this week?

A: In managed apartments, rent prices change frequently, and depending on the building, they could even change daily. Many companies use software that looks at a variety of factors each day to determine the rent they charge for a specific unit.  Even though their algorithms are complex, pricing primarily boils down to vacancy rate. A 95 percent occupancy rate is considered efficient in multifamily buildings, and if the occupancy rate is more than 95 percent, then you will likely pay a premium for a unit in that building.

Tip: When touring a building, ask about their vacancy rate. If they have 5 percent of their units or less vacant, then you may want to shop around in buildings nearby to see if there is a better deal.  Also, if you find a place you like, at a price you can afford, you may want to lock it in at that price. Ask what you need to do in order to hold a unit.

Q: Is there a time of year when I will get a better deal on an apartment?

A: While you may score a deal in the winter in many cities that does not necessarily ring true in the DC area. No doubt, the summer months are the busiest time because of students moving in and out of the area, and recent grads starting new jobs. Also, in election years, there is a shift in the late fall and early winter. However, DC generally has a constant influx of people throughout the year.

Bottom line: The deals to be had are often in new buildings trying to fill their units, not necessarily at any specific time of year.

Q: Any tips on how to find the best deals?

A: Obviously, working with an agent is going to help you save time. Agents know the buildings, the neighborhoods, and the pricing best. Also, when working with agents that specialize in rentals, they get “Hot Sheets” from the buildings weekly, so they know where the deals are. If you maintain a relationship with an agent, they can keep their eyes and ears open for you and let you know if something good comes up.

Also, looking into privately owned units, you may be able to score a deal. With privately owned units, pricing is based more on comps in the area, and their expenses, so you likely have more room to negotiate. Tip: If you are working with a private landlord, you may be able to negotiate price, get them to throw in parking, or make some small upgrades to the unit prior to move in.

Q: What does it cost to work with a real estate agent?

A: In the DC area, it should be FREE. In some cities, like New York, often the renter pays the agent fee. But here, the agents get paid by the landlords. The type of landlord does not matter, both multifamily and private owners will pay the fee to the broker or service provider. If you come across a company or agent that wants to charge you a fee, shop around.

Note: Because these brokerages and finder services do get paid by the landlord it means they only work with specific properties, not all of them. It also means they only get paid if you rent at a property they showed or referred. If you have a specific property you want to look at and the agent explains they do not work with that property, ask them if they have anything similar they could show you.

Looking for a rental, and still have more questions? Contact an agent for more assistance.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — February 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm 517 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.

Right now, blizzards and bitter cold are slamming parts of the country. Soon it will switch from blizzards to thunderstorms. Are you prepared for when disaster strikes?

Find Out 

  • Does your building have a generator? If it does, what will it power? It may only power minimal things to keep the building in operation, and not cover your apartment.
  • Does your water heater run on gas? If so, you will still have warm water if the power is out. That is a definite plus when it is cold outside.
  • Do you have a gas stove? You can still cook sans electricity too.
  • Does your renter’s insurance cover your fridge contents during a power outage? If so, you could file a claim if your power goes out for several days to replace your contents. This can be very helpful, as it isn’t just your milk and meats you need to replace, but all your condiments and extras, which can add up quickly. If you don’t have that coverage, see if you can add it. It should only cost a few dollars more and could save you hundreds later.

Have on Hand

  • At a minimum, review the Red Cross Survival Kit basics. Non-perishable food, water, medications, cash, batteries and so on.
  • Also check out the Red Cross Store for some handy other items.
    • Blackout Buddy $9.99 — a small LED light that is charged in water.
    • Emergency Bivvy $17.00 — Emergency blanket that keeps you warm and reflects 90 percent of your body heat back to you. This is good to keep in your apartment if you are without heat for several days, and would also be good to keep in your vehicle, if you have one, in the event you get stuck in the snow somewhere.
    • Emergency Radio $60 — This particular one is multipurpose. It has a light, a USB port to charge a phone, and also has a solar panel and hand crank in the event you run out of battery power.
  • If you are able to make a little more investment, check out a battery-powered generator. You can charge your electronics, jumpstart a car among other things. You may even be able to power an electric heater for a few minutes at a time to warm up a room a bit, if necessary. Don’t forget to make sure this is fully charged ahead of time.
  • Hands and feet get cold easily? Grab some hand warmers at your local outdoor store or ski shop.

What about Pets?

  • Depending on the disaster, you don’t want to forget to make some preparations for your pet. If it is a cold weather issue, just be sure to have enough food, water, and medications on hand in the event you are stuck somewhere for a few days.
  • If you have to evacuate, remember most shelters will not allow pets. Your best bet is to either find a hotel, or go to a family or friend’s house that will let you bring your pet. In Arlington County, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington has a temporary pet shelter available if necessary. One thing you don’t want to do is leave your pet behind.

Make a Plan

  • Unexpected disasters do happen every so often — remember the earthquake that hit the D.C. area a few years ago? Fortunately, it didn’t cause too much trouble other than slow commutes home and overloaded cell lines. It could have been worse. Be sure to have some sort of disaster kit on hand for when you least expect it. Have a plan on how to communicate with your loved ones, but keep in mind other people need to communicate too. Stay off your cell as much as possible.

Talking about disasters is never enjoyable. But some simple preparation can help you sail through the many events Mother Nature throws at us. Have a good plan in place with your family for communication, meeting places and so on.

Most importantly, don’t wait until the last minute when you do have time to prepare. And you don’t want to be caught off guard when you don’t. The time is now to start your prep, build your kits over time so you are not hit hard financially all at once, especially for some of the bigger items. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Learn about what your apartment or home has in place for emergencies and develop your plans around that.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm 618 0

Rental Report header

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.

A new job offer across the country just hit your inbox, and you start in two weeks — congrats! Now what?

Packing up your stuff, tying up loose ends your old job, and figuring out where you are going to live can feel a bit overwhelming. So you book your plane ticket, and you have two days to find a place. What do you need to do?

First, enlist some help from a real estate agent, especially if you can find one from a rental brokerage. Give them as much detail as possible. In order for someone to find you a great place that meets your needs in just a few days, they need to know a lot about you. Tell them all of the deal breakers — how much rent you can afford, the types of apartments you like, amenities you need, if you have pets, if you need parking, and what your commute will be.

But you also have to get a little more personal. Remember, an agent knows the area better than you, and can steer you in the direction of a neighborhood you may not have considered because of your hobbies and lifestyle.

An agent is also going to be able to get appointments booked for you with buildings that have what you want, when you want it. You don’t have to pound the pavement on your own, going into building after building, only to have them tell you, “No vacancy.”

Second, be prepared before you go.  Make sure you have ready:

  • Your camera
  • A photo ID — you will need this for every building. This is for security of the agent and the onsite staff
  • Proof of income — this could be an offer letter from your new job, previous pay stubs (usually at least the last two,) or tax documents
  • Your credit score — make sure you know your credit and be up front if you think there could be an issue.
  • A list of questions for the buildings:
    • What are the fees? Fees are likely to include an application fee, a move in fee, an amenity fee, a security deposit, a pet fee and so on. Make sure you know exactly what you need when you go to apply for the apartment you choose.
    • Can you use a credit card for the fees? Do they need to be in certified funds? Or do you just need your checkbook?
    • Does the building have a floor plan with measurements? You need to make sure your furniture will fit.
    • What is the turn around time for an application? If you need to move in right away, how quickly can they give you a decision? Think about whether you will you have enough time to move on to a backup if your first choice falls through. And in the event that does happen, make sure your second choice will be able to work with you electronically since you may already be out of town.

Lastly, if you have a roommate or significant other, and they won’t be along for the search, remember they will have to be a part of the application process and be named on the lease as well. Make sure both your agent and the building of your choice are aware.

Searching for a new home in a time crunch doesn’t have to be stressful. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Trust the help of a professional agent. Be sure to give them as much information as you can so they can get you in a great new home in no time, and maybe you’ll still even have time to play around in your new neighborhood.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm 338 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 rent out your home. You’ve created a business plan, opened a separate checking account, and called your insurance company.

Now what? You have to prepare your home to be shown and rented. Here are some tips to get your condo or house “ready to rent.”

Tidy Up

We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You may love knick-knacks on the coffee table and pictures on your refrigerator. In the rental world, however, these items may deter a potential renter from choosing your apartment. People want to picture themselves and their own items in their new home. Make this easy for them by removing things such as pictures, stacks of papers, personal items, laundry, litter boxes, and anything soiled or less than pristine. Clean and uncluttered surfaces, neatly arranged furniture, and organized closet spaces go a long way toward making your condo or apartment feel like “home” for someone else.

Inspect Your Home

The last thing you want is for your renters to move in the first day and your washing machine to flood the apartment. Check that all major appliances are running smoothly. Fix any leaks or cracks in the home — these problems will only get worse as time goes on. Make sure you have working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on each floor and the kitchen. Screens and doors should be inspected and properly adjusted before the showings. Plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets all need to be in working order.

Kennel Pets for Showings

Landlords should remember that not every tenant is a pet-lover. Tenants must be free to view your condo or apartment without running headlong into your Doberman. Even smaller pets, such as cats, could pose a problem for renters who may be allergic to, or fearful of, them. Your goal is to rent your place as quickly as possible. To that end, kennel your pets for all showings or have a friend on-call who can house your pet briefly for a last-minute showing. If there are stains on the carpet or wood floors with damage, think about removal or repair. Do the sniff test; ask a friend to make sure there are no odors reminiscent of your best friend Fido living there.

Remove Valuables

You hope that the renter will treat your home as if it was theirs, but it’s not worth taking the risk. If you have an heirloom, such as a grandfather clock or chandelier that you find irreplaceable, consider removing it first. And always put your personal items away when there is a showing as things can have a way of disappearing. You can put a lock on an “owner’s closet” to store items but make sure your renters know this upfront so there are no misunderstandings.

Now that your property is cleaned and fixed up, it is time to put it on the market. First, set a realistic timeline for finding renters and create a plan for marketing to them. Also, outline any non-negotiable items for your lease before showing your property to prospective renters. The more organized you are, the more the seamless process will be. If you don’t have the time or could use some help with the process, you can enlist the help of a rental brokerage to help find renters, show your property and facilitate the lease and application process.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — December 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm 334 0

Rental Report header

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.

Instead of starting the New Year with a resolution, why don’t you start out by giving your home a little facelift? Save up those gift cards or holiday bonus to hit up the end of year sales, and try our tips to freshening up your home for 2015.

New Wall Art — Whether it is a high-end print in a nice frame or a seasonal DIY piece, new artwork is a great way to brighten up a room. Check out a local thrift store or flea market to pick up a one-of-a-kind piece. Or try a print with a simple frame to add a little sophistication in a living area. The kitchen is a great place to add a little splash of color with a DIY painting on canvas.

Furniture Accents — If you have neutral furnishings, changing out your accent pillows or throw blankets with the seasons is an inexpensive way to change up a space. Complete the look by switching out your dining table cloth to match. Looking for something to change up a home office or bedroom? Try some curtains. You can find some great inexpensive curtains at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond that will help you easily add some character to any room.

New Accent Pieces — Do you have a little bigger budget? Why not add a side table, ottoman or bookshelf? Pick something that compliments your current pieces but adds some color or a changes up the style just a bit. This is another great area where DIY can be a lot of fun. You can definitely hit the jackpot on Craigslist if you have a certain piece in mind. Head on over to Pinterest for inspiration on mixing and matching styles.

Redecorate your Bathroom — The bathroom is a small space you can easily redecorate without breaking the bank. Simply change out your shower curtain or rugs, throw in some new hand towels and, voila, for under $100, you’ve got a new look.

Get Organized — Nothing says new start like getting organized. Use the New Year as an opportunity to get rid of all the stuff you don’t need, and organizing the stuff you do. Getting organized can be also a great stress reliever. And who doesn’t need that after the hectic holiday season? The best way to tackle an organization project is to pick one room at a time. It is easier on your mind and your budget (if you need supplies).

Even though it is chilly outside, you don’t want to spend all of your free time knee deep in old socks and magazines at the back of your closet. Be sure to take time to go skating in Pentagon City, or if you don’t like cold weather activities, try some Hot Yoga.

Keep it simple, and maybe try to do one thing each quarter to add some new life to your home. It is a great way to keep your home interesting. If you spread it out throughout the year, it keeps you from busting your budget by buying things on a whim, and you aren’t overwhelmed by too many projects on your to do list. Happy New Year!

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — December 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,176 0

Rental Report header

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.

The season of giving is upon us, and we have some great gift ideas to spruce up any new home, especially if they are tight on space. Here is our list of 10 great gifts under $50.

The Practical Gift — A Crock Pot is an excellent idea for everyone, whether you are a busy student, or a family on the go. You can make simple, healthy meals in a pinch, without needing a microwave, oven or stove. Available at Amazon for $39.99.

If you are feeling a little generous, throw in a cookbook like Cooking Light Slow Cooker Tonight!

For the Cook — An eight-piece Nesting Bowl set is a great gift for the person who loves to cook but is tight on space. With two mixing bowls, a colander, a sieve, and 4 measuring cups, they could have what they need to make you something tasty as a thank you! Available at Bed Bath & Beyond for $34.99.

Keep Warm — Soft, cozy Sherpa throw blankets are a great gift for someone who loves to snuggle up on the couch with a good book in the winter. Multiple colors are available to match any décor, and at a price of $22.77 at Amazon, you might even want to pick one up for yourself.

For the Host – Keep that new furniture looking sharp while entertaining with stylish Antique Silver Coasters from Pottery Barn. At $29, these coasters are a great gift that will work with just about any home style.

For the Beer Enthusiast — Hopefully the recipient of Pilsner Glasses can make room in the freezer because beer just tastes better in a chilled glass. These attractive glasses are perfect for entertaining or settling in on the couch after a long day’s work. A set of four is $39.80 (sold individually for $9.95) from Crate & Barrel.

Keep It Simple — When you just don’t know what to do, a wood cutting board is a great idea. This works great to chop up fresh fruits and veggies or to serve appetizers like a charcuterie spread. Either way, you can’t go wrong. This one is from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s for $29.99.

Pizza, Pizza, Pizza — Who doesn’t love pizza? Use a simple homemade pizza crust recipe, and throw on fresh ingredients, and this pizza stone will be a go to item to make a quick, easy dinner. Pizza Stone available at Target for $26.99.

Grilling Without the Grill — Since most apartments and condos do not allow grills, the next best thing for a healthy grilled dinner is to use a grill pan. With easy clean up and storage, a grill pan is also great when cooking for one. This Calphalon Grill Pan is available at Kohl’s for $49.99.

Just for Fun — If you know someone who loves frozen treats and has a little extra counter space, this might be the perfect gift. The Magic Bullet Dessert Bullet makes delicious, fruity treats in just a few seconds, making it the perfect choice to calm that post workout sweet craving. Available at Bed Bath & Beyond for $39.99.

When All Else Fails — When in doubt, grab a nice basket ($14.99 at Michaels) and fill it up with coffee, fresh fruit and maybe a gift card to the nearest grocery store. The basket can be used later for much needed storage, and the items you throw in will be much appreciated while they settle in to their new place.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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