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Rental Report: Top Questions Renters Should Ask

by ARLnow.com Sponsor | July 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 725 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: Tips for a Successful Move in to a High Rise

by ARLnow.com Sponsor | July 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 850 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: When and How Should I Start My Apartment Search?

by ARLnow.com | June 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,028 views | No Comments

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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…)

Rental Report: Location, Location, Location

by ARLnow.com | June 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 497 views | No Comments

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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…)

Rental Report: Summer Entertaining in an Apartment

by ARLnow.com | May 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 674 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: Rent it Faster With Perks

by ARLnow.com | May 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 852 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: Arlington’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods

by ARLnow.com | May 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 2,203 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: Tips for Apartment Hunting With a Roommate

by ARLnow.com | April 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 555 views | No Comments

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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…)

Rental Report: Tenant Screening Tips

by ARLnow.com | April 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 996 views | No Comments

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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…)

Rental Report: Rent, Buy or Rent to Own?

by ARLnow.com | March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,180 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: What’s Allowed When Decorating Your Rental?

by ARLnow.com | March 6, 2014 at 11:00 am | 442 views | No Comments

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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.

Rental Report: Reasons to Consider Crystal City and Pentagon City

by ARLnow.com | February 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,574 views | No Comments

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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.

When renters contemplate a move to Arlington, generally the first place they hear about and research is the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. While this area certainly has a lot to offer, it isn’t the only neighborhood in town. Not only that, it may not be the best option for everyone.

Often when renters contact us for help in Arlington, they ask for Ballston or Clarendon, but after we listen to their needs and wants we find that Pentagon City or Crystal City may be better choice for them. So why should you consider Pentagon City or Crystal City instead?

Location – The Pentagon City/Crystal City area is well located for easy access to just about everything in and around DC. For those who commute by car, it has quick access to 395, Route 1, the GW Parkway or Route 50. Metro commuters have access to both Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations which are serviced by the Blue and Yellow lines. The Blue and Yellow lines easily transport you in to DC, Alexandria, and Rosslyn in just minutes. For those who travel a lot for business or pleasure, Reagan National airport is just one or two stops or even a cheap cab ride away. It is also a bike commuter paradise with easy access to 4 Mile Run and the Mount Vernon Trail.

Convenience – Pentagon City/Crystal City is sure to have anything you need just outside your door. With Costco, Harris Teeter and Target all nearby, residents of this area don’t have to spend much travel time to pick up the necessities. Of course, you can certainly pick up more than paper towels and dish soap around here. You also have Pentagon Row and Pentagon City Mall for great shopping and restaurants. Speaking of convenience, Crystal City has an elaborate underground walkway with shops and restaurants which can get you from 12th to 23rd street, including the Metro station, without ever going outside. That can come in handy on a cold or rainy day.

Fun – As mentioned above, this area has easy access to some of the best running and biking paths in the Metro area. Another great feature of Pentagon City, is the ice skating rink. The skating rink at Pentagon Row is open from November to March every year — even in warm weather. Once you are done skating, you simply walk a few steps for coffee, ice cream or lunch at any of the places in Pentagon Row. Summertime fun includes outdoor movies in Crystal City and outdoor fitness classes galore.

Views – There is an endless list of things to enjoy just outside your apartment. But what about from the comforts of home? Apartments here boast some of the best views DC has to offer. With views of downtown Washington, the Pentagon and the Potomac River, it is a tough location to beat. If you’re looking for a great place to view the fireworks on the 4th of July, you likely won’t have to go further than your balcony or the apartment building’s roof top deck.

Each Arlington neighborhood has its own character and charm. The Pentagon City/Crystal City area is really tough to beat for all the reasons above and more. When checking out areas for relocation, this is one that should be at the top of your list.

Rental Report: Studio or One-Bedroom Apartment?

by ARLnow.com | February 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,241 views | No Comments

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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.

It’s no secret that rents in the D.C. Metro area are steep. There are several things renters can do to help keep costs down: live further out of the city, give up some amenities or features, or get a roommate — just to name a few.

But what if none of those options is appealing? Maybe downsizing is the answer. Of course, there are a few things to consider before making a decision.

Size – Sure, this seems obvious, but remember, you aren’t just giving up a room. Sometimes, you are giving up on more than just a bedroom when you choose a studio apartment. Kitchens may be smaller or there may not be a lot of closet space, forcing you to get creative with your space. Generally speaking, a studio apartment is going to be around 400-500 square feet, but in the Arlington area, renters can find studio apartments closer to 600 square feet in some buildings.

Lifestyle – Do you spend a lot of time at home? Do you like to entertain? Will you be living with another person? These could be checks in the one bedroom column. That extra room gives you privacy and separation when you need it. On the other hand, if you work or travel quite a bit, a studio may be all you need. And let’s face it, some people just like a cozy, small space. Keep in mind, too, that some buildings offer common entertainment rooms so you can still throw your annual St. Patrick’s Day soirée.

Cost – Rent is generally a good bit less for a studio, but don’t forget about the impact on utilities, too. If you have to pay your utilities, a smaller space is going to cost less. How much are you really saving? A 510-square-foot studio apartment in this well located, Virginia Square building runs around $1,750 per month. A 700-square-foot one bedroom is around $,1950. Both units have a flat rate utility charge of $75. When you dig a little deeper and look at the cost per square foot, the one bedroom turns out to be a much better value at $2.89 per square foot versus $3.57 per square foot.

Studio apartments often can save you a few hundred dollars per month, but the cost savings don’t always outweigh the drawbacks. It is a matter of perspective and what satisfies your needs.  Be sure to look at the whole picture when considering your next place.

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

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

Rental Report: Tips for a Happy Landlord-Tenant Relationship

by ARLnow.com | January 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm | 904 views | No Comments

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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.

Whether you are a seasoned landlord or a first timer, think about these simple tips to help keep the peace with your tenants.

Before Move-In:

1) Show well – Be sure your place is clean, in good repair, and the paint is fresh. Renters are quickly turned off by dirty apartments that look worn down. If you are showing while you have a current tenant who is less than tidy, be sure to explain that before showing, and note the items you will fix before turning it over. This helps potential renters feel more comfortable, and they can possibly see past the pile of dirty clothes or dishes stacked up in the kitchen. If the place doesn’t show well, ask for and accept constructive criticism. Maybe there are a few minor fixes you can do to help rent your unit quickly.

2) Screening – Take time to screen your renters. Be sure they fill out an application, provide proof of income, landlord references (or good mortgage history) and good credit. But just because they don’t have excellent credit, or perhaps no credit, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good renters. Check their previous tenant history. Ask for a co-signer. Just be sure you’ve done your due diligence and you are ultimately comfortable with your tenants.

3) Know the Rules – Be sure you are familiar with landlord-tenant law. Also be sure you understand Fair Housing. If you are unsure about either of these consult a local real estate agent or an attorney.

4) Rentals are a Business – First and foremost, keep emotions out of it. Even if this is or was your home, once you decide to rent it to someone else, it is an investment. Next, be sure you have the appropriate licenses. Make sure you have an accurate record keeping system in place. Get a simple bookkeeping system, set up a separate bank account, and be sure to maintain files with any tenant communication. Lastly, have a list of trusted vendors on hand in case of any maintenance issues. You don’t want to be scrambling to look for an HVAC contractor when the heat goes out in the middle of winter.

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Rental Report: Should I Keep My Car?

by Rick Gersten | January 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 1,006 views | No Comments

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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 lot of places, cars are a must. Sidewalks, public transportation and walkable neighborhoods just don’t exist everywhere. One of the greatest assets of the Metro D.C. area is the public transportation network and endless neighborhoods with everything you need right outside your front door. If you are relocating to the area keep in mind that having a car can be expensive. But if you work or go to school where public transportation is readily available, then perhaps getting rid of those wheels is a good plan. Here are a few items to consider when weighing the pros and cons of keeping your car.

Rent – Living within a half mile walk to the Metro can cost about 30 percent more than living just a little further away. With rent prices pushing $2000, that can certainly be enough to make you want to move a few miles out and hang on to your trusty vehicle. But there is so much more to it.

Parking – Parking in this area is difficult to say the least, not to mention pricey. It isn’t just parking at home you need to think about but parking at work. Depending on where you work, that could carry a hefty price, especially if you work somewhere in the District where Metro and buses are easily accessed. Parking at an apartment or condo can range anywhere from $50-300 or more. Same goes for monthly parking at garages in the heavy traffic locations. Some of the outer Metro stops have parking available for less, so that is an option if you choose to live further out. Prices for monthly Metro parking passes range from $45-65 per month.

Registration – If move to Arlington County, you will not only need to register your car with the state of Virginia, but also the county. You will have to pay personal property tax on the vehicle annually, and you will need your Arlington County permit. Personal property tax is based on the value of the car, and the Arlington County decal costs $33.00.

Time – This is one a lot of people may not really think about. But what is your time worth? Depending on where you live and work your commute time can be up to an hour or more with traffic. If you are able to hop on the Metro and be home in 20-30 minutes perhaps a Metro accessible/walker friendly apartment might afford you a better quality of life.

Exercise – Ditching the car will force you to either walk or bike around. Getting a little exercise on the way to work is a win-win. Not to mention the benefit of walking off some of those calories you ate while enjoying one of the hundreds of restaurants Arlington has to offer. And on a beautiful, spring weekend it is easy to head in to DC for sightseeing using Capital Bikeshare.

Worried about not having a car for emergencies? This area has that covered. You can always rent a car. Only need a car to head to Costco for two hours? Check out a car sharing service. With Zipcar or Enterprise CarShare you can rent a car for an hour or two just to get what you need.

Out on the town and catching a cab has you stressed? No worries there either. You can use an on demand car service such as Uber or Lyft, and with phone apps, catching one of these cars is right at your fingertips.

Having a car gives some of us a sense of security. For others, it can be a relief to ditch the wheels. If you are somewhere in between, and you are going to work or school where Metro or buses are an option, it is worth considering a little higher rent and losing the car. Don’t forget to think about parking costs, registration, and quality of life when making your pro/con list. While neither option is perfect, your family situation (think kids with hockey gear) and priorities will dictate which option may be better for you.

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