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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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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 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.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — November 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm 735 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.

Budgeting for a new apartment might seem simple. Many renters know the 30 percent rule, which says that, in general, your rent should be no more than 30 percent of your gross income. So for example, if you make $60,000/year, you can afford $1,500/month for rent. This is a good rule of thumb to start with, but there are several more pieces to the rental budget puzzle than just base rent price.

Parking — It is safe to assume that an apartment in Arlington will charge extra for on-site parking. So if you plan to have a car, you will need to budget anywhere from $50-$150 or more for parking depending on the area.

Transportation — Of course, transportation costs are another big piece of the pie. Whether or not you are driving to work every day or using public transportation, you will need to consider the cost from your new home to work or school. If you are using Metro as your primary transportation, you can determine your daily fare by going to their Stations Page and selecting your starting station, then scroll to your final destination. It will give you Peak and Off Peak fares as well as general transport time. If you are driving to work, don’t forget to factor in fuel, tolls and parking at the office, if necessary.

Utilities — Most likely, your new apartment will not include utilities. Depending on the unit, you will need to pay all or a portion of electric, gas, water, and trash. Some units will charge a flat fee, while others will be individually metered. Ask when looking at an apartment what the general utility cost is for your size unit. Most likely, you can expect to pay around $100-$200 per months for general utilities. And if you are like most people these days, you will need cable and Internet for another $100-$150 per month.

Laundry — Does your apartment have a washer and dryer? If not, don’t forget those quarters (or these days many building have prepaid cards for laundry). At around $3 per load, the laundry expense can add up quickly. Many newer apartments do have in-unit washer and dryers, so depending on the other features and amenities included in the price, a newer place may be worth the extra cash.

Pets — If you are bringing Patches or Fido along, it could cost you anywhere from $25-50 per month or more. Some places charge a flat fee or deposit up front, in lieu of pet rent, but others charge it in addition to pet rent.

Gym — Now, here’s where you might actually get a little savings. If you have a gym in your building, you can probably skip the gym membership. Depending on your preferences, most apartment gyms have a few pieces of cardio equipment like a treadmill, elliptical and bike. They also have free weights and other strength equipment. Some buildings may even offer some on-site Yoga classes for residents. Gym memberships can run from $10-$100/month so that on-site gym could keep a little extra cash in your pocket every month.

Using our $1,500 rent per month example, here is a sample budget:

Parking: $50

Transportation: $100

Utilities and Cable: $250

Laundry: $27

Pet: $25

Total: $452

That brings your total housing budget up to about 39 percent of gross income using the $60,000 example.

Keep in mind, a $1,500 budget for Arlington can be low. While there are definitely deals out for a lower budget, you will likely pay more for something else like transportation. If a $1,500 budget is out of your range, you may need to consider a roommate to take advantage of a great location while keeping costs down.

For more help on budgeting, take a look at Mint.com. It is a free tool to help you set and track your budget. For help with the Arlington rental market, contact a local expert to discuss current pricing, availability, and other expert tips on renting.

Rental Report: Closet Shock

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — November 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm 883 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.

As you sit in your new living room surrounded by dozens of boxes, the shock sets in and you think to yourself, “Where am I going to put all my stuff?” The thought crossed your mind during your apartment search, but finding that great place, close to the Metro and your favorite restaurant, all within your budget was really all you dreamed of, so you can handle a tiny closet.

The key to putting a lot of stuff in a small space is organization and creativity. Here are our top tips for getting organized in your new space.

Sort — What items do you use every day, week or month? What items are occasional? What are “keepers” no matter how often you use them? Are there any more items that you can live without? Prepare your occasional and keeper items to go into a secondary closet, hide-a-way storage, or a storage unit, and then get them out of the way.

Baskets, Baskets, Baskets — Find them in all shapes, sizes and materials. If you are on a tight budget, get crafty. Make baskets from boxes and fabric, or cover a cheap, plastic basket with rope of twine for a varied look. Check out the clearance baskets whenever you head to Target — they always come in handy. Place baskets around the house on shelves, next to furniture, under furniture, and anywhere you can find a place to stash your every day items. Baskets also help in the kitchen to organize a pantry, and for your items under the sink.

Bins and Space Bags – Space bags are your new best friend. Those occasional items, including your warm winter blankets, can get tucked away in a space bag, placed in a storage bin, and stuck under the bed until you need them. Space bags squish everything down to a much smaller size, allowing you to pack much more in that storage bin than usual.

Other Organizers — Treat your self to a housewarming gift at the Container Store or Ikea. They have so many choices in custom closet organizers to maximize your space. Be sure to take measurements of your space and make a list of exactly what you need (shoe storage, accessory storage, etc.) to make these trips more seamless.

Maximize Furniture — Get creative with what you already have, and don’t be afraid to step outside the norm. If you have to store towels in your nightstand, go for it. Cover a small table with a tablecloth, and store your cookbooks or your serving pieces underneath.

Take advantage of the storage spaces in your building. Sometimes they are included with your rent, but generally the charge is about $25-50 per month for a space in the building, which can be less expensive than a storage unit outside the building.

Spend an hour on Pinterest getting ideas of inexpensive, DIY storage ideas. But most of all, do your best to downsize and donate as much as you can. Moving to a smaller space is a great excuse to get rid of things you rarely use. Call Good Donor to come pick up your extra items.

Remember the rule — if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it! Then sit back, and enjoy your organized 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 — October 30, 2014 at 3:30 pm 752 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 weather is cooling off, and it won’t be long before winter brings wind, snow and cold temperatures to our area. Now is the time to get your rental ready so your place is a warm, cozy retreat after a long day. We have a few tips to help you keep the chilly winter air out of your place, and stay warm this winter.

Curtains – One of the easiest, most inexpensive fixes for drafty windows is to buy curtains. Keep your curtains open during the day to let in the light and help heat the rooms in your home. At night, shut the drapes to keep out the bitter cold air. As an extra bonus, curtains can add some style to your place. Just be sure to fill in the holes from the curtain rods before you move out to keep from being charged for damage.

Foam Sealant — Another simple fix for a nasty draft is to use some foam sealant around the windows. A quick trip to the home improvement store can save up to 20 percent on your energy costs this winter. The foam sealant is not the most attractive solution, but it gets the job done. If you choose to use a clear caulk instead, be sure it is removable, so you can easily open the windows in the spring.

Weather Stripping — Sealing the area around any outside doors is one of the efficient ways to insulate, as doors tend to let in the most outside air. Install a door sweep at the bottom and weather stripping around the doors to seal out cold air. You can also use temporary weather stripping around your windows for another window sealant option.

Window Film — Although a pricier solution, window film not only retains up to 55 percent of your home’s heat in the winter, but it also helps reflect the light in the summer to keep your place cool.

Space Heaters – For small spaces, space heaters can help you save on energy costs while heating up a room to a nice, toasty temperature. Space heaters allow you to keep your thermostat down at 68, while using a little extra energy to heat up a small room while you are home. If you have pets or kids, be sure to buy heaters that are cool to the touch, and have an automatic shutoff if the heater is tipped over. Don’t forget to unplug it when you leave your home!

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a colder than usual winter for the Metro D.C. area. Use these tips to stay warm, and help you save a few dollars on your heating costs this winter.

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 — October 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm 402 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.

At some point during your rental search, you’ll likely hear a reference to Fair Housing. But what do Fair Housing regulations really mean?

The Rule — The Federal Fair Housing Law prohibits “housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (families with children under age 18).” In addition to the Federal law, the state of Virginia also includes those over the age of 55 as a protected class.

The Meaning – As long as you meet the income, credit, employment and background requirements for a particular property, the landlord cannot turn you down for an apartment rental. In addition to renting a property, a property manager, landlord or real estate agent cannot refuse to show you a property you qualify for or are interested in based on any assumptions they have regarding a protected class.

For Renters — As a renter, especially when you are new to the area, you likely have a lot of questions about neighborhoods and building demographics. Understand that the real estate or leasing agent, by law, cannot answer specific questions regarding area demographics or safety. They can recommend sources for you to do your own research, but always take Internet commentary with a grain of salt. Everyone has different opinions. You might find it helpful to observe people in the neighborhood and building during different times of the day. This can give you a good idea of the breakdown, and help you determine if a particular place meets your needs.

For Landlords – First and foremost, be sure your qualifications are clear to renters. Put the qualifications in your advertising, and email them to prospective renters. If you turn down an offer from a renter, you want to be crystal clear the reason is based on one of your qualifications not being met. For example: they do not meet your financial standards, or they haven’t been employed long enough. Whatever the reason, be sure you let them know up front your exact expectations. Keeping in mind, many people moving to the area are first-time renters, with their first jobs out of school, so be clear on whether or not you will accept co-signers to help bridge the gap for those with minimal rental and credit histories. Landlords, if you are listing your place without the help of an agent, be aware of Fair Housing when advertising your property. Comments such as, “great for roommates” or “will only consider singles” in your ads is unacceptable.

Overall, Fair Housing is meant to protect renters and buyers from discrimination. It can be frustrating when you aren’t familiar with an area, because you can’t get a straight answer. Just know that those working to help you aren’t trying to be difficult, they are normally trying to follow the rules to treat everyone equally.

Virginia Fair Housing Office

Phone: 804-367-8530 or 888-551-3247

Email: [email protected]

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — October 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm 465 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 navigated the Arlington rental market to find the perfect place. We have some great apps to make the move and the transition a little easier.

Moving — Looking for something to help you stay organized during your move? Apps like In That Box (for iPhone) and BoxMeUp (for Android) will help you organize all of your stuff. Using QR codes, photos, lists and search, these apps help you find your stuff once you get to your new place. Need a storage unit too? Use these apps to keep your stored items organized as well. No digging through all the boxes to find your holiday party plates.

Neighborhood — Now that you are settled in, it is time to meet the neighbors. Check out Nextdoor, (Android and iPhone), a social network for specific neighborhoods. Nextdoor is still growing in this area, so you could be a trailblazer and start a network in your area. Use Nextdoor for organizing social events, meeting like-minded people, and even to sell your stuff.

Groceries — Obviously one of the more important things to figure out in a new area is where to shop and where to eat. For groceries, check out apps like PeaPod (Android and iPhone) and Instacart (Android and iPhone.) Peapod is a grocery delivery option from Giant. Instacart is a personal shopper service where you can get your items delivered in as little as an hour. The service is available for stores such as Whole Foods, Costco and Harris Teeter in the Arlington area.

Laundry — For many, laundry and dry cleaning is a hassle. Worry no more. Check out Washio (Android and iPhone) for all of your laundry needs. Washio is a door-to-door laundry and dry cleaning service. You schedule your service, someone comes and picks it up and they deliver your items back to you the next day. Prices start at $1.60/lb for laundry and $6.00 for dry cleaning dress shirts. Hate ironing? Laundered and pressed shirts are $2.75.

Transportation – With all these great things delivered to your door, it seems like you might never need to leave the apartment. Maybe now you’ll have some free time you need to head out and enjoy all the city has to offer. Below is a list of apps and sites to help you hit the town.

  • Car Free Near Me — This app/site helps you find just about any of the transportation options in your area. Enter your location and Car Free Near Me tells you the nearest Metro or Metro and ART Bus Stop along with upcoming schedules. It will also tell you where to find the nearest ZipCar or Capital Bike Share.
  • ZipCar and Car2Go — Need a car for a few hours for a quick trip out of the area, or to stock up on essentials at Target and Costco? These car share options are a great way to go.

Lastly, do you need an easy way to pay rent? Cozy is a great option, especially when you have roommates. Use Cozy to collect payments and send one payment from all to the landlord. Best part about Cozy, it’s free!

One of the greatest things about living in the Arlington area is having so much to do right outside your door. Technology helps create more free time to enjoy. So head out and enjoy!

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

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