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Rental Report: Tips for Apartment Hunting With a Roommate

by ARLnow.com | April 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 467 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.

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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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Rental Report: Holiday Entertaining, Apartment Style

by Rick Gersten | December 24, 2013 at 10:30 am | 307 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 have a great new apartment, and now it is time to deck those halls. Here are some tips to pull off a great holiday party in your new digs.

Location – Sure you want to show off your apartment, but what if the guest list is longer than a 6 year old’s letter to Santa? You might be in luck. Remember that party room they walked you through on the building tour? It could be the perfect location. Most party rooms can be reserved for free for residents. You might have to put down a small cleaning deposit, which you will get back as long as you return the room in the same condition. If your building doesn’t have a party room, then you may have to consider trimming that guest list.

Invite the neighbors – Still planning to have everyone in your apartment? Think about including your neighbors. If you don’t know them, it is a perfect time to introduce yourself. It is a nice way to let them know there may be some noise and extra traffic that evening, and even if they don’t show up, they will appreciate the gesture. If you don’t want to add anyone to the guest list, maybe you can take over a nice tin of cookies (skip the fruitcake), and let them know your plans. They will likely excuse the extra noise for the evening. Just keep it to a respectful time.

Notify the front desk – If your building has controlled access with a concierge be sure to let them know even if your guests can call you to let them in. It is their job to observe people coming in and out of the building, and it is nice to give them a heads up so they can help direct people where to go. If your guests can’t call up, then coordinate with the desk as to whether they need a guest list, or guests should show their invite to the desk as they arrive. Be sure to let your guests know what they will need to do, and maybe drop off some of those yummy holiday treats to the front desk as a thank you for helping out.

Drop-in Party – Another way to have a larger guest list, but save the guests from a shoulder-to-shoulder soiree, is have a “Drop-In” party.  Say something like, “Drop in anytime from 7-10 p.m. for a holiday treat and a glass of egg nog.” This can help keep the party moving, and guests don’t feel obligated to stay for a long time.

Living in close quarters doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the holiday festivities. Just be sure to share the cheer with the neighbors and folks working in the building. Now that you have the logistics figured out, you can head on over to Pinterest to figure out how to make some delicious goodies for the party.

~Happy Holidays!
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Rental Report: Where Do I Start My Apartment Search?

by ARLnow.com | December 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm | 763 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.

One statement we hear more often than most is, “I don’t know where to start.”

Moving to a new town is overwhelming, and moving to D.C., where apartment hunting is like a competitive sport, can be downright exhausting. With so many choices, an apartment search can quickly take on a life of its own where the next apartment looks just like the last.

Before you hop in the car, or spend countless hours researching on the Internet, take a minute to sit and really think about what is important to you in your next home. By outlining your priorities, you can establish a strategy to narrow down your search and minimize wasted efforts.

When helping renters find a home, we generally like start by breaking an apartment search into three categories: price, quality and location. You can usually expect to get two of the three, and renters need to decide which two factors are the most important to them.

Location – Location is a great place to start because it is often the most important to the renter before they discuss price. Each person has different interests and tastes, and identifying these helps us to guide people to the right area. A friend might say, “Rosslyn is great because you will be really close to D.C..” Rosslyn is great, but if the renter is someone who prefers a quieter area, then Rosslyn might not be the best choice. Why not try South Arlington, where you can still hop on the Metro (in Pentagon City) and be in D.C. in just a few stops?

Price – This isn’t always secondary, but often, people are willing to go up a little in price in order to get a better location, especially if they factor in proximity to Metro/Bus or major highways, walkability, and the quality of life. But with the average price of a 1 bedroom apartment in Arlington hitting about $1700, some renters are going to have to compromise on something, as that is not a reasonable budget for many people.

Quality – When we talk about quality, we don’t necessarily mean being doomed to a dark, windowless basement. Quality includes size, amenities, and, of course, finishes. Giving up new appliances and a pool might afford the renter a bigger apartment in a better location within their budget.

As stated above, we prefer that our renters narrow down a few neighborhood choices because most neighborhoods are going to have a variety of options of varying quality at varying price points. But try to be open to suggestions as well. There may be a few similar areas that you have not thought about that have more options that come closer to your ideal apartment. Enlisting help of an agent may help you hit the apartment trifecta: Price, Quality AND Location.

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Rental Report: Should That Be in My Lease?

by ARLnow.com | November 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm | 1,034 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’ve found a great place, your application is accepted, and now it is time to sign the lease. When the landlord sends it to you, you don’t know your hereins from you forthwiths.  But when signing a lease it is important to read the fine print, and you should be especially leery of any leases that are not clear, and relatively straightforward.

These items should be in every lease:

  • Tenant(s) name(s), landlord(s) name(s), landlord contact information, and property management information, if any.
  • Details on how, where and when to send rent. Also included here is information on late charges and returned check fees.
  • Lease term, rent amount, security deposit amount, and any other fees such as pet fees, parking fees, move-in fees, etc. In Virginia, a security deposit can be no more than two months of rent.
  • Emergency contact information – who to contact if there is an emergency situation with the property, and what, if any, remedies the tenants have should they not be able to contact the landlord.
  • Maintenance responsibilities – what are the tenants obligated to maintain, and what must the landlord maintain.  Generally, tenants are responsible to keep the property clean and free of debris, pests and mold. If there is outdoor space, tenants are likely responsible for trimming trees, shrubs, and lawns as well as removing snow and ice, unless otherwise specified. Tenants are also responsible for light bulbs and air filters. Landlords are responsible for keeping all items on the property in working condition, unless specified as “as-is.” And landlords must repair or replace anything that is not specified so long as the damage is not incurred due to tenant negligence.
  • Insurance – In Virginia, tenants are required to maintain renter’s insurance that provides liability coverage and the tenant’s personal property.
  • Landlord Access – the lease should specify under what circumstances the landlord can enter the property with and without notice.
  • Lead paint disclosure – If the property was built before 1978, the landlord must provide a Lead Paint disclosure. Landlords are required to provide any reports or paperwork they have on Lead Paint hazards, and/or disclosure if they have no information.
  • Pets – If the landlord allows pets, be sure it is specified in the lease. The pet addendum or clause should include the type of pet allowed, number of pets and any fees or pet rent required. If the tenant does not have a pet upon move-in but later adds a pet to the household, be sure to have a document prepared with the above specifications so there is no confusion later.
  • Occupants – the number of allowed occupants should also be listed on the lease. Any occupant over the age of 18 should be listed as a responsible tenant.

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Rental Report: Why Hire a Real Estate Agent to Lease Your Property?

by ARLnow.com | November 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm | 789 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.

While there are certain advantages of having an investment property, being a landlord can certainly be difficult at times. When you have a great tenant and you are attentive and responsive to maintenance needs, owning a property can seem like a piece of cake.

But what about when it comes time to put your property back on the market to find a new tenant? There are quite a few steps to renting a property: marketing, showing, tenant screening, and preparing lease documents. Some landlords may enjoy the process, but others just want their place rented quickly so they don’t lose money. So, how do you get your property rented quickly with the least amount of hassle? Hire a real estate agent. Here’s a list of reasons why hiring an agent is well worth the money:

Time – What is your time worth? When you are working to rent your space on your own you invest a lot of your time. Time off work to show your property. Time during work to answer emails and phone calls from potential renters. Time after work to market your property. How many of those renters that you take the time to show your property are just browsing? How many didn’t read your ad and they called to ask questions you already answered? If you add up the hours spent dealing with these issues and put a value on it, it may likely come out to more than the fee paid to an agent.

Resources – How do you market your property? Word of mouth and Craigslist? An agent has several outlets for marketing beyond Craigslist. They can also add your property to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to open it up to agents from other brokerages, which will likely result in a faster turnaround. Not to mention, the agent may already know a renter who is looking for a space just like yours.

An agent will also be able to screen potential renters, run credit checks and prepare lease documents in a more efficient manner because they do it every day. They manage the questions, negotiations and issues that may arise during the process. In addition to that, they likely have a more rigorous screening process which will help ensure qualified tenants.

Lastly, the agents are going to be up to date on the current laws and regulations with regards to landlord-tenant issues in your area, so they can help you navigate that process to be sure you are compliant. Again, saving you money and headaches down the road.

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Rental Report: Is it Better to Have a Roommate?

by ARLnow.com | October 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm | 1,618 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.

Young professionals moving to the area are often looking to get their first apartment sans roommate. However, they find the prices in the Arlington and Metro D.C. area in general a bit out of reach for their expectations. Perhaps one of the best ways to get more bang for the buck is to find a roommate. Doesn’t sound appealing? Let’s compare a $1300 budget with and without a roommate.

Without a roommate, in Arlington, we have one property that can deliver a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom apartment at $1300 per month. This South Arlington property features amenities such as parking, a pool, a fitness center, and even an on-site convenience store. The apartments are large, with plenty of closet space. So what’s the catch? It is not within walking distance of a Metro, or other conveniences. However, there is a bus stop just outside the property, and plenty of new conveniences such as a Giant grocery store, restaurants and coffee shop, just a half mile down the street.

With a roommate in Arlington, the budget jumps up to $2600 per month for a 2 bedroom/2 bath unit. There are quite a few more options in this category, and you are likely to get a few more items on your desired features checklist.

This Ballston/Virginia Square property boasts in-unit washer and dryer, ample closet space, and balconies. It also features a fitness center, business center and community room. Parking is available for an additional fee, but it isn’t needed since this building is just 2 blocks from the Metro. This 2 bedroom runs about $2500 per month.

Looking to save even more? Go out a little further to South Arlington again, and this property features 2 bedroom/2 bath units for about $2050 per month. These pet-friendly units include one parking space, additional street parking and in-unit washers and dryers. The property includes a huge fitness center, pool, business center, and a weekday shuttle to Metro. It also has easy access to Pentagon City, I-395, and tons of recreation, restaurants and shopping.

Need more convincing? You are not just splitting rent but utilities, cable and internet, too, saving an extra $100+ per month. With a roommate, you are more likely to get a walkable apartment eliminating the need for a car all together. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to have someone to help with the grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking duties. Just make sure you pick your roommate carefully. Leases generally require both roommates to be jointly and severally liable, meaning you are left with the whole bag if your roommate skips out.

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Rental Report: How to Rent Your Property

by ARLnow.com | October 15, 2013 at 11:45 am | 962 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.

Looking to rent your property? After going through the process of marketing and showing your property, it is important not to drop the ball once you get to the application and lease process. Even if you’ve done it on your own before, you need to make sure you are doing everything by the book to save headaches later.

Arlington County offers a Landlord Seminar, and the County also has several helpful documents on their website with regard to renting units within Arlington County and Virginia. It is important to note there are different rules for landlords owning 5 or more units within the state, so be sure to read which rules apply to your situation.

So, what is the process once you have someone interested in renting your unit?

  1. Application – There are resources for rental applications all over the internet, and of course you are welcome to develop your own. At a minimum, the application should include the applicant information such as name, current address, birth date, and SSN. It should include current landlord contact information, as well as employment information. Other helpful items include the property address, rent amount, lease term, other applicants/occupants, and pet conditions. The application should also include a signature section that authorizes you to run credit and background checks as well as permission to contact the current employer and landlord. If you ask the applicant for proof of employment, such as paystubs or an offer letter, it can save you a step. Each adult over the age of 18 should fill out an application.
  2. Credit Check/Background Check – At a minimum, you should run a credit check. There are several services out there that offer a tenant screening service. The cost of these services is covered by the application fee so be sure to research the cost of these services in advance. While there is no rule on how much to charge for an application fee, you don’t want it to cost much more than the screening fees. A fee too high will turn off potential renters. It is important to review the rules on application fees as well, because if you deny the renters or they choose not to rent your unit, you owe them back part of that fee. Be sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
  3. Lease – Once you approve the applicants, you must draw up a lease. Again, there are several options out there where you can buy a standard lease document. It is important that you use a document that complies with the rules of the state and locality where your property is located. It needs to include information regarding the rent term, rent price, security deposit, landlord contact information, emergency contact information, how and where the tenants should pay rent, and notice to vacate requirements. Also, include any additional fees the tenants are required to cover such as utilities, parking, pet fees and move-in fees. In the state of Virginia, if the landlord resides out of state, the landlord is also required to have a Registered Agent within the state. A registered agent is not a real estate agent, but just someone who resides within the state that can accept mail on your behalf in the event you cannot be reached. Registered agents can be hired for a nominal fee.

During the lease signing process, the landlord should collect the first month’s rent and a security deposit as a good faith offer to secure the contract. A security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent, and in the state of Virginia, it cannot be more than two months. A security deposit must be returned at the end of the lease term within 45 days, less any damages.

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Rental Report: Furry Friends and Apartment Life

by ARLnow.com | October 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm | 629 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 contact Urban Igloo seeking an apartment, many request features such as parking, updated finishes, an in-unit washer/dryer and more.  But there is one request that we hear a lot that can often be a deal breaker, “Do you have any pet-friendly apartments?”

The answer is yes. But what do renters need to know before renting an apartment or condo that accepts pets?

Fees – There can be any combination of fees and deposits for animals at pet-friendly properties. Often, there is a non-refundable fee upfront along with pet rent. The fees often vary by type of pet (cat or dog) and they are generally between $200-500 per pet. Pet rent also varies by type of pet, and it normally runs between $25-50 per month.

Restrictions – Many buildings have size restrictions and/or breed restrictions for dogs. Most commonly, the weight restriction is between 50-75 pounds; however, there are quite a few places that only allow small dogs (less than 25 pounds). Breed restrictions are also common. The most common breeds not allowed in apartments in the area are pit bulls, rottweilers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, huskies, bulldogs and mastiffs.

Building Rules – Some buildings will let your pet have the run of the house, but others have strict policies about where your pet can and can’t be on the property. Some buildings only allow pets in certain elevators, and some don’t allow them in certain outdoor areas. On the flip side, many have a doggie pool party at the end of the season and they let all the dogs come out to play.

Pet Areas – When searching for a pet-friendly apartment, don’t just look at the property. Be sure to check out the surrounding areas for places to take your dog out to stretch his or her legs. Arlington has several dog friendly parks where your pup can let off some steam and socialize with other dogs. Also, some restaurants in Arlington will allow you to bring your dog if you sit out on the patio.

Lastly, don’t forget to register your dog with the county. All dogs over the age of six months, excluding service dogs, must be registered with Arlington County. The cost is $10 per year or $25 for three years.

Note: Many apartments are not going to have issues with pets such as birds or lizards, but be sure to check before signing a lease.

Are you looking for some pet-friendly apartments?  We have several Arlington apartments that will gladly welcome your pet.

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

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