Rental Report: Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

  1. What do I like/dislike about my current location? This question can really help focus your search and rule out some areas. This area has something to offer everyone, but discovering your perfect neighborhood can be tough. If you opt to work with an agent, knowing your preferences can help them make good recommendations. So answers like: I like to walk to the grocery store, or I don’t want to be on a busy street, or I want to be able to walk right outside my door to take my dog out will help to start the search on the right foot.
  2. What are my transportation needs? With several public transit options in the D.C. area, it is important to determine what your transportation needs are. If you know you have to drive to work because of the location of your office, then perhaps living within a half mile of the Metro isn’t necessary. Living a little further away can save you money on the apartment and parking, affording you to rent a little bigger and/or nicer place. If you do need public transportation, don’t forget about the bus system. In many cities, the bus system is not always a great choice for transport, but in the D.C. area, buses are a big part of the landscape. Maybe you prefer to bike to work. Be sure to look at your route, and maybe you want to live somewhere near the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run to enjoy the view on your ride every day.
  3. Is the neighborhood safe? This is a question we get a lot, and so do the leasing agents at apartment buildings. Because of Fair Housing Laws, agents and property employees are not allowed to give opinions on safety or to give you information on demographics of a building or area. So to answer this question you need to research on your own. You can look up crime rates and demographic data. With so much development happening, a neighborhood that was less than desirable in 2012 may be a great place to score a deal on a brand new apartment now, with great amenities and location to boot.
  4. What do I like to do? Do you like to run or bike? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to access a trail right out your door? If you love to play basketball after work, then having a community center nearby is important. Do you prefer takeout to cooking? Then having several food options close is a definite plus. Do you have a social dog? Living near a dog park keeps your furry family member happy.
  5. What else might be important? If you have kids, then schools, daycares and playgrounds are an absolute must to consider. What about grocery stores? Some folks are particular about where they shop, so living near your preferred grocery store might be important. What about taxes? Definitely something to consider when deciding between Virginia, D.C. and Maryland for income tax purposes. And don’t forget the property tax if you have a car.

As always, talking with folks familiar with the area can help tremendously. Lean on future colleagues and your HR department for some guidance. Read up on neighborhood reviews, but keep in mind that what works for some does not work for all, so don’t let online reviews scare you away. Enlisting the help of a qualified real estate agent is always a great way to go, since they are experts on the area as well as the local properties available.

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

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