Rental Report: FAQs From Renters

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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

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