Moving Day: The Search for the Perfect Apartment in the DMV

08/27/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2014-08-14-DCstreets.jpgThere are thousands of rental apartments coming to market in DC over the next year, which makes it an especially exciting time to be hunting for new digs. In 2014 alone, developers will deliver 18,000 units to the region -- second only in number to Dallas. But, with so many choices, it's easy to get overwhelmed. If, like me, you're an employed, childless, "millennial" (whatever that means these days), here are a few things to consider when you're planning your move.

Location

As the saying goes... "location, location, location!" Where are you working? How do you plan to get there? How do you spend your free time? Where do your friends live? You should be asking yourself all these questions before deciding on an area you want to live in. Around here, with Metro connecting so many of the suburbs directly to downtown, you also have to consider apartments beyond the DC limits. Don't dismiss Bethesda, Clarendon, or even Rockville when you're searching. The rents will be lower and you may find yourself just a short train ride away from the office. Which brings me to another point: Accessibility to work.

Those in the Washington metro region already has the second longest commutes in the nation, so why make the situation worse by living far from your office? You might have your heart set on living in DC, but if you work in Alexandria, for instance, the commute might not be worth the effort.

You'd be better off renting in Crystal City or Rosslyn and hopping on the metro in the morning. You might even find yourself within walking distance of your job (which leads to a plethora of health benefits). A few years ago, people might have sneered at the thought of living in Northern Virginia or Maryland. Now however, there are apartment buildings --with luxurious amenities like rooftop pools and game rooms-- open to renters in neighborhoods that used to be office-only.

The longer your commute is, the more miserable you're going to be. One recent study showed that long commutes cause heart problems, and can lead to early death. Another report detailed the correlation between long commutes and a 40 percent increase in the divorce rate. Do what you can to minimize your travel time to and from work--you'll be glad you did.

Price

How much can you pay for a roof over your head? The closer into the city proper, the more expensive it's going to be for you. Rent on a one bedroom apartment in Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom will likely be around $2200 or so. You'll have some decent amenities (washer/dryer in unit, dishwasher, roof deck) but if you want to pay less, consider other zip codes or living with roommates. Group houses are competitive and you'll need to find a crew you get along with. If you're willing to put in the effort and hunt around, you can usually find an awesome room share in a neighborhood like Mount Pleasant, Shaw, or Bloomingdale for under $1000 per month.

The Scene

In DC, it seems like there's always something to do. From perusing the paintings and relics at 17 free Smithsonian museums, to touring the Capitol Building or the White House, art and history buffs are totally at home in the District. Recently, however, Washington has had more on offer for those interested in fine dining and drinking. According to the Washington Post, from 2001 to 2011, 709 new restaurants (a 50 percent increase) opened up all across the region. So regardless of where you live, chances are, you'll find a place to eat or drink in your neighborhood.

Now that decent culinary options are available in most DC neighborhoods, when apartment hunting, it's important to just think about where you belong.

Are you a stroller-pushing yoga mom? Eastern Market or Clarendon might be a good fit. Love baseball and hanging on the rooftop all year round? Navy Yard has some great buildings near the ballpark with gorgeous gyms and lounges. Even more are on the way. Have cash to burn and enjoy the foodie scene? Logan Circle might be for you. Of course, these are all glaring stereotypes about each neighborhood. You'll find a mix of people throughout, but there's definitely a distinct culture in each pocket of the city. Don't forget about NoMa, H Street, or Glover Park. They may seem like they're on the periphery, but there are some great options--from row houses to glistening new apartment buildings--depending on what you're looking for.

To find the perfect apartment, I'd suggest you start on Zillow and then Craigslist. Other options include Reddit (r/DCforRent) Urban Igloo, or Padmapper. Finally, you can go directly to the management company websites to see availability. Most firms offer intuitive and user-friendly online tools these days that make it easy to find vacancies, square footage, and pricing.