May 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm EDT | by Lisa Wise
Doing your homework to find the perfect rental

Spring is hot for the D.C. real estate market and that’s true for buyers, renters and tenants.  Who wants to move in the dead of winter? If you’re on the prowl for a perfect rental to call home, we have some excellent strategies for the modern dweller. Pets, price, parking, neighborhood and style preferences dictate just how prepared and aggressive you should plan to be.

The reality check. Consider the three common variables for any search — space, location and price. If you are like most people on a budget, plan to be flexible on your must-have list. It’s good to know ahead of time the difference between wants and needs.

Before you start your search in earnest, make a list of amenities and features that you really want. From there, the ideal neighborhoods should reveal themselves. If space is king and your pooch is your queen, neighborhoods like Brightwood, Columbia Heights and Petworth offer more elbowroom and often fenced spaces for four legged friends.

If “walkability” and nightlife excite you, think Logan, the U Street corridor, Penn Quarter, Dupont and Adams Morgan. For something in the middle (but with higher price tags) areas like Woodley Park and Georgetown are sweet. If you’re a hipster or simply entertained by them, head to H street N.E. for some of the best people watching and deals on rent in the city. If urban living is your fantasy but not in the budget, consider downtown Silver Spring which offers great proximity to D.C. with some excellent restaurants and amenities right at your doorstep.  D.C. has something for everyone, the trick is finding it.

The sophisticated search. Craigslist isn’t the only search tool in town, but we still love it and it’s a must for any rental search in the city. We use it for our relocation clients all the time.  A word to the wise — focus on listings with photos. We always find it fishy when someone can’t snap a picture.

Other online rental search tools are emerging too. Try Padmapper and Trulia. If you’re a true Washingtonian, network. Let friends and colleagues know just what you’re looking for and you might just slide into the perfect spot before it hits the open market. This can be a great way to get a good deal on rent. If you take over a friend or colleagues lease, most landlords would happily keep rent stable rather than go through the trouble of turning over a space and marketing.  Wherever your search takes you, be prepared to move quickly. The D.C. rental market moves fast and high quality properties go quickly, especially if they are well priced.

Get your ducks in a row. Every property manager loves an organized tenant. Get your paperwork together before you start the search. Check your credit and have your scores and report ready to go. Have paycheck stubs, bank statements, personal and landlord references ready as well. If you have a pet, put together a profile with pictures, background and even references. Landlords wavering on the idea of animals can be swayed with some good, if not charming information. If things get competitive an overly prepared potential tenant will win every time. If the space you have your heart set on has multiple applications, consider offering a little more to the monthly rent. Money talks. If you’re the only applicant, negotiate. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a little wiggle room in the price. We may be giving up a trade secret here, but lots of landlords are willing to flex on price for the perfect fit.

Settle in. Carefully review your lease and make sure to schedule a walkthrough with your new landlord before moving. Ask if you can take a video of the space to document the condition. Settle into your new space and be really nice to your landlord. They should take good care of you. Good luck.

Lisa Wise is the Chief Nester and Co Founder of Nest D.C., a boutique property management, relocation and design company in Washington that was recently voted No. 1 in Washington City Paper for property management. You can see their great listings at or call 202-540-8038.

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