Let’s talk about karma.
In our last few posts I’ve written about the mess James and I got ourselves into looking for an apartment.
Every time we walked away from a place we felt like those folks on House Hunters. We could almost hear the voice over saying, “Will they take the well-priced two-story dump in a great neighborhood? Or will it be the basement level one bedroom with bars on the windows? Or will it be the glittering, new construction LEED certified studio that they already know is too small and too expensive but are drawn to because it’s so damn pretty?”
Apartment searching in DC is no walk in the park. Let me tell you about what we settled on and why. Non-negotiables were quite a bit different for me this time around. While windows and natural light and no subterranean living remained priorities, location was up for grabs. James works south of DC so this kept our search to mid-city or below, which cut out a lot of great neighborhoods. Of course Wallie made our search complicated. He can’t help it that he’s 71.5 pounds so we were easy on him. Storage was important for our everyday belongings and our (ahem, James’) excessive collection of bikes.
Backtracking a bit, let me explain why we were putting ourselves through this apartment search. After all, you may have read that James has a house in a nice Virginia suburb close to DC. He also has a pretty substantial mortgage payment every month which I worried would prevent us from saving as much as I’d like. Saving for what? Saving for life, I suppose. Around 28, I left a perfectly good job to go work in South Africa for a year for a 50% pay cut. Then I came back to the States in the midst of the economic downturn. I had one full year of unemployment without benefit of government support. Then two full years of underemployment (consulting with multiple side jobs to fill in some holes). Life was pretty bleak. This came on the tails of grad school, internships, and jobs with mediocre pay. The American Dream it was not. Because of this, I have learned to live incredibly frugally. While going through all those bumps and detours from where I thought I’d be financially, I vowed to continue to live simply, for as long as possible, whenever that magic day came that I was finally earning a steady income again. So now, at 34, I am gainfully employed, and on a mission to make up for lost savings. I’d say it’s going pretty well.
James’ reasons for renting out his house were a little more straightforward. He was on board with my savings plan, but also had always wanted to live in DC, so it didn’t take too much convincing. At two bedrooms and 1200 square feet, his house is no mansion, but it certainly was more space than we were taking advantage of, so we decided to experiment with how small we could actually live.
Since city living can be incredibly expensive, we figured we’d be saving in general once we moved in together. But we wanted to push that a little further. Our combined individual cost of living (housing and utilities only) totaled around $3000 per month, and that is with James renting out a room in his house. But at $3000 per month, we knew we could cut back and had big hopes to cut that by half if possible. Not incredibly easy in DC. $1500 in DC typically gets you a studio in the range of 400 square feet.
Then, our search began. Craigslist was our friend, and enemy. James, set up some RSS feeds with what he called “the super search”, it was something along the lines of ( “dupont circle” | “logan circle” | “west end” | “convention center” | ….) +( dog | dogs | pups | puppies ) -(“no dogs” | “no pets” | “no furry pets”). This generally resulted in a few items every day, most of which were scams, and the rest of which were windowless basements. At one point, this great place came up in Logan Circle. It’s called The DeSoto (name not withheld to expose the guilty). The ad was for a beautiful corner unit with massive windows overlooking something that had to be nice. Apologies for the terrible quality- they came from the ad.
We show up to see it and, in preparation for the tour, the front desk attendant hands me a floor plan that looks like this.
Wai, wai, wait. ”Uh, the advertisement shows a corner unit.” She reviews her records and says “No it doesn’t”.
Are we arguing now?
I open up the ad on my phone and show her that it does. “Oops, it looks like we made a mistake, we don’t have those units for that price…..but, let me show you what we do have”. At that point I was irritated that they were wasting our time, but since we were already there, I wanted to see what that price would get us.
The real deal? 413 square feet of concrete dungeon for $1,875 a month.
Sure, it had a massive window, but the view was of five feet of concrete alley and a garbage can. The only selling point expressed to us from the agent was “look, it has track lighting”. Apparently, track lighting commands a high price in Logan Circle. After that, James made it a point to put track lighting in his house as a selling point for renters.
(As of this writing in early May, that apartment is STILL available, 5 months later-check those fees! It would have been an additional $2045 in upfront/recurring/nonrefundable costs before a deposit, parking fees, or storage, if needed. So your $1900 apartment instantly becomes $170 more per month when dividing those costs by 12 months.)
- Application Fee: $85 per person
- Security Deposit/Reservation Fee: $750 per apartment
- Garage Parking: $235/month
- Cats: $500 per cat. $55 per cat per month (limit 2).
- Dogs: $750 per dog. $75 per dog per month (limit 2). 40 lbs. weight limit.
- Amenity Fee: $225 annual
- Short-term lease: 6-9 months. $200 per month premium.
- Storage: $100-$175 a month
It didn’t get much better from there. We would occasionally find something decent, and then find out the place charges a non-refundable pet fee of $750, alongside some other ridiculous move-in fee, on top of an amenity fee, and monthly pet fees. However, we weren’t too worried, because we still had renovations to finish on James’ place, not to mention finding tenants.
One of my favorite DC reads, Urban Turf, frequently shows what X dollar figure gets you in DC, depending on neighborhood. People outside of DC can scarcely believe that, depending on neighborhood, almost $1900 plus an insane amount of non-refundable fees, gets you a cold concrete ground level unit, arguably of 400 square feet. I’m pretty sure it was really about a 10×10 room, based on the floor plan.
In the midst of sorting through all this riffraff, we found some great potential tenants. The caveat was that they wanted to move in about a month before our planned date. We said yes, which set off an aggressive schedule of repairs and apartment shopping. It absolutely wasn’t enough time for us to make it all happen, but James didn’t want to push back on his renters. He figured it would be bad karma. Despite our good-faith efforts, we still had our own letdowns. But we finally settled on a 550ish square feet light-filled studio in SW DC for $1700, with all ridiculous fees waived. Maybe that was our karma for following through.
Sad how that seems like a deal. Are we the only ones who are trying to fight these crazy DC prices?
Coming soon…a little on making it all work in such a tiny space.