Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Thrill Of The (Apartment) Hunt

Now that I have the job I've always wanted, it's time for me to find an apartment.

The search has not been as easy as I had hoped.

My sister has a nice, if postage-stamp-sized, studio in a great neighborhood at a great price.

So when I started my apartment hunt, I started looking for apartments in that same price range. (Even though my sister has told me that her magical apartment is the only one of its kind in the city and I should expect to pay at least 1.5 times as much for something equivalent, I still had hope.)

This has proven difficult. I have gone to places where, when I told my office mates that I was visiting such-and-such neighborhood, they immediately said "don't go there." (To their credit, I didn't actually go all the way; while I was walking from the metro to the apartment I realized that this was not a good area of town and turned around.)

I went to one apartment advertised as a two-bedroom which was in actuality a studio with a curtain down the middle (and the young woman managing the no doubt illegal sublease told me she reserved the right to ask me to leave at any time), and another apartment which not only had bars on the windows, but was also covered in what appeared to be a giant iron cage.

Then there was the studio which, actually, was not bad; but it was located in the part of DC which one apartment reviewer described as "where concrete goes to die." I spent some time wandering the neighborhood and found zero restaurants, zero coffee shops, and zero stores; just a few aimless cars, block after block of Section 8 housing, and a lot of bored teenagers leaning up against walls.

My studio "tour guide" was a young woman who had to be barely out of high school herself; when I told her I wasn't interested because there was "nothing to do here," she looked shocked and said "But there's the mall! I mean, it's closed now for renovations, but it will be open again next year!"

Then she paused, and blinked her glittery eyelashes, and said "Don't you like to go to the mall?"

The truth is that if I came all this way and ended up living in a place where the biggest draw was a mall, I would have to consider this entire experiment a failure.

And then I ended up chatting on the phone with another potential landlord, a sweet old lady who gave me some very good advice.

"Honey," she said, "you're telling me you've got a job? And you make $XX,XXX a year? Go and get yourself a better apartment. Everyone I've had who's lived in my apartments has moved out the minute they got a job like yours."

I was trying, from the start of this apartment hunt, to spend less money on rent than the requisite 30% of my income; the more money I saved, the more I could save, after all. I would take on multiple roommates or dilapidated studios or less-desirable neighborhoods.

But the whole time I got the feeling that I was behaving idiotically. Yes, saving money is important. But my search reminded me of my adventures in "penny-pinching across Delhi," where my willingness to save costs landed me in an insect-infested hotel room, pitted me against an overly lascivious hotelier, and then there was that unfortunate choice of the overnight Sleeper II train to Amritsar...

There's something else this time, too. There's the need to be where my peers are. The majority of my workmates live in the Adams Morgan/Dupont/U Street triangle, and that's where I want to live, too. I've already been "the one who has to go home early because it takes over 90 minutes to get back to her sublet in Arlington at this time of night," and I certainly don't want to be "the one who has to go home early because she's got to take the metro to a skeevy neighborhood."

So I did the research, and it turns out that a low-end-but-decent place in a decent neighborhood costs... believe it or not... exactly 30% of my income.

I have no doubt that market forces aligned to make this happen. Like the potential landlord told me, as soon as young people get jobs they want a "decent" standard of living. Thus the market adjusts to make sure that "decent" is exactly the amount that these young people can afford to pay.

Long story short, tomorrow I'm seeing a potential roommate about sharing a nice two-bedroom off of Dupont Circle. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

Indianoguy said...

YES, I too am going through it. Got a new job in Columbia, MD. I want to live near DC, so that I will have some sort of social life (most of friends are in DC and Northern VA). Single bedroom apts are soo expensive. I guess, I'd have to settle for sharing a 2 bed apt or a townhouse :)

Did you try on CraigsList?
You could also try classified section, its for Indians, not sure if you would be interested in living/sharing apt with Indian girrrls :) . Good luck in your search.