Jun 3, 2023 - Real Estate

How to navigate D.C.'s competitive rental market

Illustration of a magnifying glass with a key for the handle.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The summer apartment market is buzzing with fresh graduates and other newcomers hunting for their perfect, or perfect-enough, place, experts tell Axios.

What's happening: Renters are moving into the city as more employers are calling people back into the office, says Lindsay Dreyer, CEO & broker of City Chic Real Estate.

  • Luxury apartment construction is booming and inventory has improved, Dreyer says.
  • She's not seeing inventory improve quite so much in the condo and row home markets.

Reality check: It's still cheaper to rent than buy in the vast majority of the country. In Washington, 98% of properties cost less to rent than to own, according to a new Redfin report.

What they're saying: "Renters tend to be more location-driven than amenity-driven, and part of that is it's not a long-term commitment. So they can sort of date neighborhoods and find out the best fit," Dreyer says.

  • Most D.C. renters want walkable neighborhoods, easily accessible public transit, convenient grocery stores and nightlife.
  • Logan Circle, NoMa, U Street, Capitol Hill and The Wharf tend to be popular neighborhoods for those reasons, Dreyer says.

Be smart: Scams are real. Dreyer offered these tips to avoid getting swindled:

  • If you're planning to rent from a private landlord, make sure they have their Basic Business License. It ensures the unit is inspected for safety.
  • Avoid renting sight unseen. If you can’t visit a unit yourself, you can search tax records to make sure the person owns the unit. And if they do, ask them to send a photo of their ID so you can confirm you're talking to the real owner.

The big picture: Location is a bigger draw for Gen Z than apartment size, says Doug Ressler of real estate research firm Yardi Matrix. Those renters' preferences are starting to shape development in big cities, like smaller floor plans and next-level amenities.


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