With our house under contract and our move imminent, DH and I decided to make a whirlwind trip out east to find a place to live once we arrive. Inspired by my friend’s search for a home in her new location, I decided to share our ups and downs of finding a rental in a brand new location with only a couple of days to look.

We had a few criteria for a new place–some non-negotiables and a few desirables with which we could be flexible. First, since our pup was coming with us, we needed a place that didn’t mind a well-behaved, five-year-old, adorable dachshund with a lot of personality. Since he has a serious case of stranger-danger, we opted to search for a single family home with a fenced yard where he could chase squirrels and sniff in privacy to his heart’s content.

We don’t have a huge home now, but we didn’t want anything smaller than our current digs, particularly since DH works at home and needs an office space. A garage or carport would be nice so I didn’t have to scrape frost off my car on cold mornings, but we could live without it. Since my new job is, unfortunately, a mile away from the metro, I will have to drive to get there; therefore, we wanted a place where my drive time wouldn’t be miserable, maybe 30-45 minutes in traffic, while staying on budget. We could choose to afford something more expensive, but we’d rather save a little money if we decide to buy in the future.

Given these criteria, we felt pretty flexible to just see what the DC area had to offer. I decided that, since I was starting with little or no working knowledge of the area, a scatter-shot approach would be best–see a variety of places and locations upfront, then narrow the search from there. Starting a few weeks before, I began looking at available properties online through places like Zillow, Craigslist, and individual property management sites. I then made appointments to meet with people to see houses in a number of neighborhoods so we could get a feel for each area and what the commute would be like to my new job.

DH and I for some reason decided that a red-eye from Colorado to the east coast on Friday night/Saturday morning was a brilliant idea. Actually, it didn’t turn out too bad, though we were quite exhausted when we landed, got our rental car, and drove straight into DC for our very first appointment.

Our first house was an “updated Craftsman” with some “great updated features,” which meant it had been renovated in a couple of places (one wall of the kitchen and the master bathroom) and completely ignored everywhere else. Among other things, the exterior door in the basement was hanging on two of three hinges, the stairs were as steep as a ladder, and it seemed that the previous tenants had forgotten to pack half of their stuff when they moved. The two so-so upgrades weren’t even remotely capable of salvaging that train wreck. Fortunately we were able to laugh as we hopped in the car and moved on to our next appointment.

We stopped at an Open House that had been advertised on Craigslist. Evidently Open House was literally that…whoever was renting it seriously just left the door unlocked for people to wander inside completely alone. It was incredibly creepy, like we were trespassing. The outside was very carefully maintained, and the main living areas were actually quite nice, though the whole house was dated and smelled like old people. The basement was a dark, utilitarian cavernous space with a “rec room” that was a dark, cold, inhospitable cave with tile floors and wood paneling. While the location was fantastic, the overall impression of this house was less favorable.

Day two began with a gigantic, 4000 square foot house that was on a huge, beautiful wooded lot but was just too big and had been cheaply updated. We moved on to what we thought would be our hottest lead of the entire trip–a nicely updated home in a great neighborhood at a great price. The owner wanted a short-term rental until the spring when he’d put the home on the market to sell. We thought that would be great for us, since we also might be interested in buying before too long. Plus, the numerous pictures he sent of the home were fabulous. However, we were a little surprised to find that it had just been rented for one month by a couple with two small children. They had literally moved to town two days before and were tasked by the owner with showing us the house. There was another awkward situation. The house was really great, as indicated by the pictures, but the situation with these tenants, the timing with our move, and the awkwardness in general made it a big if. Plus the location didn’t seem quite as convenient to work. While it had a lot going for it, we decided it was like a hot, crazy chick who looked good but had too much drama. We sadly let go and moved on.

The rest of our three day trip proceeded in a similar manner; each day we’d have showings, scout for rental signs as we went along, make calls, then, armed with new information about neighborhoods and locations, head back to the hotel each night and scour the internet for properties that fit our narrowing scope. On day two we saw four places, and on day three we squeezed three more house showings in at the last minute, thanks to some really on-the-ball and motivated agents. With all the homes we saw, good and bad, we finally narrowed it down to our shortlist of three homes.

Home number one was a spacious brick colonial with a brand-new kitchen with really nice, cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances. There was an ample yard with a fence all around, and it was in a really good location. The downside–it was on a pretty major street. That would make parking a moving truck difficult, and we just imagined constant traffic noise from inside. However, for the price we got a lot of house for our buck and were a few miles closer to work.

Home number two seemed, at first, pretty far out of town. However, we gradually realized that this area was actually more convenient to work, as it was on the same side of town as my job and didn’t involve getting on the Beltway at all. In moderate traffic it only took 33 minutes to drive to work (though rush hour would be anything but moderate), and there would be multiple alternative routes for getting there.

This was a very spacious house without feeling too huge. It was on nearly a 1/3 acre lot with lots of trees in a nice, quiet neighborhood. The yard was fenced, though kind of steep. While it wasn’t super fancy everywhere, the bathrooms were clean and more modern than some we’d seen, and the master bed had its own bath and walk-in closet. The kitchen was very updated and large with stainless steel appliances and lots of cabinet space.

Since we liked the neighborhood so much, we decided to call about a second house we saw for rent there. So, House Number Three was the second house in this area. It was a one-story ranch, smaller than house Number Two but still ample space for us. It had a slightly nicer yard, though it lacked fence across a small section, something we could deal with. The kitchen wasn’t fancy or huge, but it was nice and clean and functional with nice appliances and counters. The basement was finished with a really great utility and storage area. And this house had, by far, the absolute nicest bathrooms of any home we’d seen anywhere on our trip.

So, at the end of our trip as we drove to the airport, we wrestled with the decision of which house to pick. Should we go with:

  • House Number One, with fabulous kitchen but on a busy street?
  • House Number Two, with just the right amount of room but more or less pretty average? or
  • House Number Three, with a little less space but fantastic bathrooms?