Dear PoPville – Do rents go down in the winter time?

Photo by PoPville flickr user cyrusrassool

“Dear PoPville,

What is the rental market like in January versus August? Do rents tend to dip downward in the winter here? What about supply of available rental units?

If not, perhaps you have the answer from your years of living here?”

In my daily searches I don’t feel like there’s much of a difference between winter and summer in the rental market – but perhaps others have had different experiences?

36 Comment

  • No difference, really. There’s generally more turnover happening at the beginning and end of summer which means there are more options, but also more people looking.

    DC has an incredibly tight market right now, though. I should, but don’t, remember the vacancy rate but it is crazy low. Until that shoots back up to a normal level, rents aren’t going anywhere but maybe up.

  • I’ve found that there’s not much difference in posted rents, but that in the winter there’s MUCH less competition for places, so you have a better shot of getting the place, or being able to negotiate with the landlord.

    • “Bingo,” says the landlord. When I have to advertise a vacant apartment in Dec-Feb, I would estimate I get about 35-40% of the response that I do in the spring-summer. I still advertise the same rate, but depending on response and the quality of prospective tenants, my dirty secret is that I’ll either lower the rent in subsequent postings or, if there’s a prospective tenant I really like, be very open to negotiating a lower rent. In August, not a chance — in fact, quite the opposite: if multiple good applications are present, I’m in a position to require an earlier start date, longer lease term, higher rent, etc.. It’s all supply-demand. Supply is pretty constant, but demand peaks in advance of college semesters and new-hire start dates, which in DC more often than not are September-October.

  • there’s definitely a difference, at least in the higher end units that are already overpriced (e.g., 2BRs > $2900). case in point: you tend to see a free month’s rent or even two month’s free rent at certain properties from nov.-feb. of course, the stock is more limited. also, remember that things move more slowly around the holidays.

    not sure about that last sentence, there.

    • n.b. while the summer months tend to be the typical season for turnover and lots of places go on the listings, competition is fierce. I’d peg response rate on desirable craigslist postings during the summer months at 33% or less.

  • This is the worst time of year to look for an apartment because many of the incoming college kids are also looking for places. This town has four major universities(Gtown, GW, AU, Howard). Rents in the winter won’t be lower, but the chances of finding a place are vastly improved.

    • Forgot Gallaudet–that’s 5. Six if you count UDC.

        • UDC doesn’t really count–all of their students already live here–but Maryland does. There are definitely UM students who live in Columbia Heights and Petworth and commute up to College Park.

    • In my experience, that can translate into lower rent for an individual renter – if competition isn’t as bad, it’s easier to say “pass” on the apartments that are overpriced.

      • You probably have more experience than I do. I haven’t been a renter in awhile. I do now have a small place that I rent out, and I don’t lower the price in winter. There are just fewer applicants, but still plenty. DC is a landlord’s market.

        • Makes sense – I’m guessing yours is one of the places that’s not overpriced if you’re able to get the same rent in the winter. Put another way, you might be able to get higher rent in the summer, considering the higher number of applicants.

          • Probably true, but we’re more concerned about quality tenants than maximizing profit. When we get someone we like (which we always do), we don’t raise the rent until they move out, and then we try to price a couple hundred bucks low. It’s worth it. Our tenants always stay for years.

          • @KenyonDweller states my strategy as a fellow landlord precisely. Just as landlords in this city differ in quality, so do tenants. If you own a single investment property, odds are it’s one of your two single biggest assets (along with your own home) and you are highly incentivized to preserve its value. I never raise rents on good, holdover tenants, and I will accept less favorable-to-me terms for a really good applicant. It’s all about having a commodious LL-tenant relationship with someone I trust. The money at the margins is completely secondary.

            I try to list it at a price high enough to discourage riff-raff but not so high that it doesn’t detract really desirable responsible tenants (good credit, reliable income, good rental history, but maybe not the best-paying job in the city).

      • Although I do intentionally price below market so that I can have a good selection of prospective tenants. So, maybe you’re right.

  • I’m sure it varies, but I obssessively searched Craigslist for 6 months before I planned to move last year and I noticed definite differences in prices for the same exact buildings between what they were offering in Jan-April versus what they advertised in May-July. (I was looking at low-to-mid-range-priced 1BRs, including some areas popular with GU/AU students.) I had one building’s rental agent (in Arlington) tell me to my face that they couldn’t gaurantee what the price for a 1BR would be the following month b/c if demand was high, they would raise their asking price. Also worth considering is that some buildings will offer rent specials during off-peak times if they can’t fill a vacancy, so the net effect is that you pay less per month (my friend in Woodley Park rented a 2BR for $2650 in April which was sitting vacant, and 3 months later the building’s website (in July) said that their 2BRs start at $2800.) So I think it happens, but I can’t speak to how widespread it is, these are just my own personal observations. Good luck apartment-hunting!

  • Hi – OP here. Thank you all for the information. Additional questions – what does competition mean? Like bidding for apartments? Whoever gets there first? I seem to remember hearing of people coming to apartment viewings with paperwork in hand (e.g. paystubs, credit reports) – that still the case?

    Just curious. We will be conducting this search with a 3 month old, you can see my motivation to make things as easy and straightforward as possible (smile)


    • Competition–for example, the number of responses a landlord gets to a listing on Craig’s List, or the number of people showing up at an open house (this time of year, dozens or more in both cases). Sometimes it becomes bidding-like, with people who really want a place offering the landlord more $ per month, or offering to sign a 2 year lease (which I’ve done, to show a landlord that I’m really serious about a place).
      Any time you go to an open house, make sure you have as much paperwork in hand as possible (and be willing to write a check for a security deposit on the spot)–with the rental market the way it is right now, any place that’s a reasonable deal without any glaring issues will get snapped up on the spot at an open house (if not before–I’ve seen people cancel open houses because someone already committed to rent it)
      Good luck with the housing search–it’s a tough time of year!

      • Do people use brokers or realtors here?

        • I’ve heard of people going through realtors. A couple of friends of mine found an amazing place that way (though it was out in Ballston). I’ve gotten blown off my realtors in the past when I’ve tried to use them to apartment hunt, so I guess your luck with them can vary.

          That said, I’ve lived in 5 different apartments here in DC, and I found all but one of them on Craig’s List.

          I don’t know any one who’s used a broker–I think that’s more of an NYC thing.

        • Aaagh … I just had a lengthy response to your bigger question that got eaten.

          But my response on this is: as a small-time landlord, I probably WOULDN’T rent to someone using a broker. I’m more concerned with quality tenants, and I like to meet the people who would be living in my property themselves. A broker is a black-box to me.

          I’ve been renting a place out for 8 years and had only 1-2 broker contacts. I don’t even bother with them.

      • Also, if you’re going to an open house, get there early! If it says it runs from 7-8pm, DO NOT get there at 7:45–the place will most likely already be rented.

        (Man, can you tell I’ve done a lot of apartment hunting in this city? :-P)

  • Just rented a room for what I thought was quite a bit. There were at least 20+ people who responded in the first couple days. Everyone we talked to said they were looking at other places, but hardly ever got responses, thought their chances were slim, and/or the places were in significantly worse locations and in much worse condition.

  • I really need to build out our underutilized basement. There is gobs to be made in the landlord business in this city.

    • We started renting our basement last year. We decided to not put in a kitchen down there, so they share the upstairs kitchen with us, but everything has been great so far. We look for short-termers who want a furnished place without a contract or long-term commitment. We also screen them personally to make sure we are comfortable with them in our house. So far, they have all become friends.

  • Rent might be the same but there is less competition.

  • We rent out 4 properties in the DC area, and will do everything we can to prevent looking for a tenant in winter. I agree with other posters that a winter vacancy wouldn’t cause us to lower the rent, but it does reduce the applicant pool. In winter it is people who have to find a new place, whereas in other seasons you get more people who simply want to find a new place.

    Right now, I’m vetting 6 fantastic applicants for one of our properties, and they are all willing to sign a 2 year lease. I can’t stress how important it is to make a personal connection with the owner, if the place you like is individually owned. At a minimum you want to know the owner is invested in the property and will take care of it while you live there. But trying to get to know them will also absolutely play a role in getting the place or not. The tenants we are choosing sat down and chatted with us for ~30 minutes, and came to our house the next day to personally deliver their application, whereupon we spent more time getting to know each other. The other factors we considered were income, length of time with employer, and pets. I don’t pay much attention to when the person happened to respond to the craigslist ad– that may not seem “fair” to some people, but I care very much about having a good tenant and that approach seems pretty arbitrary to me. It’s a little different from selling a piece of furniture on CL…

    • “In winter it is people who have to find a new place, whereas in other seasons you get more people who simply want to find a new place.”

      Meaning? It sounds to me like people moving here in the summer before college or for a job “have to find a new place” too.

      We would be moving because our lease is up, and we have figured out that the location we are in doesn’t work for our respective commutes – guess that’s “has to find a place” but I don’t think that’s a bad reason? Wouldn’t it be better to find the person who stays until the end of their lease typically then the one who just wants to find a new place?

      • Sure there are people in the summer who “have” to find a place. But speaking from my experience, in nice weather I have gotten more house hunters who aren’t under any pressure to move, ie they are month to month in their current lease and are looking for a better situation. That is the case with 5 of my 6 current applicants. These are not people who would generally choose to househunt or move in the dead of winter (again, speaking from my experience on the lack of these type of applicants in winter).

      • And it’s not a bad thing to “have” to find a new place– if you notice “reason for moving” was not part of my selection criteria. I was only referring to the reason that I seem to get less applicants in winter vs other seasons.

  • I looked in Woodley Park before finding a dream of a condo in Adams Morgan, but one of the buildings that I fell in love with there raised the rent literally every single day from the time I looked at the one apartment that I fell in love with. It was crazy. By the time I moved into the place that I ended up taking (3 weeks later), the rent for a one-bedroom had risen $600–no joke. That same apartment is STILL AVAILABLE (aka, vacant now for 5 months). No wonder….

    But finding an individual landlord vs. a large apartment building if definitely a lot more favorable for a renter that is concerned about prices going up & down.

  • I’m a landlord and have charged extra for summer rentals – the demand is so high you definitely can get a lot more money, but that is only for temporary rentals of furnished rooms with everything included (I did this to get temp housemates for the summer). For a yearly rental, the price is the same no matter what time of year. I dread trying to rent out in the winter though – can’t really lower the rent because I still need to cover the mortgage.

  • When I last apartment hunted, it was in mid-December (in ’09). No competition whatsoever and I ended up choosing my current place because they offerred first month’s rent for free. I have a hunch that type of offer wouldn’t have been around in the summer.

  • So interesting. What do folks think about an opening that isn’t until October? Would that fall more in the category of a summer or winter rental in terms of available people?

Comments are closed.