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Washington DC - Accommodation & Property

When it comes to finding suitable accommodation, the term "Washington" is loosely used to defined a large area – the Washington metropolitan area, rather than the city DC itself. The interstate 495 is an 8-lane highway is sometimes used loosely as the marker for the DC city itself. No more than 600,000 DC residents reside in DC itself, but more than 6 million live in the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Many of these suburbs have their own commercial centers. Hence it can be considered normal for expatriates to be working in a "Washington" office that does not have the word "Washington" in its postal address, but rather one that is based in Maryland or Virginia.

To the locals, there are three regions of DC – there is the 'government' / 'tourist' DC that is marked by its low-lying monuments and historic buildings, there is the downtown 'business' DC mainly occupied by lobbyists and lawyers, and there is the 'neighborhood' DC, located in the northwest region of DC, where a small population of DC residents live. The neighborhood areas loosely follow the Metro's Red line (Dupont Circle via Cleveland Park to Friendship Heights), or along the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues.

In Suburban Maryland, there is a clustering of expatriate families who chose to locate in the Montgomery County (Bethesda neighborhood) in order to be located close to the international French and German schools. In suburban Virginia, the Arlington and Fairfax counties are popular for the concentration of high-technology/IT jobs.

It is always useful to engage the services of a local realtor who can provide useful local information about DC that could help you in your search for suitable accommodation. When selecting a US realtor (real estate agent), bear in mind that realtors in DC have to get licenses to work in a particular state. Given the unique geographical situation of DC, a Virginia licensed realtor may not be able to access properties in Maryland and vice-versa. Expatriates who have not decided on which side of the river they wish to live may find themselves having to work with more than one realtor. In general, there is little advantage to have many realtors in any one US state. This is because all realtors have equal access to a computerized Multiple Listing Service that details all properties available for lease or sale in that area, in this case, the Washington metropolitan area. Some owners, however, are bypassing this system by advertising for their properties by themselves, or placing notices outside their homes or on bulletin boards. When selecting a realtor, ask if they work in the rental market, as not all realtors do, due to the smaller commissions earned. There are also specialist rental companies with exclusive listings but their fees are much higher.

The Washington Times and the Washington City Paper have a classified sections on real estate to help you get an overall sense of the rental and sale property market in DC. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs of DC published a useful handbook on what tenants should know about renting a property in DC. The handbook is in pdf format and can be downloaded, and is recommended reading for expatriates planning to work and live in DC.

In the US, there are four basic types of housing categories: apartments (purpose-built complexes for rental tenants), condominiums (similar to apartments but privately owned and part of self-governing community with communal facilities, rules and guidelines), town houses (row or terraced houses – with separate access and gardens) and single-family houses (fully detached houses). With the exception of single-family houses (rented out by private owners), apartments, condominiums and town houses are usually rented out by management companies. In the DC, some houses are built in the Georgian style (symmetrical 2 or 3 storey brick houses), or Federal (slight variation from the Georgian style) or Craftsman (structure made of wood, stone or stucco), Cape Cod (squarish or rectangular with steep roof). There are also many modern architectural designs for both low and high-rise condominium units and townhouses available near the city center.

In 2007, the median gross rent was $934.

Most rental properties in the US are unfurnished. Furnished properties are usually meant for short-term rental periods (6 months or less). Unfurnished does not mean empty. Kitchens, for example, will have basic build-in features, such as a sink, stove and fridge. Sometimes, dishwashers and washing machines are included. Unfurnished apartments are usually carpeted and some come with built-in wardrobes.

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