Moving to a city like DC and looking for housing is kind of like buying a gift for your second cousin twice removed who you last saw in 1998, at a flea market. Not only do you have no idea what you're looking for, but you're completely overwhelmed by options, don't know what a good price is, or if the antique map of France (because she studied abroad there in college, right?) is real or a replica.
Welcome to apartment hunting in DC. Where I'm from, three or four major apartment management companies rule the roost. They each own a dozen complexes around Dallas, so odds are you'll end up in one of them. The nice thing is, you can look at lots of apartments at once in various areas and price ranges. In DC, these types of management companies are less common, and more apartments are available from independent owners than companies.
Which brings us to . . . Craigslist. Yes, we've all seen the Lifetime movie The Craigslist Killer. Yes, we all know someone who had a sketchy encounter while buying a lamp on Craigslist. But in DC, many people rent out their basement apartments/second homes/real estate investment exclusively through Craigslist. Which means you begin trolling Craigslist like it's your job, trying to muddle your way through words like "close to Metro" (how close? WHICH metro?!), "minutes from Downtown" (a dead giveaway that it's in Maryland), and "up and coming XXX neighborhood" (usually means there's a shooting or two each weekend).
The other side of this coin is group houses--really the best of all worlds. There's an abundance of four and five bedroom houses around DC, and it's commonplace for a group of friends to rent out the entire house. You get a whole house at your disposal for a very reasonable price, often in a nice and safe neighborhood. But, when one of the group of friends moves out, many households turn to Craigslist to find a replacement. They usually ask interested parties to send an email "telling a little about yourself".
Have you ever tried to sum up your personality and habits in the space of an email? You don't want it to be too short because you don't want to leave something important out, but also not too long to seem boring or full of yourself. You want to appear fun, but not too fun (like you're ok with regularly holding someone's hair back while they puke after a night out), friendly but not clingy (no one wants a Stage 5 clinger in a housemate), neat but not a crazy clean freak a la Danny Tanner.
Can you imagine why I entertained the idea of just living out of my car for a few weeks? (Not seriously but it was close)
Some of the things I came across during my housing search included:
--a girl who went to Texas A&M (ahh, a Texas native! Yay!) who loved to "sing, and make art" (um, we all love to sing at one time or another, but putting that in your Craigslist post makes me think I'm going to be living with an American Idol reject)
--a girl who foam rolled her legs the whole time we talked
--a house that was "super safe, except cars on the street get broken into pretty regularly" (hey, honesty, I can appreciate that)
In the end, I ended up moving into a building managed by a big company in my dream neighborhood with a roommate (who I met in real life through friends, not Craigslist). Thanks for the housing search memories, DC. I hope to never have to do this again . . .