Renting, Buying, or Selling a Home With Your Canine In Mind

By Lisa Groover

I wonder if there are other areas where you can drop off your dry cleaning, stop by the pharmacy, buy a pair of jeans, visit your favorite artist’s studio, and enjoy a leisurely lunch, all while walking with your dog. It never surprises me when visitors ask, ‘Are you allowed to bring your dog in here?” When I say “absolutely,” they wish they had brought their dog on vacation, too!

Yes, we are lucky to live in Northern Virginia, however, there are also some challenges to renting, buying, and selling your home when you own a dog.

Let’s talk about renting first
No matter where you live, rentals either do not accept pets, or they are generally considered on a case by case basis. Dog restrictions often include size, breed, and number. Find out about the pet deposit, if there is extra rent for your canine, the rules once you move in, and the requirements for when you move out.

There are a number of ways to come out smiling when your dog is being considered on a case by case basis. If you have successfully rented before, ask your landlord to write a letter singing your pet’s praises. Training is a key factor for making sure that your dog fits into a new community. If they cry or bark when you leave for work, jump on people in the elevator, don’t like children, or go after other dogs, you may be in for a disappointing outcome. If you are accepted, follow the rules so the next time you go to rent, your dog will once again have a glowing recommendation.

What about when you are buying a new home?
Everyone has a personal set of deal breakers when it comes to “must haves” for their dog. Is a fenced yard a must? Would you build one? How about a little outside space for emergencies? Or are you fine with walking your dog three or four times a day? What about elevators? Do you want to be close to a dog park or your vet?

If you wish to live in an urban setting close to Metro, there may be trade-offs for outside space. Once you have a feel for the market, communicate your requirements to your real estate agent to avoid falling in love with a place that truly won’t work for your lifestyle.

As with rentals, buying a home does not always mean that you are free of community rules. Both condos and townhouse developments may have restrictions including where you can walk your dog. Fairfax County just passed a new noise ordinance concerning barking or howling before 7:00 am or after 10:00 pm. So, check it out and ask questions of other dog owners in the neighborhood. No better way to meet people!

Selling your home has its own challenges. I was shocked to read somewhere that properties with pets can sometimes be as difficult to sell as one where someone smokes. I know—I can’t believe it either. But just in case “they” are right, here are some things to think about when you are planning to put your house on the market.

As a dog owner, I don’t think my house smells like a dog, but a potential buyer may be more sensitive or have allergies. Clean your carpets, dog beds, and blankets with a concentration on removing odors and stains. Have one of your friends that does not own a pet stop by for a sniff test. If you don’t pass, consider replacing your carpets.

Think about your yard. There is nothing like a beautiful green lawn to someone that plans to play football with their kids out back. If there are holes, dead patches, trampled bushes, or dog droppings—well, you see what I mean. Repair damage inside including scratched doors, baseboards, or ripped screens. Remedy the problems before you go to market. Better now than after you have received negative feedback from those that have come to see your house.

Now the hard part. We all think our dog is perfect and everyone would be thrilled to meet them.

Unfortunately, that is not always true. Some people find a temporary home for their dog while the house is on the market. I know I couldn’t remove my dog all together, but I would make sure that she was not present when my house was shown. The more restrictions you place on the showing times; the less people will view your home. Work out a schedule with your friends and neighbors, dog walker or daycare, and your real estate agent to avoid limitations or distractions when people visit. Put away toys, bones, bowls, beds, and leashes.

If you must leave your dog at home, crating is the best alternative. Lots of people are afraid of dogs, and the stress of having strangers enter your home can be hard on your pet. Do your best not to limit your pool of potential buyers, but also be concerned about the experience for your dog. And, what if someone accidently let them out! Put signs on the doors to be careful, and don’t forget to check your insurance policy for pet liability coverage. Ask your agent to put notes in the remarks that there is a dog in the house. Include their name and specify any concerns.

With preparation and planning comes success!
Could you move from a 3,000 square foot courtyard home to a 400 square foot Winnebago? Cathy, Mick, and their three greyhounds Jackson, Jethro, and Walter did it! How about finding a landlord that would welcome a couple with their three dogs ranging in size and breed from a pug, a shepherd mix, and a 60-pound lab? Jacquie, Nick, Shickaray, Baylee, and Holly love their new digs. Matt and Aaron said they would “now not underestimate the importance of residential living,” commenting on the lifestyle change when moving from a high-rise to a townhouse with a private backyard for their standard poodle, Toby.

Now the fun stuff! Northern Virginia (and I have to brag about my home of Old Town Alexandria) is the most pet friendly area I have ever lived! There is so much to do as a short term visitor or someone that has lived here forever. From pet friendly shops and restaurants, to canine cruises, doggy happy hours, and gyms, we truly are lucky to live here. The number of dog parks (including those with swimming), pet friendly hotels, and activities is amazing. We have fundraising walks and black-tie galas—all with your dog. There are several extended stay hotels that offer suggestions for their guests that bring their dogs on vacation and for house hunting visits. Check out the dog related “meet-up” groups, AAA, or the local visitor center for ideas to fill your day or trip. Join a dog obedience training club, a pet therapy group, or an organization for your favorite breed. Go dock diving, play flyball, or try agility or rally.

Or, just walk around, the number of dogs enjoying this area are countless. Saturday and Sunday in Old Town and Del Ray is a great way to spend your day, and I promise you, you will always meet someone new! ND

Lisa Groover is a licensed real estate agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc. in Old Town Alexandria, VA. Having had five golden retrievers since moving to Alexandria in 1989, she is dedicated to helping other dog owners through the challenges of renting, buying, and selling their home.