If you’ve looked for a home to buy in the Washington region in recent months, you’re already aware that buyers in the area face limited inventory and high prices, particularly in the most desirable neighborhoods.
“For most people, location is the most important priority when they’re looking for a home,” says Hugo Romero, a realty agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Alexandria. “Everyone wants to be close to work and to community amenities, but because everyone wants that, the value goes up and buyers must look farther away to find something they can afford.”
Romero says that young first-time buyers want to be close to nightlife and restaurants, while families are more intent on moving into a neighborhood with better schools.
“Ninety percent of buyers focus on location and will sacrifice what they’re looking for in a house to get into the neighborhood they want,” says Denny Horner, an agent with Evers & Co. Real Estate in Washington. “They’ll compromise on the size and amenities of the home, especially parking, to have the lifestyle they want.”
Buyers used to put a priority on being near a Metro station, but now they are more open to other options for getting around without a car, such as car-sharing services, Capital Bikeshare, buses and Uber, says Donna Evers, broker/owner of Evers & Co. Being willing to live a little farther from a Metro station broadens your housing options.
“We always start with a list of buyers’ priorities, but they need to see what’s available in their price range and then refine their list and decide if they’re willing to look farther out or on the edges of a community,” says Alix Myerson, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Washington.
Even if you compromise on your “must-haves” list, you may still need to explore other neighborhoods to find an affordable home.
Romero says buyers who work at National Harbor or in Crystal City or Alexandria have the option of living in either Maryland or Virginia and often choose the Maryland side of the river for affordability.
“You can find single-family homes in Prince George’s County from the mid-$100,000s in neighborhoods like Ridgewood City in Oxon Hill where the homes were built in the 1950s,” Romero says. “There are some homes built in the 1970s in Upper Marlboro that are priced in the low $200,000s in Marlboro Meadows that have four bedrooms, two and one-half baths and a one-car garage.”
Romero says some buyers who are willing to make a longer commute opt to move to Charles County because property taxes are lower there than in Prince George’s County, and you can get a larger home for a similar price.
Prince George’s County offers a wide range of townhouses and single-family homes that are less costly than those in Montgomery County or in Northern Virginia.
Myerson says many buyers who want to be close to a Metro station end up in Silver Spring because of the Metro and the availability of restaurants and nightlife in the downtown part of the city. She says you can live in downtown Silver Spring without a car and rely on car and bike sharing services as well as Metro and buses.
“Silver Spring is a great alternative for buyers who want to be closer to D.C.,” says Marybeth Densford, an agent with Evers & Co. “It’s a lively enclave where you can find more for your money than in the city, but you also have the ability to walk to shops and restaurants. Since you’re inside the Beltway, you’re not spending all your time driving or on the train.”
Densford says buyers are finding single-family homes in Silver Spring outside the downtown area in neighborhoods such as Brookside, Highland View and Randall Park where single-family homes are priced in the $500,000s.
Myerson says that buyers can find Metro accessible options north of Silver Spring in Forest Glen and Wheaton, which she says is slated for redevelopment.
“Eventually the Purple Line will link Silver Spring to Bethesda, which will make this whole area even better,” Densford says. “Right now, you can find single-family homes priced in the mid-$400,000s and up in neighborhoods where you can walk to the Forest Glen Metro station.”
Myerson worked with another buyer who wanted to live in Shepherd Park in Northwest Washington but found that the prices were too high and purchased a similar house in Takoma Park, Md., for less money.
While a lot of Arlington’s real estate is pricey, Rachel Burns, an agent with Evers & Co., says there are pockets of more affordable homes in South Arlington in neighborhoods such as Aurora Hills and Aurora Highlands and along Columbia Pike, where an anticipated trolley is sparking new development. She says buyers can ride a bike from neighborhoods around Columbia Pike to Capitol Hill, walk to shops, restaurants, community centers, trails and parks.
“Buyers can find a big single-family home in those neighborhoods for $500,000 to $650,000, but it may need some cosmetic work,” Burns says. “It’s a great investment to buy a home in a good location and do some minor renovations.”
Burns says Crystal City has some affordable homes and offers the benefit of being close to Metro, shops and restaurants, especially along 23rd Street.
“The west end of Alexandria will look like downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda when they finish redoing Landmark Mall,” Burns says. “You can find single-family homes in that part of town in the mid-$600,000s and $700,000s.”
Families that would love to live in McLean but find its stratospheric prices out of reach can look in the area around Chesterbrook Road where the addresses can be Falls Church, Arlington or McLean, Burns says. Single-family homes are priced in the mid-$600,000s and $700,000s in this inside-the-Beltway community that’s popular with young families.
“A lot of buyers start out thinking they want to be in Del Ray in Alexandria, but when they see the prices, they’ll look farther from the city,” Romero says. “You can find townhouses and single-family homes in the low to upper $300,000s in Springfield, but prices are expected to rise there soon because of the redevelopment of Springfield Mall.”
Burns says some townhouses and smaller single-family homes priced from the $400,000s to the $600,000s can be found near the Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria, an area undergoing revitalization.
Romero says buyers are also looking for more affordable homes in Lorton and Woodbridge, although the commute from those areas into the city can discourage some buyers.
Sometimes buyers just need to expand their horizons a little to find what they want, Myerson says. She worked with buyers who were determined to live in Dupont Circle but needed to broaden their definition of the neighborhood. They eventually bought at U Street and Florida Avenue.
“As Realtors, we need to educate buyers on other options,” Horner says. “For instance, the kind of house that would cost $1.2 to $1.6 million in Dupont Circle or Logan Circle would cost $600,000 in Brookland, and you can get on Metro and go a few stops to get back to Dupont Circle.”
Evers says that the boundaries of sought-after neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill are expanding, with buyers finding more affordable homes in Capitol Hill East and along the H Street corridor out to 16th and 17th Street NE.
“There’s development planned in some of these city neighborhoods like H Street and Shaw and around the Petworth Metro station,” Horner says. “A lot of condos and apartments are being developed near the Fort Totten Metro station, an area that’s going to be an arts district with more cultural venues. The Fort Totten Metro station has a parking lot, which means you can live in Brightwood and drive to that station.”
Both Brightwood and Brookland have single-family homes and townhouses that offer a little more space for buyers than a condo. Horner says some of these homes are priced at $800,000 to more than $1 million, but a smaller home that needs updating can still be found for $500,000.
Exploring your options and expanding your horizons to different neighborhoods can solve the conundrum of finding a home that matches both your lifestyle and your budget.
Lerner is a freelance writer.