The Price, the Commute, the Schools

Because of heavy traffic, many home shoppers think it's important to live near Metrorail stations.
Because of heavy traffic, many home shoppers think it's important to live near Metrorail stations. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008

One of the earliest decisions a home shopper must make is where to look.

This can be particularly challenging in a sprawling region such as the Washington area.

"You move into a neighborhood to get more than housing," said Geoffrey Thornton, an agent with Weichert Realtors in the District.

For many people the most important factors are price, commute and, if they have children, schools. Other considerations include the types of services and amenities nearby, as well as the style of housing.

How do you find the right neighborhood for you?

"Our budget helped us decide," said Maureen McGregor, who bought a townhouse in the District's H Street NE corridor in October. "My husband and I both work at nonprofits. We're not the Rockefellers."

Amy Mermelstein, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Bethesda who frequently works on corporate relocations, said she asks her clients to list 10 must-have items. "That rules out a lot of stuff."

Robyn Burdett, an associate broker for Re/Max Allegiance in Reston, said she starts by asking her clients how much time they are willing to spend commuting. Then, within those limits, she looks to see what houses are available in their price ranges.

People frequently are forced to make trade-offs, Burdett said, and to think carefully about what they value. "Do they want a little more house and a little more commute, or a smaller house but . . . be at home by 6 o'clock every night?"

Thornton agreed that commuting time is a major factor, "especially if you have to get on the Mixing Bowl or 270, or heaven forbid, the Beltway."

Because of traffic, Thornton said, many people place a high priority on being close to Metro. For those clients, he sits down with a map with Metro stations and discusses the options.

Access to Metro was a big factor for McGregor and her husband, whose house is a 10-minute walk from Union Station.

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