Where We Live

High on life, in homes hugging hill

Robert and Nikki Murfree take a walk with their 11-month-old son, Sam, and their dog, Susan, alongside some of Overlook's townhouses.
Robert and Nikki Murfree take a walk with their 11-month-old son, Sam, and their dog, Susan, alongside some of Overlook's townhouses. (Susan Straight For The Washington Post)
By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 3, 2010; 10:21 AM

If there's one thing Overlook residents seem to agree on, it's the importance of landscaping. Just east of Interstate 395 off Edsall Road in Fairfax County, this community of about 443 semi-detached homes, townhomes and low-rise condominiums lies on 200 acres, much of it trees, shrubs and lawns. "We're always working on the landscaping. It's a fun project," said 10-year resident Marnie Vanderpoel.

"We are very aggressive at keeping the infrastructure up," said Ann Stone, president of the homeowners association. To protect an eroded area, for example, "we created landscape beds, with bushes, flowers and grasses," she explained.

The homes, built between 1997 and 2000 just west of Alexandria, 11/2 miles from the Van Dorn Street Metro station, take up only about 80 acres of the community's land, while the remaining acreage is common space, according to Stone. Designs include 310 traditional brick townhouses, 80 units in low-rise condo buildings, and 53 semi-detached homes, also known as executive, city or patio homes. Residents pay $323 per quarter for landscaping of all common areas, trash and snow removal, and maintenance of the swimming pool.

Owners' interest in landscaping is so avid that the landscaping committee is the largest in the homeowners association, said committee member Jimmy Davila. It probably doesn't hurt that the committee chair serves wine and hors d'oeuvres at meetings.

In addition to his other duties on the landscape committee, Davila maintains the common area next to his end-unit townhouse. "I adopted that common lawn," planting trees and shrubs such as crape myrtles and Japanese maples, he said. "The best compliment was when my neighbors asked me if they could take their Easter pictures on my lawn," he said.

Residents are also fond of the walking trails that cut through the dense woodland that divides the neighborhood into sections that they call Timber Forest and Winter View, after the two main streets. Part of that land between the two halves of the community belongs to Overlook, and part of it - bordering Edsall Road - is Fairfax County's Bren Mar Park.

"The parkland - you just can't beat it," said Nikki Murfree. She, her husband, Robert; their 11-month-old son, Sam; and their Papillon dog, Susan, headed out for a walk on a recent weekend afternoon. The Murfrees say they walk on the trails often, as do many of their neighbors.

With so many people out on the paths, residents can watch out for one another. "It's very safe. We know all of our neighbors. It's a very tight community," said Robert Murfree.

As in many suburbs, kids and dogs are the channels through which many neighbors meet. "This street - it's all babies," said Nikki Murfree. "If they don't have a baby, they have a dog. Or both," she said. "When people come home every afternoon, we congregate" on one of the corners near their house, she said.

"I love my neighbors," said Vanderpoel. "This is the best place I've ever lived as far as neighbors go. They are very congenial." She and her husband, Eric, who serves on the architectural committee, bought their 3,000-square-foot semi-detached home in 2000.

The architecture of the semi-detached homes is unusual for homes inside the Beltway: Their designs include up to two bedrooms on the ground floor.

Stone, who also lives in an executive home, said she found it by accident when looking for what she hoped would be her last home purchase. Even though she was in her 40s at the time, "I hate moving," she explained. "I wanted a house with a first-floor bedroom. You've got to think ahead. I looked all over Alexandria, where I'd lived since the '70s, but nothing had a first-floor bedroom. Nothing," she said.

A friend told her to check out Overlook, where she toured one of the executive homes. "I walked into the model and I was floored," said Stone. With a first-floor bedroom, it matched her wish list perfectly. "And when I heard the price I almost fell off my chair," she said. It was November 1999, and her 5,000-square-foot house (including a 1,700-square-foot basement) was selling for a base price of $400,000 (up from the 1997 base price of $300,000). "We took every upgrade we could get," including marble foyer, upgraded deck and finished basement. They brought the price to $480,000.

Today, the 5,000-square-foot estate homes are selling in the mid-$700,000s. The townhouses are in the mid-$500,000s.

Residents also mention location as a major attraction of the neighborhood. "You're at an ideal spot within the Beltway, very convenient to 395 and 495," said Davila.

Even though the neighborhood lies adjacent to I-395, the buffer of trees minimizes sound. Homes along the highway side are within earshot of the white noise of fast-moving highway traffic. Many residents don't hear the cars at all. "There are a lot of evergreens and we are so high up" on a hill, said Davila, that the traffic noise isn't noticeable. "My parents often come down for the weekend. They say it's so quiet and peaceful they love being here."

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