It's red tin roof, creaky front porch and gray asbestos siding hardly stand out in a south Bethesda neighborhood of similar homes. Its front yard is a jungle of tangled plants, and a foot-long section of plaster has fallen from the kitchen ceiling.

But the price is right - less than $100,000.

A search for a $100,000 house in the close-in, sought-after neighborhoods of the Washington area is replete with specimens such as this - so-called handyman specials, basement condos, shells, one-bedroom units and decorating disasters.

The $100,000 home has become average here. No less an authority than the Federal Home Loan Bank has revealed that the average conventionally financed new house here sold for $98,000 in July and the average old house for $94,900.

Housing prices in Washington have almost doubled in five years.And although housing costs are even higher in San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles, that is small comfort to someone with $100,000 or less to spend on a Washington area home.

Interested in Georgetown?

Realtor Larry White sat at his computer containing real estate listings by neighborhood and price. He punched out Georgetown for $100,000 addresses. No houses appeared. The least expensive was $127,500.

The computer did print out several available condominiums. Included was a one-bedroom unit in a 40-year-old building on Georgetown's outermost edge. The price was $97,500.

Want to try Capitol Hill?

"A $100,000 house here?" Agent Lee Wakefield laughed. "That's a dying breed."

Diligent investigations, however, produced one example of this nearly extinct species. Built in 1908, it has three floors, brick exterior and a 58-foot-deep lat.

"You'd have to put the guts back in," said Mario Camero, the real state agent showing the property. Camero can't show the inside. It isn't safe.

But there are no structural problems. "There's no structure," he said.

Another popular area is Old Town Alexandria, where sales agents produced not one, but two homes under $100,000.

"Charming two-bedroom town house in Old Town...$99,950," read the classified ad.

It was charming inside, even though one bedroom was only 6.9 feet wide.

But it fronted on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares. Bars covered the entryway of a nearby building. A grimy and dishevelled man bumped into cars as he walked along. Across the street a group of men appeared to be loitering.

The other possibility was a one-bedroom unit with a fireplace and hardwood floors. For $83,950, it sounded like a relative bargain.

It was, however, in the basement.

Prefer Arlington?

The Lorcom Lane area in North Arlington is lined with handsome well-landscaped brick homes, and one of them is for sale for "only" $95,000.

Some handyman work may be necessary and the agent showing the property estimated it would cost $500 to clear the jungle-thick plant growth in the back yard.

Next door is the wooden frame skeleton of another house. It's impossible to know if the shell is being torn down or put back together.

What about Northwest Washington?

On Western Avenue, there's a small red brick bungalow with a $92,000 price tag.

The house has only two bedrooms but the real estate computer description boasts of an attic with expansion possibilities. At present, however, the roof is partly lined inside with corrugated cardboard.

Shuffle these houses, drop them down in different neighborhoods and the numbers change.

In Southeast Washington, a two-bedroom house was advertised last week for only $39,500.

The difference between the Southeast Washington house and the $92,000 Western Avenue house could easily be only a matter of address.

The pattern is most readily discerned in the new housing market when a similar model is built in many different locations.

Renee Regardie, a marketing analyst who tracks subdivision sales prices, said a standard, two-story brick colonial with 2,000 square feet can cost from $90,000 to $150,000, depending upon the neighborhood.

Regardie offered this general breakdown of prices for the standard new colonial: $90,000 in Prince George's County; $110,000 in Fairfax, $125,000 in the Colesville Road area of Silver Spring, $140,000 in Arlington, and $150,000 in the Potomac-Bethesda area.

Comparing the value offered for $100,000 in the existing housing market is a more complicated, less precise chore.

The general rule is that the greater the distance from downtown Washington the more house is available for the housing dollar.

"Your $100,000 will buy you a super, super house here," said Bill Forristall, vice president of Medallion Real Estate.

"Here" for Forristall is the community of Bowie, about 18 miles northeast of downtown Washington. One Cape Cod house for sale there now has four bedrooms, three baths and a fireplace. It is set on a half-acre of land. The garage holds two cars and there is an inground pool.

Forristall said it can be had for $100,000.

Agent Dan Ramano has a Fairfax City house at that same price. It has four bedrooms, a recreation room with a bar. The half-acre property is wooded in back.

Because location is the key to real estate, prices, agents eager to make a sale are not above bending the boundaries.

"Yes, we do that," said Elizabeth Patterson, a Georgetown real estate agent.

"When I came to Washington, Dupont Circle was just that. Now it is all the way out to 13th Street."

Some buyers are willing to pay more for, say, a Montgomery County house than the same house over the line in Prince George's because they believe schools or other services in Montgomery might be better.

Other times, however, buyers pay more for a prestige address "strictly from ego motivation," according to Steve Witcher, vice president for Holland and Lyons Associates Inc...

The Potomac-Darnestown area is a classic example of that thinking. "You can sell a house on the Potomac side of the street for 10 to 15 percent more than the same house on the Darnestown side," Witcher said.

"The $190,000 house with the Darnestown postmark would be worth $210,000 across the street in Potomac.

But in the real world, where the $100,000 house is still a dream for most people, families move here, are stunned at the prices, search and finally settle for the best they can find.

Lorraine and Bill Hixon lived in a $35,000 house in Kansas before moving to the Alexandria area where he is a major in the U.S. Army.

"We talked about going in with another couple and buying a $100,000 house and sharing it," Mrs. Hixon said. They dropped that idea because of the possible problems, and kept looking. Eventually they found an acceptable house for $88,500.

"It wasn't exactly what we wanted or in the condition we wanted," Mrs. Hixon said.

"But it is in a good neighborhood and has a potential for beautiful landscaping." CAPTION: Picture, This Bethesda house with red tin roof and creaky front porch has a price tag of $92,000. By James M. Thresher - The Washington Post