Home buyers who can afford to spend $200,000 on a Washington-area house won't be living in the lap of luxury, but close to it.

For buyers on their way up the ladder, or for those who have already reached the top rung, the impressive sum of $200,000 can buy a great deal, but, just as at other price ranges, it varies considerably depending on the neighborhood and the type of house sought.

The nice round sum of $200,000 can move a buyer into a small house in an exclusive Arlington neighborhood, a new, large home in an up-and-coming area of Gaithersburg or a penthouse condominium in downtown Washington.

In Virginia, $199,990 buys a red brick Colonial-style house nestled among the tall trees of the exclusive Aurora Hills neighborhood of Arlington. Located about a half mile west of Crystal City at 918 S. 26th Pl., the house has two bedrooms, a first-floor den or guest bedroom with its own full bath, a partially finished basement and a landscaped backyard with flowering trees and bushes.

The upscale neighborhood, with its winding and hilly streets, is mostly home to Pentagon employes, lawyers, doctors and writers, according to Rosette Vanheusden, an agent with Shannon & Luchs.

"This is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in South Arlington. But it's not known by a lot of people," said Vanheusden, who added that the area's larger homes are worth more than $300,000.

She said the 26th Place house, because of its modest size, "is ideal for a couple or a small family." The owners, who recently had a second child, are moving up to a larger home.

The 44-year-old house sits on 6,200 square feet of land and includes a one-car garage with an electric door opener. A brick patio is in the sloping, fenced-in backyard, which also has a storage shed.

Inside, most room dimensions are of medium size. The first floor includes a dining room, a den with a separate entrance and a substantial living room with a fireplace and French doors that open onto a screened-in porch with slate floors and a ceiling fan. The home's moderate-sized kitchen, which overlooks the backyard, was remodeled last year, and has custom cabinets, ceramic tile walls, gas range and dishwasher.

On the second story are two bedrooms with ample storage space and a full bath. A washer-dryer is in the basement, which was recently remodeled for use as a family room or a guest bedroom. The house is gas heated and includes three window-unit air conditioners and hardwood floors. Taxes last year totaled $1,350.

For others, however, being part of a new-home community is more attractive. At the Potomac Farms subdivision on Muddy Branch Road in Gaithersburg, the Oxford single-family house model, a Cape Cod style that features four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, is on the market for $200,590.

Al Burns, the community's sale manager, said Potomac Farms houses are "semi-custom built," which means a buyer can make minor alterations, such as the placement of an interior wall, at no additional charge.

Residents of the upper-middle class community include families with children up to 12 years old and young professionals with no children. Home prices within a mile of the community range from $130,000 to $300,000.

The Oxford model contains 2,500 square feet of space on two levels, and an unfinished basement. The main floor features a two-story entrance foyer, a modern eat-in kitchen with ample counter space and a complete line of appliances, a separate dining room, a large, step-down living room and a spacious family room with French doors that open out to a wooden deck.

Also on the main floor is a 15-by-13-foot master bedroom, which includes a walk-in closet, a dressing area with a sink and a large bathroom with a picture window and a separate tub and shower.

A masonry fireplace is also included and can be located wherever the buyer chooses.

The home's top floor includes three more bedrooms, all with ample storage and closet space, and a full bath with a double vanity.

The house is on just under one-quarter acre of land, and includes a two-car garage and breezeway. Taxes total about $3,100 yearly.

The house tour ends in the District, where $199,000 purchases a downtown location in an unusual five-year-old building that is mixed with offices and residential units.

Situated in the West End neighborhood at 2501 M St. NW, the one-bedroom unit with den totals 1,270 square feet of space. It is a reasonable walk from Georgetown shopping and downtown offices. In an area that has seen tremendous growth of office and hotel construction, the unit is on the top floor of a seven-story building.

Offices, mostly law firms and associations, are housed in the building's first five floors, and 36 residential units are on the top two levels, which are reached through a separate entrance. Prices in the building range from the high $90,000s for efficiencies to $300,000 for two-bedroom units. On the extreme end, a two-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot apartment is currently selling for $875,000.

Most of the residents are single professionals or working couples who prefer the attractions of downtown living and are willing to sacrifice the additional space available in the suburbs. A few of the apartments are owned by corporations, such as U.S. News and World Report, which use the units for entertaining or as a place for out-of-town visitors to stay.

"It's very New York feeling," said Barbara Sloat, an agent with the Begg real estate company. She said that, while the building is well constructed and the $199,000 apartment includes a number of amenities, "you're really paying for the location."

On the apartment's first level is an entrance foyer, a half bath and a large living-dining room combination with hardwood floors, a fireplace and a wall-length window. A long, narrow balcony just off the living room looks north and commands an unobstructed view of the West End and the residential area of Georgetown.

On the first level is a small but workable kitchen, which includes an apartment-size washer-dryer, dishwasher, disposal, electric range, microwave and ample cabinet space.

On the second floor is a large bedroom with a window that stretches the length of the room for another spectacular northerly view.

The floor's full bath includes two sinks and a marble-tiled whirlpool bathtub. A small room located at the rear of the second floor could be used as a den or a sitting area. An 8-by-8-foot outside, private deck, with no view, is just off the den.

Other features include a security system, doorman, and central air conditioning. Each unit has its own heating and cooling system.

Taxes run $1,850 yearly, and the unit's condo fee is $385 each month; utilities are extra. CAPTION: Picture, In Gaithersburg's Potomac Farms, $200,590 buys a four-bedroom Cape Cod.