How to Buy a House in Alexandria, Virginia — The Best-Kept Secret in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C., is one of the hottest housing markets in the U.S., spurred by the construction of Amazon’s second headquarters in nearby Crystal City, Virginia.

What many newcomers don’t realize is that Washington, D.C., extends into Alexandria and portions of Maryland. Both these areas were added to the Washington, D.C., metro area soon after the American Civil War.

You’ll love Alexandria, which boasts great housing options, sits close to the federal district, and boasts convenient mass transportation options. The problem? Available homes are scarce.

The great news is that we spoke to Alexandria real estate experts, scoured all the prime neighborhoods, and did the math to find you the best recommendations for budget and lifestyle.

Whether you want an ultra-modern condominium, historic row house or estate, mid-century starter home, or almost any other housing type available, you’ll have to team up with a great real estate agent to get the home you want. The hunt will be worth it, though.

Read on to find out how to get the house you want in the best neighborhood for you.

Alexandria Virginia, where you can buy a house.
Source: (Kevin Rajaram / Unsplash)

Why Alexandria offers the best of the Washington, D.C., metro area

This is a great time to live in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

The cultural economy of Washington, D.C., supports $30 billion in annual spending, generates $1.1 billion in tax revenue, and employs 150,000 workers, according to a Cultural Plan initiated in 2015 and released by the D.C., government. Just a few of the many cultural jewels include the Smithsonian museum complex, the National Mall, historical icons such as Ford’s Theatre, and an array of Zagat-rated restaurants.

Job opportunities continue to grow as evidenced by the unemployment rate. In Washington, D.C., that rate is 5.3%, down from close to 10% in 2012. In Alexandria, City, the rate is 1.8%, down from 4.2% in 2012. Fairfax County, including part of Alexandria, is 2.0%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, it hovered near 4.0%.

As an international destination, the Washington, D.C., metro area offers world-class restaurants, three international airports and convenient mass transportation. There are also 250,000 acres of parkland in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Alexandria homes for every budget

The Washington, D.C., metro area ranks as the 13th most-expensive housing market in the U.S., based on single-family home sales in the second quarter of 2019.

“The bull’s-eye is D.C. and then the first ring outside the center is Alexandria,” explains Mary Beth Eisenhard, a top agent in Northern Virginia with 26 years’ experience, ticking off area housing and recreational choices.

“You’ve got First Night (New Year’s celebration), walking tours in historic Old Town, the waterfront where you can take a boat to The Washington Nationals’ park. You can be in a cute home from the 1930s or a historic row house… or a new home.”

Whether you choose a standard wood-constructed home, brick home, or high-rise, you’ll want to be sure you have air conditioning, central if possible. The Washington, D.C., area has a humid, sub-tropical climate with average annual humidity at 64% and summer days topping 100 degrees. Air conditioning is a must.

Many homes have electric heat, though there are some with gas lines. Fireplaces are not unusual in local condos, homes, and townhouses.

Price sensitivities in Alexandria

In August 2019, the median home price in the D.C., metro area was $465,000, up 3% from the second quarter of 2018. Compared to the second quarter of 2016, that is an increase of almost $75,000 over three years.

“The caveat is that every buyer needs to be price-sensitive first,” says Eisenhard. “You live in the payment, not in the price. Because I want you as the buyer to be happy with the payment six months from now, six years from now, 10 years from now — I still want you to love that house, and I don’t want you to be angry at that payment.”

When Eisenhard first meets with a buyer, she asks if they’ve spoken to a lender, have a price point in mind, and what amenities they want. A yard, a garage, and top-rated schools are among the considerations.

“Buying a home today is a matter of elimination, not selection,” she says.

In October 2019, the median home price in Alexandria was $602,500, up 11.57% from the previous year. That’s almost double the average U.S. home price in 2019, which hovered around $300,000. In Fairfax County, which includes parts of Virginia, the median home price was $535,000, up 12.63% for the same period.

Rental prices are also hefty. In Alexandria, they range from just over $1,900 a month for a high-rise apartment to almost $3,300 per month for a detached home as of September 2019.

Fairfax County rents range from $1,700 for a garden apartment in a building between one and four floors. Rent for a detached home averages almost $3,300 a month.

The average rent in the U.S. for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,140 in 2018.

Washington D.C., where you can buy a house.
Source: (Jad Limcaco / Unsplash)

Property taxes in Alexandria

Housing prices are higher in the Washington, D.C., metro area than most other places in the U.S., but property taxes are a bit lower.

The average cost of property taxes in the U.S. are 1.2%, compared to 1.130% in the city of Alexandria and 1.150% in Fairfax County, which includes parts of Virginia.

The selection of homes in Alexandria

There are an array of housing options in Alexandria — but that doesn’t mean they are all available at all times.

Housing is in such high demand in Alexandria that it’s not uncommon for sellers to get multiple bids above the asking price within 12 hours of listing, says Eisenhard. Some buyers are so enthusiastic, they want to forego a home inspection.

Eisenhard is firm that no matter how much you love a home, you shouldn’t skip that inspection.

Home inspector Lenny Pinnix, Donofrio & Associates in Ashburn, Virginia, grew up in the real estate business in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas. His mother was an architect, and his dad was involved in renovations with projects ranging from historic homes in Georgia to the Verizon Center in downtown D.C.

“I cringe a little bit, to be honest,” said Pinnix when asked about those who skip home inspections. “I have bought houses before, too, and knowing what I do, I can’t imagine why anyone would not have an inspection.”

Alexandria-specific inspection musts

Prospective buyers in Alexandria should ensure that their inspector covers what Pinnix calls “The Big 5” — major mechanical systems, the home’s foundation, appliances, the roof, and the structure as a whole.

“Some of the homes in Alexandria have specific areas that should be checked,” he says.

The foundation, overall structure, and electrical wiring are top concerns in everything from historic to mid-century homes.

The homes in Del Ray are built on clay, so they are more likely to have water damage to the foundation.

“Due to Virginia’s humid climate, all homes should be checked for water damage,” he notes.

“Honestly, the best thing you can do is ask questions,” says Pinnix, who urges buyers to walk through the home with the inspector. “And remember: we can’t talk about code issues.”

For that reason, buyers should talk to their agents about hiring an electrician, plumber, general contractor, or other professional for specific concerns.

The subway in Alexandria, where you can buy a house near Washington D.C.
Source: (Julian Lozano / Unsplash)

Which Alexandria neighborhoods are right for you?

There are two parts of Alexandria. One is Alexandria City, which is governed by the city but not affiliated with a county, while the other Alexandria is located in and governed by Fairfax County. Both parts of Alexandria offer ready access to mass transportation, plus shopping and cultural options.

Many families, including military families, choose to live in the Fairfax County part of Alexandria. Fairfax County schools are some of the best in the nation. U.S. News & World Report ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Fairfax County, the top high school in the state.

Those without school-age kids or many families choose to settle in a part of Alexandria that has a vibe that matches their own. Alexandria’s housing options range from historic to new builds to mid-century modern structures.

The good news for those in Alexandria is that nature trails, public transportation, shopping, and culture are easily accessible from any point. The downside is that prices trend much higher than the national home price average of about $363,000 as of September 2019.

5 areas of Alexandria worth exploring 

Old Town

There are several reasons median home prices in Old Town were $855,335 in late 2019, which is about 87% more expensive than the U.S. average as of September 2019. Cobblestone streets, historic townhomes, and landmarks such as Gadsby’s Tavern — where George Washington slept — are just some of the highlights. Old Town is full of indie boutiques, eateries by the Potomac River, yoga studios, and plenty of walking space.

Potomac Yard

Those that want to be closer to the Pentagon, downtown Washington, D.C., and Arlington County, home of the new Amazon headquarters, often choose Potomac Yard. The area has plenty of restaurants and shopping. Unlike Old Town, though, Potomac Yard’s retail is more big-box than boutique. Still, Old Town is an easy drive away. With home prices averaging $596,005 in late 2019 – almost $300,000 less than those in Old Town – it’s worth it.

Del Ray

If you long for small-town friendliness with intimate boutiques, bicycle cooperatives, outdoor cafes, and exercise studios, Del Ray may be for you. Del Ray, like the other sections of Alexandria, is an easy drive to the Pentagon, downtown D.C., and other suburbs. Median home prices are about $746,400 as of late 2019.

Landmark/Van Dorn

This area is undergoing a renaissance that is bringing indie coffee shops, restaurants, and small boutiques. The area straddles the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County. Townhouses and condos are plentiful, with many of them new builds. One major benefit is that this area is close to two Metro stations. With median home prices of $263,162 in late 2019, this is the place for bargains. 

Kingstowne

This planned community built on South Van Dorn Street and Kingstowne Boulevard is a community with subdivisions that include apartments, condominiums, single-family homes, and townhouses with median prices of $459,100 as of late 2019. Many families choose it for the resident-only benefits, including swimming pools, clubhouses, exercise centers, and more. Plus, it’s close to major retailers, medical offices, and commercial space.

Washington D.C. where you can buy a house.
Source: (Maria Oswalt / Unsplash)

When to buy a house in Alexandria

The Washington, D.C., area is very hot and humid in the summer. If you’re looking for a bargain, consider shopping in August. That’s one of the slowest months for real estate sales in the area.

November and January are two other great months to perhaps get a great deal from a motivated seller.

Find a top buyer’s agent in Alexandria, Virginia

Clearly, homebuyers in Alexandria, Virginia, like all of the Washington, D.C., metro area, have some major choices to make.

Do you want a condo, townhome, or detached home? Are you interested in a new build, mid-century house, historic home, or other era of home?

Do you want to walk to boutiques or do you prefer to have big-box stores nearby?

Are schools important to you?

How long do you want to commute to work? Do you prefer to walk, drive, or use mass transit?

If you don’t have the answers to all of these questions, you’re not alone. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the array of options available in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

When you’re buying a house, you want to make sure you choose exactly what you want. The booming real estate market in the Washington, D.C., metro area drives some buyers to blunders. The best way to avoid such an expensive mistake is to engage a top agent who knows the Washington, D.C., Metro area.

In fact, a top buyer’s agent in Alexandria can save you an average of $53,926 on a home — that’s a lot of cultural activities you could be enjoying instead of paying extra on your mortgage! Those agents can steer you to the areas and choices that are right for you.

Header Image Source: (Andrei Medvedev/ Shutterstock)

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