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Old 05-03-2011, 10:25 AM
 
639 posts, read 1,148,352 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecnorton View Post
I have spent about 2 weeks house hunting in the 'burbs of NOVA, as we are moving from SoCal. I guess it depends on your frame of reference, but I think Fairfax county did a pretty good job laying out houses. The area definitely does not look as cookie cutter as SoCal. Also, it is nice to see a little more space between the houses, different offset of the homes in the tract, and some trees and bushes. IMO.
You really think so? I moved here from SoCal 7 months ago and one thing I definetely noticed was how cookie-cutter everything is here (as far as newer houses) - don't get me wrong, SoCal absolutely has cookie-cutter tract housing, but they vary in different areas. I've driven through a ton of areas here (Fairfax Cty. included) and all the newer houses, condos, etc. look EXACTLY the same.

But you're right about the space, that's for sure. There's a little more here.
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Old 05-03-2011, 11:28 AM
 
2,879 posts, read 6,820,789 times
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Lots of McMansions in Arlington.
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Old 05-03-2011, 11:34 AM
 
35 posts, read 79,917 times
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What about Vienna? I don't know it but have read about it and it sounds like maybe what the OP is looking for?
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Old 05-03-2011, 11:35 AM
 
5,071 posts, read 8,617,441 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hesitantnova View Post
Thank you in advance for reading. We have option to relocate to Northern VA. A positive because it puts us closer to family, a negative because I visited NOVA often when I was younger and never found much in the way of joie de vivre, charm, or personality. Please give honest assessments: Where can I find neighborhoods with character (i.e., trees, no cookie cutter, no McMansion) and good schools? I like the looks of Alexandria's Rosemont or Del Ray, and I love neighborhoods in the District, to give an idea of what I mean, but I am not thrilled about the schooling options ... no pressure cooker for our kids but I do want quality, safe schools. I am looking in and around Arlington. Price range would be 700K-800K for 3 good-sized BRs, and that is with public schools; range is obviously less if we had to go private. Am I looking for something that doesn't exist?
I'd probably look in the City of Falls Church, given your specs, and prepare to be patient.

In general, people do not view the City of Alexandria schools as uniformly "safe, quality" institutions. That's why privates thrive there. But, if a critical mass of parents with exacting and refined tastes, such as yours, and incomes to match, move into Rosemont and Del Ray AND send their kids to the public schools, things will surely change to your liking. And then you could actually contribute to improving a local school's and city's reputation, and not just muse on the area's many shortcomings.

Last edited by JD984; 05-03-2011 at 12:02 PM..
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Old 05-03-2011, 11:38 AM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
30,101 posts, read 67,199,392 times
Reputation: 15753
As usual, Caladium said it best when she said that you'd be best off staying where you are instead of constantly chasing a suitable living environment in an area that doesn't have what you seek. After a year-and-a-half of "settling" for Reston with its chain restaurants, surface parking lots, traffic congestion, subdivisions, etc. (and annoying everyone on here with my chronic kvetching about Reston's quasi-urban shortcomings) because I couldn't afford anything better on my Federal salary without rooming with strangers I decided to just cut ties to the area. I moved to NoVA on a whim, desperate to move away from family so I could actually date in a more socially progressive area than my native Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I now live in a historic part of Pittsburgh with brick sidewalks, old rowhomes with flowerboxes, and scenic views within walking distance of Downtown for a fraction of the price I was paying to live in Reston. My income dropped substantially moving here, but so did my cost-of-living, which resulted in me living paycheck-to-paycheck in both Pittsburgh and Reston. I was paying just under $1,200/month for a 1970s-era drab 1-BR apartment in Reston and now pay just over $500/month for a tiny yet cozy 1-BR apartment in a historic rowhome in a walkable neighborhood.

It all depends upon how much you internalize your surroundings. For me it's CRITICAL that I live in an area I like. For many in NoVA they may not like living in such sterile surroundings, but great schools, low crime, decent weather, proximity to DC, a robust job market, wonderful churches, etc. may make living amongst a sea of vinyl-sided cul-de-sacs between big-box stores tolerable to them. For me none of those assets was enough to offset living in sterile surroundings so I moved. I can now walk down the hill to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, public markets, a river trail, bars, restaurants, and much more. I can even walk to the stadiums and the arena. You'd have to be affluent to live in a historic walkable area like my part of Pittsburgh if it was super-imposed over NoVA.

If you are accustomed to PA's quaint historic walkable "boroughs", then you'll HATE Northern Virginia. Michgc, if I'm not mistaken, moved to Vienna from the Philadelphia area, and while Vienna is nice by NoVA standards it's still a step down in the "charm and character" department from places like West Chester, New Hope, Quakertown, etc. back in PA. All the places in NoVA that exude the "soul" you are looking for, OP, are generally quite expensive. Before moving to Pittsburgh I struggled with the notion of moving to Winchester, VA and power-commuting daily to McLean. With gas prices now exceeding $4/gallon I'm glad I didn't.
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Old 05-03-2011, 12:58 PM
 
Location: Virginia
18,717 posts, read 26,834,609 times
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I just got home from work, and I must say I had the most lovely walk today. It's gorgeous outside and the weather is mild and sunny.

So here's the thing I was thinking about as I walked home: I live in a cookie cutter neighborhood and I'm proud of it! That's right, I love, love, love how pretty my cookie cutter suburban neighborhood is. I like having neighbors who love it here, too. But just because we love it doesn't mean you will. If suburbia isn't your cup of tea, I'd think twice about moving here. If Harrisburg makes you half as happy as my community makes me, then I would seriously consider staying there.

I like my walk home from work, but it might be too suburban for some.

I walk past gardens that are now bursting into bloom, a community center, a strip mall with store windows I enjoy looking at (especially one that has kittens up for adoption). The sidewalks I take are clean and wide. There is no trash, no graffiti, no blight--just lots of trees and gardens and kids playing in a playground. There's a cute little bridge that crosses over the stream. My walk also takes me past houses that I like looking at. They're labeled cookie cutter, but take a look--they have more variety than you might think. See photos below.

On a day like today I see lots of my neighbors, and we'll say something in passing like "what a pretty day" or "don't you love living here." I think it happens to me a lot because I fit here, and that sense of feeling you belong shows and makes other people want to say hello (especially if you're the sort of person who also smiles and says hello). If you have that feeling in Harrisburg, it's worth staying there.

Getting back to the OP, if you do decide to move here, we have an extensive set of photo tours that can give you an idea of what communities are like. You might like what you see in the Vienna, Falls Church, Shirlington, and Alexandria photo tours in this master list:
The New & Improved List of Nova Photo Tours

One last thought, about the variety of some of the cookie cutter homes. Here are a few of the ones I like looking at... don't they look interesting? They do to me. But, YMMV. Everyone has different tastes and character is in the eyes of the beholder.
















Last edited by Caladium; 05-03-2011 at 01:44 PM..
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Old 05-03-2011, 01:16 PM
 
5,071 posts, read 8,617,441 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaliTerp07 View Post
Also, to put the high school in perspective--at a high school level, the kids track themselves. If your kids are in all honors/AP classes, they'll succeed just fine, regardless of if there is a large population of under achievers. I'm currently working at a title 1 school with 85% free/reduced lunch, 65% ESOL population--and still, the kids from strong family backgrounds who want to succeed and have the support to do so are doing just fine.
Why should someone with small children assume that, when their kids get to high school, they'll take "all honors/AP classes"? If I had young kids, and were thinking about a school district, I'd want to know that, if they want to take a mix of classes and not get over-loaded with AP courses, their classmates in the regular classes would still have solid skills and were not affirmatively disruptive or disinterested. Being told that they'd do "just fine" if - but, perhaps, only if - they were in "all honors/AP classes" would not necessarily be sufficiently reassuring. It just sounds like another variation of "Yale or Jail."

I don't think my reaction is unique - which may be why, in a lot of instances, people hear what others have to say about the opportunities that are available to the top students at schools like TC Williams and decide that they still won't take a chance with the Alexandria public schools.

Last edited by JD984; 05-03-2011 at 01:28 PM..
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Old 05-03-2011, 01:27 PM
 
26 posts, read 46,482 times
Reputation: 13
The OPs post sounds like me a year or more ago. We had no choice about moving but spent months trying to find that attractive neighborhood with a slightly urban vibe, good schools, walkable, interesting, not cookie cutter etc etc. We thought Arlington or Vienna were as close as we could get but they both proved unaffordable. Alex Old Town is almost as expensive and then, yes, you do have the issue of concern regarding the high school's reputation. For $700k you are looking at much less attractive areas, or much smaller housing - I wish I could tell you different. Just go to one of the real estate sites like franklymls and see what you can find for under $1m in Vienna, Falls Church (most of which is not a town at all) and Arlington's neighborhoods. Not a whole lot.
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Old 05-03-2011, 01:36 PM
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC, formerly DC and Phila
8,555 posts, read 12,620,837 times
Reputation: 8315
So where did you end up rupeerrosie? And are you happy here?

Quote:
Originally Posted by rupeerosie View Post
The OPs post sounds like me a year or more ago. We had no choice about moving but spent months trying to find that attractive neighborhood with a slightly urban vibe, good schools, walkable, interesting, not cookie cutter etc etc. We thought Arlington or Vienna were as close as we could get but they both proved unaffordable. Alex Old Town is almost as expensive and then, yes, you do have the issue of concern regarding the high school's reputation. For $700k you are looking at much less attractive areas, or much smaller housing - I wish I could tell you different. Just go to one of the real estate sites like franklymls and see what you can find for under $1m in Vienna, Falls Church (most of which is not a town at all) and Arlington's neighborhoods. Not a whole lot.
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Old 05-03-2011, 01:39 PM
 
2,612 posts, read 4,754,098 times
Reputation: 3943
I also spent a lot of time looking for someplace that was Old Town with good schools (and parking!). No luck. We eventually found an older suburban neighborhood with contemporary homes, lots of trees, friendly neighbors, and a lake. It's hardly city living, but it's the best we can do in VA on our budget.

I wonder if the OP would like Great Falls. It's the opposite of a city, obviously, but it's very beautiful and the homes are too expensive to be cookie-cutter (and they aren't right on top of each other). I think 800 might buy something out there.

And how about Clifton? That's charming, and has a little town. 800 might get something there too.

Last edited by marie5v; 05-03-2011 at 01:50 PM..
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