Question about best neighborhood in N. VA (Arlington, Alexandria: rentals, townhouse)
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My husband will be taking a job in DC in the next month so we are moving from down South where we have lived for most of our lives. We have a daughter entering the 7th grade and one entering the 9th and both score in the highest percentiles of our State's testing.
I have done a little research and see that what costs us $275,000 to own here will be more like $500,000+ there.
We plan to find a house to rent for a year first so we can figure out the area. My husband really wants to keep the commute to DC to 30 - 40 minutes so I have been looking at Alexandria and Fairfax Co.
The plan is to start with schools and use that as a way to narrow down what neighborhood in which to rent.
We prefer an established family-oriented neighborhood with some old-town charm rather than lots of rows of the same townhouse and fast-food restaurants over and over.
We are planning a visit in a couple of weeks to check out rental properties and we have just a couple of days so I want to do as much research ahead of time as I can. Our goal is to get this all done in time for the start of school in September so not much time.
Any suggestions as to which neighborhoods we should target during our visit and what are the pros of those neighborhoods.
What is your budget? What size house are you looking for, and what condition would you like it in? $500K in Alexandria will get you a 2000 sq. ft. modest house without much of a yard. The average seems to be about $285/sq. ft. A 30-40 minute commute into DC will be possible on good days, but it'll be a brutal one. The problem is that there aren't many ways to cross the Potomac and the drivers around there are pretty bad (slow, distracted, uneducated on the road system, etc).
Thanks Ken. For renting, we'll be looking for a three-bedroom house with a fenced yard (we have two small dogs who are part of the family) and our budget is around $2,750 per month. The house doesn't have to be huge nor does the yard. Since we only plan to be there for a year, it needs to be nice and function but not luxurious. My husband is an early riser so that may help with the commute? He'll leave the house by 6:30 am most days.
Vienna is a good option but not one that will get your husband to work in 30 - 40 minutes. I just checked out homesdatabase.com and there are several rentals in your price range that will meet your needs. As for commuting to DC - use the Metro Trip Planner to get a good idea of the actual times - Vienna Metro to Metro Center takes 29 minutes on the train. A few minutes waiting for the train, getting from home to Metro, and Metro to office will easily add up to nearly an hour.
Keep in mind that all schools in Fairfax County are in one system and the quality of instruction will be standard across all the schools. What varies is the performance of the students attending. If you don't mind more performance diversity you'll have a wider range of options. For example where I live in Mount Vernon is an easy 30-40 minute drive to DC but the schools draw from neighborhoods of lower performing students. You can likely find a 3br here that's within your budget.
I would second Vienna...it is a wonderful place to live ,we have been here since 1996 first rented than owned and now rent again as we ease our way into retirement. My 3 daughters went from kingdergarden to HS at Westbriar, Kilmer and Marshall.
We lived on the Marshall/Madison line, so my girls had friends in both schools, Marshall has a IB program , Madison has an AP program. Having watched all these girls grow up and go thru the 2 different schools I would say they recieved a very similar education, had similar experiences in both these schools.
Other than the schools Vienna has a lot to offer it is a very small town feeling, we have the Vienna Halloween Parade, Viva Vienna, 4th of July fireworks and a very good sports program for both boys and girls.
There are a number of pool clubs with swim teams to enjoy in the summer. we are near the bike trail, Wolftrap, near the orange line and soon near the new silver line.
As far as rent you can find something in the 2500-3000 range ....
I agree that if using metro, then Vienna is a good choice for good schools and town charm at a somewhat affordable price - however, I'm not sure how affordable it is these days. Arlington is just crazy expensive in the areas with the better schools (literally one street over you go from 700 to 500 just because school district changes). When we looked there a few years ago with a 600K budget, we could not find one single thing anywhere. Alexandria does not have the most desirable schools - Alexandria city schools are generally not considered desirable and the part of Alexandria that is assigned to Fairfax County schools is not as desirable as other school districts in Fairfax County. If you are OK with your children attending a school with a large population of low-income and ESL students, then that won't matter to you, but it does have an impact on the classroom that parents should be aware of. Most of the schools are not really rough or dangerous, just academically affected by large numbers of struggling students.
If your husband will consider commuting to DC via VRE (the rail), then the Burke/Fairfax area becomes another option. It has a very good combination of good schools and affordable, family-oriented neighborhoods. It does not have much "town" anywhere, though. However, many of the neighborhoods are established and not necessarily the ugly monotonous subdivisions that are so common throughout VA. You can rent in this area for about 1700 - 3000 depending on the size and condition of the home.
Basically, you are going to have to compromise on your wish list. In the 500K range, you cannot have town charm, good schools, a 30 minute drive to DC, and a nice house. I would sum up your choices as follows:
town charm - probably your most likely compromise since it barely exists in NoVa to begin with, everyone wants it, and only the rich can afford it. Town charm within 30 minutes driving to DC with good schools - not sure it even exists, but very expensive if it does.
good schools - some people will compromise on this and say that Fairfax schools are good no matter what. I would say they are OK no matter what, but some are much better than others and you have to consider where your child is most likely to succeed. You can check out the demographics of all Fairfax County schools on the fcps.edu website. Test scores are there too, but they really only reflect the demographics. If you find yourself wanting the same type of school that most NoVa parents want, then you probably will have to scratch Alexandria off your list as well as Arlington, as the better school district is just not affordable at 500K. It's really a personal decision, and plenty of parents are happy with the Fairfax County schools in Alexandria (NOT the same as the Alexandria city school district).
30 minutes to DC - seriously, he'll need to at least consider metro or VRE and a slightly longer commute, or else you will need to compromise seriously on something else that you want.
3 bedroom home with yard for under 3K - if that could be a townhouse, I think you will be OK. A single family home, maybe in Vienna or Burke/Fairfax. Maybe in Fairfax County, Alexandria, but that has some questionable neighborhoods and schools.
Good luck! Let us know what you think after you look around.
Igood schools - some people will compromise on this and say that Fairfax schools are good no matter what. I would say they are OK no matter what, but some are much better than others and you have to consider where your child is most likely to succeed. You can check out the demographics of all Fairfax County schools on the fcps.edu website. Test scores are there too, but they really only reflect the demographics. If you find yourself wanting the same type of school that most NoVa parents want, then you probably will have to scratch Alexandria off your list as well as Arlington, as the better school district is just not affordable at 500K. It's really a personal decision, and plenty of parents are happy with the Fairfax County schools in Alexandria (NOT the same as the Alexandria city school district).
If you were moving into the area with small children I'd be less concerned about that than with kids going into middle and high school. Mine did well in lower performing FFC middle and high schools partly because they had gone here since first grade. By the time they were at the age of yours they'd established solid networks of friends from elementary school days with similar academic interests and abilities.
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