In the midst of moving from one realtor to another, we were also going back and forth between what kind of house we wanted. We looked at a lot of different options. While we were house hunting there was a large variety of options for sale and we took it upon ourselves to check out every one.
If you know anything about the Metro DC area you know that not only is it huge, but the demographics can change from one block to another. The best way to breakdown the houses that we saw, liked, didn’t like, considered and ultimately bought would be to break it down by area.
The spacious one bedroom condo – We looked at a few condos around the NW area where we were renting. While the condos had a ton of space and not completely out of our price range, we took them out of consideration because of the condo fees. Some of the high rise buildings have fees that are almost the same amount as your monthly mortgage payment.
The not-so-spacious studio apartments – We did look at a few units closer to downtown and the Georgetown area. These units were extremely affordable, not there was barely any space. The condo fees were manageable, but without direct metro access, it didn’t seem worth it to live in that small of a place.
The cute (but rundown) row houses – Some of the neighborhoods in DC are saturated with beautiful, colorful and friendly row houses. The neighborhoods seem very outgoing and neighbors are always out mingling. Unfortunately, the only area where we could afford such a place was around the Columbia Heights area on the west side of the city. Not knowing much about the area except that it is in the process of becoming a safe, accountable neighborhood, we passed on these units, too. The outsides of the units seemed very attractive, but the insides were completely gutted out. One even lacked a staircase!
The modern simple condo – The one area that we honestly thought we were going to settle down in was McLean/Tysons Corner. We kept our eye on a few condo complexes in the area. The one bedroom’s were in our price range. The perks about stepping outside of the city was that we could get a lot more (outside of the condo) for our money, i.e. amenities like a gym, pool, in-unit washer and dryer, etc. The only downfall to these “cheap” condos was the lack of access to the metro.
The older condos (that might carry baggage) – We put our first offer on a condo that was built about forty years ago. The condo was in decent shape, but would need a little work over time. It was one of the only condos that were in our price range that had two bedrooms. We saw a lot of space and a livable unit and jumped on it. After a few days of limbo, we found out that the owner owed more than the condo was worth. This was moving to become a short sale. With the time crunch to meet the tax credit deadline, we removed our offer and kept looking.
The classic foreclosure – We did look at a lot of single family homes around the Arlington area. The neighborhoods were not really our scene, but some of the houses were certainly livable. Some (ok, most of them) were most certainly not. These classic foreclosures were houses simply left in the dust. The properties let out a very sad vibe and needed a lot of TLC. You could tell some of the houses were occupied by the same people for decades before turning over. There were no updates made on the houses for years and would require a ton of work.
The “renovated” foreclosures – We found this type of house a lot. Basically, a "house-flipper" would come and purchase a foreclosure, renovate the place completely and turn it around to make a profit. I found a house that was “flipped” and went nuts over it. It was huge, had four bedrooms, a downstairs apartment and an incredible private backyard. But one thing that the construction did not cure was a mold problem in the basement. The house was known not to pass inspection and required a large investment to fix the problem. In these cases, it was kind of annoying to see the makeovers lack the essential components to a safe and happy home.
Montgomery County, Maryland
The MPDU – This unit was our little disaster. We found a luxurious unit just a few steps from the Red Line that had everything we wanted: just enough space, a gym, a pool, parking, affordable condo fees and was well within our price range. In fact, it was about 30% below our budget. This unit was described to us by (our then) realtor as “too good to pass up”. In reality, it was really too good to be true. We were told that the unit was an MDPU (Moderately Printed Dwelling Unit). To describe it quickly, these are units that are built along side “expensive” units and houses so that those who have lower incomes can afford to live in the nicer areas. But even in this market, this particular unit could not sell to those who didn’t make as much money. Therefore, the unit became available to the public at a very low price (but with restrictions that were not communicated to us). We submitted our offer, it was accepted and we were on our way to signing our first home contact. Because this was an MPDU we were required to meet with the county to go over the “rules”. We were in for a big surprise when we learned that these rules were extremely outrageous. They were: 1) We could not sell the house until we lived there for thirty years, 2) If we did sell before hand, it would be at a price set by the county and 3) If we did live there for the thirty years and wanted to sell, we could set our own price but would have to pay half of our profit back to the county. This information was never explained to us by our realtor. Consequently, we were offended and hurt and withdrew the contract and ultimately “fired” our realtor.
The Winner! – Just when we thought all of our hope was gone, I found a listing for a condo in the Kentlands, in Gaithersburg. I did not know much about the area except the fact that was prestigious and completely out of our price range. But there was a one bedroom unit that was within our price range in a beautiful condo complex. I called and e-mailed the realtor we were working with at the time and heard no response for days. I did not want to let this condo pass us by, so I reached out and called our “final realtor”. We met on a Sunday afternoon to tour the building. We were told very quickly what was going on with the building and why the units were priced so low. The complex was five years old and encountered problems selling the units when they were first built. The management company opted not to update any units and rent the units until they were sold. Once a unit was sold, it would be updated with hardwood floors, granite countertops and brand new appliances. (Amazing, huh?) That wasn’t even the best part. I’ll keep going with the other perks first. We would be sold one parking spot, in a gated garage, but also have access to tons of (free) parking for additional vehicles. The community’s features include a gym, pool, wine tasting room, pub/game room, movie theatre room, locker rooms and a sauna. The condo fees were next to nothing compared to what we had been looking at around the area. Plus, we were in the Kentlands! This neighborhood is really incredible. It’s about a ten minute drive from the metro and has tons of restaurants and shops within walking distance. But the very best part, at that moment in time about purchasing this condo, was that the sellers were contributing $10,000 towards our closing costs. Without exposing too much about our costs, we basically did not put anything down on the condo due to this $10,000 and the tax credit we would be receiving after the purchase. Within three days after first seeing the condo, I was able to convince my boyfriend to not only just consider this unit, but consider shifting our entire focus from Virginia to Maryland. On that Wednesday we were under contract. On April 9th we closed on our very first home! (And by April 10th, we were moved in…we were THAT excited.)
(We saw plenty of foreclosures, modern condos, etc. in all three areas that we considered. For this post's purpose I wanted to feature the types of units that stood out to us in each state. If you have any questions or area recommendations, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)