“I can’t afford much. Will you still work with me?”
When I hear this from potential buyer clients it makes me a little bit sad, knowing that they’re usually asking that question because another agent has said no.
Of course, not every agent can be all things to all buyers. Some agents will specialize in a neighborhood and others in a price range, a type of property, or a buyer category such as first-time, move-up, or luxury. There are also agents who choose to list homes and not work with buyers at all – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You just need to connect with the right one.
The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) reports that the median sales price in D.C. in August 2017 was $694,000 for a house and $455,000 for a condominium. If your budget is well below that, then you might believe homeownership is just not for you. But don’t dismiss it without investigating.
Like most urban dwellers of today, you probably want to be in an area where you can walk to shopping, dining and transportation. The reality is that it’s unlikely you will get everything on your wish list, but if you’re willing to compromise on property size, type, location, or amenities, then you may well succeed in securing a home that suits your lifestyle for a purse-pleasing price.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a single person buying your typical first home in the DMV. In most cases, it will be a one-bedroom condominium of 550-650 square feet.
Based on GCAAR sales statistics from 2017, you can spend as little as $65,000 in Congress Heights, an area in Southeast D.C. that has a Metro stop on the green line. In Dupont Circle’s West End, however, that same condo can cost you as much as $525,000.
Go across the water to the City of Alexandria and you can spend a mere $110,000, but look out for high condo fees that may vastly increase your monthly payments. Farther west in Arlington, that same square footage will cost $115,000 on the south side and as much as $465,000 on the north side.
Prefer Maryland? You can sometimes find an older condo in Silver Spring or Gaithersburg for under $100,000 and if you’re lucky, you may end up with a renovated unit in Bladensburg for less than $50,000. Even in Bethesda on Woodmont Avenue surrounded by restaurants, you can cap your spending at $360,000 with a monthly fee less than $500.
When it’s time to move up to a townhouse (or rowhouse for the DC-ites among us), expect to shell out more for an additional 500-1000 square feet.
In the Randle Heights subdivision of Southeast D.C., a 1,300-square-foot, two-level end unit with two bedrooms and two baths sold this spring for $334,000, whereas a similar home in Georgetown garnered $950,000.
A three-bedroom, 1,200 square foot townhouse near Duke Street in Alexandria may cost as little as $360,000 and on the other side of the Beltway, new construction in Upper Marlboro can start as low as $300,000.
In Greenbelt, Md., you might add builder upgrades to a new townhouse with a garage and still pay less than $475,000, and if you’re OK commuting from Clarksburg or Germantown, you might pay $50,000 less.
And what if price is no object?
Well, for eight figures in Northwest D.C., you just missed a home with nine bedrooms and 11 baths for your live-in housekeeper to clean.
Alexandria offered an estate on two acres with 5 bedrooms, 5 baths and tennis courts for just over $3,000,000 this year and Arlington seemed almost budget-friendly with the sale of 8,000 square feet of splendiferous Craftsman architecture for a mere $2,500,000.
You could also have yodeled to your heart’s content in a 33,000-square-foot grand residence in Potomac, provided you had $6 million to buy it and had at least that much set aside to finish what the builder had failed to complete.
And for the best bang for your megabucks, a Bowie home featuring 15,000 square feet on nearly three acres, with a four-car garage, a pool, theater room, billiard room and every imaginable luxury could have been yours for – drumroll please – $1,325,000.
So, if you have been considering buying a home on a tight budget, go ahead and make your wish list, then choose an agent who can be your Tim Gunn mentor and help you edit it and make it work. Happy house hunting!
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at Real Living| At Home. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her at Valerie@DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.