What if you could live in a Norman Rockwell painting, a slice of Americana closely tied to our nation’s capital? Imagine stepping out of your quaint Colonial-style home on a crisp fall morning, as amber-colored leaves blanket the front lawn. Your Saturday morning walk along Arlington Loop, a 16-mile paved trail trek, traces the Potomac riverfront and winds through scenic neighborhoods of this Washington, D.C., suburb. Such is life in pedestrian-friendly Arlington, Virginia, known as one of America’s most walkable suburbs.
Small-town charms and big-city conveniences beckon buyers in search of proximity to the nation’s capital, plenty of lifestyle perks, and a thriving economy and job market.
The self-governed county of approximately 237,000 culturally diverse residents spans 26 square miles and resides directly across from Washington, D.C., on the southwestern bank of the Potomac River. Arlington is compact, convenient, and dense, so housing options are primarily high-rises and townhomes, with a limited supply of single-family homes.
If you want to buy a house in Arlington, you’ll have to factor in a higher cost of living and housing prices in this seller’s market, where the average listing sells in several days.
To help you close the deal on a home that fits your budget and lifestyle, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide with expert advice and insights from area real estate professionals.
Why are buyers sold on Arlington?
Top-performing Arlington real estate agent Ray Gernhart, a 30-year Arlington resident, says people want to buy a house in Arlington for several reasons. “A lot of buyers are coming into Arlington as a career move. Others are leaving Washington, D.C., for safety, security, and good schools,” says Gernhart, a single-family home expert, closing 73% more deals than area agents.
Part of the original land designation for the nation’s capital, today Arlington operates as one of the smallest counties in the country with no cities.
Arlington’s character and personality come from 10 distinct neighborhoods. But if you want to buy a house in Arlington, you’ll need to be competitive with your offer.
Arlington housing holds its value
As a buyer, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your purchase holds its value over time. According to the Arlington Department of Real Estate’s 2021 market study, residential property values are up 5.6%. The average value of existing residential properties — including condos, townhouses, and detached homes — is $724,400 as of February 2021.
“The biggest reason right now is an extreme housing shortage. Employment also plays a big role. There are lots of government contractors, military, and private-sector jobs in this area,” says Arlington property appraiser Rick Phillips, president of Appraisals Guaranteed.
Higher-priced homes mean higher property taxes, so be prepared to budget for the current property tax rate set by the Arlington Department of Real Estate Assessment at $1.026 per $100 of assessed value.
Also, keep in mind that Arlington’s home appraisals are tricky at the moment due to shorter deadlines, and rising home prices because the market is so competitive. Phillips also notes that the pandemic presents logistical challenges with getting access to some properties. To find a reputable appraiser, you can check online resources like The Appraisal Institute, and ask for referrals from agents and home inspectors.
Arlington’s schools get high grades
Arlington’s A-rated public school system ranks among the best in the state and country. Niche.com ranks it the #2 school district in Virginia, with a 95% graduation rate and 91% of high school graduates planning to attend a two- or four-year college. In addition, several Arlington public high schools rank in the top 2% in the Jay Matthews Challenge Index, a nationwide ranking of U.S. high schools.
Arlington is fit for life
Arlington offers an active lifestyle with more than 150 public parks and playgrounds and 80 miles of trails, earning the title of America’s Fittest City. Rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare to explore the metro D.C. region, historic sites and scenery, or pedal to work.
Arlington offers easy commutes
Imagine commuting without a car, bypassing rush hour and traffic gridlock. It’s possible in pedestrian-friendly Arlington. Arlington has 11 Metro stations with the Orange and Blue metro lines connecting with Capitol Hill, as well as a regional rail and bus service. Arlington connects with the world via three airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and two additional international airports within 30 miles.
Arlington is good for business
Arlington’s workforce is one of the most educated in the nation, with 40% of residents holding advanced degrees. This Washington, D.C., suburb is an ideal location to do business near military and government institutions.
Top employers in Arlington’s job market are the government and services sectors. Arlington continues to diversify, attracting top tech talent and top companies, including e-commerce giant, Amazon, which located its second headquarters (HQ2), in Arlington. Amazon promises to create 25,000 jobs over the next decade.
Economic indicators point to a healthy, thriving economy powered by world-class companies, including 31 companies on the 2020 Inc. 5000, and several global aerospace and defense companies.
Arlington’s buyer pain points
To make a smart move to Arlington within your budget, you will need to manage your expectations. “I would counsel preparedness and patience. Getting pre-qualified with a lender is a must in this market,” Phillips says. “It’s an emotional time, but it’s necessary to remain unemotional.”
Bidding wars, not bargains
Arlington is a seller’s market as of February 2021, with home prices at an all-time high, historically low inventories, and low interest rates, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors® (NVAR).
With residential property values on the rise, if you’re going to buy a house in Arlington, be prepared to enter the market at the million-dollar mark with a possible bidding war. “Now, I put a property on the market on a Thursday and I get 12 contracts by Monday,” says Gernhart. You’ll need to crunch the numbers to develop a realistic budget for Arlington’s housing market.
High cost of living
Arlington is known for its higher cost of living, and affordable housing is in short supply. “Arlington is not an inexpensive place to live. You’ve got to have the means to live in Arlington. If you want a backyard, a little piece of earth fenced in for your children, you are easily talking about the starting price of a home in Arlington around $1 million,” Gernhardt says.
Minimal seller disclosures
One thing to keep in mind when you buy a house in Arlington, is that as a buyer, you won’t know the property’s entire history. Virginia requires a seller to disclose material defects, but not latent defects. “In this market, buyers are buying a home without a lot of background on it,” Gernhart says.
A home inspection can help buyers get a good grasp of the home’s condition. It’s also a good idea to consult an insurance agent or request a CLUE report to learn about any claims — such as flooding or fire — in the home’s history.
Limited supply of single-family detached homes
Arlington’s housing market is condo-concentrated with very few detached single-family homes. The high cost and limited availability of land mean most residents live in vertical developments. “There are very few ranch-style or rambler style homes because the land is so expensive,” says Gernhart.
No prime time for buyers
Arlington’s housing market tends to be steady year-round. Traditionally, homes stayed on the market a bit longer in the winter months, but with 2021’s continued competitive landscape, there is not necessarily an ideal season for buyers.
Buyer tips to boost your offer
If you want to make sure to close the deal when you buy a house in Arlington, get competitive with your offer. Real estate experts recommend considering the following tactics to get a leg up in the current market:
- Include a sizable earnest money deposit with your offer.
- Work with a local lender who understands Arlington.
- Waive home inspection contingencies — but NOT the home inspection. You still need to uncover and understand any issues with the home.
- Waive appraisal and finance contingencies.
- Offer a rent-back clause to the seller.
- Write a letter to the seller introducing yourself.
Neighborhoods to know
Wondering where you belong in Arlington? Life revolves around 10 neighborhoods with distinct personalities, housing options, amenities, and attractions. The county considers Arlington Boulevard its dividing line between North and South Arlington.
“North Arlington has more expensive, upscale neighborhoods with stately homes, including Lyon Village,” says Gernhart.
“South Arlington has a different charm. For many years it was more of a working-class neighborhood. Now it’s trendy with desirable homes people overlooked 20 years ago.”
Here are the neighborhoods to know in your home search.
Ballston gets its reputation as an innovation hub with cutting-edge research institutions, including DARPA, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Virginia Tech Research Center, George Mason University’s new Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) and Marymount University.
Most people live in high-rise condos here with very few detached, single-family homes available.
Medstar Capitals Iceplex, home of the NHL Washington Champions, 2018 Stanley World Cup Champions, is a neighborhood perk hosting ice hockey games and year-round ice skating.
Clarendon is a popular place to call home with its Post-World War II bungalows and mix of condos and townhomes. Lyon Park and Lyon Village evoke address envy with their quaint streetscapes and mix of bungalow and colonial revivalist home styles.
Culturally diverse Columbia Pike gets its name from the 3.5-mile corridor connecting Northern Virginia to the nation’s capital. An eclectic Main Street evolved around this busy commuter corridor, and is populated with ethnic restaurants, marketplaces, and a mix of affordable high-end housing options. Columbia Pike has some of the most affordable housing inside the beltway. Also, make sure to plan a stop at Acme Pie Company on Columbia Pike.
The Courthouse corridor gets its name from the surrounding Arlington County Government complex and nearby Arlington General District Court. Anchored by Courthouse Plaza, the area is bustling with downtown workers, business lunches, and happy hours on weekdays. The weekends welcome a laid-back lifestyle as people browse the farmers market and chat at coffee shops. Expect mainly condo living in this corridor.
Crystal City offers a downtown vibe and lifestyle with modernist architecture, public art, and plenty of high-rises. This walkable urban district exists on the edge of suburban neighborhoods, including Aurora Hills and Addison Heights. Foodies flock to the dining scene along Restaurant Row, and fitness enthusiasts trek the Mount Vernon Trail for exercise.
Crystal City forms part of the National Landing, made up of three thriving neighborhoods — Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard.
Amazon is building part of its second headquarters’ campus in Crystal City, including an iconic Helix skyscraper that will define the local skyline.
Pentagon City is walking distance from the Air Force Memorial, The National 911 Pentagon Memorial, and the Pentagon, and it houses part of Amazon’s second headquarters. The neighborhood has an enviable array of dining and shopping experiences, including The Fashion Centre and Pentagon Row. Here you’ll find single-family homes, high-rise apartments, and charming residences in the Aurora Highlands Historic District, populated with old Sears “kit homes,” Craftsman, Colonials, Tudor revivals, and some modern homes.
Lee Highway’s personality comes from its plethora of local, independent shops, restaurants, and family-owned businesses. This is the place to shop local with lots of authentic, independent retail offerings, including Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, Pastries by Randolph, and the Lebanese Taverna Market.
The neighborhood gets its name from the east-west commuter route and commercial corridor running through residential north Arlington and parts of Rosslyn, also known as Route 29.
Known for its bike-friendly trails, Lee Highway has a bike map for cyclists to explore this thriving commercial and residential area.
Rosslyn offers location, location, location with unparalleled access to the D.C. region via five major road networks, three metro lines, and two major airports. High-rise towers dot the skyline, overlooking the Potomac River where the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge connects to Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Rosslyn offers many housing options, from quaint townhomes to modern condos and lofts, and detached single-family homes.
Shirlington draws an artistic crowd to its vibrant, creative district, anchored around The Village at Shirlington. Here, you’ll find a state-of-the-art library, a renowned regional theater, and a European-style promenade lined with shops and outdoor cafes. This up-and-coming neighborhood of tree-lined streets offers a mix of housing options.
Begin with a buyer’s agent
If you want to buy a house in Arlington, there’s a learning curve to navigating the housing market. To help you master it, work with a buyer’s agent who is knowledgeable about the area.
The top buyer’s agents in Arlington save their clients 60.3% more on their home purchases, and transact 1.6 times more than average agents. Contact an agent today to land the deal of your dreams, and secure your slice of Americana in Arlington.
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