Profile picture for NoVa22

Rent vs. own, Arlington, VA

Contemplating buying a home after renting studios/1BR's for three years.  I make 50K a year, 10K in savings (in addt. to 401K), have ZERO debt of any kind, excellent credit.  Given the state of the economy in this area (still very robust despite the rest of the country) - is it feasible for me to find a place on the orange line that I could afford (Rosslyn - Ballston)?  Attending home ownership classes and applying for loan are my next research steps but given above,  should I continue to rent or buy? 

  • March 29 2009 - Arlington
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Answers (12)

Great start by taking attending home ownership class!! We haven't seen a big decline in the prices in Arlington area (inside the belt way). You may also want to talk to a loan office who specializes in VHDA program where you can purchase the home with 100% financing. If you do want to use the money you have saved for downpayment than FHA loans would also be a good option. Depending on how much you get qualified for and what you can get for your money you can decide whether to own or continue renting.

After you get  comfortable with your monthly mortgage you can look up the condos/homes in the area you prefer and speak to you Realtor.

  • March 30 2009
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Profile picture for klarek the realist
Arlington is vastly overinflated and bound to correct in the future.  It's value gains during the bubble were as large as those in surrounding areas, but for whatever reason hasn't corrected yet.  Buying there now is like taking a time capsule back to 2006 and buying a house at the bubble's peak.

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  • March 30 2009
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Profile picture for spidercharm
It is ridiculous to buy anywhere in fairfax county. Prices are way out of whack...

People who are buying must be either wasteful or out of their minds to listen to their realtor's advise. Those who bought in 2008 imagining it was some kind of bottom are crying now.

Mclean, Arlington, Vienna, Fairfax and many more neighbourhoods around here are absurdly overinflated...rent makes million times more sense. I think because of government jobs this area is too slow to correct...but correct it must - current ratio of home pirces median income is unsustainable.
  • April 04 2009
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I think it really depends on where you want to live. If you LOVE Clarendon and can't imagine living any further out, your price range is probably going to limit you to renting.  I have clients living in Clarendon/Ballston and they can afford to buy only in South Arlington or Falls Church so they have decided to keep renting until they are no longer enjoying the convenience and nightlife.

If you are coming home to your condo every night after work and not walking to the restaurants in the area on a regular basis, you might decide to buy farther out and pay your own mortgage (instead of your landlord's LOL)

Best of Luck!
  • November 28 2010
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Why are you thinking about buying?  For some, owning their home is a financial decision.  For others, there is a pride in ownership or aversion to renting that is their main motivation.  Understanding what is important to you will help you make an informed choice.



If your motivation is to own, then buying is at least worth exploring.  Be smart about it and get a good broker that is looking out for you.  You will probably be looking at the bottom of the market along the orange line, so I recommend getting a referral from family or friends that have already brought a broker higher end business.  That way, you piggyback off a high value relationship and receive good service.  



A comment about market timing.  Values trended up over 2010 and I sold places higher that recent comps.  That could continue or reverse.  Nobody knows where our market is headed.



If you want to buy for financial reasons, then there is an analysis you can do that will help inform this decision.  First, reflect on your timeline.  The longer you live somewhere, the more able you are to take advantage of good markets or ride out bad ones.  If you are looking at a "starter home" that you will quickly out grow, then it is currently better to rent.  If you are likely to change jobs, location, or income significantly within the next few years, you should rent.  If you just don't know, you should rent.



If you are looking ahead and expect to be here for a good while (3+ years), compare what you spend now to what your combined equivalent would be as an owner.  It is almost never a good idea to make more than a 20% jump in your housing expenses without something making up for it like a promotion or another income (partner or roommate) helping out.



Second, compare what renting the place would cost you compared to buying it.  If owning it is much more expensive than renting it, the property value is less stable.  Also, if/when you move up, you will want the option of holding on to it and renting it out.  This only makes sense at your income range if it puts money in your pocket as a rental.



Note return on investment is different than cash flow.  A property can be a poor investment even though it is paid off and cash flows, or a good investment even if it is highly financed and breaks even.



If you are going to be there awhile, can afford it, and it would make a decent rental down the road, it is worth exploring as part of a greater financial plan including your 401K, investments, and insurance.  


Congratulations on being debt free with excellent credit by the way and best of luck! Jason

  • January 20 2011
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I realized after posting my thoughts that your question was asked way back in spring 2009.  I'd be curious to hear what decisions you made and how they have ended up working for you.  Any update would be greatly appreciated.
  • January 20 2011
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Profile picture for Lady Chattel
Keep renting and saving your money.....better to actually have money and getting modest earnings on it than sitting in a house where it will likely continue to fall.  Arlington is overpriced relative to incomes, and like Klarek said the DC market has been sort of protected because of gubbermint jobs....which is bound to be reigned in and when that does the prices could plummet. At some point, prices have to reflect incomes and I see no evidence that the DC market has even come close to such a thing.  Also, why buy some little crap condo.....wait a while and buy a nice house that will retain value and perhaps grow with you. Only makes sense to buy a condo if you can rent it out for more than your mortgage......as your life changes then you can make it a rental.....cause in that area rentals are a good thing and likely to be easy to fill. 
  • January 20 2011
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Profile picture for first.time.homebuyer
I am very interested in buying a 2BR condo in clarendon. courthouse area (Wilson Blvd corridor).  This will be my first home.  I have a very stable income (~200K) and will be in VA for atleast 1-2 yrs.  I have been in DC/ VA for 10 yrs and I know the area well but as a student couldnt afford to buy.  I have excellent credit and am considering FHA loans (3.5% down with around 4.75% interest) I am really looking forward to owning a place as I do not want to waste money in rent any more.  I will rent out the place if I decide to move else where to a bigger house out in the suburbs or to another state.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  I am wondering if Arlington is a good place to buy at this time in this market.  
  • April 24 2011
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Profile picture for jrreich
Wondering the same thing. Here's my take on it: Arlington and Alexandria never really saw the fall off in home prices due to a relative abundance in jobs. Two reasons for this, the growth in the federal government (while most area's around the country saw a significant drop off in employment), and more recently the BRAC realignment creating 10k + jobs at Ft. Belvoir.

Surveying the political momentum, it is likely our country will vote conservatives into office in the 2012 election, largely on the platform of reigning in govt spending (and hence federal jobs). While the severity and timeline of layoff's is highly dependent, I feel the paring back is inevitable.

This will most certainly lead to an abundance of houses on the market as those less fortunate must relocate to follow employment. It will also lead to a relative decline in home prices. I say relative comparative to the rest of the country.  Prices may not fall, but will likely not see similar gains that other markets will.

Add to this one final ticketing time bomb for housing prices, the extremely low interest rates that have no where to go but up. Once they do, the amount of prospective buyers and home prices they can afford will certainly decrease.

If you ask me, buying a condo with the option of renting further down the road makes sense if you must buy in the area.
  • October 24 2011
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Profile picture for sunnyview
I would tend to agree on the interest rate issue. Unless the job market is strong when the rates go up, it could get tough in the marketplaces that have had a protected position from the big market drops.
  • October 24 2011
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Profile picture for wordsmth
Arlington and close-in Falls Church are quite stable. They're also quite expensive. In Arlington, especially, it's a question of lifestyle. It's not my cup of tea, but lots of younger, good income folks (late 20s, for instance) love the area. I'd suggest considering places a little bit farther out, too--around the East Falls Church and West Falls Church Metro stations, for instance. They're somewhat more affordable and yet still very convenient and have held their values nicely.
  • October 24 2011
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Buying a HOME in Arlington along the orange line would be near impossible with 50K average income and 10K in savings however you could almost certainly get qualified for a studio or 1BR along the Orange line or if you wanted to buy a place in South Arlington you could do that as well.  A first time home buyer like yourself could qualify for an FHA first time home buyer's loan where you would only have to put down about 3.5%.  Although prices are high, there is a good reason for that.  Arlington is extremely convenient and there is construction going on everywhere.  As far as I know, Washington D.C. is not moving anywhere so as long as you have the capital of the free world in your back yard you should be OK.  Out of all of Northern Virginia, Arlington home prices were hurt the least during the last bubble in 2009 because of its ultra convenience.  People that bought brand new homes outside of the beltway and condos in Manassas, etc have seen in some cases their properties be worth half the value they paid.  You would almost never see that in Arlington. 
  • March 27 2014
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