Being the end of Gen-X, I consider myself a blend of Gen-X and Millennial. Like many people in my age cohort, I moved to DC for a good paying job, urban scenery, and transportation options. When I purchased my condo in 2005, I was single with no immediate plans to have children. I lived in my condo for ten years, then I moved into an apartment to get a change of scenery. I still own my condo and I do not have immediate plans to sell it. After two years of renting an overpriced apartment, I’m ready to get back into living in my own home. However, this time I’m in a committed relationship with near-term plans for children.
We started the home buying process by exploring different neighborhoods in the District. Many variables that are important to me now when buying a home, weren’t important to me when I was younger. I’ve quickly learned that as the people enter different phases of life, their housing priorities change. An important question for major metropolitan areas like DC is, can my changing needs be accommodated within my budget? Here are some of the variables I’m currently considering:
Affordability: Affordable housing is a loaded term. You can ask ten people and get ten different definitions. For my purposes affordability means we can pay the mortgage and household bills on one person’s salary or we are able to rent out part of the home to substantially subsidize our mortgage. I like to travel, so I don’t want to be house poor where we only have enough money to pay the bills. I realize capping that number limits being able to live in some of the hotter real estate areas of DC.
Location is Still Important: Living in the District of Columbia near a Metrorail station and/or high-frequency bus lines is still a non-negotiable for me. While living with my dad in Potomac, a Washington DC suburb, getting to work required driving to Metro then taking the red line to the orange/blue to L’Enfant. On a perfect day, the trip took 90 minutes door-to-door. When I was looking for a home in 2005, getting to work in 30 minutes or less was a requirement, so I ended up with a condo that was a 25-minute bus ride from my job. Now my apartment is a 25-minute commute to my current office by metro, bus, or biking.
Having a shorter commute allows me to have the lifestyle I desire. When I had a long commute, my life during the week consisted of working, commuting, and sleeping. Since I’ve been living in the District, my shorter commute means I have more time to hang out with friends, participate in activities, or enjoy a quiet evening at home. For my next home, I want to maintain my current lifestyle.
Low Maintenance Green Space: I have never cut grass in my life. When I was young, we had a landscaper who maintained our yard. One of the reasons I bought a condo was to avoid cutting the grass or shoveling the sidewalk. I love the fact that the community where my condo is located has grass, trees, and flowers, but the apartment community where I live now does not have any green space. As I think about my next home, I’ve decided that I would like some low maintenance green space.
Schools are a Thing Now: Twelve years ago, I didn’t research neighborhood schools. I didn’t have kids, so living near a good school wasn’t a deal breaker for me. Now, as I think about having a family, schools are so much more important. I find myself researching the public-school boundaries and quality of those schools, as well as public charter schools. Ideally, I would like to live in a community where my future kids can walk and/or bike to school.
Walkability is Crucial: Walkability wasn’t a factor in my last home purchase, but it sure is now. When I lived in my condo, I could walk to open space, recreation centers, the library, and several other amenities, but not a quality grocery store or places to eat healthy food. My current apartment is located in an area that is rich in all of these amenities. Living in this neighborhood has made me realize how important walkability and neighborhood amenities are to me. While I understand many areas aren’t as amenity rich as where I live now, neighborhood amenities are high on my list.
Space is a Trade-Off: When I bought my condo, I was adamant that I lived in a two bedroom home even though I was living alone. In my twenty-something mind, I felt like I needed the extra space. I even considered living in four bedroom homes. For almost four years, my second bedroom in my condo went unused and eventually became my dogs’ room. Now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t have the same need for extra space. Ideally, my next home would have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, though I’d be willing to buy a home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms if it has more of the requirements and ideals I’ve listed above.
Will I find everything I want?
As I embark on this house hunting journey, the biggest challenge for me is finding a home for the next phase of life that is within our budget and has all of amenities that we desire. For example, homes around the Deanwood Metrorail Station meet our space and affordability needs, but lack neighborhood amenities. On the other hand homes in Columbia Heights offer amenities, but don’t fit our budget. Will we find the perfect home? I’ll keep you up to date as we move through the process.
Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.