- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The standard picture of the American Dream — owning a home of one’s own — usually involves a vision of a single-family suburban home on two levels with three or four bedrooms, two full baths, a powder room and a two-car garage, with, best of all, a white picket fence surrounding a neatly trimmed lawn.

The reality in the affluent Washington area is that the American Dream is practically unaffordable to the average American and often is downsized to a less traditional town house or a condominium.

The national median price in 2002 for an existing single-family home, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), was $158,300. That would almost never cover the cost of a single-family home in the District or surrounding suburbs.

According to NAR, the median price for an existing single-family home in the Washington area, including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, was $250,000 in 2002.

Chasing down a single-family home for $250,000 in this area also requires some compromise in terms of location, size and condition of the home. New homes, even more expensive than resale properties, were not included in this search.

“For the national median price of $158,000, you can buy a teeny little condo, a low-end one at that, in the District,” says Evelyn Lugo of Long & Foster Real Estate, a Realtor licensed in Maryland, Virginia and the District. “You couldn’t even buy a condo at that price in Arlington along the Metro line. The District and the close-in suburbs of Northern Virginia are pretty similar markets, and so are the Bethesda and Chevy Chase markets in Maryland.

“The one exception to the Maryland market among close-in suburbs is Silver Spring, which hasn’t seen the dramatic rise in prices as these other areas have,” she says. “Perhaps that’s because Bethesda and Chevy Chase border D.C. along one of the city’s most affluent areas, while Silver Spring doesn’t.”

One current listing at $158,000, a rambler at 6931 Decatur Place in the Woodlawn area of Hyattsville, is a well-maintained three-bedroom, one-bath, brick home built in the 1940s. According to listing agent Ed Haraway of RE/MAX One, this home is in a family friendly neighborhood with lots of shopping centers within walking distance.

Community parks dot the area, which is a 15-minute to 20-minute commute into the District. The neighborhood mostly features solid brick ramblers that were built in the 1940s and early 1950s.

This particular listing has an enclosed rear porch, a fully fenced rear yard and hardwood flooring inside. What keeps the price affordable is that, with just 1,034 finished square feet above ground, the main level has a living room, a kitchen, three bedrooms and the home’s only bath.

The partially finished lower level, which adds 550 more finished square feet, has a family room and a laundry room.

Other listings at close to $158,000 include condominiums in Suitland and Chantilly and two additional ramblers in Brentwood and Hyattsville, each with three bedrooms and one bath. These two homes are listed to be sold “as is,” meaning they will need significant repairs or remodeling.

In the District proper, $158,000 can buy a studio condominium with one bath and just 420 square feet of living space near Dupont Circle. In many suburban single-family homes, the walk-in closets take up that much space.

Ms. Lugo says that finding a single-family home in the area for $250,000 is nearly as difficult as discovering one priced at the national median.

“You might be able to find a two-bedroom condo in Arlington for $250,000, or possibly in South Arlington or outside the city of Alexandria, you could find a tiny two-bedroom home, a fixer-upper which needs a lot of work,” Ms. Lugo says.

“You would have to go a lot farther from D.C. to find a larger single-family home, not Falls Church or McLean or anywhere near the Metro,” she says. “The key is that if you are looking in an area with an easy commute or near Metro, the prices in Northern Virginia and most of Montgomery County are the same as in D.C.”

One cedar home, a Victorian built in 1927 at 1250 Irving St. NE in the Brookland neighborhood of the District, was recently listed at $250,000 but quickly sold for a substantially higher price.

Realtor Ivan Poblete, the listing agent from RE/MAX Capitol Realtors, says, “The house is in decent condition, with a new roof and a new furnace, but the kitchen and bathrooms were original and needed updating.

“The home has four bedrooms, two baths, a basement and a service driveway for off-street parking,” he says. “The neighborhood, near Catholic University, has a new Home Depot and a Giant grocery store within five or six blocks of the house. We had multiple buyers competing for the home, which is why it sold for a significantly higher price.”

Gerald Seegers of Urbane Realty has listed a four bedroom, three-bath, split-foyer home for $250,000 at 8303 Curry Place in Cool Spring, in Prince George’s County near the University of Maryland. The home has a covered carport with room for one car and was built in 1970.

“This is a split-level home with brick and siding on the exterior, and it’s in great condition,” Mr. Seegers says. “The house has two decks, hardwood flooring, a finished basement and renovated bathrooms and kitchens.”

According to Realtor.com and ESRI Business Information Solutions, homes in this neighborhood, which is part of Hyattsville, are mostly single-family homes built in the 1940s through the 1960s, with the average home being 42 years old. About 60 percent of the homes in this neighborhood are rented, and the average size home is 1,355 square feet.

In Loudoun County’s Sterling Park, Ed Lang of RE/MAX Premier has listed a rambler built in 1968, with a one-car garage and a one-car carport. This home, at 1807 N. Sterling Blvd. (between routes 7 and 28), sits on a busy road within an easy drive of the Dulles Town Center shopping mall and dozens of smaller shopping centers with every conceivable type of restaurant and store.

Mr. Lang says this home, listed at $250,000, is in pretty good condition, with the roof and siding upgraded within the past year, new windows, a new patio and relatively new hardwood flooring in the foyer. The rambler has 1,684 finished square feet, with a living room, a dining room, upgraded appliances in the kitchen, four bedrooms and two baths.

Commuting time to the District varies due to traffic, but without traffic, the 30-mile drive takes at least 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Tysons Corner is 12 miles east on Route 7 — about 20 minutes away without heavy traffic conditions.

Where’s that perfect four-bedroom, 2 bath, brick, two-level American Dream home?

One, built in 1968 in Woodley Park in Northwest Washington, is on the market for $879,000.

This traditional Colonial home, on a tree-lined street in an upscale neighborhood near Connecticut Avenue and the National Zoo, fits the American Dream perfectly, with its manicured lawn and garden, brick front walk, a study in addition to the living room and dining room, hardwood floors, and the requisite number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

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