Washington, D.C. Real Estate
Washington D.C: our nation’s capital, the hub of our country, our political center.
Sure, at the moment, that might sound like … literal, actual hell. BUT that’s not the city’s fault! There’s a lot more to Washington DC than politics. Like cherry blossoms. And yummy food. And awesome art. And rad museums containing all the lessons we need to be reminded of lest we repeat them. So whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway or just planning a little trip to coincide with your next protest there’s tons to see and do in Washington DC!
The pricey, highly competitive market in the District of Columbia can make the home search a daunting prospect for first-time buyers – but real estate experts who know the market well say there are ways to scout out a solid investment and get the home you’re looking for without breaking the bank.
Whether you’re looking for a turnkey property or a fixer-upper, the pace of investment in the District is very strong right now. There are large public and private investments in many residential neighborhoods around the city. Strong stock options and rapid population growth mean that buyers continue to gravitate to this prosperous area.
Looking for a place in the nation’s capital? We asked some of the top local real estate agents to offer their advice on purchasing a home for the first time in the District of Columbia. Here’s what they recommend.
Go off the beaten path. A first-time buyer may end up living in a neighborhood that isn’t as popular as their original choice, but is much more affordable. “First-time buyers often end up purchasing in neighborhoods they hadn’t considered originally,” says Carl Bender, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
If you’re interested in purchasing a home in downtown Washington, D.C., but can’t afford prime locations like Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan or Capitol Hill, you might want to look in neighborhoods outside the city’s core that offer similar lifestyles. Silver Spring, Maryland, has a vibrant downtown area full of new shops and restaurants and is near multiple public transit options, including Metro and MARC train service.
Within the District of Columbia, neighborhoods like Trinidad and Brookland are up and coming areas that have undergone redevelopment. Once considered too dangerous by most homebuyers, these neighborhoods are shedding that reputation with the creation of new residential and commercial spaces. The takeaway is: If you’re willing to go off the beaten path, you can find a few crown jewels to call home.
You don’t need a big down payment. First-time District of Columbia homebuyers with good salaries but minimal savings often assume they’ll need a huge down payment, like 20 percent of the cost of the home. The truth is, you don’t. It changes the field dramatically when you can buy with 3 percent or 10 percent down instead of coming up with 20 percent, because your salary can support a bigger monthly payment. Many lenders are doing 3 to 5 percent down on conventional financing these days. It’s something that many first-time buyers aren’t aware of, but it ultimately costs less than a traditional Federal Housing Administration mortgage.
SPEND THE MORNING IN A MUSEUM
You might be thinking that the museums are an obvious and totally not local-recommended choice for Washington DC. But, to be honest, Washington DC has some of the best museums in the world, and I’d be totally off base to tell you not to visit them. However, you probably also want to avoid museums that are crowded AF.
To steer clear of the many school groups and herds of people, I recommend choosing 1-3 museums you want to see and visiting when they open in the morning at 10:00 AM sharp. That way, you’ll get a head start in the security lines and make it into the museum before the crowds. Weekdays and holidays are typically less crowded than weekends.
There are literally dozens of museums in DC, and which ones you’ll visit depend on your interests and timing. The famed Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums all over the city, and in addition to those, there are some other amazing ones like:
The International Spy Museum: At this museum, you will learn about real spycraft and real spies like Harriet Tubman, the Rosenberg’s (Soviet spies who handed over US nuclear secrets to the Russians), as well as fictional spies like James Bond. This museum is also very interactive: you can try your luck at code-breaking, receive your own covert identity, and also learn the best place to hide a transmitter (spoiler: the heel of your shoe) or how a lipstick can be made into a pistol.
The Holocaust Museum: This museum is a somber tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, including a detailed historical account of Naziism and the horrifying events that occurred during the Holocaust. I’ve never walked through this museum without crying – it’s a very heavy but important piece of history that I think the museum does a great job of portraying and educating.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC): The city’s newest Smithsonian museums an eye-opening history of African Americans in the United States, including a walk through the times of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and modern-day movements and pop culture. Everything is free to visit in the museum, but requires booking tickets in advance. To really dive into the history of African Americans in the USA (and to understand why we’re STILL reeling from that history) check out this guided African American History Tour, which also includes entry to the NMAAHC.
The Lincoln Memorial – Built in 1915, this is a beautiful, columned memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. It’s situated at the end of a large reflecting pool that overlooks the WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument.
The Jefferson Memorial – Situated on the edge of DC’s Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial is located in an iconic sand-colored dome. In the springtime, cherry blossoms surround the monument and it’s super pretty.
The Capitol – Visitors to Washington DC can see the building which houses the activities of the United States Congress. The Capitol Building offers free tours and special exhibits throughout the year.
The Washington Monument – This is DC’s iconic pointy-tipped monument that stands at the edge of the grassy National Mall. While visitors could go up to the top of the Washington Monument in the past, the elevators are now closed for renovations until 2019.
The WWII Memorial – The serene WWII Memorial is a tribute to all who served and died fighting in WWII. A beautiful testament to those who worked to protect our country, the memorial is located across the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial.
The National Mall – The National Mall is basically Washington DC’s backyard – it’s a grassy lawn where visitors and locals hang out on sunny days. Full of world-class museums (we’ll get to this later) and fun festivals, the National Mall is the center of many activities in the city.
AMPLE INTERNATIONAL FOODS
What’s a better way to get to know a city than by its food scene? Lucky for you, DC’s dining can take you to almost any region or country in the world! From Eritrean eateries to Georgian khachapuri joints, Lao food that will make you sweat and fresh Peruvian ceviche, DC has something for literally any food craving you might encounter. It’s just a guess, but I attribute this to the diversity of people that come in and out of DC, as well as the well-traveled diplomats that call the city home.
One of my favorite restaurants in the city that serves all kinds of international dishes is called Compass Rose, which is perfect for any world traveler (like you!). They serve shared plates from all over the world, including Bangladesh, Korea, Peru, and more. Founded by a woman who has lived in and traveled around many countries, she brought her favorite recipes home to the dinner table in DC. My favorite thing to order at Compass Rose is their Georgian khachapuri, which they have year-round. The rest of the dishes rotate throughout the year and their menu changes all the time, so be sure to check online for the latest offerings.
For other international food offerings, some of my favorite gems in (and around) the city include:
Bob’s Shanghai 66: Actually located in Rockville, MD, you’ll need a taxi, ride share, or car to get here, but their soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are to die for.
Purple Patch: Serving an amazing brunch, Purple Patch is one of my favorite weekend spots in the city. Purple Patch specializes in Filipino food and their ube chicken and waffles is an amazing Filipino-American fusion dish. Be sure to make a reservation if you want to come for brunch, as this one fills up quickly!
Espita Mezcaleria: Arguably DC’s best Mexican food and drinks. They really make the effort to make their food and experience as true-to-Mexico as possible. Their al pastor tacos and cocktails are fantastic, and they have an amazing happy hour as well.
For something a little more casual, Union Market is an indoor food market that has stalls from various places, ranging from local seafood to Korean tacos to Burmese desserts. There are picnic tables all around the outside of the market where you can sit and eat after you’ve grabbed some food. If you’re looking for lots of food variety in a communal atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to grab dinner and spend the evening.
You might not think about getting outside when you visit a city, but Washington DC has a surprising number of parks, trails, and outdoor recreation areas for visitors to enjoy. Within the city, Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum, and the Tidal Basin are three of my favorite parks to run, go for a walk, or sit and read a book during the cooler hours of the day.