How do I prioritize cost/budget, commute, amenities, and neighborhood cool-seeming-ness?
August 1, 2009 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Deciding-where-to-live-filter: How do I prioritize cost/budget, commute, amenities, and neighborhood cool-seeming-ness? (sorry: long, personal, and northwest DC/Maryland-based.)

(sorry for the long, personal/specific question here... asking my question to a internet-full of strangers seems to be the only way to silence my brain tonight):

I'm relocating to DC/MD for a year-long (possibly longer) fellowship program in policy work, and looking to turn over a new leaf for my finances (mainly, building up some savings, and not living paycheck-to-paycheck). Using the 33% of take-home pay as my guideline for rent, my rent budget allowance is... tiny. I found an older (non-pet-friendly) rental condo in a fairly walking-friendly area, near the train/buses and work, but a relatively unhip-seeming 'hood. It does however fit within my 33% rent budget, including utilities.

I'm comparing this to a new, modern, pet-friendly condo further away from work, but in the District. The rent sounds do-able (43% of take home), but overall living will be more expensive given the nature of DC (taxes, car insurance (I got markedly higher quotes with a DC address), etc). But it seems like a younger, more lively neighborhood.)

I'm stuck between these options (the cheapest/most convenient I've found, thus far) and am wondering if the hive-mind has some ideas about how to prioritize/balance a budget against general lifestyle-type happiness.

Thanks y'all...

(PS: I'm the person who posted this, if that helps. And it's Friendship Heights MD vs Cleaveland Park/Vaness-ish))

(PPS: I throw in the pet-stuff since I'd really like to have a dog, but again, cost has been an issue.)

(PPPS: I have only one piece of 'equity', my car, which I not only really like but am not ready to sell in a rush, in case I need it.)
posted by NikitaNikita to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I live in MD, have worked in DC, Rockville and currently work in Bethesda :) I don't live in the DC metro. I've had co workers that lived in DC and yeah rent is expensive. DC cost of living sucks. Personally speaking, I would go for the less expensive area. Things get expensive in the DC area -- quickly! The metro is really rather good. When you say train are you near the metro or the light rail? You can easily commute to the more fun areas to go clubbing, coffee shopping, hanging out. I don't think you need to live in the area you want to hang out. This way you have more money to hang out.
Best of everything in your new job :)
posted by Librarygeek at 10:32 PM on August 1, 2009

"Hip" neighborhoods are hip because they have places where you can engage in consumer activities. Bars, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, book shops, etc...

If you're really trying to buckle down and save money for the time you're there, take the cheaper apartment in the un-hip neighborhood.
posted by wfrgms at 10:40 PM on August 1, 2009

Um, IMHO.. a relatively unhip seeming hood would apply to both of those, so take the cheaper option. Just saying. There's nothing much happening between Cleveland Park and Van Ness aside from young professionals jogging at all hours of the day. Also it can really get to you to have a long, inconvenient commute to deal with on a daily basis, because then you don't have the energy to go out and do anything anyway.
posted by citron at 10:54 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to live in a pet-friendly building across from the National Cathedral. The bus there runs up Wisconsin to Friendship Heights. It's an awesome neighborhood right up the hill from Gtown. My rent for an efficiency was $650. This was ten years ago. There's a bunch of buildings right across the street from the cathedral. You might just want to go there and talk to the apartment manager.
posted by bananafish at 11:27 PM on August 1, 2009

Where will you be working? Hard to advise without factoring that into the mix when talking about DC living.

Keep in mind that traffic in DC is hell during rush hour, and the Metro red line has been having lots of delays since the June collision of 2 trains. You will want to factor commuting time into your decision, not just rent costs.
posted by gudrun at 12:10 AM on August 2, 2009

I don't know DC well at all, but consigning 43% of your income to rent sounds insane to me. Go for the cheap place.
posted by jon1270 at 4:01 AM on August 2, 2009

Here's the thing: if getting yourself into financial shape really is the priority for you, you will take the cheaper housing because that's what will move you towards your goal. Thing of it this way: ff you can afford the 43% rent, then by taking the 33% rent and saving on taxes and insurance, you can probably put 15% of your pay check into savings every month. 15%! On a low salary, I consider that to be an awesome job of savings. Go you!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:31 AM on August 2, 2009

Um, IMHO.. a relatively unhip seeming hood would apply to both of those, so take the cheaper option.

This. I would definitely go for the cheaper place in Friendship Heights -- being closer to work and near trains and buses is a huge plus. Also, if you really feel like you are missing out on the Van Ness/Cleveland Park scene on the weekends or evenings, it's only a couple stops away on the Red line.

If you are aiming to turn over a new leaf with your finances, this seems like no-brainer...
posted by puffin at 6:28 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another expense of living in DC is parking tickets. A family friend says that he gets about $3000 worth of parking tickets each year. Apparently, DC is an overzealous ticketer because police officers know that most people can't take off work to fight unjust tickets. He considers tickets to be another tax.
posted by oceano at 6:42 AM on August 2, 2009

I live in Van Ness (yes, I should change my username), and I had to laugh at its description as even vaguely 'hip.' Citron totally nailed it. It's a great neighborhood to sleep, grocery shop, and depart from to do fun things... but the most happening spot seems to be a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint popular with families and young professionals eating their feelings. Cleveland Park is definitely better, but still not U-Street or whatever.

Nthing talk about the Red Line. My commute (just to downtown) used to take 25 minutes tops, including a lengthy walk to the Metro. Now I have to allow at least 45, and I have a job where it's ok to wander in at 9:30 instead of 9 every now and then. Not sure how long it's going to last, but it's been more than a month since the accident, and there's been minimal sign of improvement. If you're working where I think you're working (congrats on nailing it down!) it should be better because you're essentially reverse commuting, and trains are a lot less jammed.

Have you considered Tenleytown? Might actually be a better option than either CP/VN or Friendship Heights, and right in the middle.

Also, in DC, you do not need a car. You really, really don't. If you really don't want to part with it, can you leave it with family for a year? You really won't miss it, and it will save a bundle on insurance / parking. Parking at my building is north of $150 a month. Eek!

Good luck and please memail me if you have any more specific questions!
posted by charmcityblues at 7:54 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing that there aren't that many degrees of coolness seperating Cleveland Park from Friendship Heights. If your choice were Friendship Heights vs. Dupont Circle, then there might be a debate!

Also, have you considered "storing" your car with a friend or family member with extra driveway space while you're in DC? If you're right on the metro and live near some good stores, it's really not necessary to have a car. I did the math when I moved to DC and realized that if I got rid of my car and just used zipcars for odd trips to the supermarket, Target, etc, I would save a lot of money. I honestly never missed having a car there.
posted by lunasol at 8:06 AM on August 2, 2009

Ha, should have previewed!
posted by lunasol at 8:07 AM on August 2, 2009

I lived in Cleveland Park for two years and I liked it quite a bit (as DC goes, which I don't really like in general). But what everyone here has said is spot-on - there's nothing hip or scene-y about CP, and it's not particularly young. For that, you'd need U Street. CP's main features are convenience to shopping (there are a bunch of stores and restaurants all clustered on Connecticut Ave) and convenience to downtown (since you're on the red line).

Friendship Heights, however, is not much less convenient. There's the big mall up there, and you're also on the red line, just a few stops further out from CP.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:12 AM on August 2, 2009

Just piling on to say that the difference in 'hoods probably isn't worth the difference in rent. Even at FH, you're close enough in that getting to DC events/nightlife/&c when you want to won't be hard. I'd go for the cheaper option.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2009

Go cheap....

BTW for Oceano: your friend gets $3000 in parking tickets per year? That's insane. I've lived here my entire life and haven't gotten that many tickets. (He could also use the adjudicate by mail option so as not to have to lose time fighting the tickets in person)

His problem is that he parks illegally, not that the DC parking enforcement is overzealous.
posted by jindc at 12:45 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good grief, $3K in parking tickets is pretty absurd! Maybe that's what happens if you park frequently in a neighborhood where you don't have the right zone sticker, is all, or you have a bad habit of forgetting to move your car out of one of the rush hour lanes (which is like $120 a pop, I believe). I really would beware of that because they'll get you very fast at rush hour. I bet tickets would be a real problem if you went to school at a campus where you couldn't get a parking pass.

But I used to park out of my DC zone all week and still only ran up into the hundreds per year in tickets (it was worth it, given that my work's parking garage would've cost into the thousands).

Glad to see I'm not the only one with this POV re: Van Ness. Friendship Heights is alright as far as shopping and some restaurants, I'd spend time there before Cleveland Park. You wouldn't call it hip but.. convenience is nice, and there's a big, new Giant supermarket on the DC side, a Trader Joe's just up Wisconsin Ave toward Bethesda, the Loehmann's and Filene's for decent work clothes on the cheap, a little mall with World Market downstairs (World Market is great for buying housewares, interesting candy/snack foods, and wine), Saks Fifth Ave and Neiman's for posh things as well as that entire row of shops with Gucci/Vuitton/Bvlgari which sprang up in happier economic times.
posted by citron at 3:58 PM on August 2, 2009

Ha! Bananafish makes me laugh . . . ten years does make a difference. No way are you finding a pet-friendly efficiency near the National Cathedral for $650. Maybe $1200.

Nthing the un-necessity of living in Cleveland Park. It's definitely a pretty place but it's not very exciting, though your neighbors would be panda bears! Please live in the cheaper place. DC is so expensive, and rent is just half of it. Everything adds up so quickly (especially the drinks). Money is such a stressor -- do yourself a favor and do whatever you can to lessen that stress.

Anyway . . . living somewhere boring will inspire you to get out of the house and explore other areas of DC :)
posted by imalaowai at 9:22 PM on August 2, 2009

Try expanding your search east and south from Cleveland Park to include Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Logan Circle, and U Street / Cardoza. Some of those neighborhoods are more affordable than others, but all have young folk living there and have things going on. I used to live at Vermont Ave & T St NW, and loved it there. It was affordable, reasonably quiet, and near good food and the Metro.
If you're considering MD suburbs, have a look at Takoma Park and Silver Spring. (I lived there too!)
Good luck!
posted by D.Billy at 10:24 PM on August 2, 2009

Hi guys! Wow, thanks for all the feedback here... you're definitely making me feel better about being frugal :) I would love to consider other neighborhoods, particularly Mt Pleasant, Takoma and Silver Spring, but according to people I've talked to (another MeFite and former DC-living-friends, alike!) my commute would be made most simple by living in the northwest area. Considering I've never had more than a 10-20 minute walking commute (spoiled, I know) I'd like to ease into joining the real world. I suppose VN/CP looked better because of all the trees, small streets, plus I saw no chain restaurants, and other hallmarks of generic suburbia. Also, I did look at Tenley, the Cathedral area, and McClean Gardens, and while they were very dog-friendly (yay!) I didn't get such a good vibe there either, people-wise, plus it was still expensive and inconvenient to the Metro, in most cases.

I'd offer to buy you guys a round of drinks if you show up to a DC meetup... but what's this about expensive drinks in DC? *groan*
posted by NikitaNikita at 1:25 PM on August 3, 2009

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