Potential Move to DC
March 16, 2012 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I am considering pursuing a lateral move to Washington, DC. I'm trying to figure out whether this is afforadable given my parameters.

I work for the federal government but not in the DC metro area. If I were to apply for and get a job at my same grade and step level in VA/DC/MD metro, my salary would be $79,864 per year. Several people have told me that I will never be able to live "decently" at that salary.

I have a car payment of $260/month. I have pretty common other expenses (insurance, cell phone, internet, etc). I would want a 1BR apt (no roommate) in a safe area, and would really like to be convenient to the metro for commuting purposes. I have one cat. I am thinking Maryland might be cheaper than DC & is likely preferable to Virginia (which seems much more politically and socially conservative but I could be wrong). I live in an urban area now and I like that. I suspect that folks who have told me this potential move is not doable have more posh tastes than I do about neighborhoods but I also know this area is expensive.
Can some DC folks or people with knowledge of that area tell me what might be realistic? I am not too concerned with moving costs - I have some svaings for that and not a lot of stuff to move anyway in case relocation costs aren't paid for any potential jobs.
Thanks, hive!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
DC's expensive, but for that, I think you could still live very, very well. And if you want a 1 bedroom apartment, you might as well live in the city - your only maybe would be finding a place to park it (though you may not ever use it.)
posted by Vhanudux at 9:00 AM on March 16, 2012

Several people have told me that I will never be able to live "decently" at that salary.

Those people are nuts.

The people who live in NOVA are the people who live in the rest of Virginia are entirely different animals, but you're right that Virginia as a whole is a more conservative state.

I don't know much about rents in DC, but I'm sure you could easily find a place near any of the metro stops in Maryland that fits your budget. Of the Maryland stops on the red line, the Silver Spring and Bethesda areas are probably the most lively.
posted by amarynth at 9:09 AM on March 16, 2012

I make a bit more than you do, and have a 1br in the city close to the metro; you might not be able to afford the car. (In my neighborhood, parking runs about $150/mo and street parking is a very stressful affair). My budget would be stretched pretty thin with a combined $400/mo for car transportation.

Depending on where you work, Virginia might actually be preferable to Maryland. Yes, the Commonwealth as a whole is a more conservative place than Maryland but there's a reason they call it the People's Republic of Arlington. The neighborhoods along the Orange Line are very nice and fun but aren't really any cheaper than DC.
posted by downing street memo at 9:11 AM on March 16, 2012

I make less than that, live in the city, and have plenty of "play money." I'm very partial to living in the District, but you'll find people who are just the opposite. Some great neighborhoods to check out in DC are Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Shaw, Woodley Park, or H Street NE. A 1 bedroom basement apartment will probably be around $1500, but you can find significantly cheaper or significantly more expensive depending on neighborhood and new-ness.

If you look a little farther from the Metro (3/4 mile), rents will go way down. I live about .7 miles from the Columbia Heights Metro in a fantastic neighborhood... just a matter of how much you want to walk. A car is useless here.

Most people who live in DC proper make less than you. You should have no problem.
posted by eenagy at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can some DC folks or people with knowledge of that area tell me what might be realistic?

I think you can live decently, but if you want a "nice" 1-bedroom apartment, you're going to end up in a suburb (eg, Rockville, Fairfax) or a non-metro-accessible part of Arlington or Alexandria. Once again, if metro accessibility isn't a priority, some good places in Glover Park can be found. That said, there may be some good opportunities in downtown Silver Spring.

I guess part of this depends on what you consider "good" city life and how much money you want to save. Living with roommates, a salary near that meant that I had more money in my savings account than I knew what to do with. Living alone, I did a lot of bean-counting, and finding something in a vibrant downtown neighborhood in DC that was up to "modern" apartment standards that I was also comfortable paying for was a bit of a struggle.

Expect to pay $1500-$2000 for a decent 1-bedroom apartment near a metro station in DC or the immediate, just-over-the-border suburbs.
posted by deanc at 9:18 AM on March 16, 2012

I (we, actually) lived on a combined salary of less than that when we first moved to DC, and I don't remember feeling particularly stretched. Rent is probably higher now, but getting a one-bedroom near a metro in a very safe neighborhood for around or slightly under $2,000 shouldn't be too much of a problem at all. Somewhere in NOVA near the metro (Court House, Clarendon, etc) might work better for you with a car, because in my experience rentals in Virginia often came with a free parking spot while you had to pay for that in DC. When we lived in DC, though, we just parked the car on the street and left it there; we used it on the weekends but not for commuting, so finding a parking spot was never a huge deal.

I definitely vote for "not at all hard to live on an $80k salary in DC."
posted by iminurmefi at 9:30 AM on March 16, 2012

Silver Spring, Bethesda, NOVA are *not* urban - they are all true suburbs, plain and simple.

Urban is almost all within DC proper, and it is a big difference living there compared to VA or MD. You will especially notice the difference as your life unfolds (or doesn't) in your new town.

A true cost comparison should be based on living in DC proper (and, I believe your salary would give you a respectable living, +/- savings and car factors.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:43 AM on March 16, 2012

Yeah, totally doable. When I first moved to DC I was making half what you would, and it was fine. I lived in a very nice apartment (albeit splitting a two-bed two-bath with a roommate) and things were tight but not awful. I still make less than you would and live very comfortably with a 1-bedroom and car + garage parking (though I rarely ever use the car and don't buy much gas).

I think you can live decently, but if you want a "nice" 1-bedroom apartment, you're going to end up in a suburb (eg, Rockville, Fairfax) or a non-metro-accessible part of Arlington or Alexandria. Once again, if metro accessibility isn't a priority, some good places in Glover Park can be found. That said, there may be some good opportunities in downtown Silver Spring.

I actually really disagree. I was apartment-hunting late last summer, and found plenty of nice (newly renovated, nice amenities, high level of finish) apartments + parking for under 2k in the city and metro-accessible. I had less luck in Virginia, but I really didn't want to compromise on Metro. Neighborhoods to look at: Van Ness, Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, Columbia Heights.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2012

Virginia as a state is indeed more politically conservative but I wouldn't draw a huge distinction between it and MD. It's complicated; there's plenty of the eastern shore that makes Richmond look like a collection of pinko commies. We could parse it for hours.

The reality is that if you were to work in the District and live in, say, Clarendon, you'd find yourself in a very liberal enclave. Depending on the nature of your fed job you might spend more of your day surrounded by right-leaning folks than you would your evenings.

Now, you'll spend your evening gnashing your teeth that you're in one of the counties whose money is being used to fund agendas in Richmond being decided by people who think you're a socialist. But the irony there sometimes can be a little darkly amusing, if you want to look at the silver lining.

As far as the money I'd be more concerned with how the cost of living compares to your current life. Because you can certainly live on 80k/y comfortably here - particularly if you say you don't have a lot of stuff to move and could be in a smaller location or a building where it would be harder to move in a large armoire, let's say. Or perhaps you're used to living in a more transitional neighborhood, in which case there's plenty of stuff in the District where you could be happy.

Land costs are high, so if part of your life goal is purchasing something then yes, that 80k as a single person could be more of a challenge depending on your standards and desires. But that's all about what you're used to and comfortable with now. As Kruger5's response points out, what some people would call urban isn't what others would.

With as little knowledge as we have of your current situation the basic answer I'd say is yeah, you can do 80k just fine; your biggest challenge is going to be parking costs depending on where you want to live (if you decide to keep the car).
posted by phearlez at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2012

I had roommates and lived about a mile from the closest Metro stop when I was in DC, but I also was living on less than half of that salary (and didn't feel too stretched) - I think you could do just fine. I like both Arlington (which is very liberal, despite being in Virginia!) and Silver Spring, but DC is better than either one, and definitely more urban.
posted by naoko at 9:51 AM on March 16, 2012

Another vote here for it being fairly easy, and I can speak from experience. I've lived (and worked) in northern VA for most of the last decade, and while it wasn't easy when I was making $40k, it's actually not difficult when you're making twice that. FWIW, downing street memo's reference to the People's Republic of Arlington isn't far off, politically speaking. My US Rep is one of the most liberal in Congress, and as I'm typing this, he's on TV being arrested alongside George Clooney for protesting at the Sudanese Embassy. The only major difference is that the state and local taxes are less here, even though you have to pay property taxes on vehicles.

But really, the location really depends on where you work. If you work in DC you can choose to live in the city or the suburbs, but I wouldn't live in VA and work in MD, or vice versa. $1500+utilities in a decent neighborhood is not incredibly difficult to find. It's unlikely you'd be priced out of anywhere within 10-15 minutes walk and/or bus ride of a Metro station.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:07 AM on March 16, 2012

Living in DC, on just under 80k a year, is totally do-able. It's just a matter of your tastes, what you're actually looking for, and what you like to spend money on. I make less than that and live fairly comfortably (albeit with a roommate, who I love dearly).

Having a car in the area, while nice, isn't necessary and is always an added expense. Parking spaces, at least in my experience, range from $30/month to $200+/month depending on where you're renting. Insurance rates will also potentially go up, so keep that in mind. I'm actually getting ready to get rid of my car, which will significantly cut my costs, and although it's been nice, I've realized it's not a necessity when there are other options. But that's just my opinion.

If you're looking for a one bedroom, expect to pay anywhere in the range of $1500 to $2500/month in rent, depending on where. Also, expect to factor in a pet deposit and pet rent, usually $500 for the deposit and anywhere from $30 to $50+/month in pet rent. Or, don't tell them you have a pet and hope for the best. A perk about looking to rent in DC is they have a rent cap, VA doesn't have one and I don't know about MD (so if you're going to be here 1yr+ be prepared for rent to be hiked higher if you're living in VA - however I live here, have found it reasonable (for five years!) and love it, so yea, it's all about what you like and finagling).

You should also consider what your tax rate will be in the different states. VA varies from DC varies from MD and will affect what you're actual take-home pay is and may make you think about living or not living in one of those three places. If you're concerned, take a look on CL, rent.com or various apartment sites and get a feel for what you'd be getting as compared to cost for various areas.

People have already listed good places to look into above. Not being familiar with MD at all, my suggestions for VA are: near King St (Old Town), Ballston, Clarendon, VA Square. They're all young and fairly hip, and have a lot going on. DC has got some funky places near the U St. corridor, Van Ness, Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights metro stations. Sticking in NoVA kind of makes you forget that the rest of the state is red. Oh so sadly red.

You really should stop and consider throwing together a spreadsheet of what your after-tax monthly salary will be, what your monthly expenses right now are, what your monthly expenses moving here would be (including changes in car insurance rates, renters insurance rates, utilities, rent, bills, etc.). Every time I consider moving I have to go and do this to ensure that I'll have the proper coverage for all that I want to be able to do.
posted by bleachandink at 10:33 AM on March 16, 2012

You and I are in a very similar boat financially, and I make out just fine financially. I live near the Clarendon metro stop in Arlington, but I chose to live about .5 miles from the metro, so I'd have place to park my car. To me, it's the best of both worlds - easy, walkable access to the cafes and shopping near the metro, and I can still drive out to the suburbs and go antiquing, which I love to do. A similar arrangement might work for you.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:37 AM on March 16, 2012

FYI, what a lot of people I know do is live in DC with no car and then use a zip car when they need one for errands etc (around $8 / hour?). They will get a cheap last minute rental car deal for when they want to do some all day things.

I personally love the burbs and there are a lot of nice places that are metro accessible and that you could totally afford. And BONUS! if you work for the government you usually get some pretty sweet commuting benefits around here. (My parents get free metro cards/passes.)
posted by Kimberly at 10:40 AM on March 16, 2012

You can absolutely live comfortably in DC on $80K/year. You'll have more luck finding a cheap, safe place near Metro in Maryland but I'd encourage you not to rule out either DC or Virginia. Northern Virginia is not like the rest of the state, especially the neighborhoods near Metro. Without knowing your specific circumstances, I'd also encourage you to consider giving up the car. If you live near a Metro, you don't need it and when you do need it, you can rent a Zipcar.
posted by kat518 at 10:41 AM on March 16, 2012

May I encourage you to look just a bit off the Metro as well? Some of the bus lines are quite good and reliable--I'm in Arlington off of Columbia Pike, and there are a couple of options that take you right downtown and many that take you to Pentagon or Pentagon City Metro stops.

We were buying, not renting, with the last move, but I found the price drop and size/quality increase stunning with just a little sacrifice in transit time. While I agree with most that you can find what you're looking for at the salary you mention, I'd encourage expanding your trade space a little, too.
posted by stevis23 at 12:13 PM on March 16, 2012

Five years ago, I had about that salary and about $800 in law school loans and $350 car payment. I was lucky in that work took care of my retirement contributions and health insurance, but I still could pretty easily afford a one bedroom, I think.
posted by bananafish at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2012

You can make it in the DC area on that salary. I lived in Bethesda and found the downside of Maryland is a long lag time to get into DC to meet up with people. In VA, the Courthouse and Clarendon areas are fun. I think Old Town is fun also, and if you're willing to live a little further from a Metro stop, Del Rey is a great little & fun walkable area. I think you can find safe, fun places in DC, especially if you're willing to live with street parking. As for the political leanings, the people I've met from VA are all over the map, I don't think you'll have any problem meeting people of the same political persuasion if that's what you're looking for.
posted by simongsmith at 9:05 PM on March 16, 2012

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