Moving Downtown - But where?
November 20, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out which DC neighborhoods would be the best to focus my condo/townhouse hunting on. Schools/safety/price - snowflakes available inside.

Mr. Dadici and I are just about ready to make the move from suburban VA to Downtown DC. We spend a ton of time downtown and are quite comfortable with getting around, but I don't really have a good understanding of how to evaluate a city neighborhood for actual living in. We have a kindergartener and plan to have another child in a year or so.

Ideally I'd like a neighborhood that was family friendly/has a fair amount of visible children, and was districted for one of the better schools. A resource for which public elementary schools in DC are better would be helpful if anyone has a recommendation.

What other things should I take into account about the neighborhood? What am I forgetting to worry about that's different about where you would chose to buy in a city vrs. in a suburb?

Where looking in the 2 bedroom/sub 525k range. I've looked at and like Kalorama and Kalorama Triangle, for instance - but I don't know how to evaluate if the schools are in the ok catagory (I know DC schools as a whole aren't great, but I've heard that individual schools can be fine)

There's just seems to be a huge range of what you can get in this general price range, and I'm trying to figure out which of the great "OMG 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths!" I need to eliminate and which are okay to consider. If I could get a 2bed 2 bath for $450 that would be ideal. We're looking to move next summer, so obviously specific real estate is less interesting I'm more interested in neighborhood data/school data/ information about how to evaluate these things effectively. Thanks!
posted by dadici to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Urban Institute has a great website for basic D.C. neighborhood data. You can see things like the percentage of the population that is children, how diverse the neighborhood is, median home sales price, vacancy rates, and crime. Some of the figures might be outdated; D.C. is changing so fast.
posted by postel's law at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Capitol Hill elementary schools can be good, but middle and high school probably not. 525k? Not gonna happen there either.
posted by k8t at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2012

Best answer: Not having children, I can't help tons with the schools angle, but definitely most of the schools in upper Northwest feeding into Wilson High School tend to be among the better regarded ones in the city. Even the childfree like me who read DC-focused blogs know about both Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, and the Capitol Hill Cluster School, so those might also be a couple to look at.

As far as neighborhoods in general to consider, I like Captiol Hill, and judging by the number of parents I see walking with children in the neighborhood, it is popular for families, but probably a bit out of your price range unless you're willing to consider condos on the still unfashionable fringes.
posted by noonewilleverloveyou at 12:09 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oyster is the only elementary school I ever hear of referred to as "good".
posted by atomicstone at 12:28 PM on November 20, 2012

I can't speak to schools as Mr. Fontophilic and I don't have kids, but we are currently living in DC and have been slowly thinking about buying a property, with the idea that kids are vaguely on the 5-year horizon.

One thing that has always been striking about DC is its shrunken share of middle class families raising children. You've got a bimodal model: Rich parents putting kids in private school, poor families that don't have a choice. The middle class families are mostly in the 'burbs. I know a few parents who are putting their kids into DCPS and charter schools, and are fighting hard to make the changes that need to happen. They're also active in their ANC, improving the neighborhood in general. It's the only way reform like that will happen and I give them many kudos. But it will be a lot more work than moving to an already well functioning MoCo or Fairfax school.

We're still pretty undecided ourselves about all this fundamental burb vs. city school system. Our parent's generation, nearly universally followed the pattern of: be urban yuppies-> have kids-> move to burbs. (Like salmon spawning or something.) A lot has changed in DC in 20 or 30 years, and there is definitely a new wave of "stayers". I want to be one of them, but realize its challenging.

All that said. I've always liked Mt. Pleasant. Its less dense than other neighborhoods, and less bustling than near-by Adams Morgan or Columbia Heights (and "safer" too). You'll find larger condos or tiny houses in your price range there. Judging by the farmers markets there are plenty of middle class families with kids.

I'd also take a look at WaPo's Homicide Map. I don't mean to be alarmist, but I think it's a pretty good look at whats happening on a street by street level.
posted by fontophilic at 1:07 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you planning on sticking with public schools when they get older, as well? Have you considered private schools at all? You might look at schools further up in NW like Francis Scott Key, but that would put you farther from downtown, the Metro, and the more-trafficked restaurant and business corridors. It is a great area though, with lots of kids and the best local 4th of July parade (okay, I'm biased a bit!) We've had friends with kids in Janney and Murch who have been happy with them, but they're similarly farther out. You should also look into the charters, which are newer but might be more compatible with your budget?

I grew up in Mount Pleasant and it was a super great place to grow up, albeit with a lot of first hand knowledge of various degrees of crime rates. We did not go to public school, though. My parents still love living there, because it's well-connected to every kind of transportation and close enough to walk to downtown. If you're interested more in Mt Pleasant, please let me know!
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:12 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Generally, the better DCPS schools are in the NW neighborhoods like Cleveland Park and Tenleytown (e.g., Eaton, Janney, Mann). You can find test score statistics on the OSSE No Child Left Behind site. You can also look at Great Schools, which has additional data and ratings.

The problem is that once you get past elementary, there are fewer good public options that don't require special admissions.

That said, I lived in Kalorama for three years and absolutely loved the neighborhood. (However, we left when we had a baby, partly due to schools and day care costs).
posted by statsgirl at 1:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where is this huge range of 2 bedroom places under $525 in central DC? I've seen prices like that in neighborhoods like Brightwood, but that's far from downtown and not zoned for good schools.
posted by yarly at 2:04 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think yarly is right that what you're looking for does not exist in that price range due in part to the reasons fontophilic mentions. I wish it were not so.
posted by Xalf at 2:33 PM on November 20, 2012

Stoddert in Glover Park is also one of the better NW elementary schools (and recently renovated), and I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet. Glover Park is an awesome neighborhood for families. I have a good friend who lives there with her elementary aged child and loves it - she knows tons of other families in the neighborhood through the school. The only downside is no metro, but it's served really well by the bus system.

I also have to disagree with yarly and Xalf - I just went on Redfin and did a search for 2 bedroom condos in upper NW DC for under $525K and there are several in some of the areas that have been mentioned as having good schools. Sure, you're not going to get granite countertops and all new bathrooms - and perhaps you'll have one bathroom instead of two, or higher condo fees, but you can definitely find something.

Oh, and I don't know anything about the schools there, but some friends just bought a 2BR/2BA condo around Columbia Heights/Petworth for less than $400K and said that as they walked around, ALL they saw were young yuppie families everywhere. I've heard the same about Mt. Pleasant, but again I don't know anything about the schools there.
posted by echo0720 at 5:54 PM on November 20, 2012

Those condos in upper NW probably have ginormous condo fees (like more than $1000/month, which does not even include property taxes). Upper NW is not really downtown, either.

There are probably options in Columbia Heights and petworth, but not with good schools, and much grittier a neighborhood than Kalorama.

I think the only feasible option here is renting! You can probably find a nice 2 bedroom place in Capitol Hill zoned for a good elementary school for around $2500/month.
posted by yarly at 3:49 AM on November 21, 2012

I'm one of the approximately 3 bazillion parents of young children on Capitol Hill. It's a great family neighborhoods, though the school issue does require some...navigation, shall we say. It's hard to find any house in a decent area for less than $600k, but you might want to do it.

What amazes me is that no one has given you the right advice: You need to find a good real estate agent. Talk to at least 3, preferably 5, and tell them what you've told us. Find one who make sense. He or she will be your guide.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:04 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: There are for sure lots of advantages to renting in DC. Its got the strongest tenant rights protections I've ever enjoyed, including city wide rent control for larger landlords. It has the effect of making renting and living, long term much more stable.

Of course there are huge economic reasons why ownership makes sense, (throwing money into a mortgage vs. a landlord's bank account) but I feel like some of those are off-set by condo fees, and can be huge in nicer neighborhoods. The other disadvantage of moving into an already nice neighborhood is there isn't a whole lot of room for property prices to move up. Moving into a Petworth or Columbia Heights has a lot more room for prices to grow.

I'm probably not being particularly useful to you, as these are all big issues I'm currently digesting myself. I'd suggest tuning into some DC and DC Neighborhood blogs/media like: The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Greater Greater Washington, DCist, Prince of Petworth, New Columbia Heights, Forest Hills Connection. But basically you can put any neighborhood name + blog into google and find one.
posted by fontophilic at 7:09 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the resources answering a couple of questions

"huge range downtown" is probably overstating both what I consider "huge" and what I consider "downtown" I'm coming at this from spending the last 10 years in Springfield/Burke so I find things like and Kalorama and Woodley Park to be "downtown" which may not be accurate.

Daughter is in Kindergarten, and I'm trying to snap myself out of my dismal futuristic planning side, so as long as the outlook for elementary is good I'm not worrying too much about MS/HS at the moment, I'm coming from FFX County - so I understand that the schools will be taking a "hit" on quality - we're committed to outside enrichment and to being involved with the schools/community so my primary concern is "is it safe". If we can't afford private school and feel it's necessary by MS we'll move back to the 'burbs.

We're not considering renting for a variety of reasons, the main one being if I sell my current townhouse and don't buy something else I don't see how I would ever get back into the real estate market in the DC Metro area - having property here is something of a balloon, it should more-or-less keep up with the rest of the market.

Thanks for all the recommendations and websites so far - this looks very very helpful. I will definitely be going with an agent when we're ready to move, but since thats more than 6 months out at this point I wanted to familiarize myself with the ecosystem as it were so that I had a better vocabulary to speak with agents in the future.
posted by dadici at 7:24 AM on November 21, 2012

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