Do we stay or do we go now? (DC edition)
October 15, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I live in Capitol Hill in DC. She's been offered a job in Annandale. With our lease set to expire at the end of November, we're trying to figure out where we should live. Please help us decide!

I work in downtown DC, about 2 miles from our current apartment. It's a relatively easy walk and an even easier metro ride. My partner just got a job in Annandale (basically at 495 and Little River Turnpike, in case that matters). Meanwhile, we're also trying to save money for a big trip abroad that we have tentatively planned for late next year. We've got a few options and are having a tough time figuring out which one is best.

Option A: Stay where we are. We like our apartment (other than the mice and tiny kitchen) and the area. This would mean no change for me, but the commute to Annandale might eventually get to my partner and we have a lot invested in her actually liking this job -- she hasn't been all that happy in DC and this job she is starting is finally career-related. She is less worried about the driving and more worried about standstill traffic. We would be able to save a little less than $1000/month for our trip.

Option B: Move to Alexandria, VA. It's only a few miles from where we live now, but we don't know anyone in Alexandria at all (we have a number of friends in DC). It'd make our commutes about even at ~25 min each. We'd end up driving into the city to visit with friends on the weekends and anticipate this generally not being very fun. We would be able to save slightly more for our trip than if we went with Option A.

Option C: Move in with my parents who live in DC near American University. We lived with them for a few months when we first got to DC so know what we're getting in to. They have a nice home (far nicer than anything we would rent) and my partner loves going for walks in the area (we are finally getting our dog back from her sister, so this is actually a big bonus for her). The big downside is that my parents don't have the best relationship and I've had to work hard at not being overly influenced in my own relationship by the negative aspects of theirs. I do worry that being around them a lot would put an extra strain on me and my partner. Additionally, the commute for both of us would be long, but I could still take the metro or ride my bike whereas she would still need to drive. This option would allow us to save a lot of money for our trip - at least double what we'd save living anywhere else.

Option D: Move somewhere else in DC or maybe Northern Virginia that MeFites recommend. The commute is a big factor, so if anyone has an idea of what it would be like, that would be terrific! We can spend ~$2000/month on rent, but would like to spend less.
posted by cheeserk to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
You're both employed adults. Don't move home unless absolutely required, and it doesn't seem particularly appropriate in this situation. Your relationship with your partner does not need to take on that stress. Your relationship with your parents does not need to take on that stress. Strike C from your options.

Saving $1000 for a trip late next year -- meaning, roughly a year from now?
posted by barnone at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the Orange Line an option? Vienna and Dunn Loring stations are a short drive from Annandale with rents around the $2K/mo. range and lots of walkable mixed-use development going on around the stations themselves.
posted by brownpau at 2:09 PM on October 15, 2013

I would try to put your priorities in order and go from there. It sounds like priorities are move someplace where 1) partner would not be miserable commuting, 2) you can save money for trip and 3) you will not be miserable generally. If saving money was your number one priority, I'd say that you should move in with your parents. I haven't lived in northern Virginia in a long time but I don't think that I would hate Alexandria. It sounds like you disagree though.

What kind of trip is this? Maybe if you think to yourselves, we are living in a less than ideal situation to save money for our trip and then maybe we'll move someplace cooler, it'll be okay. If I was in your shoes and looking to slash expenses, I would see if I could find a group house for my husband and I in northern Virginia.

Plenty of people work far-ish from where they live. It's not ideal but in some ways, it makes you appreciate your neighborhood more when you can spend time there. Or you can just plan on going to brunch in DC on weekend mornings and spending the day there. My two cents - think of this as an opportunity to check out someplace new, an urban adventure. Most leases are just a year long. If you leave the hill and hate your new digs, you can just move back in a year.
posted by kat518 at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2013

I haven't lived in DC for a while but many of my friends are still there, and my impression has always been that Arlington is slightly better than Alexandria for younger people: closer to the metro, more nightlife, and so on. And if my friends are any indication, once your cohort gets a bit older and starts buying houses/wanting more space, more and more people will move out there. Though I also have some friends who missed being in the middle of things and moved back to the District after some time in NoVa.

As for your social life now, I think it depends. If your friends hang out a lot in NW and/or near the metro, then "commuting" for your social life won't be too bad. But if they're all used to going out on, say H St NE, it will be more of a hassle.

Don't move home. It sounds like a bad situation and you have no real reason to do so.
posted by lunasol at 2:11 PM on October 15, 2013

I'm very partial to Northern Arlington so I'd recommend that as option D. I live near the Courthouse area. Depending where you live Courthouse and Rosslyn are generally less expensive than Ballston or Virginia Square because many of the buildings are older. If you want a one-bedroom apartment you can definitely get one for less than $2000--I pay $1495 at Colonial Village and am a 5-minute walk away from the Courthouse metro and I see another one bedroom in the same community for $1500. It's a super dog-friendly area too.

I commute to Fairfax during half the week and Baltimore during the other half, and I find the Fairfax commute to be not that bad, as I go down 66 in the opposite direction from rush hour traffic. She might even find 29 to be more convenient than 66. If you are at Capitol Hill and can take the metro to work I assume you're on the orange line, so North Arlington is good for you in that regard too--most likely better than Alexandria.

I would pick Courthouse over Rosslyn because Rosslyn is pretty dead after 5pm and Courthouse has a lot more options for entertainment but that's just my preference. Clarendon is great too, but it's kind of a party area and can be a bit loud during the weekends.
posted by _cave at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2013

I can only speak to
>We'd end up driving into the city to visit with friends on the weekends and anticipate this generally not being very fun.

We lived in Arlington and had a lot of friends in the city. This was not a big deal to us, mainly because DC is not traffic heavy at all on weekends.

(We lived by the Pentagon with easy access to 395 and Columbia Pike.)
posted by hmo at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2013

Option A) My wife commuted from Capitol Hill to Alexandria everyday for a while by car. It was super duper easy. Now her workday was 7-3, but still. Very little traffic going the opposite way on most days.

Option B) Then we moved to Alexandria! Getting to DC can be annoying as you can imagine. But it wasn't too bad, though Old Town is traffic central, and some place like Del Rey, though adorable, isn't an easy commute anywhere. And the closer you get to West Alexandria and 395 the harder it gets to go into the city, and the less there is around to do. That was OK for me, I worked from home and I like shitty pizza. But yeah. Bleh.

Option C) Nah, come on you don't want that. Worst of all worlds.

Option D) Crystal City is close to Annandale and on the Orange line. It's boring as hell but cheap and easy to get everywhere from.

I vote A. Cheapest thing is always not to move.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2013

I concur with those who say Option C should be stricken from the list. Too many negatives, and it would be a pretty miserable commute from AU to Annandale, because there's just no easy route. I have a friend who commutes from Annandale to Politics and Prose, and it's miserable.

I also concur with those who suggest Arlington, however, I wouldn't limit your search to North Arlington. If walkability and dog parks and access to transportation options are your priorities, then South Arlington has a lot of great neighborhoods, including Fairlington/Shirlington (my nabe), and the Columbia Pike corridor, which is undergoing an amazing transformation. Commuting to Annandale from South Arlington is a doddle - Columbia Pike to Little River Turnpike and you're there. Fifteen minutes max.

One bedrooms in Fairlington are in the $1350 range, and two bedrooms with one bath is easily available under 2K.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:50 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to live in Crystal City. It's not so bad! But having a river in between you and your friends can be a huge mental stumbling block. Getting friends to come to Arlington was like pulling teeth. It's a good location otherwise, though, and if you're considering going with Option B, the Arlington/Alexandria route, I strongly suggest you look closely at Crystal City.

I also used to commute to Dulles from Petworth! It was a few years ago and obviously not your exact situation but reverse commutes RULE. So fast, given the distance. Also, once I started at the job, I was able to partner with a coworker to carpool, which may be an option.
posted by troika at 2:52 PM on October 15, 2013

Stay where you are. All the "incidental" costs of moving (truck, storage, utilities setup, security deposit, pet deposit, rug doesn't fit, need a new rug, etc) - plus adding a commute for one party who is not currently commuting - will counterbalance any projected savings. Stay on Capitol Hill (at least it's easy to get across the river from there!). Save money for the trip. Think of ways to make her commute better ( subscription? carpool partner? different schedule?). If it's truly an awful commute after 4-5 months, reevaluate.
posted by nkknkk at 2:57 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to do the reverse commute in 2008 from Capitol Hill to Clarendon, and it was a SUPER easy drive. Like, incredibly easy, on a daily basis. I only drove for about six months before my car was stolen and I switched to Metro, so maybe something has changed, but I would totally recommend. Can she test out her commute a couple of times before you do anything drastic?
posted by coupdefoudre at 4:37 PM on October 15, 2013

The good news is, her drive on 495 will be against the flow of rush-hour traffic. Little River Turnpike out to Annandale will be easier in the mornings and a little more clogged in the evenings, but totally do-able (that's a big chunk of my own commute, I know it well).

As for moving: can you stay where you are for now, say on a month-to-month basis? Let your partner settle into that new job and see how she feels about the commute from DC: she might decide it's not bad enough to force a move from, as you say, an apartment you like.

If you DO end up moving, try for anywhere in NoVa that's handy to a Metro: her job in Annandale is going to be a car commute (no Metro stations in Annandale, just the bus), so you might as well make it possible for ONE of you --- namely, you! --- to use Metro. That means you could go for Arlington, Alexandria, McLean, Vienna, Fairfax, Springfield..... some of those might mean a longer ride for you than others, and some would add to her commute too (since her big benefit of commuting from DC to Annandale is it's AGAINST the flow of traffic, why go so far out that she would end up going WITH the flow?)

Would you prefer an apartment or house? Crystal City would be fine if you want an apartment, but not if you want a house. North Arlington or Alexandria would be better for a house; Fairfax is so big you could find either one. McLean or Vienna or Reston are mostly houses, but depending on your budget might be out of reach.
posted by easily confused at 4:52 PM on October 15, 2013

Thanks for weighing in, everyone. To clarify some on this trip we're saving for -- we're thinking about going abroad for about 3 months, so we're looking at quite a bit of money that we want to save. Also, can anyone weigh in on what the commute from Arlington to Annandale would look like? We'd have to be within a mile from a metro stop.
posted by cheeserk at 5:29 PM on October 15, 2013

Crystal City would be fine if you want an apartment, but not if you want a house

There's actually a lot of rental houses over between 23rd and 18th st, west of US 1. My wife lived in a duplex she shared with a friend when I met her and we moved all of 3 blocks from there when we started cohabitating. You won't find one at under 2k but you can certainly manage that if you share.

We ended up buying in North Arlington but we were very sorry to leave there; like HMO we found it very easy to go into the city and I bring that up only because I do find it slightly more of a PITA now coming in from over along the 66 line. Partly that's because I used to just take the blue line in a lot, back before WMATA decided to start sucking aggressively. Partly that's because driving in from this direction adds a few miles and a side of the city that seems to get a hint more congested.

I'm inclined to agree with folks above re: minimal disruption. Moving is hard, and packing and unpacking your life just to do it again in a year (assuming you won't maintain a residence you're not in for 3m+?) would suck. But that's easy for me to say when I'm not the one commuting. I will say that I think your partner will find the commute opposite the majority of commuters to be a lot less painful than traveling the other direction would be.
posted by phearlez at 8:17 PM on October 15, 2013

Oh, don't move to Alexandria. I live near where your partner will be working, and used to work in Alexandria, and while Alexandria has some nice housing, they would either need to stay the hell away from the Beltway for her commute or accept that they will be stuck in traffic forever. That part of the Inner Loop in the morning, and Outer Loop in the evening, is awful. Springfield wouldn't be so bad, although I kind of hate the neighborhood around there.

Take a look at the eastern half of Fairfax County and Falls Church on the Orange line - I commute downtown that way, usually from Dunn Loring or West Falls Church, and it's definitely not bad at all. There's a lot of recent development right around that stretch of the Metro and you could definitely find a 1BR for less than your budget depending on how picky you are with amenities (we pay $1400 for a 2br condo right now, which is underpriced, but still). You can pick up the Beltway going south easily from there and have just a quick hop to Annandale, and it's not that much slower on the surface streets.

That all being said, try the commute for a month at least before making up your mind to move if you can. Depending on how expensively you move, and how long your lease term would be (you'll get screwed on a month-to-month anywhere), it might not be worth it.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:57 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gotta disagree with bowtiesarecool: going from Alexandria to Annandale doesn't involve the Beltway, just go straight out Duke Street --- its the same road as Little River Turnpike, it just changes its name just west of 495 when it crosses Beauregard Street. (I live in Alexandria, I commute through Annandale on Little River Turnpike to Route 50, and I couldn't even *tell* you the last time I was on the Beltway. Gotta be several months, at least.)

And since Alexandria has pretty good Metro access, it would work out well if you do decide to move.
posted by easily confused at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2013

Moving isn't cheap, so if saving money is your #1 priority see if you can get a 6 month or month-to-month lease at your current place. If your landlord is subject to DC rent control policies, it's illegal for them to raise your rent more than once every 12 months. So, you'll take the rent bump after 1 yr in November, then regardless of the term of your new lease, they can't raise your rent.

Alexandria to Annandale... could be worse, but she will have to commit to a car-only commute. Them's the breaks with a suburb-to-suburb commute for the most part. Also, you can also consider getting her to drop you at a kiss-and-ride so you can save on rent by being less walkable-to-metro.

If you wanted to take on the lions share of commuting, Dunn-Lorring/Merrifeld could be a budget friendly option and allow you to take the Orange line in. Rents in the new mosaic district are OK, at least in comparison to Capitol Hill, but they have added so much housing stock to the area that some of the older apartments are staying reasonable. You might actually be able to get some DC friends to schlep out to the Avalon Theater...

If your wife would like to live in a place that feels more like Cathedral Heights, I think the closest simulacrum of that on the VA side of the Potomac would be North Arlington, but, the rents there are pretty pricy.

Option C sounds like something that your crazy stressed out brain would think is a viable option, but is in no way, actually a viable option.
posted by fontophilic at 9:33 AM on October 27, 2013

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