Hope me with Housing in NoVa? Renting. Buying.
December 10, 2013 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Should I get a mortgage even if all the house I can afford right now in the Northern Virginia (NoVa) area is $120k to $150k (according to two different calculators)?

My situation at home is a bit precarious right now so I want to explore my housing options now that I sort of kind of have the means to do so. ...But do I really have the means to do so? Hope me please!!

For a bit of background, I'm female, 24, and I have never lived by myself. Ever. And I'm a little freaked out by it, so of course, I have no idea what to expect with the financial implications. But I definitely get the general sense that it's expensive around here in the NoVa area. It seems like most of my peers are renting around $1300 at the low end and $1900 at the high end (without counting utilities). I know this can be offset by living with roommates in a house/apartment but for reasons I'd rather not go into, that isn't an option for me. I also can't live with my boyfriend either (at least not right now) since he makes about a 1/3 of what I make after taxes and wouldn't be able to pay rent. He lives at home currently and his parents are definitely cool with it. And no, I wouldn't dream of living with him and his parents, too awkward!. So it would be just me, myself, and I.

- Each month I make $3k after taxes and $2.4k after my 401k contributions. My salary is $56k but it doesn't feel like it goes too far.
- My parents probably would be to provide $10k+ towards a downpayment.
- Student loans have been aggressively slashed down to $7k and minimum monthly is $80.
- No credit card debt
- Free credit score from AmEx guesstimates it at 740. Hopefully it's actually much higher.
- Not currently paying for cell phone but it would be $60.
- Not currently paying for car insurance and have no idea what it would be.
- Have taken care of my own medical expense for years.
- Current expenses for gas and groceries are $120 and $100 respectively. Can be adjusted once that dang Silver Line opens (work can pay for public transport).

Other considerations:
- Currently work in Herndon, Va. There are offices in DC of course and I could be transferred or find another job there/all over NoVa.
- Currently living in Arlington near East/West Falls Church (grew up here and I still get them confused).
- Not qualified for anything (vet, public service worker, disabled, etc.)
- I am not very adventurous or nomadic. At all. In the slightest. I prefer to be plopped down and for my roots to grow deep.
- If money were no issue I'd buy the nicest craftsman style house in the City of Falls Church.
- I have lived in apartments before...and I actually enjoyed it.
- I don't have to live in the lap of luxury. Just safety and a reasonably nice little nest.
- I could probably be described as very frugal, especially by my peers.
- I could entertain the possibility of living in a condo/townhome while raising any future kid(s). So can my boyfriend.
- Most likely will marry said bf in the next few years, we've discussed things. I am ok with the money he is making now. And the money I am making now. He thinks we will earn significantly more in the future. For me, I have the potential to make up to 80-90k if I keep it up in my career (next 4-5 years maybe?). Would most likely aim for above 100k though to support us in the future if we have kid(s).
- He is also similarly attached to this area (NoVa) as I am through family and friends.
- No repair or handy(wo)man skills. Could learn the reasonable stuff though (open to it anyway).
- Read Mr. Money Mustache and a few other early retirement and PF blogs. But I cater it to my own personal situation, I don't follow mindlessly (and no I don't think anyone else does either, just saying).

So..whats your advice? I need some perspective from more experienced folks and I would love to hear from those who transitioned from living with the parents to buying and from living with the parents to renting, especially in a big and expensive housing area. I have heard the sentiment that you don't own the house, the house owns you and well, that's a little terrifying tbh. But I still want that option on the table to explore. Is it a pipedream? Can you even buy a place to live around here for between $120-150k? What would be some concrete next steps? Are there even realtors who want to sell homes that cheap around here?? I've looked at low income rentals for Arlington and it's still around $1200-$1400 and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't qualify as low income. I feel so frustrated, hopeless and really overwhelmed. Please hope me!

Throwaway if needed: hopemeinnovametafilter@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you even buy a place to live around here for between $120-150k?

Sure, but it looks like your pickings will be somewhat limited. Certainly not non-existant, though.

Is it a pipedream?

I think you could do this if you want. You might have to search a bit for a realtor and their fee might be a bit more than you'd like, but properties with even less value get bought/sold very regularly (for instance, even parking spaces can be bought/sold).

This bit worries me:

- My parents probably would be to provide $10k+ towards a downpayment.

For a house purchase to be reasonable, you need to be able to afford the down payment by yourself (some banks require this). The thing about houses is that people tend to think of monthly expenses or average expenses, but don't consider the large one-time payments that occasionally need to be made when owning a house. Say the roof collapses or the home owner's association issues a $30,000 one-time assessment to renovate the complex. These sorts of expenses can't (easily) be amortized into your monthly payments and your assets need to be sufficient to pay them off instantly if not quickly. Although a down payment doesn't prove that this is possible, it's a good demonstration of your ability to have a positive net worth, which is not obvious in your case.

This bit worries me even more:

I have never lived by myself. Ever.

Before you make the biggest financial commitment of your life, you should know what you want. You're suggesting making a giant step in your life without giving me a reason why you need to take it. Nothing in your post indicates that you even want to own a property. Even if you can swing owning a place, I don't know why you want to.

So..whats your advice?

Rent for a while. No one has ever been disadvantaged due to buying a property after a year of renting. You will find out more about you want in a year of renting than from random people on AskMeFi. You might find you want to live somewhere else. You might decide you want kids (which would not be very easy in a 300 sqft studio). You might decide you want a house. Or, you might decide you know exactly what you want and then you'll be much more confident in your decision. Further, you can save up for your own down payment so that you will be ready to buy when you want to. I don't think it's time for you to buy. If you have to ask, the answer is probably "no".
posted by saeculorum at 5:43 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's not clear why you want to buy a house. The only reason I can possibly guess from your post is that you feel the rent is high where you live, but owning a house is also expensive.

I am completely puzzled by what enjoying living in apartments has to do with your wanting to buy a house. Sure, if money were no issue you'd buy a really nice house, in a style you like, in a location you like -- nearly anyone would.

Rent for now, you can buy later if you want. You can use a rent v.s. buy calculator to look at various financial scenarios, but the usually don't account for sudden repair bills. If any realtors have houses in your price range on the market they will certainly be interested in you buying one of them.

It's also possible buy something that isn't a house like a condo or townhome. If you want to put down roots and stay where you are living forever, find out how long you'll be able to live in something like a condo where you don't actually own the land it's on.

Realize that you don't have to buy a house to meet some nebulous being-an-adult benchmark.
posted by yohko at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2013

As far as living situations go, it sounds like you want to play in the World Series when you should be trying out for Little League. Have you seen a condo or townhouse in that price range anywhere you would consider living? Have you looked to see how much specific places cost?

I'm in DC and don't make that much more than you but I'm anticipating that when it's time to buy, I'm looking at spending about $400k to $500k for a small 2 bedroom someplace where I won't get murdered. Because that's how much it will cost. At a minimum.

Why are you thinking about buying when you've never lived on your own? Are you one of those who thinks that renting is throwing money away? I sort of understand that perspective but I'm renting and I'm still saving money and if I found my dream house in my price range tomorrow, I could move. If I got my dream job in Paris tomorrow, I could move. And if the furnace breaks at my place, I call my landlord. Renting is not that bad. Give that a shot before home ownership.

And if you can't afford a down payment, you really shouldn't be buying. Yes, it's possible and there are some people for whom it's a good idea, but in general, it's not. If you can't save up a down payment, I don't know how you're going to afford a new roof, god forbid you need one.
posted by kat518 at 6:07 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

In your price range (120 to 150k), there's not a whole lot that's out there that will be reasonable and/or a good investment. One of the issues with that range would be the HOA/Condo fees for a place. We lucked out and only pay around $90/mo but I saw condo fees go well into $500/mo for a place without astonishing amenities. And, with that range, you'll be looking at a lot of condos, so I would double-check condo/HOA fees if you're set on buying.

I'd strongly advocate renting for a while, as real estate isn't losing value around here any time soon and building up your down payment would help defray your future monthly costs.

One more note, HFA (3% downpayment) loans are getting harder to come by and traditional 30-year fixed loans are getting super-strict with their 20% downpayment requirement.

I went through this about two years ago, so feel free to memail me if you want any further details.
posted by Fejery at 6:13 PM on December 10, 2013

Also, if you want "next steps," look into home buyer classes. There are a lot out there.
posted by kat518 at 6:14 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My middle aged husband and I have owned two homes in other areas of the country; we have been delaying purchasing in the greater DC area because the market is just so incredibly expensive.

At the prices you are quoting, it would be hard to find a decent condo or townhome.
"Can you even buy a place to live around here for between $120-150k?" I would say No.
Not unless you move as far west as you can be comfortable from your job. Fredericksburg? Leesburg?

You are young, there is no need to worry about buying a house or a condo right now. Most younger people I have met in the DC area room with others--or they buy a townhouse/condo/house and then rent out the rooms to help with the mortgage. Heck, even my husband's middle age coworkers are renting basements in houses for 1k a month.

If you wish to live alone, renting is going to be a financial problem and buying would be a financial problem.

My story: back in my 20s I transitioned to renting alone by: sharing an apartment with a friend, moving to a very inexpensive rural area and getting a cheap apartment. Then I got married and we pooled our money for several years while renting a townhouse. Then we purchased a cheaper house in the rural area, built up equity in that house; sold it, moved to a more urban area, bought a house for twice as much with the money we made on the first house. Sold that house, moved to the DC area due to job, realized houses here sell for at least 300-400k for a decent singe family home that would then need lots of expensive repairs. Stopped feeling the house love and decided just to rent a townhome for awhile.

My advice is to find an apartment or basement to rent first, to see what it is like to live alone. That would really be the first step.
posted by bessiemae at 6:18 PM on December 10, 2013

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thanks for feedback so far everyone, it certainly does look like the consensus is to rent instead of buy.

However. Please note that I specifically said in the first sentence that my living situation at home is precarious (but no specific timeline, just want to be prepared). I should have mentioned that I mean living at home with my parents. The reason I want to rent/buy is because of this situation. I feel like the considerations section of the post details why I may want to buy or rent. For instance, putting down roots, I am not a person who travels or is nomadic. I wont go down further the list but if further explanation is necessary?

As for affording a downpayment (I should have been clearer, apologies), I mentioned that I have aggressively slashed down my student loans. That was done in less than 10 months. The amount totals to over 12k so I have no problems with being able to save the money. Additionally the 10k mentioned is partly my money my parents have helped me save over the years.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:24 PM on December 10, 2013

I don't think you can buy anything in Northern Virginia. Those River Place listings also include condo fees from $300-400 per month in addition to your mortgage - and those are studios, not even 1-BR. (Just so you know where I'm coming from - I've owned a SFH in eastern Loudoun for the past 10 years, rented a SFH in Falls Church for four years before that, and lived in apartments in both South Arlington and Fort Myer for a few years before that.) Realistically, you are going to need to pay closer to $200K for a condo, even out towards Leesburg.

I agree with bessiemae. If you need to leave your current situation, you should look for a basement rental or apartment first.
posted by candyland at 6:25 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Renting doesn't mean you can't put down roots.

ALL of the people I know in DC rented first.

Rent so you can get a feel for neighborhoods.

Also, at 24, what is going to happen when any of the following occur within the first month ( these are things which happened to people i know in the first month of owning their first home and they were older than you):

- fridge completely dies
- central A/C unit dies during heat wave
- hot water heater which had seemed perfectly sound completely malfunctions and needs replaced
- roof develops leak during massive rains and damages ceiling and floor

posted by sio42 at 6:29 PM on December 10, 2013

Right now start thinking about saving for a future down payment. (If you decide not to buy, you can always use it for a round-the-world tour or a car or something.) The more significant a down payment you can put down, the lower the mortgage payment will be.

Then start learning the market where you want to buy. The easiest way to do this is to have a conversation with a Realtor and ask them to set you up for listings e-mails. We are sort-of, kind-of, not-very-seriously looking at moving, and we asked our Realtor to do this for us. We had a talk with her about what we would like in a house, and we get a daily e-mail listing all new-to-the-market and changed listings that meet certain criteria (detached house within a particular geographical area, 3+ bedrooms, 2-car garage). This has given us a good sense of what the market is for houses in that area, and we'll see a house and say, "$200k! That seems really low for that neighborhood with four bedrooms! ... oh, the kitchen is awful." or "$225k! That's a bargain, especially with new carpets!" If the Realtor sees something she thinks might particularly interest us, she'll send us a special e-mail (big sunny flat yards, basically; we are gardeners), but otherwise the program at her office just sends them automatically. It's no hassle to her once it's set up; we've been looking at listings about two years and I expect it'd be another two before we'd be really serious about buying, so it's not a high-pressure situation.

I'm sure you can set something like this up online directly, too, but I don't know where. :)

That way you'll have a good sense of what's possible and available in the market, and if your perfect affordable dream house HAPPENS to come up, you won't miss it.

The first year of owning a house is definitely the most expensive -- you find all sorts of crazy things breaking and going wrong. After that you get into a maintenance pattern and you start to know the house's quirks, but the first year, yeah, something catastrophically expensive goes wrong, plus you have to have the plumber in three times and the electrician twice, so budget for that too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:31 PM on December 10, 2013

I'm not sure exactly what you're asking. I think you should rent. I'd think up a plan for moving out within the next 6-12 months. Look for an affordable apartment in an area where you feel comfortable.

Could you afford, today, to move into a new apartment? What could you afford to pay in rent? Could you afford to put down your first month of rent, as well as your last month and security deposit? Could you buy furniture to move into a new place? Utilities? If not, start there.
posted by kat518 at 6:41 PM on December 10, 2013

I understand that you're not a person who travels or is nomadic, but I would highly consider at least thinking about exploring other areas if you've never lived anywhere else. The area where you live is grotesquely expensive--and I say that as someone who lived in NoVa for awhile, and grew up in another grotesquely expensive area (New Jersey). Had I never left, I'd probably be paying an exorbitant amount for a house in NJ right now; I discovered that a more affordable area actually better met the needs of myself and my husband--who are likewise homebodies.

I never would have discovered that, though, if I hadn't pushed myself past my comfort zone and explored other places. I'd note that my family and my husband's family would have made it easy for us to stay where we were, but it actually wasn't healthy for either of us. I feel echoes of that in your question in that your parents are covering most of your expenses for you while you live at home in your mid-twenties.

All that being said, I don't see a single reason for you to buy now instead of renting, other than that your parents seem to be pushing you toward that by offering a down payment. Again, I don't think this actually means it's what's best for you. In fact, at your budget, in that area, you'd be pretty much putting down roots in a shit hole. If you are a very frugal person who would love a little house, I think the prudent thing to do would be to rent for the time being and do some very cursory exploring of areas where that would be a financial possibility for you. It doesn't need to be super far away from your family, but I really, genuinely think that the values reflected in your post would be better met by living in another area.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:01 PM on December 10, 2013

Please note that I specifically said in the first sentence that my living situation at home is precarious (but no specific timeline, just want to be prepared).

If you were to suddenly find you needed to move out within the next week, that won't be enough time to go through the buying process on a house.

It sounds like you are preparing to have to move suddenly, so you should keep the paperwork you would need for getting an apartment at hand.

For instance, putting down roots, I am not a person who travels or is nomadic.

I know people who've rented while living in the same place for 20 or more years. Renting is more convenient if you don't want to put down roots, or are nomadic, or want to not have an apartment and travel -- but renting doesn't mean you can't put down roots and not travel.

But it sounds like you want to buy a house. There doesn't really have to be a why included in your question, if you have already concluded you'd like to buy a house if you possibly can.

Do this:
Get preapproved for a loan, and arrange with a realtor to have things in your price range emailed to you. Think about if you would be willing to buy a house that needed major repairs. If nothing turns up in your price range that interests you, you'll have an answer to your question, and if something does you can move forward with this.

You might find that you don't want to put down your roots in a place you can afford right now. Many people are in the same situation, but you are fortunate enough that you can expect to afford something nicer in a few years. If the only places you'd want to buy are out of your price range, you'll either have to change your mind about where you want to live or rent and buy something else when your income is higher.
posted by yohko at 7:06 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I get you want to put down roots, but you're 24 and you live in Northern Virginia. You have NO idea where you'll be living or working in the next 5 years and even if it's in the general area, you could be signing up for a hellish commute because you get a great new job that is now a 2 hour commute.

Also, the most you can maybe hope to but is a 2 bedroom place. Maybe 3, but it probably won't be very nice. Honestly the 2 bedroom probably won't be either. Do you really think it's realistic that you will raise your future kids and live in the same kind of crappy 2 bedroom apartment for the next 30-40 years? I mean people do it, but not by choice.

You're boxing yourself in. I've put down roots in DC and I've lived in 6 different places (and moved away for 2.5 years before coming back).

Also, what if you lose your job? It's a lot easier to get out of a lease than a mortgage. You are just starting your career. Last hired, first fired and all that. Not to scare you, but buying a house is scary. It's a massive commitment. If the market crashes again, you could be underwater in a place you can barely afford and can't rent out for the mortgage payment. I've seen it happen to at least 2 friends. 5 years later they live on the other side of the country and they are still paying towards the mortgage despite having renters. As a result they still have roommates when they could otherwise afford to live on their own. It sucks. Don't make financial commitment you aren't ready for yet. Wait a couple years. Watch the market. Rent a place in the meantime and save up.
posted by whoaali at 7:06 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, your boyfriend is bringing home about 18k. I understand that he might not be able to make huge contributions toward rent, but that's certainly enough to contribute to a shared living situation. It's fine if you guys aren't ready for cohabitation, but the expectations there feel a little hinky.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:09 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a non-nomadic 20something and I own an inexpensive apartment in an expensive city. I definitely recommend renting first; I did for several years and still feel like maybe I bought a place too quickly. Renting will give you a sense of what a neighborhood is like and of what it's like to live without your parents.

I second the suggestions to look at what kind of homes are out there in your price range before you commit. Also, since you say you like apartments, don't rule them out; you don't have to be personally responsible for upkeep in the same way in an apartment if you have a co-op like I do (though I know NYC is different from a lot of other areas in this respect so ymmv.)

Also I am sorry if I'm being presumptuous but if there is instability in your living situation and if that might mean you have any sort of difficulties with your parents, do consider whether you actually want to buy a permanent home in the area where they live. Apologies if this consideration is irrelevant. Good luck!
posted by mlle valentine at 7:47 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, think about your priorities. I want to live in my area to the extent that if an amazing job 2 hours away came up--as someone mentioned upthread as a hypothetical--I wouldn't take it. This probably isn't a good quality of mine but since I recognize I have no real desire to live anywhere else, that was a major motivator in my decision to buy. I was even basically sure of the specific neighborhood I want to live in for a long time. I wouldn't've bought a place otherwise.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:20 PM on December 10, 2013

You don't list housing costs among your current expenses, so I assume you're not paying rent now? And not saving your own down payment or covering all of your expenses. You also don't mention retirement savings. I suggest working out a strict budget with a financial planner/educator so that you're saving at least half of your net pay. Nothing wrong in principle with going directly from family home to home ownership, but you don't sound prepared for it.

And please do not have kids unless both you and your partner are financially secure enough to be able to do it on your own. If one of you leaves/gets sick/gets laid off/etc. there's still daycare and diapers in addition to that roof replacement to pay for.
posted by headnsouth at 8:29 PM on December 10, 2013

I think you should rent, not buy. If you buy, at your price range — even if you stretch, which I wouldn't suggest — you'll be at the bottom end of the market for NoVA. They're not as easy to sell as homes closer to the middle of the market; you're also more likely to be in a condo with significant fees that will narrow the savings you'd normally expect to have as a buyer vs a renter. And there will be a huge temptation to buy somewhere way out in the middle of nowhere Sterling/Ashburn, to get more house for your money, and those places have traditionally been much more volatile markets. If the market craps out again, you could be underwater and have to wait it out for a few years, which isn't a ton of fun.

You want to get out of your parents place, which is understandable. With your salary, you should be able to afford a decent apartment. (And probably in a fun area where you can't realistically afford to buy at the same income level, like on the Orange Line corridor.) I would do that for a while.

The last thing you want to do, especially in the DC Metro area, is buy a place and then suddenly have your employment situation change and have to commute a long distance. E.g., living in EFC and commuting to Herndon is slightly painful, but if you bought a house either inside the Beltway on the VA side or in the more-distant VA suburbs (like the aforementioned Sterling, which would make your commute to Herndon easy), but then suddenly had to work over in the MD suburbs, you'd be in a world of hurt. I wouldn't buy unless you are absolutely set in your job for a minimum of 3-5 years, with reasonable certainty.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:13 PM on December 10, 2013

Rent, save money for a down payment when you get more stable.

Also, move outside of the beltway to a place like manassas that's a lot cheaper. You should be able to afford a decent place on your salary, with no room mates -- at your take home pay, you should be paying no more than $1000/mo, imo.

Also, I know you said you don't want to move in with your BF, and that's totally cool, but there is no reason that he needs to split the rent 50/50 with you, like in a real roommate situation. My GF makes significantly less than me and pays 1/3rd of the rent that I do, and I'm 100% fine with that. If you aren't okay with that in your own relationship, it's fine, but getting a one bedroom apartment for even 1/3rd less money a month makes a BIG difference in how much extra spending money you have -- not to mention sharing groceries, etc.
posted by empath at 12:55 AM on December 11, 2013

Trust me on this: you can NOT currently afford to buy a decent house in a decent neighborhood around here; you MIGHT be able to afford to buy a studio cond0.

You describe your current housing as 'precarious'; if you think you'll need to move out in a hurry, that's another reason to RENT not buy --- buying a place takes loads more time and paperwork, and that's not even counting finding a place you'd WANT to buy.

For whatever reason, you sound like you've already made up your mind that you want to buy, specifically buy a house, and you just came here to validate that opinion. Sorry to disappoint you, but you can't afford to buy in this area, nor do I think you've really thought any further than the bald statement "I want to buy a house".

For a hard cold professional answer, try this: go to a real estate agent. Tell them you want to buy a house, and tell them the same financial info (not the emotional stuff!) that you've posted here, and see what properties they can find in your range.

Then go look at rental apartments.
posted by easily confused at 2:29 AM on December 11, 2013

There are some "moderate income" homebuying programs that you'd probably qualify for as a first-time homebuyer. Here's an example from Arlington: the MIPAP program described at the bottom of this page has a maximum household income limit for a single person is over 60k.
posted by amarynth at 4:36 AM on December 11, 2013

I think BECAUSE you want to put down roots, you should rent for the foreseeable future.

I'm the same way; I've lived in the area for my adult life and I plan to stay in Northern VA until I die if I can swing it. I work in DC in the political business and I want to continue doing so forever. And my husband and I are renting, because we want to take our time and really think about our options and save up the biggest down payment we possibly can so that we can buy a townhouse we love that we'll stay in forever. There's not a good reason to rush it, and no reason we can't have kids while we're still renting if it comes to that.

We only want to do this once, and we don't want to screw it up. That means taking plenty of time. I know too many people who bought young/right after getting married, and regret having a "starter house" that became a bit of an albatross.

I would suggest picking a neighborhood to rent in that you like, and get a feel for independence that way. If you really hate moving (and I can hardly blame you), think about signing a longer lease if it will make you feel better. Keep saving. The ridiculously overpriced DC area real estate market will still be there for you when you're ready.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:11 AM on December 11, 2013

Rent. What everyone has said here is true. First of all, it's best to learn how to live on your own before you decide that you know how you want to live forever. Maybe you buy a townhouse and you decide that you hate living with people around you. Maybe you buy a standalone house in a downscale neighborhood and you decide that you would prefer being closer to work and in a nicer neighborhood. Then you're stuck trying to sell a less-than-desirable property before you can move.

Look up the concept of "house poor". You really don't want to have a huge percentage of your take-home pay tied up in housing. When you rent, if financial circumstances change (and honestly they almost always do — cars need repairs, medical expenses come up, family members have emergencies, whatever) it's a lot easier to leave a lease than it is to unload a mortgage.

You are honestly not making enough money to own property in your area, regardless of what an online calculator tells you. You might be frugal, but you need to wait to buy at least until you are totally out of debt and have your own down payment saved, plus an emergency fund that could take care of those first-year homeowner issues. Do yourself a favor! Everyone here is telling you truth, and I'd bet most of it was hard won truth. Learn from others' experiences.

Get an apartment, see how you like your new neighborhood. Finish paying off that student loan. Get yourself some furniture, kitchen gadgets, bathroom towels. All the things you don't have. Once you've lived on your own for a while, revisit. But don't trust mortgage companies to give you the honest truth about what you can afford. They have a vested interest in selling you a product. You need to keep being frugal and figure out if what they're selling is really what you can afford.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:24 AM on December 11, 2013

OP, you have my sympathy: I just got done buying a tiny old house (1500 sq) that's a mile away from EFC and I paid about the same as my sister did (only her house, in Cincinnati (in a great neighborhood), is four times the size of mine)). Home prices in Arlington are just astronomical and went up again this year and will almost certainly continue to go up if the economy continues to improve. I really regret not buying back in 2000, before the big shoot-up in Arlington prices that took place over the past decade, so I understand if you feel pressure to buy before the next round of price hikes takes place. I didn't buy in 2000 because I was still trying to decide if I wanted to live in this area - you KNOW you want to live in this area, so one of the toughest questions when it comes to buying a house has already been answered.

You can definitely buy a house in NoVA with what you're making but it's virtually impossible that you'll find anything that you actually -want- to buy that you can afford at your income level in the area that you are living in right now (EFC/WFC). Have you thought about other locations in NoVA? I just don't think you're going to find anything that is affordable at your income level in upper Arlington that is not majorly compromised in some way.

To give you an idea of what EFC/WFC prices are like - I really wanted to stay under 500k, but everything available in the area that was under 500k had major issues (structural, bad locations, etc.). It was only when I very reluctantly looked at properties in the 600k range that I started to see things that were actually liveable. (I had 100k saved up for down payment and even though my after-tax and 401k contribution is about 5k a month, I'm still paying over 50% of that 5k on the monthly mortgage and that's not including utilities. This is for a small house that was built in 1940. It has the basic amenities, but it's not fancy.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:17 AM on December 11, 2013


Renting is much less expensive than owning. Especially with the taxes in Virginia!

Renting is the first step to being on your own, also, if you don't know anything about repairs or home maintenance, it is SO MUCH EASIER to call the management office and tell them, "the thingy broke in the toilet!" It is their headache, not yours.

While you are not putting down roots yet, you do want to be flexible, and renting provides flexibility.

Even if I stay in Atlanta the rest of my life, I never want to own a house again.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:17 AM on December 11, 2013

What you should do for the next 3 years, at least:
- Rent somewhere central for your probably work commutes
- Save 20% of your take home money
- Avoid HGTV and any other home making/flipping/updating shows like the plague
- Stockpile things that make you feel "home"
(art! trinkets! pictures! furniture! crafts!)

Channel the nesting urgency into saving & planning.

I just bought a cute town house in NoVA after saving for six years. I have tons of documentation, calculations, etc on how much it costs to buy here, what to expect, what I did, etc.
Memail me if you want to know more.
posted by skrozidile at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2013

From the OP:
"Thanks for answering my question everyone!

headnsouth, I included my 401k contributions in my original post at $600/mo (Planning to call Fidelity to figure out what % in order to max out the 17.5k limit for 2014, started work mid 2013). My current financial strategy and discipline is pretty sound, take a look at my first follow up. 7k student loan balance will fall to 3.5k by the next two paychecks, freeing up some cashflow. The kids mentioned were future ones. As in 5+ years down the road.

I can't mark as best answers but if I could:

longdaysjourney - Someone who understands! Thanks for posting (and reading it all), this is exactly the kind of answer I'm looking for. Yes I'm 100% sure about living around EFC after having lived in DC, Fairfax, and Ballston. Folks, I know me best and I know it's this place. You are right about 2000 because thats around the time my parents bought this property here EFC/WFC (they are low to moderate income) and they basically got a steal considering the value of the house now.

bowtiesarecool - Very good point about waiting for the perfect house to stay in forever (moving sucks a lot) instead of a just ok "starter" (quotes because I have lived in large homes and small homes and I actually much prefer smaller).

amarynth - Links are very helpful, thanks!

Eyebrows McGee - Listing emails, that's a great idea! I already sort of do this by looking at the weekly Arlnow.com open house postings. I'll definitely be figuring out how to do this for my area

bessiemae - That's some good perspective with the older workers still renting.

For the foreseeable future I'll be staying with my parents for as long as possible and then renting (if down payment isn't large enough) and then buying when it make sense to. Thanks everyone!"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:47 PM on December 11, 2013

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