Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Location, location, location

I woke up this past Sunday morning with nothing to do. Not a damn thing. After more than a month of running this way and that for various Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, Christmas this and New Year’s that, it was a bit strange to tell you the truth.

What to do? What to do?

Then I thought, “Today would be a great day to go to some open houses.”

For the past couple of months or so I’ve been on again, off again house hunting, mainly due to changes at work. And, while I’m kinda-sorta in the middle of another work change, I’m settled enough to seriously start looking.

So hither and yon I went with a friend who’s much further into the process than I and we saw some nice places. One in particular in Columbia Heights is sooooo cool it would probably require some type of cool test to live there. A test I would fail miserably, I’m sure.

Another place looked really nice and was a just-completed total renovation and was pretty damn big, but was in an area that is a little eh, sketch. Not sketchy enough to keep me, personally, from living there, but enough to be of a bit of concern. While talking about this place with a friend who’s actually small enough the sketchiness of the area would be a major concern, another issue was brought to the forefront: Money.

Specifically what I’ve come to learn is the gigantic chunk of change the District of Columbia would take out of my pocket in the form of income taxes without actually really giving me anything in return if I were to relocate there. My friend is a current resident of the District, but a former NoVa neighbor who described the difference in services received from her previous and current government thusly: “Arlington really does rock”. This echoes my pretty darn smart youngest brother who last year moved from the Hill to Arlington or, as he called it, “the country.”

After a lot of thought I’m wondering is if the intangibles of living in the city really offset the real, tangible amount of money that ends up in my pocket every month?

In the comments tell me why you think it is or isn't worth it to cross the Rubicon?


Malnurtured Snay said...

I guess it really depends on your income level. For me, DC meant I was able to get rid of my car (and my car payments & my car insurance) and still be able to access just about everything I needed: work, entertainment, groceries, etc. If you can live without a car, and your savings from insurance & payments outstrips what you'd be taxed, go for it.

(I say just about because lugging 28-lbs buckets of cat litter from Bethesda's PetSmart isn't fun.)

Also, now I get to complain about not being represented in Congress. So that's fun.

Brando said...

If you're at a higher income level, obviously it makes more sense to live in VA--the income tax rate is less than half that of DC. Also, sales taxes are lower, and let's face it, you'll do most of your shopping close to home. You can also own a gun in VA (if that is something that matters to you) and owning a car is generally easier--if you get a garage or parking spot in DC it's likely going to cost a lot more.

If you plan to have kids, just keep in mind that the public schools in DC can be treacherous, depending on which one your kid is going to. It's a sad fact, obviously not helped by the fact that parents try to get their kids out of such schools, but there it is. Even the President doesn't want to sacrifice his kids' education or safety at those schools.

On the other hand, if you really like the benefits of urban living--being able to walk places, the urban aesthetic, etc.--it's hard to put a price on that. It could be worth the extra money and hassle of living in the city.

Lemon Gloria said...

The services in our neighborhood suck. DC government services are dreadful. And yes, we get less for higher taxes. We are in a good elementary school district but we really had to look.

But with all that said, I love love love living somewhere that I can walk to everything. I'm not rolling home from bars late anymore, but when I was single, I really appreciated that I could walk out my door and meet up with friends within a few blocks. For the year I lived with Nick in Alexandria, my social life dropped dramatically, because once I crossed the river to go home, I didn't come back, and I didn't stay late after work to go out a whole lot because of the commute. I think you want to live in DC, and I wonder if you should rent in the city for a year before you commit to buying? Then you can decide if it's a life change you want.

Liebchen said...

I'm nowhere near close to being able/ready to buy a place, so my advice is limited. But, having lived in Ballston and now DC, I have to say DC trumps VA. (Though, to be fair I was/am renting.)

I like Lemon Gloria's advice, though - maybe rent in the city first, and make sure it's worth it. It won't be exactly the same, but it'll give you a better idea of what's important to you.

lacochran said...

I live in Alexandria and take shit for it from my DC friends. So, if you can handle that, live in VA. You get a lot more house for your money. You have easy access to the city (live close to a Metro stop) and you have vastly superior services (hospitals, schools, snow removal, police, ANYthing that your taxes supposedly go to.)

If you simply like the image of yourself as a "city person", none of this matters.

FWIW, we looked at Arlington and didn't buy there (despite great restaurants) because it was rather pricey but also the properties we saw were on really cramped streets. It was like everything was shoehorned in. We wanted some quiet and some space and we found it in Alexandria.

FoggyDew said...

Snay - First off, don't own a cat so I won't have your major problem there. Second, and I cannot state this emphatically enough, I will never, ever get rid of my car. And even if, in some alternate version of reality, I did, that would in no way make up the difference in the taxes paid. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of being able to use the Metro, but it's not a deciding factor.

Brando - All good points about living in the Commonwealth. Especially the part about the guns. See comment above about the cars part. Also, I've always suspected all the "But I like walking everywhere" people are all lying to themselves just a little bit.

Lisa - See the comment above about walking. Being able to walk to the store and carry my groceries home does not make up for lack of basic services the city is charging me 8.5 percent of my paycheck for. That said, you offer an intriguing alternative.

Liebchen - Hmm, another vote for the District. I admit it's an interesting idea, but the thought of moving twice...

la - I have yet to extend my search to Alexandria, although there are many areas down there I like. Especially the ones along the Yellow line. As for the taking shit part, I've been doing that for four years while living in a political subdivision with a population density virtually equal to that of its neighbor. So, yeah, I'm used to it.

To all - while it looks like I'm bashing the district, I'm not. My mind really isn't made up yet.

HP said...

I lived in Alexandria for two years when I first moved to the area, and the sight of my first paycheck post-move to DC inspired a feeling similar to a punch in the gut. Once I got used to it, it wasn't so bad, and the DC gov tends to be pretty generous with tax returns. Look at it this way: with the extra cash that comes out of your paycheck may also be the money you're using to transport yourself in and out of the 'burbs for social events. In the end, it *might* even out.

Malnurtured Snay said...

What? Not a cat person? Move to DC and we'll break into the Zoo and steal a leopard!

FoggyDew said...

HP - Gut punch eh? Hmmm, let me think about that...

Snay - You climb the fence first. I'll bring the camera.

Malnurtured Snay said...

... and the wire cutters. Bring the wire cutters.

Shannon said...

I admit that I'm strongly pro-District, because I grew up in the Old Dominion and that's plenty for one lifetime.

It depends on what you value: I hate to drive (and other people hate being on the road with me), so I figure I'm doing humanity a favor by living in the city. I don't think you have to get rid of your car to live in the city (my neighborhood is very car-friendly) but you do have to factor in the extra insurance costs.

I also place a very high value on my social life, and strongly prefer being able to walk out the door and meet friends for a beer on a moment's notice. If I was in the burbs, I'd have to do a lot more planning and I'm sure the second the weather turned icky I'd turn into a hermit.

I also enjoy the regular freakshow that is Marion Barry, Mayor for Life and DC's most hilarious intangible benefit.

FoggyDew said...

Snay - Ever hear the joke about what one guy said to the other when they were being chased by a bear? I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than you.

Shannon - The MfL is definitely not worth the extra tax money in my ever so humble opinion.

007 in Africa said...

Well, there's me in the city, so that's always a plus :) You could compromise and play it like me: buy a shithole in the city for a low price, spend all your savings on major renovations and pray that it will all work out in the end...

Btw, who is that in your profile picture?