Desirable Locations, Expensive Prices: Is Buying a Home Impossible?

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

When someone identifies a geographic area they really like — where you feel comfortable and happy, where you could see yourself staying a while — it makes sense to contemplate the possibility of buying versus renting. But what if the place where you live (Alexandria, VA) happens to be a very expensive location to buy a home? Obviously you’re not the only person who wants to live where you live, and real estate prices reflect that.

The other day, just out of curiosity, my roommate and I looked online at homes for sale in our area. Because we live in the historic Old Town section of Alexandria, the beautiful homes and townhouses regularly sell for over a million dollars. In fact, the cheapest property for sale (at just under $200,000) was a TINY VACANT LOT.

Why do I like living here? I live in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood, so the use of my car has been greatly minimized (especially since I walk to and from my local Metro stop to take the train into D.C. for work). There are restaurants and bars, cultural and historic attractions, a weekly farmer’s market, and numerous events throughout the year. (When there was a President’s day parade a few months back, I really liked being able to leave my apartment ten minutes before it was due to start, rather than driving around and attempting to find parking.) I can also do random things like walk to Chipotle, like I did not long ago, and eat my dinner on a bench facing the Potomac river.

Most of my immediate family lives less than 100 miles away, in Richmond (a city where I spent eight years of my life). The reason I moved to the D.C. area in the first place was because I felt like I’d have more job opportunities here — but on the flip side, it’s easier to afford a house in Richmond. My younger sister and her boyfriend moved into a beautiful, large two-story house last year that cost less than the small, plain, 1950’s-era townhouse for sale around the corner from my apartment for over $300,000.

Yes, I know I could move somewhere else where the real estate is cheaper. But would I be happy? I truly believe that location is a huge factor in how happy we are in our daily lives — at least it’s a huge factor in how I feel about my daily life. Would I be as happy if I moved farther outside of D.C. and had to commute a long distance to get to work? No. Would I enjoy living in a place as much if I had to drive everywhere I wanted to go? I’m positive I wouldn’t like it as much, because I’ve lived in those types of locations before.

Other possibilities exist, of course. I could end up falling in love with someone who’s fabulously wealthy. Or, much more likely, I could end up pooling my resources and buying a home with someone else — I’ve already had discussions with some of my friends about the option of buying property together.

There’s no reason for me to stress about this too much, and there’s no reason why I should be in any rush to buy, but it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about. If I continue to rent for the foreseeable future, I’ll be perfectly happy because I know I’ve found an area that feels like home. But still, it would be nice to say, “This place? It’s mine.”

Is anyone else disheartened by the cost of real estate? Any advice for what to do about it?

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