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Washington DC Housing Values Map by Sarah Hank

by Prince Of Petworth November 6, 2012 at 11:00 am 61 Comments

The following map was made by Sarah Hank. She contributed a crime map of DC here and a sewage and plumbing map of DC here.

Hey Renters! Ever wondered how long it would take for you to pay off a house in the DC metro area? Here’s a rough guide.

I’ll start off by saying I am not a housing market expert, and have never bought a house, but I took some commonly accepted numbers and made this map of average length of mortgage by census tract for the DC metro area. I based my calculations on the following assumptions:

– 20% cash down payment (previously saved) ( Source)

– 30% of income contributed toward mortgage ( Source)

– Average household salary per census tract ( American Community Survey 2010)

– Average house value per census tract (American Community Survey 2010)

Of course these numbers are not going to represent everyone’s reality. For example, I did not take into account interest rates, and I assumed that income will be constant as well as the percentage of income contributed to the mortgage (which in reality would most likely not be true). Also, saving up 20% for a down payment is often out of reach for many people, especially these days.

I also overlaid proportional circles (once you zoom in a few levels) showing the percent of the population that holds a bachelor’s degree or higher. The thought behind displaying that data is that it “should” be correlated with average income if you’re lucky.

You can see that a lot of the map looks to fall in the 10-15 year range (light pink). I assume those people might choose to have a lower monthly payment and extend their mortgage a bit longer, but in terms of analysis, it is good to see that a lot of the metro area appears to be in balance. Meaning, housing prices are on par with the average income. In the NW Maryland suburbs, you’ll see $1,000,000 houses with average incomes of $200,000, and in the SE Maryland suburbs, you’ll see $300,000 houses with $70,000 incomes. (By the way, those tracts that have $1,000,000 homes actually are 1 million or above.)

The more consistently dark area is the one where many of us live.* From Shaw following Georgia Ave straight up to the top of DC, that is where the income and housing prices are a bit more in disparity. Does living in a $600,000 house with an income of $50,000 sound familiar to you? These are areas where many people are renters, and probably can’t easily afford to buy the house they live in on their current income.

What do you see on the map that is interesting to you? Do you have other theories about the dark spots and light spots?

*Looking at DC, there are a few spots that need to be disregarded. Why, you might ask, is the average income of the West End so low at around $11,000? Most of that census tract is devoted to GWU. I’d say the same goes for the UMD area. I’m sure AU and Georgetown have a bit of an effect as well, but those areas have many more wealthy residents than the others I mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    Students and large tracts of public housing skew a number of areas like Ledroit Park, which is full of Howard students and has a couple of blocks of public housing around W street.

  • Anonymous

    There are so many “ifs” on this map its not exactly useful, other than home values.

    • Anonymous

      I was thinking the same thing. Although it was interesting to see that I’m in what might be the most educated neighborhood in the region.

  • petwurf

    Interesting (as Ms. Hanks’ maps seem reliably to be). Thanks.

    • petwurf

      errr, “Ms. Hank’s,” I mean. :-|

  • bert

    “Does living in a $600,000 house with an income of $50,000 sound familiar to you? ”

    good lord no. how is that possible?

    • Anonymous

      That doesn’t sound too crazy, especially with interest rates being so low. Aside from housing you can live very cheaply in DC.

      • WalbridgeGuy

        Um, sorry, wrong. It’s completely crazy. EVEN IF you somehow have $100,000 in savings after living in DC on $50k a year, and EVEN IF you qualify for a prime loan at the lowest rate, then the principal and interest alone are ~$2200 a month. So yes, at more than 50% of pre-tax income before any maintenance, insurance or taxes, that’s officially completely crazy.

        • Anonymous

          It works if the house you own has a basement that can be rented out for $1200/month (and many $600k houses in DC do).

      • bert

        your math doesn’t work for me.

    • Hey guys, what I meant by that is that you might live in (read: rent a room in) a house that is valued at $600,000 while making $50,000. The fact that you found this outrageous is in fact my point! Many of us can’t afford to buy the houses that we live in (especially if you live in the darker areas).

  • Stacy

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Something that is probably difficult to quantify and more anecdotal is how people afford their 20% down payments. My husband and I – who come from working, blue-collar families that sometimes look to us for financial help – notice that many young to middle-aged Washington professionals are able to afford a lot because they are gifted a lot from their families. I have a friend who cried to me that she had to use her “life savings” to buy a house. Having never made more than $45k salary as a teacher she afforded a six figure down payment. Another friend graduated law school with debt up the wazoo and 2 months later bought a $800k row house. My husband and I thought we were doing something wrong. The more we started getting personal with friends and acquaintances about the reality of how to buy and afford real estate in the city, we started to learn how many people are gifted their down payments. I’m sorry. But there’s a significant difference between “savings” and “inheritance.” Savings implies that it’s your earned savings. Inheritance and gifted income…that’s a rich person’s problem. A a “problem” that a lot of people in Washington seem to have. I don’t have a problem with people being gifted this sort of luxury but when they act like they “did it on their own” – that pisses me off. Entitled POS. Enough Rant. Sorry. Again. Interesting post and map.

    • Anonymous

      I think it’s usually a combination of both. We saved up half of the downpayment and our parents contributed the rest. We were incredibly lucky that we had family who would help, but our sacrifices were substantial as well (instead of living in the city like our friends we spent several soul-crushing years in the suburbs where we spent 3-4 hours commuting every day).

      • Stacy

        I understand the rational why parents/families that can give down payments do. So many people, including some comments here, don’t get it. There are hardworking families that simply CANNOT gift their kids $1k, $5k, $15k or more. It’s simple not a reality.

        I can’t tell you how many blank faces I’ve received in return after being honest and explaining this to people. (My husband thinks we must know an abnormal population because every homeowner we know has been gifted all or some significant portion of their down payment.)

        • iaom

          Yeah, whenever the topic of owning vs. renting comes up on PoP, there are always anti-renting people who post all these back-of-the-envelope mortgage calculations that seem to assume everyone can just conjure up a 20% down payment out of nowhere.

          • Anonymous

            Um, you can’t exactly opt out of the down payment. I’m sure a lot of people can’t even afford the title insurance, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider these things when determining what a hypothetical buyer’s expenses will be at closing. Likewise, you should calculate the mortgage payments based on putting 20% down because that is what the hypothetical buyer would have had to do. The fact that most people can’t afford the down payment is irrelevant to the math.

          • iaom

            The posts always say things like “you’re a stupid idiot moron if you rent, because [math math math]” and don’t even consider that maybe you’re not a stupid idiot moron, you just don’t have parents who can shower tens of thousands of dollars on you like it’s nothing.

        • Anonymous

          It’s a DC-area thing. My wife grew up in Northern Virginia and thought it was completely normal for someone to be gifted a condo or a $100,000 downpayment. I don’t have a problem with parents or their children wanting to do this– it makes more sense than having the money sit in a bank account while the child struggles to save anything– but it does lead to a perspective that it out of touch with the rest of the country.

          • Stavros

            Totally, this is the only area in the country where parents give children money.

          • Anonymous

            “a perspective that it out of touch with the rest of the country” So true. The other day I was in line behind a gal who was on the phone w/her grandparents. She was thanking them for offering to paying for her grad school classes while carrying a designer purse equivalent to a month’s rent/mortgage. When she got off the phone, her boyfriend/husband casually said, “That’s nice.” She said, “Yah. I know. Right?” And then the conversation immediately shifted to how excited they were to be buying tiramisu flavored coffee. The conversation about the coffee lasted longer than her thank you call to the grandparents. It’s moments like that when I hate living in DC and feel convinced that this city has a disproportionate # of privileged and entitled people. I came to DC in hopes to make a difference thru my work at a non-profit. Foolish, idealist youth…

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone based on appearances and an overhead conversation. Maybe she spends a lot of time with her grandparents, and maybe she didn’t want to discuss it with her boyfriend because she was embarrassed that they were paying her tuition. Maybe her expensive-looking purse was bought secondhand at a thrift store (that’s where I get mine). Not everyone who gets excited over flavored coffee is some superficial spoiled brat.

    • Anonymous

      I think a lot of parents hate seeing their children blow their income every month on rentals that are absolutely horrible. So if they have some money to spare they’ll give it to them for the downpayment so they’ll be out of that situation.

    • vernie

      I feel you. My parents could never afford to buy a home, much less help me buy one. Sometimes I get a bit jealous of my acquaintances with yards and multiple bedrooms in nice neighborhoods, but I’m happy with my tiny condo and proud to say I did it on my own. Well…me and the first-time homebuyers tax credit…

    • My parents’ “gift” was to only charge me 4.75% interest on a loan they provided to help me with my down payment. It worked out well, I was able to buy the house (and sell at a profit 10 years later), and the interest was paid back to my family. Now I just have to wait til they croak and collect it all back. :)

      • Anonymous

        That’s lovely.

    • I also think it might be unusual to have 20 percent down. I did it with ten. Our rents are high and our property values are high, so it ends up costing a lot to wait until you have 20, since you’re paying that many more months of rent AND seeing asking prices increase.

      • Anonymous

        I’m guessing you bought a long time ago. You can’t get away with only 10% these days, unfortunately.

        • JS

          Is this true? From what I’ve heard, 10% is fine.

          • Anonymous

            No way. Lenders won’t accept less than 20%, and if it’s a competitive buying situation you might need more. We were being pressured to put down 25% but thankfully were able to do it with 20.

          • Anonymous

            You can put down less than 20% if you do FHA financing, but that has its own set of expenses and headaches.

          • C

            I’d heard that too but it’s definitely not true. I thought we could put down 10%, but the brokers we spoke with said they couldn’t get us a conventional loan unless we put down 25%. We were able to negotiate 20% with an ARM, and had to accept the extra 10% being offered by my girlfriend’s mother (something I really had not wanted to do). This was a year and a half ago, but based on my recent experience refinancing to a conventional loan things have not changed that much.

          • JS

            So bascially shop around! It’s good to hear everyone’s different approaches, as it gives one hope that I won’t have to find $130K lying around.

          • C

            Well, I can’t speak for the others but I certainly shopped around, however, I didn’t have the luxury of traveling back in time to get the advantages some of them did.

          • sbc

            We are in contract for a house with 10% down. It hasn’t been a problem, except that we will need to pay mortgage insurance until we get to 20% equity (so, for a looong while unless property values skyrocket). There were some banks that required 20% for condos or if the place currently had tenants, but we found several banks who were happy to work with us at 10%.

        • Three years ago, and not FHA. I recommend working through a broker rather than going straight to the bank. I ended up with a mortgage through the bank where I do all of my banking, at a better rate than they had quoted me directly.

          • Anonymous

            I think you got through the system just before the lenders tightened up their requirements. When we bought in early 2011 we had a wonderful broker who told us 20% is the minimum and there is no way to get it any lower. We’re refinancing right now and the lenders won’t even consider applicants with less than 20% equity.

          • Anonymous

            Can you recommend your broker? My biggest fair about buying is that we’re investing our entire savings (earned not gifted) and I’m afraid of getting poor guidance from a broker/bank/realtor. We’re in the earliest phases. We’re a few months from reaching our savings goal and starting to look at open houses that we feel confidant we can afford.

            You can read and read and read but info sometimes conflicts and it’s intimidating.

        • KD

          Using FHA I purchased a home using 3.5% down payment and negotiated that the seller pay the closing costs. I don’t thing you can get into a home for less than that.

          I understand the above commented not being able to accept gifts from parents. My folks are middle income and did offer to help me with expenses of purchasing a home. However living in Detroit they do not understand the local market. The home I purchased is about 3x the value of my parents home so I did not feel comfortable taking gifts from them. Actually, I sold my former 1br condo for more than their home was worth in one week. DC is an interesting housing market…

          • saf

            We also did the FHA 3.5% down, but that was almost 23 years ago now. It was the only way we could get into our house.

        • SB

          False. I bought back in July with 16% down and a regular non-FHA mortgage. I pay around $85 a month for mortgage insurance, but did not have to have 20% down.

          • C

            That’s a great deal! I was hoping to do something like that (really did not want to have to borrow from family) but our mortgage insurance would have been something crazy like $700 a month.

        • Anon

          CHIP loans from BBT are 0% down … so yes it is very possible

        • Um I just bought a house for 0% down, with a 4.125% interest rate, so…..I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oh and my monthly payment for a 2 bedroom house in a cool location is only $100 more than my rent was for a crappy studio apartment. I was offered lots of other low down-payment loans, too.

          • Yes, Anon, CHIP loans from BB&T FTW!

      • When we bought a year ago, we put 10% down with a conventional mortgage. Might be different for first time homebuyers (we were not).

        • Oh, and that wasn’t using a broker. We used our existing mortgage company (Wells Fargo).

    • Anonymous

      I hear you – my brother and sister were given a LOT by my parents and I resented it for a long time.

      I got nothing from them in comparison to my siblings. I put myself through undergrad, I lived frugally to pay the loans then went back to grad school and repeated the living frugally. I’m now finally getting ahead of the game and it feels great knowing that I’ve done it all without their help (read: no strings!).

      When I look at where my brother and sister are in life – financially, personally, professionally, I have to wonder if maybe our parents did *ME* the favor by NOT subsidizing me over the years.

    • ves

      economically, i’m like you. unfortunately so are my friends. and so many of them weren’t lucky enough to buy in dc. i know i was very lucky. i had a girlfriend. and we risked buying in the hood.

    • Anonymous

      You can also save a lot very quickly if you live with your parents until you buy. Not an option for most of us, but I know some people that did it that way.

  • DF

    Median household income in my neighborhood is really just $52K? I can’t believe that.

    • Anonymous


  • Jay

    The premise of the chart is off. It’s not as if moving to the Palisades will raise ones income to $163,000 a year (or at all). Nor will it increase your education level. In Palisades average home costs 5 times the average (or is it median?) income and in Hill East homes cost 7 times as much. Where is it cheaper to buy a home? The answer is still Hill East.

    This premise would make sense if you were comparing disparate geographies. Imagine someone considering relocating to Boston from Detroit. They probably will have more income in their field after relocating and thus it’s relevant information if all that extra income disappears into housing.

  • rayul

    Just noticed a weird little dark area near Naylor Gardens that states that the median house price is $825,000, median income $17,826, and 123 years to pay off, no one with a higher degree….anyone know what that is all about?

    • That’s probably an area where very few people live and there might be some large complex with a high value throwing everything off. Good eye! Further investigation definitely needed.

  • Anonymous

    Folks, please note that these are Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-year estimates, so what they are giving you are average incomes from 2006-2010. Especially with the income data, keep in mind that there were pretty massive economic shifts during that period, and unfortunate shifts in household incomes as a result. Perhaps less so in D.C. than the rest of the country, but still bears being mindful of such matters.

  • Somewhat Nerdy

    Thanks for the effort. It is a good conversation starter, but you need a lot more housing data to make any reasonable inferences about anything here.

  • David J

    The main problem with this chart is that the new homeowners (sales prices) and the median income (existing residents including new homeowners) are not one and the same.

    Yes, they overlap, but in most of these neighborhoods the vast majority of households did not buy a property in recent years (amany are longe time homeowners, others rent etc)>

    • I agree. Like I mentioned in my description, I’m no expert on buying a house and these numbers certainly won’t reflect everyone’s reality. I suppose this map is most useful to just compare incomes with housing values. Light colored places might point to an area where housing values have dropped quite a bit since the purchasers originally bought the home, or it might indicate an area that is starting to gentrify. At the very least you are able to see the various average incomes, education levels, and housing values in the areas that you live!

  • ke

    I’m still contemplating this chart, but I did want to thank Sarah for her time and effort putting this (and the other charts) together, and sharing them with the rest of us for our comments. Your skills are an asset to the PoP community!

    • Agreed, great job Sarah.

      A single set of numbers never tells the whole story, but it does give you another piece of the puzzle. Put all the pieces together and that’s where you’ll be able to glean some insight.

  • NH-NW

    As several have mentioned, it is still possible to buy with less that 20%, but you will pay PMI (monthly mortgage insurance premium). We bought with 3.5% down on an FHA loan in April (3.75% APR). With rates being historically low and rental income from our basement, we pay less per month for a rowhouse in Petworth than we paid for our one bedroom in Mount Pleasant (2008 FHA rate being 5%).

    Asking for a cash credit from the seller to help cover closing costs has been pretty standard procedure for the past few years in DC, and the scales haven’t completely tipped yet in favor of sellers in this market as of yet. This is almost necessary for most FHA buyers as taxes and fees can often equal 2+% pf purchase price.

    For what it’s worth, we used Rich Green from Presidential Mortgage, and he was great.


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