Are you moving to the DC area? You probably heard that not everyone lives in the Washington DC city limits. Many people live in Maryland or Virginia as well. Living in Maryland vs Virginia vs DC is a complex decision, as each area has its own personality and pros and cons. In this article, we will cover several major items to consider when deciding which area is right for you and your family.
Living in Maryland vs Virginia vs DC: The Ultimate Comparison Guide
We’re going to cover financial and lifestyle factors that impact day to day life here in the Nation’s Capital. In another post and video, I dive into the cost of living for the different jurisdictions.
Maryland, Virginia & DC Compared
Which suburbs are we talking about here? Generally speaking we will cover the “close-in” suburbs, some of which are “inside the beltway.” (This is a term you will hear a lot when living in DC!)
- Arlington, Virginia
- City of Alexandria, Virginia
- Alexandria (Fairfax County) Virginia
- Bethesda, Maryland
- Chevy Chase, Maryland
- Silver Spring, Maryland
- Kensington, Maryland
- Rockville, Maryland
- Mount Rainier, Maryland
- Takoma Park, Maryland
A brief summary about each area:
1. Arlington, Virginia
Divided into North and South sections, and many neighborhoods within each, there’s a lot to learn about Arlington. The neighborhoods vary in personality so much that I did a deeper dive on Arlington on these two articles and videos: North Arlington Tour and South Arlington Tour.
2. City of Alexandria, Virginia
The old world Virginia charm meets new in the City of Alexandria! There are quite a few neighborhoods, and people often think only of Old Town when they talk about Alexandria City but there is much more to know about the area. There’s more information on this article and video: Best Neighborhoods to Live in Alexandria VA | Alexandria Tour.
3. Alexandria, Virginia – Fairfax County
The area south of the beltway – that’s “outside” the beltway if you’re ready to learn the DC lingo, is between Interstate 95 and the Potomac River. There’s more information at this post with video: Fairfax County Alexandria.
4. Bethesda, Maryland
Just outside the DC line on the northern end, most of Bethesda sits inside the beltway with an extension called “North Bethesda” outside the beltway. Another name for “North Bethesda” is: Rockville. That’s a local joke as the “town” North Bethesda sprung from something no one can quite recall.
5. Chevy Chase, Maryland
A small area just outside DC, Chevy Chase is divided into several villages and each has their own town government.
6. Silver Spring, Maryland
Silver Spring is huge, consisting of a large area from inside the beltway along Eastern Avenue, all the way to the “ICC” or Inter-county Connector – Route 200. Silver Spring’s downtown area feels more like a city than some parts of DC!
7. Kensington, Maryland
Just outside the beltway and east of Chevy Chase, Kensington has a personality all its own. There’s an antiques row and small town feel that the residents love.
8. Rockville, Maryland
Outside the beltway, Rockville is a city in Montgomery County Maryland where much of the county seat of government is. The red line metro runs through Rockville. There are a variety of neighborhoods and all the retail you could ever possibly need on Rockville Pike.
9. Mount Rainier, Maryland
Inside the beltway and just outside DC off Eastern Avenue, Mount Rainier has long lured artists who love the vibrant neighborhood and 1920’s bungalows. The community is strong and people move here for the lower real estate prices when compared to the western side suburbs.
10. Takoma Park, Maryland
The closest thing the DC area has to the west coast, this progressive community allows residents as young as 16 to vote in local elections.
DC vs Maryland vs Virginia Cost of Living
There will be sticker shock for many people moving to Washington DC or the Maryland or Virginia suburbs from most anywhere else in the country aside from New York or the west coast. There are some nuances to the DC vs Virginia vs Maryland cost of living but, generally speaking, things are expensive here when compared to the rest of the U.S. Overall, when each area is compared, they often end up even by the time all the pros and cons are accounted for.
Income taxes are the highest here, but property taxes are typically the lowest, with added tax credits for a primary residence. Real Estate prices are also the highest per square foot here. There seems to be no discernible difference in the prices of restaurant meals in the area but groceries are most expensive inside DC.
Income taxes and property taxes on par with Maryland. Gas is usually cheapest here, however, but Virginia does have personal property tax which you will need to pay on each vehicle you own.
There is no personal property tax, and there are some homestead deductions for primary residents.
So, is it Cheaper to Live in Maryland or Virginia or DC?
It depends. Sorry! I wish I could give a straight answer on this, but it truly does depend. The money you save in commuting by living closer to downtown DC may have other sacrifices – more expensive day to day living, and costs associated with parking a vehicle in a public garage. But if you could ditch the car, then the situation changes quite a bit. Ultimately it depends on how you live, what you will require for your living situation to truly assess the best and most cost-effective area for you.
The Lifestyle Battle: Virginia, Maryland and DC
The DC lifestyle is super walkable. There are plenty of sidewalks and views to take in while you are walking and I would say most people choose to walk. You will always see people in the streets. Virginia is not known for being pedestrian friendly. Closer to Alexandria or Arlington is much more walkable, but the further out from the city that you travel you will notice people are much more car dependent. Maryland is similar to Virginia in that respect. For errands such as picking up groceries or hitting the shops you’ll most likely have to jump in your car. Virginia and Maryland both have tons of trails though so walking through the towns and cities like you would in DC isn’t as common in the suburbs because of the heavy vehicle traffic.
DC has all the social life you could ever want. There is a bar, restaurant, or meeting place for you and your friends in every neighborhood. You can navigate to everything mostly on foot or by public transportation. In Virginia and Maryland, you will find that restaurants and bars are located more in the centers of the large neighborhoods. Clarendon or Courthouse in Arlington for instance have their own epicenters filled with outdoor markets, shops and restaurants.
You will find the same in Old Town Alexandria. If you live in Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia, you can navigate a lot on foot. Once you are further outside of these areas, your options are more reduced unless you are in one of the planned communities. I will say having lived in Maryland though, it is not really a place that one would aspire to live for a great nightlife scene, but it is better than it once was.
If you have a family to think of when you are deciding on your move, I highly suggest looking at the schools first, and then picking a neighborhood based on that.
DC Public Schools and DC Public Charter Schools are both public, free and open to all DC Residents. DC Public Schools (DCPS) is run by the DC Government with the oversight of a Chancellor. This is sometimes known as a Superintendent in other parts of the country. DC Public Charter Schools (DCPCS) are run by non-profits and a DC Public School Charter Board.
The city offers “Ed Fest” which is an annual festival for parents/caregivers to find out all the information they need under one roof. The city schools have changed significantly over the years as many families have chosen to remain in DC instead of moving to the suburbs. Heavy parent/guardian involvement has been necessary to strengthen the quality of education and this will continue to be important for the foreseeable future.
Both DCPS and DCPCS operate in a lottery for applications, with one exception. If you want your child to go to your in-boundary school for Kindergarten through 12th Grade, they are guaranteed a seat. If you want a spot in Pre-K, a school out of your boundary or any public charter school, then you must participate in the lottery.
The lottery is often a source of much confusion for parents. You may want to refer to the video here which explains it in a bit more detail. https://youtu.be/vqSLwmlBdOU
Montgomery County MD Public Schools is governed by an 8-member Board of Education, one of whom is a student. Most of the funding comes from the county and 25% from the State of Maryland. MCPS has over 200 schools, 39 of which are Blue Ribbon Schools and over 160,000 students enrolled. Students can always enroll at their in-boundary school, and some schools offer special programs. There is also a lottery for county-wide programs which are the schools offering language immersion, career focus and others that are criteria-based magnet type programs with specializations in Humanities, Communication, Math, Science, or Computer Science.
Prince George’s County MD Schools is the second largest school district in Maryland right after Montgomery County and is governed by a 14 person Board of Education. In addition to managing the public schools, PGCPS also operates vocational, alternative and public charter schools. Magnet programs include Aerospace Engineering, Aviation Technology, Performing Arts, Biotech/Biomed, French Immersion, International Baccalaureate, Science & Tech and French or Spanish Language Immersion. In total, Prince George’s County operates just over 200 schools with approximately 130,000 students enrolled.
Arlington County Virginia has 33 schools with 28,000 enrolled. There are several alternative schools as well. Students are guaranteed a seat at their in-boundary school but can participate in the lottery if there is another school or Pre-K program the student wishes to attend.
Alexandria City Public Schools has 18 schools with over 15,000 students enrolled. The movie “Remember the Titans” is based on Alexandria City’s only high school, T.C. Williams. Students enroll into their assigned in-boundary school.
Fairfax County Public Schools has 198 schools and is the largest in the region and the 10th largest in the U.S. There are over 187,000 students enrolled and 222 schools. FCPS is led by a 12 member board with one student representative, and is further divided into 5 regions with an Assistant Superintendent overseeing each. There are Advanced Academic Programs, International Baccalaureate and AP programs, as well as Career & Technical High Schools.
Prince William County Public Schools is the 2nd largest school district in Virginia and the 4th largest in the region after Fairfax County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County all covered above. There are close to 100 schools with a total enrollment of just under 90,000. Prince William County offers specialty programs for Fine & Performing Arts, Biotech, International Baccalaureate, IT, Languages and Environmental & Natural Sciences. Some specialty programs exist at the middle school level as well.
The City of Fairfax, Manassas City and Falls Church City each operate their own school districts separate from the rest of the county in which they reside. They are small with just a few schools in each, but they each have websites with more information.
So what about real estate and what will you get for your money? Prices here are high and they increase so frequently that people often wonder if there’s a housing bubble in DC. One bedroom condos are going to cost upwards of $400,000 in DC. In Maryland, the closer you get to the city the higher the prices are. You’ll see condos in the high $300,000 and then go down from there the further out you go.
Thanks to the newly opened Amazon Headquarters, Virginia’s prices have caught up to DC. Single family homes in DC are in the $1-2 million range. Can you find a home for less than that? Sure – in an up and coming neighborhood maybe. In Virginia and Maryland, you need to get about an hour out of the city to find a home for less than half a million dollars. Of course there are always different variants such as neighborhoods, amenities, yard size, etc.
Rent follows the same pattern with one bedrooms in DC renting between $2,000-$2,400 a month, two bedrooms $3,000-$4,500. Maryland and Virginia rent prices will probably be around 70-80% of the DC rent prices.
Virginia or Maryland or DC? Conclusion
There is so much to love about the DC Metro area. There are old homes and new, large homes and small condos. There are decisions about public schools, commute and lifestyle. Deciding where to live is very personal, and one that will take a lot of time and research. Drive through the areas at different times of day and night and on different days of the week to see what feels right. Mondays are different than weekends, and daytime is definitely different than night.
If you have any more questions about which area might be best for you, or are interested in real estate help in any of these areas, please let me know!