The City of Falls Church in Northern Virginia has its own mayor, police department, and school system. “You have a community center, new restaurants, unique shops, and a farmers market,” says real-estate agent Colin Storm. “That’s what a lot of America is losing—that mom-and-pop feel.”
While single-family homes abound—largely ramblers and Cape Cods built in the mid-1900s—new developments offer condos as well. Over the past few years, prices in the 22046 Zip code have held relatively steady, hovering in the low $500,000s. In February, traditionally a slow month for real estate, more than half of the homes that closed in Falls Church City went under contract in less than 30 days.
One of the most popular areas for families is Broadmont, where tree-lined roads wind past brick Colonials and ramblers on deep lots. In the neighborhoods surrounding Thomas Jefferson and Mount Daniel elementary schools, sidewalks are often filled with kids on bikes.
Pete Davis, 22, grew up in Falls Church City and says he dreams of raising his own children there. He and his childhood friends refer to themselves as “lifers.” They went to school together from kindergarten through high school and know one another’s parents. “It’s like having aunts all over the place,” Davis says. “There’s a lot of parent involvement.”
Annette Hennessey, a 49-year-old mother of two, moved to Falls Church from Arlington in 1998 to get a larger house for her family. She experienced the small-town feel almost immediately when she called city hall about a parking permit: “They transferred me to someone who knew exactly which house was mine.”
Real-estate agent Roby Thompson calls Capitol Hill a “mecca” for young families. On weekends, the neighborhood’s half dozen parks fill with moms and dads pushing strollers. Parents say play groups and activities are easy to find—the newly renovated Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital offers moms’ groups, children’s music classes, and summer camps.
Robin Leon, 35, a stay-at-home mother, says she and her 18-month-old spend most of their days outside: “It’s so great to be able to walk everywhere. We have a teeny back yard, but we’ll be outside all day long.”
Leon often meets other moms for coffee and attends children’s concerts at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street, Northeast. The community comes together for annual events such as the neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade and “Hilloween,” featuring hayrides and games at Eastern Market.
Jon Penndorf, a 34-year-old architect, says his four-year-old daughter loves stopping for a cupcake at Hello Cupcake or the Sweet Lobby. One of their favorite restaurants, Lavagna, lets her grind her own Parmesan cheese.
The neighborhood’s popularity has pushed prices up; the median home price in the 20003 Zip code was $565,000 in 2011, an increase of almost 11 percent over the previous year and of 16.5 percent over the past three.
Families often gravitate to the neighborhood’s Victorian and Federal-style rowhouses, many of which were built in the early 1900s. Recently renovated homes tend to be the most expensive; updated rowhouses with two or more bedrooms typically start around $600,000. And homes tend to sell quickly: In 2011, they sat on the market an average of 50 days—28 days fewer than the Washington-area average.
Over the past three years, median prices in Herndon’s 20170 Zip code have risen by 39 percent—more than in any other Zip code in Washington—from $240,000 in 2008 to $333,500 in 2011. Prices in Herndon’s other Zip code, 20171, have also spiked—from $426,950 in 2008 to $485,000 in 2011.
Long & Foster agent Brad Rozansky attributes the area’s growth to Metro’s new Silver Line, which will pass through Herndon as it runs from Falls Church to Dulles. Rozansky says the grueling commute along I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road scared off would-be homebuyers in the past, but “all that is going to change with the Silver Line going in.”
Families can find large Colonials with big back yards as well as townhouses and condos. One of the most popular neighborhoods for families, Old Dranesville Hunt Club, off Dranesville Road, hosts a Fourth of July parade. Resident Hallie Giuliano, 37, was drawn to the neighborhood for the communal pool and tennis courts as well as proximity to running trails and a nearby stream. She also liked the area’s affordability, which enabled her to become a stay-at-home mom while still living in a four-bedroom home on a half acre of land.
Family music nights on Herndon’s town green in summer, a dozen local playgrounds, and the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail add to the family appeal. “As busy as we all are,” says town mayor Steve DeBenedittis, “people still get to know each other.”
For families looking for a lot of space, Potomac, just outside the Beltway in Montgomery County, may be the answer. While houses are expensive—the median price for the 20854 Zip code was $825,000 in 2011—prices have softened over the last several years, declining by 4.6 percent from $865,000 in 2008. And with homes sitting on the market an average of 93 days in 2011, more sellers may be willing to bargain.
“Some of the best deals we’re seeing now are in the farther-out suburbs like Potomac,” says Jason Mandel of Washington Fine Properties. “If you want a big house and a big lot, the opportunities are out there.”
Malusa Rios Powell, a 37-year-old mother of two who recently moved to Potomac from Rockville, says she was able to get more for her money there than in closer-in Bethesda. “We were able to have that back yard,” she says.
Another draw for Powell was excellent schools. In 2011, U.S. News included the area’s two high schools, Churchill and Wootton, among the top 100 in the country for math and science.
Powell often takes her daughters, ages two and four, to Hadley’s Playground, which has a play castle and pirate ship, and to ballet classes at the community center off of Falls Road. “We wanted our kids in the best school system; we wanted a great back yard and a great community,” she says. “Potomac has all of that.”