As Covid altered what people needed in a home and where they wanted to live, the Washington real estate market went mad. Listings that get dozens of offers, houses selling for hundreds of thousands above asking, and buyers making contingency-free bids sight unseen have all become commonplace. Two years into this extreme housing shuffle seemed like the right time to take stock of which areas have experienced the most growth in price and sales volume. Using data provided by Bright MLS, the region’s multiple-listing service, we compared stats from the first quarter of 2020 (i.e., the beginning of the pandemic) with the fourth quarter of 2021. The Zip codes we profiled were chosen because they reflect a diversity of reasons people have moved during this period.
Nowhere in Washington have home prices shot up more drastically than in these ten places.
Alexandria | 22307
Compared with more expensive areas within the city of Alexandria, prices in this swath of Fairfax County just outside the Beltway had more room to grow. Still, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine them rocketing to such an extreme if not for Covid—which made 22307’s ample green space, proximity to water and nature, and neighborhoods full of detached houses more desirable than ever. The Zip code includes communities such as Villamay and Belle Haven, known for cookouts and block parties and, in the latter, Belle Haven Country Club. Janet Caterson Price, an agent with McEnearney Associates, says that during the last couple years, first-time millennial buyers and young families started flocking: “They move here for the swing set. They just discovered that maybe the way that their parents raised them wasn’t such a bad thing.” Old Town is only a few stoplights away, and shopping centers off Fort Hunt Road offer more dining options. There are also lots of parks and opportunities to explore the outdoors. The Mount Vernon Trail winds along the Potomac, and Belle Haven Marina provides easy access to the water. The area has gotten so competitive that a lot of houses sell before they hit the market. Kenton and Brett Quick, parents of three kids, were stalking real estate in Belle Haven even before the pandemic. Once Covid came along and prices started rising, they say things went crazy. After losing a bidding war, they heard about an off-market listing. They made an offer for $1.35 million, sight unseen, and won. “It’s a situation that I hope to not be in again,” says Brett. “But it’s not surprising in this area. Trying to get in before something’s listed is the best way to get what you want.”
Brandywine | 20613
This fast-growing suburb in southern Prince George’s County has something going for it that’s almost unheard of in the DC area: lots of land. As closer-to-the-city neighborhoods have reached capacity, developers have bought up acreage in Brandywine to construct communities of single-family homes and townhouses. Naturally, more amenities have arrived, too. Costco and Target are now only about ten minutes from the farmland and woods that remain in the area’s more rural parts. For people who want space and new construction, says Redfin agent Hazel Shakur, the appeal is obvious: “You can get a very nice home that’s fairly large, on a decent lot, and you’re still 35 to 45 minutes from DC.” Raquel Poindexter, a paralegal for the federal government, competed with ten other offers to buy her townhouse last June, ultimately bidding it up more than $30,000 above asking, to $414,000. She moved from an apartment in Silver Spring and says Brandywine’s closer access to I-495 has actually made the commute to her Falls Church office easier. Plus, she got grass for her dog and enough space for her sister’s family to move in. When Poindexter looks at all the construction around her, she sees nothing but positives. “The whole area is just up-and-coming,” she says. “I think it’s a really good investment.”
Frederick/Urbana | 21704
Something else the area offers is more affordable housing, although prices have spiked since the pandemic. Coldwell Banker’s Katie Nicholson says a lot of the buyers are coming from Montgomery County. They no longer care as much about proximity to in-person offices, and their budgets stretch much further in the country. Once they discover they’ll still have access to dining and culture, Nicholson says, they’re often hooked. These days, the Frederick/Urbana area—about 20 minutes north of Gaithersburg—is among the places where buyers from closer-in suburbs escape for quiet and fresh air. Jennifer Forberg, who works for NIH, was ahead of the curve—she’s lived in the vicinity since 2015 and bought a new home in Urbana in 2020. The Kentucky native says she appreciates country life and loves that she regularly sees horses and farms. But Frederick—with its über-charming, historic downtown—is also only a 15-minute drive. “I’m close to all the great restaurants and the shops there,” says Forberg. Downtown Frederick boasts a thriving arts scene, too, with several galleries.
Kalorama to Forest Hills | 20008
This Zip code encompasses some of the most desirable neighborhoods for urbanites who want the vibrancy of city living but with less hassle: Kalorama, Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, and Forest Hills. They’re almost as quiet as more suburban-feeling DC spots like Spring Valley, but they have restaurants and Red Line access. Plus, among their rowhouses and condos, you can find a substantial dose of standalone houses—with substantial price tags. The best-of-both-worlds feel means the area has exploded. Not everyone wanted to flee to the burbs, after all. But even staunch city dwellers have lately sought more room to work and play at home, plus a little less street noise during Zoom calls. “It was insanely competitive,” says a 48-year-old government employee who bought a house in Cleveland Park last year after his family got cramped in their Dupont condo. After touring more than 100 properties, they found a fixer-upper for $1.725 million. More than a year later, they’re still renovating and have yet to move in. Given the area’s extremely limited housing stock, it’s easy to see how prices have risen so dramatically. Take another recent transaction in Cleveland Park: A five-bedroom house, listed for $1.895 million, spent five days on the market and got 82 private showings, 117 open-house visits, and 17 offers. The final sale price: $2.3 million.
Figures reflect price growth from the first quarter of 2020, compared with the fourth quarter of 2021.
This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Washingtonian.