What’s happening in the home of Amazon HQ2
Before a global pandemic arrived, the region’s biggest real-estate story was Amazon HQ2. Though it might feel like a lifetime has passed, the announcement that Arlington had scored the new headquarters for Jeff Bezos’s company came a year and a half ago. Almost overnight, the neighborhoods surrounding the future National Landing campus turned into the region’s hottest housing market.
By the end of 2019, the number of homes for sale in and around Arlington had plummeted by some 60 percent since the Amazon news. Potential sellers were holding off in the hopes they’d be able to fetch much more once Amazon’s presence grew. Meanwhile, buyers—including speculators—had been scooping up any property priced within reason. Though housing inventory is low throughout Washington, the extreme drop near National Landing was unparalleled. As a result, home prices in Arlington County rose by nearly 9 percent in 2019. In the 22202 Zip code—where HQ2 will be located—they spiked nearly 18 percent. (By comparison, DC’s median home price increased just 2.6 percent last year.)
“Think of the Amazon HQ2 announcement as creating concentric waves. To a large extent, the waves didn’t cross the Potomac River,” explains David Howell, chief information officer at the real-estate brokerage McEnearney. “It changed so dramatically and so quickly in Virginia.”
It seemed only a matter of time be-fore Crystal City—as we knew it in its pre–National Landing days—would be as packed with tech bros and high-end happy-hour joints as Seattle’s South Lake Union, home of Amazon’s original HQ. But of course, that was before Covid-19 threw every assumption about Washington real estate into question.
The extent of the virus’s impact on the housing market is still impossible to decipher because months of quarantining have caused both buyers and sellers to stay on the sidelines. As demand and supply have fallen off, prices have held steady, with many listings continuing to get multiple offers, in Arlington and elsewhere. Agents are quick to point out that the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic—the restaurant and hospitality industries—are weighted with renters anyway, rather than with potential house-hunters.
However, law firms and other white-collar employers are ramping up layoffs, too, which could take a much more significant toll on residential real estate. “My crystal ball is completely clouded over,” says Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. “We’ll have to wait and see how the economic pain comes about.”
Even if the broader Washington market takes a dive, could the momentum around HQ2 provide a degree of insulation for Arlington? “That’s a great theory,” says Clower, “but we’ll probably never be able to prove it.” Instead, he says, if the neighborhoods surrounding National Landing end up weathering coronavirus better than other parts of the region, that could simply be a reflection of changing housing preferences.
Already, real-estate agents say they’re hearing from clients who are reevaulating what they want out of their homes because of the lockdown. For some urbanites, a condo on 14th Street no longer sounds as appealing as a house with a yard and space for an office. “If you’re living in the District now, you probably are not thinking about moving to Loudoun,” says Clower. “You’re going to pick Arlington or Alexandria”—i.e., places that are walkable and still close to downtown DC. In other words, the same reasons why Arlington has always attracted Washington’s professional class could become even more of a draw in the wake of quarantine.
As for the tech-driven renaissance in National Landing, it’s moving along despite the pandemic. Amazon already has more than 700 employees working in the neighborhood, plus more than 400 open job postings for Arlington positions.
While other tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have opted to shift thousands of positions to remote work permanently because of Covid, Amazon has made no such announcement. Asked whether the size of HQ2 could be reduced in anticipation of more employees working from home, a company spokesperson says, “We’re still proceeding as planned.” Indeed, construction of Amazon’s first new HQ2 tower has continued apace during lockdown, and developer JBG Smith expects to complete the sale of the next HQ2 site—which is under contract—to Amazon in 2021.
Earlier this year, JBG Smith also finished the shell of its Central District retail-and-entertainment project in National Landing, slated to feature an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a grocer, and restaurants and bars. Even as many of us wonder when we’ll ever feel safe eating out again, the developer says it’s preparing to turn over the spaces to tenants.
Five Awesome Places to Get Outside
These days, the outdoors feel particularly great. And Arlington—beloved for its parks and trails—has plenty of excellent options (so long as everyone keeps an appropriate social distance).
Arlingtonians love to burn calories on this 16-mile network of walking, running, and cycling trails, which circumnavigates the county. It’s almost entirely protected from car traffic and takes you past cool scenery such as Gravelly Point, where you can watch planes take off from Reagan National. bikearlington.com.
Bon Air Park
The memorial rose garden, which pays tribute to World War II veterans, is the main attraction here. With thousands of blooming bushes, it’s a popular site for weddings as well as just a pretty spot to enjoy a sunny day. The rest of the park includes playgrounds and picnic areas. 850 N. Lexington St.; parks.arlingtonva.us.
Four-Mile Run Trail
Despite its name, the paved path actually extends nearly ten miles. You can access it from Barcroft Community Center (4200 S. Four Mile Run Dr.), then take it toward the W&OD railroad or, in the opposite direction, toward the Mount Vernon Trail and Reagan National. parks.arlingtonva.us/off-street-trails.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park
These 67 acres include an organic vegetable garden, a nature center, a shelter for rescued owls, and miles of wooded trails. You can pick up the Potomac Heritage Trail here and take it on a scenic riverside hike to Theodore Roosevelt Island. 2845 N. Marcey Rd., novaparks.com.
Shirlington Dog Park
With acres of space for dogs to romp off-leash plus a stream and a generous-size fenced area for small dogs, this is basically canine Xanadu. It can attract pet owners from all over, though, so if it’s too packed to keep a safe distance, consider the lesser-known Fort Ethan Allen dog park (3829 N. Stafford St.), which rarely sees crowds. 2710 S. Oakland St.; parks.arlingtonva.us.