Arlington, VA

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Arlington resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: I’m prepared to make a strong offer in Arlington’s hyper-competitive market, but I can’t even find a house to make an offer on! Why is every home on the market either old and too small or new and too big??

Answer: While debates about Missing Middle and tear-downs continue, I thought it would be helpful to look at why Arlington is such a difficult place for most families to find good housing options. Most of Arlington’s single-family housing problems stem from when the majority of homes were built — before 1960 and within the last decade. Only 17.8 % of single-family homes sold since 2016 were built between 1960 and 2009!

Too Old, Too New

According to Arlington’s 2019 Profile, there were 28,500 single family detached homes in the County and according to public records, ~80% of those homes were built prior to 1960 or since 2010. Why is that a problem?

Many homes built prior to 1960 are functionally obsolete for most families (“the reduction of an object’s usefulness or desirability because of an outdated design feature that cannot be easily changed”) and homes built since 2010 have an average price of nearly $1.8M over the last 18 months.

Most homes built in Arlington in the 1940s and 1950s (with the original footprint) are plagued by 2-3 small bedrooms with small reach-in closets sharing one small bathroom, small enclosed kitchens, and small basements with low ceilings. They also lack the openness desired by most families in today’s market. Unfortunately, there’s very little one can do to bring these older homes up to today’s standards without extensive/expensive remodeling and/or expansion.

The economics of building a new home in the last decade doesn’t support the construction of a more modest homes (3,000-4,500 sq. ft.) so most new homes are built with 5,000-6,000+ square feet and are priced well above most budgets.

Just Right

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that Arlington homes were consistently built with designs more suited to today’s buyer including things like attached garages, master suites and combination kitchen/dining spaces. While these 1980s-1990s designs may not be perfect, it makes for more reasonable compromises at prices many more Arlington families can afford.

Unfortunately, over the last four years, there have been fewer single-family homes for sale that were built during the 1980s and 1990s (4.3% combined) than any other decade until the 1910s.

Housing Changes Over Time

I put together some charts to highlight how home sizes have changed through each decade as well as how the average cost of a home changes by the decade it was built. These charts are based on Arlington single-family detached sales since 2016.

Note: Older homes that have been remodeled/expanded and sold are included in this data so the average size, bedroom and bathroom count for older homes is higher than what you would expect from the original designs. Most pre-1960 homes were built with three bedrooms, one bathroom and under 2,000 sq. ft.

Note: Total finished square footage includes any finished basement space.

Here’s the data table for each of the charts:

Using This Information

For those of you currently searching for a home or planning to start your home search, hopefully this information can be used to help you understand how likely/unlikely it will be to find the type of home you’re looking for and be more prepared to act decisively when the right home hits the market.

For those of you who own a home that falls within the middle-ground many buyers are seeking, you should have an even more favorable position within an already favorable market for sellers.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to set-up an in-person meeting to discuss local real estate, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at www.EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N. Fairfax Dr. #10C Arlington, VA 22203, (703) 390-9460.

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