Rent vs. Buy: Columbia Heights

by Michele Lerner

Plenty of rent-versus-own calculators are available online to do a purely numbers-driven evaluation of whether you should buy a home or rent one. (The New York Times has a particularly good one.) But, as most buyers in search of a new home know, the decision to buy a home is not purely financial. It requires a long-term commitment to a property and a neighborhood. UrbanTurf will work its way through the neighborhoods of the city to gather estimates of rent and home prices as well as the distinctive characteristics of each community. This week, we visit Columbia Heights.

Row Houses at 14th and Newton By Josh Howell

The Neighborhood

Bordered by Spring Road to the north, Florida Avenue to the south, Georgia Avenue to the east and 16th Street to the west, Columbia Heights has become what Long & Foster’s Rachel Valentino calls “one of the city’s neighborhoods with the most momentum.” Once considered a no-man’s land because of the crime rate and lack of development, Columbia Heights has turned into a vibrant commercial and residential neighborhood in recent years. Much of this change has been attributed to the DCUSA shopping center that opened in 2008 and houses a Target, Best Buy and Washington Sports Club among other establishments.

To Buy…

Valentino says that one-bedroom condos are usually priced in the $200,000s to low $300,000s in Columbia Heights, while two-bedrooms are in the $400,000s to low $500,000s depending on the shape they are in. Her recommendation for home buyers looking in the neighborhood is to purchase a row house and fix it up. She says buyers would need to be ready to spend about $100,000 to renovate most houses, but there are a lot of properties ripe for renovations in the area that could provide good return on the original investment at some point down the road.


Here are a couple examples of properties currently on the market in Columbia Heights.

There is a 518 square-foot one-bedroom at 1441 Euclid Street NW that has hardwood floors throughout and the usual kitchen renovation package of stainless steel appliances and granite counters. Listed for $279,000, the monthly payments for this unit are estimated to be $1,570 on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 5 percent with a 20 percent down payment of $56,000.

A two-bedroom, two-bath condo at 1361 Irving Street NW is available for $400,000. This unit, located just about 50 yards from the Columbia Heights Metro station, is pretty well-priced for the area, has an in-unit washer/dryer and a small back patio area. Monthly payments are estimated at $2,117 (including a $357 condo fee) with a 20 percent down payment of $80,000.

…Or To Rent

Rental rates in Columbia Heights are a bit all over the map. One-bedrooms rent for anywhere between $1,150 and $2,100, two-bedrooms range from $1,450 to $3,500 and group houses, probably your best bet if you are looking for a bargain on rent, start around $2,000 and can be upwards of $4,500 depending on the size of the house.

Tivoli Theater by Josh Howell

The Verdict

Columbia Heights may be the most popular neighborhood in DC for young renters, and for good reason. Despite a thriving retail corridor and wealth of public transportation options, it is still possible to find an affordable rental if you can do without a lot of bells and whistles. Unless you are dead set on buying right now, our advice would be to rent until something you really like comes along, or you have the cash and the patience to renovate a row house.

See other articles related to: renting in dc, rent vs buy, dclofts, columbia heights

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/rent_vs._buy_columbia_heights/1869


  1. ColHts said at 12:44 pm on Friday March 12, 2010:

    Having been a renter in Columbia Hts for a few years now, I agree with this assessment. I pay a great monthly rate for rent, but am still on the lookout for properties in need of a little fixing up. Just need to save for the down payment!

  1. DG Cromwell said at 2:21 pm on Friday March 12, 2010:

    I think most people have missed the boat to score deals on either renting or buying in ColHigh. Where are the adventurous peeps? Anyone looking in the northeast?

  1. Janson said at 4:55 pm on Friday March 12, 2010:

    1361 Irving is 760 sqft according to listing = $526/sqft. That’s inline or above the asking prices down the hill on the U st corridor and Dupont. On the other hand, 400 might be a low entry point for two bedrooms regardless of sqft.

    The couple fix up houses I’ve considered in the neighborhood have been under contract within 5 and 2 days - and one was an all-cash deal. There’s definitely demand for the fixer upper.

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