“The other” Palisades offers Alexandria home buyers location, value, community

As one of the strongest housing markets in the country, Washington D.C. provides its residents with an abundance of great housing options in equally great neighborhoods. From walkable urban condominium enclaves like Clarendon, to quiet suburban retreats like Reston, there is truly something for everyone. This, combined with great neighborhoods, a strong job market bolstered the government and military presence, and a solid local economy, translates into rising property values, even as the rest of the country’s housing markets struggle to get on their feet.

Alexandria's Palisades neighborhood is a hidden gem in an overpriced, competitive housing market

Alexandria’s Palisades neighborhood is a hidden gem in an overpriced, competitive housing market

For prospective home buyers, Alexandria is one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Its close proximity and easy access to downtown make it attractive to commuters weary of the beltway traffic grind. And a variety of homes, from sparkling new McMansions and condos to mid-century bungalows and colonials, help feed demand from the area’s diverse population. But great neighborhoods in great markets come at price – a particularly high one, at that. But just like finding a $300 Polo sweater at Marshall’s for seventy bucks, bargains do exist in this market – if you know where to look and are willing to drop any preconceived (read: unrealistic) notions of the “ideal” neighborhood.

Pristine colonials line Colfax Avenue, winding through the heart of the Palisades

Pristine colonials line Colfax Avenue, winding through the heart of the Palisades

Finding an affordable home in Alexandria in close proximity to D.C. is a challenge. If you require a large lot with a suburban feel, and your quest quickly moves to impossible. You may be familiar with the Palisades, the sprawling Northwest D.C.enclave of million-dollar-plus homes bordering Georgetown, McLean and the Potomac River. Well, this is the other Palisades. At Oak Run that is, a 130-home subdivision on Alexandria’s west end – and one of its real hidden gems. When print still mattered, the New Homes Guide was the source for single family properties, and the famous tagline from its commercials was on everyone’s lips: “I didn’t even know those homes were there!” Such is the case with the Palisades. This little known neighborhood is located near the recently completed BRAC complex and is tucked behind the Dowden Terrace neighborhood, wedged between Seminary Road to the north, Columbia Pike to the West, and Beauregard street to the East. If you were blindfolded and dropped here, you’d swear you were in Seminary Hill, Fort Hunt, North Ridge, and any number of other better-known but highly sought-after Alexandria neighborhoods that are twice as far from DC, or as much as twice the price.

A private stream in the community's center is just one of the unique features of the Palisades

A private stream in the community’s center is just one of many unique features of the Palisades

The Palisades is filled with large, architecturally similar but aesthetically unique eighties-era colonials of 2700 square feet or more, nestled in what feels like a lush, incredibly well-maintained nature preserve. There are literally no two homes that are the same here – likely a product of the neighborhood’s association’s strictly crafted covenants – but in its diversity, the Palisades achieves a consistency that makes the neighborhood feel structured without being at all cookie-cutter. You’ll find everything from brick-fronts, to farmhouse style homes with wraparound porches, but every home has a cedar shake roof. The lots are large and diverse – some are as big as one-third of an acre, while others back to forests full of deer, cardinals and the occasional fox – a rarity anywhere in the DC ‘burbs but particularly in densely populated, close-in communities like Alexandria and Arlington. Price points vary but have recently averaged in the mid-to-high six-hundreds – a real bargain for a 30-year-old 3,000 square foot home in a beautiful, secluded, well-maintained subdivision.

Homes here don’t come available often. According to Zillow.com, only four homes have sold here in the past two years, and all within 45 days of listing. Some development has followed in the surrounding neighborhoods as well, with several smaller subdivisions that built in the 90’s and early 2000s. The recession likely derailed more of such development. Of course, as my realtor once told me, “if you’re spending anything less than $900,000 on a single family home in the DC area, be prepared to give up something: location, size, age, condition, neighborhood – you can’t have it all.”  For the Palisades, the concession comes in the form of its bordering neighborhoods, particularly to the northwest, where a smattering of ramshackle, randomly plotted homes occupy disproportionately large lots. These homes are ripe for development, but with the housing market in recovery, such a transformation may be a long time coming. In fact, if you drive through the area, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that a neighborhood like the Palisades could exist behind it.

Maybe that’s what makes this neighborhood such a great value.

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