D.C., Maryland or Virginia – Where Should You Live?
The District of Columbia's metropolitan area is unique in that it encompasses the District as well as parts of two states. Residents of the metro can enjoy the monuments in the District, crack open a plate of crabs in Maryland or enjoy a concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in northern Virginia.
Buyers weighing home options in the District, Maryland or Virginia typically hail from other parts of the country and don’t know the area that well, observes Keri Shull, founder of the Keri Shull Team, whose office is located in Arlington, Virginia. Those unfamiliar with the District of Columbia metro area “will pick from all different pockets of suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. They’ll hear that Bethesda [Maryland] is great, but so is Ashburn [Virginia] or Arlington, so they are truly all over the map.”
Knowing the laws of local jurisdictions can provide useful and helpful background information when researching a prospective area. Shull and other top real estate agents in Washington, D.C. discuss how Virginia, Maryland and the District each approach marriage, taxes, gun control and other vital lifestyle issues.
Taxes balance out. In the District of Columbia, people generally pay more for a home than those who buy in the suburbs, but they have lower property taxes. In 2015, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that District property owners on average pay $1,000 less annually in property taxes than their counterparts in neighboring counties in Virginia and Maryland. With respect to estate taxes, Maryland and District residents are subject to a tax, whereas Virginia repealed its tax a decade ago.
But when it comes to cost of living, the differences between the three areas aren’t that great, real estate agents say. Residents of northern Virginia may pay higher property taxes than District residents, for example, but also tend to experience lower income tax rates.
Bottom line: “The property tax difference between the three jurisdictions is compensated for by other tax issues, so the differences in cost of living don’t add up to very much,” says Avery Boyce, an agent with Compass Real Estate.
Virginia has the least restrictive gun laws. Of the three jurisdictions, Virginia’s gun laws are the least restrictive. It’s a lot more straightforward to get a concealed carry permit in Virginia, whereas Maryland is much more reluctant to issue them, says Boyce. Virginia is also an “open carry” state, meaning that you can carry a gun without a permit in most counties, except Arlington, Fairfax or Alexandria. In Maryland, the permit application asks why you want the permit, “and they have the authority to deny you if they don’t like your reason,” Boyce adds.
The District of Columbia is known for having some of the toughest gun laws in the country. However, in May a federal judge called into question the constitutionality of the District's concealed carry provision on the basis that it limited an individual’s self-defense capabilities. The issue remains unresolved, with some expecting the Supreme Court to decide the law's fate.
Marijuana is legal in the District, prohibited elsewhere. There are also some differences with respect to how these jurisdictions handle the issue of marijuana. In the District, it is legal to possess marijuana – provided that it’s a small amount and it is not intended for sale. Maryland watered down its penalties several years ago, changing the possession of fewer than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense. However, the drug is still considered illegal in the state. In Virginia, you can get jail time or pay a fine for possessing any amount of marijuana.
Car inspections vary by jurisdiction. Prospective buyers looking for a home in Fairfax County, Virginia will have to get their car inspected every year – and pay an annual car tax. Although the District of Columbia discontinued its safety inspections program for personal vehicles in 2009, it does require emissions tests, as do Maryland and Virginia.
Public schools are a draw in suburbs. When Washingtonians do switch regions, schools are often the reason, says Brad Rozansky, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate. “With many of the schools in Virginia and Maryland consistently ranked among the nation’s best, the suburbs can offer an attractive option to city dwellers, who are otherwise reluctant to leave their urban lifestyle,” he explains.
Know the rules if you're looking to rent out your property. Keep in mind that rental laws differ significantly between counties.
“Virginia is a landlord-friendly state with few laws designed to protect the tenant at the expense of the landlord," Boyce says. "D.C. is the most tenant-friendly and Maryland is a mix.” In the District, for example, you can't just ask a tenant to move out at the end of their lease. They have the right to stay on a month-to-month basis, except under very specific circumstances.
“If you’re looking to buy in Maryland and take advantage of the somewhat less restrictive laws, look outside of Takoma Park – it has adopted many of the same laws as D.C., unlike the rest of the county," Boyce adds.
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Home is where the heart is. No matter what the state laws are for car inspections or property taxes, Rozansky says very few people ultimately base their home purchase decision on those factors. Perhaps 10 percent of his clients will use property taxes as a yardstick when purchasing a home. “Ninety percent are buying for other reasons: for a better commute, more space or to be closer to amenities that are important to them,” he says.
Similarly, Shull tells people not to make themselves crazy trying to decide among all of the variables between the District, Maryland, and Virginia. “It’s not enough to dictate where someone lives. If you go home at night and walk up and see your condo and what surrounds you, and this is where you want to be, that’s what matters," Shull says.