What You Need to Know for Your Military Move to Alexandria, Virginia

Thu, Dec 28, 2017 @ 08:12 AM Dawn M. Smith PCS Moves

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Have military orders to the Pentagon or a military installation in the D.C. area?

Less than ten miles from Washington, DC, Alexandria, Virginia is close enough to the city to take advantage of the best in cultural activities the nation has to offer. But Alexandria holds its own, providing residents the sophistication of a city filled with amenities, coupled with a small town feel perfect for raising families.

Portions of the city are nestled into suburbs that are picturesque and quaint, while others are bustling with commerce and the hub-bub spill over from D.C. Still, in other sections along the Potomac River, outdoor enthusiasts travel the same path George Washington did hundreds of years ago.

Alexandria is as varied in its population as it is in its neighborhoods. Plenty of government workers reside here, as do those in the private sector. Families, singles, and couples have everything they could ask for in very close vicinity. A robust tourism industry demonstrates just how attractive Alexandria really is, for numerous reasons–great schools, low unemployment, and plenty to see and do.

This all sounds amazing, right? And it is, but to love Alexandria means you’ll have put up with a host of inconveniences like the amazing lack of parking (forget free parking!) in addition to the major lifestyle changes required to manage your finances and traffic navigation skills needed to live here. 

For a solid start in your Alexandria research, read on; you’ll appreciate every detail.

Terms to Know About the D.C. Area

Inside/Outside the Beltway

Interstate 495 is a 64-mile loop around Washington, D.C. that encompasses suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. The Beltway is used to describe where real estate is located, a reference to where political action occurs (inside the Beltway in D.C.), and most frequently in traffic reports.

NOVA

Northern Virginia, considered a region, but without hard boundaries. NOVA consists of the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, as well as the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

National Capital Region

The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms qualifies the geographic area encompassing the District of Columbia and eleven local jurisdictions in the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The DMV

D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Some government entities such as the Census Bureau will add portions of West Virginia to this area.

The Differences between the City of Alexandria and Alexandria, Fairfax County

One of the most basic but tricky pieces of information to understand about Alexandria is that Alexandria is actually split into two different geographic locations and governed by separate bodies. This is a confusing concept for newcomers especially as it relates to schools and zip codes because casual conversations usually lump all references to Alexandria into one category.

What You Need to Know for a Military Move to Alexandria, VirginiaMaps from Military Town Advisor

City of Alexandria

Important Facts and Figures

  • Population: 155,810 (2016 estimate)
  • Area: 15.3 miles
  • 10,000 veterans live in Alexandria
  • Average commute time: 31 minutes

Fun Facts

The city is often ranked as one of the most dog-friendly in the U.S., with many hotels and restaurants that welcome your favorite pooch with fresh water and a treat.

The City of Alexandria tends to be the commercial and professional focus of the collective region known as Alexandria. Within the city limits, Old Town is the epicenter of tourism and where the charm of colonial history meets modern shopping and dining.

Popular Neighborhoods

Old Town, Eisenhower Valley, Rosemont, The Berg, Parker-Gray, Del Ray, Arlandria, West End, North Ridge, and Potomac Yard.

From a Military Town Advisor review of Old Town, Alexandria:

Old Town is a great location for your D.C. assignment. Close to metro and major highway, making the commutes to Pentagon and bases very quick and easy. Plenty of shops, restaurants, and historic attractions. You can walk to almost everything and have access to water and long hiking/biking trials that connect the city. I can't say enough good things about living in Old Town!

What You Need to Know for a Military Move to Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, Fairfax County (sometimes referred to Lower Alexandria or South Alexandria)

Important Facts and Figures

  • Fairfax County Public Schools is the 10th largest school division in the United States. FCPS serves a population of 188,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12.
  • Fort Belvoir is the closest military installation to serve families, but other bases (Fort McNair, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall) are accessible and relatively close.
  • 77,000 veterans live in Fairfax County.
  • Vehicles owned by full-time active duty service members and spouses absent from their state of residence or domicile may be exempted from local taxation upon application to Department of Tax Administration.

Fun Facts

George Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon is, in some cases, only a few miles from numerous Alexandria addresses and many families purchase annual passes for multiple visits with out of town  family and friends.

For field trips, Fairfax County public school kids regularly tour The Smithsonian Museums and see live performances at the John F. Kennedy Center.

Popular Neighborhoods

Hollin Hills, Franconia, Groveton, Hybla Valley, Huntington, Belle Haven, Mount Vernon, Fort Hunt, Engleside, Burgundy Village, Waynewood, Wilton Woods, Rose Hill, Virginia Hills, Hayfield, and Kingstowne.

Review of Kingstowne from Military Town Advisor:

What a welcome! Lots of military and retired military. The day we moved in, the whole row moved their cars. People brought cleaning supplies, refreshments, and dinner. Very easy drive to Ft. Belvoir, short bike ride or medium walk to metro, right next door to a school parents love.

Cost of Living in Alexandria

 What You Need to Know for a Military Move to Alexandria, Virginia

Unless you're arriving from very expensive duty stations like San Diego or Hawaii, it’s likely that newcomers to Alexandria and the D.C. area will notice an uptick in the price of everything. It’s just a part of life in NOVA, and military families become experts on how to make the cost adjustments work. Utilizing on-base amenities like the Exchange, gas stations, day care, and recreation becomes a regular savings technique.

Fort Belvoir has a brand new Commissary and an Exchange that is only a couple of years old, making it less of a hassle to navigate the inevitable crowds. Other nearby bases such as Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall have privileges, too.

A helpful but potentially eye-widening resource to put the cost of living into perspective further is Numbeo. Numbeo is a website detailing all aspects of costs of living sources by zip code. They have a comparison tool that allows you to enter your current zip and compare it to your potential Alexandria zip code. Take a look at this example comparing the cost of living in Alexandria to Fayetteville, North Carolina. One entry says a bottle of Coke or Pepsi is going to cost you a buck more in Alexandria: $1.33 vs. $2.33.

It’s important to factor commuting fees into your cost of living as well. Payments for riding the Metrorail, parking, and more frequent trips to the gas station affects what you can afford for real estate options.

Alexandria Real Estate

What You Need to Know for a Military Move to Alexandria, Virginia

Buying a Home in Alexandria

In general terms, real estate in Alexandria stays stable. For most who relocate here, the sticker shock takes some getting used to. As unemployment rates decline and interest rates hover at historically low numbers, homes for sale at competitive prices move quickly and will likely entertain multiple offers. The benefits of living in the area (commute, access to good schools, and amenities) drive the constant high demand.

The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors compiled November 2017 home sales activity for Fairfax and Arlington counties, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church and the towns of Vienna, Herndon, and Clifton. The average home sale price in this NOVA region rose by 7.6 percent to $580,733 from last November’s average of $539,750.

This is a wide swath of real estate geography; however, premium locations will price far above these averages. In the sought-after Alexandria neighborhoods near Fort Belvoir and the George Washington Parkway such as Waynewood, Riverside Gardens, and Stratford Landing, these sale numbers reflect a market entry home with many renovations needed.

Review of Waynewood from Military Town Advisor

We lived in Waynewood during my husband's joint tour at the Pentagon. While we expected it to be a stressful tour, we ended up having the best tour for our family due to this neighborhood. Waynewood is a family-friendly neighborhood with great schools, many social activities, an overall active community that supports its residents (both renters and owners were more than welcome at all social neighborhood functions). Waynewood is a very central location in between Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon/Fort Belvoir. We were able to enjoy the restaurants and city life in Old Town but able to keep our budget in line by shopping at the commissary at Fort Belvoir and using the medical center on base. Waynewood is an amazing community in a fabulous location off of the Potomac River.

Renting a Home in Alexandria

Due to the lengths of typical PCS cycles and expensive real estate prices, many military members choose to rent a house for the duration of their tour. Although with any move the goal is to stay at or near the servicemember’s BAH, the likelihood of renters paying beyond their BAH is a distinct possibility in Alexandria­–not always, but often enough to mention, particularly in the desirable area and historic city center of Old Town. Those who don’t need access to public schools have more room for negotiation for affordable living near their workplace.

For reference:

This is the 2018 BAH Calculator for an O4 with Dependents in the 22314, Old Town Zip code: $ 3,090 per month.

In comparison, MilitaryByOwner advertises rental homes available in this zip code or nearby. Rental prices for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom townhouse range from $2,900-$3,995 per month.

It’s very common to encounter military landlords in the Alexandria area. They realize the need for staffing in military facilities in the NCR isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so the income stream is likely to remain. Fluctuations with annual BAH reconfigurations occur, but the opportunity to, at minimum, pay the mortgage payment exists. Military landlords also find plenty of advantages in working with other military members, including the consistency of monthly payments and the natural feeling of camaraderie.

Education, Military Spouse Careers, and Quality of Life in Alexandria

What You Need to Know for a Military Move to Alexandria, Virginia

Schools in Alexandria

For PCS purposes, families with school-aged children are faced with a significant challenge to find the right school for their children that also allows for a high quality of life at home. The cost of living and BAH numbers rarely match up, and commute times separate busy military families even more.

There are plentiful options for private schooling in Alexandria. Expect private schools to be competitive and expensive, which forces many military families to make difficult choices: choose a high performing public school (at the cost of high priced real estate) or make use of homeschool opportunities.

Against a national backdrop, the NOVA region is gifted with strong public school systems. Many schools are either highly rated in Virginia, nationally ranked, or both. In fact, Fairfax County has a very strong reputation for educating kids, and has for decades. But in recent years, the Fairfax County Public School System has struggled to make their budget meet their needs. Shortages have been regular hurdles to overcome.

Both the City of Alexandria and Alexandria, Fairfax County, have more than acceptable public schools to choose from, but they also have less desirable options. Using school research tools is a must in Alexandria because the addresses associated with The City of Alexandria and Alexandria, Fairfax County are vast and diverse.

Military Spouse Careers and Jobs in Alexandria

Because of the close proximity, Alexandria on the whole is often lumped into job searches with Washington, D.C. Linkedin recently published a workforce report for Washington, D.C., but these facts relate to spouses who are on the job hunt while their service member is stationed in the NCR.

Sought After Skills in the Washington, D.C. Area:

  • Healthcare Management
  • Sales
  • Retail Store Operations
  • Lean Manufacturing and Quality Management
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Management
  • Purchasing and Contract Negotiation
  • Product Development and Management
  • Customer Service

Alexandria is also home to many nonprofit and for-profit offices for military support groups you’ve probably heard of: Blue Star Families, Military Officers Association of America, and National Military Family Association, to name a few. Not only are they options for volunteering, but all have support for spouses to advance professional skills and conduct job searches.

Higher Education

Northern Virginia Community College is an excellent and affordable option for progressing spouse education. The school has six campuses near Alexandria (Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield, and Woodbridge) and offers online learning as well.

Fort Belvoir is another wealth of education opportunities. Their satellite college campuses include:

  • Northern Virginia Community College    
  • Park University                               
  • University of Maryland University College            
  • Central Michigan University        
  • Webster University        
  • Old Dominion University

Social Networks

Working with hyper local information is often the best way to become of aware of the details needed to determine your best neighborhood, school, work, and commute options in Alexandria. Military families are always up for sharing their advice and experiences.

As soon as PCS orders for the D.C. area are a strong possibility, start subscribing and following several social media outlets to get a good compilation of opinions and local news. This is especially helpful for finding upcoming rental homes, as military families tend to pass on their housing gems word of mouth to incoming families months in advance.

Military Town Advisor (the quotes above are from this site) is a must to research the Washington, D.C. area, including Alexandria. The website’s creator is a former Navy spouse with years of PCS experience in the region. Honest reviews curated from military families with personal knowledge are written in effort to make the next family’s transition easier. You’ll find descriptions and reviews for neighborhoods, shopping, restaurants, housing and much more.

  • Facebook Groups: Greater Alexandria Military Spouses, Fort Hunt Military Families, Alexandria, Virginia Homeschoolers, NoVa Moms, Fort Belvoir Spouses.
  • Patch: Greater Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Kingstowne-Rose Hill, Old Town, and West Alexandria.
  • Nextdoor

More Useful Information for Life in Alexandria

  • It's entirely possible to live in Alexandria because of initial orders to say, the Pentagon, but follow-on orders could appear for further away locations like Fort Meade, Maryland. A move to avoid heavy traffic is likely not paid for, unless the new orders require more than the standard 50-mile radius. Of course, some exceptions occur.
  • Embrace the traffic suck only when necessary. Build your lifestyle in a bubble that keeps commuting to a minimum. Choose strategic neighborhoods where grocery stores, schools, and other important-to-you amenities (Target, Starbucks) are convenient as possible.
  • Commuting via Metrorail and bus is an essential part of life in Alexandria. Metro stops that serve Alexandria include King Street Station, Van Dorn Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, and Braddock Road Station.
  • The US Family Health Plan has recently entered the NOVA region as an alternative to Tricare Prime. USFHP is connected with Johns Hopkins and Inova Hospitals and allows military families to receive care away from military facilities.
  • Active duty members, their families, veterans, and retirees completely fill medical facilities in the NCR to capacity and beyond. The wait times for appointments and pharmacy stops reflect the crowding. Note that you might live closest to Fort Belvoir, but if those assignments are full, you will be assigned to another military treatment facility, making USFHP an attractive option.

When it comes to a potential move to Alexandria, having too much information really isn’t something to worry about. You’ll need opinions from multiple trusted resources in addition to the facts. Life is fast-paced here; planning early is the best bet to make good PCS choices.

The Washington, D.C. area is one of MilitaryByOwner’s strongest markets for selling and renting, so there are always houses to search and detailed information to read about moving to the nation’s capital. Visit frequently to keep up with the best around Alexandria.

Main image via Flickr Ken Lund

Should You Take a Pre-PCS Househunting Trip?