If You Live in the Nation’s Capital, It’s Not That Hard to Become a Millionaire

By Jack Limpert

In 1975 I was the relatively new editor of the Washingtonian and dating Jean, a pharmacist. We had little money but wanted to get married, buy a house, and have kids.

I had $7,000 in savings. Jean had no money but through her drugstore job knew a banker who agreed go lend her $7,000. We took the $14,000 and used it as a down payment on a $72,000 house in Bethesda, two blocks from the DC line. We happily moved in and in 1977 had our first child, Ann.

There was a nice park a five-minute drive from our house and on weekends I’d drive there with Ann so she could play. One Sunday after playtime we headed home and I saw a house for sale less than a block from the park. Jean was expecting a second child and I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could walk to the park?

The sale price on that near-the-park house was $250,000. Neither of us were making much more money and Jean’s first reaction was we can’t afford it. But we agreed to see what our $72,000 house, where we’d lived five years, might sell for. The number turned out to be $156,000.

That first house had more than doubled in price in five years.

Living in the nation’s capital was very different from the Wisconsin and Connecticut towns we’d grown up in.

We’re still living in that $250,000 house we bought 40 years ago. Our daughters—Ann and Jeannie— have married and have kids and their own houses and visit often.

So how did we become millionaires? In the last two months, four houses within a block of us have sold. The buyers seem part of a pandemic trend for families with children to move from close-to-downtown areas to more suburban settings where most houses have good-sized fenced yards.

Is there now a lot of money in the nation’s capital? All four of those houses sold for more than $1.6 million.

The house where we live reminds me a lot of the Wisconsin house I grew up in—a corner house with a nice yard near a park. We visited that house in Appleton a few years ago and it’s as pretty as ever. It would sell for about $225,000.

Is the nation’s capital—with all its lawyers and lobbyists and lots of federal dollars—out-of-touch with the rest of the country? If you move here from Wisconsin, or almost any other place, you’d probably say it sure is.

House prices in our neighborhood fit the general real estate pattern in the Washington, D.C. area.  A journalist friend sold his 75o-square-foot one-bedroom condo near downtown DC for $600,000 and bought a three-bedroom rowhouse in a close-in DC neighborhood for $900,000.

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