Are you considering relocating to DC? The District offers a great quality of life with urban living in the nation’s capital and history and entertainment at every turn. Ahead of your move, you probably have an important question: Is Washington, DC expensive? Can I afford to live in the city?
Washington, DC definitely isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive metro areas in the U.S., largely due to high housing costs. However, choosing the right neighborhood can make a big difference with plenty of affordable options. Here’s everything you need to know about the cost of living in Washington, DC.
Washington, DC Cost of Living Index
How much does it cost to live in Washington, DC? One way to answer this is with the cost of living index which compares a city’s cost of living to the national average by considering common expenses. The Washington, DC cost of living index is 159. That means living in DC is 59% more expensive than the national average.
Healthcare is slightly below average while transportation, utilities, and groceries in Washington, DC are 10-18% above the national average. The biggest expense that makes the Washington, DC cost of living so high is housing. The DC housing index is 274.
The BLS’s Consumer Price Index for the Washington, DC metro area showed prices in the region increased 0.7% during one recent quarter and 2.6% year-over-year. Energy prices recently increased more than 10%.
According to the BLS’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, households in the Washington, DC metro area spent $95,441 on average in 2019. The average American household spent $62,395. Compared to the average U.S. household, DC residents spent more on housing, apparel, and personal insurance and pensions but less on entertainment, food, healthcare, and transportation.
The average household budget in Washington, DC had the following major expenses:
- 33% ($31,700) on housing, very close to the U.S. average
- 14.8% ($14,100) on personal insurance and pensions compared to the national average of 11.6%
- 14.3% ($13,700) on transportation. This included 85% spent on a personal vehicle, lower than the national average of 92% on vehicle purchase and maintenance. C was one of just 8 of 22 major metro areas with transportation costs lower than average.
- 12.2% ($11,700) on food. This included $6,000 spent on food at home and $5,700 on food away from home.
Cost of Groceries, Food, Gas & Household Items in Washington, DC
A good way to understand the cost of living in Washington, DC is to compare prices for common items to what you pay now. Here are typical living expenses in Washington, DC.
Cost of items and living expenses in Washington, DC:
- Steak (ribeye, one pound): $13.31
- Milk (whole, ½ gallon): $2.36
- Eggs (one dozen): $1.74
- Potatoes (5-pound bag): $4.50
- Bread (wheat, one loaf): $3.92
- Beer (Heineken’s six-pack): $10.17
- Movie ticket: $13.69
- Average cell phone bill: $180.17
- Average electrical bill in Washington, DC: $221.66
- Average water bill in Washington, DC: $114.48
- Metrorail & Metrobus monthly pass: $72 to $216 depending on fare class
Washington, DC Real Estate Market
Housing is the single-greatest factor affecting the high cost of living in Washington, DC. According to the Urban Institute, Washington, DC is experiencing a housing crisis and needs 320,000 new housing units by 2030. The city limits the height of buildings and many regions are zoned only for single-family homes which contribute to housing shortages and high prices.
Planning to buy a home in DC? The average home price in Washington, DC is $685,000 with a median 21 days on the market. However, Washington housing prices vary significantly by neighborhood.
Here are the most expensive neighborhoods in Washington, DC with median home prices.
- Spring Valley: $1.9 million
- Massachusetts Avenue Heights: $1.8 million
- Berkley: $1.3 million
- Kent: $1.55 million
- Georgetown: $1.54 million
- Burleith, known for its federal-style buildings: $1.43 million
View this post on Instagram
There are also many neighborhoods where you can find median home prices far below the DC average. Here are some of the most affordable neighborhoods in Washington, DC.
- Takoma: $519,000
- Brookland: $505,000
- Foggy Bottom: $463,000
- Marshall Heights: $415,000
- Van Ness: $365,000
- Barry Farm: $282,000
Note that low prices in Foggy Bottom and Van Ness are largely due to a high share of co-ops and condos. In Barry Farm, about 25% of recent home sales were condos.
As a general rule, downtown and the areas in the Northwest Corridor of DC are the most expensive. Areas south of the National Mall, including the Capitol riverfront and The Wharf in Southwest Washington, have been developed over the last decade and have also become expensive due to luxury condos geared toward people earning six-figure incomes. The Northeast Corridor generally includes the most affordable places to live in Washington, DC.
Washington, DC Rental Market – Average Rent in Washington, DC
How much is an apartment in Washington, DC? The average rent in Washington, DC is $2,056. However, Washington, DC apartment rent prices depend on where you live. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in DC include the following with rent prices for a one-bedroom apartment.
- West End: $3,233
- Logan Circle-Shaw: $2,717
- Navy Yard: $2,579
- The Wharf: $2,374
- Columbia Heights: $2,364
- Foggy Bottom-GWU-West End: $2,362
- Southwest Waterfront: $2,349
- Southwest Washington: $2,349
View this post on Instagram
Smart Asset recently reported that you would need to earn $133,000 gross to afford average Washington, DC rent prices. A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 2019 found that the average renter in the District of Columbia earns $28.57 per hour. However, with average rent of $1,665, a renter would need to earn $32.02 per hour to avoid paying over 30% of their income on housing. That rent amount is based on HUD’s estimate of “fair market rent” but 60% of Washington, DC renters pay more.
Average Salary & Household Income in Washington, DC
How much do you need to make to live in Washington, DC? A good place to start is looking at the average income in the city.
The average salary in Washington, DC is $77,000 or $22.71 per hour according to Payscale. The median household income in Washington, DC is $85,200. However, in the most affluent neighborhoods, the median household income is $250,000!
Here’s what you can expect to earn in popular occupations:
- Software engineer: $90k
- Executive assistant: $61k
- Research analyst: $58k
- Registered Nurse: $33/hour
- Executive assistant: $28/hour
- Administrative assistant: $20/hour
You’ll find Washington, DC neighborhoods sharply divided by household income. The poorest neighborhoods are increasingly concentrated east of the Anacostia River with median household income below $40,000 or under $60,000. The area to the west along the Potomac has become even wealthier with median household income over $200,000.
You can learn more about income trends in Washington, DC from the D.C. Policy Center.
Income, Sales & Property Taxes in Washington, DC
Don’t forget to consider taxes, a big part of the Washington, DC cost of living! Here’s an overview of the Washington, DC taxes you should expect.
Washington, DC Income Taxes
The income tax in Washington, DC has five brackets ranging from 4% (on the first $10,000) to 8.95% (on income over $350,000). Washington, DC has the 6th highest income tax in the U.S.
Washington, DC Sales Tax
Sales tax in Washington, DC is 6.00%. Washington’s sales tax rate is the 17th lowest in the U.S.
Washington, DC Property Taxes
Property taxes in Washington, DC have been lowered three times since tax reform in 1999. The current Washington, DC property tax rate is 0.85% of assessed value. DC has the lowest residential property tax rate in the region and several tax relief programs for low-income residents. The District caps the amount you pay for property taxes at 10% for owner-occupied properties.
Washington, DC vs Los Angeles Cost of Living
How does the average cost of living in Washington, DC compare with Los Angeles? The Washington, DC cost of living index of 159 is substantially higher than LA’s cost of living index of 146. You’ll pay more for transportation and healthcare in Los Angeles versus Washington, DC but DC utilities are more affordable. The biggest difference is housing costs with DC real estate usually priced well above Los Angeles.
The average cost of living in Washington, DC may be high, but there are still affordable places to live in the District and you’ll enjoy an unbeatable quality of life. If you’re ready to relocate to the DC area, Suburban Solutions is here to help. Give us a call for a free Washington, DC moving quote once you’ve narrowed down your neighborhood options and we’ll give you the seamless moving day you need.