The Real World decided to base its DC season there, its bars and restaurants are perpetually buzzing, and it is one of a handful of DC neighborhoods that people around the country are familiar with. Arguably one of DC’s most popular places to live, Dupont Circle is a hub for the hip, international, and the young at heart.
With some of the city’s most beautiful homes lining its leafy streets, Dupont offers neighborhood residents a walkable lifestyle that is hard to match anywhere else in DC. But naturally, an area that is a great place to live and hang out comes with a price tag: Dupont is one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods to buy or rent a home.
Where is Dupont Circle?
The borders of Dupont Circle vary depending on whom you ask. And because real estate with a Dupont address commands a premium, the boundaries of the neighborhood can sometimes expand generously when for-sale or for-rent listings use the tony neighborhood name for marketing purposes.
We have defined it roughly by M Street to the south, 22nd to the west, Florida Avenue to the northwest, and 16th Street to the east.
Who Lives There
Dupont has a relatively diverse population. Many of the homeowners are long-timers who settled in the neighborhood decades ago when crime was a serious issue. There perseverance has paid off as they now live in townhouses worth $1 to 2 million.
The majority of residents, however, are young, well-educated professionals—including a large international contingent—who work for nearby think tanks, embassies, government agencies and the World Bank. Generally childless and often planning on spending only a few years working in Washington, the area’s twenty and thirty-something residents have the time, interest, and disposable income to fully indulge in the area’s many offerings. In the process, they contribute a vibrant energy to the neighborhood.
The Real Estate
A densely-built region with little space to spare, there’s not much in Dupont that’s brand new. Homes in the area are a mix of brick row houses and mid-sized apartment buildings.
The most common properties in the neighborhood are condos, most of which are in converted row houses that have been divided into two, three or four units. The larger multi-unit buildings of the neighborhood may offer cheaper condo alternatives than the rowhouse conversions, but because most were built in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, many have common spaces that reflect the time they were constructed and don’t share the charm of hundred-year-old row houses.
Individual row houses—mostly built around the turn of the century, but since renovated or at least updated—do come up for sale, but with a million-plus price point that puts them out of reach for many buyers.
Rentals are widely available in the area; most units are in buildings housing 20-60 units, but English basements are fairly common as well. The rent on a one-bedroom ranges from $1,700 to $2,500.
Can You Afford It?
An established neighborhood whose redevelopment began several decades ago, Dupont Circle could be compared to a blue chip stock, said Coldwell Banker Georgetown’s Nate Guggenheim: Getting in might cost more, but the investment’s a solid one that won’t decline in hard times.
Last year, 241 condos or coops and 39 townhouses in the area sold, and roughly 100 properties are on the market right now, said Guggenheim. In 2009, the average price of a condo was $411,500, while row houses sold for an average of $1,120,000.
According to Pamela Wye, a real estate agent with W.C. & A.N. Miller, buyers can expect to pay around $240,000 for a studio, roughly $375,000 for a one-bedroom condo, and $450,000 to $1 million for a two-bedroom unit, depending on extras like finishes, garden space, and parking.
The Place to Be
Everything in Dupont Circle is within walking distance, including supermarkets, coffeshops, locally-owned hardware stores, trendy boutiques, as well as some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. On a peaceful street at the area’s fringe, the Tabard Inn is a classy spot for a glass of wine or a quiet meal; at the other end of the neighborhood, Lauriol Plaza offers tart margaritas and a consistently crowded patio.
But the epicenter of Dupont’s buzz and commerce is Connecticut Avenue, which is bisected by the circle and packed with stores, restaurants, and bars humming with activity. North of the circle, the street is home to traditional favorites like Kramerbooks, one of the city’s best bookstores and popular cafes, as well as a number of new establishments like the low-key Burger Joint and upscale wine bars Circa and Veritas. The south side features a number of ever-evolving clubs and bars, as well as neighborhood mainstays like Eighteenth Street Lounge that has been offering worldly beats nightly since 1995.
Then there are the intangibles: freebies like the circle itself, which fills up on sunny weekends; a new dog park at 17th and S Street; and miles of bike lanes crisscrossing the neighborhood. On Sunday mornings, residents from all over the city flock to the neighborhood’s farmer’s market, the largest in the city.
“It’s urban but not too urban,” Dupont resident Don Stein said as he sat with his wife, Zerrin recently on the steps of their row house.
Dupont has never been a hub for young families, but Area Neighborhood Commission Chair Mike Silverstein said that’s changing as some of the city’s public schools improve.
“There’s a surprising growing baby boom in the area, and a waiting list for the preschool at Ross Elementary,” Silverstein told UrbanTurf.
Ross, which has a new, environmentally-friendly playground built through funds raised by parents and neighbors, is one of two elementary schools in the area. The other is Francis Stevens, which tends to have less parental involvement but boasts a young principal determined to boost the school’s performance.
Nonetheless, the neighborhood is geared more for childless professionals than families: yards are small, and while green space is available (particularly in nearby Rock Creek Park), playgrounds are hard to come by.
Like any metropolitan neighborhood, crime can be an issue in Dupont. But because of the high volume of foot traffic that exists virtually around the clock, it’s a relatively safe place. Problems tend to be limited to property crime (car theft in particular) and robbery. In the past two months, the area saw 11 robberies (two with a gun and nine without) and 78 property crimes.
“It’s an urban city, so there’s always going to be crime, but it’s minimal,” said Khalil Thompson, who was sunning himself on the circle on a recent Sunday. “As long as you pay attention to your surroundings, you’re safe.”
Driving and parking are not among Dupont’s charms. The circle has a complicated traffic pattern and the area’s narrow streets can easily become congested. Similarly, because the neighborhood is so densely built and includes a number of retail strips, parking spots are very difficult to come by.
“The parking is atrocious,” Khalil Thompson told UrbanTurf. “There’s never enough spaces for people who want to visit as well as those who live here. Sometimes you have to drive around for 20 minutes looking for one. Luckily, the Metro and buses are really good.”
Indeed, the Dupont Circle Metro Station on the Red line is at the center of the neighborhood, and many bus lines, including the D1, D3, D6, L2, 42, and N2-N6 pass through Dupont on their way from downtown to northern areas of the city.
In many ways, Dupont Circle represents the best that DC has to offer. With its turn-of-the-century homes, inviting public spaces, diverse selection of bars and restaurants, and vibrant energy, the neighborhood is virtually a self-sufficient village within the city. However, all these amenities and conveniences come with a cost, and the price tag to live in Dupont is quite high. Still, neighborhood residents agree that paying more to live among a wide selection of high-quality urban amenities is worth it.
Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.