How the Fairfax County suburbs are different than city neighborhoods

Some years ago, I moved to San Francisco.  When I was shopping for an apartment there, I learned that neighborhoods seemed to be very important for people’s identity. For example, some people identified themselves with living in The Haight-Ashbury, others to The Castro, and the “hip, techie” people were proud of living in Noe Valley.

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco has a unique personality

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco has a unique personality

The neighborhood where one lived seemed to be very important for society. To my surprise, I used to get comments like:  “Ooh, you’re looking in The Haight-Ashbury? Wow!”

Fairfax County isn’t a city, it’s a suburb

A few years ago, when I was helping a friend look for a home in Toronto, neighborhoods were also very important there, so it must be like that for many cities. However, in my experience, looking for a home in the suburbs, such as in Fairfax County,  requires a different approach than in a city.

In the Fairfax County suburbs, we have subdivisions

In our Fairfax County  suburbs, there aren’t such things as “city neighborhoods”.   Here, the closest equivalent would be subdivisions. Subdivisions are a group of homes that were built around the same time by a builder (or builders) who got government approval to build a certain number of homes with associated amenities (if any).  Such amenities could be a pool, common area, tot lots, tennis courts, trails, community center, etc. A few older subdivisions, such as Mantua, for example, are relatively well known and have a “personality” of their own.  This is, in my experience, as close to a “city neighborhood” as it gets in the suburbs. But these well-known subdivisions are rare.  Most subdivisions are practically indistinguishable from each other.

Most subdivisions are very much like each other

Most subdivisions in Fairfax County, especially all the ones built around the same time, are very much alike.  Most people wouldn’t know where one subdivision ends and where the other one begins just by looking at the homes, or the geography, or the type of people living there (here, we don’t have any subdivisions for “hip techies”).

Subdivisions may be important when looking for a specific amenity

Some subdivisions, especially the larger ones of hundreds and even thousands of homes, may offer many amenities.  These subdivisions are often specifically targeted by potential homeowners because of a desired amenity, for example: a neighborhood pool or a community center. There are also many subdivisions, usually the smaller ones, that don’t have much in the way of amenities, and yet many people are happy to buy a home in them. I find that very few people focus on subdivisions for their home search.  It simply isn’t very practical.

Fairfax County home shoppers don’t focus on subdivisions

When people look for a home in Fairfax County, they select an area first.  The way they select an area is based on their commute or their school requirements. Once they select an area (or school boundary), they start looking for a type of home that meets their needs and their budget (single family detached, townhome, condo, etc.). When they find a few homes they like, most of the time they don’t even focus on the subdivisions that each of the homes belong to. Some homes might belong to a subdivision with amenities, and that might make that home be more attractive to them. But mostly, people buy homes that meet their needs based on location,  layout/size, and price.


When looking for a home in a city, “location” seems to be translated as “neighborhood”, such as the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. In Fairfax County, “location” is usually an area, and if you are focused on finding a home by school, then “location” may be a school boundary. Learn more about each of the Fairfax County School Boundaries:

Log in to the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries

Fairfax County Map with high school boundaries
Click to access the Fairfax County Map (with UP-TO-DATE high school boundaries)

Log in to the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries to see the location of each of the most UP-TO-DATE boundaries within Fairfax County and to choose your ideal boundary.

When you log in to the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries, you will find:
  • UP-TO-DATE School boundaries (for 2014-2015)
  • Photos and videos
  • Highlights of the area covered by each boundary
  • Transportation options
  • Statistics about housing
  • School rankings for schools in each boundary

See you on the other side!

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The No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax, VA
The FREE No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax, VA

Downloading The No-Tears Guide to Moving to Fairfax, VA is free, and you’ll get access to our unique home-search (by school boundary). Plus, you get the Fairfax County Real Estate Affordability Map, AND access to detailed information about each Fairfax County School boundary.

Image by Alaskan Dude on Flickr

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