If I were to balance my home buying approach (price) with a work commute distance) in this area, I would consider Manassas to the west, and Woodbridge to the south. I prefer Stafford County (where we have lived for 20+ years) to Woodbridge, and Haymarket to Manassas (hometown). But rush hour traffic on Interstate routes 95 & 66 is stop and go by 6-10 during morning hours, and 3-7 during the evening rush hours. But during summer months on Fridays, we advise you to find a job which offers work from home options on these days. I've witnessed gridlock from 6 a.m.-10p.m. Beach traffic appears to be the culprit.
Here is the deal. If you chose a home location along I-95 you have to get acquainted with the slug-line process. Go to slug-lines.com for more information. It is a system born out of necessity, and it works. You can also use Virginia Railway Express (VRE) with several stops between Fredericksburg to Union Station, and Manassas Airport to connection points into downtown. Another option would be paying for van pool service to utilize HOV lanes on both Interstate 95 & 66 from several commuter lots as far away as Fredericksburg & Warrenton into Washington, D.C. If you're commuting from Prince William County PRTC has OmniRide bus service which has worked very well during its existence. The last option I will mention is MetroRail & MetroBus. These services are available as far as Springfield to the south (I-95), and Vienna to the west (I-66). If you plan on parking and getting on the train at these locations you need to be there by 6 a.m. for a parking space.
If I were looking for a reasonable commute into D.C. I would look into the housing markets around Springfield & Vienna (Fairfax County). Strangely enough these are the 2 areas where MetroRail stops its service into Northern Virginia. But buyer beware. Go into these housing markets with the expectation of paying for location with much smaller homes. Maryanne & I often work with clients who shopped the housing market north of us and refuse to pay the asking price for half the square footage in most cases.
We hope this helps narrow the search process for buyers just starting the process. If you would like further input or housing search assistance from us, please don't hesitate to contact us. You can conduct you home and community search from our website (MaryanneMoyers.com) or facebook page (TheMoyersTeam). We serve clients buying and selling homes from Springfield to Spotsylvania County, and Fairfax to Fauquier County.
The Moyers Team (Dwayne & Maryanne)
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And, yes, you're in for sticker shock. What you've described (2,800 square feet, stainless steel/granite) will cost way more than $200,000 in the D.C. area.
Here's a link to all active properties in Stafford County and the city of Fredericksburg built in 2007 or later, greater than 2,100 square feet, 3+ bedrooms. The less expensive ones are short sales. There are a few around $300,000, but most are more in the $400,000 range. http://mrislistings.mris.com/Matrix/Public/Portal.aspx?ID=44
Here's another search. This one includes properties up to $350,000, 1,600 square feet or more, built after 2005, within commuting distance to DC. (It's an irregular area, but basically out to Leesburg, down past Manassas, and then over slightly beyond Dumphries.) There are 7 active listings: http://mrislistings.mris.com/Matrix/Public/Portal.aspx?ID=44 You'll note that these are in Prince William County (even though the area I'd selected includes many others). And that's probably your best bet--Prince William County.
Let me know if you'd like other searches done. Or you can do them from my website at http://www.WeSellVirginiaHouses.com
Hope that helps.