Several months ago, when D.C.’s real-estate boom was near its peak, visiting an open house was a do-it-yourself affair—and a boring one at that. A particularly nice agent might offer you a pamphlet and an icy bottle of water.
And that’s on a hot day.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, visitors to 618 Allison St. NW enjoyed the new perks of a slower market. On hand around midafternoon were a half-dozen people, but none of them were looking to buy. They were helping to sell. They stood around the home’s entry level offering a delicious array of catered goodies including mini cans of Coke, Diet Coke, and Dr Pepper; a veggie tray with onion dip; and platters of roast-beef sandwiches. There was even a live jazz band.
“Music always brings a feeling of belonging to a place,” says Denise Douglas, who has owned the house since July. “We want people who visit to feel like they’re at home.”
And what a home! At first blush, in fact, 618 Allison is a Price Pick of the Week dream house. Allison Street is off New Hampshire Avenue in the heart of Petworth, a neighborhood where for-sale houses tend to be listed at several hundred thousand dollars less than $749,000.
And, like all good Price Picks, this address was no stranger to the market. Only five months earlier, Douglas had bought the four-bedroom Dutch Colonial for a much more typical $410,000—similar to a handful of Petworth listings at that level in the Washington Post classifieds that weekend.
Douglas, with the help of her design consultant, refurbished it, added some nice touches (cherrywood floors) and some not-so-nice ones (bathrooms with fake granite countertops and a shower without a shower door) and placed it right back on the market at an initial markup of $339,000.
That design consultant? Lenair Williams, the saxophonist for the two-man band that played in the living room. He’s been playing for about 40 years, but he’d never performed at an open house. “The music made it feel like a warm home,” he says. “It added flair.”
Volunteering one’s sax skills are among the sacrifices to be made in a softening real-estate market. Douglas has remodeled and resold about seven homes since she turned over her first one, on T Street NW, 10 years ago. All of them benefited from Lenair’s flair for layout, but, until now, none were graced by his “easy gospel jazz.” That may be because Douglas is used to a quick turnaround.
Terry Hedgepeth stood next to the polished island countertop in the kitchen wearing a tuxedo and serving Yellow Tail Chardonnay. For a living, he hosts and caters parties in a variety of settings; open houses, he says, are a growth sector. “When the market was really moving, I didn’t do many of these. Now it’s a good 20 percent of my business.” The Allison Street house was his third engagement with Douglas. Their affiliation began early this year at a house in Columbia Heights and continued this spring at an address on Quincy Place NW, in Truxton Circle.
Both of those locations, he says, “sold pretty easily.”
“We did something similar at the opening on Quincy back in April, and it worked great,” Douglas says. “People stayed for a long time, and we got two offers the same day.” She thinks football season and the winter weather may have been to blame for the low turnout this time. But she also acknowledges that the cooling market probably didn’t help matters much.
That means no more relying on buyer frenzy to work things out for them. The lawn has been trimmed and the patio swept. When potential buyers come to look around, instead of ambling alone, they get a guided tour and a glossy four-page pamphlet worthy of the mansions in Kalorama and Georgetown that sell for two or three times as much.
Even Douglas is impressed with the brochure, which highlights some of the house’s internal features (“French doors leading to the private balcony”) along with some of the ancillary benefits of living in Petworth (“Close and convenient to everything: National Zoo…Adams Morgan, Logan/U Street nightlife”). Though the house is nearest 6th Street, the pamphlet suggests that it’s located in “16th Street Heights (East)” near “galleries, theaters, restaurants, schools, churches, and other recreational facilities.” The real-estate agent, she says, “did a good job with the flier.”
But few stopped by on Sunday to pick them up. As of Dec. 6, Douglas had yet to receive an offer.CP