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The back side of 3303 Water Street

Heads of Real Estate
Who’s renting, buying, and just staying put in the new administration?

There are a few obvious reasons Valerie Jarrett and Desirée Rogers would want to live at 3303 Water St. NW. It’s in Georgetown. It’s practically on the Potomac. It doesn’t have some ridiculous name like “The Matrix.”

But for power players in the Obama administration, 3303 Water Street has a few cons, as well. For one, this 70-unit building is roughly two-and-a-half inconvenient miles from the White House and it’s practically on top of a Pepco substation.

Also, the Whitehurst Freeway features prominently: Descend from your black SUV onto the circular front driveway, and you can’t see half the building. The highway above blocks the view, as the sound of speeding trucks and cars rattles over your head.

But for two flinty Chicagoans, the Whitehurst can’t be all that different from the el. Plus, 3303 offers more than just the rush-hour view. Back units face the Georgetown Canal and a delightful little bridge leading to Cady’s Alley. There, Jarrett and longtime pal Rogers can shop for furniture in one of several high-end boutique shops and then pop into Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei for a Viennese coffee and some of the city’s daintiest macaroons.

The pluses apparently outweigh the minuses. Public records confirm Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, and Rogers, the White House social secretary, are living at 3303 Water Street and that neither has bolstered D.C.’s struggling condo market. According to sources and records, the two are currently renting.

The opportunity for star-studded real-estate purchases has been slim from the start. Many of the names of potential appointees Barack Obama tossed out as president-elect were Beltway insiders. But Chicago-based newcomers offered hope that the catch word of the administration—change—would come to the market.

Terri Robinson, real-estate agent to the Democratic stars, worked with Jarrett for a short time. The two scheduled a visit to 2501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, a new 16-unit West End building, but never went.

“She just wanted an apartment in Georgetown,” says Robinson. “I didn’t rent it to her.”

“In terms of the real estate story, it’s proceeding as usual,” she says about the new administration prospects. “We’re just sitting here waiting for them to call us. It’s not like we represent the White House.”

Robinson also worked with Obama’s chief speechwriter Jon Favreau, which turned out to be a more successful transaction. In early December, the New York Times reported that Favreau bought at the Chastleton, a 300-unit apartment-building-turned-co-op that looks a little like a cathedral. The building at 16th and R has its own first-floor gym, rooftop deck, and a popular residents-only ballroom that can be rented for $25 (it’s booked roughly three days a week for evening parties, according to a building manager). Few followed Favreau’s lead.

“Most people rented because it was easy. It was quick. And they needed to get on with business.…It was a crazy time,” says Lynn Hackney, president of real estate marketing firm Urban Pace, which counts the Chastleton among its more desired properties.

Andrew Riguzzi, sales manager at Logan Circle condo building the Metropole, got an early whiff of Obama’s people interested in buying.

“Even before the election, we got these little political scouts in, kind of looking at a bunch of different places,” he says—but he never really knew who they were representing anyway. “Everybody was so hush-hush about it. ‘Oh, I’m looking for this person, they want to spend this amount’—and you’d try to get more information, and they’d say, ‘Oh that’s all I’m going to say.’”

None of them bought at Riguzzi’s building.

As for the administration types already here, their choices are classic Democrat bourgie. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was born and raised in Washington, where her father was the former governor on the Federal Reserve Board. She attended the National Cathedral School and now lives in a six-bedroom home, purchased for $2.86 million in 2001, on Millwood Lane in the quiet, suburban-like neighborhood of Kent.

Farther northwest in the minivan heaven Spring Valley, live Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his wife, Sharon Malone, an OB-GYN. The pair has resided on 50th Street NW, which is within easy walking distance to Malone’s practice on Massachusetts Avenue, since the early ’90s.

There are, however, a couple of possible holdouts. North Sider and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Hyde Parker–cum–Education Secretary Arne Duncan both have families with young children. Do they really plan to spend four, or maybe eight, years away from them?

Duncan’s indicated he’s sending his daughter to Arlington County public schools, so one presumes a D.C. address is out for him.

But Emanuel’s still living the single man’s life of a House rep in Washington, while his kids are in Chicago.

In a recent New Yorker profile, he griped about missing his children: “‘No matter what every White House says—‘We’re going to be great, family-friendly’—well, the only family we’re going to be good for is the First Family. Everybody else is, like, really a distant second, O.K.?’”

Then, there’s Senior Advisor David Axelrod. In the Windy City, Axelrod lived in the Lake Point Tower, a 70-floor luxury condo building and the only residential property east of Lake Shore Drive.

Maybe D.C.’s height restrictions scared him off. Public records don’t show any new purchases. An early March New York Times story indicates Axelrod is living in an apartment a few blocks from White House, somewhere with a Washington Monument view.

Urban Place’s Hackney will continue to work on the prospects. Directly after the election, she was in touch with a contact in the transition team and a longtime friend of hers who, she says, was one of the DNC’s top fundraisers during the campaign cycle. At that time, Hackney handed over her sales packages and hoped they’d get distributed to some of Obama’s transplants. The timing just wasn’t right, but she’s got a good feeling about the end of 2009.

“I suspect if [people] are happy in their positions and they’re going to stay, if they think Obama could be in for eight years, they’ll probably look to buy in the fall,” says Hackney. “That’s what we’re hoping.”

Images from the top:

  • 3303 Water Street, by Ruth Samuelson
  • Valerie Jarrett, Wikimedia Commons
  • Susan Rice, Wikimedia Commons
  • Eric H. Holder Jr., Wikimedia Commons
  • Arne Duncan, Wikimedia Commons