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Here’s one way to hedge against the tumbling real-estate market: Own a house in Georgetown-preferably one of the neighborhood’s many classic brick jobbers, the postcard-worthy townhouses in colors ranging from yellow to baby blue.
“You’ll see very little difference off the sales price, unless something was priced incorrectly to begin with,” says Nancy Itteilag, an agent with Long & Foster’s Foxhall office. “You would be surprised at how many things our people paid full price for-didn’t even fool around!”
Statistics speak for the staying power of the Georgetown establishment. According to figures pulled by Itteilag, the median home price in Georgetown is actually up this year compared to last: $1.27 million by late September 2008, and $1.19 million in the same period in 2007. Houses are staying on the market only slightly longer—-on average 107 days, compared to 99 days last year-and the number of homes with contracts written remains the same (around 80 both years).
If only all of those cheesy condos along the Georgetown waterfront could pull off the same market-defying stunts. Units in the far more modern buildings just up from the Potomac in Georgetown channel a bit of Manassas when it comes to value these days.
“Prices have gone down quite a bit in that area,” says, William Rich, Vice President of Delta Associates, a real-estate research firm based in Alexandria.
“You’ve got tons of old buildings,” says Itteilag. Though these places have nice addresses and some fine views, they suffer from both practical and aesthetic deficiencies, like little closets, underwhelming molding, and dormlike loft spaces with bathrooms downstairs from bedrooms.
Rich recently analyzed condo sales in the region south of M Street and between the Key Bridge and Rock Creek Park. Comparing the first half of 2008 with the same period last year, prices were down 19 percent. The median price was $552,500 in 2008, and $681,500 in 2007. Keep in mind, though, says Rich, “there are so few properties, so the numbers can fluctuate more.”
Last year, for example, only 24 condos sold in the entire waterfront area…
One culprit in the falling values is America’s foreclosure disease, which appears to have a Georgetown strain. One recently sold unit at 1080 Wisconsin Ave. NW was bank-owned and sold as-is, according to listing documents. Another listing says below comps for a reason, contact listing agent.
The listing agent on this particular condo at 1077 30th St. NW is Lindsay Reishman with Coldwell Banker Dupont. He bought the unit at a foreclosure auction, then marketed the property to his friends and people who receive his newsletter. He found a buyer before technically taking ownership, avoiding mortgage payments and realtor fees.
“There is a tendency to believe that the high-end is immune from what we all hear and read about,” says Reishman. “You do see occasions where that’s not the case, and people have gotten in over their head. But that’s true in Potomac, Oakton, and McLean.”
Real estate agent Lance Horsely calls many of the waterfront’s condos “nasty,” “frumpy,” and “crappy,” though he reserves kinder words for 3303 Water St. NW, a 70-unit condo building toward the west end of the waterfront.
That building is “stunning” and “wonderful” he says, adding that there’s a “vast disparity” between units in the area.
“Whenever you’re dealing with statistics, I’m always cautious, because one sale in one of those buildings completely skews it,” says Horsely.
Coldwell Banker broker Monica Boyd ran 3303 Water Street’s sales office between 2002 and 2004 when it was under construction. Not only did the building sell out by the time it was completed but condo resales have broken records, she says.
Her self-described “claim to fame” is the recent sale of a 3,000 square-foot unit, which went for $4.1 million. That’s “the highest dollar-per-square-foot that has ever been sold in the District of Columbia for a condominium,” she says (a detail that has been repeated to me by several agents.)
Boyd says there’s one comparable building in the area: the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, which has 29 condo units. But no one saw 3303’s success coming, she adds. After all, the Whitehurst Freeway is right next door, as is a Pepco substation.
The first buyers “really lucked out,” says Boyd. “Most of the Water Street values have gone up significantly. We have people that have made a million dollars here.”