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With White House Occupied, Washington's Other Gems Await Their New Residents

Washington may be home to one of the most famous houses in the world — on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — but the city’s selection of jaw-dropping residences does not end with the White House. The District’s Northwest quadrant has no shortage of awesome properties with their own unique stories, whether they’re brand new, historical or simply breathtaking. And thanks to a buyer’s real estate market, some of the once-ballooning prices are deflating so fast that buyers can hardly catch their breaths.

The compound at 3400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, screams the old real estate adage of location, location, location. If the address sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. Naval Observatory and the vice presidential mansion use it, too. The property, with an asking price of .45 million, is immediately adjacent to the home now occupied by Joe Biden and his wife Jill.

The property was originally built as a single-family residence, but it has also been used as an embassy and as a temporary spot for Pope Benedict’s security detail when he visited Washington in April 2008. The lot is 18,000 square feet, while the property is close to 10,000 square feet.

“The original property was built by a famous Washingtonian, the gentleman who first brought a brewery to Washington, Christian Heurich,” said James Connelly, who is handling the sale. Heurich constructed the building in 1927 as a wedding present for his daughter. “As a result of that, it stayed in the Heurich family all the way through the early ’50s.”

Then another wealthy Washingtonian moved in. “Right around 1959, I believe, a world-renowned ophthalmologist, Dr. Marshall Parks, bought the property for his growing family,” said Connelly, vice president of government services for LPC Commercial Services Inc. “Dr. Parks raised 11 children in the home and they have kept the home in the family until now.”

Parks, known as the father of pediatric ophthalmology, died in 2005, and the estate put the property on the market earlier this year. It is accepting sealed bids until June 1, when it will choose the next resident.

That’s no simple task, considering its neighbors. Also a stone’s throw from the compound are the Washington headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church, a lot owned by the Soka Gakkai Buddhist temple, and property owned by the government of Iraq. There is a screening process to ensure that potential buyers are financially capable and also well suited to the neighborhood, said James Kazunas, president of Hollywood Real Estate Services, a partner in the sale. The estate will look at any and all offers, and a huge aspect will be use, not necessarily price, Kazunas added. “There’s a potential here for somebody to make a deal.”

“In addition to embassies looking at the property, we also have some international churches that are looking at it and some foundations that would be approved to operate it in a nonprofit manner,” Connelly explained. “Then, of course, high net-worth individuals are looking at it.”

Along similar lines — but with a price tag of about million more — is the 30,500-square-foot Halcyon House, which sits at 3400 Prospect St., NW, in Georgetown. The five-bedroom, nine-bathroom estate overlooking the Key Bridge was built circa 1787 by Benjamin Stoddert, the first secretary of the U.S. Navy, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its gardens were designed by Pierre L’Enfant, the brainchild behind Washington’s layout.

A nephew of writer Mark Twain bought the house in 1900 and remodeled it chaotically. In the 1960s, Georgetown University — back then Georgetown College — used the house as a dormitory for students. A decade later, a local architect took over management of the house and restored its original grandeur.

Tutt, Taylor and Rankin (TTR) Sotheby’s International Realty lists Halcyon House at .5 million, although it started at million last year when it went up for sale for the first time in 40 years. The property includes the main Georgian-style brick and stone house, which has been fully renovated, five rental apartments and a separate townhouse.

“The house was listed last August before the economy fell apart,” said TTR Sotheby’s listing agent Judith Lewis. “It was adjusted in March. The new price has attracted more interest.”

Famous tenants and sprawling lots are not the only features that make high-end housing options in D.C. interesting. Take the Rosedale Cottage, for example. Situated at 3460 Ordway St., NW, the cottage is one of the oldest properties in Cleveland Park, said Donna Evers, owner of Evers and Co. Real Estate. “It’s the sort of house you’d find in Middleburg [Va.], except here it is in Cleveland Park,” she said.

Although the listing for the cottage dates it to 1900, Evers selling agent Patricia Kennedy said, “We know it’s turn-of-the-century. We’re not totally sure which century.”

The single-family home covers about 3,000 square feet and is selling for class="import-text">2009June. Homey Capital.txt.9 million, she said. It has three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and four fireplaces spread out among its three stories. The house went on the market about six months ago, and the price has remained stable.

“When the current owners did their renovations back around the turn of the last century, which was around 2001, 2002, they really kept a lot of the old details intact,” Kennedy said. “It still has the original barn door; it’s got one of those Dutch doors where you can open the top part of it. They kept a lot of the little cubbies and the hardware and a lot of the stuff inside the house as well. There were all these little funny storage places all over the place and they kept all of that with the original hardware. While they really had a lot of respect for the house itself, they completely redid all of the wiring and plumbing — that is all 100 percent up to date.”

But if a cottage seems too cramped, there are deals to be had on larger options. Two weeks ago, Pat Lore, another Evers real estate agent, re-listed a home on an acre of land in Georgetown. When it first went on the market in November 2008, the listing price was .5 million. Today it is going for .9 million.

The single-family house at 2930 Foxhall Road, NW, actually encompasses two lots, with the house, built in 1937, occupying one space and a tennis court occupying part of the second. The home has six bedrooms, four full bathrooms and three fireplaces. Part of the Wesley Heights neighborhood subdivision, it also has an in-ground outdoor pool and an indoor exercise pool. The exterior is made of fieldstone, which helps keep out noise from the busy road nearby.

The current owner is a retired psychoanalyst who worked from home, so the residence has a separate private entrance to a three-room office area, making the property a good pick for another such professional.

“It’s pretty unusual to be so close in to D.C. and have the acre with the tennis court and an in-ground pool,” Lore said.

Moving closer into the city, condominiums become more common, and sometimes what was once old has been made new again. The condos at 2501 Pennsylvania Avenue — that’s the name and the address — offer contemporary luxury crafted around an older building.

“From an architectural standpoint, it was really beautifully done,” said Michele Topel, vice president of sales for the real estate firm Urban Pace and acting sales director for 2501. “It had its basis in the restoration of a [19th-century] historic building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue. And then the renovation work that we’ve done and the new additions that we’ve put on the building have been in keeping with that very elegant, traditional, old world architectural style.

“The interiors are more reminiscent of what you’d find in a Manhattan co-op,” she added. “There’s not really anything else in the city quite like it.”

The intimate building has only 16 units ranging from 2,200 square feet to 4,200 square feet, and class="import-text">2009June. Homey Capital.txt.55 million to .2 million. They went on sale two months ago, and three units are already under contract, Topel said. “Honestly, they have gone down a little bit from where we had hoped they would be when we were talking about pricing last year,” she admitted. But even with the 5 percent to 10 percent price drop, the units under contract are in excess of a million average price point, she noted.

The units have very high ceilings, some reaching 10 feet, hardwood floors and top-of-the-line kitchens with marble countertops, 16-bottle wine coolers and Italian Poliform cabinets.

The location, of course, is also a major draw. “You’re right on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Topel said. “We have several members of the new administration looking at the building because it’s an easy walk to the Treasury Department, to the White House, to the Old Executive Office Building.”

Despite the changeover in administration that has attracted worldwide attention, D.C.’s real estate market has hit a slump like the rest of the country — and the downward trend has trickled up to the city’s high-end properties. “The upper brackets are probably the ones that were hit the hardest,” Evers said. “If somebody has a zillion dollars, they can afford to go out and buy what they feel like buying and maybe they’re not affected [by the recession], I don’t know. But I think anything between class="import-text">2009June. Homey Capital.txt.5 [million] and million — I hate to say this is upper-middle class, that’s sort of weird — but it’s people who are going to be very much affected by the stock market situation.”

Many sellers in this bracket have clung to 2005 prices with little desire to budge, Evers added. That has left a surplus of properties and too few buyers. According to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, the number of new listings in the class="import-text">2009June. Homey Capital.txt.5 million and higher range increased from 27 in April 2008 to 42 in April 2009, a 55.6 percent rise, while the number of contracts and settlements dropped 21 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.

“Waiting until next year isn’t any kind of slam-dunk, believe me,” Evers said. “While I think our market has bottomed out and will continue to improve, it’s going to be a slow haul. And when you look at a backlog of properties in any price range, you’re looking at pressure on prices. It’s a matter of supply and demand.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on July 8, 2014