As those of us who live and work here know, Washington, D.C. is an amalgam of old and new. If you don’t believe me, just watch the glass-studded, urban community known as CityCenterDC rise amid buildings such as the National Portrait Gallery, constructed between 1836 and 1868, and the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, dating from 1903.
Old World Charm
According to the Metropolitan Regional Information System (MRIS), there are 28 residential homes in D.C. built in the 18th century, with the earliest date being 1754. If you add to that all the homes built in the 1800s, then that number jumps above 3,000. Factor in the late Victorian era when new construction blossomed and you have thousands more that are considered antique.
As you might expect, 19 of the oldest homes are located in Georgetown, with four more in Capitol Hill and the remaining five in various parts of the northwest quadrant. With predominantly Federal architecture, tall windows, high ceilings, heart pine floors, turned bannisters, pocket doors and intricate plaster moldings, these handsome relics and their younger sisters from the early 20th century capture the hearts of preservationists, history buffs and lovers of all things ornate.
The New World Order
I routinely tell my clients that if everyone liked the same thing, I’d be out of business. For all the people who favor the charm of an antique home, there are probably just as many looking for something new, be it a sleek renovation behind an historic façade or a condo built within the past five years.
According to the MRIS tax records, the award for the highest number of new homes built in 2013 goes to EYA with a total of 14 in Brookland’s Chancellor’s Row. Functional floor plans, upscale finishes and the ability to customize the interiors make their product a popular choice for buyers who favor new construction.
The ever-growing D.C. condo market seems to have filled the need for “faux lofts,” characterized by exposed ductwork and concrete pillars. The condos being built today tend toward simple, contemporary lines with open plans, walls of glass, uncluttered spaces and expanses of dark wood, stainless steel and brick veneer.
But no matter what anyone tells you, size does matter, and in D.C. homes come in all of them. Whether old or new, the studio condo or coop, the Colonial we drew in school in our youth and the exquisite mansions built in and around Rock Creek Park all attract buyers.
The Big Picture
According to the MRIS, the largest private home in D.C. has nearly 22,000 square feet on three levels, 12 bedrooms, 14 full baths, six half baths and sits on more than 10 acres. To quote Temperance Brennan, “Yowsa!”
If you’re like me, the purchase of such a home would require a group of at least three of my gainfully employed friends just to pay the light bill. The mortgage? For that I would need Danny Ocean, his cohorts and a fail-safe plan.
It’s a Small World After All
In the summer of 2000, I bought what I thought was the smallest house in D.C. My pint-sized place on the northeast side of Capitol Hill had a total of 371 square feet, less than a standard suburban two-car garage. In fact, the backyard covered more ground than the house.
Renovating it was a fun project and allowed me to test architect Louis Sullivan’s principle that form ever follows function, but in reverse. A square box in form, its post-renovation functional elements included living/sleeping room, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen and laundry, an office nook with built-in desk, a bathroom with shower and a clothes closet.
But I was wrong about it being the smallest house in D.C. – that honor, according to the tax records in the MRIS, goes to yet another Capitol Hill rowhouse that measures a scant 252 square feet. I still have nightmares of hundreds of clowns pouring out of it during a block party.
Although housing choices continue to evolve, one thing remains constant: when buying a home in D.C., the best of all possible worlds envisioned by Voltaire’s Candide can quickly turn into H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds – otherwise known as multiple offers.
Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or at Valerie@DCHomeQuest.com. Prudential PenFed Realty is an independently owned and operated broker member of BRER Affiliates, Inc. Prudential, the Prudential logo and the Rock symbol are registered service marks of Prudential Financial, Inc. and its related entities, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Used under license with no other affiliation with Prudential. Equal Housing Opportunity.