Buying a New Construction Condo in Washington DC: What to Look For

by Kevin Gilday & Tom Gilday

The lure of new construction is easy to understand. Everything new, bright, and shiny. That’s why there are so many new condo developments cropping up right now all over DC. A new condo brings you all the streamlined living you were looking for.

But you don’t want to rush into a purchase just because everything looks new and perfect on the surface. A major purchase should be made with confidence. Do your own research, but also get the advice of an expert. Find a real estate agent who knows the DC condo market, and especially the reputations of developers. It is also wise to consult with a design or construction professional who knows quality construction and materials.

New construction can be a great choice, but it is important to know what to look for below the surface. With this in mind, here are a few things to look for as you consider new construction condo living in Washington, DC.

New or Nearly New

You’ve toured several condo models and everything looks absolutely stunning. Before you get the checkbook out, it’s time to look below the surface. This is where your Realtor can help you research the builder to see what kind of reputation they have for initial quality and for how they stand by their work.

Another option to consider is an almost new condo. Anne Hatfield Weir of Washington Fine Properties says there is an advantage to purchasing units in newer buildings that have been “lived in” for a few years. Flaws will have likely appeared  during that time. Once a new building hits the three to five year mark, any issues or grievances with the developer will have surfaced. Weir notes that if you look at a recently constructed condo unit and it already shows signs of wear, both in the unit itself or in common areas, that can be a red flag about the quality of construction or a lack of diligence in upkeep. But if it looks to be in good shape by year 3-5, you can benefit from someone else having lived through that suspense, leaving you with a fantastic home.

Whether you choose new or nearly new, your real estate agent should be used as a valuable resource for information on the builder and their reputation.

Finishing Touches and Amenities

If brand new is what you are looking for, here’s how to take that closer look. Invite a design professional to work with you to understand what to expect with the finishing touches that will be put into your new construction condo.

Pay attention to appliance packages as well. Materials used should reflect the price-point. You might not be pleased with the basic appliance package and want to upgrade.

Realtor Meg Crowlie says, “Trends  in condo living come down to the age and financial ability of the buyer. Regardless of which category you might fall into, you want to love where you live. Price point necessarily dictates location, but often, if you can be flexible on location, you can find a building  with more amenities like balconies, work out facilities, rooftop decks and in-house business centers.”

Does This Come Standard?

If you are purchasing during construction, you want to have a clear idea of what comes standard with the sale price. Photos and models have all the upgraded bells and whistles. Find out what is standard and what will be added as an upcharge.

One way builders keep sticker shock at bay is to have a base price that includes the most basic finishes. Find out specifics like where crown molding is standard, where carpeting is standard and what is below the carpet.

Realtor Theo Adamstein of TTR Sotheby’s says, “The advantages of buying brand new construction, even while it's being built, is you're getting the latest and greatest. All the finishes, all the appliances, everything is the latest model. You're also getting that wow factor because the design is cutting edge.”

But Adamstein points to the challenge here as well. There are some potential disadvantages involved when pre-purchasing in a condo development under construction. Will it be exactly the way they are presenting in the renderings? Renderings often present an idealized version of the end product. Will you get that stone veneer accent wall? Will the kitchen have that beautiful Subzero refrigerator? So be aware of what comes standard and what is not.

Valuation

Another consideration in buying a new condo is the valuation. The customizations you choose may end up costing more than the resale value of the unit. The heart wants what the heart wants, but be aware that a bank appraisal isn’t looking at your heart, but the cold, hard facts of what condos are selling for in that neighborhood.

Realtor Hans Wydler of Wydler Brothers/Compass Realty also brings up the question of when to purchase during the sales cycle of the condo development.

Suppose the project has 100 units and you are buyer number 50. If momentum drops off and the last 50 aren't selling well, prices may start coming down. Valuations are based on the last sale, not the first sale.

So there is a balancing act here. First buyers get first choice. That's one of the incentives. They get the best views and the best layouts. They get the most desirable (read: valuable) units in the building. Sometimes the developer will offer incentives to purchase if you buy early.

Buyer Beware

Purchasing a newly constructed condo has the advantages of newness and coolness. Everything is up to date and the design is perfect. The place is gorgeous.

But you must seek the guidance of a realtor who knows the neighborhood and the reputation of the developer. And once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it would be well worth your while to have an experienced design or construction professional walk through the space with you to evaluate the quality of construction and finish materials so that you know you are getting the best value for the purchase price.

Accelerate your learning about condo (or co-op) renovation by downloading the eBook titled "Key Factors in a Luxury Condo Renovation."

key factors in Condo renovation

Bath Design Condo Renovation