DC Condo Living Offers a Carefree Alternative to the Traditional Dream Home

by Hans Wydler

The condo market in metro DC is as vibrant as the city itself. Several trends I am seeing are these: first, empty nesters are no longer staying in their "forever homes” after the kids leave. They want the flexibility of a home where most of the maintenance is somebody else’s problem. Second, I’m seeing more and more families looking for a more urban, walkable lifestyle.

Then there are the young professionals looking to purchase their first home. The suburbs are an option, but many prefer, again, that more urban and walkable lifestyle.

Spending time and money differently

I think people are just living differently. The market for a 3,000 - 4,000 square foot center hall colonial on a half acre is shrinking. People are spending their money differently. They'd rather spend money on nice meals out and more on entertainment and activities. They’re going to SoulCycle, or Equinox, or Orange Theory. That is how people are spending their leisure time today. People are trading in time in the garden or stuck doing concentric circles on that riding mower all summer long for time away from the house.

Here’s an extreme example of this trend in the condo market: I was talking with a developer recently. He told me he's putting up 750 square foot, two bedroom units now because no one is cooking at home anymore. They don't need the great big family room, kitchen, and dining area. They're out all the time. They do need a guest room or a bedroom for a kid. Less is more, down to less than 1,000 square feet. Again, it’s an extreme example, but this is part of a trend I am seeing across housing types - there is a smaller market for a large footprint home. Take those empty nesters for example; they are spending more time traveling or visiting the kids, so they don't need a bigger footprint for less time spent at home.

Vibrant Neighborhoods

Here in DC, where am I seeing this energy, this vibrancy? I see the energy in areas like Shaw, The Hill, and H Street Corridor. All those areas are just booming with energy and excitement and development. The Navy Yard, the Ballpark - you see the cranes at work in these areas and it’s hard not to notice that this is where the action is.

H St - The Constellation

A lot of the neighborhoods that were very much in vogue 25 years ago are less desirable. I've had more than one younger person talk about Dupont Circle, using terms like “tired!” It’s kind of shocking. 30 years ago, when I was that age, Dupont Circle was the “it” part of town, no doubt. So different neighborhoods come in and out of vogue in different cycles. Right at the moment, Shaw, The Hill, and H Street - that is where the condo market is the hottest right now.

What Buyers Want

Of course, condos are not one-size-fits-all. More price-conscious buyers want low, low condo fees. So anything they can do to keep the condo fees low is attractive to them. Others are looking for an amenity-rich setting with a doorman, secured building with concierge services and all the bells and whistles.

Reputation is also important. Is it well managed? Do they have a history of problems and complaints? Is the sound-proofing between units adequate? Buildings definitely get reputations very quickly. Even with new construction, reputation plays a role. Has the developer been easy to work with? Do they stand behind their product? Reputation spreads through social media and just face-to-face word of mouth. So sellers and property managers need to be aware of this.

Shaw - Atlantic Plumbing interior

Neighborhood Connections

The broad strokes of what I am seeing come down to this: people want that connectivity. They want to feel part of the community. For a long time, DC didn't really have that. I grew up in an apartment in New York City and I can tell you firsthand, there was no sense of community in my apartment building. My parents barely knew the names of people on the same floor let alone in the building.

I’m seeing more value placed on that sense of community these days. And that community sense can come from the building, but, more often than not, it comes from the surrounding neighborhood. Who do you see at the coffee shop every day? Where do you get your haircut?

Capitol Hill - The Jackson

One last note for anyone looking to sell a condo unit: In this market, especially among younger buyers, nobody wants other people’s leftovers. This generation is very often much less enthusiastic about buying fixer-uppers. Because the city has gotten so expensive, it's generally taking two incomes to support people's housing costs. Nobody has time or energy to DIY a rundown property at night and on the weekends. They are looking for a turnkey experience, so some targeted renovation before you sell will make that property much more attractive.

It’s a vibrant condo market in a vibrant city. Maybe you want a bit more than 750 square feet, but for an urban lifestyle in a walkable, connected community - you have lots of options to choose from.

This article is based on an interview with Hans Wydler, Wydler Bros/Compass Real Estate.

Wydler-Hans-Square-WebHans is one of the highest producing agents in the DC area and has one of the finest reputations in the business. He is passionate about protecting his clients' interests, yet always fair-minded and professional when working with his peers. With his strong business background, Hans is able to bring a level of financial rigor and business acumen rarely seen in residential real estate. Hans has a B.A. from Yale University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

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