Purchasing a Luxury Condo in an Older Building with Plans to Renovate

by Kevin Gilday & Tom Gilday

You’ve had your eye on a condominium community in an iconic DC neighborhood--maybe West End, Woodley Park, or Georgetown. You’ve done some research on that perfect building. The services and amenities are just what you are looking for, like 24-7 desk service, doorman, and concierge.

The unit for sale in this community has the views and the good bones that drew you to this building in the first place. But the apartment itself looks like it hasn’t been updated since Carter was in office. The layout is boxy and not really what you were hoping for. Well, don’t let that stop you from buying. But before you do, here are a few things to keep in mind.

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Don’t Dread the Condo Board

Condo boards are the stuff of legend, they are something you’d much rather avoid when requesting changes to your condo. But when looking to purchase in a building and make renovations, the condo board is unavoidable and does not have to be an obstacle.

You can make the experience much more pleasant by using the resources of a knowledgeable design-build professional. Look for someone familiar with condominium renovations; someone who has solid experience working with condo boards.

Legal codes and condo board restrictions can be challenging. Also, navigating logistics like parking and elevator usage during the renovation project must be considered as part of the project plan.

The right real estate agent can also be a real asset as you consider your condo options. Hans Wydler of Wydler Brothers/Compass Realtors likes to work with his clients to head off challenges before they start. He offers to join clients when meeting with the board. That way, before an offer is made, there is a clear sense of whether or not a client’s dreams can be fulfilled within the parameters set up by the board.

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High-End Finishes and the Art of the Possible

A smaller footprint does not necessarily mean a small price tag. But as you have discovered over the past few years of living in your sprawling center hall colonial, there is definitely such a thing as too much square footage. You are tired of maintaining all this space inside and out that you rarely use.

But there are also things you love about that house. And with a condo, you can focus on those things—like a wet bar with quartz countertop and custom-made cabinets.

People spend more money on higher finishes in smaller spaces then they would in a larger home. For instance, you don’t have 400 square feet of kitchen to fill up, so you can invest in finer finishes.

Condo living is about the art of the possible. Beyond the finishing touches, reconfiguring an interior can take a bit more forethought. Anne Hatfield Weir of Washington Fine Properties notes that you can't just walk in and assume you can move plumbing, wires, and walls around. Your plumbing will affect your neighbor’s plumbing, so even turning it off in your unit during construction can have an impact on other units.

It’s important to discover the art of the possible with a knowledgeable design-build professional and real estate agent. They can help you understand limitations and realize the grand vision for your new home.

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Flex Space

When remodeling a previous owner’s floor plan, consider all the uses you intend for the space, now and in the future. Think of ways to create flexible spaces, where uses can evolve over time.

For instance, the current configuration includes a dining room. You might consider opening the wall into the living room providing a more open floor plan. You can do this in a way that makes it simple to replace the walls you removed, should the need arise for you or a future occupant.

Good Bones, Iconic Buildings

If you know you want a building with some character, talk with a Realtor familiar with the depth of the metro DC condo market. Theo Adamstein of TTR Sotheby’s says, “I often advise on which condo units make for good renovations. If they've got good bones, great space in classic buildings like the Watergate, that can be a great choice. If you love a building, but not the style of the individual condo unit, there are so many ways to make that space your own.”

If you’d like to see what is possible, check out this recent full condo renovation in the Watergate building. Take this as an idea book and imagine what might be possible for you.

Meg Crowlie of Long and Foster offers these suggestions: “The Ritz Carlton and the iconic Watergate complex in Foggy Bottom, are both sought-after addresses. The Ritz is newer construction but the floor plans are much smaller than the older Watergate apartments. The Watergate is a co-op but having been built in the mid-60's, the floor plans are larger than new construction and many of the units have a water view.”

If you have found a condo in the right location at the right price, in a building you love, do not let the thought of renovation dissuade you.  But make sure you walk through the apartment and explore your options with a design-build professional experienced in condominium renovations. With the right team in your corner, your dream condo can become a reality!

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