Urban Turf: Real Estate in Real Time


“A conversation that I thought would last 15 minutes became two hours,” says Urban Turf cofounder Will Smith of his initial brainstorming – with cofounder-to-be Mark Wellborn – about a D.C-focused real estate blog.

Smith grew up in Alexandria, attended St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School and graduated from Brown University. When he met Wellborn, Smith was working on a number of other online publications he founded in the area. A D.C.-native from Capitol Hill, Wellborn had gotten his master’s from Columbia University’s journalism school and was working at the New York Observer.

The meeting, in 2008, took place at a mutual friend’s party in Brooklyn, where – in quintessential late-twenty-something fashion – “people were kicking around business ideas,” says Smith. The partners clicked when they started talking about D.C.’s lack of an authoritative real estate blog and the success of such blogs in New York City.

Founded later that year, Urban Turf’s rapid growth coincided with a development tidal wave that has washed over Washington. The blog has served up valuable scoops as the real estate market has boomed, bringing new life – and prestige – to a city best known for its political-industrial complex.

As that happened, Wellborn says, “We’ve evolved much more into a news publication rather than a real estate blog.”
The statement holds up. Urban Turf has strengthened its foothold, attracting a healthy mix of real estate consumers and professionals (70 percent and 30 percent of readership, respectively) and boasting more Facebook “likes” than Washington City Paper in the process. (City Paper’s footprint on Twitter still dwarfs Urban Turf’s, though.)

District residents increasingly rely on Urban Turf not only to inform them about real estate trends but also to fill in the details, to paint a picture of what is happening on both the macro and micro levels.

After starting out with what Wellborn describes as an “archaic idea of the web,” the site now publishes five or more posts a day, with some sponsored articles that help pay the bills. (The ads are clearly labeled, Smith is eager to interject, and they are written by someone outside editorial, Wellborn adds.)

The timing and targeting could not be more on point given the rapid influx of millennials to American cities. Lark Turner, Urban Turf’s lead journalist and a newcomer to D.C., puts it most succinctly: “Millennials are returning to cities in America, and there is probably no better example in the country [than D.C.] of all of these trends.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *