Live and Learn
Real Estate Spotlight
Historic DC: Destiny and the Founding of a Capital
Donna Evers • August 31, 2016
After the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers had to choose a capital city. The place we now know as Washington …
Isabel Ernst: Developer
Nico Dodd • May 13, 2016
Longtime Georgetown resident Isabel Ernst got her start in real estatein 1998. She now lives with her husband, Ricardo, a professor of Business at Georgetown University, and her four children in Georgetown.
How did you get your start in development?
I got into real estate development when I bought our house in 1998, the historic Hillandale Mansion. It was completely abandoned and was falling apart. It had no electricity or water, and the windows and doors were either missing or destroyed. It had great bones, though. I took it upon myself to bring this beautiful house back to life. I spent two-and-a-half years renovating the mansion. I did all the design myself and learned a lot about space and materials, two very important components for a successful project. After I finished my home in 2000, I realized that development was my passion and started my business.
What has been your most memorable project to date?
The Clyde building on 10th between M and L St.: It was a leap of faith when I bought it, because it was still a very “transitional neighborhood.” The building was condemned, but it also had great bones, so we completely gutted it and transformed it into 14 beautiful apartments.
When you’re not at work, what can you usually be found doing?
I am usually taking care of my family, my husband and my four kids, spending time with my friends, taking care of my house, going to board meetings for the different organizations I am involved in, planning trips or going to art fairs with my parents. Not a lot of down time!
What is the hottest neighborhood in Washington right now?
D.C. has a lot of great emerging neighborhoods that are blending into each other. We are slowly building a wonderful city with a very international flavor, where people can walk or bike to work, to the theater or to a hot yoga class. As Mayor Gray described it, “D.C. is a world within a city,” and I cannot imagine living in a better place anywhere in the world.
What is your favorite thing about being a developer?
My favorite thing about being a developer is the demolition face when you get down to the bones and then start to rebuild; the smell of fresh paint and a beautiful space surrounded by beautiful materials.
New Faces, Old Facades
Robert Devaney • April 11, 2016
Each spring, Georgetown greets the season by freshening up its homes and yards in anticipation of one of the neighborhood’s signature events: the Georgetown House Tour — this year on April 26.
“The house tour is a crown jewel” of Georgetown, says Trish Yan of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, the tour’s main sponsor. “It is amazing to see more than 1,800 persons visiting neighborhood homes.”
It certainly gets people thinking about Georgetown houses, home design, history and boldface names — both the younger set like Robert Allbritton, Bill Dean, Mark Ein, Kevin Plank and Michael Saylor and the established types like Jack Evans, Valerie Jarrett, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and Bob Woodward.
While some downtown neighborhoods have gotten new attention, Washington’s oldest neighborhood smoothly retains its premier status.
Indeed, with the house tour in mind, the Washington Post ran an article last week that asked: “As Washington development moves east, what does Georgetown represent today?” An alternate headline for the same piece tellingly read: “Georgetown’s quiet boom: As other parts of Washington get the hip restaurants and slick condos, this enclave prospers, too.”
Whatever your assessment of the neighborhood, Evans’s stump speech sums it up: “Today is Georgetown’s golden age.”
Over the past five years, Georgetown has experienced a youthful kick: its own baby boom. The place is more family-focused, sometimes to the puzzlement of the older crowd that recalls a livelier — perhaps wilder — nightlife along its commercial streets.
Meanwhile, younger residents are taking over and renewing many of Georgetown’s organizations and places.
The 2014 co-chairs, Colman Riddell, 45, and Barbara Wolf, 50, understand the pull of the house tour, which benefits social programs at St. John’s Church on O Street. “The house tour continues to interest residents as well as visitors because of the unexpected surprises behind every door,” Riddell says. “Whether it’s a secret garden, incredible architecture or design, the houses in Georgetown never disappoint. No matter how long you’ve lived here, there is always a house on the tour you’ve never seen.”
Riddell is a chemotherapy nurse turned designer, whose 33rd Street home was on last year’s tour. She lives with her husband, Richard, and her son and daughter in a converted carriage house and stable. The 1,700-square-foot home — with its expanded lighting, neutral colors and artifacts on display — and its designer were featured in the Washington Post last year. Riddell grew up in Georgetown and went to Madeira School and Georgetown School of Nursing. The 34th Street home of her parents, Charles and Betsy Rackley, has been on the tour.
As for Wolf, who lives in Falls Church, she and her husband, David, were married at St. John’s Georgetown. She loves her parish and says, “I feel very married to it.” Her two boys were christened there, and her parents are also parishioners.
Thanks to the influential and beloved Frida Burling, Wolf — for two decades a chief development officer and chief advocacy officer for several youth-focused nonprofits — got involved with the house tour. “St. John’s is the heart of the community for so many of its residents,” says Wolf. “We like to say, ‘We value open hearts, open minds, open arms, faith, staying rooted and staying current, and discussion that allows for mutual respect.’ The tour speaks to this and to our commitment to Georgetown and all its citizens.”
In the same spirit, Georgetowners answer the call to be on the tour. Many helping out with the tour have shown their homes. It is not always an easy decision to invite crowds to march through. Sometimes the houses are newly redone, and others might be about to go on sale. But most on the tour are occupied by longtime residents who are here to stay.
Architect Christian Zapatka showed his place two years ago. “The best thing about being on the tour was that it forced me to complete my own house renovation. Which is, of course, agony for an architect,” he says.
About 15 years ago, Burling — now chairwoman emerita and 98 years old — gave the tour a heightened energy and status. She started the Patrons’ Party, held at another home a few days before the tour. First up as hosts were such iconic Georgetowners as Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn and Kitty Kelley.
The party itself ranks high on the social calendar for what might be called its “house wow” factor. Last year, it was at the P Street home of Tom Anderson and Marc Schapell of Washington Fine Properties. This year’s venue is the Foxhall House on Dumbarton Street, owned by the Powell family.
Built by Henry Foxhall in 1819 for his daughter, Mary Ann, who married Samuel McKenney, the Foxhall House (also known as the McKenney House) is now the home of Elizabeth and Jeffrey Powell and their two children. Foxhall was a mayor of Georgetown and munitions manufacturer during the War of 1812. Foxhall Village and Foxhall Road are named for him. The original gardens were designed by Rose Greely, the first woman landscape architect licensed in D.C. Before moving to Dumbarton Street in August, the Powells had lived around the corner. Elizabeth had passed and admired the house for quite a while.
In addition to their own, all lovers of Georgetown have a favorite house (or several). Some are well known and others, not at all.
For Riddell, one is “a white-painted brick firehouse” on the east side of town on O Street. For Wolf, it is simple: “The rectory at St. John’s. It’s a lovely, large home with a warm front porch and open space on both sides. It has sentimental value for me.”
For Yan, her favorite is the Beall-Washington House at 30th and R Streets, once the home of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and now owned by Mark and Sally Ein. As a director of business development for TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, Yan attends 80 to 100 events for the company annually through its different offices. She wanted to get the Georgetown office more involved with the house tour, “especially as a number of agents live in Georgetown.” Yan formerly worked with Nancy Taylor Bubes of Washington Fine Properties, who put her 31st Street home on the tour last year. “I learned from her,” Yan says of Bubes.
Another good call on favorites comes from Zapatka, who says, “Without a doubt, the finest house in Georgetown is Tudor Place. Its setting and its classically composed garden elevation, complete with temple portico, make it a vision out of the English countryside.”
There is one house missing — because you cannot see it. Call it the most famous lost home of Georgetown. It is fitting to recall it this year, the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“When I think about Georgetown homes, the one that comes most readily to mind — and is my favorite — is a house that no longer exists: the Francis Scott Key House that stood at 3516-18 M Street,” says Jerry McCoy, who is special collections librarian at the Georgetown Public Library’s Peabody Room, which acts as Georgetown’s historical archives.
“Constructed in 1795 by Thomas Clark and occupied by Francis Scott Key and his family from 1808 to 1828, it was from this address that Key departed for Baltimore and into the pages of American history,” says McCoy. “The desire was there to save the structure, but it failed, and what remained of it was taken down in 1947. Had this home been preserved, visitors from all over the world would have made the pilgrimage to see where the man lived who penned ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ”
Finally, here’s a little secret about the Georgetown House Tour. It’s not about houses and design but about people: our neighbors past, present and future. Histories of these homes often have surprising connections to people one would never suspect walked the streets where we live. You see, Georgetown is still a village, after all.
Now in its 83rd year, the Georgetown House Tour is one of the oldest house tours in the nation. Nine properties will be shown Saturday, April 26. It benefits the social programs of St. John’s Church. The tour will run 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. — along with a Parish Tea in Blake Hall at the church on Saturday between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $50 or $55. The Patrons’ Party is on April 23 at the Dumbarton Street home of Jeffrey and Elizabeth Powell. Visit GeorgetownHouseTour.com for details, or call 202-338-2287.
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Sealing the Deal: Superhero Agents
Michele Lerner • April 8, 2016
Regardless of the advent of online shopping for a home, real estate remains a people business. Real estate agents who understand this do crazy things for their clients, going beyond expectations to make sure their buyers and sellers have the best possible experience.
Eric Murtagh, a real estate agent with Evers & Co., literally went the extra mile and gained a decades-long partnership with Jim Gibson, founder of Gibson Builders. Back in 1990, before everyone had cell phones, Gibson was looking for fixer-upper projects in close-in neighborhoods. Gibson mentioned to Murtagh (who was hoping to win him as a client) that he was going to Rehoboth Beach for the weekend on a Friday.
“A beat-up carriage house came up for sale in Palisades that Friday night,” says Murtagh. “I didn’t think it would last through the weekend and I didn’t have a way to reach Jim. So I left for Rehoboth Beach at 4 a.m. on Saturday in the pouring rain with my thermal paper MLS listing page and a blank contract and drove down without knowing where he was staying. I only knew what his car looked like. I made it in about three hours and I finally found his car just as he was walking outside. He saw me and thought I was crazy for making the ride down to the beach to find him. He took me out to breakfast, liked the house and wrote an offer.”
Sometimes, agents can do something over the top without ever leaving D.C.
“I was working with a very earthy, spiritual couple from Colorado who called me in to take over their listing that wasn’t selling,” says Daniel Heider, vice president at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. “As a part of my pitch I brought them a bundle of white sage and we ‘saged’ the property to cleanse the former agent’s energy, right after they signed the exclusive.”
Marriage, babies, death and divorce move houses
A Washington Fine Properties agent says one of his oddest experiences was when a seller client said, “Oops, I forgot Dad!” The agent kindly went back into the home to retrieve the urn that had been left on the mantel, which contained the client’s father’s ashes.
The fast-paced current market leads to some almost comically quick sales
“My husband’s friend came in from out of town for dinner on a Sunday evening and casually mentioned that mutual acquaintances were getting a divorce,” says Nancy Taylor-Bubes, an agent with Washington Fine Properties. “He said the husband would be selling the house and I realized that I had a perfect buyer for it. I got right on the phone and mentioned to my broker the next day that I was tracking down the listing agent. Another agent overheard me. Within one day we both had offers on the house, which was in the upper brackets, but thankfully I got it for my buyer.”
A more pleasant scenario than divorce led Jim Bell, executive vice president and global advisor at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, into an “exciting yet terrifying” settlement.
“A wealthy buyer wanted to propose to his girlfriend at settlement,” says Bell. “I had to sign for the engagement ring, which was delivered from New York City in an armored car, and then personally deliver it to the closing.”
Jamie Peva, an agent with Washington Fine Properties, was showing a Georgetown home that he thought would be a great fit for a young couple expecting their first baby.
“The house just didn’t resonate with them and they couldn’t picture having a family there,” says Peva. “I sent them off for a lunch break. I got my three-year-old daughter and put her in the backyard to play, and when they came back and saw her their whole attitude changed and they made an offer.”
Transactions that you might think would fail
Living on the edge is a common experience for real estate agents, who know that many transactions hang by a thread that could easily be snapped. Andrea Evers, an agent with Evers & Co. in Dupont Circle, had a wild story about her listing near U Street. Her clients decided to remove a broken fence door rather than repair it. A crime occurred while the property was in escrow.
“A chase ensued and the ‘chasee’ ran through the alley behind my listing, noticed an opening into a backyard where my clients had removed the door and ran in,” says Evers. “He was stuck and tried to scale a fence, but the man chasing him caught up and shot and killed the trapped man, who died in the backyard of my listing. I got a call very early the next morning from my scared and shaken seller clients. I never heard a word from the buyer agent until the day before closing. Before her clients’ walk-through, she called and asked if I could make sure any police tape or fingerprint dust was not on the property. ‘So, they know?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘No problem, we’ll make sure the house is clean,’ I said. The closing went smoothly.”
Hans Wydler, who recently opened Wydler Brothers Real Estate, says his brother Steve Wydler almost didn’t make it through his first year in the business.
“He had a listing where a guest clogged an upstairs bathroom and flooded it without telling anyone,” says Hans. “Water started dripping down the dining room chandelier and I got a call from Steve saying: ‘Help. 911. Emergency.’ He sold the house with multiple offers but lost about a year of his life to stress.”
Skip and Debbie Singleton, owners of DC Living Real Estate, worked with a buyer of a newly renovated home who fell in love with the dog that had been on site during construction and wanted the dog written into the contract.
“It turned out that the contractor-owner of the house loved the dog too, and wouldn’t part with him,” says Skip. “Our buyers got the home without the dog, but they rescued another dog soon after they moved.”
Margaret Heimbold, a Long & Foster agent, recalls: “A few years ago on a gorgeous sunny day in Georgetown, I was summoned by my out-of-town developer-purchaser to present Evangeline Bruce’s former home on 34th Street. It was listed for about $5,000,000. Of course, I was happy to do so and parked my Lexus SUV in the driveway. As I was presenting the house and ballroom, I patted my empty pocket and realized that I had left my car keys in the car. I excused myself and walked outside to the driveway only to find the car was gone. The car was ultimately recovered (with some damage because the person who took it was using it as a taxi service). I never did sell the house, but the developer listed one of his properties for sale with me.”
Nashwa Beach, an agent with Evers & Co., jumped right in with stellar service for her first listing. The family was moving overseas quickly and facing financial problems.
“The matriarch was a hoarder and I had to clean the entire house,” says Beach. “Movers took out several truckloads of trash and there were a few dead rodents too. I had to store and ship items via freight to their new location and even lend them a few thousand dollars.”
Fortunately for Beach, the home sold quickly for $65,000 over the list price.
Real estate agents are well known for recommending contractors and moving companies, but Taylor-Bubes and her staff step in to obtain emergency No Parking signs to help customers get a moving truck into Georgetown’s notoriously tight streets.
“One time, a new assistant had forgotten to get the signs, so she raced to the police station on a Sunday night and then the whole office moved our cars around and knocked on the neighbors’ doors to see if they could move their cars to create space for the truck,” says Taylor-Bubes. “Everyone hung around waiting for a car to move and then we’d race to put one of ours in the spot to reserve it.”
Nancy Itteilag, an agent with WFP, has taken delivery of cars shipped from overseas for clients who weren’t in town, driven clients to the airport and finished packing for clients who were too overwhelmed at the last minute.
“I’ve even folded laundry that people have accidently left in the dryer,” says Itteilag, who also delivers lunch to buyers and to their moving crews to keep people happy on a stressful day.
Catherine Charbonneau, another Evers & Co. agent, had to get a big bat out of one of her listings in Chevy Chase.
“I’ve chased cats, crated dogs and walked dogs for customers, climbed onto the roof, crawled under a home, landscaped, caulked and even sat with sellers to sort their ‘trash, donate or keep’ piles,” says Charbonneau.
In other words, customer satisfaction means a lot more than paperwork for most real estate agents. [gallery ids="102395,122741,122746,122732,122725,122736" nav="thumbs"]
Featured Property: 2823 N Street NW
Georgetowner • April 6, 2016
This stately Greek Revival home, with six bedrooms and six baths, is situated in Georgetown’s coveted East Village. Previously owned by Admiral Aaron Weaver, the corner home, built c. 1850, boasts a historic façade only slightly modified from the original architectural design. The inside has been thoroughly updated by architect Dale Overmyer to provide a luxurious atmosphere while maintaining its original character. Along with an award-winning gourmet kitchen, the features include high ceilings, elegant trim, hardwood floors, recessed lighting and a home intercom and speaker system throughout. There is also parking for two cars and a large, fenced-in yard with a heated pool.
Offered at $6,850,000
TTR Sotheby’s International Realty
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Featured Property: 1222 28th Street NW
Georgetowner • February 24, 2016
This standout crimson cottage, nestled between its neighbors, holds a special place in Georgetown’s history. Believed to be built in the late 1700s, it has long been a frequently photographed neighborhood fixture. It’s been written about in The Georgetowner and other newspapers and been on the Georgetown House Tour. It is likely the oldest, smallest and cutest house in town.
The one-bedroom home opens to a living room with dark wood paneling and weathered wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling. The elegant brick fireplace is adorned with pewterware. Past the study, laundry room and half-bath that mark the end of the original house, a kitchen and sitting space were added, with natural light coming from three skylights and a large glass door. The Belgian block floor mirrors the original flooring in the study and parts of the living room. A winding wooden staircase leads up to the single bedroom under the eaves, with a full bathroom and an office overlooking the rear garden area.
The house is being sold “as-is” and furnished, with beautiful wooden desks, rustic décor and books belonging to Ann Caracristi, the owner since 1950. A cryptologist during World War II, Caracristi became the first woman deputy director of the National Security Agency. She died at the age of 94 on Jan. 10, leaving no immediate survivors but a most recognizable home.
Offered at $865,000
Long & Foster Georgetown
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Georgetowner • February 10, 2016
4504 Foxhall Crescent NW
This classic villa in Foxhall Crescent, an iconic design by Arthur Cotton Moore, architect of Washington Harbour, boasts soaring ceilings and neo-classical architectural details. Flooded with light through numerous windows, it offers a variety of views, including Virginia vistas. Other features of this four-bedroom home on a spacious lot include two fireplaces, a marble entry foyer, a circular staircase, custom built-ins, a patio and a garage.
Offered at $1,550,000
Long and Foster Real Estate
Janet P. Whitman