D.C. Strong in Loan Choices, Too

September 25, 2014

As we enter the final months of 2014, we find a couple of outstanding news items in Washington, D.C. Real estate continues to be strong, mortgage interest rates are low and the Washington Nationals are National League East Division champs and are in the play-offs. Times look good for the nation’s capital.

The economy is moving forward in a nice fashion. The jobs outlook is improving. Inflation is at bay. This has been the catalyst for the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low. Europe’s economy is not as robust as the United States’. This is good for anyone who has an adjustable rate mortgage that is set against the LIBOR index.

The LIBOR – short for London Interbank Offered Rate – is the basic rate of interest used in lending between banks on the London Interbank market and also used as a reference for setting the interest rate on other loans.

The current value for LIBOR is 0.59. Most LIBOR-based Adjustable Rate Mortgages have a margin of 2.25 percent. If one’s ARM is adjusting this month, the new rate would be 2.84 percent. (2.25 + 0.59 = 2.84 percent) That’s good news for anyone whose ARM is adjusting.

Interest rates for most conventional 30-year fixed rate mortgages are holding around 4 percent with little or no points. Rates for jumbo mortgages (above $625,000 in the D.C. metropolitian area) are also just above 4 percent with no points. Rates on government-sponsored FHA or VA loans are in the high 3-percent range. Mortgage interest rates are lower today than a year ago.

Rates on Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) are as low as prime. Prime is currently at 3.25 percent. Rates on Adjustable Rate Mortgages for five and seven year terms are in the low- to mid-3-percent range.

Underwriting standards still require full documentation. This means pay stubs, bank statements and W2s for most customers. If one is self-employed or owns investment property, tax returns for the last couple of years will be required. If you have a very small adjusted gross income (AGI), this will limit your ability to borrow money.

Get pre-approved before you go house shopping. A pre-approval – not to be confused with a pre-qualification – takes a full loan application and is underwritten. This will give you an edge when competing against another potential borrower. Many real estate agents will not work with a buyer who does not have a pre-approval. They want to know the client with whom they are spending time is good to go.

2014 remains an excellent time to buy a home and get a mortgage. Prices are strong, and interest rates are still low. This combines for a decent affordability index. The D.C. market remains one of the strongest in the nation.

Bill Starrels lives in Georgetown and is a mortgage loan officer. He can be reached at 703-625-7355 and bill.starrels@gmail.com. NMLS#485021

Who Lives Here: Mika Brzezinski and Scott Altman

September 10, 2014

Georgetowners may notice “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski strolling through the neighborhood in the coming days and weeks. The popular media personality just bought a condo in what used to be the Phillips School between N and Olive Streets. While her show is based in New York and she and her family currently live there, she purchased property here as “Morning Joe” has become increasingly focused on politics in the nation’s capitol. D.C.’s thriving real estate market could have also influenced the purchase. Alexander Memorial Baptist Church is next up on the list of old properties being converted into condo units. Maybe Mika will convince friend and co-host Joe Scarborough to become a neighbor.

If you wander a block north of Mika’s place, you’ll pass a house where retired NASA astronaut Scott Altman lives with his wife, Jill. They temporarily live near the corner of 28th and Dumbarton Streets while they await a move back to the west side, where their house on 36th Street is being redone. Altman piloted or commanded four space shuttle missions. Years before, he got to fly his F-14 in the movie, “Top Gun,” which he admits was a real kick since the pilots were allowed to “buzz the tower” at the Miramar Air Station in San Diego. The two are active in the community and regularly volunteer at the Georgetown Senior Center.

Around the corner from the Altmans, several neighbors routinely walk their dogs past the intersection of 27th and O Streets, where a black SUV or sedan sits continually at the corner. Questions have arisen among local residents as to who is living in the neighborhood with a security detail. Things became slightly clearer last year when anti-war group Code Pink demonstrated on neighborhood streets. Well, suffice it to say, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and his family live nearby. Johnson was sworn in to his current role at the end of 2013 but has lived in Georgetown for a number of years.
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Featured Property

July 16, 2014

Take a tour of this breathtaking French country villa designed by award winning architect, Ankie Barnes and constructed by acclaimed builder, Richard Zantzinger. This 10,000 square-foot home features 6 bedrooms and 7 and ½ baths. The home includes a wine cellar, elevator and custom library with built-in shelving. This premium lot backs into wooded area with a large pool.

6 Beds

7.5 Baths

Offered at $6,295,000

Long and Foster

Marc Fleisher

202-364-5200 x2927


Remodeling for Modern Life

July 2, 2014

John and Kristin Cecchi’s life could be a reality TV show. But it wouldn’t involve cameras following them to Peacock Cafe or Fiola Mare. HGTV would hit closer to home, since John is a real estate developer. The 39-year-old, soon to turn 40, has renovated eight houses in Georgetown, the neighborhood where he and Kristin reside.

“Georgetown seems to be what’s in,” John said. “It’s the ‘it’ place.”

After John’s father, Giuseppe Cecchi, built the Watergate, considered D.C.’s first mixed-use development, he started IDI Group Companies. John began working for IDI after college in 1996, first in customer service.

Making his way up through the ranks, by 2008, John was named vice president and project manager of an IDI project in Alexandria. (The project was shelved due to the declining market and economy.) At the same time, he was building his own home on P Street in Georgetown. It was then that he realized there was a market for restoring and renovating historic homes.

John launched IDI Residential, a division of IDI Group Companies, in 2008. “I figured it out late,” John said. “I should have been doing this since ’96.”

His most recently finished project, 2305 Bancroft Place in Kalorama, was John’s first house outside Georgetown and the first celebrated with an opening party.

“The first time we decided to tell people what we were doing, it went big,” John said of Bancroft – a Washington Post house of the week that also appeared in Home & Design magazine.

“We like to stay hush-hush about our houses. Just build them, renovate them and sell them,” he said.

Historically, Kalorama has been D.C.’s wealthy neighborhood: bigger yards, bigger homes. The elegance of embassies and black cars makes you feel like you’re in an important place, John said.

“It’s one class of people, where in Georgetown you have your $8 million house next to two college kids.”

Doing a house in Kalorama takes patience, according to John, who is currently renovating another house in the neighborhood. “It’s not so volatile of a market, but things do sell there and second only to Georgetown in the area. It’s not the village feel that Georgetown has.”

Back in Georgetown, John has renovated two houses on P Street (with work on a third about to begin), two on Dumbarton, one on 31st and two on N, plus the N Street Condominiums.

Three homes a year is a good pace, according to John, who describes his business as taking a great house with unrealized potential and working through the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the Old Georgetown Board to make renovations and sometimes additions.

“I try to work within the walls and create a better space.”

John and Kristin are currently renting their house on N Street, where John took a deteriorating home and made it livable in a mere 26 days.

“It looked like a haunted house that should have been condemned,” Kristin said. “The ceiling was crumbling. It was in disrepair.”

John asked for 26 days to whip the house into shape.

“Not my kind of finished product, but I did a very heavy lipstick,” John said.

Like an episode of “House Hunters Renovation,” the couple sanded, scraped, painted and fixed up all the rough, superficial parts of the house. “We even had the appropriate arguments,” said Kristin.

They added carpet and painted the wood floors white. John changed the upstairs layout, turning a bedroom into Kristin’s closet. Kristin picked out all new light fixtures. They hung artwork from around the world on the large white walls.

The couple moved to N Street in December of 2013 with their five-month-old daughter Valentina and two-and-a-half-year-old son Antonio in tow.

“It’s not as perfect as our old one, on P Street,” Kristin said. “That house was such a jewel, but after kids it was like a tight pair of designer pants.”

“Now we’re in a pair of sweatpants,” John said. “It’s comfortable.”
Around the time they moved into their home, John purchased another house on N Street to renovate.

“John is so artistic,” Kristin said. “These are like art projects to him. I joke that he has laser beams in his head. He walks in a house, scans the room and sees everything in his head. He gets these end results that are absolutely beautiful, but there has to be a profit at the end of the day.”

The whole process is envisioning the end product, Kristin says. “It’s a big guessing game, but the more we do it the better business we produce.”

The guiding principle is to adapt a house’s layout to the way people live today. That generally means a formal space in the front of the house and an open floor plan in the back – for the kitchen and an informal dining and breakfast area.

Sometimes a complete overhaul of the second level and master suite is needed to update the home. The all-important master suite encompasses a his-and-hers walk-in closet, a large bathroom with a toilet closet, a double vanity, a soaking tub and a rain shower.

John’s goal is to preserve a home’s historic charm while updating the design and layout and adding state-of-the-art systems. Working with contractors and interior designers, John’s homes are staged and finished to perfection before selling – that is, if they can stay on the market that long. All of the N Street condos were sold before they were finished. John says that the houses he renovates in Georgetown typically sell in 45 days or less.

“Each house has its own little story,” John said. “From when you purchase it, what you find when you start gutting it and what it turns out to be, there are parts that you didn’t expect to surprise you.”

Transforming Georgetown’s storied homes, one day the Cecchis just might find a camera crew on their doorstep. [gallery ids="101796,140741,140717,140722,140743,140728,140733,140737" nav="thumbs"]

Featured Property

Centrally located on a quiet street in Georgetown’s sought-after East Village, this renovated, fully detached brick home has a history dating back to 1880. The three-bedroom residence was meticulously restored in 2011, preserving original details while accommodating today’s lifestyle. The main level has an elegant foyer, a powder room and a delightful chef’s kitchen with adjoining breakfast room. The living room features period moldings, original hardwood floors, newly installed LED recessed lights, crown molding, and a fireplace with custom mantel. The dining room offers a sweeping and sunny view to a garden and terrace. On the second level, situated across the entire rear of the home, is a handsome master bedroom with French doors opening onto a Juliette balcony overlooking the garden. The master bath has a steam shower, a soaking tub and double vanities.

Offered at $1,995,000

Washington Fine Properties

Karen Nicholson



Featured Property

June 18, 2014

This Federal-style house – one of the most historic in the District – was built in 1798 on the northeast corner of Prospect and 35th Streets. Sold 10 years ago by Sen. Clairborne Pell and his wife Nuala to Ralph and Nancy Taylor, it has had many owners who were active in local and national affairs.

Offered at $11,000,000

TTR Sotheby’s International Reality
Russell Firestone

The Auction Block

June 4, 2014

Doyle New York

Mexican Sterling Silver Tea Service

Auction Date: June 25

Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000

An important design resource, Doyle at Home auctions offer an endless diversity of stylish furniture, elegant decorations and attractive works of art from prominent estates and collections across the country. These auctions have also become popular venues for the sale of property from designers’ own collections. Among the array of options at the upcoming Doyle at Home auction is this elegant Mexican sterling silver tea service.


James Edward Buttersworth, (1817-1894)

“The America’s Cup Yacht Vigilant”

Oil on canvas

Auction Date: June 25

Estimate: $200,000 to $300,000

Bonhams’ Fine Maritime Paintings & Decorative Arts auction on June 25 will feature master paintings of the genre, along with artifacts and crafts from centuries of Eastern and Western maritime traditions: old model ships, merchant logbooks, even a scrimshaw walrus dusk depicting a whaling scene. The wide array of paintings includes beautiful smaller works by lesser-known artists and larger pieces by such masters as Montague Dawson, John Mecray and the legendary James Edward Buttersworth.


Édouard Leon Cortès (1882–1969)

“Place St. Michel”

Oil on canvas?
Auction Date: June 17?
Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000?
As part of their European Art and Old Masters auction, Freeman’s will feature this mesmerizing, atmospheric French street scene by French Post-Impressionist Édouard Leon Cortès. Cortès was known as “Le Poete Parisien de la Peinture,” or “the Parisian Poet of Painting,” because of his Paris cityscapes in a variety of weather and night settings. Here, the reflection of the urban commotion from the wet cobblestone street on this glowing, rainy day lights up one’s sense of history. Other works include a maritime painting by Montague Dawson and the Turner-esque port scenes of Francis Moltino.


Louis XV Ormolu-Mounted Chinese Lacquer Commode, c. 1745

Auction Date: June 9

Estimate: $150,000 to $250,000

In addition to a selection of important English and European furniture and decorations from the Baroque to the late Neoclassical periods, this Sotheby’s sale will feature ceramics, works of art from across Europe and Oriental and European rugs and carpets. Among the highlights are a fine Louis XV ormolu-mounted gilt and black japanned commode and a rare Louis XV ormolu-mounted ebonized cartonnier clock attributed to Charles Cressent.

Historic D.C.

May 21, 2014

The only two cities with more period apartment houses than the District of Columbia are Chicago and New York. Considering the District’s relative size, it is a genuine gold mine of these historic buildings.

James Goode meticulously catalogued them in his great book “Best Addresses,” and while there are dozens of architecturally noteworthy buildings, the height of their golden age came at the very beginning, from 1890 to 1918.

The most influential of these early buildings still standing is the Cairo at 1615 Q St., NW. Built in 1894 by gifted young architect T. Franklin Schneider, this fanciful, Moorish-inspired creation was the tallest, and probably the biggest, residential building in Washington. It drew heavy criticism for its style, its size and, most of all, its height. Firemen couldn’t get near the top in case of fire and mischievous residents would drop pebbles from the roof garden to the street below, scaring the horses pulling carriages.

The Cairo single-handedly brought about the 1894 building height regulations, which are in place to this day and make Washington the only major U.S. city to have kept its low skyline, a characteristic cherished by Washingtonians.

Our great apartment buildings are a product of the City Beautiful Movement that emerged from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The temporary “White City” in the great exposition was filled with inspiring examples of classic Beaux-Arts architecture created by Americans fresh from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Their devotion to classicism was complete, and visitors who saw the gleaming “city” were enchanted.

Meanwhile, the McMillan Commission in Washington decided it was time to complete Pierre L’Enfant’s great plan for the city, building the grand boulevards and classic buildings that would complement the White House and the Capitol. Enter the architects fresh from Paris and Chicago, who were ready, willing and able to design the great public buildings – as well as grand apartment houses for the white-collar workers moving to Washington to fill the ranks of the expanding federal government. The makings of a real estate success story were at hand.

The list of architects and apartment buildings is truly monumental, but here are a few favorites:

James G. Hill designed the Mendota and the Ontario, and T. Franklin Schneider went on to add an incredible list to his achievements, including the Iowa, the Albemarle, the Farragut, the Cecil, the Burlington, the Woodley, the Rochambeau, California House and California Court. Three of these fabulous buildings were razed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Jules de Sibour mastered Beaux-Arts techniques with the Warder (razed in 1958) and the McCormick Apartment Building, which until recently housed the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We can thank B. Stanley Simmons for the design of the Wyoming on Columbia Road and Arthur B. Heaton for the Altamont. The architectural firm of Hunter and Bell was responsible for 2029 Connecticut Ave., NW, and Albert Beers designed the Northumberland and the unique Dresden, which perfectly fits its commanding site on the corner of Kalorama Road and Connecticut Avenue.

It was very fortunate that classical architecture had its renaissance at the same time that the federal government decided to promote the massive reconstruction of our city, making L’Enfant’s visionary design – of more than a century before – a stunningly beautiful reality.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and woman-run real estate firm in the Washington metro area, and the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.

86th Annual Garden Tour, May 10

May 7, 2014

The 86th annual Georgetown Garden Tour – presented by the Georgetown Garden Club, an affiliate of the Garden Club of America – will take place this Saturday, May 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year’s chair is Liz Evans. Ticket holders set their own pace, visiting the featured gardens in any order and enjoying afternoon tea, including light refreshments made and served by Club members.

There are a total of nine gardens this year. According to Barbara Downs, publicity chair, the “showpieces of the garden tour” are the Pyne garden on 30th Street and the Bradlee and Crocker gardens around the corner.

Tickets are $35 and may be purchased online at georgetowngardentour.com or on Saturday at Christ Church, 31st and O Sts., NW, or at any of the tour sites. The tea, in the church’s Keith Hall, will be served from 2 to 4 p.m. There is also a garden boutique where Haitian linens, handwoven silk textiles, vases, pots, statuary and other garden-related items will be sold.

All proceeds from the tour are returned to Georgetown in the form of maintenance and beautification of its parks, green spaces and trees. In addition, funds go to support the Student Conservation Association at Dumbarton Oaks Park, which trains at-risk youth to remove invasive plants and carry out other horticultural work.

Time To Shop the Big Banks for a Mortgage

April 23, 2014

During the refinance boom, the largest banks with the largest portfolios were simply overwhelmed. Simply put, they had more clients and business than they were able to process. To add to the burden, federal mortgage regulators stiffened the rules and targeted big banks for audits during the boom. All this combined to make the process of getting a loan less than efficient.

In today’s marketplace, refinancing has cooled down. Though still burdensome, the regulatory environment has become a constant. What this means to the consumer is that the large banks have the capacity to handle today’s level of business as efficiently as smaller institutions.

With the implementation of the Dodd-Frank rules on mortgage lending, which went into effect in January of this year, all mortgage companies, big and small, have to underwrite to the same rules. Gone are the days of the “nimble” underwriting standards of the smaller mortgage players.

If you have significant deposits in an institution, you may be entitled to meaningful discounts offered to good customers. These can range from discounts on the bank fees on closing costs to discounts on the rates and points.

Large institutions also have money to lend. They have billions of dollars in deposits that they can lend out as jumbo mortgages – generating excellent spreads for the banks and excellent rates for consumers. Some of the smaller banks cannot offer the same rates on jumbo money. Smaller intuitions may not even offer jumbo fixed-rate mortgages.

Another advantage of having a mortgage at the institution where one banks is the convenience of having all the information on the bank’s website. One can transfer money to pay a mortgage and keep track of escrows, balances and the like. The large institutions also tend to hang onto the servicing rights. Most people like the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their mortgage will not be sold and resold again.

The bottom line is that the environment has evolved and one should take a look at the larger institutions when shopping for a mortgage.?

Bill Starrels is a mortgage loan officer (NMLS#485021) and lives in Georgetown. He can be reached at 703-625-7355