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Real Estate Spotlight

The Beauty is in the Details, The Architecture of Gil Schafer

“We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrangements, than in the past.” We were talking with the highly in-demand architect Gil Schafer III about “The Great American House,” his Rizzoli published book, subtitled “Tradition for the Way We Live Now.” It is sumptuously beau¬tiful, demonstrating his philosophy and penchant for creating, restoring and building homes and structures right on the spot where history walks through the door, hand in hand with the contem¬porary and with an eye toward the future. He was driving toward upstate New York at the time, and the tone was conversational and philosophical. From a man who has collected numerous awards and attention for his work after over 20 years as an architect, his journey to suc¬cess seemed almost pre-determined, if only for the fact that he comes from three generations of architects, plus “my parents (who were not archi¬tects) were always building stuff, making things. so I can say I came by my lot naturally.” But there was more to it than that: the book and the vocation comes from living in numer¬ous places in different parts of the country. “My grandmother had a dark old house in Cleveland, where my brother and I spent time that I still cher¬ish,” he says. “I lived on a farm upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley and also spent a time in California by the beach.” You can find much of this reflected in the kinds of projects his firm takes on from small things like stables or sheds, to large houses in the country or renovated apartments in Greenwich Village, to island homes. You can see all of this too, and especially in the dramatic, revealing photographs in the book, which give you a seri¬ous case of the wants and desires. While devoid of people, it seems full of a kind of dossier about people, information about the emotional and his¬torical environment in which people want to live. When he talks, or if you read about his lec¬tures or the commentary and essays in the book, or the content of interviews in major like magazines like “Veranda,” “Town and Country” or “Manner of Man,” as well as the Architectural Digest or the New York Times, some common themes can be found. They arch around the ideas that arise from the tensions that exist naturally (in art as well as in architecture) between tradition and the modern, the historical and the contemporary. Not surprisingly, he has a reputation for being a stylish dresser. Details, those lying in the framework of the big ideas, matter. He handles the language of architecture and expands it by mixing it with the familiar you’ll find lots of common usage architectural terms in the text and commentary of the book. But the writ¬ing maintains a conversational tone, inviting the reader in much the same way that he talks about such things. For the uninitiated or inexpert, this makes his work and ideas accessible not only to his clients but also to the casual visitor. “You have to think about how people live today,” he says. “We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrange¬ments, than in the past. When you’re renovating a large house, for instance, you can see certain spaces the small kitchens, the spaces where the butlers and servants worked, that kind of thing, which are either larger today, or don’t even exist anymore. We live differently today, but we can’t dismiss the attraction and endur¬ance of the past.” Put another way, what we try to, he said and it’s also one of the themes of the book is to “retain the well-loved proportions, details and character of a traditional house while balancing holistically with the needs of our twenty-first century lifestyle.” He also writes about the “interior architecture and the fabrics, furniture and wall treatments, and how “the landscape surrounding the home must relate to its overall design” “The Great American House” is Schafer’s first book, although in terms of the writing (with Mark Kristal) it doesn’t feel that way. It is about architecture, by a noted architect, to be sure, but it never seems so technical as to escape the boundaries, energy, and rhythms of daily life. This is perhaps the point. The book is structured around three ideas and themes, with four projects and homes serving as dramatic, astonishingly beautiful profiles and illustrations of the themes. In the book, the cornerstones of a great traditional house are architecture, landscape and decoration. One of the profiles includes Schafer’s home in the Hudson Valley, a bucolic, artistically historic setting, as well as the process involved in the design of a “new” farming estate for a young family, the renovation of a historic home in Nashville, originally designed by Charles Platt, and the restoration of an 1843 mansion in Charleston, South Carolina. Home is where the heart is, but also where the heart was it’s about bringing the past forward, letting it breathe in the here and now, renewing itself in new atmospheres. When he talks about his grandmother’s house, he talks in some detail how it felt at night, the land, the light, the way he could travel easily around the house as a boy and the dramatic fact that the house was pink. “It was pink,” he said. “It stood out. It had that vivid color. It was a wonderful thing to see.” In the book, the writer remembers more. “At Melrose, there were all sorts of charm at work. The old horseshoe over the front door placed there for luck, an intriguing doorknob with the face of a man on it, a beat-up bronze bucket, overflowing with cut branches, an old leather satchel with the name Melrose on it filled daily with mail.” These memories are inspirations for Schafer, because, as he says, “They inspired me to enter the family trade, so to speak.” But they also find their way into the proj¬ects of his firms, his collaborations, his focus on how his clients live, what they want, and their taste in objects. The motto of his firm, G.P. Schafer Architect, PLLC, is “Creating places that enhance the enjoyment of life.” That’s probably an oversimplification, because the beauty is in the details. In the book, you can find the details in Schafer’s accessible essays and writing style, as well as in the photographs. Schafer loves not just furniture, but furnishings, those extra details that are tactile in nature: the color of burnished wood, brass knobs, light and lamps. It’s all there in a full-page photograph of the doors on his Greewich Village apartment, fea¬turing brass rim locks with cobalt glass knobs and traditional wood graining. This description doesn’t encompass the feeling that this photo¬graph like almost all of the photographs in the book give off. That sun-baked deep brown stain of the door, the key in the look, the gold of the latches. The frame is a portrait not just of something but of someone. There are some things you might remem¬ber from the photographs, even though you have never seen them. You remember rooms opening to the sun, thin chairs with decorated cushions, ceiling fans, staircases that make you a little dizzy with their elegance, a Greek bust in a bathroom, plush easy chairs, flowers, a ladder for a book case, gates overrun with ivy, well-worn but orderly books. With Schafer’s designs, you never feel as though you are step¬ping into a museum. You can sense that people live here, come up the driveway through the gate, stride through the rooms, open an elon¬gated, white-framed window and look out at an American landscape. It is thus natural that Schafer should be who he is: his whole life revolves around his design, his collaborations, his office, the apartment, the Hudson home, the current and ongoing proj¬ects. He is one of those people blessed by doing what he loves. “It’s funny,” he says. “This is not just my work. It’s what I do, period. It’s all the travel, the buying, the scouting, the antiquing, of course, but the end results are the homes, and the best thing is working with the clients.” When you listen to Schafer who studied at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges and has a master’s degree in architecture from Yale, where he received the H.I. Feldman Prize, you realize he is talking about his own memories, homes he’s lived in and been a part of. They are at his fingertips, and the ideas make them tingle. He is a good memory keeper for himself and others. As he writes, “If a house is going to feel like a home, it has to create opportunities for memories, even in the small¬est moments of life.” [gallery ids="101337,152030,152026,152020,152017,152040,152011,152043,152046,152035" nav="thumbs"]

Developer fails to follow his own rules

Kay, what can be done when the developer, prior to the HOA taking over, fails to enforce the Declaration of Covenants or go after people who are behind in paying their quarterly fees? — O.T., Florida Dear O.T.: Unfortunately, developers can leave behind a number of problems when the association is turned over to the owners. Your question is one of the most frequent ones, along with those about construction issues. To understand how the problem is solved, we have to go back to the basics. The developer creates the governing documents. As soon as the declaration and bylaws are recorded, the association is legally established. The developer is the owner of all the lots, and he serves as the initial board of directors. The Declaration establishes the number of lots in the association and requires that every owner must pay his share of the association’s assessments. Since the developer initially owns all of the lots, he must pay all of the fees. As lots are sold, the developer’s obligation diminishes until the day when the last lot is sold, at which time the developer is no longer obligated. The developer is also the initial board of directors. He can make up, amend, or eliminate rules at will. He can choose to follow the restrictions himself and see that new owners do the same, or he can choose to do neither. He can raise or lower the assessments, and he can choose to enforce or not to enforce the governing documents. Here are a few suggestions for your Board to consider: + After establishing who is delinquent and how much is owed, the Board can begin collection action. They must make sure they have a collection policy that starts with the first notification to the owner all the way through foreclosure. If there is no policy, the board should approve one and notify all owners prior to starting collection action. + The Board should establish a rule enforcement policy, if it doesn’t already exist. It should state what action will be taken for each type of violation. Conduct violations should be stopped immediately. Architectural ones can also be stopped immediately or grandfathered until the unit is sold. Then the seller must restore the property to its original state prior to the sale. Pet and leasing violations can be grandfathered and then stopped when the new owner takes possession. + The collection and enforcement policies should be reviewed by an attorney prior to the Board’s enforcement of them. Once enacted, the Board must be sure to consistently enforce both policies. Kay Senay is the author of “Condo Buying & Ownership Made Simple: Tips To Save Time & Money.” Visit her website at www.condo-condominium.com for free tip sheets. Her book can be purchased from Amazon.

State of the District’s Commercial Financing Real Estate Market

If you are a commercial property owner today looking for loan, good luck! Put lightly, today’s commercial lending environment would be described as difficult. There are several challenges landlords face in underwriting. One primary challenge has to do with their ability to repay the debt. Simply having a tenant, or evidence of income in owner occupied properties, is no longer enough. Lenders are skittish, and they have good reason to be — very few deals these days are all cash, and the vast majority of transactions require financing. Loans are underwritten today in a vastly different way than they have been in the past. Larger down payments, pristine credit, significant cash reserves, and an impressive track record of loan payment are examples of the highly scrutinized underwriting changes in the market place. Equally important as the repayment of debt is the secured amount of assets a borrower pledges in the event of default. As one lender told me recently, “In a loan committee we ask not if, but when, a loan will have problems.” To hedge their risk, banks are requiring huge amounts of security and reserve funds so the lender can be reassured when the tenant or owner struggles, they can still make payments to the bank for a certain period of time. Most banks prefer to lend to owner-occupied properties versus investment properties. As a result, loan terms and underwriting can be more favorable for the owner occupants. Another area of financing that has become increasingly scrutinized is credit. Banks want tenants and borrowers with sterling credit. A borrower or tenant with less-than-excellent credit is problematic. And the rules on this have changed for everyone. The companies in the past who were considered to have high credit, low default risk and reputations for paying rent on time are looked at and underwritten more diligently today. Gone are the days of showing a lender a lease with a tenant like American Eagle, Gap, Pottery Barn or Ralph Lauren and being guaranteed a loan. The once impeccable reputation and credit of traditionally stable tenants has diminished. Same goes for the owners and borrowers themselves. As the market has worsened, so have many of the relationships between lenders and their clientele. The concept of relationship banking seems to be a thing of the past. Recently, I assisted a client with refinancing their commercial property and we approached their current lender with what we believed were favorable borrowing terms, i.e. good credit, decent income, and plenty of equity in the property. My client’s lender refused to even entertain the borrower after an almost 20-year relationship. Compounding things for borrowers is the fact there are fewer banks lending today. Many banks have either closed, been absorbed or bogged down with government regulators due to their participation in TARP. Lenders are distracted either cleaning up their toxic commercial loans or auditing their books to ensure their next visit from the Feds runs smoother than the last. This added layer of scrutiny requires tremendous resources from the banks — resources that would be better served originating, facilitating and closing of loans in their systems. Perhaps the most onerous change put on borrowers today in underwriting has been the loan-to-value (LTV) amount. This is the figure that represents the percentage of a property’s value a bank is willing to lend a borrower. Historically, LTV values for commercial real estate properties have been in 80 to 90 percent range. Today the maximum is generally 75 percent for owner-occupied properties (unless you qualify for an SBA loan) and perhaps only 60 to 70 percent for investment properties. This is a particularly tough change if the borrower’s money for the down payment had been in the stock market, or even worse, equity in another piece of real estate. It is likely the values of those stocks, real estate, or other equities have decreased. Undoubtedly, the rules of the game have changed and navigating through the process, at lease in the short term, appear to be getting not any easier. O’Neill Realty Advisors, LLC is a full service commercial real estate brokerage and advisory company focusing on Georgetown and upper Northwest D.C. Contact Andrew O'Neill at 202-741-9405 or andrew@oneillrealtyadvisors.com.

Two New Faces at WFP Georgetown

  -Washington Fine Properties announced this month that TTR/Sotheby’s veterans Kimberly Casey and Daryl Judy have joined the firm. In a statement, the Glover Park-based realtor said it was “delighted that they have decided to join our team at WFP.” Casey and Judy have been the top producing team at TTR/Sotheby’s for a number of years, and have developed a reputation for working hard, listening well, knowing the market thoroughly and making sure their clients are completely satisfied. They are licensed across all three jurisdictions and will be working out of the Georgetown Office. Kimberly can be reached at kimberly.casey@wfp.com or 202-361-3228. Daryl can be reached at daryl.judy@wfp.com or 202-380-7219.

Key Bridge Exxon Condo Design Admonished by Neighborhood

EastBanc presented its revised design for a high-end condo complex at 3601-3607 M Street (the gas station property next to the Exorcist stairs) during the April 4 meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E. Jack Davies, philanthropist, AOL International founder, co-owner of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, lives on the 3600 block of Prospect Street and spoke about the proposed condo's height on behalf of his neighbors and himself. "The revised proposal does not address neighbors' concerns." The backyards of Prospect Street look out towards the C&O Canal, Key Bridge, the Potomac and beyond. "People in the pool on the roof would be a disruption," Davies said. "This will lower property values." Davies called for the condo height to be capped at 40 feet and four floors instead of the proposed five floors. Georgetown architect Robert Bell, designer of the Volta Place police station condos, called the design "Marriott-hotel quality." For such a signature site, he said, "It's a shame that Georgetown does not have a stronger stand for historic contexts." As for history, the 19th-century stone wall on the 3600 block of M Street would be hidden behind the five-floor building, seen only from the narrow space at the Exorcist stairs between the Car Barn and the future condo. EastBanc's Mary Mottershead showed drawings of a green roof as high as the top of the wall and said that she considered the view from Prospect Street only slightly obstructed. The condo will contain 35 to 37 units. The property is owned by DC gas station king, Joe Mamo, who also owns Parker's Exxon on MacArthur Boulevard, Georgetown Exxon at Q Street and the Watergate Exxon. Key Bridge Exxon will close by the end of July 2012. In a related action, the ANC approved EastBanc's redesign for 1045 Wisconsin Avenue: condos at the C&O Canal to be built in the parking lot of the Verizon building across from Grace Church.

AIA-DC Celebrates 125th Anniversary

On Nov. 2, AIA-DC celebrated its 125th anniversary with a party and award ceremony at its offices at 421 7th St., NW. The Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects is a professional organization for architects that was founded in 1887 by Glenn Brown. Brown is known among architects for works around the District, and Georgetowners are probably familiar with his work here. Brown was the architect of the Dumbarton Bridge, which, flanked by bison statues, brings Q St. from Dupont Circle into Georgetown. Anyone who has visited a D.C. Zoning Board meeting knows how important architectural details can be to people, but Washington was a very different place in 1887. AIA-DC’s executive director Mary Fitch described how little planning went into the design of the late 19th-century District. “Washington and the mall don’t look like they did in the 1900s,” said Fitch. “It had a very different look. We had train tracks across the mall, a big market where the monuments are.” Today, with a new home and educational programs for both architects and members of the community, AIA-DC’s goal, as Myer puts it, is to “try to get more people involved in the architectural scene in D.C.” “The first chapter had 70 architectural firms listed in Washington in 1892,” said Fitch. “Now there are many, many more than that. We have about 2,100 members now.” “There are certainly a lot of associations are inwardly focused on their members,” said Fitch. “One of the big differences about our chapter is that, over the last few years, we have created an outward focus. We have moved into this new center which has a very public purpose.” A recent architectural issue in Washington, D.C., has been questioning about the District’s unique height-limit law. “We’re in on that discussion,” said Fitch. “We don’t have a position at this time. We’re talking about whether that is an option or an opportunity or not.” “The subject has just been put on the table, so nobody has really had a chance to think about it carefully.” At AIA-DC’s anniversary party on Nov. 2, things were a little more collegial. Myer showed up to assist in emceeing the event dressed as Glenn Brown himself. “He looked like he was from the 1890s. So, it was very cute,” said Fitch. [gallery ids="101063,137121,137102,137116,137108,137114" nav="thumbs"]

Henry Adams: a Literary Life at Lafayette Square

Washington, D.C., used to be a smaller town than it is now, especially when Henry Adams moved to the District in 1877 and settled near Lafayette Square. In his biography “The Education of Henry Adams,” Adams wrote that “Beyond the square the country began ... no literary or scientific man, no artist ever lived here. It was rural and its society was primitive. ... The happy village was innocent of a club. ... The value of real estate had not increased since 1800, and the pavements were more impassable than the mud. ... All this favored a young man who had come to make a name for himself.” Adams must have enjoyed residing in Lafayette Square because he lived there until his death in 1918. Henry Adams already had a “name for himself,” given he was the great-grandson of President John Adams and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams. He grew up in patrician surroundings in Boston, where he met and married heiress, Marian “Clover” Hooper, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Their friends, Clara and John Hay, who had been secretary to President Lincoln, lived on the square, and the four became good friends. The Hays and Adams commissioned their friend and architect, H.H. Richardson, to build a semi-detached mansion for them, where they could expand their influential salon. Henry Adams wrote history books and novels, and Clover was an accomplished writer and photographer. When Clover’s father died, she fell into a deep depression, and committed suicide. When the great house was finished, Henry Adams moved into his side of the mansion alone, and soon began traveling and spending much of his time abroad. He continued writing as well as traveling, and entertaining when he was in Washington. In memory of his wife, he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a sculpture for her tomb in Rock Creek Park. Adams lived and reigned in his home, receiving guests earlier in the day, at breakfast and lunch, as he got older. He had a stroke in April 1912. Henry Adams never remarried and never again mentioned Clover’s name after her death. The mansion he shared with the Hays was torn down after he died to be replaced by the Hay-Adams Hotel. Henry and Clover are buried next to each other in graves with no inscriptions, only the dramatic Saint-Gaudens statue standing guard over them. The statue also doesn’t have a name, but it has been dubbed “Grief” by the public, because it personifies the emotion so perfectly.

World Class Resorts

The Georgetowner selected a handful of renowned, world class travel experts, who shared with us their favorite international, domestic and local travel destinations of the last year, offering a wealth of insider travel information that even the most traveled readers are sure to appreciate. From resorts tucked away in the canyon valleys of Southern Utah, to romantic Italian villas and hidden local gems, here you will find plenty of reasons to start booking your tickets and packing your bags. Andrew Harper --- One of the most distinct voices in luxury travel, the alias Andrew Harper has long been known for his insightful reviews of small and unique hotels, resorts and travel destinations. Traveling incognito, he searches the globe for distinctive new properties while candidly reassessing classic hotels and luxury resorts. His renowned newsletter of review, The Hideaway Report, has an abiding passion for classic hospitality and refined service amid peaceful surroundings. Mr. Harper shared with us his 2011 Grand Award Winners for international and domestic resort destinations. Domestic: Lake Placid Lodge, Lake Placid, New York In 1882, a German family built themselves a rustic camp from which they could enjoy the dramatic view of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. This remained a private residence until 1946, when the property was sold and reopened as a hotel. However, in late 2005, the main building suffered a catastrophic fire. The lodge reopened in 2008. Today, the front hall is once again a classic Adirondack interior, its wood floors covered with area rugs, a welcoming fire in a stone fireplace, cleverly crafted furniture made in the distinctive regional “twig” style, and a stairwell filled by a towering birch tree. There are 13 rooms and suites in the main lodge and an adjoining building, plus 17 cabins beside the lake. Our cabin proved to be a haven of comfort, with…a stone fireplace and picture windows. The furniture was a mix of antiques and handcrafted pieces by local artisans. The main lodge is full of spaces that are just as cozy and appealing. Artisans, the formal dining room, offers a seasonal New American menu. Wood-paneled Maggie’s Pub, with its fireplace and tables set by the windows, is just the place for a first-rate burger and a pint of the locally brewed Ubu Ale. Lake Placid Lodge is an iconic American resort, and its restoration has been a remarkable success. For more information, visit LakePlacidLodge.com International: Il Salviatino, Florence, Italy Just four miles from the center of Florence and set amid 12 acres of formal gardens on a lane leading up to the exquisite hill town of Fiesole, Il Salviatino occupies an historic cream-colored villa that enjoyed a heyday during the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was home to the powerful Salviati family. In September 2009, it opened as a 45-room hotel, having been subject to a $60 million restoration. The terrace…has one of the most extraordinary views of Florence we have ever seen. Today, it stands as a small masterpiece of Old World style and hospitality. See more at Salviatino.com ___ Anne Morgan Scully --- President of McCabe World Travel, Anne Morgan Scully has been in the industry for over three decades and currently serves on boards for Ritz Carlton, several cruise lines, and a number of travel, hotel and resort companies. In 2010, she was named one of the top 10 leaders in travel by Travel and Leisure magazine. Anne shared with us some of her favorite resorts in the country. Amangiri, Canyon Point, Utah Amangiri is one of the most stunning new resorts in the American West. God is the chief architect of this resort. Amangiri is set on a 600-acre expanse of wilderness in Southern Utah, tucked into a protected valley with sweeping views over colorful, stratified rock towards the Grand Staircase. Architecturally, the resort has been designed to blend into the landscape with natural hues, materials and textures a feature of the design. The structures are commanding and in proportion with the scale of the natural surroundings, yet provide an intimate setting from which to view and appreciate the landscape. And you can drive out and explore the area in the resort’s BMW Z3! The resort offers 34 suites in total: 13 Desert View Suites, 14 Mesa View Suites, one Terrace Suite, two Pool Suites, two Terrace Pool Suites, the Girijaala Suite and the Amangiri Suite. The swimming pool is set within a sunken courtyard framed by the Pavilion and rock escarpment. It wraps around the rock to finish with a hot tub that sits at the base of a rock wall. The pool’s lounging terrace features king-sized day beds and pairs of sun-loungers. Their 2,322-square 25,000-square foot Aman Spa is a vast complex of stone, water features and streams of light, offering a number of unique treatment venues. The Spa offers single and double treatment rooms in addition to two outdoor treatment terraces with spectacular views of the mesas. Activities include treks, guided hikes, biking, rock climbing, boating trips, archaeological tours, hot air ballooning, scenic helicopter or fixed wing flights, equestrian adventures, and more. For more information visit Amangiri.com. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina This is an easy weekend getaway from Washington…only an hour and a half flight to Charleston South Carolina. Truly one of America's most luxurious resorts, it is located along the pristine shores of Kiawah Island, South Carolina. This exquisitely designed hotel is also only thirty minutes from downtown Charleston, which captures the spirit, history, and charm of southern hospitality and some of the best southern comfort food there is—barbeques shrimp and grits are among most guests favorites. And their ice cream parlor is not to be missed. With its 255 gracious guestrooms and suites, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is the finest oceanfront hotel built on the East Coast in the past 20 years. Each spacious room features luxurious five fixture baths, large marble showers, dual vanities, private water closets, shuttered bathroom windows and ocean view balconies. A private concierge level offers the most exclusive, personalized services and private elevator access, while the concierge club features exquisite food presentations throughout the day. In addition, families and adults can enjoy two oceanfront pools, with music and poolside & beachside service. Kiawah Island is a golfer's paradise with five competitively designed master golf courses. In fact, three of Kiawah Island’s golf courses ranked on Golf Digest's list of "America's Top 75 Resort Courses," and Conde Nast Traveler recently listed the Resort among the top "50 Golf Resorts Worldwide." See for yourself at KiawahResort.com. The W South Beach, Miami, Florida I just returned from this hotel and was in awe of the design and energy of the hotel! This is the playground of celebrities and on the boardwalk of the fashion jet set! This oasis has been created by international tastemakers, framed by famed art deco and in the heart of Miami's hottest nightlife. As palm trees sway to a salsa beat, nosh at the chic Mr Chow and Soleá, mingle your way across six cool bars, linger in the Living Room, pamper at Bliss Spa, or cool off in lushly landscaped pools. For more information visit WHotels.com/SouthBeach. ___ Carlyle Fairfax Smith --- Carlyle Fairfax Smith is the consulting publicist of Carlyle International, a boutique communications agency that focuses on luxury hotels, spas and destinations. Her insight into the world of upscale and luxury lifestyles is distinctive, with deep knowledge of the luxury traveler and hospitality industry. Discussing some of her favorite travel destinations, Carlyle proved her value as a consultant and offered a dazzling breadth of options for all types of travelers. International: Ireland & Bali "Irish Hospitality" lives up to the hype and Ireland is as close to East Coast as it is to California. Beauty, History and easy access. Shannon International Airport is a mere five hour flight from the U.S. and a six mile drive from Dromoland Castle (if worlds away in every other regard). In particular I like The Dromoland Collection, which comprises of Dromoland Castle and Castlemartyr Resort, two of Ireland’s finest and most celebrated hotels. The hotels in this collection embody the legendary Dromoland tradition of incomparable hospitality complemented by exquisite surroundings, yet each possesses a distinctive style, character and charm all its own. Castlemartyr Resort: nestled in the unspoiled rolling countryside of East Cork near the ruins of an 800-year-old castle, Castlemartyr Resort’s crowning jewel is a classic 18th century manor house. The Manor has been magnificently restored and elegantly enhanced to offer 109 deluxe guest rooms, gourmet dining, an expansive world-class spa and welcoming, impeccably styled interiors. Opportunities for outdoor pursuits abound both on the estate, which includes an inland-links-style golf course designed by the renowned Ron Kirby, and in the surrounding region. For more information visit CastlemartyrResort.ie. Dromoland Castle, located in Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, was built in the 16th century. Majestically set on the shores of Lough Dromoland, it is surrounded by over 410 acres of breathtaking scenery, including a championship parkland golf course. Lavish interiors, fine food and superb wines complement the deluxe accommodations of the Castle’s 99 guest rooms, while Dromoland Castle Golf and Country Club, an intimate spa and traditional outdoor recreational opportunities ensure a unique guest experience. See for yourself at Dromoland.ie. In Bali, Viceroy Bali has a real WOW factor, with gravity defying, thatched villas set on the edge of a steep ravine, overlooking the Petanu River gorge in Bali’s mountain foothills. With amazing hillside views, the most tranquil and scenic spa, some of the best food in Bali and immaculate service, this is a truly romantic retreat close to the artist’s village of Ubud. Some new villas are opening later this year. ViceroyBali.com. Local: Talbot County, Maryland Talbot County invites visitors to experience the perfect balance of rural simplicity and urban refinement. With the timeless beauty of the Chesapeake Bay as their backdrop, the county’s sophisticated small towns, charming country byways, and wide array of activities offer something for everyone who appreciates the opportunity to relax, reflect, and renew. Easton, celebrating its three-hundredth year in 2010, sits at the center of Talbot County. It is a remarkable hybrid of historical and hip, humming with energy, pedestrian friendly, and ranked as one of the best places to live in the nation. Museums and other cultural centers, festivals of all sorts, historic sites, shopping, convenient access to outdoor leisure activities, and a welcoming, sophisticated populace make Easton a uniquely appealing visitor experience even for groups with diverse interests. Oxford, located south of Easton on the Tred Avon River, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first incorporated town in the county, it was officially founded in 1683. Until the American Revolution, Oxford was an international shipping center, surrounded by tobacco plantations and home to a number of prominent national figures. Later it thrived on oyster harvesting and packing and other watermen’s trades, even as tourism and leisure activities increased. It guards its peaceful personality, architectural integrity, and small-town virtues to this day. St. Michaels, situated on the elbow of a peninsula reaching deep into the Chesapeake Bay, is cradled between the historic Miles River and Michener’s Broad Creek. St. Michaels is a gathering spot for lovers of laid-back leisure. Its maritime museum, marina, tree-lined streets, and architectural treasures are the perfect backdrop for the town’s many fine shops, galleries, and boutiques. Tilghman Island is a water lover’s wonderland, home to the last commercial fleet of lightning-fast oyster-harvesting skipjacks. Surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank River, the island offers a full range of water sport rentals, unique sail and motorboat excursions, and ten mapped water trails. For those who prefer to keep their feet dry, Tilghman Island has no lack of benches, porches, decks, and docks from which to appreciate the entrancing beauty of the bay, river, and marshes. I would also highly recommend Talbot County as a budget travel destination, with a great selection of rental houses, luxury hotels, country inns and bed & breakfasts. There are accommodations and activities to suit any budget. And yet people feel as if they've been away and have an opportunity to relax and enjoy. The Talbot County Office of Tourism offers comprehensive information and trip planning services. Visit them at TourTalbot.org to find out more. [gallery ids="99615,105074,105080,105078" nav="thumbs"]

Advice for Newlyweds, First-Time Homebuyers

Buying a home can be a daunting prospect. For newlyweds, it can be a challenging, new experience for couples making a serious financial commitment together. We asked three real estate brokers to share with us their advice. What advice do you have for first-time homebuyers? KMK: The most important step is to choose an agent and broker that you can trust and one that has a track record in your target areas and price range. The number of homes and condos on the market is about 40% less than last year, so it is critical to work with someone who is “ahead of the market” and who can tell you about properties before they go into the MRIS. You should determine your ideal price range and comfort zone by meeting with a reputable, local lender. Working with Internet lenders can be extremely challenging. It often causes great frustration and can put your escrow deposit at risk. Getting a sense of what interest rate you qualify for will give you a concrete sense of you monthly mortgage payment amount. Also think through, once you buy, what sort of cash reserves would you have on hand.? Can you afford to buy something that needs cosmetic work? Or would you be better off mortgaging a bit more for something more renovated? That will bring additional focus to your house hunt. Good friends that have been happy with a recent real estate transaction can also be a good source of agent and lender referrals. RH: First time homebuyers should find an agent whom they are comfortable working with. Asking a friend who has recently purchased property for a recommendation is a good way to start. If they’re moving to a new market, it may be a good time to begin their search online. All good real estate agents post their biographies on their company’s website. Always interview an agent, and try to meet them in person before you make a commitment. Also, every first time homebuyer should meet with a mortgage lender before they begin their search. They are often surprised by how much house they can easily afford with today’s historically low interest rates. RV: Work with an experienced buyer’s agent, one that understands a competitive market. I would recommend this to all homebuyers, not only first-timers. How should a newlywed couple begin their search? KMK: Keep your lines of communication open. Don’t get frustrated by differences of opinion when it comes to home-buying. The important thing is to work with an agent that you both trust and have faith in. Often, I have my clients devise a priority list and weight the items of most and least importance. Then, I suggest that they honor the priorities that the two of them most heavily weigh and always be ready to compromise on the less important items. It is a great feeling when I find the “right” place for them – they know instantly - “this is the one” when they first see the property. RH: Newlyweds should begin their search by talking with each other. It’s often surprising that new couples have very different ideas of the house of their dreams. They should sit down together and formulate a list of their wants, including style, neighborhood, layout, etc. RV: Get qualified for a loan. Being prepared and educated about making an offer in this market is imperative, and should always be the first step in searching for a home. Buyers sometimes miss out on a property because they are not prepared to make an offer. You sometimes have to put an offer together within hours of viewing a property. Waiting to get your finances together adds unneeded stress. Getting financially prepared for the process will make it easier when it comes time to decide about financial decisions like price escalations, property inspections and the like. How should first-time homebuyers figure out their priorities in their search? KMK: It is a great idea to talk through your list of “must have” and “nice-to-have” attributes of property, and what you are willing to compromise on. It is important to realize that no property is “perfect,” no matter the price. Real estate is an exercise in trade-offs. For instance, to get more space within your budget, you may have to rethink location. Or, if you are set on a premium location, you may have to give up on square footage preferences to stay within the prescribed budget. So, try to keep an open mind, and be realistic. RH: Figure out your priorities by looking at the way you live in your current house or apartment. Do you ever use the yard or terrace? Is it necessary? What type of kitchen is important, or do you regularly eat out? Prioritize the features of your future home. RV: If not familiar with the market, their realtor should take them on a tour of target neighborhoods. The buyers should also make a list of features for their ideal property – like distance to the Metro, parking, washer and dryer, then compare. Share the combined lists with their realtor. The buyers should try to be realistic about their buying power in the market. Do you have any advice for couples moving in together for the first time? KMK: Be prepared to take a lot of deep breaths and exercise you best patience skills. Also, be prepared to compromise and not have things always be the way you may be used to. It is important to maintain your outside friends and interests, as it will keep your relationship fresh and interesting. RH: Yikes, I think I should stay away from this one, but it’s probably a good idea to take a good look at your partner, figure out their daily habits and realize that you have to choose your battles carefully. It’s more fun to live with someone than to live alone. Remember this when you’re thinking of starting an argument....by the way I live alone and my dog doesn’t argue. RV: Patience and consideration. Most cohabiting difficulties are pretty minor but tend to get blown out of proportion. I recommend that people consider shelving their first disappointments, like a wet towel on the bed. Ask yourself, “Is this really worth arguing?” Plan a time to discuss once a week and write down agenda items. The discussion should take place calmly over a coffee. If these items of consideration are handled in a calm manner hopefully the resolution will be swift. How should couples best take advantage of this real estate market? KMK: With inventory being so low and demand relatively high, be prepared. Have your finances organized, lender pre-approval in hand, and work with an agent and broker that has a strong footing in the market and can give you advance notice of listings before they actually go onto the public market. RH: Prices remain at the lowest levels seen since 2002 across most of the country and inter- est rates currently remain at the lowest levels in our lifetimes. This is a great opportunity to enter the market. However, in Washington, inventory is extremely low and a well-priced property will sell within days and often with multiple offers. Be prepared to make an attractive offer if the property you want surfaces. Have your financing in order, your down payment funds available, and be prepared to act quickly. It sometimes takes a new homebuyer losing a deal before they realize the urgency our current market dictates. RV: Lock in a great interest rate. If not planning to have children in the short term, live somewhere fun. Take advantage of the time you have together before expanding your family and enjoy your free time the way you want. If you run, live somewhere good to run. If you go out, live fairly close to bars and restaurants. What was your experience buying your first home? KMK: I was very fortunate to have my real estate agent also be my sister, Eileen McGrath. It was a great experience and she guided me through a successful transaction. RH: I bought my first home when I was 22. It was a great experience. I renovated a little row house with a lot of blood sweat and tears...liter- ally. But, that little house helped put me through law school when I sold it. RV: I have bought and sold several properties in competitive markets and my first home was no exception. It was the third house I made an offer on and I got a good deal on an estate sale. My second home had multiple offers, but was still a good deal, and I ended up having to escalate 10% over list price to win. [gallery ids="101163,141677,141674" nav="thumbs"]

G. Morris Steinbraker & Son: Three Generations in Georgetown

Tucked into Grace Street around the corner from Wisconsin Avenue at the C&O Canal sits an iconic Georgetown storefront: G. Morris Steinbraker & Son, experts in historic renovation and construction, soon to depart its old town. It is just past the clothing store Patagonia’s building, which was also built by business founder G. Morris Steinbraker. Both David Steinbraker’s grandfather, G. Morris Steinbraker, and his father, the “Son,” were born at 3321 block of Q Street, NW. When he was in third grade at Holy Trinity School, David Steinbraker’s family moved to a new home, built by his father, in Kensington, Md. He began working for the family business during summers at St. John’s College High School in Chevy Chase, D.C., and began working fulltime after he returned to the United States from serving in the 101st Airborne during the Vietnam War. He did not go to trade school. He got his skills “all from doing it,” he said. “Working for your father, you start from the bottom.” Steinbraker credits a lot of his business style to his father and grandfather. “I learned a lot from my father’s father.” He also cites craftsmanship and customer relations as important things stressed by his grandfather. “My grandfather kept telling me the customer’s always right,” he said. “It’s an old statement, but we sort of live by it.” Steinbraker & Son does a lot of restoration and renovation work. No surprise, being in Georgetown. “Since we’ve been in Georgetown for so long, a lot of our customers live in Georgetown,” said Steinbraker, whose projects have included jobs at Dumbarton Oaks, Blair House, the City Tavern Club and the home of the late Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill. “One of my best clients is Jay Rockefeller, the senator from West Virginia. I remodeled his house. I also designed three bridges on his property,” Steinbraker said. “We actually did some work at his West Virginia house, too.” At the Percys’ home, Steinbraker had to use creativity to get a project past the Old Georgetown Board, which has the power to approve construction projects in the historic district. “Senator Percy lived up here on 34th Street,” he said. “As he was getting older, they wanted to put an elevator in, and it had to serve all these different floors. I knew how the board was. They were very particular. So, I designed an elevator shaft that looked like a chimney.” With old-school manners, Steinbraker & Son has made a name for itself by its high-quality craftsmanship. customer service through word of mouth -- and its reputation. The company does not advertise or have its own website. It can be found on sites like the Georgetown BID’s website or Yelp.com. Although he mostly has done large projects, Steinbraker will do any small projects to meet the needs of clients. “I will also hang a picture for a customer or hang a screen door,” he said. Sixty-nine years after his grandfather built the Grace Street structure in 1944, David Steinbraker is moving his business out of Georgetown. The original building is being offering for lease. “I’m going to scale down a little bit,” he said. “I’m not going to retire fully.” Georgetown is filled with such stories and such small businesses. While decamping to Maryland, Steinbraker & Son remains a third-generation Georgetown business with deep roots: once a Georgetowner, always a Georgetowner.