By Amy Moeller | August 25, 2015 | Home & Real Estate
It’s a race to the finish as developers unveil high-end apartments and condos across the city.
Dave DeSantis, Holli Beckman, and Gaby Riegler share a laugh over lunch at Mango Tree.
Crane after crane, a glance at the DC skyline reveals the robust rate at which the city is growing. But a closer look tells much more: Beyond the understated exteriors of these new developments are world-class amenities, unparalleled service, and garages catering to upscale automobiles—and bicycles, too. As the city undergoes a cultural and gastronomic renaissance, luxury real estate is moving in. To discuss this trend, we sat down with leading developers and real estate professionals Holli Beckman, Dave DeSantis, John Fitzgerald, Chris Masters, David Meit, and Gaby Riegler at Mango Tree in CityCenterDC.
Luxury properties are going up all over the District.
How has the luxury market in DC evolved?
David Meit: In the mid-’90s, the luxury real estate market was a very different animal. It was before [Mayor] Anthony Williams, and DC was still coming out of the morass it had been in for 25 years, so there was no luxury market.
Dave DeSantis: The definition of luxury in DC had always been a single-family house in a neighborhood like Wesley Heights or Kalorama, then Bethesda and Potomac. A luxury buyer wanted a house. We weren’t an urban market. You drove everywhere.
Meit: We have an entire generation of suburban fatigue.
Has the definition of luxury changed?
DeSantis: Luxury was granite countertops and hardwood flooring…. [Now] you look at a project like [CityCenterDC]; you look at 2030 AP on U Street. Who ever would have thought that on U Street, you’d get 825 bucks a foot? Never would’ve seen that five years ago. But now you’ve got a worldrenowned architect. People are paying for design.
Gaby Riegler: People want to live and work in the city to be close to neighborhood amenities, boutique retail, the Metro. Accessibility is very important.
Meit: The city fathers were very forward-thinking in the ’60s about a world-class Metro system. DC’s is fast, it’s clean. Shaw… Brookland… the ballpark… It’s all based on Metro. Tysons Corner is now becoming this very urban product because there’s a Metro now.
John Fitzgerald: I don’t think of those as luxury areas. Georgetown has no Metro, and that’s a high-end DC market. Our clients want to be away from the Metro…. They want adequate parking. Some of these people have four, six cars.
Holli Beckman: It’s how the generations define luxury.
Meit: The 25-, 35-year-olds want more high-tech stuff. When you get to 40, storage becomes a big deal.
DeSantis: And [room size]. I do consider the spectacular product on U Street absolutely luxury. But if you talk to someone who’s 30, they go in and say, “This is fantastic—floor-to-ceiling glass, the kitchen is outfitted really nicely.” They’re not focused on the fact that the master bedroom is 13 by 12. If you talk to buyers at The Lauren and bring them to a building where the master bedroom is 13 by 12, they’re like, “Are you kidding me? This is my walk-in closet.”
Riegler: It’s important to know your demographic. Each age range values different things.
You agree that service is synonymous with luxury across all age brackets.
Fitzgerald: At The Lauren, we’re interviewing concierge services, and we asked, “If this were a hotel brand, what would you want it to be?” I think one answered the Ritz and one the Four Seasons…. That’s the kind of approach we want to have: a very friendly person at the desk, a valet, door service. Anything they want is what we’re offering.
Chris Masters: I think à la carte is where we’re moving.
Beckman: Renters [are demanding] the smart homes. We’ve seen this lighting where you come in your front door and the lights go on, and you go in your bedroom and shut the door, all the lights go off. That’s what the millennials and the generation above that are deeming as luxury. It’s not about the finishes; it’s “What level of service will I get?”
Fitzgerald: Noise is really a big deal. We’ve been hiring sound consultants so every unit is soundproof.
Masters: Especially now, you’ve got more of the Class A or Class Platinum rental. As people move out of that and into for-sale, it is literally one of the first questions they ask: “What is the sound insulation? I don’t want to hear my neighbor [at all].” It’s incredible. It goes to show how educated the consumer is today. Now for-sale is trying to catch up and be at the forefront, knowing that you’re 12, 24 months from delivery. “What can we do to future-proof the unit?”.... “How do we wire this unit the best we can today so in two years when it delivers, we can still offer the latest and greatest?”
The living room and dining area at The Darcy on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda.
What neighborhoods are on the rise?
Meit: The Southwest Waterfront.
Beckman: Navy Yard is still coming into its own. Five years ago we had a Five Guys and a pizza joint. Now I can’t even list all the restaurants that are there.
DeSantis: The great thing is that there are more neighborhoods defined by luxury. It’s not that classic neighborhoods have gone out of style, but that there are so many more options.
Meit: Union Market is going to be fabulous when it’s built up in 10 years. Nowadays it’s common for buildings to sell before they’re finished.
Masters: Fifty thousand people are moving here every year. We grew 5.1 percent last year—one of the fastest-growing metro areas.
How’s the competition?
Meit: It’s very stiff. We’ve set a new bar.
photography by Dominique Fierro (masters); © eric taylor / erictaylorphoto.com (the alDen); matt Jahromi (the Darcy)
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