A trio of experts weighs in on the evolving landscape of luxury living in DC—and why now, more than ever, Washingtonians want their neighborhoods to tell a story.
It’s no secret that Washingtonians are trading single-family homes for urban luxury developments—but the buyer’s checklist has definitely evolved. First-class finishes are still important, but now prospective homeowners want a hyper-local vibe convening a sense of history. We sat down with three real estate and development experts—Rebecca Snyder, a partner at Insight Property Group; Alex Venditti of the Venditti Group at Compass DC; and Martin Ditto, president and CEO of Ditto Residential—to find the intersection where luxury meets authenticity.
As a developer, what’s your mission in today’s market? Rebecca Snyder: It’s such a privilege to touch the city you love. Each street has an amazing history, and there are so many people that carried the weight of that street on their back. So our challenge is: How do we reflect the energy of that street and respect the history? With our retail, we’re trying to get local people that are truly passionate about their craft, and saying “no” to the easy ones, the Starbucks and the CVSs. We want to give back to people that are creating these amazing businesses that make our cities special.
What’s changed? RS: We hired a company to interview over 600 residents and the number one thing that they came back with in terms of words was “feel.” Not finishes, this treadmill, this designer... “Feel.” “This [building] makes me feel this way.” Alex Venditti: DC’s become more of an anchor city. People want to stay. I have so many buyers coming out of the suburbs, because they want the feel of it—the SoulCycle, Le Dip, the walkability of Whole Foods. RS: The other weekend I met a friend, got a great sandwich at Glen’s Garden Market, then went to Flywheel. I spent probably 60 bucks, but I walked away feeling really light and fulfilled. That’s the way people are living, and that’s translated into the residential world.
Self-styled (above and below): Maketto—a combination restaurant, café, and fashion boutique—is the kind of place that enlivens a neighborhood, with its hip, you-want-to-be-there vibe.
What challenges do you face? Martin Ditto: The ability to manipulate the housing stock in Washington is incredibly restricted. We are a townhouse city. We never had industry. We don’t have warehouses or commercial buildings. Our development sites are houses that burned down or lots that got torn down to build the metro… The construction that had been in the space of the Atlantic Plumbing building was torn down to build the metro. RS: Atlantic Plumbing is a great example of the thoughtfulness that people are recognizing. [They have] this beautiful artwork, and there’s a story behind that. At The Shelby [a new 240-unit luxury rental property in Alexandria], we commissioned over 100 pieces of local art and wrote in-depth stories about them and brought the artists authentically into the building. That resonated with people. AV: It’s a story. RS: And it’s real and genuine. People buy stories. AV: Look how District [apartments in Logan Circle] tied in the fact that that was an old telephone switching station. People love the story. MD: The model is more European…. Americans are growing up. RS: In Washington we have this influx of wealth, [but] if you look at retail and the way people are experiencing things... We’d rather spend money that we would’ve spent consuming, on experiences. MD: When the owner of the Bellagio in Vegas was being interviewed by 60 Minutes, they said, “You subsidize the rooms, drinks, shows, retail, so that you can make money off of the casino?” He said, “No, I make money off of drinks.” “So you subsidize the rooms, retail, and shows?” And he said, “No, I make money off the shows. I make money off of everything.” The idea is you have to get everything right. That’s why development is so extraordinarily difficult, because it takes a village. RS: People have to feel like they’re a part of something, and it has to be connected to something real. Because number one, in terms of why someone decides to live with you, it’s emotional.