Bethesda, Chevy Chase Real Estate News

Greater Bethesda, MD & NW, Washington DC Condos - Time to go Big

With all the talk about it being a sellers’ market, there is at least one type of housing in the Washington Metropolitan Area that is in short supply and high demand – condos of over 2500 square feet.  Maybe because condos were originally conceived to be “starter” properties – or maybe because municipalities encourage higher density in urban areas (supposedly to cut down on the number of cars on the road – but that’s a whole other misconception!) – most condos are 1 and 2 bedroom units, usually maxing out at about 1600 square feet. There are some wonderful coops in NW Washington D.C. that offer 2500 sq ft. or more of floor-space, and certainly a few condos (I would venture to say that Bethesda probably has fewer than I can count on my fingers) of similar size, but it is truly limited.

A quick search of the multiple listing system shows, for instance, that two larger units (both over 2800 sq ft) – one at The Edgemoor at Arlington in Bethesda, MD and one at The Somerset in Friendship Heights  --  sold very quickly in this market. Both offer what today’s buyer wants….lots of one-story space and a “walkable” location. 

I think a developer would do extremely well with a high end, boutique building that only offered larger units…but I doubt that anyone is willing to take that risk in this market.

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5th Birthdays & The Dramatic Kensington, MD Home

I’d like to take a moment to wish a very happy 5th birthday to our friend and one of our all-time favorite clients, Henry. I had the pleasure of marketing Henry’s (and his wonderful parent’s – and, actually, at that time a brand new brother’s) house in August of 2005. It was a wonderfully updated split level with a fantastic, open new kitchen and it sold in less than two weeks for slightly over full price. 

Just a little over 2 years removed from that quick sale, I wonder how well that magnificent house would fair in this buyer friendly market. It was located in the sought after Byeford sub-division in Kensington, MD (north of Connecticut avenue, just outside the beltway). Issues? It actually cornered on Connecticut Avenue (although the side yard was quite deep), the owners had combined two of the upstairs bedrooms into a large master (so now there were only 2 bedrooms up) and it had a pool (a wonderful pool, with a firepit and a built-in grill - but pools are normally more of a negative than a positive in the D.C. area). I think these three “negatives” in today’s market and would have yielded a longer marketing period and a lower price. What is “forgiven” by buyers in a seller’s market become real issues in a buyer’s market.

So Henry, have a wonderful birthday, we miss you, and we’re glad the timing worked out on your old house in Kensington. Now, go open some presents! 

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Downtown Bethesda Townhomes - An Endangered Species??

So, after the last post dealing with downtown Bethesda Condos Markets, I got some inquiries about downtown Bethesda townhomes. In the interest of full disclosure, now is the time I should also tell you that I live in a downtown Bethesda Townhome and do a lot of business in my neighborhood…so now you know! Basically, people want to know why there aren’t more of them…darn good question.

In the immediate downtown Bethesda core, there are the units on Montgomery Lane (City Homes of Edegmoor) and the units at  Edgemoor and Arlington (Villages of Bethesda)…all fairly good sized, fairly recent (the oldest being 9 years old) 3 to 4 level townhomes that currently sell from about $1.3 million to over $2 million.

In addition, there are a few smaller 2 level units at  Hampden and Woodmont (One Bethesda Center), which don’t go on the market very often (because there are so few), but would probably sell today from $500K to about $700K, depending on size. On the "outskirts", you have Kenwood Forest, an older complex with townhome-type living and condo ownership (price range of approximately $500K - 800K) and the 6 year old townhomes at the corner of Wisconsin and Jones Bridge (Glenbrook Village) (around $1M - $1.3M).

Compared to the choice of condos, this is truly slim pickin’s.  But it’s what we have…and it’s probably as good as it’s going to get. As land has become more expensive and as the county has encouraged more density near the metro stations, developers have chosen to maximize profits by going up. There are currently no downtown townhome developments under consideration in Bethesda that I’m aware of.

It’s too bad, because not everyone wants to travel by elevator to get to their front door...and...

Condos in Dowown Bethesda

It happened again today. I met a prospective buyer who was interested in knowing my opinion about the future of condo developments in downtown Bethesda.

There are so many projects under consideration," he said. "And look what happened with The Chase (another downtown Bethesda condo conversion) - they had to sell one of the buildings because they didn’t get enough buyers."

Interesting questions…..and I hope he didn’t really think that I have the answers.  I, too, am concerned about the perceived "glut" of condominiums. If everything that’s being proposed actually gets built, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be at least a temporary surplus. But that’s already making assumptions about the developments currently under consideration. Rumors abound and some are suggesting that the developers are already pulling back and, in some cases, trying to entirely pull out.

Whenever the market changes, there are always people crying that "the sky is falling."

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A Slight Movement in Market Activity?

I got a call from some buyer clients on Sunday and after they had visited a couple of open houses in the Bethesda area.  “There seems to be more people out there,” they reported.  “Last weekend, we were the only ones at the open houses…today there were other people looking.”  This couple wrote an offer two days later on one of the houses that they had revisited on Sunday. The house has been on the market for over 200 days, but has also had a couple of considerable price reductions.  They’re awaiting a response from the seller.

Another buyer couple also wrote an offer this week. The house they selected has only been on the market for about a month, but has already had two contracts “fall thru” after a home inspection. This couple is also awaiting a response from the seller.

In both of these examples, the buyers were in no hurry and have been students of the market for weeks, if not months. Independently, they made the decision that now is a good time to make a move. One couple is a first time buyer. The other has outgrown their current home and are “moving up.” 

November and December are historically great months to be buyers…and it looks like this year will be no different.

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Is The Sky Falling...or Are There Just a Few Clouds

Yes, it’s true…the real estate market in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area is no longer at a fever pitch. I’d argue to say that we slowed down over the summer (typical, seasonal stuff) and picked up a little bit at the beginning of September…and since then, it’s been basically downhill. How could it be otherwise?? Every time you pick up a newspaper or tune into a news station, there’s something negative about the real estate market and the public is responding accordingly.

We are also not immune from the impact of the sub-prime mortgage mess. There are buyers who entered the market in our area over the last couple of years who probably were not really “qualified” to buy. Mostly thru no fault of their own, they were talked into loans that were sure to bring them to default…and that’s exactly what’s happening.  We are seeing properties on the market where the asking price is less than the current owners paid and, in many of these cases, the listings read that contracts are subject to “third party approval.” Translation: the bank needs to approve any sale because they’re the ones left holding the property. Whenever one aspect of the market is affected (in this case, it’s primarily in “starter” homes), the rest of the market feels the pain.

At the same time, we are NOT Las Vegas or Miami, where the number of properties on the market is staggering. We do have an increased inventory, but we also have very strong economic growth indicators and people are continuing to move into the Washington Metropolitan Area with very good jobs and very good salaries. These people want to buy homes and will buy homes. The difference is that they will have lots of homes to choose from, won’t have to give up their first born children to...

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