Monday, August 5, 2013

Washington Social Diary

The fact a murder happened at this Georgetown townhouse did not scare away buyers. It's under contract for $1.2 million.
by Carol Joynt

Maybe it’s a sign the bad economic times are over, or maybe it’s just another sign that the rich are getting richer, but for whatever reason there’s been a boom in sales of very expensive Georgetown homes. By UES standards these aren’t stunning prices, $6.5 million and up, but for the little storied village with period townhouses, bricked sidewalks and leafy trees the more than $45 million in sales — for 7 properties in a little more than six months — is impressive. The buying isn’t quite the frenzy of the pre-crash era. In fact, most are selling below their list price, but they are selling and for big dollars. Even at the relatively lower end of the scale ($1 million), a house where a notorious murder happened went on the market, a bidding war ensued, and in only two weeks it was under contract.

“Washington is certainly experiencing a new level of position and appeal in the national luxury market,” said Thomas Anderson, president of Washington Fine Properties. “Georgetown sales have traditionally represented over 75% of the total Capital Region highest sales annually.” He said Georgetown is a hot market because today’s high-end buyer wants convenience to shopping, restaurants, the arts and other activities. He says they’ll pay “more for less” to be in an “it” location.
The owners of this house sold to move to a new fashionable part of town, the once riot-torn 14th Street.
A truth of Georgetown is that no matter how times and tastes change, and new neighborhoods emerge, it remains an "it" place to live, an address with cache all over the world. It is and feels like a village. Neighbors know neighbors. It draws families, young professionals, intellectuals, diplomats, artists, elected and government officials, socialites and hipsters. There are four parks within its borders, not counting the immense shaded lawn of Georgetown University. It has three top luxury hotels — Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Capella — and a restaurant mix that includes Bourbon Steak, Cafe Milano, 1789, Clyde's, Martin's Tavern and the cave dweller fave, La Chaumiere. It has a pleasant multiplex. The shopping could be better but it's not bad. Anderson added this: "It's encouraging, too, that the buyers are local and thus know the market extremely well. As a result, it signals a long-term trend."

Basically, while Georgetown was never a busted real estate market it was flat. No more. What goes down, comes up.

The trend started in the last days of 2012 when a Georgetown apartment at a building overlooking a freeway and the Potomac River sold for a whopping $6.5 million. It was a record condo sale and got the buyer 7 bedrooms, a library and two balconies. That one sale created a sense of renewal. Since then, 2013 has been one notable sale after another.
In this building, overlooking the Whitehurst Freeway and the Potomac River, a 7-bedroom condo sold for a record $6.5 million.
Some of the “big seven” luxury properties are legendary and with notable buyers. For example, the billionaire founder of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, and his wife D.J., bought one of Georgetown’s gems, a grand brick manse that once was home to David and Evangeline Bruce, two major social figures of the last century. Glamorous parties were a standard of that home when the Bruces lived there. It has a classic design and comes with a ballroom. The Planks paid $7.9 million, one million below the asking price. Will they entertain on a Bruce scale? We hope so.

The woman who sold to the Planks is Deborah Winsor, a new widow, who herself bought the former home of that notorious scoundrel Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It had been on the market for a while, with a starter asking price of $5.2 million. Winsor paid $3.3. Presumably she and her daughters will wipe out the cobwebs and find brightness and cheer at their new home, which is adjacent to a popular park.
The one-time home of Evangeline and David Bruce sold to Under Armour's founder, Kevin Plank.
This was the home of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It sold for $3.3 million.
Also on the west side of Georgetown, not far from the Bruce house, another grand home sold for $7.5 million. Interestingly its owners, long time Georgetowners, picked up and moved to the newest fashionable part of town, the once riot-torn but now revived 14th Street, paying one of the highest prices yet for condo in that booming neighborhood, reportedly upwards of $2 million.

The other big seven properties that have sold in Georgetown include the historic home where Robert Todd Lincoln once lived. It, too, has a ballroom, and a lovely garden and pool and lots of light and a French country feel in the dining and kitchen area. It sold for $7.6 million, only a little under its $7.9 million list price. The seller was the highflying private equity playboy, Rick Rickertson, who hosted some delightful parties there.
Man about town Rick Rickertson hosted delightful parties in his historic home, but then decided to downsize. He sold the five-bedroom house for $7.6 million.
A short hop up the street from Rick is the former home of Gerald and Eden Rafshoon, both well known in Washington since he was White House communications director for President Jimmy Carter. Following his White House years Rafshoon created a successful entrepreneurial career in television and film production. They sold their house for $7 million after listing it for $8 million. It has a Georgian floor plan and a large garden. Giving up that house was a tough decision, particularly for Eden, but the Rafshoons wanted to downsize.
For many years this was the home of Gerald and Eden Rafshoon. They sold to a trial lawyer and his for for $7 million. It has six bedrooms, four full baths and a garden that's almost the same lot size as the house.
One block over from the Rafshoon house, selling for $8.6 million, is the house where Jackie Kennedy’s mother, Janet Auchincloss, and her husband, Hugh, lived when the Kennedys were in the White House.

An oft told story is that after the assassination the Chanel suit that Jackie wore — marked with blood stains — was packed up and moved from the White House to an upstairs storage space at the Auchincloss home, where it remained until it was moved to the National Archives. It has an imposing size for the scale of the block, but is at a good corner — across from the Episcopal church — and comes with a large garden, a pool and, critical for Georgetown, a two-car garage.
Businessman Conrad Cafritz and his wife bought this house for $8.6 million. It once belonged to the Auchincloss family and after that to one of Conrad's ex-wives. It has nine bedrooms, seven full baths, a large garden, pool and two-car garage.
No home’s past is more notorious than when it includes a murder. In August 2011, Georgetowner Viola Drath was found beaten and strangled in the upstairs bathroom of the townhouse she shared with her much younger husband, Albrecht Muth. After only a few days, Muth was arrested and charged with the murder, is in jail and expected to go on trial later this year. At one point her grandson, popular Georgetown clothier Ethan Drath, considered moving into the house, but ultimately the family decided to put it on the market. The sale period lasted only two weeks. It listed at $995,000 and after six bids, it sold for $1.2 million. The buyers don’t care about the murder. They wanted a good house in Georgetown.
The living room of the Drath-Muth house, which was completely made over by Drath's family before putting the house on the market.
The Georgetown sales numbers, while large, are dwarfed by the listing for DC’s priciest piece of residential real estate, the historic Patterson Mansion on Dupont Circle. A cool $26 million will get the buyer the 16-bedroom Gilded Age gem that was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1901. It was built for the Patterson family of Chicago, owners of the Chicago Tribune, and in particular Cissy Patterson, their daughter, who was quite a character. To this day people tell stories about her. The house is a relic of another era — when Dupont Circle was ringed with private mansions — but has unique appeal.

For a period in the 1920s, the Pattersons loaned it to President Calvin Coolidge and his wife to use as a temporary residence while the White House was under renovation. One of their overnight guests was Charles Lindbergh, just after his historic flight. There are photos of him on the balcony with the Coolidges. Since 1951 it has belonged to The Washington Club. Changing times and prohibitive operating costs forced the venerable club to put the building on the market.
The Patterson Mansion on Dupont Circle, a relic of the Golden Age looking for a 21st century revival. The $26 million price tag buys history. It served as a temporary residence for President Calvin Coolidge while the White House was renovated.
The front entrance of the Patterson Mansion and the balcony where Charles Lindbergh was photographed with President Coolidge in 1927. The view from the balcony today of a Dupont Circle that is much changed from a century ago. Where there were private mansions are now office buildings.
A special bedroom, kept much as it was when its namesake spent the night.
The grand staircase of the Patterson Mansion.
As ballrooms go in DC houses — and you'd be surprised how many have them — this ballroom at the Patterson Mansion is one of the largest and finest.
Who would buy such a massive residence that has elegant and solid bone structure but still needs a significant facelift? According to TTR Sotheby’s International Realty the interest has been extensive and from all over the world. A spokesman said the prospective buyers include boutique hotel owners, private social clubs, investors from the Middle East, diplomatic missions and even a few individuals who would use it as a private home.

Are we returning to the wild market of before the Great Recession, when homes routinely sold for well above their list price? No, says Michael Rankin of Sotheby’s. He calls it “close to the activity of the former market” but notes that while the sales numbers are big they are “fair prices for these houses. None sold in a day ... and all sold for less than the list price.” But he’s encouraged. “Georgetown has its legs again.”
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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