- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Empty nesters and young professionals have been snapping up condominiums in Arlington County for years, eager to give up their cars — or never buy one — and live within walking distance of entertainment, services and transportation.

The scramble for condominiums has slowed slightly during the summer, leaving Realtors wondering whether this is just typical seasonal doldrums or the beginning of a longer slowdown.

“The condominium market in Arlington is still strong, but there are more properties on the market than there have been, and the pace has slowed down a little,” says Zinta Rodgers, a Realtor with RE/MAX Allegiance in Alexandria.

“The prices had gone up considerably, and they needed to slow down a little,” she says. “There have been some price reductions, but this has more to do with losing just what they gained during the early spring, when the prices were going up so quickly. Even if the entire real estate market in this area slows down, I think the condominium market in Arlington will be the last to feel it.”

Christine Basso, director of sales at Capital Residential Properties LLC, agrees that the market slowed a little during June and July.

“Some people think that we reached the top of the market and that prices are now leveling off, but we don’t expect prices to decrease,” Ms. Basso says. “We may have hit the point when buyers decide the prices are just too high, but most new condominium buildings are sold out even before they are finished, and no building has opened recently without being at least partially sold ahead of time.”

Steve Wydler, a Realtor with the Wydler Bros. Realty Team at Long & Foster Real Estate in McLean, thinks it’s too early to tell if the slight slowdown in the Northern Virginia condominium market is merely a seasonal movement.

“In the fall, we’ll be able to tell if this is just a summer softness in the market or if people are being priced out of the market,” Mr. Wydler says. “The one segment of the housing inventory that has been increasing supply, the high end, is also the one segment with some vulnerability if the economy and the real estate market shift.”

Despite the slight softening of the condominium market, Realtors have little doubt about the ongoing popularity of Arlington’s condominiums, particularly along Metro’s Orange Line.

“There are certain areas people want to be in, hot spots that will continue to have high demand even if the supply of homes increases, such as Clarendon and Ballston,” Mr. Wydler says. “There’s a general sense that people want to be close to the action, to restaurants and bars in Arlington. On top of that, people are moving away from the commuter lifestyle. Both first-time buyers and empty nesters want to be closer to the city.”

Ms. Rodgers points out that the convenience of being close to Metro has become even more important because of the traffic issues in this area.

“People want to be close to their jobs, and they also want to live in an area with local night life, restaurants and shops,” Ms. Rodgers says.

Conventional wisdom holds that buyers seeking a condominium that will hold its value should first choose a building close to a Metro station.

“I think buyers should think first about their own peace of mind, to decide if they really want to live in a place,” Mr. Wydler says. “Next they should think about the resale value. The resale value depends first on the external catalyst of development in the neighborhood, whether other people want to live there.

“A Metro stop always helps keep demand high,” he says. “One internal catalyst which can make sure a condominium will have a strong resale value depends on whether it can be fixed up to increase the value. If it is already in good shape, then the future price is subject to the market rather than to improvements.”

Mr. Wydler also recommends considering the rental potential of a property, which makes the condominium more appealing to investors when the owners want to sell it.

“The newer condominiums usually have a washer and dryer in the unit, and that is important to a lot of buyers,” Ms. Rodgers says. “Parking is also important, especially if you can buy a second parking space. Usually, a parking space is included with the resale condominiums, but in new buildings, a parking space in the condominiums in the Metro corridor can cost as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per space.”

Newer buildings often have higher ceilings, lighter corridors, open floor plans and open kitchens with stainless-steel appliances, Ms. Rodgers says, but older buildings sometimes have larger swimming pools and bigger fitness centers to recommend them.

In addition to amenities and resale value, condominium buyers should consider the management of the building and condominium fees.

“Buyers have three days to look over the condo package and still be able to legally back out of the contract,” Mr. Wydler says. “They should look carefully at the history of the fee structure to see what special assessments have been charged or might need to be charged in the future for major repairs. It’s also a good idea to call the association manager and ask about anticipated expenses and to check on the condominium reserves to be sure they are high enough.”

“Most of the condominiums in Arlington are now priced from $500 to $600 per square foot,” Ms. Rodgers says. It works out to $500,000 to $600,000 for a 1,000-square foot condominium.

“Seven years ago, these same buildings were priced under $200 per square foot,” she says.

Monthly condominium fees vary widely from building to building and within buildings according to the size of the homes.

In some buildings, the fees cover utilities, while in others, utilities are paid separately. When comparing condominium prices, it is vital to compare the condominium fees, including an analysis of what the fees cover.

New condominiums are under construction in several areas of Arlington County, including Shirlington and areas such as Rosslyn that are adjacent to Orange Line Metro stations.

The Ed Peete Co. is building 244 condominiums in Io Piazza near the shops and restaurants of Shirlington. The community will include a gym, a business center, a community room and a sun terrace with a garden.

Most homes have one or two bedrooms, but some three-bedroom homes also are available. Base prices range from the upper $300,000s to more than $1,000,000, with monthly condominium fees yet to be calculated. Estimated condominium fees are at least $350 per month or higher.

Nearby at West Village of Shirlington, developed by Concord Condominiums, residents can walk to the restaurants, shops and movie theaters at Shirlington.

The one- and two-bedroom condominiums include balconies or terraces, hardwood flooring, stainless-steel appliances and granite counters, with optional fireplaces and sunrooms.

The community includes a sun deck with a swimming pool, a business center and a sports club. Condominium fees and prices have not been determined; sales are anticipated to begin shortly.

In the Rosslyn area, Curtis & Facchina Development Co. is building the luxurious Turnberry Tower, where the homes are priced from the $700,000s to $7,000,000. Owners will have a fitness center, concierge services, marble baths with whirlpool tubs, granite counters, upgraded appliances and hardwood flooring. Condominium fees are 65 cents per square foot per month. The homes range from 1,300 to 5,500 square feet.

Trizec Properties Inc. and the JBG Cos. are developing Waterview, another luxurious condominium development in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge. Prices have yet to be determined at this new building, which will rise above the Hotel Palomar, a luxury hotel managed by the Klimpton Hotel Group. Waterview will include a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of Washington, a fitness center with a swimming pool and concierge services.

Monument Realty LLC has developed the Odyssey and the Palatine near the Court House Metro station and also has purchased the Meridian building nearby, which will be converted into more condominiums, known as 1415 City Scene.

Sales are expected to begin in spring 2006.

The Odyssey is nearly sold out, though a few homes are still available on the penthouse level, Ms. Basso says. The available homes are priced from the $760,000s to more than $1,000,000.

Condominium fees in this building range from $306 for a one-bedroom home to $480 to $600 for larger homes. The Odyssey’s penthouse homes have floor-to-ceiling windows, and the building includes a rooftop pool and fitness center, concierge services, a business center, a clubroom and garage parking.

The Palatine also features a rooftop swimming pool and sun deck and an exercise facility. Condominium fees have yet to be determined. Base prices range from the upper $300,000s to the low $400,000s for one-bedroom homes, with top-floor two-bedroom-and-den homes priced from the $900,000s.

“The Palatine has a cutting-edge design with open floor plans and a seating area in the kitchen, which is something you don’t often find in a condominium,” Ms. Basso says.

The Bush Cos. is building the Park at Courthouse, expected to be completed in 2007. About 100 homes will be available, many of them loft style with 10-foot ceilings. The homes have hardwood flooring, stainless-steel appliances, granite counters and large windows.

The one- and two-bedroom homes are priced from the $380,000s to the $800,000s, with condominium fees of $190 to $400 per month.

Among the new condominium buildings near the Clarendon Metro station, the Ed Peete Co. is building 114 homes at Zoso. Besides a location close to night life and shops, this condominium offers a rooftop garden and a business center for residents.

Some of the homes include balconies. The one- and two-bedroom homes will be priced from the $400,000s to the $500,000s, with condominium fees yet to be determined but expected to be $350 per month or more.

At the Phoenix at Clarendon Metro, prices and condominium fees are not yet determined. Keating Development Co. is building the 194 homes at the Phoenix, which will have a rooftop pool, a media center, a clubroom and a fitness center. The homes will have hardwood and ceramic tile flooring, stainless-steel appliances and granite counters.

The Bush Cos. is building the Residences at Station Square, which is nearly sold out. The one- and two-bedroom homes are available in loft- or classic-style floor plans, and some include a den.

The larger two-bedroom homes still available are priced from the $700,000s to the $800,000s, with condominium fees from $170 to $400 per month.

Madison Homes is building the Monroe at Virginia Square Metro, a nine-story building with about 80 homes with up to 1,950 finished square feet.

The luxury building includes three levels of underground parking, a rooftop terrace, a first-floor courtyard and concierge services. Prices range from the $700,000s to more than $1,000,000 for one and two bedrooms, with monthly condominium fees of $600 to $700 per month.

The Ed Peete Co. is building Joule, an 85-home building near the Virginia Square Metro station, where the homes are priced starting in the mid-$400,000s. Most are in the $500,000s and $600,000s.

The building features mostly two-bedroom homes, with a few one-bedroom homes and a few two-bedroom homes with dens that can function as third bedrooms. Condominium fees will be $442 per month for the two-bedroom homes and $331 per month for the one-bedroom homes.

The Shooshan Co., Clark Enterprises Inc. and the Fred Schnider Co. have combined to develop the Residences at Liberty Center, part of a mixed-use development at the Ballston Metro station.

Liberty Center’s residential component includes a private courtyard, a rooftop swimming pool and terrace, a rooftop fitness center, and a party room with a catering kitchen and a fireplace.

The studio and one- and two-bedroom homes have floor-to-ceiling windows; ceramic tile baths; hardwood flooring; and kitchens with stainless-steel appliances, granite counters and maple cabinets.

Prices at Liberty Center range from the upper $300,000s to more than $1,000,000, with monthly condominium fees of $300 to $500 per month.

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