- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Leaving behind open spaces, supersized malls and family-friendly neighborhoods for urban areas in and around the District, many buyers are choosing smaller homes in the city, even in neighborhoods with abandoned buildings and empty lots,

over sprawling suburban Colonials.

Some are looking for a renewed connection with city life, while others are looking strictly to make a good profit. Real estate professionals say it has been chic to be urban in trendy city neighborhoods for years but that crumbling buildings and eyesores in areas previously overlooked during the District building boom are fast becoming prime property for condominium and town-house developments.

For so-called urban pioneers turning down established neighborhoods for new or renovated housing in transitional communities, the proximity to downtown and cultural experiences can’t be beat.

Frank Snodgrass saw the writing on the wall when he moved to Shaw about three years ago.

“It is an exciting place to live,” he says. “I enjoy being able to experience firsthand the revitalization that is occurring throughout the city.”

A Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District, Mr. Snodgrass says some of the hottest areas in the city include the U Street corridor and Shaw in Northwest, the H Street corridor in Northeast, and the Near Southeast waterfront area.

“These transitioning neighborhoods are an exciting place to live, offer more diversity than other areas, and are an affordable alternative to already established neighborhoods such as Dupont or Woodley Park,” Mr. Snodgrass says.

Industry experts say buyers in up-and-coming neighborhoods are willing to sacrifice aesthetics, space and virtually everything else for the promise of a new, revitalized community.

Often that means neighborhoods with boarded-up buildings and a shady past.

“Two big things are driving home buyers to urban living, and they are price and the possibility of appreciation, especially if other things are happening in the area,” says Gerard DiRuggiero of Urban Land Co. on U Street, who specializes in real estate brokerage sales and works with developers in emerging markets throughout the city.

Mr. DiRuggiero says the District market remains hot. He suggests that buyers hoping to move into an emerging neighborhood start by taking Metro to get out and look for signs of developments near the subway stops.

“Look for multiple projects, big and small, in the surrounding five or six blocks,” Mr. DiRuggiero says. He says the Northwest Georgia Avenue corridor is one emerging area. So is the Northeast side of New York Avenue.

Matt Zanoli of Long & Foster Real Estate’s Woodley Park office says proximity to cosmopolitan advantages such as transportation, shopping, restaurants and theater is important.

The same urban amenities that have kept longtime residents planted firmly in the District have become increasingly attractive to buyers from Virginia and Maryland.

“Whereas once upon a time, years ago, residents were practically fleeing the city to the suburbs, city living is back in style,” Mr. Zanoli says.

While cultural amenities and locale are important, finances play a big role in the home buyer’s quest to find developing city neighborhoods.

Mr. DiRuggiero says many builders in these revitalized areas are catering to first-time home buyers who weren’t served in the past.

Skyrocketing prices in established city neighborhoods have forced buyers to take a good look at emerging communities in the District.

“Finally, some of the products coming on the market are open to first-time buyers, the busiest segment of the market,” Mr. DiRuggiero says.

Developments are planned near the Deanwood and New York Avenue Metro stations, with studios and one- or two-bedroom condominiums starting in the low to upper 100000s.

“Dramatic change is evident across the midcity neighborhoods of Logan Circle, the U Street corridor, LeDroit Park and Shaw — each garnering significant buyer attention,” Mr. Zanoli says.

However, Mr. Zanoli is quick to point out that many of the revitalized neighborhoods have a historical significance to the District, even though they are considered the new hot spots.

“These neighborhoods are incredibly rich in history, retaining many of their original structures while balancing accommodation of new development and renovations,” Mr. Zanoli says.

In a nod to 14th Street’s past as “Auto Row,” Level 2 Development LLC is building View 14, a condominium and ground-floor retail project near 14th and U streets Northwest that its owners say combines a traditional, industrial-styled retail base element with a modern residential component above it.

Level 2 principal David Franco says the design team has struck the perfect balance in creating a contemporary design that fits into the neighborhood.

“We believe strongly in the 14th and U corridor. We see the neighborhood continuing its revitalization and maintaining its important and diverse cultural roots,” says Jeff Blum, also of Level 2.

Although the pre-construction pricing and promise of revitalization may encourage home buyers to rush into purchasing their home, real estate insiders suggest that buyers get a good feel for the neighborhood before making a decision.

“I encourage buyers to do their homework if they are moving to unfamiliar areas regardless of location. Hang out and see if it feels good,” Mr. Zanoli says. “Each of these areas has very active and long-standing neighborhood associations. Access their Web sites, listservs and newsletters.”

Mr. Snodgrass says, “As with any urban area, I think that one must always be aware of their surroundings.”

He says he always suggests that his clients contact the local police to find out more about a particular neighborhood before they buy. Mr. Zanoli agrees.

“It is very difficult for me to tell someone whether a neighborhood is safe or not,” Mr. Zanoli says. “What I consider safe may not be what someone else considers safe. The Metropolitan Police are very helpful and always happy to talk to someone thinking about moving into the city.”

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