Surrounded by office buildings and trendy restaurants in the heart of DC, the hole where the original Washington Convention Center once stood has long been a big vacant lot. Plans for the 4½-block area surrounded by New York Avenue and Ninth, H, and 11th streets, Northwest--have been plagued by delays. But last March, more than seven years after the firms Hines and Archstone were granted the development rights, CityCenterDC broke ground. In addition to two 11-story office towers and 185,600 square feet of retail space, the project will feature 216 luxury condominiums--a promising sign for an area that's seen new condo construction grind to a near halt during the recent economic downturn.
And the scaffolding that will rise for CityCenterDC isn't the only sign of a recovery: According to William Rich of the Alexandria-based real-estate research firm Delta Associates, the fourth quarter of 2011 was the first in five years when the number of new condos on the market went up--from 2,950 in the third quarter to 3,542 in the fourth.
"People have waited for a long time to see if the second shoe is going to drop," says Jim Abdo of Abdo Development. "And I think what they realize now is the second shoe isn't dropping. While we're not seeing things take off like a rocket, we're seeing the foundations for a solid, sustained recovery."
For the past few years, most of the condos for sale were in projects that had been on the market for years. And the last few units to sell in a large building are never the most desirable--many are on the ground floor or have odd layouts or bad views. Says Rich: "Now we're getting more product on the line that's newer and better, so prices will, we think, start to increase."
The fresh crop of condos includes delayed projects such as CityCenterDC as well as newly planned high-end condos. Many of these new buildings are in walkable neighborhoods with access to restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
That's what Michael Schwimer--a 26-year-old relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who grew up in Alexandria--was looking for when he set out to buy a condo near his family and friends for the off-season. "I absolutely put way more emphasis on location than I do on amenities," says Schwimer.
He settled on Rosslyn's Gaslight Square, where he has two two-bedroom floor plans on reserve--he'll decide which to buy when the building is closer to completion. Schwimer chose Gaslight Square for a variety of reasons: luxury features such as elevators that open directly into units and private outdoor terraces, proximity to the restaurant and nightlife scenes in Arlington and DC, and lower condo fees than he saw at other similar buildings.
"There's a gym right across the street, so you don't need to have a gym in the building that you pay for," Schwimer says. "Other places, you're paying $700 to $1,000 a month in condo fees." Fees at Gaslight range from $284 to $545 a month, depending on the size of the condo.
Gaslight Square isn't the only building that's using its urban location as a selling point and lowering condo fees by offering fewer amenities--and smaller units. According to William Rich, the average size of a new condo in the Washington area dropped from 1,263 square feet at the end of 2008 to 1,234 at the end of 2011. In the District, that number went from 921 to 901.
"Buyers these days spend a lot of time out and about on the town, so having a huge kitchen or a large dining area is not really of as much interest to them," Rich says. "They can entertain on the rooftop or go out to a restaurant."
Here are some other trends to look out for in the new condos hitting the market.