Agents are Paying Line-Standers $75 an Hour to Get First Dibs on Condos

The DC real-estate market reaches a new level of crazy.
The Westlight, viewed from the corner of 23rd and L Streets, NW. Rendering courtesy of EastBanc.

The Westlight, EastBanc’s luxury condo development rising in the West End, will not be ready for residents until May or June. But at 12 p.m. today, the developer is opening a wait list for the first 20 units—and real-estate agents are paying people to stand in line outside the sales office. The condo’s sales director, Mei-Mei Venners, said the opening was pushed from 9 a.m. to noon to deter people from camping out overnight.

The rules of the process are strict: There must be one person in line per buyer—which explains why agents with multiple clients interested in the building must recruit other people to wait. (It’s evidently unacceptable to ask clients with millions to spend on a condo to get up before dawn to stand in line themselves.) Also—today’s line isn’t even for making actual offers. It’s for scheduling appointments to come back on Wednesday to then write contracts. The first people in line will land the earliest appointments.

As of last week, agents were still finalizing their strategies for winning the units—which range from 631 to 3,051 square feet, priced from $625,000 to $4,355,000. They spoke to Washingtonian on the condition that we not tip off the competition by sharing their plans before today.

“I have four clients who want to write [contracts] on the property as of now. I might have a fifth and sixth,” said TTR Sotheby’s Daniel Heider. “I’ve hired people who I’m paying about $75 an hour to get in line at 4 a.m. I want my clients to get that first bite at the apple.” Heider said his assistant and her husband would be in line, and that he’d hire the others through the app TaskRabbit.

Compass agent Patrick Chauvin said he had eight buyers—but maybe as many as ten—ready to make offers. He was planning to get his crew in line by 6 a.m., at a rate of $25 an hour. On Thursday, he was still working on recruiting acquaintances from SoulCycle and Equinox, as well as college students for the job.

Richard Newton, of Washington Fine Properties, was aiming to line up by 5:30 a.m. He said he had two to five buyers, though he would not reveal what he was paying his line-standers.

Though Washington’s market can be extremely competitive, this isn’t normal. So, why is this happening at this particular building? For one, the West End is already home to comparable properties, 22 West and the Residences at the Ritz Carlton, making it a desirable/known quantity among wealthy empty-nesters and international buyers. And Westlight is the only brand new luxury condo project currently under construction in the neighborhood. But more to the point, this isn’t a typical way to sell a building. Instituting a first-come, first-served waitlist for what was already a highly anticipated project was sure to generate a frenzy (or “a circus,” as Washington Fine Properties’ Newton called it).

Venners, the sales director, sold EastBanc’s last condo project, 1055 High in Georgetown. She said bidding wars there got out of hand, with two of the units selling for more than $800,000 above list price. She said using a waitlist for the Westlight seemed like a fairer way to handle sales. In total, Westlight will have 71 condos. Buyers who miss out this time around will get their next shot at the building when the second batch of units is released after the inauguration.

Update! Here are some photos of the line this morning. EastBanc reports 35 people were outside by 7 a.m., and that 10 of them spent the night. 

westlight-lead
Photos courtesy of EastBanc.

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