Real Estate

What’s New With the DC Area’s Bonkers Real-Estate Scene

Crazy open houses! A signature scent! Awesome office amenities! 25 bathrooms!

An Arlington home for sale. Photograph by Evy Mages

1. What’s It Like Being a Real Estate Agent Near HQ2?

We tagged along on a recent Sunday to find out.

When Amazon announced HQ2 would come to Northern Virginia, real-estate watchers predicted that the “Amazon effect” would have a dramatic impact on home sales. That already seems to be the case in Alexandria and Arlington, where prices are up, inventory is down, and competition is intense. To get a sense of what it’s like, we tagged along with Weichert agent Gary Chute on a recent Sunday.

11 am: Chute starts his workday at home, prepping for the open house he’s hosting. It’s a townhouse in the Potomac Greens development, about a mile from the HQ2 site. “The closer to Crystal City, the quicker it sells,” he says. This one should go fast; he’s already heard from multiple agents with clients who are serious about the place, which has been listed for three days, with an asking price of $659,000. The market “is very, very hot,” Chute says. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and haven’t seen it quite like this.”

12:32 pm: The open house starts at 1, but several potential buyers have shown up early. Soon a trickle turns into an ant trail of hungry purchasers streaming up the front steps, trying to maneuver around one another while quietly eyeing the competition. That guy who just jostled you could be the person whose offer you’re competing with a few hours from now.

1:26 pm: The house is hopping. Most visitors seem to be feeling the pressure, with one woman assuring Chute, “I have everything in motion to put in the offer.” But another person seems unaware of the situation. “Is it a buyer or seller’s market?” he asks. Chute explains patiently, “We’re in a seller’s market.”

2:15 pm: Neighbors have been stopping by to size up the goings-on; rising prices have implications for the whole area, of course. “If this goes for [the asking price], I’m going to make a killing on my home,” one says.

5 pm: The open house is over. Chute already has three verbal offers from people who have come through this afternoon. He heads outside, takes down his yellow balloons, and gets into his car. “It was packed,” he says. “Time to go home and wait.”

5:45 pm: As Chute arrives back home, he checks his e-mail. “I’m looking at two offers right here,” he says, with more probably on the way. Later, he’ll consult with the homeowner, talk through options, and read the “please pick us!” letter that came with one of the offers. First, it’s time to sit down. “I’m beat,” he says. —Blair Miller


2. A Local Real Estate Company Has Concocted Its Own Scent. Could It Help Sell Your House?

We gave Long & Foster’s new signature smell a whiff.

What does high-end real estate smell like? Home-sales stalwart Long & Foster thinks it has the answer. The company recently developed its own olfactory logo—a first for a major real-estate business. “Scented retail spaces hold customers longer,” explains Elena Solovyov, Long & Foster’s director of marketing and special programs, who previously worked in the perfume industry and came up with this idea. “And memory is [enhanced] when influenced by the sense of smell.”

For now, the aroma will be used at the company’s offices, but eventually it will likely show up at open houses—a fancier version of the old tactic of baking cookies to give the space a homey atmosphere. The idea is more than a gimmick. It makes sense given the psychology of buying property. “Home and scent and memories are all intertwined,” Solovyov says.

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To concoct the perfect olfactory tang, Long & Foster hired the French fragrance house Mane. Its mission was to create something that would smell familiar enough to offer comfort but have a contemporary zing to add a bit of intrigue. Mane came back with seven ideas that, after conducting internal surveys and doing a lot of informal sniffing, Long & Foster whittled down to one official bouquet.

Recently, we got a preview of the fragrance, which is debuting in December. It smelled . . . pretty nice! The notes, we were informed, include Champagne rose, bergamot, rhubarb, amber, and musk. If you close your eyes, you’re supposed to be reminded of a dinner party: fresh-cut roses, sparkling wine, windows open to clean air and a garden. We later asked a few coworkers what it conjured. “A hair salon,” said one. “A forest?” another guessed. “A fancy house,” said a third. Bingo. —Amy Moeller


3. New DC Office Amenities We’re Dying For

Who wouldn’t want to work in a building with windows that open?

Open a Window

One Freedom Plaza, at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, has a simple feature that has a big impact: The windows are operable, so you can let in the breeze. “We’ve all worked in offices where it feels stale,” says Philip Castillo, executive vice president of Jahn, the firm behind the building. “Fresh air makes for a better environment.”

Host a Podcast

The architecture firm Gensler is considering putting podcast studios in several upcoming projects. Gensler has a studio in its own office, and it’s become an appealing feature. “Millennials, and people in general, are using podcasts to communicate their expertise,” says Gensler co–managing director Francisco Gonzalez.

Scream Out Your Frustration

Until now, wellness rooms have mostly been designed for peace and quiet. But architect Gavin Wingate Bowie says his firm, Wingate Hughes, is currently working on a soundproof “loud room” design “where you can go and get your primal scream out.” Also available: a punching bag. —Michaela Althouse


4. Jeff Bezos’s DC House: What Public Records Reveal About Its Progress

Jeff Bezo’s Kalorama complex. Photograph by Evy Mages

The Kalorama complex could be getting close to completion.

The residence at 2320 S Street may be the most closely scrutinized in Washington. There, at the edge of Kalorama, a pair of historic mansions have been undergoing a gargantuan renovation in the years since 2016, when the estate was purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The project entails two separate structures—one for family, the other for entertaining. Plans filed with the city called for 25 bathrooms, two elevators, and a sizable ballroom. They also mentioned an anticipated end date: August 2019.

Then this past January, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced a divorce, and August came and went with no moving trucks in sight. Had something changed? Bezos isn’t saying, of course. But a look at dozens of permits suggests that the project is nearing completion. They detail a transition from structural work to domestic necessities, including 1,006 light fixtures and 287 fire-alarm sprinklers. “If you’re installing bathroom fixtures, faucets, countertops, all the rest, you are rounding third base,” says Bill Millholland, executive vice president of the local design/build firm Case, whom we asked to review the plans.

Yet apparently not even Jeff Bezos is immune to the plebeian misery of construction delays. Millholland identifies one possible complication: the basements of both buildings, where significant structural work appears to have been done. In the family-oriented Pope house, the entire basement slab has been repoured, a move Millholland attributes to the need to raise the ceiling height so an early-20th-century cellar can become a modern-day playground with a media room and whiskey cellar. Millholland is duly impressed by the scope of the plans, pointing out that, for instance, the house will draw up to 1,600 amps. (Most homes operate with an eighth as much power.) But no drawing can fully capture what it will be like inside DC’s most lavish home. That would require an invite to the housewarming party. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Millholland says. —Benjamin Wofford

This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Michaela Althouse
Editorial Fellow

Michaela Althouse is an editorial fellow for the Washingtonian. Her previous work has been featured in Philadelphia Magazine and Technical.ly.

Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.

Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a staff writer at Washingtonian.