News & Politics  |  Real Estate

That $50K Wall for Sale in Georgetown? Neighbors Say It’s Nearing Collapse.

While officials say collapse isn't imminent, a person who lives next to it says she feels she's "in a race against time."

Photograph courtesy of Russell Carter and Robert Morris.

This story was updated July 21 with additional information provided by the Department of Buildings.

You may have recently heard about a wall in Georgetown that’s been listed for sale by its owner, Allan Berger. The price? $50,000. Here’s what you’d get for that money: A roughly one-foot by 24-foot wall—just the wall—that adjoins a residential house on its northern side and faces a bank parking lot on its southern side.

Berger says the wall, which is visible from M Street, Northwest, would be a great canvas for a buyer to paint a mural on, but there’s just one problem: Several ANC commissioners have previously said it’s unsafe.

“A structural engineer from a well-regarded insurance company found that the abandoned wall poses both a physical and personal property risk,” wrote Rick Murphy, ANC 2E chair to the Department of Buildings in a December 2022 letter.  “Specifically, this expert issued a report noting the ‘imminent collapse’ of the abandoned wall. Lives and property damage are at-risk.”

The letter requested that the DOB secure the wall using methods recommended by the structural engineer that inspected it; that the DOB charge the wall’s owner (that would be Berger, who has already been fined for the wall’s condition) for costs of said work; and that it mediate a change of ownership of the wall “once the current liability of collapse has been addressed.”

While the DOB says it didn’t find any imminent risk of collapse, it says it did cite the property for maintenance violations due to cracks in the wall, peeling paint, and a lack of coating to protect it from deterioration. Additionally, following its most recent inspection on July 20, the DOB issued a correction order requiring that the property owner hire a structural engineer to confirm the integrity of the wall.

Meanwhile, owner of the home attached to the northern side of the wall, Daniela Walls (yes, that is her last name), says she feels like she’s in a race against time to get it fixed but doesn’t have the $50,000 to buy the wall. “I’m a single mother,” Walls says. “Just because I live in Georgetown, [that doesn’t mean] I have the liquid funds to do that.”

Through her lawyer, Eric Rome, Walls initially offered to pay Berger about $600, the city’s tax assessed value, for the wall. Walls says it felt like a fair offer, given other costs that would come with owning it. “I would have to pay $25,000 to fix the wall, and then I would have to pay $5,000 for the title company to roll it back into my house so I could insure it. …  Insuring the wall over a public parking lot is no small feat.”

“It’s a very unusual lot,” Rome says. “I’ve been a real estate attorney for 40 years and I’ve never seen a lot that consists of just a vertical wall. … I can’t imagine why anybody would buy it. It has no value to anybody other than to my client, absent a zoning change from residential to commercial, which is nigh impossible in Georgetown.”

Berger, however, says he was offended by the $600 offer.

“Have you seen the square foot value of property in Georgetown in that area?” he said, while denying allegations that it was unsafe. “I was insulted, and that motivated me to put it out on the market. I had to see what it’s worth on the open market.” That’s when he enlisted real estate agent Robert Morris to list it at $50,000—an idea that Morris admittedly called “crazy” but agreed to.

“I told Berger, ‘I think it’s insane, I think it’s crazy, but hey, let’s sell a wall,'” said Morris, who views it as a “he said, she said” situation. “I’m not sure who is telling the most complete truth. I know that everybody has their angle. I’m just responsible to list the property.”

While some have interpreted the wall’s listing as a kooky example of just how expensive Georgetown real estate is, ANC commissioner Christopher “Topher” Matthews sees possible signs of something else: extortion. In a recent Georgetown Metropolitan blog post, he wrote, “Owners of these sorts of lots often try to extort a payment from the adjoining homeowner by doing things such as erecting pointless fences and then ‘offering’ the lot for sale. Or they may just let their property degrade to the point the neighbors have to pay them to go away. It sure looks like something of that nature is happening here.”

Right now, Walls says she’s more concerned with just getting the wall fixed.

“That’s the biggest issue here,” Walls says. “It’s hovering over a public parking lot where people leave their kids parked in the car; I watch it all day long. If one brick fell, that could be enough [to hurt someone].”

A representative from the office of DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson says Mendelson plans to contact DOB regarding the issue soon.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor