My Pursuit or How I Met UrbanTurf

by Shilpi Paul

Our new home.

I started writing for UrbanTurf last month, but I first encountered the site as a frazzled house hunter last spring.

In April, my fiance Matt and I decided to buy a home. The time was right to shift money from the stock market into the housing market, and mortgage rates were so low (although not quite as low as they are these days). Freshly engaged, we were also in a commitment-philic mood and were excited about the stability that would come from committing to DC for a while.

On November 2nd, we closed on our house and I thought this would be a good time to share my story. We had a few juicy complications and were under contract for an interminable four months, but today, I’ll focus on our hunt.

Our Parameters

Our initial desires and needs evolved as we visited homes and collected real data. Here’s what we thought about:

  • Renovation—Matt wanted a place where he could tear down walls and use his many tools and I wanted something that we could move into relatively soon and that felt safe. Neither of us wanted to pay extra for renovations and fixtures that we didn’t necessarily like.
  • Size—We wanted at least two bedrooms and were tempted by houses, but weren’t sure if we would make good use of all the rooms in a typically-sized DC row house.
  • Neighborhood—Matt wanted a place that was a quick bicycle ride to his downtown office and we both wanted to be within walking distance of some action. We also concentrated on neighborhoods that would offer us a probable return on investment (ROI), like Bloomingdale, Eckington, H Street and Near Northeast. We saw a few places in Mount Pleasant, too.
  • Price—We had different numbers in mind depending on a few factors, like the scope of renovations, ROI potential, and existence of a rental unit. Generally, we searched between $300,000 and $500,000.
  • Outdoor space—We wanted a way to be outside while feeling at home. Either a backyard or garden in a condo building would do.
Living room

Our Search

Between April and June, we visited dozens of homes on the market.

The first place that halted our search was a two-bedroom condo in a big Mount Pleasant building. Charming, with big windows, a huge living room, and a garden next to the building, the unit was well-maintained and offered us a move-in ready home in an appealing neighborhood. If we wanted a condo, this was it. After hemming and hawing for a few days, our hesitation made us realize that we didn’t actually want a condo. We wanted to get our hands dirty and find a place with a good possibility of ROI.

Next, we considered a four-bedroom fixer-upper in Shaw. This place needed floor-to-roof renovations and was bizarre and terrifying (to me - Matt gave it two thumbs up). The floors were uneven, the walls were crumbling, the staircase was just about falling off, and there was an odd tollbooth-like room in the middle of the living room (yes, a room with a small window within the living room). In a bit of serendipity, we happened upon the 1986 movie “The Money Pit” that weekend, which scared us away from intense renovations. Thank you, Tom Hanks.

An Eckington three-bedroom row house with a garden came the closest to being our home. Adorable, it was close enough to the right neighborhood (at 3rd and Randolph NE), the right size (just a couple extra rooms we probably wouldn’t use) and the right price ($350,000). However, it was separated from Bloomingdale by McKinley High School’s massive campus and didn’t have a rental unit. Still, the photographs of the current owners and their babies scattered around the house appealed to our sentimentality. Someone else snatched it up within a few days and until we found the house we would eventually buy, we regretted letting it go.

One of the bedrooms

Our Home

On our final house tour, we focused on fixer-uppers with rental units. We climbed over heaps of moldy clothing, had a run-in with a squatter that had me cowering behind our agent, and exercised our imaginations to exhaustion. Our final stop was a two-level row house with no basement, on the eastern edge of Shaw. The property was divided into two two-bedroom units of roughly equal size. The seller had owned the property as a rental for more than a decade and was eager to unload it; she priced it to sell at $408,850 and had already collected a few offers.

The kitchen

The walk-through was a Goldilocks moment. At about 1,100 square feet, the unit upstairs had a balcony off the dining room and a garden that provided the outdoor space on our checklist. The kitchen and bathroom were old and poorly arranged, but could provide a doable renovation. We could walk to Thai X-ing, Big Bear Cafe and the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market easily, and to 14th Street within 20 minutes. The seller loved the downstairs tenant, who would stay on with the new owner through her lease at the end of January. Maybe running from a squatter had unleashed some adrenaline-induced euphoria, but this place felt really right. In our minds, we were already blowing out walls and rearranging the bathroom.

When we got home, this post on UrbanTurf gave us one last push. The next morning, we contacted our agent and lender and got ready to put in an offer at $410,000, with an escalation up to $435,000, as we knew there were some other offers. Since we wanted to occupy the upstairs unit, our offer was contingent on the current tenants moving out. Our agent warned us that DC’s renter-friendly laws could delay the process; the tenant has 15 days first right of refusal and then 90 days to vacate. We kind of listened, but our excitement in choosing a place overshadowed that concern. Our offer was accepted, and our agent’s warning proved prescient.

Look for the second part of this story in a few weeks. Right now, we’re revving up the drum sander.

If you recently bought a home and have a story to tell, email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See other articles related to: editors choice

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/my_pursuit_or_how_i_met_urbanturf/4537


  1. srt said at 8:40 am on Friday November 11, 2011:

    Thanks for sharing. It is always nice to hear about people getting the home they want after a long search. Congratulations!

  1. wayne said at 9:34 am on Friday November 11, 2011:

    Welcome to Shaw, Shilpi and thanks for the story. Have you met the downstairs tenant?

  1. K. said at 10:14 am on Friday November 11, 2011:

    Very nice article. Looking forward to reading the part 2. You won’t regret living in Shaw. Its approximity to the happening areas and the city “moving” east will make it a great investment.

  1. Rob said at 10:31 am on Friday November 11, 2011:

    Didn’t you learn anything from the last five years?  A home is a place to live, not an investment.  If you think about it as an investment, and focus on ROI, you’re very likely going to be disappointed.

  1. Shilpi said at 11:17 am on Friday November 11, 2011:


    Thanks! We did meet the downstairs tenant. She seems great, and hopefully won’t be too annoyed by all the construction happening over her head this month!

    Shilpi Paul

  1. Kate said at 3:51 pm on Friday November 11, 2011:

    As we prepare for our Manhattan house hunt, these are good tips!  Thanks, Shilpi!

  1. anon said at 2:52 pm on Monday November 14, 2011:

    i looked at that house as well. it is a nice one and i was thinking of putting an offer.

    it is outdated but it is a very solid house.

    great choice!

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