The Search: Five-Month House Hunt Pays Off For Air Traffic Controller

by Janelle Nanos

After two years of living with a roommate in Dupont Circle, Raine Ralston was ready to strike out on her own. Despite a daily commute to Leesburg for her job as an air traffic controller, the 25-year-old knew she’d be in DC for a while.

2922 18th Street NW

“I was tired of throwing my money away,” she told UrbanTurf. “I wanted a house where I could live on my own.”

Ralston was interested in a two-bedroom, two-bath with outdoor space to accommodate her two dogs, and parking would be a bonus.

“My price range was $400,000-$600,000, and I live in Dupont now, and didn’t want to stray to far from the area,” she said.

She’d been socking away $1,000 a month from her paychecks into a separate account for a down payment, and her parents were planning to supplement that.

Ralston started her search last June, and quickly realized that many realtors she approached were put-off by her relative youth. “They didn’t take me seriously,” she said. “It seemed like they felt they would be wasting their time.” After spending two months visiting open houses independently, she struck up a conversation with Anne Savage, a realtor with Coldwell Banker, last August. They immediately clicked and then the search began in earnest.

Ralston and Savage went out on about seven trips to see properties and saw over 40 listings, a fairly typical amount for a first-time buyer.

“A young client wants to see everything on the market,” Savage’s real estate partner, Nathan Guggenheim said. “They’re constantly hunting on the internet, spending hours at work searching for real estate. An older client is the inverse, they don’t want to look online or be dragged around. They’d rather see one or two things. It’s a little like looking for a wife or husband. When you’re young, you think there’s one perfect person. If you’re not married yet at 35 or older, you’re picking someone who you know you can be happy with.”

So just like you would when searching for a mate, Ralston began to identify things that helped winnow her search, realizing she cared little for amenities like a doorman or a gym and putting heavy emphasis on outdoor space for her dogs. “That narrowed down things quickly for us,” says Savage.

One potential listing was a two-bedroom unit at 1412 T Street, a condo building in the U Street corridor, listed for about $499,000. “It had good outdoor space, but a small living area,” says Ralston. “It wasn’t good for entertaining. I tend to have a good amount of people over.” The same problem came up when they looked at a similarly-priced first floor unit at 1870 Wyoming. For that unit, the outdoor space was right next to the front desk, Savage remembers, and Raine indicated that she didn’t want the doorman to “have that much involvement in her life.”

In October, Ralston put her first offer in for a two-bedroom, two-bath house in Foggy Bottom that was priced at about $600,000. She offered $550,000, but there were multiple bidders, and she lost out a higher offer. (“It needed a lot of work,” Ralston rationalizes.) Savage says that this experience helped Ralston realize that “she wanted to have nothing to do with renovations, so we started looking at things that were ready to go.”

The view from Ralston’s tree house

Her second bid was for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at 2470 17th Street NW in Adams Morgan that was priced at $900,000 — way out of Ralston’s range. The condo was listed by Savage and Guggenheim, and it’d been sitting on the market for over seven months.

“It was overpriced,” Guggenheim acknowledges, “[The owner] bought from a developer at the top of the market and over-financed. He wasn’t about to even negotiate.”

Ralston offered $725,000 — far more than she had anticipated paying. The seller balked and was insulted enough to drop Guggenheim and Savage as agents. “He’s not going to sell it at the price he wants,” says Guggenheim. “Let another agent try and do it for him.”

Finally, in January, Ralston found her ideal match: A two-bedroom, two-bath third floor unit in a converted row house at 2922 18th Street NW. The entire unit had been redone with stainless steel appliances, new windows and floors. It had a dining room and a family room with a fireplace. But the biggest draw in the five-condo building was that the unit had its own private 350-square foot roof deck.

“I really want this place, and I’ll do as much as I can to get it,” Ralston remembers thinking as soon as she saw it.

The condo was being sold by a developer, which had put it on the market about a year ago for $680,000. When it wasn’t sold, they decided to rent it; the unit was put back on the market for $569,000 this year. It was a smart move on their end, according to Guggenheim. “They underpriced the unit to create a sense of fervor.”

Sure enough, a bidding war ensued. Ralston bid $585,000, another offer came in at full price, and two more bids said they’d escalate to just north of $620,000. Ralston said she’d match the highest bid, and since she had a significant down payment — she was able to put down 32 percent — it was offered to her first. She took it.

“You can see the National Cathedral from the deck,” Ralston says excitedly. “You kind of feel like you’re in a tree house.”

Savage says that despite her age, Ralston’s maturity helped her to make the deal happen.

“She did her homework in financing; she had talked to lenders, and understood what closing costs were. She got prequalified, so she understood monthly payments. She’s a pretty smart gal. I’d take a dozen of her, despite how long the process took.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_search_five-month_house_hunt_pays_off/1776


  1. Emil said at 4:17 pm on Friday February 12, 2010:

    When I looked for my first house in DC I went through 2 agents without even meeting them because they didn’t take a 24-year old seriously. I finally found an agent who appreciated the fact that I was young and had a small budget, but was in it for the long haul. Now, less than a year later, I am about to close on my 2nd house with her. So thanks to those agents who stick through it!

  1. maria said at 4:30 pm on Friday February 12, 2010:

    Great piece, and wow, it looks like the length of the search paid off. That place looks amazing!

  1. Johnson said at 12:09 pm on Sunday February 14, 2010:

    Cool article. Love hearing about the stories of fellow buyers. Kinda wish I went the air traffic controller career route, too. Average salary is about $115,000.

  1. Simon Landau said at 4:45 pm on Sunday February 14, 2010:

    Great read Janelle, really good article.  The home she landed looks fantastic.

  1. former Georgetowner said at 11:28 am on Tuesday February 16, 2010:

    wow. I love that deck she has.. Must be nice to have $200K socked away as a 25 year old.

  1. OnMyOwn said at 5:56 pm on Thursday December 8, 2011:

    “Must be nice to have $200K socked away as a 25 year old.”


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