This Old Anacostia House: A Renovation Story

by Mark Wellborn

David Garber, the brains behind the blog And Now Anacostia and a real estate entrepreneur, just put the house that he spent about eight months rehabbing and renovating on the market. The three-bedroom home located in the middle of Historic Anacostia is the first of many renovation projects that Garber plans to take on. Below we interview him about the process.

1214 U Street SE — The Finished Product

1) How old are you and what is your current occupation?

I am 26 and am one year into my new occupation as a renovator, designer, and general “trying to make neighborhoods better” guy. Fixing up buildings has always been a dream of mine, and so doing that in neighborhoods that have heaps of potential is pretty exciting.

2) When did you buy your house and how much did you pay for it?

I began the buying process for 1214 U Street SE (map) a year ago, and finally purchased the property for $88,000 in the fall. I’m a hard negotiator, so my purchase price ended up being about $40,000 less than the asking price.

3) In rehabbing the home, did you completely gut the interior or was it just cosmetic things here and there?

This house was in horrendous condition when I bought it. It looked like a rotten cinder block: all of the windows and doors were boarded up, there were two styles of stucco on the exterior, the porch was falling apart, and the interior was a mess of building code violations and water damage. Someone had attempted a gut renovation a few years back, but did so without the proper permits or Historic Preservation Review Board approval. One of my contract requirements for purchase was that new building permits were pulled and that it had a stamp of approval from historic.

This is now a brand new house in a historic looking shell. Even though it had been gutted a few years back, one of my goals was to make sure the final product respected the character of the 100+ year-old house while still providing all the comforts and conveniences of new construction. I even consulted with a font specialist to make sure the gold house numbers were historically appropriate. Too many renovations in “up and coming” neighborhoods are done by people who don’t really care how the house relates to the neighborhood or how the building materials will age. I might spend a little more money up front, but the end product lifts the neighborhood higher than the average flip.

1214 U Street SE, circa Fall 2009

4) What was the worst part of the process?

The worst part of the renovation process for me was dealing with lazy contractors. I’ve worked with really great people, but also people that I will never use again. However, the best part is seeing the finished product, and getting that warm and fuzzy confirmation that the design elements and small decisions made along the way really work together to make a pretty cool looking house.

5) The story about your home getting robbed while you were having a Christmas party probably reinforced people’s long-held impressions of Anacostia. Did it make you have second thoughts about moving into the area?

I considered just keeping the robbery story to myself, but decided it was worth sharing. When I post to my blog or talk about the neighborhood in other mediums, I always try to make sure that what I say is honest, promotional, and interesting. The robbery was by far my worst experience here and broke down some of my idealism about the neighborhood. But, most of the response emails I received were from people in Georgetown and the Palisades and a bunch of other neighborhoods telling me that they had been robbed, too, and that they knew this wasn’t the defining feature of Anacostia. Not exactly comforting, but at least some sort of affirmation that this wasn’t the incident that would bring down the ship.

Probably the worst part about the robbery was that it has made me hesitant to host blowout parties at my house again. Not gonna lie, they’re usually pretty epic.

6) How receptive was the neighborhood community to you and your project?

As soon as neighbors realized that I was not the average chain-link and vinyl house flipper, they started to take ownership of the project and become both cheerleaders and the unofficial neighborhood watch. There’s typically an initial hesitancy over here because people are so used to investors buying property and giving it the cookie-cutter treatment. It helps that I live in the neighborhood, so people realize that I have more at stake with the end product. And I was the kid who read Preservation Magazine and This Old House when I was thirteen, so I’m not really about the standard model, even if it means I make less of a return (which so far I don’t). This house had been a complete eye-sore for years, so everyone seems to enjoy having something nicer to look at.

The New Kitchen

7) What advice would you give to others considering a rehab in River East?

My advice is this: renovate homes in River East with the same eye to quality and longetivity as you would your own house. Spend the money to make the outside look really great (honestly, wood windows and doors are not prohibitively more expensive than vinyl!). These houses should be the standouts on the block. Also, be mindful of the history of these neighborhoods. Even if Anacostia is the only officially designated historic district east of the Anacostia River (ridiculous, I know) other neighborhoods have the same depth of history and their homes should be remodeled to reflect that.

8) Are there other rehabs around you in your neighborhood? How many?

There are probably 5 or 6 other recently rehabbed houses on the market in the immediate neighborhood. Of course, I think mine offers the most bang for your buck, and stylistically it’s more in line with something you’d find on the Hill. It is also in a great location for the neighborhood: right next to MLK and it’s a straight-shot 10-minute walk to Metro or 20-minute walk to Barracks Row. I’m confident that in under five years this house will be worth $200,000 more than I’m selling it for. (Garber has it on the market for $315,000).

9) What will you do after your home sells? Another renovation project?

Definitely! As tough as this is, it’s tremendously rewarding. I’d love to do some commercial buildings, but I think that’ll come after a few more houses. I have my hands full with some other things, too. For example, I’m managing a facade improvement program for Anacostia’s main streets, so am excited to help design things like storefront restorations, retail signage, and exterior lighting. We’re in a pretty neat time in DC where real investment is coming to long-ignored neighborhoods. I just love being part of the process!

See other articles related to: renovation, dclofts, and now anacostia, anacostia

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/this_old_anacostia_house_a_renovation_story/2117


  1. Evan Thomas said at 1:26 pm on Friday May 28, 2010:

    Very cool story and amazing job on the house! With all the shoddy work being done out there by developers looking to flip and make a quick buck, it is refreshing to read stories like this.

  1. Hunter Huggins said at 2:12 pm on Friday May 28, 2010:

    Garber, you throw epic parties? Wow….Thanks for inviting me

  1. nick said at 3:01 pm on Friday May 28, 2010:

    Any contractor recs that you want to throw out there for those of us about to start to rehab work?

  1. Darrin Davis said at 5:42 pm on Sunday May 30, 2010:

    Great interview and great house! I’m happy to be involved.

    Darrin Davis, Principal Broker/Owner
    Anacostia River Realty

  1. hoos30 said at 9:47 am on Tuesday June 1, 2010:

    Great story. How stupid do you have to be as contractor to do “lazy” work for a developer who is likely to throw repeat business your way??

    Good job David, that house was a wreck.

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