Sweat Equity: The Story of An Auction-Bought Home

by Joe Marhamati

The story of a home bought at auction will almost certainly be a more interesting tale than any conventional home-buying transaction. For Mike, it was nothing short of a roller coaster ride.

The 30-year-old Arlington resident bought a three-bedroom, 1.5–bath townhouse at a DC housing auction last year for $189,000. Despite having few regrets, his obstacles to making it habitable have been many.

Mike bought the auctioned property as many others do: without ever having seen it, or in his case, without even knowing exactly where it was.

After a bidding war with a “stubborn” woman who was also very interested in the property, Mike ended up paying about $20,000 more than he originally expected for the property that he eventually would find out was located two blocks off H Street NE. The price tag would not be the first unexpected chapter in this process.

Mike assumed that his new home would be in rough shape having fixed up a house years ago in Richmond, but when he laid eyes on the yellow, boarded-up property that would sooner be mistaken for a shell than a home, he realized that the work he would need to put in would be substantial.

The property had been abandoned for an astonishing 33 years, and the deed was in complete disarray after the previous occupant died and the property remained unclaimed. On one of his first trips inside, Mike found a calendar from 1976 and over three decades worth of decay. He did some ballpark calculations and realized that his construction costs would be close to one-third of what he paid at auction.


“I assumed the brick mortar had deteriorated, so it had to be completely repointed and in some places rebuilt,” Mike explained to UrbanTurf. “I also realized that the house had to be gutted down to the stud walls.”

Mike did the demo work with the help of laborers from a Home Depot parking lot, but he had major problems with the plumbers and HVAC contractors that he hired. Because Mike purchased the house from the city, he was required to use contractors listed as certified local, small, and disadvantaged businesses. This requirement ended up causing him a great deal of trouble and additional expense as the plumber and HVAC tech he hired wouldn’t fulfill their contracts.

In addition to shoddy contractors, Mike’s new home became prime squatting territory for some of H Street’s homeless population shortly after he took the boards off the windows. (He politely asked that they seek other accommodations while he finished rehabbing the house, which they did.) Also to repair an issue with his sewage system, which is located on the street in front of the house, the city came out and shot water through the line, which had the unintended effect of spewing gobs of waste high into the air and onto nearby cars.

So far, Mike has spent 18 months rehabbing the house, installing new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. He has been through a number of contractors, though relied heavily on his own time and handiwork to reduce the overall cost. He plans to move in in a couple weeks and eventually rent out the other bedrooms to housemates.

Mike’s experience in buying an auctioned property is a lesson for any first-time buyer, prospective developer, do-it-yourselfer, or general bargain hunter. Be prepared for plenty or surprises, a tremendous investment of time and money, and a lot of headaches.

However, Mike’s work is now looking like it will pay off. His house sits on a beautiful side street steps from H Street, and will likely be worth twice what he paid for it, even after renovation costs.

See other articles related to: investment properties, h street, editors choice, dclofts

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/sweat_equity_the_story_of_an_auction-bought_home/2489


  1. jag said at 11:21 am on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Wow, sounds like a nightmare. Hope it’s worth it in the end!

  1. Eric said at 11:57 am on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Seems like a lot of trouble, but the house now looks great! Would love to see some interior shots, too.

  1. kck said at 12:51 pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Would love to hear more as to why the local/small contractors would not fulfill their contracts!

  1. Joe Marhamati said at 1:28 pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    @kck—Here is more information about the contractor trouble that Mike ran into:

    “I’m sure there are great contractors on the list.  I just didn’t have luck with them. Mainly the HVAC guy.  The HVAC guy took off for weeks after I gave him a check for $2000 to buy my heat pump.  I think he just way underbid the job and wanted to walk away from it. I had to go an confront him at his shop. As for the plumber, he just got sick and wouldn’t do the work. He gave me a great price, but I ended up having to get another guy to do it.  The HVAC guy was far worse.”

    Joe Marhamati

  1. Jason Hager said at 8:05 pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Thats one hell of a paint job.

  1. spjulep said at 9:16 pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Would love to know the total amount he spent fixing it up!

  1. Jersey Joe said at 9:55 pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010:

    Congratulations on an amazing before/after renovation project.

  1. roots said at 12:03 am on Wednesday September 22, 2010:

    the guy looks to make 300k PROFIT for probably two years of work. I’d say that’s worth it.

  1. Ed said at 8:42 pm on Wednesday September 29, 2010:

    What a joke. Another liberal mandate with foreseen consequences. Why restrict what contractors purchasers of DC owned properties can use?

Comments are closed.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾