Good Deal or Not? Deal of the Century Edition?

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This condo is located at 235 Emerson Street, NW:

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The flier says:


More info and photos found here.

This place looks like it has some sweet old school details. The listing says it is under contract but it has been under contract for ages so perhaps the deal may not go through? If it doesn’t this price seems ridiculously good. Is $107,000 for this 1 bed/1bath the deal of the century?

37 Comment

  • It’s already under contract (contingent, *but* with a kick out provision, which is why it’s still an active listing)…so I’d say it’s probably a good deal.

  • This whole complex is featured in James Goode’s “Best Addresses” book. It just needs some love.

  • these old coops with their 500 dollar monthly fees. whats that go towards? a condo with that kinda fee would have a pool, gym, billiards room.

  • Does anyone have any idea what a rental 1br would go for up in that area? I’d have to guess it’d be a lot less than in Columbia Heights or Petworth near the Metro, but by how much?

    It does look like you could walk to the Ft Totten Metro pretty easily from here, and even with taxes and fees your total housing cost would be less than $1000 for your own place, so I’d say it’s a good deal for someone.

  • Oh, oops. I didn’t see that there is a $454/month condo fee. So with everything it might be more like $1100-1200 / month. I’m thinking you could find a rental for that much in that neighborhood, so it’s probably just priced right, but not a great deal.

  • Anonymous @1:24 – One reason why coops have higher fees is that individual unit owners do not pay property taxes on their units, instead the whole building pays a single property tax bill. So a big portion of your unit’s fee is for the building’s property taxes.

  • $500 is not that bad for a coop fee. What is bad is that sales of coops are now taxed…

    That’s gotta be baked into the sale price.

  • @Anon 1:24, coop fees go to the same things that condo fees go towards, PLUS they pay for the property taxes and a share of the blanket mortgage for the property. So when you pay a coop fee you do not need to pay property taxes, and your own mortgage payment is usually less since the list price for coops often include the share of the blanket mortgage, which you don’t need to finance.

    For example, say the list price of a coop is $150,000. You put up $30k (20%) down payment, and the underlying share of the mortgage on that unit is $20k, then you only have to finance $100,000 (compared to the $120,000 that you would have to finance if you upt $30k down on a $150 condo).

    So to get a true apples-to-apples comparison of condo vs. coop fees, you need to take into account those 2 other factors.

  • Deal of the “decade” might be more appropriate.

    Anyhow, good post.

    Let’s have more of these practical and affordable posts and less of the dreamy ones.

    May draw more readers, too.

  • Can you easily do renovations on your kitchen in a Co-Op like this because as-is that kitchen looks almost unliveable. I’m still not sure I see the value in this as an investment because it might be too far away from all of the upcoming development to appreciate much…

  • Adore the kitchen.
    Shoudl get landmark status.
    Death to anyone who replaces with granite and stainless steel.

  • Hey I walk past there everyday when I get off the bus. You can indeed walk to Ft. Totten from here. A bus (64) runs right in front of this place as well. Overall, it is a very safe neighborhood for in inner-city. I can’t comment on the price. But the location is great for getting to U St., Columbia heights, downtown.

  • Did anyone actually look at the pictures?


    OK, technically there is – but it does not come with any counters, and the 1920’s sink is more suited for washing clothes than anything else. Since there is also no dishwasher, you will be using it a lot, and since there is nowhere to put anything other than the dish-draining area of the sink, you will be fighting for space with your food.

    Seriously – it’s cheap, and even though I love that architectural style, it’s tiny and even if you wanted to there’s not much you can do with the kitchen in that tiny space.

    Once you add in the condo fee, you’re talking about the equivalent of a $170K or so mortgage.Does that sound like a good deal?

  • Chez Nuzum is on the block next to this property. I have to say that even for an unrenovated unit, it is a fantastic deal.

    The building does need a little love and some new windows, but I hear they are close to starting work on that now. Once completed, this place will really sparkle. Plus, all the units in this complex (which takes up the entire block) surround a private small park, which is both unusual and kinda impressive. It is a quiet neighborhood, yet closer to other things than you might think.

    It is a 10-12 minute walk to both Fort Totten and Petworth metro. Add on another 5-7 minutes and you are at DCUSA (I routinely walk home from Red Rocks/Wonderland from here). The 64 buss running along the NH side and the 62/63 bus 2 short blocks away.

    I think the median age of the residents of this complex is probably 72. So working with the coop board filled with older folks probably has its ups and downs.

    gee, sounds like I’m trying to sell the place (which I’m not).

  • @Eric.

    It is a 22 minute walk to Petworth and Fort Totten. To get to DCUSA it takes at least another 15 minutes. However, if one wanted to run… then yes, you are correct.

  • I live on the 5000 block of 1st street and pass by it every time I walk the dog. The property grounds are quite impressive. The area is safe and quiet for the city, and you are 10 min bus ride to U street and 11 street, 10 min walk to fort totten metro, 10 mins walk to Domku ,Yes Organic, Qualia Coffee, Fusion, and Morino Brothers… I think it’s a steal…..better than throwing your money away by renting….

  • 500 condo fee is equivalent to ~100K mortgage. So total price of the unit is similar to 200K price. 200K for a small unrenovated condo – with not even a washer/dryer – deep in the hood – is not a good deal.

  • Ross you walk slow….lol

  • For that price, it’s probably haunted.

  • Ross,

    Petworth Metro I can agree with…But fort totten should only take 10 to 12 mins if you use the path that goes through fort totten park. Its a path everyone uses and it has lights

  • I walk to Ft. Totten. It usually takes ~15 minutes. I’m a block over on 4th. The thing I find so beneficial is that I can usually catch either bus if I need the train. I can catch the bus going to Ft. Totten or Petworth. That makes is an easy commute. Coming home from the Petworth metro, I can catch either the 62 or 64. Which ever bus comes first works.

  • For the people who are saying the coop fee is like paying another 100k in mortgage for a condo, you are all failing coop financing 101. A condo equivalent of this would probably have around $200 a month in property taxes in addition to the normal condo fee. I would say that a typical condo fee for a place like this plus another $200 per month in property taxes would be about the same as the $454 coop fee for this place. Also, as Larchie explained, if any part of the coop fee goes to paying the blanket mortgage (don’t know here, might have already been paid off) then the whatever amount of blanket mortgage for this unit remains will be deducted from the final sales price, further reducing the mortgage the buyer takes out.

    Also, for those who are saying you can make it to Petworth Metro with a leisurely 10 minute walk, googlemaps says this place is 1.2 miles from Petworth Metro. No way you can walk 1.2 miles in 10 minutes (in a city with traffic and stoplights no less). That’s a solid 20+ minute walk.

  • I don’t know how many units are in that building, but I can tell you, not very much of that co-op fee is going to taxes. The total assessment for that place is $1,480,000, which means that they are paying a total of $13K a year for the entire co-op (assuming it’s taxed at the residential rate).

    That is one hell of a deal for the coop, I have to say. Assuming there are at least 10 units, that means the average assessment is less than $150K. Since it’s five stories I am guessing there are probably 20 or more units.

    The tax analysis that Isotopor makes is not correct. The assessment for an owner-occupied condo with a tax assessment of $107,000 would be $340 PER YEAR – not an extra $200 per month. That’s less than 30 bucks a month. An owner-occupied condo valued at $200,000 would have an annual tax bill of $1,170.

    The tax rate is $0.85 per 100 dollars of value – and if you get the homestead deduction, you take $67,500 off the top of the assessed value before doing the calculation. That means this place, if it were a condo, would have a taxable value of $40,000, and an annual tax of $340.

  • dcpublius, you act like if you buy a rowhouse or SFH you aren’t going to have to pay for property taxes or a new roof/repairs or any other thing that is included in a coop fee.

  • @RD, you’ll be hard pressed to spend $5K a year on average maintaining a typical row house, even a poorly maintained one. That’s a new boiler or a new roof, and little else is that expensive for normal maintenance. Those things will happen zero or one times over the time you own your house.

    There is no comparison in the value proposition of buying a house versus a condo. It is simple fact that houses appreciate more than condos. In areas where there is a lot of development, condos may even depreciate as houses appreciate, because people would rather buy a new condo than an old one.

    I am not arguing that there aren’t good reasons to buy a condo versus a house. It is without question more work to own a house, and yes, you will have unexpected expenses. Condos are much easier, and not everyone wants all that space and the time and effort that goes along with maintaining it.

    But as far as the overall cost of ownership – from the time you buy it to the time you sell it – you will rarely fare better with a condo or coop.

  • It’s funny that people don’t look at a condo fee and say “that’s like an extra $100k mortgage on a fee simple house.”

    I don’t know what it is that makes people think you don’t get anything for a coop fee. It’s not just being thrown down a hole! Since the residents own a coop and have a say in setting the fee, it is in their best interest to set the fee at the lowest amount possible that maintains the building and financing. RD is correct – you’re going to pay for it anyway, it’s just a matter of how it’s accounted for.

  • @Larchie, knowing a few people who are the presidents of their respective condo boards, I can tell you without question that you DO NOT get out of that money that you would if you managed it yourself…

    “it is in their best interest to set the fee at the lowest amount possible” — that’s a REALLY big assumption. You are paying for a lot of things that you usually don’t pay for in a house, like fixing elevators, legal fees, maintenance and infrastructure upgrades that require huge one-time expenses.

    As I said before, taking out the $30 per month that goes to taxes out of the $500 condo fee, you’re left with $470.

    Are there any homeowners out there who can honestly say they’ve spent ANYWHERE NEAR $6000 a year on maintenance of their home, on average?

    I have about $6K a year on my home in the last 4 years. BUT I’VE BEEN RENOVATING IT TOP TO BOTTOM!

  • I live very close to this spot as well and have always liked that building when passing by. Cool to see the inside.

  • That sink is likely original. I looked at a 20’s era house on the Hill that had that sink. I love the sink.

  • I am actually the president of this Coop so I would be lad to answer many of the questions/comments on here.

    #1 Our board is relatively old but I am 27 and in general I would say we are easy to deal with. The community as a pretty good mix of old and young, about 35-40% of the residents are retired or of retirement age. About 80% of all of our buyers within the last 5 years were under 35.

    #2 Coop fee is a little I primarily because our heating costs are astronomical. There is no underlying mortgage as of today but we anticipate taking one out in the very near future and have budgeted the annual cost into the fee right now, so that accounts for some of the reasons why it is so high.

    #3 There are 14 units in this building, 9 buildings in the coop and 102 units overall.

    #4 1 bed rentals o for between $1100 and $1300, but we are very strict towards allowing owners to rent their units. (honestly at some of these prices you are stupid not to just buy)

    #5 Our taxes are included in the fee, but the are extremely low.

    #6 Plenty of residents walk to metro, some take the bus to Ft Toten

    #7 Renovations require board approval, but it is easy to do. The board just wants to make sure you are using licensed contractors and to make sure you are aware of the rules (hours of renovation, cleanliness etc.)

    #8 I realize I’m biased but this was a steal, if you look at the comps over the last 3 years it was priced about $40-$60K below average per sq foot, even considering the work that was needed.

    #9 Its true we are about to add new windows and spruce the place up.

    #10 If you like this unit, the one next it is going to be on the market within a few weeks (newly renovated)

  • @ Just J, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad deal, but “comps over the last 3 years” is kinda an oxymoron since housing was more expensive during that time

    Also lookinng on Craiglist I found some 1brs in the area for 800-900 / month, like this one:

    Maybe this building is nicer, though, I’m not sure

  • L, true but my point was if a similar unit like that sold for $180K in 2005 then it probably should be worth somewhere between $140K and $160K today given the way the market tanked. So for this to go for $107K is a give away.

    You can definitely find cheaper rentals in Petworth but those are real rental prices, one apartment went for $1300 in August. I don’t set the rental rates, it’s between the unit’s owner and the renter

  • @Jamie, I am the vice president of my coop board, in a coop building of 36 units.

    You are correct that taxes are relatively low, and you are correct that maintenance of a multifamily building is not the same as a private house – you don’t have an elevator or on-site building superintendant to do maintenance of your own private home. My point was that the fee isn’t arbitrary, it is based on the minimum cost of managing the building. It’s not a stretch to assume that people aren’t going to CHARGE THEMSELVES more than they have to – we set the monthly fee to JUST cover the costs.

    But I’m not trying to get into a coops vs. condos vs. single-family-home argument. I’m merely trying to answer the question as to why coop fees may SEEM higher than similar condo fees. [short answer: it’s all the stuff of a condo fee plus property tax and blanket mortgage] I was also pointing out the double standard that people look at coop fees and say “ooh, that’s $$$ that could be spent on a mortgage for a house” but I’ve never heard anyone say that about a condo. Why is that?

  • It’s true that most housing in Petworth or DC didn’t drop 40% in value but I still think $107k is probably close to the actual market value for this unit, considering that’s what it’s selling for.

    As for $1300 / month for a 1br, I’d have to see the unit, but my guess is that the tenant didn’t do a good job shopping around / negotiating if they’re paying that much. Hopefully it has a more functional kitchen than this unit.

  • @Ross and others: Given, I’m a fast walker–but I regularly walk this route (including this morning), and it’s 12 minutes door to door. Ft Totten, with the aforementioned goat path shortcut–is 10, tops.

    Google always assumes a dirth-like pace for walking directions.

  • Does needing love mean higher rents or prices?, i don’t think so.

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