Good Deal Or Not? Open Floorplan Renovation Edition


This home is located at 613 Upshur Street, NW:

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The flier says:

“Recent reconstruction has turned this GRAND porch-front into a neighborhood showplace! All new EVERYTHING: systems, floors, roof, walls, kitchen, baths, windows +more! 19′ wide with fully finished basement and AMAZING bonus loft/office in 2-LVL master bedroom! DEEP backyard with two car private parking! Just 4 blocks to METRO!”

More info found here and a virtual tour found here.

Wow, I wasn’t expecting the inside to look like this at all. I kinda dig the open feel. And of course I’m a huge supporter of the bay windows. What do you guys think of the reno? Does $549,000 sound reasonable for this 4 bed/3.5 bath home?

60 Comment

  • It has a great location, short walk to the Metro, and a big back yard. Looks pretty good.

  • What is up with those horrible columns that seem to be in every renovation lately? Do people actually like them??

  • I actually like this except for the yucky generic bathroom tiles and enough of the columns already. They look cheap and thrown in place. The floors are gorgeous.

  • Probably close to selling point. It is going to be a bitch to get that black paint off of that banister (but probably worth it.) I agree about the columns — do people really prefer this open floor plan style to the traditional living room/dining room divide?

  • yes. I like it very much – especially the backyard. Too bad it’s on that stretch of Upshur, which is kinda fugly. Kinda pricey as well.

  • @Ross, I despise the open floor plan but this is done better than most. You can still kind of see the house’s character. I can’t stand the kitchen smell that permeates everything when you start cooking because there are no walls/doors to close off and block it. Plus, it can get very noisy.


    Seriously, I love this house. I think it’s a steal. Maybe it’s not the layout everyone would want, but I think it rocks.

  • I think its a great deal… while imperfect, its still a 4 bedroom house with a master loft, has a yard and parking…

    I do think that the heating bills/AC bills will be crazy because its obvious they eliminated the attic in the master, which means little insulation between the roof and your bedroom…

  • Tomorrow, I close on a house a few blocks away from this, so I think I have a good feel for the market right now. I think it is priced right.

  • @MK you say being able to smell the scents of the kitchen like it’s a BAD thing. That’s an awesome thing in my book. So is being able to cook and entertain with a large group. I don’t know what you’re making, but if you don’t like how it smells, I gotta think you’re doing it wrong.

  • For all the column haters:

    Many houses have load-bearing walls, that is, a wall that isn’t just dividing space but one that actually holds up the floors above it. If you want to open up the wall, you still need the structural support. You end up with a column in lieu of a wall.

  • where are the closets? I didn’t see a coat closet on the main floor and they are paltry upstairs.

  • @Supporting Support – my criticism was more towards the entire idea of knocking down all of the original walls in these old rowhouses to achieve that ‘open’ feel. I’m just curious as to whether most people like the open look (of course there will be columns, as removing walls still leaves important load-bearing supports in place.)

  • As far as closets, I wouldn’t be too concerned. The loft above the master bedroom provides all the storage you’ll ever need.

    I’d like to see more pics of the basement. How much room is there for a kitchenette? How big is the bedroom? Would it be difficult to put in a rear entrance? That basement could generate some nice rental income.

  • I went to the open house here yesterday and thought this is a pretty nice renovation. There is actually a lot of closet space for a DC rowhouse, including a coat closet by the front door (!). The bay windows were awesome. And I’m not usually a huge fan of the “open feel” in these houses, but I liked it in this one.

  • It’s gotten to the point where I can’t stand the granite/stainless thing. I like the clean and modern look, but I can’t look at one more ubiquitous kitchen without going nuts.

    As someone who is staring down my own kitchen renovation shortly, what else is there to look for that stays away from frills or any sort of “country” look?

  • JTH, so you have to lug your boots, umbrella, and coat all the way up to the loft when you get home?
    I’d take a bit of the deck and build a mud room/closet/pantry area.

    Ross, pre-demo, a lot of these places are so dark, you need lights on in broad daylight to see across the room. I am a big proponent of preserving historic architecture, but there are some things that can be improved upon. Old doesn’t mean great (if it did, we’d have water closets and wood-fired ovens).

  • ah, Laurie , I didn’t see that in the pics. Thx.

  • Good deal. The refrigerator looks odd without any cabinetry over it, not that big of a deal. As for the insulation – I would guess they used the spray in cellulose, which creates a much better seal, so if they sized the HVAC system properly, there shouldn’t be any problems with temperature/utility cost.

  • anon at 2:02 pm. Look into wood. Custom made oak or maple cabinets with our without glass doors/frosted glass doors. Butcher board or other type of wood for your counter tops instead of granite, just put protective coat on top. Use tile for your walls and backsplash with lighting fixtures to fit your style. Not sure about the appliances.

  • I remember this from the Spring. I believe it went for around $180K so it’s a healthy profit built in. Looks like they did some good work. I think it’s not far from where it’ll go.

    Is anyone else getting board of granite counters and SS appliances? Everything is starting to look the same.

  • Why do people comment on alleged “profit”, as if it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s the perception of those that want to own verse those that do. I have no idea what this house looked like at $180k, but presumably they put money into it. They have to pay commissions, transfer taxes, and be compensated for their time spent and the risks associated with buying/rehabbing property.

  • No bars on the windows? How do people who live on Upshur feel about that?

  • Fantastic house, defenitely a good deal, and Im surporised they didint ask for a little more.

    I too am getting tired of stainless and granite, but what else do you put in place? No one has really come up with a better design. Black and White appliances look cheap compared to stainless, same with most other replacements for granite.

  • @Nicole, I am not cooking things wrong. I just don’t like the smell of every thing you cook drifting through every space in the house – good or bad. With open floor plans it is unavoidable. That being said, I still think this house is cute.

  • @Nofiction — re: bars on windows. Not a problem at all.

  • Not many houses sell for $549+ over there, but i think this one brings it. Like others, my only knocks are the stupid columns and the standard issue ugly brown tile. I don’t like when the renovations blow out the attic just for the dramatic effect in the master bedroom, so i like that this one strikes a balance and keeps usable space up there. I guess I have one more knock, it would have been nice to have at least a wet bar in the basement.

  • I love it. We have not busted out the center wall on ours because I want the extra space to hang kitchen cabinets, but this looks nice. Ready to move in, tidy backyard, and very convenient location for Yes! market, Metro, Domku, 64 bus downtown etc. Only thing I would change is include pics of the basement, and what’s up with the gap of unpainted drywall between those the kitchen cabinets? Welcome new neighbor whoever you are, bet this sells in 3 days.

  • Not of fans of the columns and agree they’re a structural necessity, but there’s no reason why they can’t be encased behind drywall rather than treated as a design element. In some cases columns are isolated in the middle of a room and can’t be effectively hidden, but both of these columns are close enough to walls/vertical joists that they could be easily concealed.

    Staging — the Ikea Terje chairs are great to have stowed in the basement to have when company over, but staging a whole table like that looks really cheap — they’d be better off leaving this room empty. Very amateurish.

    @Just J

    There are TONS of options besides granite. Lots of more eco friendly options than granite, many with better aesthetic qualities too. Concrete, reclycled glass, pressed paperboard to name a few. My bigger gripe than the counters is the frequently overlooked design role of tile backsplash in DC kitchens renos. Good tile is $$$, and many developers work on the cheap and leave plain drywall. Not to mention my next biggest pet peave – free standing ranges rather than slide-in or built in.

  • Brown 12″x12″ tiles from Home Depot strike again! $0.68/sq ft! Man, if people only knew how cheap the products they plug into these older houses are. I like the floor plan and floors (are they original?), but the rest is more of the same.

  • Didn’t any notice these figures!?!

    Tax Year: 2008
    Total Taxes: $38,052
    Total Taxes Frequency: Annually
    City Tax: $17,899.50

  • Anonymous @ 3:31

    The property was taxed at that rate because it was vacant. The taxes for the prospective will be around $4000 per year.

  • Developer is the same one that did 525 Irving. Both look great. A little too far north for me, but it is priced well.

  • I like the floor plan. One thing that bothers me about DC rowhouses is the deep tunnel effect, no light, no air, and a rabbits nest of little rooms.

  • Looks like an awesome renovation to me. I love the 2 level master bedroom idea. That’s a $1.5 million home in other neighborhoods.
    As far as the potential profit is concerned, like the kids say “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Anyone could have bought this place for $180k (including the people who routinely complain about the lack of affordable housing options), put $200k into it (which is probably a lot more than the developer actually did here) and ended up with place that was beyond sweet for south of $400k. The fact is that most prospective homeowners don’t want to buy something that has to be renovated. So developers who are willing to take the risk get to reap the profits. I can tell you right now that even though I have the disposable income to do it, I would not sink my money into a home where I would have to borrow money for a renovation, supervise the renovation, and then hope to recoup what I paid out plus some profit on the back end. I’d rather stick to investing and stocks and bonds.

  • Stained baltic birch plywood, metal, and exposed structure became the design ‘language’ of the dot com boom and as soon as it burst, everyone distanced themselves from these things. What once represented an open, accepting atmosphere and ingenuity came to represent instability and naivete.

    Once upon a time, anything made of plastic represented the bright future, and then it came to represent cheap and toxic.

    The same will happen with granite and stainless steel combinations. They are already coming to represent the real estate boom and bust–just look at these comments. Something will take its place. Design is cyclical.

  • Who cares how much money they make on it? So they made a smart investment. That’s, er, life.

    Anyone who has a problem with this idea, and is in the market for a home in this price range, should do the obvious: Buy a gut job for 180K and hire your own contractors instead of buying an already-fixed-up house.

    I would never by an already-renovated house for exactly this reason: you can get exactly what you want for a lot less money (and probably better work) by doing it yourself. The three months extra rent you spend while waiting out the work is nothing compared to the savings.

  • Did I miss seeing the master bathroom? As others have noted I am very unimpressed with the hall bathroom–cheap fixtures and bland boring inexpensive tile. You can go neutral yet still have nice finishes,

  • “The same will happen with granite and stainless steel combinations. They are already coming to represent the real estate boom and bust–just look at these comments. Something will take its place. Design is cyclical.”

    I have to disagree with this. There’s a really big difference between stainless steel and plastic.

    It doesn’t look like crap after a few years, because it cleans well, and it matches any color scheme.

    That’s exactly why it is, and has been, so popular. I would never buy any other appliances. Everything other than stainless tarnishes, fades, scratches, and needs replacing if you change your color scheme or cabinets.

  • @ogden

    Absolutely correct. You could probably toss in towel bar handles into that critique (harder to change than you think since most cabinet hardware has only 3-4″ holes). Stainless still reigns because it beats white/black/almond and most people don’t want to lock into a color pallete that could be dated or limiting to lower effort kitchen makeover in the future.

    Granite leaves a remarkably heavy carbon footprint (unless salvaged), has potential radon issues (neither fully known or disproven) and a ubitquitous quality that dimishes any specialness about the product.

    That said I still like SS for appliances but other choices for counters. But it has to be SS appliances with some design elements — preferably clean lines. There’s a place for a more organic balance of materials, including glass, metal, wood, textile and stone.


    The sad thing is that they could splurge on reasonably nice tile for a mere $3-5/sqft.

  • @Marcus Aurelius and Jamie- Speaking for myself, I have NO problem with folks making a profit. I do sometimes grumble about the investors, though, because I’ve bid twice in the last month on rowhouses that needed total renovations – completely willing to take on the project and then live there – only to be beat out by investors paying 100% cash down.

    I’ve given up on being able to find an affordable rowhouse (which by definition for me would be in need of serious renovation) because these investors who are able to put up cash seem to be snapping up anything in a good location. But maybe that’s just the market right now…

    It’s great for the neighborhood for these places to sell rather than sit on the market, but in my opinion far better if future occupants buy them, because that’s how you end up with quality renovations that add more to the neighborhood than that same generic brown tile.

  • @Wannabe – there are soooo many cheap houses on the market, I can’t believe you can’t find one. I get an email alert for new listings (from redfin) and I see houses around $200-$250k coming up on the market like every other day in Petworth. Are you sure your bids are realistic? A lot of stuff is being offered at prices obviously well below market value.

    I agree about it being better that owner-occupants buy a place, because most flip renovations are crappy and in the long run will not help either the eventual homeowner or the community. But it is what it is — you can’t expect a seller to do anything other than accept the best offer. Instead of going in at asking price, go in at what you think the house is worth, bid over a little bit to set your offer apart.

  • Wannabe – there is a for sale by owner on the 1300 block of Meridian Pl. Its had the sign on the fence for several months. No idea what the asking price is… it is a project for sure, I would guess livable, but in need of lots of work.

  • @Jamie – Nah, I’m not going in at asking price – in fact, the winning bid on one of the places I lost was actually LESS than what I bid, but since they were paying cash (as opposed to my 20% down) and didn’t have an inspection clause, their bid was accepted by the bank. 🙁 Hence my irritation. I’m not anti-capitalist or naive or anything – just bummed.

    I’m looking south of Petworth to be closer to my work, so it’s probably just that the fixer-upper supply is less plentiful in Columbia Heights, etc., so the ones that come up are more attractive to investors. Or I’m just cursed! I’ll keep looking, but I’m looking at condos as well.

  • You can see all the closets in the pictures of the floor plans. There are also room dimensions so you can see how practical it would be to add a kitchen to the basement.

    I loathe stainless steel as well, and I actually think black appliances look great. Except for the fridge – if it’s not stainless, it’s that bumpy material. But a problem is that a lot of vendors are only making stainless steel, for example my ovens which have the perfect functions for me, but are ugly stainless. However, there are great companies like Aga and Elmira that make beautifully colored appliances, they’re just outrageously priced.

    In terms of counters, I love the semi-precious stone and Mexican tile even though both are totally impractical (and I think the semi-precious is probably as damaging to the earth as granite). I think pressed paper might work, except I only see it in black, which is so dark especially for DC rowhouses. I went with granite because I hate the look of all the other durable materials available.

  • With these open floor plans, how much does it cost to heat? It would seem that you could never be warm enough, because you couldn’t close doors to trap in heat.

  • They invented this thing called insulation… it traps heat marvelously, especially when coupled with modern windows and doors.

  • @wannabe… yeah it will definitely be harder in cohi to find something cheap, even a dump. I think Petworth is a great deal right now because there’s so much supply, prices being driven down by foreclosures. There is definitely a lot less on the market farther south at least at the low end. Good luck…

  • I don’t think there’s much difference in heating an open vs. closed floor plan. Unless you are in the habit of turning off radiators throughout your house as you enter and leave rooms downstairs, why would it matter? Very few houses this size have more than one heating zone and certainly not two zones on the first floor.

    That said I hate open floor plans. You hear the TV everywhere. You smell the kitchen everywhere. You have far fewer walls to put furniture and stuff against. Oh yeah and you hear everything. Everywhere.

    I really can’t understand why the concept “rooms” went out of style in favor of the “gymnasium” look. I guess it’s good for parties, but I’m not having one 99% of the time.

  • @Jamie- Thanks! There have been a few, so it’s not impossible, but I’m not holding my breath that I’d be able to beat out the cash-heavy investors. Appreciate the support…

    And totally agreed re:rooms. I like to have the dining area (or a breakfast room) visible/audible from the kitchen so I’m not shut off from my guests, but there’s nothing more irritating than a floorplan where you can hear the TV through the entire first floor. Unless you’re living alone, I guess. Plus, where would I hang all my pictures?

  • lordscarlet

    @Jamie I’m with Wannabe here.. the really good deals get snatched up by developers by cash. 100% cash offers can come in well under a financed offer, particularly on foreclosures, and there’s little a “normal” buyer can do.

    You’ll find little in that price range that stays on the market long, and most are bought up by cash developer offers.

  • @lordscarlet- Yep, it’s foreclosures I’m having trouble with – not sure how I’d do on a normal sale. Pretty disappointing to lose out to a lower cash offer when I’m pre-approved and everything, but apparently that’s how it works! I guess someone’s gotta keep those column-builders, granite installers, and stainless steel appliance vendors in business…

  • RD – sleeping in one of those blown out dramatic master bedrooms sure is relaxing, though.

  • “the really good deals get snatched up by developers by cash”
    I guess that depends on how you define “the really good deals.” A 3 BR, 2 bath home near me and only a couple of blocks from the Metro went into foreclosure last year. It was on and off the market for months until it was bought by an owner-occupant who is renovating it with the help of an FHA construction loan. Personally, I think he got a really good deal. I’ll bet he thinks so too.
    I’m not sure that owner occupants are necessarily more likely to deliver “quality renovations that add more to the neighborhood.” During the height of the boom there were tons of stories about neighborhoods up in arms because new owners were buying nice homes, razing them, and building huge houses that spanned from property line to property line. You can see this in any number of areas of Arlington – people who wanted a McMansion but did not want to live as far out as McLean.

  • Wannabe homeowner:

    Post an e-mail address on the PoP Forum under Real Estate.

    Click “Forum” above; then “Real Estate” and leave an e-mail address or contact information and I’ll give you the address of a place I own; a two story and basement that might fit what you’re looking for as I’m seeking an end user.

  • @anon 2:02: Corian counters? They’re extremely durable; I grew up in a house with Corian counters (and a family that cooks a lot) and 20 years later they’re still bright white with no stains. Comes in lot of colors (most of which are granite-esque, but not all).

    As for the open floor plan, I live in a classic Petworth rowhouse with it’s walls still intact, and we keep the doors open between all of the main floor rooms because it keeps the middle of the house lit and the traffic flowing smoothly (even with just 4 people). Knocking out the wall between the dining room and kitchen would only improve things in here, and I can hear the TV all over the main floor anyway.

  • @ Wannabe – check the unit block of Franklin St NE if you want a big house for

  • Holy smokes. It’s under contract. Not surprising given how fast things are moving these days, but still…

  • Not surprised at all it is under contract so quick.

    I am well aware of all the options for countertops (I am in the middle of flipping an apartment unit myself), but to me the other options just don’t make any business sense. The cost savings for Corian or similar granite is almost nothing in a small kitchen, and a lot of the more expensive stuff (glass marble etc) doesn’t necessarily add more value.

    Every person who I have discussed selling my apartment to has asked me the same five questions: 1) where is it located 2) how many sq feet 3) does it have granite 4) does it have stainless steel. If they are still interested after the first four questions then the fifth is price. You can’t change location or sq feet, (at least not easily) and most sellers are trying to sell for the highest price possible so that leaves only the materials as the easy fix. If everyone is asking me about granite and stainless steel, why should I put in something else? It might look better, it mite be better for the environment, but if people don’t come to see the unit because it doesn’t have granite or SS, then it’s a waste of money

  • I’m surprised there’s so much complaining over this one. I have some nitpicks on a few (changable) choices, but overall it’s a beautiful house, especially the 2-level master bedroom and the nice sized backyard. Not surprised at all it’s under contract.

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