Good Deal or Not? “Unbelievable Condominium that Lives Like a Home!” edition (reader request)

539 Tennessee Avenue Northeast

This unit is located at 539 Tennessee Avenue, Northeast. The listing says:

“Unbelievable Condominium that Lives Like a Home! 2 level, 2 bed, 2.5 baths, Kitchens w SS Appliances + Granite Counters, White Carrera Spa-like Baths, Red Oak Sand in Place Hardwood flrs, Beautiful Balcony off of the Living Area! Great Light & Tree-lined Block Located Steps to H Street!”

You can see more photos here.

This 2 bed/2.5 bath is going for $569,000 ($250 monthly fee.)

63 Comment

  • I live in a rowhouse, so I’m no expert on condo fees – but what would that $250 be going towards in a rowhouse condo like this?

    • Good question. I guess reserves? But in a renovated/pop-up house, it doesn’t seem like anything should need to be fixed any time soon.
      It would be better to spend more on the purchase price and less on the condo fee — it’s amazing how much more that extra amount per month will get you. You can deduct mortgage interest from your taxes, but you can’t deduct any of the condo fee.

    • For condos with small number of units, the majority of the condo fees go to (or they should) a multi-year reserve to cover any large-scale maintenance costs (i.e. new roof), insurance, and taxes. The fees are also used – normally to the collective residents’ discretion – yard upkeep, electricity/water for common areas, paint jobs, trash/recycling and whatnot. Collectively, the residents can also decide to raise/lower fees whenever they want – and just decisions are documented in the Condo Documents/By-laws. I actually think its a pretty good system

    • probably a little for ongoing things like lawn mowing and exterior lights, possibly the water bill. Mostly a reserve fund for bigger issues as they come up. Since there are only 2 units in the building, it seems possible for the owners to get together as a “condo association” and raise or lower the fees as needed. The challenge comes when you can’t agree on how to deal with maintenance issues or one of you stops paying fees.

    • I live in a converted condo in Bloomingdale that has a similar fee (we decided on this number). It pays the following: water, building insurance, reserves.

  • Wow, I actually really like this.

  • GiantSquid

    I, too, find this appealing. Will have to go and check it out.

  • The condo fee is pretty reasonable actually. The condo has to pay insurance which is around $3K annually right off the top and then things break, bricks need to be repaired, roofs leak, windows break, gardening, alarm systems, light bulbs, rodent infestations, etc. etc. welcome to home ownership, etc.

  • I just bought a rowhouse on this block and poked my head in there this weekend as a nosy neighbor. The work inside was generic flip but looked very well done, and I looked at enough houses to immediately recognize shoddy surface workmanship. Neighborhood is pin drop quiet so far. Far from metro but convenient to food. Doesn’t take me long to bike to work.

  • Interior is nicely done. They’re never going to fix what’s wrong with the outside. That front upper porch was a mistake in an otherwise decent popup

  • Interior is nicely done. They’re never going to fix what’s wrong with the outside. That front upper porch was a mistake in an otherwise decent popup

  • Am I the only one that thinks it is weird – and not in a good way – that someone standing at the front door can seen the contents of the refrigerator of the refrigerator door was open?

    I know people seem to love open concepts (or at least developers like to build them because they are cheaper to build) but I have a front door that opens directly into the living room as part of the original design and I HATE it. I live with it, but would love a little separation between the front door and the dining room. Also, I would hate to be sitting on the sofa and have to stare at my kitchen.

    • I hate it too. You’re not the only one.

    • Emmaleigh504

      I hate it, too. I love my wee apartment b/c there is a wee foyer so I don’t walk straight into the main room, and you cannot see the kitchen unless you walk in there.

      • Your comment recently about people who open up the area between the dining room and kitchen has seriously gotten me to rethink a reno plan than I’m considering next year. I hate open floor plans too, but sorta liked having the kitchen/dining room open. Then your comment about having to see the mess in the kitchen has me thinking I won’t do it. So thanks. I think.

        • Emmaleigh504

          You could always partially open it up with pocket doors or something that you can close if you want.

        • “Open,” definitely proceed with caution. I live in a house with a galley kitchen that the previous owner decided to “open up.” In this case, the result is that I have almost no cabinet space.
          Someday I will get the kitchen redone. When I do, I’ll probably leave some kind of pass-through “window” to the kitchen, but the rest of it will be closed. I’m tired of having to store my dishes and food in pantry cabinets in the dining room.

          • That’s kinda what I”m thinking. We had that in our previous house in Mt. P. And I know to avoid glass cabinet doors (since I don’t have really nice stuff). THanks, y’all.

    • I like having something that separates the rooms–even if it’s just an archway–but don’t understand the foyer thing. Well, no, I understand it, and they are great in big old homes in the country, but in city-sized dwellings, I vote for a bigger common area that fits a full-sized couch over a foyer. …my comment was not really relevant to the dealness of this place… whoops.

  • Not A Good Deal.
    The house sold for $410,000 in December. This listing is a great example of how increased density does NOT lead to more affordable housing–quite the opposite, in fact.

    • Unless the house was completely renovated with new systems and was still listed for 410K, then your example isn’t really relevant.

      • Assuming the house was in livable condition at the time of sale, it’s absolutely relevant. Paying $410,000 and renovating slowly over time is a lot more affordable than paying 40% more for half the house. I realize some people absolutely have to have open concepts and stainless steel and new finishes; but strictly considering affordability, properties like this drive values in the other direction. What’s more, other unrenovated-but-livable properties in the area suddenly become a lot more expensive because of the potential for development income. Prices are based not on what you’re buying, but what you could turn it into.
        If $410,000 homes were being renovated and split into two $375,000 condos, this would be a different discussion. Then we’d actually be increasing affordability.

        • Except here in the world of DC real estate, there are approximately 0 sellers that will take a financed offer vs. a developer that offers cash and a 7 day closing window.

          • I understand how this works but it’s irrelevant to my point, which is (again): increased density does not necessarily lead to increased affordability.

          • So short of capping resale prices, how do you propose to limit price increases? Watch what happens to SFH prices when you have 6 bidders competing for one property as opposed to three bidders each on two condo units.

          • Your whole point is that if we limited condo conversions prices would magically stop increasing. In a city with tight constraints on development and hundreds of new residents moving in every month, that’s a little hard to believe.

          • No, that’s not my point at all. There are people here and elsewhere who say –just for example — that we need to raise the height limit because the increased density will naturally mean housing that’s affordable to people with a wider range of income levels. That’s not necessarily true, as evidenced by the very examples you use to try and prove me wrong or whatever you’re trying to do. I’m not making any policy proposals, I’m simply pointing out that (here we go again) density often doesn’t lead to affordability. But it seems you’d rather have an argument than actually listen, so nevermind.

          • Your whole argument is “One rundown $410K house was turned into two condos that are more expensive than the original house, ergo, denisty makes stuff expensive, and I’m just going to ignore all of the other factors actually at play in DC’s real estate market.” Forgive me for not finding your argument convincing.

        • No one is proposing that the conversion of SFHs into condos be banned (although it would be nice if pop-ups were subject to much more stringent requirements). WestEgg is merely saying — as I have — that it’s not accurate to say that such condos are “affordable” or make a neighborhood more “accessible.”

        • re: $410,000 home split into two $375,000 condos. That is what happened here at a higher price point. This house is worth over $700k (renovated) and can be split into two more affordable $525k condos (renovated). You understand how density creates more affordable units, but you seem to dislike the upward market prices in the neighborhood.

      • I typed out a longer reply that was “awaiting moderation” for some unknown reason and has now disappeared. My point is that we’re talking about affordability, and a $410k house that you renovate slowly over time is more affordable than half of the same house for forty percent more. Add to that increasing prices because values are being placed not on what’s sold but the potential and we’re talking about less home for more money.

        • So? Not everyone wants to renovate a house over time. Some buyers just want a turnkey property.

        • Well put, WestEgg.

        • It’s all relative – had they kept this as a sf house, they would be asking much higher than 500k, so in that sense, it’s more “affordable”.

        • Except that’s not what happens in the real world – in fact, we have examples from this very block. A developer will buy the 410K house, flip it, and put it back on the market for 700K. See the two properties I listed below.

          • +1. The pace of gentrification in L’enfant city doesn’t allow for the slow renovation over time. Price differences are too enormous. A dilapidated 400k row is worth $700k flipped or $1mm if split into two condos. That is the market rate in a city full of rich childless professionals. Fixer uppers only exist in a flatter market with less upside–i.e. a 800k 3/2 in American University Park would be a fixer-upper since you could slowly redo the kitchen and baths and hope to compete with the million dollar houses on the block. I am sure there are many other examples, likely in lower price ranges, in stable neighborhoods in Virginia or Maryland.

    • justinbc

      Yeah I was just thinking that for somewhere on 15th and Tennessee I could pretty much buy an entire house for that price, rather than just part of one.

      • I don’t think so. One of the first houses we saw was on this block, back in 2009 when prices were at rock bottom, and it was listed for $535k. A bland flip, nothing particularly special, but we wished we’d acted on it when we had the chance because similar houses in that area were in the 700s a year later.

        • 1729 D Street NE: 3 bed/2 bath, $435,000
          315 19th St NE: 3 bed/2bath, $512,000

          • Or for renovated properties closer by, 511 Tenn., 777K; 518 Tenn., 695K. Both of those are from the past month.

          • Point taken, but for now those listings above are in a different neighborhood. Walk it (at night) and you may see the difference. Full disclosure: I bought a similar sized sfh east of 15th street for less than this recently, but I fully understand why this property is appealing. The 15th street/ (on some blocks the 16th street) cut off makes a world of difference.

          • Don’t think you can compare prices for these two areas. Walk down Tennessee Ave and then walk through Kingman park. Very different areas, although only 6 blocks separates them.

          • I’ve seen both of your examples, and neither are apt comparisons. Both need extensive repairs/renovation. That the D Street home has been on the market — at that low, low price — for two months in this overheated real estate environment should tell you something.

          • Thank you both for the context re: the neighborhood. I lived at 13th & C NE about ten years ago; I sort of assumed that in the intervening time, the 500 b/o Tennessee and the 1700 b/o D would at least be on par with each other, but it sounds like that’s not the case.

          • justinbc

            With regard to my post, I never stated “renovated properties” and was referring more to places that actually need work, since I know how to do most things on my own, the few things that I don’t I could still contract out and be within this price in this neighborhood.

          • This location might be better than the 300 block of 19th, but its comparable if not worse than 1700 block of D. Plus at the 500 block of Tennessee you are getting the “joy” of living next to Options – no thanks.

    • Comparing the price for a gut job rowhouse with a two unit post-addition building is like comparing apples and oranges that have another orange grafted onto them. It disingenuous.

      • I think you and JS misunderstand — perhaps I’m not explaining myself very well. I’m strictly looking at affordability. If all I can qualify for is a $450,000 mortgage, it doesn’t matter how sparkly the granite countertops are in that $525k condo — the bank ain’t gonna lend me the money. JS is correct that renovated as a SFH this property would probably go for >$700k, so by comparison, the condo is more affordable. My point is simply that pop-ups, ADUs, and density in general don’t always mean more affordable.

        • WestEgg, I guess my point is that this property at $410K was never affordable for your hypothetical 450K max buyer, pop-up potential or not. They’d never actually be able to win a bidding war for it.

        • $525K condo is more affordable than a $700k house. That is an example of density making a neighborhood more affordable.
          Yes, both those prices are more than a $400,000 unrenovated row. But this a gentrifying neighborhood that yuppies have finally decided it is ok to buy in. The only way to maintain your definition of affordability on this block would be to make time stand still.

          • I still don’t buy this “popups split into condos make a neighborhood more affordable” argument. I don’t know what condition the house was in when it was a $410K SFH, and yes, it’s true that if a developer had flipped it as an SFH, it would probably be $700K or up.
            Maybe pop-ups make the neighborhood “more affordable” for people who are looking solely for brand-new renovations, but not for others. This does seem like paying more money for less house.

          • I think part of the issue is people see the old list price of $410K and assume that a young couple could’ve bought the place with 10% down and loving renovated over the years were it not for a greedy developer coming in and splitting the place into condos. The point I’ve been trying to make is that a non-cash buyer is not going to win a bidding war for that $410K house in a desirable or up and coming location in today’s DC real estate market. The outcomes are: 700K SFH renovation or two 525K condos, and it’s pretty likely there’ll be a larger pool of buyers for the second set of properties.

          • Unfortunately, this has become a neighborhood of $700k single family homes and $500k condos.
            I also detest brand new renovations. But that is the dichotomy of much of the DC market. Less than new renovations would mean that people were renovating in this area in the 1990’s. But no one wanted to invest here in the 1990s.

  • I live in one of this builder’s other conversions (not 100% certain, but based on the listing agent and how this looks, fairly). They do a really nice job; nice finishes like solid core doors, marble, good floors. Some new construction issues, which is to be expected, but that’s why you have a warranty.

    About half of the condo fee is for reserves for everything common (based on the estimated useful life of all the new components) and the other half operating. However, the operating budget the developer set is probably a little high in some areas (like management fees, tax, landscaping) so we can probably reduce the fee or just allocate more to reserves after we see how the first year shakes out.

  • that’s just a little more than what I paid for a free-standing 2200 sq/foot free-standing craftsman a little farther up in NE last year. full price for half a house imo… but it’s close to H Street I guess.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Like the paint job on the outside, hate the open floor plan on the inside.

  • are condos and apartments not homes? in that case… what exactly is a home.

    • What does it mean to live, really? Do you feel truly ALIVE?

    • Presumably they meant “house.” Poorly phrased.

    • Yes, I hate this common misuse of the word “home” by real estate agents and blogs when they mean “house.” A popular DC real estate blog has a tag line “For buying a home or condo in the Washington, DC area” – it bugs me every time I see it. (Beyond the poor grammar.) It is so common that I don’t think they don’t do this by accident. They want to have this idea that only a single family house is a “home,” and anything else is lesser. A condo, a coop, a rented apartment, even a rented room in a shared apartment can obviously be a home. But they want to make you think it is not.

      Reminds me of when Bush the younger said in a state of the union address that he wanted more people to own homes, so they would have a stake in the future of this country – what, renters don’t have a stake in the future of this country, I asked myself? Bull..

  • This is not a neighborhood I would want to live in without a car due to lack of transportation/amenities, but for what this place is, it actually seems pretty nice. The reno job is kind of bland, but it looks high quality, and while that top porch may reduce the aesthetic appeal of the block, it seems like a great place to sit on a summer evening!

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