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Rising Price of the American Dream

Worries About Affordability, Tax Burden Surge With D.C. Home Values

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; Page B01

First of two articles

They were a real estate agent's dream: well heeled, well educated and preapproved for a $400,000 home.

But in the District neighborhoods where the couple wanted to live, all that real estate agent Leyla Phelan could show them were one-bedroom apartments in Logan Circle or small houses in Petworth or Brightwood.

William Lonegan and Apollonaro Perez build a fireplace in the Brookland neighborhood. Housing, new and old, is in great demand in the District. (Photos Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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Transcript: John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, discussed property tax assessments and housing around the metro area.
D.C. Assessments
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"It just blows my mind," said Phelan, an agent in Northwest Washington. She said the city's continuing real estate boom has been great for her business and good overall for the city. But as a District resident, she has concerns about who will be able to afford to buy a home in the city in the future.

"They can't all be attorneys and patent lawyers," Phelan said. "I love them as clients, but D.C. also has a lot of nonprofit people and universities. As a citizen of the city, you have to ask, where are the Whole Foods workers or gas station attendants going to live?"

Those hoping for a respite from skyrocketing property values will be disappointed when the District government begins mailing out assessments this month, city officials said. Residential assessments on average will rise citywide by 15 to 18 percent, said Thomas Branham, the city's chief assessor.

"Unlike the anecdotal data you hear over the fence from neighbors that things are about to burst or slowing," Branham said, the numbers show "a continuation of a strong market."

Branham said his department has not finished crunching the numbers and does not have data broken down by neighborhood. But he said he has seen no dramatic changes in terms of which neighborhoods are experiencing the greatest rise in values.

Such surges are a mixed blessing for homeowners, increasing the value of their investment but also signaling the prospect of higher property taxes.

The assessments that Branham's office will mail out before March 1 will be reflected in tax bills for 2006. The 2005 tax bills will be based on assessments completed a year ago.

An analysis of city assessment data from 2002 to 2005 shows that Shaw, Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill, Eckington, 16th Street Heights and Columbia Heights were among the neighborhoods that had the sharpest rise in real estate values, with total increases of more than 130 percent in each of those communities during the three-year period.

But even in the three city neighborhoods with the smallest overall change -- Congress Heights, Marshall Heights and Fort Dupont Park -- assessments rose by at least 39 percent over those three years, the analysis shows.

Real estate brokers who work in the District said homes in neighborhoods such as Logan Circle, Shaw, LeDroit Park and Petworth continue to appreciate dramatically because their values were relatively deflated in previous years. And neighborhoods that already were highly valued, such as Georgetown and Cleveland Park, continue to post large gains.

"Pricewise, we're not seeing any sort of slowdown," said Fred Kendrick, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Georgetown.

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