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Who'd Want to Live There?

Still, there are plenty of skeptics who point out that there is little in the area to attract buyers.

"I'm sure he believes in what he's doing and I'm rooting for him," said Washington developer Monty Hoffman, chief executive of P.N. Hoffman. "There's not a market there. He'll have to create one."

If Abdo has any doubts about the housing slowdown, they are not evident as he tours the high-end Arlington lofts that will be finished later this year. It's the first time Abdo has built outside the city and one of the few times he's built from scratch.

Abdo -- with closely-cut brown hair flecked with gray -- put on a hard hat, climbed several flights of temporary stairs and looked down on the city around him.

"Look at these ceiling heights," he said, jumping up and down on the concrete floors of a unit with 18-foot ceilings. "I wanted to bring true honest-to-goodness lofts to a place where everyone else is doing vanilla."

To that end, he ordered new bricks made to look old with black iron spots. And he is also using old bricks, taken from a 130-year-old District building.

Will anyone pay $700,000 to $2 million?

"There's 87 units here. I only need 87 people to say, 'Jim you're crazy, but we love it.' '' Abdo said with a wry smile. "Right now I'm sleeping okay at night."

Back in the city, at Second and H streets NE, Abdo pulled up to the former convent, sections of which date to 1870. He plans to sell 44 luxury lofts by next spring. The chapel penthouse is expected to fetch more than $2 million.

"This is my baby," he said.

Abdo climbed several stories of stairs, walked through an open window and stood on metal scaffolding to show off the old brick structure. He paused, noticing something in the wall.

"Who the hell is driving a nail into the brick like that?" he radioed to one of his construction managers. "Tell them to do it in the mortar joints. They've chipped the brick. . . . Find out who's doing it and whack them on their hard hat."

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