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Taking Time for the Right Place and Price

Christopher Hertz, who has searched for a home to buy for more a year, is particular about the place he wants.
Christopher Hertz, who has searched for a home to buy for more a year, is particular about the place he wants. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007

Christopher Hertz expected to "move out any minute" when he signed a month-to-month lease for an apartment near Dupont Circle.

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That was nearly two years ago.

"Six months ago, I just finally hung my paintings and pictures on the walls," said Hertz, 30. "But I'm still looking for a place to buy."

Hertz is suffering from the common "have-prices-bottomed-out-yet?" syndrome that has gripped many house hunters in the Washington area. More than half expect prices to decline this year, according to a survey of 1,017 prospective local home buyers by Fulton Research and Consulting.

Plenty of other people -- financial types, academics, bloggers and certainly real estate agents -- are trying to guess whether that's true, and if it is, how much more prices would slide. The doomsayers believe that a big drop has just begun. Conventional wisdom is that the real estate market should stabilize next year, if not earlier. But there is no sure answer.

That is what is making it so challenging for Hertz to decide and for his real estate agent, Elysia Brown, to help him.

Hertz grew up in the Washington area and left in 2003, when the market was red hot, to study at MIT's business school. He returned in 2005 and now owns his own information-technology consulting business. He did not disclose his income, but says it is in the low six figures.

"I know enough people who have bought homes in past few years and they're now trying to refinance and they can't because their property has lost value," Hertz said. "I don't want to get in a position like that."

Add to that what Hertz described as his extreme pickiness about what kind of place he wants and where he wants it.

Hertz has focused on the western half of Dupont Circle. He wants outdoor space, which limits him to townhouses or terrace-level units of smallish condominium buildings. He wants about 1,000 square feet of living space. He wants plenty of light, a decent kitchen and a floor plan with a "nice feel" that suits his antique furniture.

And he wants it all for $450,000 to $550,000.

"I've tried to take him into other neighborhoods, like Columbia Heights, where you can get more for the money. I've tried Van Ness and Chevy Chase," said Brown, an agent for Long & Foster in Bethesda. "But he wasn't really interested. He knows what he wants."

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