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Condo Sellers Banking on Extravagance

By Paul Schwartzman and Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 27, 2008

Outside Washington's hot new address, four swirling floodlights illuminated the heavens. Bow-tied waiters in top hats served pink champagne to guests, who entered the lobby between two oversize reproductions of golden Oscar statuettes.

"Would you like a sweet?" asked a strawberry-blond server, offering a selection of delicate cookies, dark chocolates and candied cigarettes.

But what she was really dishing was the $1 million duplex upstairs.

The U.S. economy might be in danger of slipping into the abyss, at least according to no less an authority than the president of the United States.

But why let a blitzkrieg of doom and gloom get in the way of shopping for a new condo?

The giddy days of low-interest loans and bidding wars have ceased, and buyers no longer drop deposits based on nothing more than an architect's sketch. But more than 2,000 recently built condos remain on the market in the District, and, with buyers hungry for deals, developers are whipping up ways to generate buzz.

So there was the duck breast hors d'oeuvres and life-size cutouts of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe helping to lure hundreds of potential buyers and brokers to Thursday's Hollywood-style premiere for Metropole, Logan Circle's newest glass and brick tribute to the good life.

If guests were distressed by the black cloud that seemed to extend from Wall Street to the U.S. Capitol, they did not seem overly preoccupied, perhaps helped along by the bountiful supply of bubbly served as they padded between three model apartments.

Or maybe it was the sense that lurking behind the woeful prognostications are opportunities for those with enough cash or a brokerage that hasn't gone belly up.

"Now is the time to buy," said Henry Miller, 60, a retired investor, after touring a two-bedroom duplex selling for a touch over $1 million. "When everyone else is concerned, I stop worrying. Maybe there are deals out there."

Upstairs, Kathleen Hayden, scurrying along with what she said was an alligator-skin handbag over her arm, waved off talk of an economic collapse. Of more concern, she said, was whether she could find a bigger condo than the one she owns nearby.

"I've been through Enron and lost everything, and I've come back," said Hayden, an executive assistant at a renewable energy company. "It's the great American way. We come back."

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