Ten years ago, the veterans of Monday's all-night vigil at the Parkfairfax condominium town houses in Alexandria might have waited in line until dawn for decent tickets to a Rolling Stones concert. Now it was a home of their own they were after in a housing market with few options for those looking for a first home.
Officially, the 130 town houses went on sale to the public at 11 a.m. yesterday, but nearly 50 people chose to spend Monday night and early Tuesday waiting in line for the sale to begin, and some, like George Stockton of northwest Washington, began even earlier.
Stockton, 26, was at the Parkfairfax sales office on Valley Drive at 10 a.m. Monday, earning for himself the sweet satisfaction of being first in line, and, more than 24 hours later, setting his first choice among the town houses as well.
Like many of those who stayed up all night for a crack at the town houses, which ranged in price from $29,500 for a one-bedroom unit to $45,000 for a three-bedroom, the Stocktons are young apartment dwellers who had found the search for a first home that they could afford more arduous and elusive than the Fountain of Youth.
"The market is unbelievable," said Margie Coberly, who stayed up all night in a van with her 7 1/2-month-old daughter in the Parkfairfax parking lot.
The Coberlys have been living in an Arlington apartment complex for "seven or eight" years now and have been looking for a home of their town for two years. "When something like this comes along, you do whatever you have to," she said.
So the stalwarts drank and dozed and played cards and read old magazines in one of the model units that the Parkfairfax management provided for them when the weather took a turn for the worse Monday night. Every three hours they answered to their names in a roll call that was held to account for the weak of spirit who might have fallen by the way.
By the time the sale actually began, it was "a madhouse," sales director Harold A. Lewis said gleefully, as he passed out anecdotes of desperate would-be home owners along with his business card. "They're bribing my salesmen," he said. Those trying to get a place higher on list, Lewis said, had so far offered several of his employees a bottle of scotch, a discount on a new car, a couple of Redskin tickets and a dinner date.
Although the condominium sale was unpublicized, Lewis said, the all-night veterans had heard about it because they had their names on a mailing list of 2,000 people who were given advanced warning of the sale because they had expressed interest in Parkfairfax before the conversation from apartments to condominiums was completed.
Formerly a 30-year-old 1,600-unit rental community, Parkfairfax was purchased last spring by International Developers, Inc. Only 329 of the units are currently being converted to condominiums; another section, or "village" as the developers like to call it, will be put up for sale next spring.
Once sales started, those high on the waiting list were launched on a mad whirl of signing contracts, arranging loans and posting down payments. In the lobby of one of the buildings, however, nail-biting and chain smoking seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those further down on the list, as they watched to see if their first choices would be snapped up ahead of them.
"When the news that this place was opening got out last spring, it just traveled like mad," said Chartley Ward, a Fairfax County school teacher. "I've been up and down the Beltway looking for a house and they're all so expensive unless you go way out. I just don't want to do that."
Not all of the prospective home owners were young married couples. Scattered among the anxious crowds were what Lewis referred to as "the empty nesters" - retired couples whose children are grown and who are looking for homes with lower property tax assessments since they now are living on relatively fixed incomes.
By early afternoon, the first of the new home owners were on their way back to the homes and offices they had abandoned on Monday. By then a quick camaraderie had formed among those who had spent the night waiting. One man who had signed a contract for a two-bedroom town house looked around at the others waiting.
"It's sort of like we just had our first neighborhood block party," he said.