The complex and sometimes contradictory nature of the housing market here has wrought confusion among owners, buyers and developers alike. The following stories describe a D. C. housing official who could not avoid losing her rented apartment, and the return of a Virginia condominium project to rentals because of high interest rates.
Rick McCormic, a 31-year-old cartographer for the Defense Mapping Agency, fondly recalls driving by a high-rise under construction near the Pentagon, dreaming of the view of Washington he would have from his 12th-floor balcony.
"I was so excited about it," he said. This fall McCormick planned to settle into a $55,000 efficiency condominum overlooking the Potomac. He had placed a $2,475 deposit and needed only to sign a final sales contract before moving in.
McCormic never got in the front door. Nor did about 150 others who planned to buy units at The Stratford, a 19-story tower on South Eads Street in Arlington's Pentagon City neighborhood.
In an unusual move for the Northern Virginia housing market where condo growth has been soaring at a rate of more than 28 percent a year, The Straftord's developers two weeks ago suddenly withdrew their 348-unit project from the market. The building, they announced, was going rental.
Both the developers and housing officials concede it was an extreme example of the problems high interest rates are causing condominium projects across the Washington area. As Ted Palmer, one of the 20 principals behind The Stratford, puts it: "We just got destroyed by interest rates."
Rising interest rates not only were slowing sales for The Stratford, but they also were disqualifying many of the people who had made deposits from securing loans. A further complication, the developers say, was the fact that many savings and loans will not make loans on condominium projects that are less than 70 percent sold. With tentative contracts for 150 units, The Stratford was below that level.
The decision to go rental angered some of the project's would-be owners, including McCormic, who says he now will have to remain in a nearby condo he owns in Fairlington. "We just got left holding the bag," said McCormick. "I didn't even get the chance to see my model [unit]."
The Stratford's change is just as surprising to Arlington housing supervisor Ed Brandt. Not since 1977-78, when two Arlington complexes withdrew conversion plans because of a condominium glut, has such a switch occurred in the county, he said.
"I don't know of any other developers that are stopping because of interest rates," Brandt said. Indeed, county officials expect about 3,200 condo units to be added in Arlington next year, up from 1,600 this year.
Ted Palmer, one of The Stratford's 20 partners, blames the economy for the switch. "When we decided to make this thing into a condo about a year ago, all the economists said interest rates were gonna come way down. We kept on hearing that." As recently as "about three or four weeks ago," the developers believed interest rates were moderating and that the project still would go condo. Then interest rates again went up and the developers decided to change their plans.
Palmer said he expects the building will convert later, but "we're going to wait until the interest rates come down."
Until then, the units are being offered on one-or two-year leases. The monthly rents range from $430 for efficiencies to $540 for two-bedroom units overlooking the river. About 35 of the original 150 would-be owners have signed up as renters, Palmer said.
Dave Martin, 33, a real estate agent and engineering consultant, who also was planning to buy one of The Stratford units, said he has no quarrel with what the developers did. "It's not a matter of being fair, but it's a matter of survival," Martin said. "I would do the same thing if it were me."