Before he moved to Washington a few years ago, to a new apartment building in a gentrifying hot spot just north of Logan Circle, Eric Rosecrants owned a house in Florida that was huge compared with his current digs.
Their $2,250-a-month “junior one-bedroom,” overlooking the bustling bar and restaurant scene along 14th Street NW, is “massive” at 500 square feet, says manager Jason Tremblay, grinning. That’s because the smallest of the Harper’s 144 units are practically shoe boxes at 350 square feet.
“It’s a blessing and it’s a curse,” says Pinkerton, 32, offering a micro-tour of the place: A kitchenette, a bathroom, a 12-by-15-foot living area and a narrow hallway with a nook just big enough for their bed. “It doesn’t allow us to be hoarders, that’s for sure,” he says. And when company is coming, it cleans up in minutes.
A fixture in New York City, micro-units — tiny luxury apartments for people willing to forfeit roominess for lower rents in desirable neighborhoods — are relatively new in Washington, an outgrowth of the enormous influx of young professionals over the past decade that has sent housing prices into the stratosphere.
So far, only a handful of micro-unit buildings have opened, and it remains to be seen whether tiny apartments and condos become a growing part of the D.C. landscape. But Pinkerton and Rosecrants, echoing residents of other micro-units, say that sacrificing square footage for affordability and a prime location has turned out to be a good bargain.
“When we were doing this, when it was happening, I started thinking, ‘This is kind of risky,’ ” Rosecrants, 32, says. “But it ended up being surprisingly not hard. There’s actually something fun about it.”
Storing their belongings becomes a puzzle to solve, a Rubik's cube of apartment living.
Pinkerton steps to a bookcase filled with knickknacks and lifts the lid off a small wicker basket. “This looks decorative, doesn’t it? In here, we have toiletries, medicines.” Removing the cover from another little basket, he says, “And these are Eric’s grooming things, like his nail clippers, stuff like that.”
A mile away, on 17th Street NW in Adams Morgan, Meaghan Wolff, 37, bought a condo in July in the new Moda 17 building — $304,000 for about 400 square feet, which she shares with her dog, a whippet named Eddie.
Wolff has a bedroom and a living room of roughly equal size, plus a bathroom. No space is wasted. There are cabinets inside cabinets, drawers within drawers. Even her bed frame, which came with the unit, is a warren of storage compartments.
“The trade-off is, do you want to live in the city?” says Wolff, who works on Capitol Hill for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Referring to new one-bedroom condos in the downtown area, she says, “Oh my God, the kinds of things I saw would have cost me at least $100,000, maybe $200,000, more.”
With the sweep of an arm, she says: “All of these things you adjust to. . . . I mean, I’m a super-minimalist now. I have a lot of books. I love books. But I keep them at work. This is not a library.”
As for Rosecrants and Pinkerton, adapting to micro-living hasn’t been hard, they say, partly because they had a flexible lifestyle to begin with.
In Florida, where they met, Pinkerton, a product manager for a digital advertising company, worked in his Orlando apartment. Rosecrants, a communications specialist for Teach for America, worked in his house in a nearby town.
They moved north in 2014, having heard from friends in the District that the city had become a lively locale for people their age. And neither had to change his job.
Looking online at new rental buildings in high-demand neighborhoods, the two experienced “a little bit” of sticker shock, Pinkerton says. “But we knew about that going in. Orlando’s a cheap city, and we knew D.C. was a lot more expensive.”
Then a friend in the District told them about the Harper, which was about to open. While still in Florida, the couple took a FaceTime tour of the building.
One selling point was the apartment’s high-end features, typical of the city’s new micro-units. They include top-quality stainless-steel appliances, hardwood floors, marble countertops and floor-to-ceiling windows that are almost soundproof. A front-loading Bosch washer-dryer is tucked into a closet.
Micro-unit apartments have been part of the New York City rental landscape for decades, sprinkled in buildings with larger units. The first new Manhattan building made up strictly of luxury micro-units opened last year, but Jonathan Miller, a Manhattan-based real estate analyst, said it is a "long shot" that such developments will become "prolific."
In many areas of the country, he says, a growing number of millennials are forgoing pricey city neighborhoods in favor of more spacious, less expensive apartments and condos in outlying, quasi-urban communities. Think Clarendon or downtown Bethesda.
Indeed, even for those with a preference for city living, the tiny spaces can feel confining for some young renters accustomed to bigger places.
Janelle Wylie, 23, a George Washington University graduate student, moved to the District from Bellingham, Wash., last month and started hunting for apartments. “I wanted a place where I could step outside and have bars and restaurants right below me.” And she “totally” suffered sticker shock.
“I had a full one-bedroom in Bellingham, brand new,” she says. “I think it was 800 square feet. I was paying $800 a month.”
In the District, she got less than half the space for more than twice the price.
On her move-in day at the Harper, standing in her 375-square-foot, $1,950-a-month studio, with her pared-down belongings piled on luggage carts, Wylie surveys her 12-by-15-foot living area and says: “I’ll have to choose between a couch and a table. I think I’ll pick a coffee table with a chair, so I can eat like that.”
Pinkerton and Rosecrants chose a “junior” one-bedroom, so named because their queen-size mattress fits in the hallway nook, which doesn’t have a door.
The couple embraced the challenge of downsizing. Pinkerton donated his Florida furniture to charity, Rosecrants sold his house furnished, and the two shopped at Ikea after they got to Washington. As for their jobs, there’s not enough room for both to work in the apartment, so Rosecrants goes to Teach for America’s offices in the District.
“See this?” Pinkerton says, pointing to a shelf. He reaches for what looks like a book the size of a dictionary, but it’s really a box, and he opens it. “All our Blue-rays and DVDs!”
At Moda 17, Wolff enjoys the rooftop, which is divided into fenced-off lounging areas, one for each condo owner, each with a planter. Wolff put down patio blocks in her 12-by-9-foot space, bought porch chairs and a table, and is growing peppers.
John Guggenmos, a vice president of the company that markets Moda 17, says the building “is geared toward the first-time home buyer, the person who’s maybe just out of college, trying to make it. They work at a law firm, for instance, but they definitely haven’t made partner. They’re still putting in the hours, working their way up.”
One unit in the building is 630 square feet and priced at $549,000, he says. Of the other 44 condos, the smallest, costing $229,000, is 275 square feet.
After paying $2,500 a month for a normal-size one-bedroom apartment in the high-rise Capitol View on Fourteenth building, a half-mile away, Wolff moved to Moda 17 after it opened this year because she wanted to accumulate equity.
“Sometimes I have a hard time with it,” she says. “Because I’m 37, and I think, ‘Why am I this old and still living in such a small space?’ That’s not supposed to happen.
“But, look, this is D.C.! It’s not like I paid nothing for it.”