Luxury is a word often overused in today's real estate market. Peruse descriptions of properties for sale — be they $200,000 condos or $12 million estates — and you'll probably come across it. Its ubiquitousness has diminished the term.
Because luxury is seemingly everywhere, defining what constitutes the luxury market in Washington can be tricky.
To Michael Rankin, managing partner of TTR Sotheby's International Realty, the luxury market is more than just lavish homes. What elevates a home to that desirable category could be one of the following:
●Sought-after location — the Kalorama, Georgetown or Massachusetts Heights neighborhoods in the District; Bethesda in Maryland; or McLean in Virginia.
●Coveted provenance — a famous original architect or noteworthy former owners.
●Impeccable craftsmanship — the architect, builder and materials are all high quality.
Homes with some combination of these characteristics usually sell for $3 million or more, putting them into what is considered in Washington the luxury market.
"When I think not of a luxurious home but a luxury property, I think of more of the upper end part of the market," Rankin said.
Having spent nearly three decades selling real estate in Washington, Rankin knows the luxury market well. His average sale is almost $3 million.
Rankin describes the luxury market in Washington as strong, but it suffers from a similar problem as the rest of the housing market: low inventory. There is more demand for these homes than supply.
"These families hold these houses for 15, 20 years," he said. "We don't get the inventory."
It is impossible to describe the typical luxury buyer in this market. They are as varied as the reasons that brought them to the city. Other than immense wealth, about the only other characteristic they share is owning multiple homes.
And although Washington is a cosmopolitan city, it doesn't have an influx of international buyers like New York or Miami. The D.C. luxury buyer is as likely to be from Charlotte or Chicago as China.
One characteristic that has changed over time is their age.
"The luxury buyer is younger," Rankin said. "There's a whole class of wealth that has started at a younger generation than before."
The luxury buyer is also a more discerning buyer, requiring quality in construction and finishes.
"It has driven the skill set," Rankin said. "This quality of materials and pedigree of builders has really driven the marketplace."
To give readers an idea of what homes in Washington's luxury market look like, we put together a random selection of properties across the region priced at $3 million with the help of Realtor.com.
Because we also wanted to know how Washington's $3 million dwellings stack up against similarly priced ones around the country, we added homes from Alabama, New Mexico and New York for comparison.
From a rowhouse on Capitol Hill to a 19th-century estate in Virginia to a loft-style co-op in Manhattan, below is a sampling of $3 million homes for sale.
Price: $2,950,000. Price per square foot: $653.
3 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms
Square footage: 4,520. Lot size: 0.06 acre.
Features: The 1976 townhouse is in the Kalorama Square community of the Kalorama neighborhood. The fully renovated home has Thai-silk-covered walls in the living room, media room and master bedroom. Gas fireplaces are in the living room and bedroom. The sunny breakfast room leads to a large, private terrace with a grill. An elevator serves all floors. The two garage parking spaces include an outlet for electric cars. Community amenities include a 24-hour desk, concierge, swimming pool and courtyard. Homeowners association fees are $2,000 monthly.
Agent: Michael Marriott, Compass.
Price: $2,995,000. Price per square foot: $1,093.
4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms
Square footage: 2,740. Lot size: 0.08 acre.
Features: The 1850 detached home in Georgetown retains many period details. The wood floors in the entry hall and family room were painted to look like limestone. Rough-hewed beams on the ceiling and reclaimed antique pine floors add a rustic touch to the sleek, modern kitchen. The master suite has one of the home's six fireplaces. The top-floor loft, which can be used as an artist's studio, opens to a rooftop deck. The lower level can easily be converted to an in-law suite. A parking space rental around the corner has been paid until 2018.
Agent: Nancy Taylor Bubes, Washington Fine Properties.
Price: $2,995,000. Price per square foot: $595.
5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms
Square footage: 5,030. Lot size: 0.07 acre.
Features: The 1908 semidetached Victorian rowhouse on Capitol Hill has high ceilings, decorative crown molding, ornate fireplace mantels, elegant corbels and stylish wainscoting. The vestibule has an attractive inlaid tile mosaic. The spacious master suite takes up the entire third floor and has a sitting area with a fireplace. The two-story carriage house has a two-car garage. The fully finished lower level of the main house can be a rental unit. The front garden is landscaped, while the back yard is a grassy expanse.
Agents: Brent Jackson and Rob Sanders, TTR Sotheby's International Realty.
Price: $2,925,000. Price per square foot: $1,059.
3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
Square footage: 2,763. Lot size: N/A.
Features: The Cheval is a newly built, 71-unit condominium building in the heart of downtown Bethesda. The corner unit has wide-plank hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows that invite abundant natural light and offer spectacular views. The kitchen has an island, stainless steel appliances and Caesarstone countertops. The bathrooms have porcelain tile floors. The unit delivers in early 2018. The building includes a fitness center, yoga studio, club room, rooftop deck with bar, and garage parking. Concierge services include dry cleaning, dog walking and grooming, and car detailing.
Agent: Laura Henne, McWilliams Ballard.
Price: $2,990,000. Price per square foot: $659.
5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms
Square footage: 4,534. Lot size: 1.43 acres.
Features: The 2007 New England shingle-style home on Gibson Island, a private island in the Chesapeake Bay, has been featured in Home and Design, Coastal Style, Annapolis Home, Traditional Home, and The Washington Post. The main living and dining area has a coffered ceiling. French doors lead to front and back terraces. Hand-scraped dark walnut floors can be found throughout the main and upper levels. A screened porch is off the large family room. A two-level carriage house has a studio and a golf cart storage.
Agent: Sarah Kanne, TTR Sotheby's International Realty.
Price: $3 million. Price per square foot: $226.
6 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms
Square footage: 13,281. Lot size: 3 acres.
Features: The 2005 home in the Second Discovery community features plenty of indoor and outdoor activities. Water spouts into the swimming pool and spa, creating a delightful aquatic display. A covered outdoor living room is warmed by a fireplace and overlooks a stone fountain. The flagstone terrace provides ample room for an outdoor dinner party. Inside the home, the lower level includes a basketball court, a home theater, a horseshoe-shaped bar, a fitness room and a karaoke stage. Monthly homeowners association fees are $54.
Agent: Bob Lucido, Keller Williams Integrity.
Price: $2,995,000. Price per square foot: $414.
5 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms
Square footage: 7,238. Lot size: 0.33 acre.
Features: Built by McLean builder John Joy, the 2007 home in the Crystal Spring Knolls community has a two-story paneled foyer. The formal dining room has deep crown molding, wainscoting, a ceiling medallion and one of the home's four gas fireplaces. The family room and kitchen have a coffered ceiling and large windows that overlook the wooded back yard. French doors in the master suite open to a private balcony. The lower level has a wet bar and home theater.
Agent: Daniel Heider, TTR Sotheby's International Realty.
Price: $2,999,995. Price per square foot: $320.
5 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms
Square footage: 9,369. Lot size: 2 acres.
Features: Past wrought iron gates and down a long driveway, the 1994 white brick house is secluded by mature trees. The landscaped grounds include rose gardens, tall magnolias, sculptured hedges, patios, terraces, a 10-foot cascading stone water wall and sport court. A large arched window above the double entry door showers the two-story foyer with natural light. A curved, floating staircase winds to the upper and lower levels. The spacious master suite has a sitting area with a private balcony. The wine cellar features a stained glass panel.
Agent: Lilian Jorgenson, Long & Foster.
Price: $2.9 million. Price per square foot: $290.
4 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms
Square footage: 10,000. Lot size: 64 acres.
Features: Known as Falkland Farm, the 19th-century Federal-style stone farmhouse is one of the few remaining manor houses in Prince William County associated with Robert "King" Carter. A report filed with the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission noted that the craftsmanship that went into building the house — such as the three-foot stone walls at its base — is rarely seen. The spiral staircase was featured in Architectural Digest. It had been a working farm, raising alpacas. The property includes a tenant house, multiple run-in sheds, barns, a pond and fenced pastures.
Agent: Sharon Brown, Century 21 Redwood Realty.
Price: $2,995,000. Price per square foot: $411.
5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
Square footage: 7,284. Lot size: 2.77 acres.
Features: Thomas Bibb, the second governor of Alabama, built this circa 1830 Greek Revival home in what is now the middle of the historic Twickenham district. According to the historic plaque, Bibb's descendants have lived in the house since 1927. Gen. William T. Sherman occupied the house during the Civil War. The home has 13-foot ceilings, original hardwood floors and retains many of its period details. Matching crystal chandeliers adorn the library and parlor. The black marble mantel in the dining room may be original to the house.
Agent: Scott Averbuch, Averbuch Realty.
Price: $2.9 million. Price per square foot: $580.
4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
Square footage: 5,000. Lot size: 35 acres.
Features: Antoine Predock, winner of an American Institute of Architects gold medal, described the house as "a poem on the landscape." The home was designed as a surrogate mountain nestled on the vast plain between Taos and the Taos ski valley. Because the property is surrounded by 1,000 acres of largely undeveloped land, the unimpeded vistas include the Cerro Pedernal mesa and the Sangre de Cristos and Truchas mountains. The living and dining areas have 35-foot ceilings. The Mariposa Ranch property includes a corral, stable, exercise room, greenhouse and 16 acres of water rights.
Agent: Jolie Jones, Piñon Investments of Taos.
Price: $2,995,000. Price per square foot: $1,498.
3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Square footage: 2,000. Lot size: N/A.
Features: The loft in the heart of the trendy NoHo neighborhood (North of Houston Street) was completely renovated in 2009. It has 11½-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, oversized windows and exposed duct work for an industrial vibe. The kitchen is a sleek, modern Bulthaup design. The bathrooms have marble. Custom-built cabinets provide ample storage. A washer and dryer are in-unit. The eight-apartment co-op has a private, key-operated elevator and a new roof. The building allows pets.
Agents: Kenny and Meris Blumstein, Corcoran Group Real Estate.
Read more Real Estate: