Selling condominiums for a profit can be a challenge. Condo fees, building amenities and the role played by homeowners associations can complicate a sale. Still, the old notion of a detached house gaining value faster than a condo is being debunked by recent data that tracks appreciation.
Research by Trulia indicates that the median appreciation on condos from 2012 to 2017 in the 100 largest metro areas in the United States was 38.4 percent as compared with 27.9 percent for single-family dwellings.
Don Canada, who works for a government contractor, is residing in Westlight, one of the most expensive condominium buildings in Washington. Before that, he lived at 3303 Water St. NW — another pricey address — and before that Market Square East in Penn Quarter. He’s come out ahead with each jump by employing a simple and compact strategy.
“I typically buy the smallest unit in the nicest building,” Canada, 57, says. “You have to start small and be patient. You can’t flip a condo every five years and expect to make a hefty profit on it.”
His first unit at Market Square was 578 square feet, for which he paid $150,000 in 1992. He lived there 10 years and sold it for $300,000.
Next came Water Street. “I wanted to live in Georgetown,” he says, “but I could only afford a 950-square-foot unit. I think I paid $450,000 for it, then sold it for $950,000, but it took 13 years.”
In 2008, he had a contract on 22 West, another high-end building in the West End, but the contract fell through just before the market crashed. He stayed put until 2017 when he bought a two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot condo for $1,806,250 in the Westlight complex in the West End, which includes apartments and condos.
Canada says he was specifically interested in the building because he’s a fan of Anthony Lanier, one of D.C.’s most prolific developers. “His personality comes through in his buildings,” Canada says. “He’s a great asset to the city because there’s not a lot of adventurous design — although I think it’s been changing a lot in the last five years.”
Unlike Lanier’s earlier projects, Westlight’s units were offered as-is with no options for picking flooring, fixtures, appliances or finishes. Undeterred, Canada sold his place on Water Street and lived in the new place for three months before deciding he needed to customize things.
He called in Vincent Sagart, principal of Poliform | Sagartstudio in Georgetown, who had built Canada’s closets in the Water Street unit. A discussion about closet improvements in his new condo quickly accelerated into other areas of the space.
“He loved the space but there were things he couldn’t figure out,” Sagart says. “He knew what we could do in terms of wardrobes and dressing rooms but he had uneasiness about the rest of the space. It’s a beautiful volume architecturally, but almost too stark and very monochromatic.”
Canada had seen wall-mounted lighting fixtures at Sagart’s studio that sparked an idea for the foyer. A wall hides the view to the living room so the design team turned it into a short-distance focal point by adding six wall-mounted, low-voltage LED fixtures to create a changeable pattern of light reflected on the wall. The lights, which are controlled by hidden wires and a switch on the other side of the wall, are by Topix, a Belgian manufacturer. The design team added a floating shelf, a mirror art piece, a carpet runner — and voilà — a totally customized space.
The open-plan kitchen, dining and living area just beyond the entrance is bordered by 18 feet of white wall leading to the very white kitchen. Canada wanted a wall unit that would support his TV, display art and provide storage.
Canada wanted the wall unit to be white; Sagart lobbied for dark brown and won the discussion. “It floats on the wall and can be used like a sideboard for the dining area to hold food and drinks for a party,” Sagart says. The customized piece is Sintesi cabinetry by Poliform and is finished in a lacquered mocha hue.
The condo also has a den off the side of the dining area, a space Canada was not enamored with. “I knew I would never sit in there,” Canada says. “Vincent drew up this amazing concept with a bar area with wine fridge and cabinets for wine glasses that was lit from within. On the opposite wall, we did a place for more storage and another counter.” The bar cabinetry, also by Poliform, is rendered in matte mocha finish.
The depth of the dry bar and additional storage were configured so that the bar appears to have come standard with the space.
It also moved Sagart’s team to unexplored destinations. “We did not have those kinds of ready solutions for the bar; we had to have the factory modify the lighting fixtures,” Sagart says. “Don’s expectation pushed us out of our comfort zone which is fantastic for us.”
The bar presented a design challenge, but the designer’s favorite part of the space is still the entryway. “Every time I come back to visit, when they open the door, that foyer makes my heart jump. It’s unexpected and it’s fun,” Sagart says.
Canada estimates he invested about $150,000 to get his as-is condo totally customized.
After nearly doubling his space, more furniture was purchased at Contemporaria. He can take the furniture with him but the built-ins will stay if he decides to move — which is a distinct possibility.
The homeowner is a bit lonely for Georgetown and adjusting to the somewhat undiscovered charms of the West End.
“I didn’t want to leave Georgetown, but this is the only new construction building that’s close to Georgetown,” Canada says. “It’s only a five-minute walk and it has a much more urban feel to it. It has taller buildings, wider streets and wider sidewalks.”
Canada can also walk to a grocery store from his new pad and says he believes he’s once again made the correct, long-term real estate decision.