High-end residential properties in the Washington region sold at record prices in 2020, headlined by the most expensive house ever sold in the area. The late Jim Kimsey’s McLean, Va., estate went for $45 million, significantly below its nearly $63 million price tag, but surpassing the previous top sale, $43 million for the Merrywood estate in Virginia. (Although the mailing address for Kimsey’s estate is McLean, the property is assessed property taxes by Arlington County.)
2020 was such a good year that 2019’s most expensive home sold would not have cracked this year’s top 10 list, which was compiled with the help of Bright MLS and Black Knight. Only residential properties with houses were considered and not sales of vacant land such as 405 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, which sold for $24 million. Multifamily residential and commercial sales were not included. Nine of the 10 properties sold for $10 million or more, the most eight-figure sales in one year.
Rather than hindering the high-end market, the pandemic juiced it. Because luxury buyers weren’t as concerned about their commute, they expanded their search to secondary markets such as the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia’s Fauquier County where sales increased close to 50 percent year-over-year.
“When you look at Washington compared to these other cities what we do have in Washington is space,” Lowham said. “Now, when you’re in downtown Washington, you say, well, we’re in an urban area. Yes, but it is not nearly the level of density or congestion that New York, as an example, or San Francisco has. We have space, which I think helps us a lot.”
It was a banner year for Maryland’s luxury market. The Free State, which had only one property make the top 10 list in 2019 and was shut out the previous two years, had three of its sales make the rankings in 2020. McLean, as it has for the third time in the past four years, was home to the most expensive house sold in the area. Lowham, who along with Russell Firestone, was the listing agent on the Kimsey estate, explained why McLean houses command prices that aren’t seen in other affluent enclaves such as D.C’s Georgetown and Kalorama neighborhoods, and Bethesda, Md.
“Historically, the most expensive sales have been homes positioned on the [Potomac] River,” he said. “The river creates an element of scarcity that we don’t have in these other beautiful submarkets. There’s just such a finite inventory on the river at any given time. If somebody wants that kind of a view and that kind of privacy, there’s usually only one or two properties on the market at any given time.”
Lowham anticipates 2021’s luxury market will be stronger than last year. Foreign buyers, who make up a small but significant portion of the market, stayed home last year. With vaccinations and air travel increasing, Lowham expects them to return.
“People are spending a lot more time at home,” he said. “We’re thinking more about what home looks like, what it feels like. And in many cases, we’re having to make adjustments. . . . We’ve got a lot of people spending more time really evaluating what home looks like and in many cases, making a change that makes sense.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the most expensive home sold as being in McLean. Although its mailing address is McLean, the property is assessed property taxes by Arlington County.
(list price $62.95 million)
409 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean, Va. (officially in Arlington County)
9 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms.
Square footage: 24,500.
Lot size: 3.2 acres.
Listing agents: Mark Lowham and Russell Firestone, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: The former estate owned by Jim Kimsey, the late co-founder of AOL, set a record for the most expensive residential sale in the region, surpassing the previous record of $43 million for the Merrywood estate. Named the Falls, because of its location near Great Falls, the property includes a main house, a guesthouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an infinity pool that overlooks the Potomac River, tennis court and gardens. The main house has four kitchens, one of which has a loading dock for catering trucks, a 30-car garage and a wine room with a wet bar and a champagne refrigerator.
(list price $24 million)
1211 Crest Lane, McLean, Va.
4 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms.
Square footage: 12,000.
Lot size: 6 acres.
Listing agents: Mark Lowham, Cynthia Vance and Ruth Boyer O’Dea, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: The estate of Janice Smith, ex-wife of former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, is known as Little Falls and was designed by architect Russell Versaci to resemble an English manor house. Stone from a quarry in Pennsylvania was used to construct the house, which has a two-story foyer and an indoor swimming pool. The house is surrounded by mature oak trees on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. Cascading stone terraces extend the living area.
(list price $19 million)
1617 29th St. NW, Washington
7 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms.
Square footage: 11,000.
Lot size: 0.6 acre.
Listing agents: Mark Lowham and Anj Murphy, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: Hollerith House, which was sold to the Embassy of the State of Qatar, was built in 1911 by inventor Herman Hollerith on one of the highest points in Georgetown and has views of the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Potomac River. Architect Frederic B. Pyle designed it and George A. Fuller Co., the same firm that built the Chicago Opera House and the 1889 New York Times building, constructed it. The house remained in the Hollerith family for nearly 80 years. The property includes specimen trees planted by Hollerith’s wife, Lucia, who was co-founder of the Georgetown Garden Club. The original Otis elevator, which was installed by Hollerith, runs to all four floors in the house.
(list price $29.5 million)
1405 34th St. NW, Washington
8 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms.
Square footage: 12,000.
Lot size: 0.33 acre.
Listing agents: Michael Rankin and Lydia Travelstead, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: The 1810 Federal-style brick house in Georgetown underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation overseen by Baltimore-based designer Patrick Sutton and Pyramid Builders of Annapolis. The owner spent $1 million on the installation of a 22,000-pound marble staircase forged from the same marble that was used in the Thomas Jefferson memorial. The house has an entertainment area with a bar and a wine and whiskey cellar. It has a gym and a heated lap pool.
(list price $13 million)
20854 Trappe Rd., Upperville, Va.
4 bedrooms, n/a bathrooms (1820 manor house).
Square footage: n/a.
Lot size: 1,500 acres.
Listing agent: John Coles, Thomas and Talbot.
Features: Cleremont Farm is three contiguous farms — Cleremont, Bellefields and Ross — assembled over 60 years. The working cattle farm has 900 acres of hardwood timber, 130 acres of streams, 450 acres of fenced pasture and 31 acres of buildings. The main manor house was built in 1820. A second manor house, on what was formerly Ross Farm, is a Georgian-style house designed by Billy Dew and built in 1993. There is also a circa 1761 guest cottage, three tenant houses, a farm office, a 14-stall horse barn, a detached three-car garage, swimming pool and lighted tennis courts. The property, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, is under a conservation easement.
(list price $17.5 million)
6699 Macarthur Blvd., Bethesda, Md.
6 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms.
Square footage: 12,150.
Lot size: 1.9 acres.
Listing agents: Sassy Jacobs and Ben Roth, Washington Fine Properties.
Features: The inspiration for the 2013 house — which was designed by Franck & Lohsen Architects and Darryl Carter and built by Leonard Nurmi of Custom Design Concepts — was the owner’s grandmother’s house in Tennessee. The fireplace mantels were imported from France and Italy. Reclaimed bricks from Baltimore were used in constructing the house. The black-and-white tiles in the vestibule come from an old movie theater in New York. The heated swimming pool has a multicolor light display. Almost every room in the house overlooks the Potomac River.
(list price $22 million)
1607 28th St. NW, Washington
10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms.
Square footage: 10,000.
Lot size: 0.25 acre.
Listing agent: Will Thomas, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: The 1887 Edwardian house was built for David Rittenhouse and was once part of the Evermay estate. Over the years, heirs of the Pierre du Pont and R.J. Reynolds families lived here. Politicians, government officials, nationally known political writers, tennis stars and famous architects called it home. Edward Kennedy and his first wife, Joan, moved into the house in the 1960s after he was elected to the Senate. In 1965, Joan Kennedy hosted a tea for Britain’s Princess Margaret during her visit to Washington. The motor court has two garages and parking for 11 cars.
(list price $13 million)
5517 Pembroke Rd., Bethesda, Md.
6 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms.
Square footage: 20,663.
Lot size: 1.4 acre.
Listing agent: Marc Fleisher, Compass.
Features: The interior of the 2005 Normandy-style stone house in Bradley Hills was designed by Warrenton, Va., designer Barry Dixon. The house has eight fireplaces, an indoor basketball court, wine cellar and English club room as well as a separate staff apartment. The kitchen was renovated in 2020. The grounds include a reflecting pool and a heated swimming pool with pool house. The attached and detached garages have parking for eight cars.
(list price $25.9 million)
9 Chevy Chase Cir., Chevy Chase, Md.
7 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms.
Square footage: 13,000.
Lot size: 1.9 acres.
Listing agent: Daniel Heider, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
Features: The Tudor Revival mansion was one of the first homes built in Chevy Chase. Architect Leon E. Dessez — best known for designing the Admiral’s House at the Naval Observatory (now the vice president’s residence) — designed the home circa 1891 for Sen. Francis G. Newlands. At one time, the house was considered as a permanent home for the U.S. vice president, but Maryland refused to allow it to be annexed into the District. Rather than a formal living room, the house has a grand hall with 30-foot ceilings, leaded windows and decoratively painted wood beams. The Chevy Chase Garden Club started here in 1926.
(list price $13.5 million)
33542 Newstead Lane, Upperville, Va.
6 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms.
Square footage: 15,000.
Lot size: 353 acres.
Listing agents: Kathryn Harrell and Debbie Meighan, Washington Fine Properties.
Features: Newstead Farm, a storied equestrian estate in Loudoun County, is known for thoroughbred breeding and show jumping. It is where Genuine Risk, one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby and the only one to place in three Triple Crown races, lived out her days. She is buried on the farm beneath a horseshoe-shaped bed of red roses. Besides the circa 1830 manor house, there are two guesthouses, six tenant houses, a farmhouse, a greenhouse, a swimming pool, a gazebo, four koi ponds and a pond with a waterfall and stone bridge. The equestrian facilities include six barns with 61 stalls, six run-in sheds, 10 fields, 16 paddocks and a grass Grand Prix field.