Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

I know it seems that we haven't posted much here recently, and I wish we I had a great excuse other than the fact that we've simply been too busy with other things. Unfortunately, we're not going to get much of a chance to do too many updates next week as we head off on a (much needed) vacation. There's a lot going on in the 'hood that we'd like to discuss, including the ongoing Logan parking woes, the opening of a couple of new furniture/homewares shops on 14th St., the ongoing redevelopment of buildings along U St. and 14th, the reopening of Cafe Collage, the upcoming 14th St. streetscape project, and so on. So we hope to be back the following week with lots of new things to discuss. We hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Condo Under Contract

Over this weekend, a condo on our block went under contract. It had been on the market for only three weeks or so. Asking for the 880 square foot one-bedroom unit was $399,000. Of course, we won't know the sale price for a little while. The last unit to sell The building lacks any amenities other than basic upkeep, but the unit is very large and quite attractive -- wood floors, new remodeled bath, nice kitchen, sunlit living room, fire place. My question to you is whether you believe $400k to be a fair price for such a place in Logan. The last unit to sell in the building went for $340k in November of 2006, and the present owner of the unit under contract paid only $150k in July of 2000.


Just to clarify a few things based on the comments:
I think that the purchase price in 2000 matters because
1) I truly have a question as to whether a 267% return on any investment over eight years is unreasonably high (the socialist in me says that it is, especially given wage and inflation trends in this decade);
(2) I'm curious as to whether, given the current market conditions, people think that this unit might be worth $60k more than a comparable unit with parking that sold in 2006;
(3) I do see the argument that if a buyer and seller reach an agreement then the price is fair, but, again, I am interested in knowing the general opinion out there. I also know that plenty of people within a few block radius paid more for condos with less square footage and higher condo fees. In many cases, the newest developments seem to be much more highly priced than comparable older buildings in good condition. Any thoughts on whether or not the new construction is worth it?Right now and in the recent past, we've seen a number of row houses and condos for sale for many months that haven't gotten a contract. I wonder if this unit selling relatively quickly is a fluke of luck or if it was "priced to move."

I'm very traditional/conservative about investment and savings. I believe that the old guidelines about spending no more than two and a half to three times your gross annual income on a home purchase makes sense. I also think that spending no more than a third of your gross income minus debt on housing-related expenses is the limit of affordability. I say this because I believe not only in the value of home ownership but in the importance of saving as much as possible for retirement, keeping 3 to 6 months income near liquid for a "rainy day," and saving for non-housing related goals such as buying a car, going to school, paying for a wedding, or planning to start a family. At the current prices for one-bedrooms in Logan, it would seem that either 1) people have a huge amount of equity that from previous home ownership that they are now investing in homes in Logan; (2) new buyers in our neighborhood are in much more debt than traditional guidelines would recommend; (3) incomes of new Logan residents are extremely high.

I worry for the longevity of our neighborhood growth and continue improvement are at risk because there might not be too many potential Logan buyers with the requisite level of income. Are people with that level of income already settled into homes in which they will remain? In other words, is demand dwindling?

On the other hand, are there an increasing number of residents in our neighborhood who, because of being upside down on their mortgages, will be less likely to sell in the near future? In this case, would housing supply become overly tight?

Lastly, do we residents of Logan worry that there isn't enough affordable housing to maintain diversity and basic social equality in our neighborhood and surrounding areas? Are prices going to cause Logan demographics to skew toward older dual-income affluent residents? Do we care if this is the case?

I guess that I was asking a far more nuanced question than simply whether $400k is a fair price for this home. I think that my mind may be on the overall central DC real estate market and the pros and cons of recent price increase and the unprecedented overall increase in the percentage of US residents who own homes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Artfully Chocolate Let Me Down

Friday night must have been an off night for ACKC. I've been all over that place since it opened. I've always gotten prompt, pleasant service at the bar or at the counter without asking, and the goods have always exceeded by expectations.

This past weekend was nothing like our past visits. The lights over the truffle counter were dark, and no one was staffing the area -- or, for that matter, offering to help customers who were browsing the selections. The chocolate/coffee bar was busy. However, Mr. 14th and You and I sat there for several minutes before our presence was acknowledged. Once we were noticed, we were told brusquely that it was "policy" to order at the cash register. Accordingly, Mr. 14th and You moved eight feet to his left to order. I'm fine with ordering wherever, but I'm not fine with being told to do so impolitely. We were then served with our orders in to-go cups. Normally, I would have thought that a simple mix-up or a case of not enough clean mugs, but the stares that the two barristas leveled at us during our brief stay seemed to indicate a passive hostility toward our very presence. Needless to say, the usual pleasant banter with the staff was completely out of the question.

I also couldn't help but notice that smoothies and blended coffee have come to ACKC. Perhaps it couldn't be helped because the door and mirror behind the bar have been plastered with signs for the Ice Train brand. What an anathema in such a gorgeous space. Anyway, I can't understand why they would serve a pre-fab chemical cocktail when all of the other food and beverages there are very high quality. The Ice Train smoothies I've had around the city (and they are so common at so many delis and cafes), are syrupy sweet. The coffee flavors, though not awful, have the subtly chemical taste of instant brownies or instant pudding.

ACKC can't maintain their elegant high-quality brand and my loyalty if the service stinks and they start lazily dipping into mass-produced beverages.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

14U Closed - Reopening Later?

It took us a couple of weeks to notice this, simply because we hadn't walked up that side of 14th St. in awhile, so apologies for the belated news...but the 14U coffee shop located at (where else?) 14th and U St. has closed, with a sign in the door that says they are awaiting "new management" but that the search could "take awhile".

In our opinion, this likely spells the end for the little coffee shop that tried but couldn't. It's also pretty symptomatic of the way the shop was run during its time.

The 14 & Yous wanted very much to like the 14U--it had a very inviting atmosphere, friendly staff, and free wifi. Unfortunately, the quality of their product was spotty, to say the least. Drinks frequently came out mixed poorly (or not at all), and the pastries left a lot to be desired. In a neighborhood surrounded by options, being a place people *want* to patronize simply won't do.

It'd be nice if the 14U comes back under new--and, hopefully, better--management. But while we hate to see any small business close up shop, we're not surprised much to see it go.

Lighting to Unite

Here are some photos taken from Lighting to Unite at the Washington National Cathedral. They were taken with a point-and-shoot and my knee-pod, so the quality is not as high as I would like. Still, the beauty of the images projected onto one of the most stunning gothic cathedrals in the world is amazing. If you have not yet seen the display, your last chance is on Sunday night from sunset to midnight. You can only appreciate in person the richness of the colors and the tricks that they play on perception of depth and detail. The display literally stopped traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.  For information on how and where to take in the views, see my previous post here

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dog Owners Rejoice!

This past Wednesday, the ANC 2F commissioners voted unanimously (as usual) to write a letter to the DC Department of Parks and Recreation in support of a proposed dog park. Dog Owners of Greater Shaw is leading the charge to convert a portion of the Shaw Field area at 11th Street, NW and Rhode Island Avenue to a fenced field for dog owners to walk and play with their unleashed pets. You may know Shaw Field as the park with the skateboarding area located at the crazy intersection of Q, 11th, and Rhode Island. The recreation field, usually used for soccer, extends north along 11th Street. To create the dedicated dog area, Dog Owners suggests that the soccer pitch be relocated along the eastern side of the skateboard section and that the current soccer pitch and adjacent field be reserved for four-legged creatures and their human friends.

Dog lovers, whether owners or not, can sign an online petition to support the proposed park. You must, however, live within a 10-block radius of the site to sign the petition. Cheaters are weeded out daily by address. Already, hundreds of Shlogan residents have signed. Not only does Dog Owners of Greater Shaw have the support obr/f the community and our ANC commissioners, but Lt. Mike Smith has also written a letter in support of the dog park application. Reasons for residents, both dog owners and non dog owners, to support the park include the following:

  • Increased resident usage of Shaw Field would deter crime.
  • Dog parks create social pressure for owners to consistently pick up pet waste. The park also localizes waste, reducing sanitation problems along our sidewalks.
  • Both dogs and their owners are more physically and mentally healthy when they have a place to play together. Happy and healthy dogs are less likely to be nuisances to their neighbors.

    (This list is partially taken from Lt. Smith's letter.)

    For the record, I do not own a dog. Our one-bedroom apartment won't allow for a pup to bound around. As well, my cat might beat it up, and Mr. 14th & You's cat might have a heart attack. But one day I hope to be responsible enough and to own a large enough home to have my own dog. Until then, I'm happy to live vicariously through the hundreds of dog owners I've seen out in our neighborhood.

  • Thursday, May 1, 2008

    About Those Meters . . .

    Due to a case of gimpiness that ended in a sprained foot and black and blue toe, I grabbed a taxi today. I totally forgot that this is May 1, Meter Day. Predictably, my driver did not have a meter installed. Then again, my ride took me just over a zone border, and he charged me for only for a one zone trip. When I offered a $20 bill to cover my fare, the driver, who didn't have change, suggested I just give him whatever small bills I had -- a total of $5. I have to admit that under a meter system, a driver would be far less willing to let a passenger escape for any payment under fare. I never thought of that angle. Then again, my ride might have only come to $5 anyway using the new time and distance meters.

    Monthly ANC 2F Meeting Is Next Wed.

    Come out to the Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle on Wednesday, May 7 at 7 p.m. for the monthly ANC meeting. If you haven't been, I recommend that you go a few times this year. Once you've attended, you will learn so much about city offices and who can help you with what. You can speak directly to a DDOT representative, talk to Lt. Smith for more crime information or to express your concerns, and communicate to your commissioner about persistent problems in your area -- from nuisance property to noisy bars. Once you know how things work, you'll be in a great position if you ever have need the help of the DC government to address your needs.

    Also of note: two commissioner seats will be coming open soon. Jerome Sikorski, elected on this past year and Jim Richardson are resigning. Go to the the ANC 2F website to see if you fall within their single member districts.

    The following is this month's agenda:


    7:00 Call to Order

    7:00 Commissioner Announcements

    7:10 PSA 307 Report - Lt. Mike Smith, Metropolitan Police Department, 3D

    7:15 Report from Executive Office of the Mayor–Abby Petersen

    7:18 DDOT Report - Christopher Ziemann, Ward 2 Transportation Planner

    7:25 DDOT Urban Forestry Administration- Liz Tylander

    7:30 Community Announcements

    - 10 Minute Recess -


    7:45 Approval of Agenda

    7:45 Approval of Minutes of Meeting of April 2, 2008

    Resignations of Jim Richardson and Jerome Sikorski and election of
    interim Treasurer and Secretary

    7:50 Crime and Public Safety Matters
    ANC2F Crime and Public Safety Committee Report (Helen Kramer, Chair)

    8:35 ABRA Matters
    CulinAerie Stipulated license –Susan Holt
    Renewal Notice LHO Tom Joad Circle- 1155 14th St, NW CH02 #74461
    Dates: Posting April 11, Petition May 27, Hearing June 11 @10:00 AM

    8:40 Community Development Committee Matters
    Public Space Permit for Outside Seating at the ACKC Cocoa Bar, 1529
    14th Street
    Public Space Permit for Outside Seating at Park 920 14th Street, NW
    Report on 14th Streetscape Project (Brian Vargas)

    9:00 New Business
    Dog park application- George Kassouf
    Public Space Permit, 1408 Rhode Island Ave, NW.

    9:10 Treasurer's Report
    Approval of Expenditures

    9:15 Adjournment