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Real Estate Expert Interview: UrbanTurf

Posted on June 16th, 2010

UrbanTurf is increasingly the go-to publication for DC real estate watchers. From the best in newly listed properties to noteworthy market trends, co-founders Mark Wellborn and Will Smith are constantly revealing the pulse of DC’s real estate scene.

We chatted with Mark and Will about common apartment hunting mistakes, the no-smoking property trend, and neighborhoods they consider to be DC’s best kept secrets.

Thanks for joining us, Will and Mark. Tell us a little about UrbanTurf. When and why did you launch it? Who is your audience?

UrbanTurf is an online publication that covers residential real estate in the DC metro area. UrbanTurf was founded in late 2008 because we felt that a publication did not exist that provided the type of residential news that DC residents are really interested in. Every day we post four to five articles on a variety or real estate oriented topics that range from interesting trends going on in the area market to hand-picked properties that we think are great deals to profiles of specific neighborhoods or new condo and apartment projects. Our audience has grown from prospective home buyers and sellers, real estate agents and developers to include anyone that has an interest in what is going on in the DC residential real estate scene.

You recently wrote about the growing number of DC area apartment buildings that are banning smoking. What pros and cons should landlords take into account when considering a no-smoking policy?

Aside from the obvious con that you will immediately exclude smokers from renting in your building – which landlords may actually want – some prospective renters may object philosophically to the idea that they are prohibited from certain behavior within their own home, even if they themselves don’t smoke. Also, if a renter wants to have a party or has friends who smoke, they might feel that the rule could cramp their ability to play host.

All that said, I think the pros outweigh the cons. The amount of non-smokers who hate smoking and welcome a 100% smoke-free building is large. We’ve spoken with a fair amount of people who would even pay a premium to live in such a building.

One of UrbanTurf’s regular features is “Neighborhood Profiles“. Which neighborhoods do you consider to be DC’s best kept secrets today?

Hillcrest in far Southeast near the Maryland border is a charming residential neighborhood with attractive single-family homes that are priced at levels almost unheard of within the city’s borders. It has a suburban feel, so having a car is necessary, but for a young family that wants a reasonable priced house in the city proper, Hillcrest is a hidden gem.

For a more urban option, the “neglected” quadrant of Southwest is affordable (by DC standards) and very well located. It doesn’t have much in the way of bar and restaurant options, but it has two Metro stops, a shiny new Safeway, and the waterfront, Nationals Park, and the Mall are all within walking distance. It’s a great neighborhood for people who like the idea of having the hustle and bustle a short ride away, but enjoy coming home to a quiet neighborhood. Also, there are very big plans afoot for redeveloping Southwest, though they will take years to come to fruition.

Which neighborhoods are you most interested in watching over the next 5 years?

Historic Anacostia, Brookland and Trinidad.

In your opinion, what are the biggest mistakes that renters make when apartment hunting?

Just like home buyers, renters are prone to think that regardless how good something is, something better is just around the corner. In today’s rental and home buying market, if something good comes along and you don’t jump on it, it will be gone before you have the chance to reconsider. The demand is just too high and the supply too low. So, if something that you really like comes along, don’t wait to sign on the dotted line.

Any noteworthy trends you’re foreseeing in the DC rental market for the rest of 2010?

Assuming the economy continues to improve, rents are likely to increase a little over the next 12 to 24 months. A lot of the condo projects that converted to apartments when the real estate market hit the skids have spent the last couple years attracting tenants by offering aggressive incentives like a month or two of free rent. Many of those apartments have finally “leased up”, so landlords are no longer as desperate to find tenants. It’s not that rents will shoot up a lot, but the time for renters to get the very best deals has come and gone.

Read last month’s interview with Matt Rhoades and Luis Gomez of DC blog Borderstan.

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