In the D.C.-area housing market, smaller spaces are sometimes worth more

This summer in Washington, a 3,690-square-foot penthouse in Columbia Condominiums sold for $4.57 million. Several weeks later, a 12,065-square-foot luxury home with five acres of land sold for $4.425 million.

The property with four times the square feet and five times the acreage sold for $145,000 less. Why?

If this example is any indication, when it comes to real estate, bigger isn’t always better. There are many factors that elevate the value of smaller spaces, especially when it comes to the market for luxury condominiums, which continues to grow in Washington.

Buyers who purchase these properties are often those who could easily afford more square footage. So what it is about smaller spaces that attracts these buyers?

Location
As the saying goes, real estate is all about location. Ultimately, the value of a particular location is in the eye of the homeowner. Some may value a quiet, rural setting with waterfront views, while others prefer an urban setting.

When buyers choose to pay top dollar for a few hundred square feet downtown rather than a sprawling suburban estate, what they are really paying for is the location of that property. These are the buyers who want to be in the middle of the action, with easy access to all of the dining, shopping and cultural amenities that downtown D.C. has to offer. And they are willing to trade the extra space — and cash — for it.

Walkability continues to be one of the main factors that drives up the value of smaller properties. Especially in an area infamous for traffic and long commutes, many buyers are willing to pay a premium for a home close enough for them to walk or ride public transit to their workplace and favorite shops and restaurants, even if it’s much smaller than what they could buy outside the city.

Low or no maintenance living
The larger the home and property, the more maintenance that’s required. For busy urban homeowners, a smaller space can actually be a huge benefit, providing a lower-maintenance lifestyle that enables them to spend weekends enjoying the city instead of mowing the lawn.

In recent years, we’ve seen more and more condominiums built to take this concept to the next level, providing all kinds of amenities to add value and attract buyers. State-of-the-art fitness centers, roof decks, pools and theater rooms — all maintained by the community’s staff — have practically become standard.

Fully-staffed front desks and resident concierge services add another layer, providing safety and convenience for residents. Shared common spaces such as kitchen and dining areas, club rooms and outdoor spaces with skyline views offer residents the opportunity to connect with neighbors or entertain friends even if their personal space is on the smaller side.

Many residents are more than willing to trade square footage for these benefits. They’re not just paying for the condo itself — they’re investing in a certain lifestyle and urban culture.

Design
Luxury condo buyers in the Washington area tend to be a discerning design audience. Even though their living spaces may be small, buyers in this market insist that they be well-designed and are willing to trade size for the features they want. They may not need four bedrooms but they do want an open floor plan, to make the most of the space they have. And they want plenty of windows to take advantage of the views that vertical living offers.

Luckily for these buyers, Washington has seen an influx of new high-rise multifamily properties in the last few years, so the design of most properties on the market is modern and tailored to the urban homeowner, with little updating required.

Even on the smaller side, the open feel of these spaces provides residents with a unique opportunity to be unconventional in the setup and design of their space, as opposed to being locked into the more traditional structure of a single-family home — an added bonus on top of the ideal location and top-notch amenities.

Then of course, there’s simply the “it” factor of having your home high up in the middle of it all. Like the corner office or the penthouse, a beautifully designed space in a luxury high-rise carries a certain cache that also tends to drive value.

There are trade-offs, but if you’re willing to forgo a little square footage, there can be much to gain in terms of location, amenities and design with a smaller space.

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