A notorious piece of Washington
real estate struggles to find buyers

The Washington Post
By Ian Shapira
03 January 2015

A developer purchased a two-story rowhouse at 1013 V Street NW and added three stories, eliciting outrage from neighbors. But only one of the three units in the building has sold. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The pop-up of all pop-ups is trapped in pop-up purgatory.

One of Washington’s most notorious pieces of real estate — a rowhouse-turned-sky-high condo on V Street NW that soars three stories over its immediate neighbors — is struggling to sell its most premium units.

The three-unit condo building, dubbed The Ava, has gone nearly 12 months without selling its middle unit and penthouse. Dropping the prices to just under $700,000 and $800,000, respectively, has yet to yield buyers. (The less-expensive bottom unit sold in August for $375,000.)

The average number of days on the market for a condo in the building’s immediate vicinity, along the coveted U Street corridor, is about 19 days, according to a report generated by Adam Turek, a Coldwell Banker Realtor who had clients tour the building in the spring and pass on it.

The Ava’s troubles come at a time when pop-ups are spreading throughout the city. Developers, capitalizing on Washington’s hot real estate market, are converting the city’s older rowhouses into taller buildings with multiple, high-priced condo units. But the phenomenon has sparked a public outcry in many communities.

The penthouse unit in the building was initially priced at $850,900, but the asking price has fallen below $800,000. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
On Jan. 15, the D.C. Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider whether to reduce the maximum height of pop-ups in some neighborhoods to 35 feet, down from 40 feet. The Ava, however, is located in a zone where homes can be built as high as 65 feet.

Why no love for The Ava? The online photo galleries show kitchens with shiny hardwood floors and quartz countertops. The penthouse boasts a private balcony underneath a giant eye-shaped window. The Web site for the real estate firm, Washington Fine Properties, says the pop-up is having an open house Sunday.

But online commenters have not been kind, labeling the building “The Middle Finger,” “The Monster” or, to avoid confusing it with so many other pop-ups blanketing Washington, “The V Street Monster.”

“It looks like a straight block that was dropped into a single row in Tetris,” wrote one reader on the PoPville blog. (The “PoP” stands for “Prince of Petworth,” the Web site’s original name, not pop-ups, which it frequently writes about.)

People who live next to The Ava have little sympathy. They understand that developers have the legal right to expand two-story rowhouses by stretching them upward and carving them into multiple condo units. But they think The Ava took the concept too far.

Amy Shumate Rodgers, a government contracting analyst who lives two doors down, can come up with only one reason why the pop-up is struggling.

“Karma,” she said with a laugh. “We still refer to it as the middle-finger house. My husband and I were joking the other day about taking bets on how long it will take to sell.”

Anne Savage of Washington Fine Properties declined to answer questions about the property, including naming the owners.

And who are the owners?

When the pop-up was under construction in early 2013, WTOP reported that Kevin Falkner of Equity Resource was the “project owner.” He told WTOP that he believed neighboring homeowners would one day follow his lead: “It’s gonna be good for D.C. D.C.’s going to get more taxable units, and the city will grow.”

Falkner declined to be interviewed for this article. So did Napoleon Ibiezugbe, one of Falkner’s colleagues at Equity Resource, who also appears to have an ownership interest in the property, which was purchased for $386,000 in 2011.

Until Falkner and Ibiezugbe jointly called The Washington Post to decline to comment, The Ava was being advertised on Equity Resource’s Web site as one of its active properties. But shortly after their call to The Post, just before Christmas, all advertisements for the building were removed from the firm’s Web site.

The company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed still show posts hyping The Ava, with links to Equity Resource’s Web site, which once showed photos of it.

“Unit 1 at our 1013 V St. NW property just SOLD! Only 2 units left! Check them out! #justsold #DC,” the company’s Facebook post read in August.

Ibiezugbe would have had reason to celebrate the sale. He and Molly Kingsley-Ibeh jointly filed for bankruptcy in March 2009, reporting that they had between 50 and 99 creditors and at least $1 million in estimated consumer-debt liabilities, according to court records.

Anyone who visits the real estate Web sites Trulia or Redfin to see photos of The Ava’s condo units might think the building first went on sale in April 2014.

But, according to real estate records, the building first went on the market in November 2013 with a different name, The Ella. (According to BabyCenter.com, Ella was the 18th most popular girl name that year.)

The two-bedroom penthouse was at the time going for $850,900, the two-bedroom middle unit for just shy of $800,00 and the one-bedroom ground unit for nearly $400,000. After about two months without a sale, the units were taken off the market in January 2014, real estate records show.

In April 2014, the units went back on the market, and the building was christened with the name Ava — the fourth most popular girl name of 2014 — and offered cheaper prices.

This time, the pop-up’s bottom unit sold quickly to Chadwick M. Chow for $375,000, a little under the listing price. Chow did not return e-mails or phone messages.

Charles Ziegler, who owns a rowhouse three doors from The Ava, is slightly sympathetic. He built a one-story pop-up, but it is set back so pedestrians don’t immediately notice it.

“To their credit, I think [the developers] maximized what they could do,” said Ziegler, who rents out his house and lives elsewhere. “I might not have done what they did. And I hope that a strong hurricane-force wind doesn’t push that thing over.”

Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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