Capitol Hill Is Getting Older

Real Estate Matters


Not to be flip, and not to be disrespectful, but many of our Capitol Hill neighbors are … mature, and they’re getting more mature by the minute. We have resources for our aging population, like Capitol Hill Village and DC government programs and opportunities, but what we don’t have is adequate housing. We have a ton of restaurants, many pet food stores, and quite a lot of grocery stores, but what we don’t have are a lot of places to live that don’t have stairs. Even the relatively few buildings with elevators still have stairs to enter the building.

In a side-by-side comparison of, say, 70-year-old people who live here, going up and down stairs every day, versus people of the same age who live in a stair-less, ranch-style home, my money is on Capitol Hill people. But this isn’t a race to the top, this is a daily quality-of-life issue. A lot of our remodeled homes don’t have a first-floor powder room, so not only do you need to climb stairs every time you have to go, but you might have less time to get there now. I recognize that many of Capitol Hill’s seniors can beat me to the end of the block. You can make it up the stairs, but will you always want to? That’s my point.

What can you do about it? You can move, but I don’t think you want to leave your neighborhood. Our blocks are like extended families for a lot of people. You don’t want to leave the kids from two doors down, or miss out on the impromptu wine parties. And we don’t want you to go.

I do have an idea. It won’t be cheap and it may not be easy, but I think it would be really cool, and most importantly it would serve your exact needs. What if we found you a place in your immediate neighborhood, a place that you and a friend or another couple (or two) could go in on together? You could have common spaces, like an office and dining room, and then have your own space, fully elevator-accessible. It would cut costs to share a kitchen.

Basically this would be an older people’s college dorm, but far better. You wouldn’t be isolated, but you could stay in your own space if you wanted to be alone, with the reassurance of knowing that there are others in the house in case of need. I can introduce you to designers for providing a more functional, less hazardous living space incorporating good lighting, wide doorways, ease of access to things in the kitchen, and no thresholds to trip on.

You’re going to have to commission this. There’s probably not enough profit for developers to take a chance on this niche market, but I can help you find a place. I can recommend an architect and a builder. This could be awesome for you, but please don’t wait until you need it – by then it will be too late. Talk to some friends, and then let’s do this while you’re still nimble and not under stress or time constraints.

Get Your Homestead Deduction
You just got done with your taxes (I hope). Don’t leave any money on the table. The homestead deduction from the DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) will lower your assessed real property value by $72,450. That’s a good savings on your primary home’s property taxes.

Say your assessed value is $500,000. To figure out your taxes without the homestead deduction, divide by 100 (or just take out two zeros), bringing you to $5,000, and then multiply by the tax rate of $0.85, and there you have it, a tax bill of $4,250. (500,000/100 = 5,000 x .85 = 4,250)

Turn in that application and your $500,000 assessment becomes $427,550. (500,000 – 72,450 = 427,550/100 = 4,275.50 x .85 = 3,634.18)

That’s a savings of $615 and change in one year. Which adds up when you consider how long you stay in the home. Sock it away and you’ll have a great nest egg when you’re ready to move into one of those adult dorm houses I was talking about.

You need all three of the following, verbatim from the website: “1. An application must be on file with the Office of Tax and Revenue. 2. The property must be occupied by the owner/applicant and contain no more than five dwelling units (including the unit occupied by the owner). 3. The property must be the principal residence (domicile) of the owner/applicant.”

As for deadlines, “If a properly completed and approved application is filed from October 1 to March 31, the property will receive the homestead benefit for the entire tax year (and for all tax years in the future). If a properly completed and approved application is filed from April 1 to September 30, the property will receive one-half of the benefit reflected on the second-half tax bill (and full deductions for all tax years in the future).”

The application is no big deal – just print it out and send it or take it in, or complete it online. Go to the OTR website at and search “homestead.” It’ll come up Homestead/Senior Citizen Deduction.

I have found OTR employees to be among the most helpful in the DC government. If you’ve missed out on a few years of this deduction, call them and politely find out if they’ll work with you on a credit. The DC Homestead Exemption also caps the rate property taxes can go up at 10 percent per year. Over the length of time you own your home, the cap may be more valuable than the $74K of untaxed assessment.

Out Front
It has come to my attention that many people who are blessed with parking in their back yard rarely see their neighbors as much as we who are blessed with street parking. The more you know your block, the better your block will know you. They’ll watch out for you, but they can’t do that if they only see you once per quarter. Capiche?

Is there anything real estate-related that you’d like me to explore? Email me about it and I’ll work it in. Please indicate if you wish your identity to remain a mystery.

Heather Schoell is a Capitol Hill REALTOR with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty and can be reached at, at the office at 202-608-1880, or by cell at 202-321-0874.