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Archive for January, 2010

Alexandria’s Historic Uptown/Parker-Gray Neighborhood Added to National Register of Historic Places

Almost two years after after submitting application, Alexandria’s Uptown/Parker-Gray Neighborhood has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The area will officially known as the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District.

Bordered on the north by First Street, on the south by Cameron, on the east by Columbus and on the west by Buchannon/Oronoco and parts of West Street, the area ultimately known as Parker-Gray was sparsely settled and and primarily rural throughout the Colonial, Federal and Antebellum periods.

Few structures survive from those eras but one of the most interesting would have been Alexandria’s gun powder house, built in the 1790’s at what is today the corner of N. Fayette and Queen Streets. Deemed a potential fire hazard it was deliberately located at a safe distance from the many wooden structures built along the Potomac River.

The largest historically black neighborhood in Alexandria, Parker-Gray was originally a haven for escaped slaves and freedman during and immediately after the Civil War.

Wartime conditions in Alexandria were grim and families crowded into flimsy shanties and shacks.  Few if any of these structures have survived and most of the historic buildings present today were built later in the 19th century.

In past years, the more popular nickname for the Parker-Gray neighborhood was “Uptown” to distinguish it from the “downtown” areas closer to the Potomac River.

The official moniker comes from two schools whose names, in turn, honored leading black educators in the community:  Sarah Gray, principal of Hallowell School for Girls and John Parker, principal of the Snowden School for Boys.

Alexandria built the first black high school in 1950 at 1207 Madison Street, which was named  Parker-Gray. Prior to this, young African-Americans who wanted to continue their education past the eighth grade were forced to go into the  District of Columbia for high school.

Parker-Gray High School was re-designated as a middle school in 1965 and was closed completely in 1979.  A memorial plaque designates the school’s former location among the townhouses now standing on Madison Street.

A listing in the National Register of Historic Places provides formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archeological significance based on national standards used by every state.

The nomination recognizes the historic architecture of the district and social history of the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District, including the African-American contribution, that has occurred in this neighborhood since its inclusion within Alexandria City boundaries in the 1790s.

The listing identifies nearly a thousand contributing historic structures within the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District.

There are some wonderful properties available in this area – call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s find your historic home in this newly designated neighborhood.


Photographs courtesy of MarieMcC

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The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria

The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria is a tiny jewel box of color and imagination.  A favorite among Alexandria insiders, the Market Square Shop engages the senses around that most primal of levels – the home.

Located on King Street just two blocks from the water in the historic Chequire House, the Market Square Shop is filled with beautiful fabrics, traditional home accents, wedding present perfect accessories, lamps, mirrors, and cases of Limoges, Halycon and Battersea boxes, all barely contained in a small, intimate space.

Started in 1955 by Majorie Land,  and Joan Leidner Miller, the Market Square Shop was one of the businesses that sparked the redevelopment of lower King Street and Old Town some fifty years ago.

The current proprietor, Bruce Schafer, joined Mrs. Land in 1985 and took over the business in 1995 when Mrs. Land retired.  Bruce is also one of my favorite reasons for visiting the shop. 

Dry, self-deprecating and disarmingly funny, Bruce is a master of understatement as well as a master of design.  He has, seamlessly, maintained the civilized, courteous and gracious atmosphere that was a hallmark of the store from its very inception.

Walking into the Market Square Shop is taking a slight step back in time  Bolts of fabric and trim are unfurled one at a time and samples are simply loaned on a signature.  

This is not a place to browse for endless hours (it’s not big enough) but if you want informed answers, thoughtful suggestions, personal attention and items selected with a careful eye, then this is the place for you.  Oh, don’t bother looking for a Web site though, there isn’t one.

Bruce described his job to me as “translating life into three dimension.”  Whether suggesting paint colors and fabric or designing the perfect love seat, Bruce and the magic of the Market Square Shop put into reality what you have only imagined.

The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria is a very special place.  I love it and I think you will too

Virginia Amos 

Special thanks to my spouse for this personal look at an Old Town tradition.

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 7 Comments »

Are You Getting Bang for the Buck on Your Home Remodeling?

Last week we talked about getting bank for the buck on your home addition.  Today we are going to look at the numbers and see if you are getting bang for the buck on your home remodeling.

Our numbers are taken from this month’s issue of Remodeling Magazine and their annual “Cost vs. Value” report

The cost data are generated by gathering current cost information from a nation wide network of remodeling contractors and suppliers.  The model then uses an adjustment factor for regional price differences.

Alexandria and Northern Virginia are part of what is known as the “South Atlantic” which also includes Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

The rooms here are what most homeowners tackle in a remodel – the bathroom, kitchen and basement.  I’m not sure remodeling a home office would be at the top of my list but  interpret it as remodeling a room to create a home office.

Two figures here point to the value of restraint.  Upgrading bathrooms and kitchens is still a smart move, particularly in older homes.  But,  according to this report, home owners will recoup the greatest share of costs by opting for mid-range bath and kitchen remodels rather than an over the top project.

A mid-range kitchen remodel will generate an average on 73.2 percent return on investment while an up-scale remodel returned only 63.2 percent.  A mid-range bathroom remodel returned an of average 71 percent while the up-scale project is nearly 10 points lower at 61.6 percent.

So whether you are starting to think about remodeling or are buying with the idea of remodeling, take a look at these figures before you commit to anything and make sure you are getting bank for the buck on your home remodeling. 

Call me at 703.927.4554 for more information. 


Related story:   Are You Getting Bang for the Buck on Your Home Addition?

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Del Ray Bake Sale Benefits Haiti and Doctors without Borders

Out of the mouth of babes – four to be exact – came the idea for a Del Ray Bake Sale to benefit Haiti and Doctors without Borders

Led by Skylar (8) and Rain (6) Camerlinck and Mein (10) and Phoebe (8) LaMountain, the effort raised $1, 216.17 on Saturday morning at the Del Ray Farmer’s Market.

After all, how could anyone resist this?

YouTube Preview Image

As adults we are so aware of being good role models and this is a perfect example of how it should work. Joe LaMountain and his wife are very active in the community and Tom Camerlinck works for Greenpeace. 

Helping others is obviously part of the DNA here.

Special thanks to Jackie Camerlinck who worked with Phoebe, Mein, Skylar and Rain to collect, bag and price all the goodies.  Thanks to the friends, families and citizens of Del Ray who donated and bought baked goods.

back row, left to right: Phoebe LaMountain, Skylar Camerlinck, Will Bruno, Mein LaMountain and Lila Greiner

front row center: Rain Camerlinck

A bake sale to support Haiti and Doctors without Borders – just another reason why Del Ray is a very special place to live.  Want to know more?  Call me at 703.927.4554.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Alexandria Blogs Offer In-Depth Neighborhood Information and Resources

It should come as no surprise to anyone that blogs in the Northern Virginia area are abundant both in number and variety of topics.

We have quite a few that we follow but our favorites are the Alexandria blogs that offer in-depth neighborhood information and resources – and a touch of fun.

We talked here before about the wealth of information to be found on neighborhood list servs in Beverley Hills, Kingstowne, Rosemont and Del Ray.  Neighborhood blogs take it in a slightly different direction whether by theme or the personality behind the blog.

One of the other hallmarks of neighborhood blogs is how generously everyone is willing to link and be linked.  Sharing information, not hogging it, is the order of the day.  

The following are some of the neighborhood blogs I follow and link to:

Oh – we almost forgot GWSleptHere, our blog.  GWSleptHere is first and foremost a real estate blog because I want to be the realtor you call to list your house or find you a new one. 

The thing is though, real estate is much more than just buying and selling houses.  It’s about knowing and being involved in the community.  It’s about celebrating neighborhoods and the people who live and work in them.   It’s about being a resource.

So there you have it, our favorite Alexandria blogs offering in-depth neighborhood information and resources.  Do you have or read a blog not listed here?  Write me and let me know what I’ve missed.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 2 Comments »

The Calvert Apartments and Calvert Shops on Mt. Vernon Avenue

Our friends over at the Arlandria  posted on an interesting development with the Calvert Apartments and Calvert Shops on Mt. Vernon Avenue and we want to share the news.

Located in north Del Ray , the Calvert is located directly across from a larger redevelopment in the triangle where Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues split.

UDR, the owner of the Calvert Apartments and a major player in the WDC rental market, has offered early conceptual plans for updating and renovating this poorly aging complex. 

A recent preview of what is described as an on ongoing concept, would reface the existing tower and replace  the front parking lot and retaining wall with a mid-rise (4 story), street-front apartment building.

The new construction would incorporate the existing ground-floor retail but move it adjacent to Mt Vernon Avenue. Some of the retail space would likely surround a central art or water feature in an open air plaza at the intersection of the T-shaped building as shown below.

Most of the parking would be placed underground with some above-ground parking on the north side of the property, just as it is now. The current south parking lot would be replaced with green space adjoining Warwick Village and Goat Hill Park.

We’ve never been inside the Calvert Apartments but have always been intrigued by the large glass enclosed roof top pool and what has to be a spectacular view. 

When we first moved to Del Ray some 20 years ago, one of the few ‘local’ places to eat was the Calvert Grille (now Del Meire) and we’re delighted to think that this under appreciated area is going to get a face lift.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 11 Comments »

Del Ray Farmer’s Market Now Open All Year Round

The Del Ray Farmer’s Market – that Saturday gathering of every thing good and fresh – is now open all year round.  This is actually the second year the market has stayed open through the winter but it’s just now getting its “legs”.

Because the Del Ray market hosts only producers (no second hand sales here) only a small selection of winter vegetables are available.  But, you can still find:

With this year’s record breaking snow and cold, it’s great to have a destination to look forward to on Saturday morning’s.  So put it on your calendar – the Del Ray Farmer’s Market is now open every Saturday, rain, snow or shine, from 9:00am to 12 noon.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 9 Comments »

Are You Getting Bang for the Buck on Your Home Addition?

Are you getting bang for the buck on your home addition?  In other words, is the money you put into an addition to your house going to pay off in the end?

Obviously some additions are done out of pure physical need for space, like an extra bathroom or bedroom.  Others, like a garage or full blown master suite may be more about comfort or convenience.

Either way,  homeowners want some sense of the kind of return they can expect when it comes time to move on.

This month’s issue of Remodeling Magazine features their annual “Cost vs. Value” report and  today we are going to take a look at what kind of return you can expect on specific home additions.  In the next few days we will also look at the return on remodeling and finally on replacements.

The cost data are generated by gathering current cost information from a nation wide network of remodeling contractors and suppliers.  The model then uses an adjustment factor for regional price differences.

Alexandria and Northern Virginia are part of what is known as the “South Atlantic” which also includes Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Remember, what you see below if for an addition, not a remodel.

Are you getting bang for the buck on your home addition?


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 2 Comments »

Five Most Common Defects in a Home Inspection

You listed your house, you got a contract, the financing is in place  – the only thing that remains is the dreaded home inspection.  Bill Richardson, president of the American Society of Home Inspections (ASHI) says, ” . . . we’re not the bad guys.  We’re there to just report it like it is and comment on the condition of the home.  If a seller has taken care of the home, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

That being said, here are five of the most common defects in a home inspection – and what you can do to prepare.

Improper electrical wiring – The most serious problems stem from faulty wiring done by home owners  or unqualified contractors – inadequate overload protection or wires tied together without being housed in a box are two of the most common. Depending on the age of your home, make sure the proper building permits were issued and are on record.  

Roof deterioration – Old or damaged shingles can lead to leaks and even a complete roof replacement but regular maintenance can stave off costly fixes.  Use binoculars to check for damaged, loose, or missing shingles.  

Plumbing problems – Dripping faucets, corroding or mismatched materials, faulty fixtures, and improperly installed hot water heaters are all sources of common plumbing troubles.  Check sink faucets, hose bibs, and valves regularly for potential leaks.  Fixing leaks immediately will prevent larger problems like mold, mildew and structural damage.

Improper surface grading or drainage – If proper drainage in not in place, water will enter a house, with basements and crawl spaces being the most vulnerable.  Damaged gutters or downspouts are another source of unwanted water.

Poor overall upkeep – Cracked, peeling or dirty painted surfaces and broken fixtures or appliances can signal overall neglect and decayed caulking around doors and windows is more than just an eyesore.  Walk around your house at least once a year with a discerning eye.   Home inspectors can also conduct maintenance inspections to point out what’s starting to fail and what could cause serious problems down the road.

Be ready for your home inspection and don’t let these five most common defects derail your sale.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

Mortgage Report for January 18, 2010


Long-term mortgage rates moved down slightly last week as some of the recent optimism regarding the economy waned.

While industrial output increased a solid 0.6%, the increase was due to utility output related to the frigid weather gripping much of the nation.

Retail sales dropped by 0.3%, which was quite shy of the 0.5% increase that analysts had forecast. Fortunately, both the Consumer Price Index’s headline and core numbers increased only a scant 0.1%.

For more information on the mortgage market and why ARM indices don’t always move as expected, click here.

Rob Clark, Preferred Mortgage Group

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

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