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How the D.C. Housing Market Taught Us Business Lessons

How the D.C. Housing Market Taught Us Business Lessons

Our weekly conversation began by talking about how we make decisions. This turned into a discussion of mistakes, and how to rectify them. We agreed that unpleasant situations should be met with calm, detached maturity…but sometimes

…sometimes business building lessons are found in D.C. housing.

To TOPA or Not to TOPA?

David had an example. Until very recently he lived in a rowhouse with several housemates. Unexpectedly, the house went up for sale.

D.C. residents enjoy strong tenant rights. A policy called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) gives tenants the first right to buy a property when ownership changes. The purpose is to prevent mass evictions in neighborhoods with rising property values.

In D.C. some tenants sell off their TOPA rights to the highest bidder. So, David and his housemates had two choices: accept an unexpected financial windfall and use the proceeds to move, or halt the sale and see what the open market brought.

Profit was no guarantee, but what was certain was a looming move-out date.

Where is the ethical line between opportunity and extortion? How do you discuss heated matters? How do you reach satisfactory agreement?

Here’s where business lessons can be valuable. David was recently promoted from our OpenWater Voyager position. (Accepting applications now.) That role is heavily sales-focused, with emphasis on communication and negotiation.

Drawing on these business skills David got everyone on the same page. The housemates accepted the cash offer, circumvented trouble, and used the proceeds to move into a nicer apartment. Case closed.

&$%#, Thanks for the Excellent Service

Speaking of nice apartments…

When Rebecca moved here from Detroit she signed a lease in a brand-new apartment complex. 

“During my apartment hunt my logic and rationale soon turned into, ‘I want sparkly things’. New city, new home, higher expectations. It didn’t take long to fall in ‘love’ with a new build here in Arlington. Within the first two weeks of moving-in, reality set in,” said Rebecca.

She had renter’s remorse.

Her list of complaints grew: non-existent closet space. Sensitive smoke detectors. Multiple, kind-of-b.s. dog fees. Despite the great location and new construction it felt like she was paying too much. 

“Knowing I consciously agreed to the lease without fully understanding the space I started to find ways to ‘rectify’ the situation,” she explained.

She admits, “I didn’t want to, but I became that tenant.” She couldn’t change her lease, but she could request adjustments. She could personalize the space to fit her needs.

Then the worst-best thing happened. The complex actually cared. 

“I threw every complaint on my list at them and to my surprise they just asked for a chance to correct the problems. Within the next 48 hours all items were addressed. They even checked in on me to make sure I was satisfied with the outcome.” The apartment managers fixed it with a smile. Every. Single. Time.

Now, she says, she isn’t in a hurry to move. 

“The apartment’s issues are insignificant compared to the service level. I feel respected and valued knowing my concerns are heard.” That’s worth every penny. “I always strive to give the best customer experience in my professional life, but this was a chance to experience that from the other side.”

Why Rebecca is so thoughtful and prepared on follow-up calls? Why David is so attentive? You can partially thank the crazy D.C. housing market.


Katie is OpenWater's Content Director. Her interests include entrepreneurship, permaculture, and blockchain. She enjoys spicy food and salty words.

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