• Sheena Saydam

Micro-Living in Washington DC

How much living space do you really need in DC? Could you live in a 350 square foot apartment? Data shows that renters are more and more attracted to smaller apartments.


The Meaning of Micro


Every region has a different definition of micro-living. A micro-apartment or micro-flat has been defined by the City of Seattle, Washington, as “a small, typically urban, self-contained apartment that is between 150-350 square feet.”


Wikipedia agrees on this size of “micro” and defines a micro-apartment, also known as an aPodment or micro-flat, as “a one-room, self-contained living space, usually purpose built,

designed to accommodate a sitting space, sleeping space, bathroom and kitchenette within around 150-350 square feet. Residents may also have access to a communal kitchen, patio and roof garden.” Most real estate experts define micro-units as any apartment having less than 500 square feet that is constructed for efficiency.


Big cities are experimenting with micro-unit apartments. Washington DC is just one of them. Local laws deter some cities from building micro-units because of the minimum apartment size requirements. Even the smallest micro-units are large enough to surpass 220-square-feet living space minimum for an apartment in a multi-unit structure.


The micro-unit will become a growing part of the real estate market as the demand for apartments passes the supply in many cities. Charles Hewlett of Bethesda-based Robert Charles Lesser & Co., says, “It is a legitimate strategy in expensive urban markets.”


Micro-Living Trend in Washington DC


In DC, 45 percent fewer two-bedrooms are being built by developers now than in 2000, according to research from Delta Associates published in The Washington Post.

As the cost of rent increases, new apartment buildings are counting on studio and one-bedroom apartments as real estate’s answer to the question, “If millennials are living together and splitting the cost of two- or three-bedroom apartments in nice buildings, why don’t we offer smaller spaces for one tenant to afford living alone on their own?”

Mini-apartments, ranging from 350 to 600 square feet and geared for young hipsters under the age of 30 and especially under the age of 27, have arrived on the DC scene at 1919 14th Street NW. The seven-story Harper Apartment building opened recently. Mini-apartments are also planned for the Southwest Waterfront, Dupont Circle, Georgetown and Crystal City.


Four hundred eleven square feet is the average size of a unit at the Harper. High-quality finishes and fixtures, oak flooring, stainless-steel appliances, movable islands and Bosch washers and dryers come standard in most units. The units’ small size is made up for with well-designed floor plans, double-door closets with shelving and floor-to-ceiling glass. The Harper offers features like rooftop grilling stations, seating areas and a penthouse lounge for tenants to socialize and entertain.


Another new apartment building, the nine-story Drake, similar to the Harper is being developed by Keener-Squire Properties at 1355 17th Street NW. The Drake features 218 efficiency and junior one-bedroom apartments with an average of 419 square feet. They were scheduled to open in early September.


DC firm Perkins Eastman’s architect, Sandy Silverman, planned an apartment complex with a rock-and-roll concert hall theme not long ago. This project development on the Southwest Waterfront is part of The Wharf development, which PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette led.  These units are designed like the inside of a boat would be. One hundred seventy-one of the 501 micro-units in this development will range between 325 to 354 square feet, have 9-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass. Apartment complex niceties such as a glass-bottom pool, gardening plots, volleyball courts and other rooftop niceties will be completed in 2017.

Georgetown will see 125 micro-units built on Blagden Alley at 9th and M Streets NW by the developer SB-Urban, and about 145 more in what used to be the Latham Hotel. All of SB-Urban’s micro-unit projects will be completed in mid-2016.


Crystal City is testing the smaller approach. Local DC-area Arlington developer Vornado/Charles E. Smith is partnering with New York-based WeWork to re-purpose an 11-story office building at 2221 S. Clark Street NW into 252 apartments. They should be completed in mid-2015.


Organized as “neighborhoods” around a central lounge on the floor most of the units are only 300 square feet in size. This lounge hosts a shared kitchen, dining and an entertaining area for its neighborhood tenants.


Developers such as Vornado/Charles E. Smith are experimenting with the micro-unit idea and designing the tiny living spaces as modules. This allows modules to be added or combined to create larger apartments in the future.


Micro-apartments, micro-flats or micro-units, whatever you choose to call these efficiency apartments, are often nicer and more affordable than the traditional one-bedroom apartment in DC. Every square foot becomes critical in a micro-unit. You must remain code-compliant while working to get the most out of its space. Well-designed floor plans, carefully laid out space, built-ins and small appliances are the key to getting a micro-unit to work. It’s the location and neighbors that millennials would rather pay for than extra square footage.

Are you a millennial wanting to embrace the concept of simple living? Are you a baby boomer looking to simplify your life, save money, improve the overall quality of your life in DC or gain economic freedom? You may need to sell your larger, traditional home in order to make this move to downsize.


Contact me, Sheena Saydam. I can be reached by mail at Sheena@SaydamProperties.com or by phone at (202) 243-7700. Whether you are a millennial or downsizing baby boomer and whatever your reason for interest in a micro-unit, I can help you find what you’re looking for!

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