Inside Wealth: Washington Welcomes the Wealthiest

Inside Wealth: Washington Welcomes the Wealthiest

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Yet now, the combination of the richest White House in history and a boom in government-related businesses and technology companies is transforming Washington’s affluence into opulence. There are 34 billionaires within a 25-mile radius of Washington, according to Wealth-X, an information services company that specializes in identifying the tribal patterns of the superrich; that figure is up slightly from last year. And there are 2,049 D.C.-area residents worth $30 million or more.

Prices and sales of multimillion-dollar mansions are surging. Flashy luxury brands more commonly associated with Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive are doing brisk business near the Capitol. Celebrity chefs are opening up elaborate restaurants and charging very un-Washington prices (think $280 tasting menus).

Along with the region’s traditional Priuses and Mercedes S.U.V.s, six-figure sports cars like Aston Martins and McLarens are now selling well.

“The wealth here is exploding,” said William Shawn, a longtime Washington lawyer who, as a side venture, recently opened a dealership selling Aston Martins and Bentleys. “I’m still amazed at the amount of money that people have coming into the showroom.”

The most obvious signs are in real estate. The average price of a property costing $1 million or more rose by 33 percent in the first quarter, according to Redfin. That increase is among the largest in the country.

Part of it was driven by the billionaires and millionaires in the Trump administration. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary and a former hedge fund manager, paid $12.6 million in February for an estate in Massachusetts Avenue Heights. Wilbur Ross, the billionaire commerce secretary, paid $10.75 million in January for a Beaux-Arts mansion in the same neighborhood.

Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil chief executive, paid $5.6 million for a colonial in the Kalorama neighborhood, where Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting a six-bedroom home for $15,000 a month.

The Tysons Galleria mall in McLean, Va.

Credit
Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The record smasher for real estate in Washington, however, isn’t linked to the Trump administration. Jeff Bezos, the chief of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, paid $23 million for the former Textile Museum in Kalorama and plans to convert the 27,000 square feet, spread across two buildings, into a single-family home.

Brokers say that record may not last long.

“I think we’re just seeing a whole new level of client in the city,” said Mark Lowham, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Washington.

He has an eight-bedroom home listed for $22 million on Chain Bridge Road in the city’s northwest. He also has a penthouse condominium at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown listed for $9.95 million.

While those are far from New York prices, they are a quantum leap for Washington. Mr. Lowham said he recently sold a $7.5 million condo on Water Street, which runs along the Potomac River.

The buyers aren’t just locals. Increasingly, the superrich from around the world are discovering the benefits of owning a home in Washington. Aside from being a bargain compared with New York or London, it gives business owners and power players access to the seat of government.

“These people already have a home in London and Hong Kong and New York, and they realize that if they add Washington to their portfolio, they can entertain there and advance their cause,” Mr. Lowham said.

European luxury brands have also found it lucrative to have homes in the area. Hermès opened a 6,000-square-foot boutique in CityCenterDC in 2015, celebrating with a blowout dinner that featured foie gras feuilleté and waiters wearing giant white hats that looked like clouds.

At a time when many malls are struggling, Tysons Galleria, in McLean, Va., which has tenants like Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada, is reporting growing sales. Instead of a food court, the mall has brought in Mike Isabella, a chef and restaurateur, to build a 41,000-square-foot dining complex with eight eateries, including a raw bar and a tapas restaurant.

“Our sales have been strong, and luxury sales have been among the strongest,” said Rich Dinning, the senior general manager of Tysons Galleria.

The food scene in Washington is also growing more lavish. One of the top restaurants in town is Pineapple and Pearls, whose 11-course tasting menu (with drink pairings) goes for $280 a person — to be paid in advance. Several other restaurants in town, such as Métier and Komi, are offering tasting menus for $200 or more.

The new administration may be contributing to Washington’s affluence, but big money is also coming from start-ups and newcomers from out of town. A 25-year-old recently walked into Mr. Shawn’s car dealership and paid $340,000 in cash for an Aston Martin Vanquish. The customer said he had recently sold a tech company he founded for tens of millions of dollars.

“The government may have got a lot of this started,” Mr. Shawn said, “but with cybersecurity now, you’ve got a lot of these smart guys forming their own tech or telecom companies and doing well.”

While his dealership still lags those in Los Angeles; Greenwich, Conn.; and Palm Beach, Fla., when it comes to sales, Mr. Shawn said, “We’re closing in fast.”

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