One of my favorite hobbies is visiting model houses. I couldn't ever live in one, but I like to see how The Other Half must be living. Here's the first part of a new series: Model House Reviews.
My travels on Wednesday took me through Bethesda, so I stopped at Bethesda Crest, a development of two-million-dollar townhomes near Medical Center. It's already famous with the NIMBY crowd after Park and Planning found out that Craftmark Homes dicked around with the plans and construction was temporarily halted last year.
The sales lady in the Belvedere II model home was waiting for me when I stepped inside. She was a thin, older woman, well-dressed and with white hair and defined wrinkles on her face. "Are you just wandering around? I saw you taking photos," she asked me. Maybe I seemed sketchy after, much to some construction workers' chagrin, climbing on top of a dirt pile to capture the amazing views of NIH (pictured). "Yeah, I'm just wandering," I said.
As I started to walk around the house she sat down at a table in the kitchen. Realizing she was watching me, I sidled over, beginning my normal salesperson spiel. I've had the pleasure to tour classier McMansions, so I didn't think much of her at first.
"How much are these houses selling for?" I asked her. "Two million," she said curtly. "Are you looking to buy?" This raised a slew of issues with me - did she assume I couldn't afford these houses? Were minorities that rare in Bethesda? And, worst of all, am I not allowed here if I'm not about to sign a contract right away?
Maybe she's not used to seeing a black/Indian college student in a natty coat showing up in her model house. I don't know. But I've toured model homes from Burtonsville to Baltimore and found that most sales people are willing to entertain questions from anyone who visits them, whether or not they're "looking to buy." They're not making money off it, but it's still good business, and it reflects well on the builder.
So that's when I decided to be difficult: "I heard there was a big stink last year," I said. "Craftmark got in trouble - something about not including the required affordable housing?" The sales woman became very uncomfortable. "I don't know anything about what you're talking about," she said, folding her arms on the desk. Craftmark did, in fact, build two affordable homes (pictured), and they definitely stick out. Perhaps their presence goes without mention in a development like this.
I asked Sales Lady for a brochure and, without much effort, she slid a single, photocopied page reading "Standard Features" across the table. Before I could reach for it, she pulled it back, then let go. I looked it over and asked if I could see some floorplans. Grumbling, she got up and walked across the kitchen. She opened up a cabinet, saying "they're right in here" as if I should have known, and returned with another sheet, this one in color, for the model I was standing in. There were three models pictured in plaques on the wall, but I knew better than to ask for anything else from her, so I walked away and continued my tour of the house.
I leave you with this warning: IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO BUY A NEW HOME, possibly one in the upper brackets, AVOID BETHESDA CREST AT ALL COSTS. Craftmark Homes may be a well-renowned builder, but they must not know customer service. I can only imagine what it must be like for one of the unlucky families who bought a house here.