This fixer-upper is on sale for R880,000 – it's a wall.

This crumbling brick wall was described as having a prime location, right by trendy shops and popular restaurants. Picture: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

This crumbling brick wall was described as having a prime location, right by trendy shops and popular restaurants. Picture: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

Published Jul 31, 2023


WASHINGTON - The listing seemed too good to be true.

A property in Georgetown, where houses sell for millions, popped up online for just $50,000 (R886,000).

It had a prime location, right by trendy shops and popular restaurants, and was a 10-minute walk to the riverfront.

"The opportunities are limitless," the description read.

But the property was not a home. It was not a plot of land on which someone could one day build their dream house. It was just a brick wall.

"It's, like, crumbling," said Robert Morris, a real estate agent selling the wall on behalf of its owner, Allan Berger.

As home prices across the region have ballooned over the past several years, the decrepit wall with a $50,000 price tag quickly became a main character on D.C. social media.

The listing had been online for just days before it morphed into both a punchline and a lamentation.

"Not me looking at this thinking ayyyy that's cheap," one user commented on Instagram. Another wrote: "This seems like a cruel concocted boomer prank to excite us poor millennials into thinking we can *actually* afford something and then crush our dreams with 'endless possibilities' "

To the neighbours, this wall is far from a joke. Instead, records show it's been the subject of at least $1,600 (R28,000) in fines for infractions, which Berger denied, and an Office of Administrative Hearings case. Two government employees agreed to be interviewed about it only on background.

At the centre of the dispute is the fact that the wall owned by Allan Berger is attached to a home.

What started as a cordial relationship between Berger, 64, and the adjacent homeowner, Daniela Walls, has devolved. Walls hired an attorney and says the wall's deteriorating structural integrity directly impacts her house. Berger accused the woman of stabbing him in the back.

As one neighbour put it: "I know that wall has been a problem."

When Berger called Morris about listing the wall for sale, the real estate agent was confused. After almost 20 years in the business, and closing on more than 900 properties in the D.C. area, he had never heard of something like this.

"What can you do with the freakin' wall?" he asked.

Berger told him a story: His father and a friend went to a tax auction sometime during Berger's childhood, saw a wall for sale and his father thought: "Ah great, I could say I own property in Georgetown."

Deed records show a buyer purchased the wall in the 1960s for $2.14 (R38) and later sold it to Berger's father. Whatever the wall had once been attached to was gone. (Some believe it was once part of a historic hotel.) After his father's death, Berger said, the wall eventually landed with him.

Until now, Berger said he was interested in keeping the wall, which faces a parking lot, because it reminded him of his dad's sense of humour. Plus, he enjoyed showing it off.

"You can go there," he said, "take a girl out on a date, go walk around and say 'See, I own that.'"

As Walls prepared to close on her Georgetown rowhome in 2019, she realised something peculiar. Not all of the wall on the south side of the house would be hers. At the widest portion of the wall, she said she owns the interior 12 inches, but not the exterior 12 inches.

She continued with the purchase, but then problems began around May 2020 when water was leaking inside her home. She called an engineer to assess the damage and said she learned the structural beams of her house were tied into the southside wall, the one she did not completely own. A lack of upkeep, she said, caused the beams to become wet.

The issue related to the exterior wall, according to a December 2022 engineers report Walls requested through her insurance company, "warrants prompt corrections to prevent imminent structural effects" on her home.

Eventually, the D.C. Department of Buildings became involved. It issued two fines in November 2022 totaling $1,661 (R29,000) for improper upkeep, including peeling or chipping paint and holes or rotting materials, according to the case files. Berger denied these claims and has a hearing in September scheduled before an Office of Administrative Hearings Administrative Law Judge, records show.

Last week, Berger received an order from the DOB requiring him to provide the agency with a structural engineering report to address the structural integrity of the wall within 30 days.

The DOB did not make anyone available to comment on the record.

To Berger, the fines were part of a personal attack from Walls.

"She blindsided me with this," he said.

Walls called these accusations "childish." As a single mother of a baby, Walls said she fears what will happen if the wall deteriorates.

"I can't let the house fall down. I can't let a dangerous wall go unabated. Everybody is working to resolve this, not because they have a vendetta against Allan. It's because they want to solve a problem."

Eventually, Walls' attorney Eric Rome, who she retained in case she needs to take this issue to court, made him an offer. Walls would buy the wall for roughly $600 (R10,633), its tax-assessed value.

"That's when I came up with $50,000, without any research, without any great thought," he said. "For better or for worse."

Walls said she does not have a spare $50,000 to simply buy the second half of her wall in addition to her estimated cost of $25,000 (R443,000) to repair it and tens of thousands to insure and maintain it.

"Nobody is going to give you a mortgage for a wall," she said.

Another possible outcome: A buyer.

David Crosby, a vice president at Truist, wrote in emails to Berger that the bank was not interested in purchasing the wall but was willing to shut down the parking lot to accommodate maintenance work for it.

"Unfortunately, I can't talk to you directly without our attorney present due to the neighbour's continued actions," Crosby wrote in an email, which Berger sent to The Washington Post. "Truist legal counsel has advised me to communicate in writing on matters related to the wall."

Still, the crumbling wall grabbed the attention of 12 potential buyers who wanted to learn more about it, the real estate agent Morris said.

They asked about painting murals or posting advertisements, but Morris told them they would need to get approval from the Old Georgetown Board, an advisory board of architects that reviews projects. In response, almost all of them decided they were no longer interested, except one person who asked to schedule a showing.

"I'm not sure you're aware of this," Morris said he replied, "but it's a wall. You can walk right up to it. That is your showing."

After seeing it, the potential buyer was no longer interested.