By: Elaine Bole
In 1977, Margaret Lewis moved to Washington, D.C. from England. At the time, Lewis was a 37-year-old married woman raising three children. Her husband was the newly appointed Director of Pathology at Georgetown Hospital.
Little did she know that her future wasn’t to be as a financially secure wife of a doctor. Instead, she spent the next decades specializing in selling residential real estate, focusing on the Palisades neighborhood.
Lewis sold hundreds of houses over the years. She earned a reputation as a “go-to” real estate agent because of her knowledge and honesty, as well as a neighbor always willing to help.
Why did Lewis turn to real estate?
Lewis turned to residential real estate out of necessity. She needed a job. “My husband ran off with his secretary. I needed to make an income,” she said.
When Lewis and her husband moved to D.C. in 1977, they bought the large stone house on North Glade Street, located just blocks from the Francis Scott Key Elementary School.
In 1984, the now long-retired Key School Secretary, Wanita Stottlemyer, played a central role in launching Margaret’s real estate career.
“In the beginning, my three children went to private school. But one of my daughters was totally miserable,” Lewis said. “The neighbor down the street said, ‘Why don’t you send her to Key School?’ She was playing with the kids anyway, so I sent my daughter Rosaline to Francis Scott Key Elementary School. I couldn’t work in the beginning.” Lewis couldn’t work because she didn’t have proper visa, so she volunteered at the school.
“That’s how I got to know everybody. When I finally got legitimate status to work, the people I met at the Key School helped me get my real estate business started through many referrals,” she said.
Lewis’ first sale
Lewis’ first client was Stottlemyer. “The lovely secretary at the Key Elementary School, Wanita Stottlemyer, her mother died not long after I got my real estate license,” Lewis mentioned.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, Margaret, I’ll give you my mother’s listing.’ She listed the house on Sherier Place in 1984 for $120,000.”
Stottlemyer is now in her nineties. She attended Key Elementary School as a child and still lives in the neighborhood. She was surprised to hear how her act of kindness over thirty years ago helped launch Lewis’ long, successful career. “I always liked Margaret. It makes me happy to hear I helped her,”Stottlemyer said.
Real Estate Then and Now
Lewis started her career at Frank S. Phillips, which is no longer in the residential real estate business. When Stottlemyer became her first client, Lewis said, “I was thrilled. And I went to my manager to help with the paperwork. There was an older agent in the office and she said, ‘Over a 100,000 below MacArthur. Oh my God, you’ll never get it.’ She frightened the life out of me. But I did get it and that got me going,” said Lewis.
In fact, Lewis found that the easiest houses to sell were “below MacArthur”, meaning those houses located west of MacArthur Boulevard towards the Potomac. “The less expensive your house is, the more buyers you have,” said Lewis. Back then, those houses sold in the hundreds of thousands, and now they sell in the millions.
Reflecting on her long career, Lewis said, “It is much easier to live and sell in a neighborhood. You have to know a lot more than just how much the house should sell for.” For instance, on the street where she lives, North Glade, she has sold practically every house on the street over the years. She has sold the house next door to her three times.
“I don’t sell as much today because everything is a million dollars or more. I used to sell these little bungalows to young families for two hundred thousand or less on Sherier Place. But now the land is worth more than the old houses, so over the years the bungalows have been replaced with large modern houses on streets like Sherier.”
She continued to say, “I always knew the value would go up because of our proximity to downtown and the neighborhood. I tried to convince families not to leave. But they wanted more living space for a growing family, or they had children entering school and weren’t convinced at the time of the quality of education at the public schools in the District. I’m guessing some of those that left the neighborhood may have regretted it. But they did what was right for them at the time,” said Lewis.
Over the years, Lewis’ role in the neighborhood evolved. Once a volunteer at Key Elementary School, she now stays involved in the neighborhood by volunteering for the Palisades Village.
“Everyone knows Margaret. She is everyone’s best friend,” said Andrea Saccocia, the Palisades Village’s executive director.
“She is always there for her friends. When one of them is having a challenge, Margaret is ready to help. She drives them to the doctor and to get groceries. Whatever is needed, Margaret is ready to help.
“It is still amazing how so many of my old clients are still here,” said Lewis. And those clients are still seek her out.
A long-time resident on Cathedral, Barbara Gardien, said, “I regularly plead with Margaret, please don’t retire until I’m ready to sell my house.”