Just How Sweet Was Ryun’s Townhouse Deal?

Here’s an update on our report on Rep. Jim Ryun’s (R-KS) sweetheart real estate deal.

Yesterday we reported that the U.S. Family Network, a sham nonprofit controlled by former DeLay Chief of Staff Ed Buckham and funded by Jack Abramoff’s lobbying clients, sold a Capitol Hill townhouse to Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) at a $19,000 loss. Given the hot real estate market in Washington, D.C. at that time, the low sale price raiseed the question of whether transaction was a de facto gift to Rep. Ryun.

To refresh everyone’s memory, the USFN bought the house in January of 1999 for $429,000. Almost two years later, they sold it to Ryun for $410,000.

That sounded low to us — and legions of TPM readers, a number of whom work in real estate, wrote in to agree. So today we spoke to two real estate appraisers who work in the Capitol Hill area to get a sense of just how low that sounded to them.

Don Boucher, an appraiser who focuses on residential properties in the D.C. area, said that the property should have appreciated “about 15% or more” during that time period, meaning that it would have sold around $500,000.

Another appraiser, who preferred to remain anonymous because he often works with members of Congress, said that the townhouse should have appreciated “by $100,000 at least.” He said the low sale price “wouldn’t make sense at all unless there was a fire and the place was gutted.” He added, “It looks like they gave it away.”

There’s also a question of whether the house was ever actually formally put on the market as opposed to being sold to the Ryun’s in a private sale.

The property was not listed in 2000 on the Metropolitan Regional Information System as are most properties when a realtor is involved. The area real estate professionals we spoke to said that members of Congress frequently ask that properties not be listed on the MRIS out of privacy concerns. In this case, though, the seller (USFN) was a nonprofit tied to a lobbying firm, not a member of Congress, which raises the question of why they opted not to list the property and whether the U.S. Family Network pursued competitive bids.

We again contacted Rep. Ryun’s office for comment, but our calls were not returned.