Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


The Pentagon, Peter Rabbit , and 9/11 – A Personal Real Estate Story

Unlike many of our friends, I hadn’t actually known anybody in person who was on one of the planes, or in one of the buildings. Strangely, the closest I ever got to a victim was through real estate.

But this is Washington, and here you’re always in the middle of the news. My husband covered Flight 93 for the Washington Post, and our house near downtown Washington was only a few miles away from the Pentagon. (Yes, I admit it, I went there as soon as I could and as close I could get.) The shock, the pain and the anger have not been forgotten. They have changed the lives of many of us, and first of all those of the people who lost loved ones on that day.

In the big snow storm of 2003, I had clients who fell in love with a comfortable, charming old house in a great part of town. There was something magic to that house, and even though there were no pictures on the listing and DC’s streets weren’t maneuverable that week, several others were instantly bidding on the house as well.

We won, but we never got to meet the seller, a single guy who had fled town and moved to another city. He would only communicate through his lawyer--an unusual situation in a jurisdiction without mandatory attorney review.

There was the name of a woman on the public record as well, and the smallest bedroom had hand-painted Peter Rabbit murals all over. A divorce, we figured.

We were wrong, very wrong. The day before the closing —I was in the hospital having a baby--we learned that the wife had been on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Later, we saw her name on a local memorial list. The thought that she might have been pregnant with their first child made me sob.

The husband could not bear to come back.

My own baby died two days after the closing, and even though a more rational person might object, there was a symbolism to that which I couldn’t escape. The house, 9/11 and my son’s death are weirdly connected in my mind. The only picture anybody ever took of me during that pregnancy (after all, he was our third) was taken during the home inspection in that house. I still have it.

For complicated reasons, my then-clients and now friends never ended up living in the house. When we put it on the market again last year, I had the nursery painted in a neutral color, rationalizing that this would appeal to a wider range of buyers. And it did –the home was under contract before the first open house.

Secretely, though, I also wanted to cover up my feelings.

I am always fascinated with historic homes (and the history of homes).  In a way, this Washington house is a historic home now, even though the tragic story of its one-time owners might get lost down the road.

This week, it has been 7 years since the Towers. I will say a prayer for the many people whose lives have been changed (or ended) on that day.

© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 7 commentsCatarina Bannier • September 10 2008 01:41PM


Wow what a story Catarina. I'm speechless. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by Ed Lopez (Vantage Realty Group) almost 11 years ago

What an absolutely moving story. I'm so sorry about the loss of your child. I can't imagine that. And the rest of this is just unbelievable.

Posted by Lisa Hill, Daytona Beach Real Estate (Florida Property Experts) almost 11 years ago

I can see why these events are all tied up together for you, even if it doesn't make perfect sense. I just read a book where one of the lines was something like "luck was bad...but life is good." Thank you for sharing this story with us.

Posted by Kelly Sibilsky (Licensed Through Referral Connection, LTD.) almost 11 years ago

Caterina - Thanks for sharing your story. We all have sad memories of that day. Oddly, I was attending my father in-laws funeral when I got the news on 9/11. His death came a few days early and I am convinced it was because he was retired military and God needed soldiers on that day. I'm sorry for your own loss. Again, thank you for sharing.

Posted by Carol Culkin, Overland Park (Reece & Nichols) almost 11 years ago

Cati - Very moving. I'm sorry for your loss and that of the victim's husband. Thanks for sharing.


Posted by Ed Schneider, Washington DC Real Estate Specialist (Evers & Co. Real Estate Inc.) almost 11 years ago

Catarina - this is an amazing story....I've got goosebumps...very poignant....and personal - thank you so much for sharing....may I reblog it?  I think many people should read this...

Posted by Liz Moras Migic, Chilliwack, British Columbia - Realtor almost 11 years ago

Dear all,

my apologies for not responding sooner.  I have been far away from here with all kinds of family stuff, and it's been taking a long time catching up!

Ed and Ed, Lisa, thanks so much for your comments.  It certainly was a pretty emotional thing for me to write.  the next day, on Sept 11, the Washington Post had a whole special section about the opening of the Pentagon memorial, with large graphics and explanations of the design.  When I saw her name (each victim is represented by a light bench), I really choked again.

Kelly, yes, I think it's up to us to make sense of the things that happen to us, and give ourselves a positive outlook.  When I was a kid and I was pouring out my heart to my grandmother about some bad experience, she would say, "as hard as it might be for you to believe it right now, everything happens for a good reason."  I think today I understand a lot better what she meant.

Carol, wow, that's quite a powerful connection as well.  And what a painful and beautiful thought at the same time.

Liz, sure, go ahead.  Sometimes these things inspire people to tell their own stories.  That's what makes us feel so connected.

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 11 years ago