One frigid morning in January 2021, in the dead of pre-vaccine winter, Reem Sadik stared at the open ceiling of her home in DC’s Palisades neighborhood and tried to process what the construction crew was telling her. Seconds earlier, they’d discovered that a major structural beam—one tasked with holding up the back of the house—was so rotted that it was crumbling apart. The home, in other words, could collapse. Says Sadik: “I went into survival mode.”
Until that point, it had been tough to imagine things getting much worse. Ever since she and her husband, Dave Grimaldi, had dropped nearly $2 million on what was billed as mistake-free new construction in one of the District’s cushiest pockets, the couple alleges they’d battled a seemingly endless assault of homeowner disasters: constant leaks, mold, sewage in the basement, failing heat and air conditioning, electrical problems, and on and on. Dozens of workers had trooped in and out during the pandemic, all while Sadik, a lawyer, and Grimaldi, a lobbyist, tried to do their jobs remotely, school two kids virtually, and keep the family out of Covid’s reach.
Now take that nightmare and multiply it by two. According to a lawsuit filed by the couple and their neighbors, a nearly identical ordeal has also played out at the twin house next door.
1516 (left) and 1522 Foxhall Road, NW. Photograph by Jeff Elkins
You surely know these two properties if you’ve recently traveled up Foxhall Road—a main thoroughfare of Washington’s power set. Nicknamed the “salt-and-pepper houses” by neighbors because one is painted white and the other black, their towering, starkly modern design is impossible to miss among the surrounding mix of vintage Tudors and farmhouses. They were built in 2018 by a fledgling real-estate venture called Prefab Partners. Steve Salis—the high-profile restaurateur behind DC mainstays such as Ted’s Bulletin and Kramers and cofounder of the &Pizza chain—launched Prefab with the general contractor who built many of his restaurants. The company promised a revolutionary new method of residential construction, using prefabricated panels manufactured by robots, that would practically eliminate human error.
“To date, no home in the country has been built this well. There are no mistakes,” said Salis, standing in front of the unfinished houses in a marketing video. “Every nail is in the correct place, every substrate is level, every window is perfectly sealed, and every part of the home’s infrastructure is built to perfection.”
It was a compelling pitch—Sadik and Grimaldi were certainly taken with it once. But by the time of that cold January day last year, the thought of it made them seethe.
Crews had already torn off a back balcony and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, meaning the rear of their home was partially open to the elements. Sadik and Grimaldi say it remained that way for days as temperatures …….