REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Renovation junction: Everything old is new again


ADDRESS: 702 Belmont Avenue


ASKING: $499,900

ASSESSMENT: $322,700


SIZE: 2,000 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.116 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

AGENT:  Sonja Casero of Frank Hardy Inc., 981-3523

It seems to be hard times for real estate agents, renovators, or speculators in houses. Each week we review a property for sale, and after some time has passed, we call to check on the status of the ones we've featured. 

Recently, the most common reply to our question, "Whatever happened to....?" is "Unfortunately, still available." 

Given that distressing reality, it might seem that touring a house purchased for the specific purpose of upgrading and re-selling would be a depressing experience. However, in the case of the current house– which fits that description– the experience was stimulating and enjoyable. (Then again, we're not the renovating owner.)

Several of the houses we've reviewed this year were– if not exactly "spec" houses– at least houses people had purchased as money-making undertakings, with no intention to live in them, just commodities to renovate and sell.

Some of the projects were beautiful experiments of imaginative design implemented with quality workmanship and materials, and some were embarrassing– almost cynical– exercises of stepping in, slapping on flashy but cheesy cosmetic "improvements," and hoping for the best. (Those are, no surprise, some of the ones "still available.")

This house fits the former category. While a house in the city selling for $100 shy of $500,000 might not seem to have the brightest prospects in this market, this one has some features that might prompt serious buyers to take a second look.

First of all, the location is pretty good: in trendy Belmont, one block off Monticello and Avon, within walking distance of Spudnuts, Clark School, Mas, and all the entertainment and cultural glories of Downtown. While it's a bit of a hike (or pedal) to the UVA hospital and central grounds, it's a relatively straight shot via Avon to Elliott to Cherry. 

And from this part of town, it's an easy hop to I-64 around to Shadwell for people who need to get to Pantops– or west for those who have dealings on Route 29. 

Second of all, the Belmont location is better than some: it's in the first block of Belmont Avenue (which has some height, providing nice rear views of mountains) and surrounded by other gentrified re-dos, all seemingly owned by people with amazing green thumbs. While not much has been done to this property (the front yard, for example, heavily shaded under a huge old maple, consists of wood chips), the landscaping wonders in nearby properties are impressive.

The house itself is a 1920, three-bedroom, stucco two-story with beautiful details. Yeah, yeah, almost every re-done house has a beautiful detail or two, but this one seems to have weathered the years with more of the original charm in tact than most, and the renovators seem to have capitalized on every one. 

The floors, for example– always first to catch anyone's eye– are stunners. Unlike new floors– even new hardwood floors, never mind the ersatz snap-in faux frights underfoot in many of these sorts of projects– these show all the dings and gouges of their 70+ years. But subtle refinishing has made the defects delectable. 

Even in the first-level master bedroom– made from the former kitchen, where damage to the wood could not be fixed– new pine planks create an almost tromp l'oeil carpet in the middle of the floor. 

High ceilings combine with a sweeping living room/family room/ kitchen expanse on the main floor to create an impression of one big room. A double-faced fireplace divides the two large rooms, and the unusually spacious kitchen is open to both. In the kitchen, bamboo counters with a soapstone sink-surround, cherry cabinets, gorgeous hanging lamps, and black appliances add class to a space that too often has become a granite and stainless cliché.               

The master bath on the first floor is everything we'd want it to be– tile, glass, big window. A half bath off the sweeping living/family room area is charming if tiny. The second full bath (upstairs) has some of the best views in the house as well as the original tub (or if not original, at least very old) surrounded by wainscotting over an old-school black and white tile floor.

The two bedrooms upstairs are larger than most in houses of this era, and there are even some closets in the house to further set it apart from peers. So it's clear the renovator had more than usual to work with when he began his strip-down/rebuild project.

Clearly the basic ingredients here were a cut above many we've seen. But the care and taste brought to bear on the raw material is an equally important element in the success of this project.

Anybody can take an old shack and make it over. (And many people in town– especially in Belmont!– have done just that.) But not many can do it with restraint and élan. In our view, people with $500,000 to spend might be advised to search out this kind of house over a brand-new "green" model with lots of insulation but no history or soul.



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