REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- No trace: Makeover obliterates original house

ADDRESS: 718 Montrose Avenue


ASKING: $342,000



SIZE: 1,558 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.13 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Marina Ringstrom of Real Estate III, 973-8333

Homebuilding in the early 20th century, when most houses in Belmont were constructed, involved lots of hand labor. Thats part of what gives them their charm. The eye instinctively senses the imperfections of handcrafting and the absence of them in machine-made materials. The better the craftsmanship, the more subtle the imperfections, but they're still there, even if perceived somewhat unconsciously.

Imagine your dream house in Belmont. Now imagine the ways you would want it modernized. If you're enjoying thoughts of picking the perfect shade of granite countertop, the refrigerator of your dreams, and so on, this may not be the house for you. But if youre wincing at the prospect of tedious weekend trips to Lowes, this house will toss the home-improvement monkey from your back.

Comprehensive renovations mean this 1910 cottage feels a lot like new construction. Changed materials that create a contemporary feel include carpets, vinyl floor coverings, Hardiplank siding, a pressure-treated back deck, and more.

The biggest changes, though, are the new floors and the unobstructed floor plan. Walls have been enlarged or removed in several places, creating an wide-open layout.

The first floor is now essentially two large open spaces: in front, a living room/entry area; and in the back half of the house, the kitchen/dining area. The large opening separating the two main areas further emphasizes the flow. A half bath, some closets, and a laundry room added on to the back round out the first floor.

The stairs hug an outside wall, and at the top much of a wall has been removed to create an open space that could easily serve as an office, a guest bedroom/sitting room or both, as it does for the current owners. (One could enclose that space to create a small third bedroom, which may have been what was there.) Past that are a hallway bathroom and two medium-sized bedrooms, one with a small private bath.

Since just one wall separates the two small upstairs bathrooms, a new owner might prefer to combine them into a single, more luxurious bathroom, possibly even keeping the current pair of entries. All the fixtures, including the de rigeur fiberglass shower units, have the clean shine of newness.

Most unfortunately, the living room, dining room, and most of the upstairs have new wall-to-wall carpeting, while the kitchen, bathrooms, and the laundry room all feature vinyl flooring. The carpet and vinyl epitomize factory-made regularity, in contrast to the original wood floors that– while perhaps imperfect– would have at least recalled the house's roots.

The small remaining sections of floor, in the front entry and the second floor hallway, have been resurfaced with hand-beveled scraped hickory tongue and groove, finished with a clear, semi-glossy polyurethane that also shrieks newness. And the only remaining vestige of the original house, the pine staircase, has been refinished with oak stain and more polyurethane, which is the best possible finish in terms of durability. Sadly, its gloss works against the patina of the 90-year-old staircase, further obliterating the house's original character.

Other updates that increase the modern feel include new windows, new pre-hung doors throughout, including the front door, a recent asphalt shingle roof, new drywall in many places, and fresh paint inside and out, with modern colors in several of the rooms. Of course, the kitchen has been completely modernized, with new stainless steel appliances, oak cabinets, and plastic laminate countertops.

Some of the renovations, such as the new dry-laid brick walkway and front steps exhibit craftsmanship and attention to detail. The closet upstairs in the flex space features a nifty desk surface that holds a full computer setup with room for file cabinets underneath that folds away when not needed. A pergola with a stone floor in the center of the backyard is a nice view from the back deck.

A new owner could re-emphasize the historic character by changing some of the interior colors, replacing the front door, and sanding the staircase down to the original pine (removing the oak-staining as well as the poly). Most regrettably, the current owner reports that the houses original wood floors were replaced with modern subfloors during the installation of the current carpet and vinyl.

Some prospective buyers may view this house as a makeover gone wrong, like Michael Jacksons plastic surgery, but others may appreciate a Belmont house free of headaches and packed with modern upgrades, which is rare. With the asking price unusually close to the assessed value, how quickly this house sells may be an indication of the health of the current real estate market, and the much-heralded "Belmont boom" in particular.