REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- All done: Buy someone else's taste on Lexington

ADDRESS: 509 Lexington Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Martha Jefferson

ASKING: $519,000

ASSESSMENT: $400,600


SIZE: 1,677 fin. sq. ft., 450 unfin.

LAND: 0.20 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10 

LISTED BY: Bob Hughes, Summit Realty 980-4534

Many properties on the block these days seem to exist at the extremes of the elbow-grease meter: they're either wrecks in need of a total makeover (if not bulldozing), or they've been redone to within an inch of their lives and are priced accordingly. Obviously some houses are okay as is– not on life-support and yet not quite so spiffy as a new owner might like– but those seem to be increasingly rare. 

At the risk of sounding churlish, we offer the observation that the situation bespeaks an attitude among sellers that's a bit unsettling. The ICU houses seem to be almost defiantly run-down, as though the seller is saying not, "Here's a potentially great place, see what you can do," but more, "Sure, the place is a wreck, but the housing market is so crazy we know even this nightmare will sell!"

On the other end, showplaces with no detail left un-gussied give the impression that the sellers think their taste is the ne plus ultra, and buyers who plan to make changes are somehow not grateful or appreciative of all the effort that went into the renovation.

That's the impression this house leaves– perhaps because there are some striking elements that it would be hard to imagine a new buyer would want to change. One is an unusual– maybe unique– under-the-stairs bathroom that goes way beyond the usual "let's take advantage of some wasted space and tuck in a half bath" thinking of old-house renovators.

The previous owners who added this swanky bath– complete with Jacuzzi, floor-lo-ceiling window, and pretty sink– took advantage of the crawl space beneath the house and actually sank the whole room several feet below ground level. That means that getting to the bathroom requires descending a few steps below the entry hall, a strange feeling.

Across the hall is a room currently used as the master bedroom, but which was probably originally one of two double parlors with a fireplace between. The front room off the entry hall still has a (wood-burning) fireplace, but the one in the second room has been closed up and plastered over, creating closet space on either side (one shallow closet in each room). 

While some people might find it a little disconcerting to have their master suite flank the entryway, others may welcome the convenience and proximity to the kitchen and family area in an addition at the back of the house. 

Another unusual but appealing feature is the heating system on this level. A few rooms have traditional radiators fired by the gas furnace, but in the entry hall and in the large open-plan family/breakfast room beside the kitchen, sleek flat radiators (the owners say they're of Swedish design) save space and add a euro touch.

The small kitchen has also been redone– new stainless appliances, granite counters, glass-front cherry cabinets, and indigo blue tile back-splashes. Casement windows and a French door, while large and modern, are unobtrusive and don't clash with the original two-over-two sash windows in the rest of the house. The new hardwood floor has been painted to differentiate the open kitchen from the family/dining area.

Upstairs, two small bedrooms share a full bath, all with skylights in the walls under the sloping roof. One bedroom door, made of wood slats, looks like it might be original, although it could be just another interesting architectural feature like the sunken bathroom or the wafer-thin radiators. If it's an architectural element rather than an original door, it's a shame whoever thought of hanging it didn't get a second one for the other bedroom. 

Lack of closets is a problem up here. While a large storage area under the eaves is adequate for boxes and small furniture items, there are no closets in the bedrooms. To compensate, two were carved out of the entry hall downstairs, but it's hard to imagine people (even children) who use the upstairs bedrooms being cheerful about having to go down to the main level to get their clothes each morning.

The upstairs has wall-to-wall carpet rather than hardwood. That's a shame, because the wood in the stairs (glowing red heart pine) and on the first level (oak) is beautiful. Obviously, renovators have to make choices, but we would have opted for hardwood even if it meant sacrificing some of the other juicy upgrades.

This time of year an elegant stone-walled patio out back functions like an additional room. From a charming little fish pond to sedate plantings under a large shade tree, the whole space is welcoming and comfortable. The lot stretches back to Kelly Avenue, which provides some off-street parking as well as privacy from any neighbors who might gawk at goings-on in the outdoors "room."

The neighborhood– close to downtown, Martha Jefferson Hospital, and even all the commercial development on Pantops– is peopled with young families with lots of toddlers. Across the street, two houses have been gutted and redone, and new construction has filled in some of the last buildable lots up where the street turns into Evergreen Avenue. 

So it's another hot downtown neighborhood, which explains the asking price. But then again, isn't every downtown neighborhood "hot" these days? 

All buyers have to make decisions, and here a big one seems to be whether to buy a house where almost all other decisions have already been made.