REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Baja Belmont: Tiny bungalow tops a townhouse

ADDRESS: 900 Rives Street


ASKING: $179,000

ASSESSMENT: $121,500


SIZE: 752 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.14 acres

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of 10 

LISTED BY: Robin Romer Real Estate III-West 984-7482

At just about this same time of year back in 2002 we reviewed a 728-square-foot concrete-block house on Mason Street, two or three streets over from this one, that was On the Block for $89,500 and eventually sold for $80,000. (We hear you: those were the days.)

This 2006 equivalent has some things in common with that one (not including the price): it's small, with two small bedrooms and one bath; it has a nice porch; there is no attic. But that's where the similarities end.

And the differences between the two places might serve to mitigate the chagrin of a buyer having to pay more than twice as much for this house only four years later: here there's a nice dining room with a built-in china closet and an attractive bay window, the kitchen is much larger, and the house has a root cellar/basement that stays dry and provides good storage for outdoor equipment– or can serve as a tornado shelter, with its fold-down ground-level doors.

Outside, there's no comparison: whereas the little house on Mason sat high on its perch overlooking the stockyards, this bungalow is off-set to one side of a flat corner lot with woodsy mountain views to the rear. So while the price inflation might cause some winces, the fact is that for the money, this may still be an appealingly comparable investment.

Rives Street runs in a straight line from Carlton to Florence, where it takes a little dog-leg twist before continuing down past Rives Park to Monticello Road. The upper part of the street is within easy walking distance of the busy activity in lower Belmont: Mas and LaTaza restaurants, C'ville Market, Rudy's rug cleaners, and so on. Down at the Monticello Road end is I-64 and a quick hop to Monticello, PVCC, Monticello High, and Tandem School. 

Around this house are others just like it except  for a big townhouse development on the lower end of Monticello Avenue and new condos where a sweet old farmhouse used to be on Linden Lane. That's to say that a neighborhood that looks like a tranquil throw-back to lazier, simpler days is really a little pocket of calm amid a storm of real estate activity. 

In fact, the agent reports that developers were sniffing around this lot until advised by the city to sniff elsewhere. (Who would have believed that some places are still off limits to exploitation?)

But it's easy to see why they might have been interested, and why this house might provide an opportunity for buyers with higher aspirations than 752 square feet. With its solid foundation (the rock ledge it's built on is visible in the basement) and corner location, expansion appears to be possible either laterally or vertically– or both. The outside is a combination of wood and asbestos shingles, nothing to weep over if they have to go, and the views toward the mountain from a new second story would probably be pretty.

All this talk of square footage and expansion potential neglects the virtues of the house as it is. Whimsy is apparent in the lavender exterior and in pastel pink of the bedrooms. Ceiling fans keep air moving (there's no central air), and heat flows from the reasonably new furnace through old-fashioned grates in oak floors that look like they've just been redone. 

The current owner has begun some landscaping projects in front and on one side to soften the too-close situation of the house next door, leaving the back yard (fenced on two sides) available for new owners to do their own designing.

The biggest problems with the place are in the rear addition containing the kitchen and bathroom. The latter is especially dodgy: the tub/shower installation covers parts of the room's two windows. The windows in the kitchen look like they came from a salvage sale, but their industrial aluminum frames do serve to emphasize the appeal of the large original single-pane wooden windows in the rest of the house.

All high schoolers remember that old standby from English comp, the "compare and contrast" essay. This house provides a good chance to use the strategy in the "real world." Comparing sales of houses of similar size in the same neighborhood four years apart provides some perspective on the real estate situation in town. 

In 2003 we said of the Mason Street house, "All in all, this house isn't so bad. Tiny, to be sure. Weird part of town.... But it has the one redeeming feature you can't get around: it's not a townhouse." La plus ca change. Today,  as then, there are townhouses available for this price– two are right down the street. So the situation is not so different. A buyer looking for something under $200,000 can have a sweet little– emphasis on little– house with a nice yard and the potential for interesting expansion– or can have an attached townhouse (bigger, true, and newer) with not much room for creativity.

Sounds like a no-brainer to us.