REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK-Rural planning: Handyman wanted for County fixer-upper


Address: 2620 Pea Ridge Road

Neighborhood: White Hall

Asking: $199,950

Assessment: $211,200

Year Built: 1940

Size: 1,356 fin Sq. ft.

Land: 3.56 acres

Agent: Michael Lugar, Kline & Co. Real Estate, 434-989-5160

Curb Appeal: 4 out of 10

I've toured quite a few houses for this column, but, until now, I've never participated in a break-in. Yet, when agent and retired Albemarle Police Captain Michael Lugar arrived at this rustic farmhouse, he found the lock box gone and himself without a key. Twenty minutes later, I was crawling through a window.

In those twenty minutes, I listened to the neighbors' continually barking dogs (no breaking into their houses), and I surveyed the property's three-and-a-half acres.

Although that's a sizeable parcel, it now lies just 25 feet or so from the road with only a narrow strip of trees as a buffer. The dwelling– a standard Virginia farmhouse– appears to have once anchored a farm, but it has since been surrounded by compact brick ranchers. 

Out back, there an acre of grassy land (half-heartedly fenced in with some serious gaps), but the remainder of the parcel in dense woodlands.

After purchasing the place in 2005, owner Heather A. Rocha left Virginia to pursue a nursing career in New York. She left the property in the hands of a friend who was expected to renovate. He got some things done.

The kitchen now sports a new sink, countertops, and oak cabinetry. The dishwasher is new, and so is the stacked washer/dryer set in a cubby off the kitchen.

The layout of the lone bathroom is a little awkward, with a new tub against the back wall and a partitioning wall semi-separating the rest of the space. Ms. Rocha's friend decided to put the sink on the more public side of the wall and the toilet in the on the other side in a corner facing the bathtub. He also put in cubes of wavy glass to allow for both light and privacy, and he laid tile. 

However, both kitchen and bathroom still require some finishing touches. For instance, the tile needs to be sealed by the bathroom door, and, for the love of God, please install a new fridge. At least the heavy lifting appears done.

Although they don't offer much closet space, the two second-floor bedrooms are in move-in condition, and downstairs there's a sunny third bedroom and a big living room with a woodstove and a glassy bump-out that's supposed to provide passive solar heating.

"I don't know how effective it is," says Captain Lugar, "but it makes the house look unique."

Indeed, but does it work? This triangle-shaped addition has small stone pebbles at its base, but while I was there, it was colder in the unoccupied house than it was outside. With no central system, the house currently relies on baseboard heat. 

Two areas of concern: the front deck and a corner of the upper-level deck have sustained such heavy wood rot that they're sagging and appear to need substantial repairs to make the house safe.

For these reasons, the property might be a good buy for a do-it-yourselfer. It's priced just $4,000 above its three years-ago sales price. And on this tucked-away street half a mile from Lake Albemarle off of tony Garth Road, the land alone is valued by the County assessor for $148,100.

If he owned the house, Captain Lugar might try to clear the woodlands and develop a second house on those back two acres. The County requires two acres per plot, but Capt. Lugar hints that there may be a way.

So should the new owner crank up the chainsaw? Depends on your notion of land management, as well as County interpretation of zoning law, of course.

The "it's my land, I'll do want I want" contingent has a compelling point. Planning seems to threaten our personal independence, a concept almost more American than apple pie. But natural beauty is the county's strongest asset.

What do you want to see over the dashboard when driving down Garth Road? We could clear off the woodlands, plump down house after house, and plant cedars along property lines to pretend the neighbors aren't there.

But amid the recession of 2008 and the possible depression of 2009, the American tradition of venerating a fixer-upper might just be coming back in style.




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