REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Fields of dreams? Venable townhouses close to everything


ADDRESS: 1201, 1203, 1211 John Street


ASKING: $249,900 (1201 and 1211) and $354,900 (1203)

ASSESSMENT: n/a– new construction


SIZE: 1,271 fin. sq. ft. / 265 unfin.; 1,536 fin. sq. ft. / 254 unfin.

LAND: 0.04-0.06 acres 

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

AGENT: Roger Voisinet, Re/Max Realty Specialists, 974-1500

To test the timeworn truth of "location, location, location," look no further than year-end real estate statistics. While none of it is pretty, thus far Charlottesville has fared better than the counties in the real estate meltdown: compared to 2007, in 2008 the number of single-family property sales in the city decreased about nine percent, versus 25 percent in the surrounding counties.

Of course, when considering macroeconomic numbers, one should always bear in mind Mark Twain's phrase, "lies, damned lies, and statistics." Many a self-appointed "expert" spun flawed information during the boom, so take anything you hear nowadays with a 50-pound bag of salt.

For a more microeconomic test of the "location" rule, then, consider this six-unit townhouse development just off 14th Street near the Corner.

Thanks to its front-door view of the sports fields behind Venable Elementary, this complex is known collectively as "The Fields at Venable." The complex was developed with the Piedmont Housing Alliance, and two of the six townhouses are designated "affordable." These units, on each end of the development, are narrower and 250 square feet smaller than the other four. This means two bedrooms upstairs (compared to the other units' three). 

More on the "affordable" units: income restrictions apply, and PHA offers some financing and down payment help, which will come in handy. There's a tight tolerance between coming in under income limits and actually being able to afford a townhouse that– although cheaper than the larger units– is still listed at a quarter of a million dollars. Perhaps that explains why both are still available. 

The agent has an interesting CV that includes some serious green cred. He founded a solar contracting company here in the early 1980s, before solar was cool. He also coaches UVA's hockey team, a fact which (barely) justifies the following awkward sports pun: while location gets the puck into the net at the Fields at Venable, it gets an assist from energy-efficient, low-maintenance building components.

All six houses have Energy Star-certified windows, heat pumps, and appliances (tangential tax tip: a state income tax credit is available for half of the sales tax paid on any Energy Star-certified household items). 

Trex composite decking material means no arsenic splinters as well as low maintenance, a key goal of the development. Another feature supporting the low-maintenance objective is fiber cement siding, popularly known by the brand name "Hardiplank."

Properly maintained, this attractive composite can last 50 years. Awesome– one more thing we can palm off on our grandkids! (Their current "To Do" list: Pay for Wall Street bailout; Keep the Social Security/Medicare Ponzi/Madoff scheme going at least until we die; and Replace fiber cement siding.)

The lower level of each house includes a small bonus room as well as a garage, handy to have in the high-density UVA area, where tow trucks circle like vultures. Because of its central location, the agent is marketing the Fields to UVA students and their parents. Indeed, a Wahoo engineering student could place the point of a protractor on these townhouses and draw a circle one mile in diameter that could describe quite a pub crawl (as if harried E-schoolers have time to go out!). 

After such an evening, it's fortuitous that the University Hospital is the halfway point along our route. That's far enough for a UVA student, anyway, as most seem to regard eastern Charlottesville with the fear of pre-Columbian sailors: the earth drops off into infinite oblivion beyond the Corner. (In reality, the Amtrak station and Lewis and Clark statue– gateway to the Downtown Mall– await to the east.)

With two of the townhouses already sold, and a third under contract and scheduled to close this month, location seems to be helping sales here. As for the bigger picture in real estate, we'll leave the statistical analysis to the "experts."



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