REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Not too big: Willoughby treasure just right size


ADDRESS: 824 Harris Road


ASKING: $294,500

ASSESSMENT: $260,200


SIZE: 1,801 fin. sq. ft. / 228 unfin.

LAND: 0.24 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9.5 out of 10

AGENT: Doug McGowan, RE/MAX Assured Properties - Glenwood Station, 817-9572

A little more than a year ago, longtime well-respected local builder R.D. Wade built his last house, leaving a legacy of over 3,000 houses in the area bearing his name. Like dot-com executives who had the foresight to cash in their options before the 2000 stock market crash, Wade, it turns out, had impeccable timing.

If this week's tour is any indication, he also built some mighty fine houses– places like this that make us pine for the good old days.

If the SUV symbolizes American car companies' laziness and reliance on "bigger is better," the building industry offers parallels aplenty in its business model as well as its finished product: great rooms, mud rooms, and bonus rooms gave us a reason to pay more, plus a chance to out-do the Joneses in square footage.

This house, like its mostly Wade-built neighbors in Willoughby, contains none of those superfluous rooms. Far from being a Sport Utility House, it more closely resembles a Japanese sedan: quality and efficiency without sacrificing style. It's even good on gas: a compact footprint– about 700 square feet per level– keeps utility bills down and allows for a bigger yard. And plenty fits in that footprint: three beds and two baths upstairs, four rooms on the main level (kitchen, breakfast nook, dining, and living) plus a half-bath, and a family room, laundry, and guest room/office with full bath in the basement.

That's it. Buyers looking for a library, wine cellar, and indoor bowling alley should look elsewhere. It can't be called spacious, but this kind of house worked just fine before the word "supersize" entered our vocabulary. Back before we needed storage units, when rock stars had bigger hair than their supermodel girlfriends, and when 18-wheelers were the only vehicle on the highway you couldn't see around, this was a good-sized house. We're talking 1989, the year it was built. It wasn't that long ago!

Thank heavens the owners didn't share our nostalgia when updating the interior. Much as we prefer the dopey innocence of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice to the cynical vulgarity of Eminem and 50 Cent, Formica and linoleum haven't stood the test of time. With cherry floors throughout most of the downstairs, brand new carpet upstairs, and a Corian-countertop / stainless-steel-appliance tag-team in the kitchen, modernity has been given mad props– or whatever kids say nowadays. 

Outside, new vinyl siding covers the house. The large backyard is nearly level, rare in this neighborhood of hilly yards. And beyond the fence? Woods and silence. The new owner can sit on the back deck or patio, thumb through the old high school yearbook, and rue that beehive hairdo in peace.

Situated just east of Fifth Street, most of the single-family homes in Willoughby are in Albemarle, meaning county taxes and schools, yet the convenience of city living— and all miles from the misery of 29 North. There isn't even a HOA fee. 

While we'd hate to give up the awesome, inexpensive sticker system and sturdy red bins of C-ville's trash and recycling pickup, county living offers advantages of its own. For example, Albemarle is ready to build its end of the Meadowcreek Parkway, its leaders don't take pointlessly symbolic stances in international politics, and it isn't dropping $7.5 million for bricks. But we digress.

In the interest of objectivity, we always strive to find negatives in houses, but our tour of this property revealed none. Enter the imagination: skeletons in the closet? Built on an ancient burial ground? O.J slept here— or perhaps Sarah Palin? While most Charlottesvillians would find the last hypothetical most egregious, none are true, to our knowledge. It's just a really nice, medium-sized house. 

You know, medium. Used to be a popular size– look it up. We're off to find a flux capacitor for our Delorean. Cue Huey Lewis!


Each week, a brave local seller invites the Hook to provide an impartial, warts-and-all look at their real estate listing. E-mail yours today!




Wow, a vinyl sided cookie cutter yuppie box landscaped with a few cheap commonplace shrubs gets 9.5 out of 10 for curb appeal. And how did you get a job reviewing anything?

Cheeseball arched top kitchen cabinets from Lowes are hardly exemplars of "modernity" and those cherry floors are most likely laminate floors making the inside as tacky as the vinyl on the outside.

That house may be a solid 6, but nothing more. What is the purpose of this column anyway? It looks like an ad pretending to be content.

Thanks for weighing in; it's rare to get any comments.

The cherry floors are real hardwood, by the way.

I would say the purpose of this column is to give local potential buyers an impression of a house for sale, so they have some context and perspective. As someone who bought a house a year ago, I try to write for people were in my shoes last year.

As for your assessment of 6, your opinion comes through in phrases like "cookie cutter yuppie box," and illustrate that it's a matter of taste. My taste may differ from yours, but since I'm the one visiting the houses and doing the writing, my taste- and my number- is the one that gets published.

Please send me a real estate listing that fits your ideal "9.5 out of 10" house and I will be glad to tour and review it.

Thanks again for weighing in.