REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Bike or walk: Teachers, kiss your commute good-bye!


ADDRESS: 117 Oak Forest Circle

NEIGHBORHOOD:  Oak Forest in Albemarle

ASKING:  $259,000

ASSESSMENT:  $244,900


SIZE:  1,889 fin. sq. ft.

LAND:  0.24 acres

CURB APPEAL:  7.5 out of 10

AGENTS:  Kevin Holt and Wes Carr, ERA Bill May Realty Co., 978-7355

One summer during college, we hosted a European exchange student. "I find zee squirrel... very handsome," the goateed Belgian mused during a tour of Washington D.C., watching with fascination as one of the species of squirrels that plague American cities– a breed apparently not native to the Low Countries– sat on a park bench devouring a discarded pretzel.

With a name like Oak Forest, this subdivision just down the road from Albemarle High School might seem like paradise for that Belgian squirrel-watcher. During our tour, several frenzied tree rats chased each another across trees to rooftops and back– fat, dumb, and happy.

Just a loop connected to an easy-to-miss road in and out, Oak Forest contains a few dozen houses– all with wood siding to match the scenery.

There's no homeowner's association in the neighborhood conveniently close to Route 29 North as well as everybody's favorite 29 by-pass (Barracks-to-Georgetown-to Hydraulic and points beyond, for the three of you who don't already know this "shortcut").

While looking somewhat dated inside, 117 Oak Forest Circle offers a woodsy retreat. Did we say "dated" inside? Understatement! With parquet floors, apparently original wallpaper in several rooms, and vinyl underfoot in the kitchen, the interior might require a total makeover.

Other even more frozen-in-time interior accents include flower print drapes right out of Family Ties, and carpet in two of the three bathrooms. When were carpeted bathrooms popular?

Fortunately, the time warp doesn't extend to most of the house's major systems: the seller has recently replaced the HVAC, installed a new roof, and updated several appliances, including a liquid propane gas stove and front-loading washer and dryer set.

The retreat portion of the house begins in the bumped-out den, accessed through a set of double doors off the living room. Two skylights admit enough light to call it a sunroom in winter, although during other seasons the oaks may take most of the sun's rays for chlorophyll, photosynthesis, and all that (fortunately, the high school is within walking distance for folks who want the technical details).

In the den, a sliding glass door opens to a large, near-ground-level back deck with built-in benches. The yard, with bird feeders and baths (which probably feed and bathe more squirrels than jays), and surrounded by a split-rail fence, hosts a hammock in one corner that doesn't need moving at mowing time. In fact, there is no mowing time: grass doesn't easily grow under the canopy, so bring a rake instead of a Toro. The squirrels don't like noisy Saturday mornings, anyway.

Out front, a screened-in-porch contains a platform that at first glance looks like a hot tub cover. However, the empty hooks above reveal it's for a porch swing. Too late!– the wheels are already turning– with the right bathers in front, Oak Forest Circle could attract as much traffic in summer as the wonderfully decorated houses on Agnese Street at Christmastime. (But we advise anyone with a body like one of Agnese's luminescent Santas to position a hot tub only in the backyard.)

The agent notes that Albemarle currently has only eight single-family listings in the $250,000-260,000 price range, none of them as close to Charlottesville as this house. He has a point: below $260,000, brick ramblers and stoplight-ridden commutes are the norm in "the county."

As house prices continue to trend downward, maybe one of Albemarle High's teachers can move in here and trade their battered commuter car for a bicycle. Good things come out of even the worst situations, and affordability is clearly a good thing. We may not be there yet, but one way or another, a welcome equilibrium between wages and house prices will eventually arrive, and maybe those of us with earnings near the median income will once again be able to live near work.

Meanwhile, the squirrels frolic on, oblivious to the meaningless human chatter around them, content with backyard games of tag, subsisting on plentiful acorns and the occasional half-eaten pretzel.




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