REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Overdone: Trying vainly to make a silk purse

ADDRESS: 500 Park Plaza

NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown

ASKING: $449,500

2006 CITY ASSESSMENT: $281,600


SIZE: 2,160 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.131 acres

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of 10

LISTED BY: Yvette Okros, Akarion Realty, 466-6686

It is a recent truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of expendable income must be in want of a house to redo and flip. Never was that truism more evident than in this little '50s bungalow at the corner of Third Street, Hedge Street, and Park Plaza downtown. 

A developer bought the place a year ago and set about preparing it for resale. Here's what he decided to do: 

* Replace all windows except the front bay with vinyl, snap in-divider models. 

* Hang huge circulating fans in every room and a large pendant light too low in a small breakfast nook off the kitchen, threatening possible decapitation for anyone taller than 5'5". 

* Outfit the kitchen with a "travertine" sink and granite countertops, almost guaranteeing a premature death for any glass or item of crockery unlucky enough to get dirty.

* Choose sea-foam green/blue paint to accompany yellow/tan tile surrounding the tub in a first-floor bathroom. 

* Install a drop ceiling in a formerly unfinished and still tiny-windowed basement and cover the floor and stairs with thick carpeting– and call it a "family room."

Other– more felicitous– changes include refinishing nice oak floors throughout, adding AC and a heat pump, moving walls to create more open flow, adding a bath to one of the two bedrooms to create a mini master suite, and converting the fireplace to gas.

Outside, two porches were rebuilt incorporating a lot of PVC in place of wood– no worries about pesky rot (or aesthetics). Also, cement was poured out back to create a tiny area of indeterminate use (the setback is impossibly tight with what seems to be about five feet between the house and a neighbor's fence), and "landscaping" was undertaken in the form of a few rows of 4" boxwood sprigs.

The question arises: what was the seller hoping to accomplish? The motive seems to have been to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The agent says the place was in rough shape after many decades of ownership by an aging couple, and so the first order of business had to be structural repairs, including all the basic systems. 

Next came some design modifications to open up space and add some modern amenities. A wall separating the bay-windowed front room from an entry hall was removed, creating a pleasant entry/larger living room combination. Apparently a wall or a door between the living room and the small breakfast nook was eliminated– at any rate, now two columns demarcate the space from the living room and provide one of the few interesting architectural touches in an otherwise unremarkable place.

Augmenting the larger of the two bedrooms with a tiny new bathroom created from the former entry-hall closet was a good idea, and would have been an even nicer touch if the renovator had opted to spend a few more dollars for a tile shower instead of one of those ubiquitous all-purpose thermoplastic things from Lowe's or Home Depot. 

No doubt the kitchen had to be modernized. But here's where delusions of grandeur trumped the common sense evident in other changes. In line with the reality of a '50s brick box, a utilitarian– even pretty– kitchen could have been etched in the small space looking out at the neighbor's fence. Instead, the choice was high-end granite counters, tile floors, and stainless appliances. While all unobjectionable in their own right, these things seem completely out of place in this now plastic-windowed bungalow.

The first rule of renovating should be to understand what you have to work with and what you're trying to create. In this case, the assumption seems to have been that to lure well-heeled buyers who want property downtown, all the fancy amenities of new condos or historic re-dos have to be on offer. 

This is a mistake. Instead of a comfortable, plain-jane but serviceable bungalow for a mid-range buyer, what's been created here is an overdone plain-jane but serviceable bungalow with a completely unrealistic price tag– for what buyer?

Maybe it was the classy address that led the developer astray. We have to admit, 500 Park Plaza sounds like the real estate equivalent of Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, what's here is June Cleaver sporting one of Madonna's more outré get-ups.

Photos by Rosalind Warfield-Brown


1 comment

i started choking when i saw that asking price, but then read the article which made me happy. afterward i passed out and had a revelation in a dream that i live in manhattan because it's cheaper than charlottesville.