Swan on Seventh: Starr Hill hovel goes glam

ASKING: $155,000

SIZE: 1260 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1925

ADDRESS: 305 Seventh Street, NW

NEIGHBORHOOD: Starr Hill

CURB APPEAL: 5 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Steven C. Braden, Montague, Miller & Co., 760-2959

Call it the last frontier.

Belmont is already over the top. Fifeville is on its way to joining the other over-priced, out-of-range-of-John-Doe areas of the city, what with Coran Capshaw's 225-unit upscale apartment complex under construction behind the railroad tracks.

Those developments leave what's now called the "Starr Hill neighborhood" streets between West Main and Preston Avenue– just about the last place where "fixer-uppers" can really be purchased for a song.

And that's what's happening. As the weekly real estate transactions reveal, many properties here are being bought cheap, fixed up, and resold for hefty profits to young urban professionals looking for the convenience of downtown without North Downtown (or now, Belmont) prices.

What this trend means for the home owners and residents of the traditionally low-income neighborhoods is a vexing question for City planners and housing activists. Some of the houses undergoing this rags-to-riches transformation have been condemned; resuscitation of those places is said to be a win-win situation not only for the neighborhood but for the City's tax rolls as well. But what about the others?

Joe Mallory is a 31-year-old entrepreneur who's turning ugly Starr Hill ducklings into trendy swans. This house on Seventh Street is a case in point. Judging from the stairway the only still-unrenovated part of the house the condition of this two-story stucco dwelling when the young developer bought it was rudimentary at best.

Now, after undergoing a four-week makeover by Mallory's crew, the place sits ready for a new owner: new roof, electric, and plumbing; new front porch and back deck– and all new appliances, including washer/dryer. The original pine floors have been refinished, the walls repaired and painted, and all new windows have been installed.

The house boasts two full baths one down and one up and three bedrooms, two upstairs and one a small room on the first level that might work better as an office or den.

There's a brand new kitchen, and beside it a compact breakfast area that looks out to a small backyard. In the past, this space has obviously been used for parking it's riddled with gravel– but some loving care and a couple of loads of topsoil could turn it into a small urban garden.

Out front is one of the nicest things about the property: an old rock wall topped with a tidy hedge separating the front yard from Seventh Street. While the view across Seventh is less than ideal– train tracks atop a towering railbed, and an underpass where a road used to go it's peaceful, and the bank is at least green.

In the final analysis, this house on a quiet street tucked between the commercial hive of West Main and traffic zooming down Preston stands as a symbol of its surrounding neighborhood.

Nagging questions remain about the wisdom of up-scaling every bit of the center city, but for better or worse, Belmont, Fifeville, and Starr Hill– like Cinderella– have been touched with a magic wand, and it appears they're destined to be the new belles of the ball that is the current Charlottesville real estate market.