REAL ESTATE- On the Block- Twofer: Small units with potential

ADDRESS: 1416 Hampton Street

ASKING: $174,900

SIZE: 2,000 fin. sq. ft. in two units

YEAR BUILT: 1954

NEIGHBORHOOD: Hogwaller

CURB APPEAL: 5 of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Assist2Sell 979-1223

This property is a do-it-yourself story. Everything about the two houses a block from the stockyards– from purchase to renovation to marketing– has been done by the enterprising owner.

The place is listed with Assist2Sell, a company that made its debut in the area in November 2002 offering a novel concept in real estate marketing. For a $2,995 flat fee, Assist2Sell says it will provide a sign on the lawn, advertising, and an agent to show the house. That doesn't include "open houses," apparently, because no agent was in evidence when we showed up on Hampton Street Sunday, May 2. Our host for the visit was the owner, who stopped working on an air conditioner to give us a tour.

The property– in the shadow of Monticello and Brown's mountain– is actually two properties: a 1,000-sq.-ft. house in front, and a rental unit of approximately the same size in the rear. The rental unit formerly served as a garage, but drainage problems led the owner to undertake what seems like an enormous amount of grading and paving to create a step-down deck linking the two buildings, and then to turn the garage into living quarters.

"Living quarters" is a little more accurate than "separate apartment," because the space is rudimentary at best– there's a bathroom immediately off the entrance, a living room to the right, and two bedrooms and a kitchen in the back. It was probably a good idea to change the garage into a rental unit because there's plenty of parking on the street in front.

But a new owner may want to address the biggest problem with the space– lack of light, which in turn creates a cramped, almost den-like, feeling. While plumbing considerations may have dictated the layout (with the bath and kitchen lined up to the left), there must be something that can be done to alleviate the claustrophobic darkness in this unit.

No such problem afflicts the main house. The owner has devoted a lot of time and energy to creating an open, appealing feeling in a small space. The unexpectedly large living room has a wood-look laminate flooring (brand: "Pergo") laid over the original oak. Arched doorways connect the living room to a small breakfast area and then to a serviceable kitchen (all appliances convey). Off the kitchen is a roughed-in laundry room leading to the deck between the buildings.

There are two bedrooms (one, like the living room, surprisingly spacious for a house that seems small from the outside), and a full-tiled bath, more of the owner's handiwork. The bath, living room, and kitchen are decorated with an unusual "sponge painting" technique that might not be to everyone's taste, but which creates a feeling of crisp freshness, like the soapstone entry porch and white rail fence around the front yard.

The backyard is also enclosed, but the fence doesn't obstruct a nice view of the looming mountains, one of the singular advantages of life in this part of town. The house has a new "40-year dimensional roof," new insulation in all exterior walls (interior walls are plaster), and a fresh coat of paint over the cinderblocks. A gas furnace provides heat, but air conditioning is courtesy of the units being installed the day we visited.

As everyone seems to believe, property in Charlottesville is a solid investment, whether it's a million-dollar turn-of-the-century treasure in North Downtown or an up-and-coming duplex in Belmont. Accordingly, the owner of this property should stretch his do-it-yourself efforts to include marketing hype. If he comes up with the right pitch– "cute as a button, mother-in-law apartment, mountain views, walking distance to ultracool downtown Belmont"– he might single-handedly turn Hogwaller into the next real estate hot spot.