Milestone sale: Belmont house tops $400K

It was designed as a working class neighborhood in 1890. This spring, that era of Belmont history may have officially ended with the sale of a house for a whopping $435,000.

The Victorian at 750 Belmont Avenue is not necessarily typical of most in its North Belmont neighborhood, which averaged $168,400 in the blistering hot market of 2003.

But still, $435,000 for a house on the other side of the bridge?

True, the house has been totally renovated by Nathan Metzger, whose MCO Virginia Homes Inc. is constructing Coran Capshaw's Walker Square in Fifeville. Metzger picked the house up for $168,000 in October 2002, and kept his crew busy upscaling the 1920s structure.

Listed last fall for $469,000, the property glowed like a jewel in the Hook's On the Block column, "Show off: Big Belmonter outshines neighbors."

"I think that's a huge amount," says Flip Faulconer of Stevens & Company, who had clients interested in one of Belmont's pricier properties. "Obviously the seller had spent some money to get that."

She thinks Belmont will see more sales in the $400,000s– with a caveat: Only if the house has "been redone and redone nicely. I don't think they're going to pay that for a Belmont teardown."

Broker Bob Hughes, who listed the 2,800 square-foot house mentions another house that sold for $375,000, one on the market near Spudnuts for around $400,000, and a triplex that could push the $500K mark when it's listed.

"Only so many of houses in Belmont can command that price because of size," says Hughes. "Unless someone adds on, it's not going to have that size," he points out.

Belmont's days as an affordable neighborhood aren't over, according to the realtors. "There are still houses selling for $160,000," Hughes says, mentioning a recent two- bedroom, two-bath sale.

Anna Towns has lived in her Belmont Avenue house for about nine years. "I'm delighted to see it," she says of the record price. "It's evidence that folks moving to Charlottesville and Albemarle see the benefits of living close to downtown."

She bought her house for the now-bargain price of $80,000 in 1996 after grad school. But, she acknowledges ruefully, "You can no longer do that."

And while the city has programs to help widows and retirees with the inevitable property tax increases, "Gentrification brings its problems," says Towns. "A lot of people are being displaced."

Musician Jamie Dyer named his band the Hogwaller Ramblers in homage to the section of Belmont some prefer to call Lower Belmont. Dyer calls the $435,000 sale "just too high a bar for most people.

"The great thing about Charlottesville is its diversity– economic and racial," says Dyer. "This will create a new filter in the heart of town."

The problem of area unaffordability is one real estate agents grapple with every day. "I've got first-time homebuyers who can't go above $170,000," says Hughes. "When people say $250,000 is affordable, that's bull," he says. "$150,000 is affordable."

As Belmont loses its low-cost luster, buyers will turn to a neighborhood where it's possible to pick up a fixer-upper for $135,000 to $140,000. "Fifeville," Hughes observes, "is the new Belmont."

Faulconer remembers when young professionals like her son started moving into the neighborhood 20 years ago when interest rates hit a frightening 22.5 percent. She sees nothing to stop the existing seller's market. "There's just not that much available to show," she says.

In March, City Assessor Roosevelt Barbour sent out assessment notices to property owners in North Belmont indicating average value jumps of 40 percent. And he says the hot market hasn't cooled.

"So far this year in the first five months," says Barbour, "we've seen 563 sales– all at values coming in higher than assessments– considerably higher, like 10, 15, 20 percent higher." So he's not surprised to see a $435,000 sale in Belmont.

"Nothing surprises me in Charlottesville anymore," he says.

This house last sold for $168,000– in 2002. Totally remodeled, it just fetched an eye-popping $435,000.