One man's paint: Could be another's pain

ADDRESS: 109 James River Road

ASKING: $247,000

SIZE: 1,943 fin. sq. ft.



CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Jan Bloxsom, HasBrouck Realty, 295-4663

It's one of a seller's biggest dilemmas: whether to install new appliances, landscape, update a bathroom, or otherwise gussy up a place just before putting it on the market.

On the one hand, a fancy fridge or a slew of shrubs could enrapture buyers. On the other hand, however, the seller's taste in accoutrements could turn out to be a deal-breaker.

We've seen otherwise desirable properties languish because sellers paved a front yard for parking, converted a perfectly fine wood fireplace to gas, or built an oversized, inappropriate garage, cheesy storage shed, or expensive children's play equipment. While these "improvements" may suit the taste of the sellers, potential buyers with different sensibilities often find that the cost of undoing the improvement raises the purchase price beyond their budget.

This issue comes to mind because this charming house near Scottsville has been completely renovated, decorated, and landscaped by the current owner. Almost all of the decisions seem to be good ones, transforming a place he describes as "a shambles resembling a giant bottle of Pepto-Bismol, fit only for the mice who moved in and made a home" into a graceful, bright, and thoroughly modern farmhouse.

The house sits very close to the highway, but large trees and a picket fence– and the relatively light traffic on James River Road– mean that's less of a problem than it would be on, say, Route 20. The best thing about the house is the gorgeous exposed hardwood floors in every room except the kitchen and baths. The rich copper hues of the old heart pine provide a warmth that makes the dining room, for example– while awkwardly situated far from and unconnected to the kitchen– nevertheless warm and inviting. Adding to the cozy feel is a porch swing beside a welcoming red front door, working (gas) fireplaces in the living and dining rooms, and bright two-over-two windows in all the rooms except the bathrooms, where modern glass bricks provide light with privacy.

The systems are all new. Two heat pumps– one propane powered– provide air conditioning and heat, while electric baseboard units have been left in place for back-up. The metal roof is new, as are all appliances. Ceiling fans have been installed in every room, and closets have been added to the three bedrooms (and roomy cabinets in the dining room and master bath). For a house of this vintage, the amount of storage is a pleasant surprise. The master bath's skylight-topped whirlpool and rich cabinetry add a sleek touch of modernity to the otherwise period updates.

The owner seems to have spent as much energy and money outside as in: Several decrepit outbuildings were demolished (the best retained as a garden shed), and the original pump that provided water to the place was resuscitated to provide water for outside chores. The small .5-acre backyard has been cleared and planted with peony, hosta, and daylily beds, and a dramatic maple tree shades a new concrete patio and tiny fishpond.

The whole yard is fenced– across the back to keep a neighbor's horses at home, but on the left to shield a tranquil stand of pines that would be nice to see. Behind the pines on another neighbor's property, a weird collection of old UVA buses is really not as much of an eyesore as it sounds (in fact, we found them endearing in a kitschy way).

The only apparent problem in the house is the owner's decision to paint over wallpaper, not just on several walls, but on the ceiling of at least one upstairs bedroom. The agent assures us that before closing the owner intends to remedy the problem of cracking and wrinkling, but it nevertheless stands as a lesson to anyone preparing to put a house on the market.

Don't be in such a hurry to make "improvements" that that will cost you (or a buyer) more money in the long run– to undo or redo. It seems like a wiser course to save yourself the expense and hassle, and let the new owners make changes that suit their taste and budget.