On the fence? Outdoor rooms tip the scale

ADDRESS: 729 Northwood Avenue

ASKING: $779,000

SIZE: 2,865 fin. sq. ft. / 954 unfin.


NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Judy Campbell of McLean Faulconer Inc. 293-8526

Buyers with plenty of money who are looking for a house in town have several options. Just a quick survey of recent ads turns up beauties downtown on First Street and Park Street, elegant places close to UVA on Winston, Hilltop, and Rugby Roads, and a few mavericks like a landlord's dream (house plus four rental units) on Howard Drive.

A buyer's requirements– school district, yard maintenance, updates– will help narrow the field, but a flush buyer who's trying to decide among all these offerings has a lot to weigh. What would recommend this large brick house on Northwood Avenue over the others?

Well, obviously, the house itself: its age (90 years old, with only three owners in all that time), its location (walk to the Downtown Mall, jump on the 250 by-pass in a minute), and some desirable features: an elegant bright sunroom with heated tile floor, added in 2000; a classy new "European" shower in the master suite; a library, and a basement office.

Light, privacy, and tranquility provided by custom-designed Pella windows, with neo-Palladian "Jefferson style" fan lights and over-large upper panes (plus the luxury of between-the-glass blinds which never need cleaning) make the rear sunroom the center of the house. Built over an existing garage, it incorporates the former exterior brick wall to attractive advantage.

The sunroom is off the kitchen, updated about 15 years ago. A new owner will probably want to make even more changes there, but not to the gorgeous oak floor discovered beneath the linoleum during the renovations. The large fireplace in the living room has been unfortunately converted to gas (it's all the rage, apparently), and the formal dining room boasts two built-in corner cupboards, almost impossible to imagine finding in a new house today because of the intricacy of the elaborate carving.

The bookcase-walled library off the living room and a very pink half bath cleverly tucked away under the stairs round out the first floor.

Upstairs are the usual three bedrooms. Two of them are interesting because of pretty doors leading to... the roof over the library. The owner explains that some time ago, some fly-by-night workmen took advantage of the previous owner, an elderly widow, and in the process of putting on a new roof, demolished a distinctive deck off these two bedrooms. Oh, well, at least the two "doors to nowhere" provide light to the bedrooms.

The other houses vying for a buyer's attention probably offer some variation of these attributes. What might sway the undecided in this direction is the .75 acre lot here, not only because of its heft but also because of its design. The lot is unusually large and private for a house in the center of the city, but the appeal is its several "rooms"– spaces delineated by old low walls, shaded by huge trees– and one of them graced with a huge rock fireplace. The artful division of what would be just a big backyard elsewhere will have special appeal for gardeners, but aesthetes of any stripe can't help but be dazzled.

The basement is also a plus, as is the novelty of three different roof materials (shingle, tin, copper) and two garages. But we predict it's that backyard that– combined with a classic, sturdy house– will be the factor that tips a vacillating house-hunter toward Northwood Avenue.