Hooville duplex: Live like a landlord-- or not


ADDRESS: 2401 Fontaine Avenue

ASKING: $ 399,500

BUILDING: 2322 fin. sq. ft., 900 sq. ft. unfin.

LAND: 0.42 acres



CURB APPEAL: 6 of 10

LISTED BY: Stuart Rifkin, Hasbrouck Real Estate Corp., 295-4663, 466-9515

When a house tour reveals a dartboard hanging over the fireplace, plus a life-size cardboard cutout of Britney Spears, along with several bicycles and a portable bar in the formal dining room, it's pretty clear you've landed in a student rental.

Despite the aesthetic setbacks, this house at the corner of Piedmont and Fontaine avenues– within walking distance of the football stadium and bus stops on the Blue Line– illustrates the allure of near-University housing.

For decades, purchasing and maintaining near-Grounds housing has become a profitable enterprise for many a management company or ambitious local landlord. Multiply the number of available bedrooms– you can count up to seven here– by the ever-increasing monthly rents. Not only can the rents cover mortgage costs and general upkeep, add in steadily rising property values, and the math tends to "work out" as they say.

There's speculation afoot, however, that all the new high-rise, student-plexes landing in the area, offering such amenities as wireless Internet, swimming pools, and van shuttles will mark a subtle return of some of the city's larger houses to families and homeowners.

Whether left as a rental or returned to a family home, this 1925 brick Dutch colonial converted into a duplex offers plenty of space and possibilities.

One of the two units is rented through July, and the agent suggests the underclassmen there are happy enough that they would likely stick around if the new owners want to be landlords. The larger unit offers four nicely sized bedrooms and two full baths upstairs, plus another half bath off a kitchen below. A door from the expansive yard fronting Fontaine leads to the living room with its working fireplace (and dartboard.) A dining room with separate exit to a slate side porch completes the floor plan for the first unit.

The vacant portion is unit "A," a ground-floor apartment. Its front door leads into a small living area with built-in bookcases. Two bedrooms, a room converted to a kitchen, and a full bath make the unit a more than adequate living space for a couple of someones just needing a close-in hangout for a couple of years. But this is the end of the house that offers the most potential as an in-laws' apartment, a caregiver's private space, or simply a household extension for a family with lots of kids and/or lots of stuff.

An unfinished basement with exterior entrance contains two separate natural gas furnaces for the two units. A washer and dryer are accessible to both rental units in the rear of the garage. The gravel driveway is both wide and deep enough to hold six cars, plus there's space along the curb of Piedmont Avenue to hold a few more guests.

Back in the upstairs unit, a set of stairs lead from one of the upstairs bedrooms to a fully floored but otherwise unfinished attic. Throw in the bonus bedroom and full bath (with clawfoot tub) over the garage, and either a teenage boy gets his perfect out-of-the-house hideaway, or a poet longing for a garret finds a sought after niche for inspiration.

Touring a rental requires a certain amount of imagination to see beyond the posters and empty liquor bottles, but there are oak floors here, some crown molding, new light fixtures, and replacement windows in unit "A." The house was fully inspected for a recent offer (that fell through) without revealing any major structural issues, according to the agent. Still there's opportunity for cosmetic enhancements just about everywhere you look.

Fontaine Avenue itself is due for an upgrade with a wider thoroughfare and bike lanes expected sometime in the near future, though city and state transportation department plans for this western entrance corridor to the city have been on hold for several years. This house is set back enough from the street to endure any widening VDOT can throw at it.

January's as good a time as any for making bold moves designed to pay off in the future. Twenty years from now, when this house turns 100, just who will be doing the celebrating?