Trade offs: What's city cachet worth?


ADDRESS: 878 Locust Avenue


ASKING: $615,000


SIZE: 2,665 fin. sq. ft., 475 unfin.

LAND: 0.25 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Sarah Wilkinson, Roy Wheeler Realty Co. 962-9403

Buying a house is a little like being a contestant on Fear Factor. It's all about what you're willing to endure to get what you want.

If you want privacy and views, you have to be willing to commute. The prospect of heading home after work to the tranquility provided by chirpy cardinals in the back forty has to be balanced against the hassle of the drive into town for dinner and a movie. The no-maintenance appeal of a condo has to outweigh the urge to grow flowers and tomatoes in your own garden.

And in the case of this house on the corner of Locust Avenue and Long Street (read: Route 250 East), the convenience and cachet of the downtown address have to offset the incessant din of bypass traffic.

If you're among the folks for whom that choice is a no-brainer– walking to the City Market is not worth being awakened by wailing fire engines and grinding truck gears on Saturday morning– then turn the page.

But if the lure of solid pre-World War II construction (bricks, plaster walls, tin roof), neighborhood ambience, and the ever-more-valuable luxury of walking to shops, entertainment, and work trumps city white noise (as it does for this reviewer, who lives across the street), then this house might be right up your alley.

For a house to fetch $600,000-plus, even in this insane market, it has to be extraordinary, and for the most part, this one is. The owners have put a lot of energy and money into a new kitchen (recessed lighting, granite counters/island), subtle paint colors, and a built-in sound system.

Outside, the effort is even more impressive– the agent reports that the extensive landscaping includes 70 azaleas and perennial beds to complement a slate front porch and entry path and a soapstone patio in back. Tall fencing helps buffer the cacophony of the busy street corner. A pretty brick garage provides utility storage since a backyard driveway accommodates four vehicles with no difficulty.

The landscaping, the renovations, and the large basement– formerly a rental unit, but now reclaimed as family living quarters– are elements that help justify the asking price. The basement space is one of the most appealing things about the house with a large bedroom, kitchen, tiled full bath, and private outside access. And while a buyer might need rental income from the unit to be able to afford the asking price, it would be a shame to have to turn the space over to a tenant.

The attic, accessed by a walk-up stairway through one of two small bedrooms (best used as nurseries, offices, or playrooms), is useful for storage. The third bedroom, the master, is also small by contemporary standards, and does not have an attached bath. It seems the owners decided to sacrifice roominess for storage– every room offers closets and built-in bookshelves and cabinets. Pretty radiator covers serve as window seats or provide more places for books or plants.

A first-floor addition in the back is being used as a den/living room, which freed the original living room (with beautiful brick fireplace) to become the dining room. Above the living room addition, a deck provides views of surrounding properties, the bypass, and– in the distance– the formerly verdant Southwest Mountains which are increasingly being destroyed by development.

As the spring sales season shifts into high gear, the inventory of city properties begins to swell. Folks shopping for downtown digs will face tough choices: cachet with noise, Belmont convenience in a "handyman's dream," a charming cottage in the middle of student bacchanals.

But recent trends indicate that buyers are willing to endure any indignity, inconvenience, or expense to own property in Charlottesville. Overcoming the Fear Factor doesn't seem to be any problem at all.