Don't dally: Clock ticking on Locus

ADDRESS: 824 Locust Avenue


ASKING: $950,000


SIZE: 2,942 fin. sq. ft., 1,396 unfin.

LAND: 0.474 acres

CURB APPEAL: 10 out of 10

LISTED BY: Owner, Oliver Kuttner, 293-8546

In 2002 and 2003, On the Block chronicled the buying and selling of a grand house at 872 Locust Avenue. We noted our amazement when the house– which sold for $625,000 five days after being listed in June 2002– was back on the market a mere 11 months later– with a $735,000 price tag.

Unfortunately for the optimistic seller, things then were not as nutty as they have since become, and the place sat unclaimed for 14 additional months until finally fetching only $650,000– an undoubtedly disappointing $25,000 gain.

Now we have a chance to see the effect of two years of white-hot appreciation and demand in the city. Will Oliver Kuttner, who last summer paid $750,000 for this similarly spectacular house on Locust, be able to realize a $200,000 gain in just nine months?

We'll soon know, because the ever-unpredictable developer has offered the place for sale for only two weeks, and the clock began ticking 10 days ago. So if a stunning brick early 20th-century residence with professionally designed and maintained gardens on one of the most coveted streets in town has been on your wish list, you have about three more days to make a bid.

The house is typical of grand construction of the era, with large rooms with high ceilings, sturdy plaster walls, huge radiators, elaborately carved fireplace mantels and surrounds, tall windows, a spacious enclosed side porch, and a huge attic with windows.

Recent owners seem to have pulled out all the stops with the upgrades. The house has central air (unlike the house down the block), a brand new copper roof and gutters, and a modern kitchen with deep red cherry cabinets and shelves.

And they didn't stop there: they reshaped the gardens as lavishly as the house. Anyone who drives or walks down Locust has noted the eye-popping landscaping out front. Up brick stairs, a wide brick walkway winds to the front entrance though plantings of juniper, pin oaks, rhododendron, lavender, iris, and enormous hosta. Off the screened side porch, mature formal perennial beds and shrubs nestle serenely against even bigger trees.

Half the back yard has been fenced for a kiddie play area, but without compromising the consistent formality of the landscaping. Here a sandbox sits in front of gorgeous tended beds, and a snowy white clematis climbs the fence behind trikes and other toys.

One weird fact about a house that looks (and is) so impressive from the street is that little backyard. A house on St. Clair Avenue behind Locust snuggles so close to the property line that this back garden is only about one-quarter as deep as the yards of its grand neighbors. Even worse, half of what's back there has been graveled over to provide parking for two or three cars.

That's unfortunate for the back, but might spell redemption for the front yard, half of which near the house is also covered with gravel. Surely– since one of the selling points of a house in this location is not only that it's within walking distance of downtown (and Pantops) but also its proximity to the CTS bus (which runs up Locust every hour all day long)– new owners will haul away that gravel in front, plant grass, and call the landscapers back to balance the front yard with a garden beside the driveway.

Inside, work will be needed in the two bathrooms– and in fact, the entire plumbing system– which have not been modernized. Read: tubs– nice old claw-foots, to be sure, but tubs nonetheless– with those aluminum-rod shower surrounds. The next owner needs to focus on the bathrooms first. (But only upstairs; the newer first-floor half bath is just fine.)

The market for the few classic downtown showplaces is quirky, as the experience of this house's neighbor down the street demonstrated. Some houses sell in days while others– equally grand– languish for months.

But that won't be the case here. If there's no contract on this house by this weekend, it's off the market. So no dilly-dallying. If you want it, get over there with your checkbook!