Look inside: Dull exterior hides gem

ADDRESS: 217 Ninth Street NW

NEIGHBORHOOD: 10th Street/West Main

ASKING: $279,900



SIZE: 2201 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.15 acres

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of 10

LISTED BY: Trey Durham of Century 21 Manley Associates 977-7300

With a perfunctory box shape and nearly flat roof, this house is like an unadorned music box that opens to reveal an alluring tinkling melody– albeit with a few notes off-key.

Though the exterior has no ornamentation or details (other than windows) to break up the monolithic stretches of white clapboard, the interior has many charming features common in homes of a century ago: pine floors, wood moldings, front hall stairway with handsome railing, ornamental wood mantles around the fireplaces, high ceilings, and tall doors and double-hung four-light windows.

A modern element is a fully redone and updated kitchen that replaced a no doubt scary predecessor, and two small bathrooms made cute by recent changes.

These features are a pleasant contrast to the house's exterior. Though the whole place is covered in what appears to be homogenous clapboard, the siding is actually a cacophony of hardiplank, aluminum, and wood, with a few small patches here and there in need of repair.

The two-story front porch has been completely rebuilt, but without detailing, so it just contributes to the perfunctory look of the rest of the exterior. The front and back yards of the oblong lot are scraggly, and a few nuisance trees are starting to encroach in the back yard. But a few attractive plantings give the yard potential.

This house is a traditional four-over-four. A one-story addition on the back of the original structure contains the kitchen, a dining/breakfast area, a utility room with the only full-size fridge, and a laundry room.

Significant upgrades have been done in the past 15 years, including some new plumbing, rewiring, and appliances, as well as renovation of both bathrooms and the kitchen.

Both bathrooms, one on each floor, are charming. The first-floor half bath is tiny, but its stone-suspended countertop is very nice, with an inset bowl sink. The upstairs full bath has a clawfoot tub with the typical clumsy shower conversion, and a sink cabinet made from an old piece of furniture that works well in its new position.

Some of the work has been done by the homeowners, but much was done by professional contractors, and the workmanship throughout the house seems solid. Renovation materials include light wood Ikea kitchen cabinets with blind hinges, a Thermidor convection oven/range, a Bosch dishwasher and washing machine, low-voltage halogen lights, solid stone countertops, and a few good quality replacement windows and doors.

The renovations have created an impressive yet functional kitchen washed in good lighting, and it's a high point of the house.

Though the majority of the house is in good condition, a few areas still beg for attention. The single-story back section has an entire window missing, which presumably will be replaced before the sale. Several of the plaster walls– especially upstairs in the two bedrooms and bathroom– have significant cracking. Many of the pine floors would benefit from refinishing, including the upstairs sections that are now painted.

Ninth Street is close to downtown, with a bus stop just down the block to make leaving the car at home that much easier.

Priced at a little over $120 per square foot, the house is between a half and a third the cost per square foot of other houses in the general Downtown area, perhaps because the neighborhood is still considered less desirable than tonier sections closer to the Mall or UVA. If house prices continue going north in Charlottesville, it's only a matter of time until this neighborhood is gentrified into a hot spot like Fifeville and Belmont. Prices will follow, so the property offers a long-term investment opportunity.

The current owners have done the bulk of a complete restoration over the past 20 years. A buyer who would enjoy wrestling with the odds and ends left undone, and who doesn't mind– or can think of a way to fix– the perfunctory exterior, will find the sound of its slightly awry tinkling music most appealing.