The Arnold: Know what you're getting into


ADDRESS: 528 Valley Road


ASKING: $595,000



SIZE: 2337 finished square feet, 700 unfin.

LAND: 0.47 acres

CURB APPEAL: 6.5 out of 10

LISTED BY: Aer Stephen of Century 21 Ray Caddell & Associates 975-2121

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, this property at first glance would seem to appeal to a wide audience. But on closer examination, this house, like Ah-nuld, has some issues– it's too expensive to be a good rental property and too small to be comfortable for more than two adults and one child, at most. The kitchen, basement, and bathrooms might require expensive upgrades.

But for a well-heeled professor or senior administrator who will value the proximity to UVA, the place has some things going for it.

The most outstanding feature is the lot-­ almost half a long, thin rectangular acre, with a small stream running along one edge. At the back, a 30-foot tall grassy embankment supports railroad tracks. Though the tracks are within 200 feet of the house, the train (one passed during our tour) is barely audible from inside.

The large backyard is quite private thanks to evergreens along one side, stream-side bushes on the other, and the huge dirt embankment at the back.

Monkey grass, ivy, and bushes surround the front of the house, a stone staircase and flower beds (currently neglected, but easily revived) adorn the west side, and numerous mature trees shade the lot. A large stone patio in the rear provides a great place to sit, listen to the stream, and enjoy the serenity.

In the attractive original section of the house, five handsome brick archways complement the pitched roof and three dormers to create a clean, symmetric style best described as "Cape Cod meets an aqueduct." Unfortunately, additions on the west and south sides of the house have broken the original clean lines– and look like they were tacked on in stages.

The small footprint of the original section of the house dictated that the rooms would be modest: a small living room with brick fireplace, a kitchen, dining room, den with built-in bookshelves, and a bathroom. Upstairs are three bedrooms and one bathroom.

In the basement, two finished bedrooms have the expected low ceilings– one with a dangerously low fan– and a bathroom has a tile floor and modern fixtures. But all three finished rooms in the basement are separated by the central unfinished space.

The fact that the basement has a wooden shelf built to hold a high-capacity dehumidifier in a central location with good airflow suggests that problems with dampness would make the significant expense of finishing the rest of the basement a folly. And as long as that large central space of the basement remains unfinished, it's a good bet that anyone who can afford the house would not feel comfortable using the bedrooms down here. That makes this essentially a three-bedroom house.

None of the five bedrooms has a private bath, and neither of the two larger bedrooms on the second-floor– at opposite ends of the house– could qualify as a master. But they get good light from windows on three sides. At first glance, a large master suite could be created by taking out a wall between one large bedroom and the smaller bedroom, but that wall is actually the solid brick exterior wall of the original section of the house.

The kitchen is a real trouble spot. It's painfully small, with antiquated appliances, cheap countertops, and a loose linoleum floor, all needing replacement. A worrisome hump in the middle of the kitchen floor may indicate problematic floor warping underneath, but more likely is just covering an earlier transition between different sections of floor. A buyer should ask that the linoleum be cut open or taken up before the sale so any problems can be examined. Luckily, the kitchen could be expanded into the adjacent dining room– but kitchen renovations are legendarily astronomical.

The first and second floor bathrooms currently look stuck in the '50s, with not-so-cool retro colored fixtures dull green on the second floor and dull pink on the first. But the white tile floor and shower upstairs and aqua tile shower on the first floor could work well with modern replacement fixtures to create some outstanding bathrooms without too much expense.

Knowledge is power. As long as buyers realize the problem areas up front, they're unlikely to wake up one day with a bad case of buyer's remorse like California's voters.