Triple play: Take it as is or go wild


ADDRESS: 605 St. Charles Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Locust Avenue/Martha Jefferson

ASKING: $299,000



SIZE: 2,090 fin. sq. ft., 120 unfin.

LAND: 0.146 acres

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of 10

LISTED BY: Michael Wright Century 21 Real Estate Resources 923-8188

Everyone knows a chameleon can change its color to match its surroundings, and this house within sight of Martha Jefferson Hospital is a veritable real estate chameleon.

Investors looking for a deal can easily convert the current two units back to the three it contained when the owners bought it. First-time buyers can move in and use the first and second levels, keeping the basement a rental. (There are separate utilities in place for this arrangement.)

But a really enterprising buyer who wants a challenge can take over, tear down some walls, do a little creative modification, and have a very interesting single-family brick house in a desirable city neighborhood of much higher-priced spreads.

People with imagination who need a new house and a project for the New Year can have lots of fun here. As we toured the prosaic late-'50s place (it might be a rancher, except it's on a little rise, tall instead of long), our imagination ran wild.

How about breaking out the living room ceiling to turn the large main room on the second level into a loft, and bring in lots of light from above? Why not take out the grim paneling separating the living room from the staircase and making the entry a welcoming, flowing space instead of its current boring, boxy self?

If those options don't appeal– or aren't structurally feasible (maybe the ceiling's doing something important)– the upstairs can be transformed into a big wide-open studio/master suite with the removal of all the kitchen apparatus from when the place was a triplex. The dormers and views add interest, and the current smallish full bath could take over the kitchen space to create a sweet Jacuzzi-and-tile retreat to rival any glassy concoction in a new subdivision.

Buyers short on inspiration and with a nostalgic streak can move in and enjoy the place as-is. They may find the original knotty-pine cabinets, Formica countertops, and vinyl flooring in the kitchen just retro enough to be cool. The lack of central air would probably not be a problem for these folks, and the pretty oak floors throughout the rest of the house would surely appeal.

People happy with the place as it is will no doubt also enjoy the income from either the upstairs apartment or the one on the ground level– or both. Finding a livable, convenient place with the potential of two rental incomes is no easy task in America's number-one city. For first-time homebuyers on a shoestring, this could be a real opportunity. The condition of this house is far better than most we've seen in this price range.

The small lot has unfortunately been usurped– in front by ghastly paving to provide parking for the three units, and in back by a huge (by city standards) storage barn taking up a good bit of the yard.

But in addition to providing lots of extra room, the shed/barn creates a privacy screen for the small deck off the kitchen. Negotiations with neighbors (and maybe the city) will be necessary to gain car or truck access to the shed, but if it could be arranged, the barn could convert to a garage (its original use, apparently), making it possible to have that awful blacktop taken away and grass and a perennial garden installed out front.

The house has gas-fed hot-air heat upstairs and electric baseboard in the ground level unit. Each level has a full bath and kitchen, and all appear to be in good shape, if small. The bathroom on the main level has cute blue tile, whereas the others sport those icky fiberglass tub surrounds. The current owners recently installed vinyl windows in place of all the originals– unfortunate, in our view, but it's what people do when gas prices soar to record levels.

All in all, this chameleon has a lot going for it– not least the fact that it has the potential to turn a buyer's ledger numbers from red to black, and acquaintances– who paid a lot more for a lot less space nearby– green with envy.