Rest in peace: And walk to the Mall

ADDRESS: 714 South First Street


NEIGHBORHOOD: Ridge/Downtown

ASKING: $210,000



SIZE: 1,014 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: .09 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8.5 out of 10

LISTED BY: Julie Gee of Keller Williams Realty 220-2220

Not many houses four blocks from the middle of the Downtown Mall can boast having virtually no traffic, houses on just one side of the street, and a view from the front porch of a peaceful five-acre (city records say 14 acres) field of grass and trees. All for a price tag around $200,000.

The only hiccup is that the field happens to be Oakwood cemetery. It could be argued that cemeteries make excellent neighbors. After all, Oakwood offers huge swaths of shade under aged hardwoods and patinaed tombstones amid rolling hills of lush grass. Plus, whatever bad or raucous attitudes the inhabitants might have had in the past, they are quiet now.

One's view of cemeteries probably hinges on one's view of death. People who see death as a welcome final rest and reward are likely to feel peacefulness when they walk through or look at a cemetery. Someone else who views death more darkly, as a final tearing asunder of life and spirit, probably doesn't feel much peace at a cemetery. This house is not for that person.

The level lot sits near the top of a small ridge providing a nice view out over the grass and tombstones. A stand of trees in back screens the view of the nearby Frank Ix Building whose many businesses– including the new television stations– cluster behind the house. Plans for that Ix complex include more small businesses, offices, and galleries.

According to the agent, this house was derelict and dilapidated when the current owners purchased it in 2003 in order to gut it before undertaking a complete renovation. The place now sports new hardwood floors, carpet, windows, kitchen, bathroom, and sheetrock. Even the front entry walk and landscaping are new. The stucco siding is about the only pre-renovation remnant. A small stutter in the roofline directly above an interior wall suggests that the back end of the house was an addition.

The current owner, a mason, has added attractive stone facing to the front of the house but left the original stucco on the other three sides untouched. A stone fa├žade on just one side of a building runs the risk of seeming to be an artificial and incongruous veneer, but here it works to enhance the house, probably because the stonework seems to be of good workmanship, and the owner added a matching stone retaining wall in front, creating a theme that anchors the house to the site.

The stone facing also adds visual interest to an otherwise thoroughly humdrum design– a one-story rectangle with a shed roof. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for stone buildings.

At around 1,000 square feet, this house is compact, with rooms ranging from small to modest. The three bedrooms are particularly pint-sized, while the living room, kitchen, the single bathroom, and the laundry room also qualify as dainty. Three people would feel crowded unless they were a couple with a recently weaned child. There is no basement, but the attic space under the shed roof looks like it could provide a modicum of storage.

The renovation added a few nice features: all new stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, a laundry room ready for a washer and dryer, and a checkered tile floor in the bathroom. The outside front entry walkway and front porch feature a gray stone surface with red brick border.

The biggest chafe is the design decision to set the bathroom floor tiles directly in concrete with wide gaps between them that may become troughs for dirt, and the choice of an unusual mottled brown for shower tiles.

The floor in the middle of the house feels slightly bouncy in places, which could be a sign of structural weakness. The joists span nearly 20 feet of a building that was "derelict" for who knows how long, so it's not unreasonable to worry about structural problems. A new buyer would be wise to have a thorough home inspection or crawl down into the crawl space and look at the joists closely. Otherwise, the house looks structurally sound.

If the idea of peaceful walks in a cemetery and 15-minute strolls to the Downtown Mall appeals, and lots of space is not a requirement, this is one of the few houses left in the low six figures. Except for Burnet Commons across the street, the market seems to have missed this part of town, but it's a pretty good bet that soon people will be dying for a crack at this location.