No swinging cats

If you want to buy a house in Charlottesville on a shoestring budget, there’s really not much out there. Things are so bad that realtors are writing solicitation letters to homeowners pleading with them to sell. If your realtor is sending such a letter around with poor response, you might consider this little cinderblock house on Mason Street.
At first you might be put off by the location. Mason Street is over in the Hogwaller section of Belmont, near the cement plant and the stockyards. But the realtor pointed out that in her inventory the only other comparably priced places are townhouses. So that seems to be your choices today: Hogwaller or a townhouse.
If you decide to consider the former, what will you find here? Well, first, there is the fact that it is a house, with a little patch of ground and apparent tranquility, sometimes in short supply in attached houses or condo units. Although the yard is a little raggedy, the house itself is well maintained, apparently recently painted, and neat as a pin inside.
The front stoop/porch is small– but, hey, in an 800-square-foot house, everything’s small. Off this porch, the front door opens into a 16’ x 20’ living room. Straight ahead is the kitchen– serviceable, but seriously cramped, with the hot water heater in one corner and a stacked washer/dryer in front of one of the two windows. This means the dining table has to be set up in the living room, awkward and undoubtedly inconvenient for whoever’s doing the cooking. The door in the kitchen leads to the backyard, which doesn’t have many trees or plantings, but does have a sturdy storage shed.
Next to the kitchen is a bath with a tub and shower with a window that doesn’t appear to be water damaged. And another plus– compared to all the new houses we’ve looked at with those Motel 6 molded plastic tub/shower things, the white tile here is practically elegant.
There are two bedrooms in the house, although the current owners are using the smaller one in front, off the living room, as a combination den/dressing room– they’ve built a wall about three feet into the room to enclose a large walk-in space even though there is a closet in the master bedroom.
The problem in this house is obviously space. It’s a tiny little box divided into four rooms. That being said, it has a certain charm, a cozy, comfortable feeling. A minimalist might consider this a really great place: you’d have the independence and feeling of freedom provided by a detached, reasonably isolated house (other houses on the street are not close), a yard to dig and plant in, and views– a biggish mountain looms right across the street.
The house has storm windows and doors; the heat is gas-forced air. It would clearly be easy– and affordable– to heat. Tiny houses like the ones in this neighborhood were probably built for railroad workers, the realtor suggested; maybe their itinerant lifestyle meant they didn’t need basements or attics to store stuff. But the absence of those is a drawback in today’s world. Someone buying this house will probably think of adding on a room or two before long.
Which could be manageable, considering the favorable financing packages available to qualified buyers through a city assistance plan. If buyers meet certain income guidelines– the realtor insisted they’re not especially Draconian– the city will pay half the down payment and half the closing costs. She called the mortgage plan, administered through the office of Jesse Butler at the City, “one of the best kept secrets in Charlottesville.” The down payment and closing cost loans to buyers who stay in the house for five years are forgiven.
    All in all, this house isn’t so bad. Tiny, to be sure. Weird part of town. But lots of locations that are hot today were weird not too long ago– the gentrification of former dumps on South Street comes to mind– and it has the one redeeming feature you can’t get around: it’s not a townhouse.

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