I hope you've all enjoyed the 2012 edition of Week of Alex. It's been a crazy hectic week while Wendy's been away, and I'm very happy she's back in town. Aside from being the person I rely on to help keep things running smoothly, I notice how much more silent and unengaged I tend to be when she's not around. Beyond working together on so many things around the house, she also is just generally good for my attitude and emotional well being. How's that for a spousal endorsement?

One thing I've noticed that's actually quite strange about Wendy being gone is that I find myself making a point to do things and go places that are our normal things to do. I'm not sure why, but when she's gone I feel like I'm missing out if I don't go on a walk or search for open houses. So last weekend, I made sure to check out the listings and saw a house that I couldn't miss.

This weekend's open house is actually on one of the most picturesque blocks in Old Town. The house is just two blocks off of King Street, the main street in town, and close the Potomac River. Wendy and I have walked by this house hundreds, if not thousands of times and have always liked the way it and its two partner houses look from the outside. In fact, here's a photo I took of the house back in 2002, before Wendy and I were living in Old Town (or even married).

When I saw the little brick house was being held open last weekend, I was both glad I'd be able to finally see inside, and also a bit sad Wendy would miss it since she'd be neck deep with work in Boston at that time. Oh well, I figured I'd take one for the team and just go without her, but it wouldn't be the same.

I had really high hopes for this house, but I've got to be honest, I was very let down.

Here's the backstory. The house has actually been owned by the same person for a very, very long time. She passed away a little while ago and it seems that someone (the estate?) came in and did a quick "renovation" to sell it. Sort of a flip without the flipper. This was particularly disappointing to me as an old house fan because I completely expected a very old home with lots of intact details. Instead, what I got was...well...you'll see.

The small brick home is actually one of three nearly identical styled houses in the middle of a very historic block located very near the town square and city hall. To say it's ideally located is a pretty significant understatement. As the story goes, the three houses were built around 1880 by a father and given as gifts to his three daughters.

A sweet story, sure, but I'm actually skeptical. I've heard this same or similar scenario about several other trios of houses in the area, and it just seems like a lot of fathers back in the mid to late 1800s had incidences of three single daughters that they wanted to build houses for. More likely, like many houses built in the 20-30 years following the end of the Civil War, when the southern states were focusing on reconstruction, these houses were actually built by a landowner who constructed the houses as real estate speculations. They were hopeful that the proximity to the Federal City (Washington DC) would allow them to rent the homes or sell them for a nice profit. Doesn't sound too dissimilar to the real estate market of about 6-7 years ago.

Regardless of purpose for construction, it's a nice row of homes. The house itself is somewhat small at just 1,200 square feet, but is still configured with three bedrooms and two full baths upstairs.

As I said, from the outside, this house has a ton of character and charm. The very red brick is quite unique, and the angles of the front and architectural details above the windows are interesting and intact. We actually wish our house was a little more like the front of these homes. The very flat front of our small brick Victorian, built just a few years after this house, just isn't that interesting from the street by comparison.

One thing I noticed right away was the wood storm windows on the lower floor are quite similar to the ones I'm planning on building for our house. So much nicer than the aluminum triple track we once had on our house.

Unfortunately, I think there was also some bad masonry work that may have been done just below this window that may need some attention.

Upon entering the house, I realized it was not at all what I expected. The home's interior walls on the first had all been removed at some point, leaving a fairly open view from the front of the house to the rear.

In order to make the most efficient use of space, the kitchen has been located at the front of the house with a small seating area in the window bump out.

The kitchen also has a pass through and partial wall to a dining area, and Much of the kitchen has exposed brick (the column is probably the old chimney), which does make it feel a little bit more comfortable and soft (it's weird that exposed bricks can feel soft).

Walking towards the back, you can see the abrupt transitions in the flooring that lends clues as to where walls may have once stood.

There's a closet just beyond the stairs that has been configured for a washer and dryer, but none has been installed. This is one of the major clues of a "quick fix," since washer and dryer typically convey in our area. This is convenient, but I really don't like that the waste is not vented (it has one of those vacuum breakers), and the supply lines are PVC. In this area, it should all be either copper or PEX.

The handrail and newel post look to have been replaced at some point, and quit possibly, added when the walls were taken out. I think there was probably a wall that closed the dining area off to the stairs, much like our house, and made a narrow stairwell. This is why we don't have a really cool newel post on our first floor.

Upstairs there is a small room to the back of the house that overlooks the garden and a small room just at the top of the steps towards the front of the house. These two rooms would be good sized kids' rooms or guest rooms. Both of these rooms have easy access to a shared bathroom.

One thing I noticed in the bathrooms is that they were recently updated and include standard builder grade cabinets and granite counters. This is another major clue that a recent flip style renovation has occurred.

The hallway upstairs is narrow, the way you'd expect in a house of this age, but the handrail has once again been replaced. I think this one was done at the same time as the one on the first floor (I'm guessing late 1970s or early 1980s). It a small metal newel post with stamped details, not something you'd find in most places.

The front room of the house is the master, and has a lot of natural light on account of the several windows and bump out.

There's also a master bath located just off of this bedroom, but it's a little tight, and finished just like the other bathroom.

One thing I noticed throughout the second floor were the various bump outs and boxed in HVAC ductwork. I have a feeling the AC was only recently added to the house, and it was not done in a way to make it particularly non-invasive. I'm nearly positive of this being a recent addition since the photo I have from 2002 still had window AC units visible from the street.

Though I feel like I'm being a bit negative, there are quite a few positives with the house. Primarily, many of the original doors, molding, and hardware exists throughout the second floor. And a major plus, the doors are all stripped of their paint, so you wouldn't have to go through that horrible process.

The layout of the second floor also makes the absolute most of the space, and there's tons of potential from a renovation/decoration standpoint to make it very couple or small family friendly. The main thing is that there is a good amount of light everywhere except for the hallway, which can be fixed with some recessed lights. In other words, the house has tons of potential.

Access to the partial basement comes by way a small door under the stairs. 

In the basement, the ceilings are low and only about 1/2 of the basement is actually dug out. Here you can see the edge of the dirt pile where the digging stopped 130 years ago.

There are several original shutters down in the basement just waiting for the right owner to come along and install them. In fact, they look nearly identical to the ones in our home.

In all, the basement appears to be in good shape (from what I could see). No bug damage, not musty, smelly, or damp, and a decent size for storage. However, if you came into owning this house with a decent renovation budget, about $50k-$70k would allow you to consolidate the HVAC into a smaller footprint and dig out the remainder of the basement and add about two feet to the height of the current basement, giving you a very nice sized addition without losing any land. It's a big undertaking, but would dramatically increase the living area without making any sacrifices.

One thing I did notice down there that I thought was interesting is that one of the joists had been cut away a bit under the window. I think this was a very old cut and am guessing it was made to allow deliveries of coal through the coal chute. Pretty neat, huh?

The home's backyard area, though without parking, is a good size with some great potential. Though there's not a ton of privacy with all of the nearby neighbor homes (really, who has privacy in Old Town?), there are still a lot of trees and a good outdoor feeling.

In addition to access from the house, the backyard is also accessible via a small horse pass between the home and its left side neighbor.

In all, the house isn't a diamond in the rough with all of its untouched original details, but it is a place with a whole lot of potential for the right owner. It's just a shame that the upgrades that were chosen to improve resale, such as the granite, HVAC, stainless appliances, and cabinetry, all could have been left out. If I were the new owner, to really do this house the right way, I feel all of the new "improvements" would need to be removed, so you're essentially paying for something just to get rid of it. At least there's Craigslist. What do you think?

And now for our game (with just me this week)...

Would you Trade

Alex: No, I wouldn't trade, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't take on the project. If we were looking for a first house and wanted to do a major overhaul on something with "good bones," this would be a great place. It lacks parking, and is a little on the small size, but it has an amazing location that's a short walk from major points of interest in town. It's just a shame that I'd want to take out so much of what was just put in to sell the place. Although Wendy didn't see it with me, I'm pretty sure she'd be in the same boat (with less likelihood given that she probably doesn't want to "start over"). Perhaps if it's open this weekend, we'll stop in so she can chime in with her own ideas.

If you're interested, you can view the home's official listing for additional details and the nitty gritty.

Interested in reading about other interesting homes for sale? Want to offer your take on "would you trade"? Check out the Open Housing section of Old Town Home.

Photo Credits: Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and listing agent, Jolee Rubin, where MRIS 2012 noted.

Comments 9


7/27/2012 at 12:04 PM
Big fat "no" from me!

I wouldn't for you too. Your house is 100 times nicer.

7/27/2012 at 6:48 PM
I love the curb appeal, but it is a shame that the inside was such a bust. Love the washed brick look. On a side note, I accidentally found you! Swear I'm not a stalker :) but I couldn't find parking at my chiropractor's and I had to drive around the block. Can't believe I missed it every time before!
Hah! It seems like there's always parking on our street. We always see friends who are out for dinner because they park around our house.
7/27/2012 at 7:05 PM
The virtual tour said there is another open house this Sunday (7/29) so Wendy can see it if she wants to.

It's strange to me that the listing pictures/virtual tour focus so much on the kitchen/breakfast/dining rooms with just one picture of a bit of the living room, in the background. I'm not impressed by the mediocre fix-up or the marketing -- there should be more quality for almost $850K!
You are absolutely right on the price vs quality. Doesn't matter how nice the area is, if a house is "renovated," the price of a house should be reflected in the quality of the finishes.
7/29/2012 at 11:17 PM
The house was purchased from the estate without going on the market by the same couple that brought about the "Tragic Renovation" on S. Royal. I dare say that this is an improvement...
Kim, you are totally right! I was so busy with work I didn't do my due diligence and figure this out. I can't believe they did another one. Now that you point it out, it makes total sense. The floor refinishing, kitchen update, "there it works" mentality on hanging doors and the hardware, construction stuff left in the basement, and PVC plumbing, it is all just about the same. There are at least a few items that they learned from, but not much. I'm shocked they'd try another. Thanks for the info.
8/2/2012 at 3:58 PM
NOT loving the 'renovation'. The floors need a lot of work and the front kitchen is rather ---- odd.

I'm very traditionalist, the public areas of a house should be nearest the street/formal entrance, with things getting more private the futher up and back you go.

That house is just a tad bigger than my house, but I'm not crazy about the way it's laid out and no parking would trump the cool facade. Love the 'horse passage' though.

Not this one.....
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