Identity Crisis

Posted by Dave Fratello on Friday, December 7th, 2007 at 5:29am.

Usually, you know a lot sale when you see one.

The house will be small, dated and crusty, in need of so much remodeling work, a bulldozer seems the better tool.

In the Hill Section, 222 N Dianthus, is a lot sale masquerading as a livable home for sale. (Click address for details via Redfin; pic here is MBC's, as the listing agent would rather you not see the home's façade.)

Or, it's a livable home that also needs expensive, creative retooling, perhaps additions, but is worth top dollar anyway (now $2.399m) because the lot is so valuable.

It's a real identity crisis.

The home offers 3br/2ba and 2800 sq. ft., and, wait – back up a bit there. Two bathrooms?!? Yes, and the worst of it is that the upstairs bedroom, by rights the master, shares its 3/4 bath with the main entertaining spaces (kitchen, dining room and living room with a view and, er, is that lava rock on the fireplace?). It's no fun to have your guests using your bath. You'll want to fix that.

The lot is 5500 sq. ft., on a block with a strange mishmosh of lot sizes. This stretch of Dianthus has 2500 sq. ft. lots, 5000-ish lots, and 7500+ lots, like the one next door at 218 N Dianthus, which is 8250.

The kitchen at 222 N Dianthus is small, cramped and cut off from the main entertaining spaces. It's surprising given the overall square footage. Thankfully, the kitchen is updated and slick. So while you're living in the house before demolishing it or taking it down to studs for a remodel, you'll have some pleasant meals.

So what is the lot worth? There's a new home almost ready for market at 218 N Dianthus, which is expected to be in the $6m range. That must be nice for 222. But what about all the dated, forlorn tall-and-skinnies across the street? They must be a drag on values.

The entry to the home is oddly buffed up – sleek metal-and-glass doors, a very spacious entry area featuring a modernist "floating" staircase and classy marble tile. And then you go back to the 70s with a long, skinny family room plus two bedrooms downstairs that just feel tired and barely touched – except carpet & paint – since the home was built. Commence head-scratching.

It turns out that 218 N Dianthus, the bigger lot next door, was sold for $2.1m two years ago (Dec. 2005). Since the lot at 222 is exactly 2/3rd the size of 218, its market value was roughly $1.4m in Dec. 2005. If that's true, a price of $2.4m now assumes 71% appreciation in 2 years.

The back yard is so cute you could pinch it. Somewhat spacious, the yard features some mature plants and a patio, thoughtfully designed in a prior era. The listing tells you that you could add a pool "and still have a yard," but we're thinking jacuzzi.

Alright, we've looked at both sides of this house and its many confusions. Is it a move-in, a teardown, or a massive remodel? The sellers and their agents don't know.

They hope it's not a teardown, because it's overpriced by at least $750k as a lot sale. But who wants to adopt this flawed puppy at $2.4m and pour another half million into making it a $2m house?
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