before you do: is it worth it?

If you have picked out one or a few houses to consider, make sure you complete a cost/benefit analysis.  A cost/benefit analysis needs to include more than just monetary items when looking at transitional neighborhoods.  This analysis doesn’t have to be formal, or even written out, but it does need to be discussed.  For example, my husband and I considered three different houses in three separate neighborhoods, and we debated the pros and cons of every detail of which we could think.  Make sure you take into account what you can handle when you debate these items.  Don’t lie to yourself (or your partner) about your own issues of political correctness: everything counts when it’s to be your home.  All three of the houses were listed within $20k of each other.  We drove through, and walked the neighborhoods, and surrounding areas, at all times of day and night.  Here is an example of items we considered (in late 2007):

House #1:  A rowhouse in Churchill, above the gentrified line, but not above Q Street.  

Pros: Neighborhood was more stable than others, area had proactive neighborhood associations, house was already renovated and move-in ready, house would go up in value more quickly if market wasn’t already on way down (buyer’s market by that time), immediate street was fairly quiet, property had tax abatement.

Cons: House was too small and there was no space to build onto structure, most expensive house, only one closet in house, renovation was tacky, the house was within two blocks of an area that was beyond rough, and the property crime was high in area. 

House #2: A bungalow in Montrose Heights.  

Pros: Immediate neighborhood was the most quiet of all, the neighborhood itself was clean and already far into the revitalization stage, house was brand new build (to look like old bungalow) which meant easy maintenance, best value house for the dollar, proactive neighbors.

Cons: Montrose Heights is an island in the middle of other rougher areas.  It immediately borders a project and Fulton on one side.  It borders Henrico (where Montrose Heights turns into Montrose) where there is, literally, an invisible line where houses become decrepit on the other side of the street.  There is no nearby highway access (one of us is a commuter).  Property taxes for this house would be high.  The house would only look cute, but not have any of the cool old house vibe.

House #3: A foursquare in Battery Park neighborhood (also known as Northern Barton Heights).  

Pros: Biggest and cheapest house, partially renovated (all of hard stuff done – electric, plumbing, roof, etc.), neighborhood was below Ginter Park and North Central (also a transitional neighborhood), Battery Park was being redone by city after flood, property crime was low (lots of porch furniture and decor not tied down), obviously a transitional neighborhood, proactive civic association.

Cons: House was only partially renovated and looked ugly inside (still needed lots of money and effort to fix), no tax abatements as we weren’t doing any programs (e.g. A.C.O.R.N.), immediate street not quiet as one drug dealer house obvious on next block, within walking distance to Gilpin Court and rough parts of Highland Park, and near some rough main streets.  


If you have done this, or something similar, please feel free to share.  Tell why and how you picked your house.


3 responses to “before you do: is it worth it?

  1. CommonSenseMom

    Hi there! We are fellow transitional neighborhoodites… we live in Woodland Heights and have loved the vibe and feel of the neighborhood. I have a few other pointers for others considering moving into a transitional neighborhood:

    1) Find out if the neighborhood you are considering has an e-group. We became members of our current neighborhood’s e-group before we moved in. It was a great way to kick the neighborhood tires before buying.

    2) Check crime statistics online.

    3) Find out who the city council member is for the neighborhood you are considering. Transition can only happen if you have a good council member willing to listen to the neighborhood’s concerns.

  2. swingbattabatta

    (warning, long response! sorry)
    I had a very similar experience: I drove around 3 neighborhoods that looked promising (IMO): Church Hill, Highland/ Battery Park and Jackson Ward. I chose one house from each neighborhood and had my real estate agent pull comps on each house and the 2 blocks around it. I drove to each of the homes during the 11 pm hour of a weekend. Keep in mind, this was 3.5 years ago…almost at the height of developers fixing up and turning over homes quickly to individual buyers. I was also looking for a home where the original details hadn’t been completely stripped.

    Church Hill (partially rehabbed) was too expensive. The area seemed quiet; yet some sketchy characters hanging out on the corners. The street was a ratio of 2:1 rehabs. Good community feel. The home still needed some “basics”. . (plumbing & roof). It had a decent city lot with a small yard.

    Highland / Battery Park seemed very affordable. Crime statistics were high. However, the street I was looking at, in particular, seemed quiet and nice. It was evident that the street’s homeowners took pride in their yards. The house was in the process of being rehabbed by a private owner. It was situated on a large lot (for the city) with large yard.

    Jackson Ward seemed affordable and had historic charm in abundance. At night, the area seemed desolate and bleak. There was nothing to speak of in the way of a yard. Although affordable per square footage, the house was too large for my budget. It was a bit too close to Gilpin Court for my taste.

    After weighing the pros & cons for each house. I ended up in Highland Park/ Ginter Park area (foursquare, too!) I negotiated a price with the private owner by requesting a stop of all rehab efforts. Crime has steadily increased since then and the “must have” lawn has unearthed a multitude of car parts, water heaters and trash. Way too much rehab money later (I should have let the owner continue) and many head/heart-aches later, every once in a while, I question my decision making skills. However, every day I drive up to my house and know I made the right choice.

  3. We made the mistake of falling in love with the house before we knew anything else. We’ve been lucky so far.

    I’d add check to see if there is a neighborhood association, & attend a meeting. One of the real positives for our end of the Fairmount neighborhood is the New Visions Civic League.

    And of course scope out to see if there is a neighborhood blog 🙂

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