It's been a little while since our last Open Housing post, what with the crazy work we've been doing on our kitchen of late. But we'll still take a break from all of that work to venture into open house or two in the area. Today we have an interesting place to review for you in today's Open Housing, and it's a little bit out of our normal Old Town comfort zone. Today's house is located just next door to Old Town Alexandria, in the quiet and quaint Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.

Those familiar with the area, or those familiar with the blog, probably know where I'm talking about. Just a little bit north of Old Town, the best way I can describe Del Ray is as a family friendly, slightly sleepy, and decidedly less urban neighborhood of eclectic homes, good food, and a small town vibe. The city's tagline is "Where Main St. still exists," and I'd say they're spot on.

We have a good friend who has been looking to buy a house in Old Town, Rosemont, or Del Ray for the last few months. Her search has taken her through many homes over this period, from fixer uppers to the totally renovated, but she's looking for just the right home. A little while ago she emailed us a listing that she had seen for a new-to-the-market house that was being held open. Thinking it might be the place for her, and wanting our opinion on the home's potential and current quality, she invited us along to provide our honest review.

The description of the home was intriguing, to say the least.

...This former home of Grammy award winner, Mary Chapin Carpenter boasts soaring ceilings, gorgeous hardwood floors and an eclectic spirit. 4 bedrooms + office, 2 full baths.

Our interest was piqued, so we ventured the few miles from our house to take a look at the little blue farm house just a few blocks from Del Ray's Mount Vernon Ave (their Main Street).

From the exterior, the house has great curb appeal. A yard with grass (which ranks as a rarity to us in our concrete and brick jungle), some nice trees, and a small gravel parking area give this home's facade a very inviting feel.

Walking up the walk to the front door, the covered front porch with a classically suspended bench swing feels like the type of place where you could spend countless spring and fall nights, just enjoying time with friends or family and sipping a cold beverage.

The front door is old and equally inviting and the entrance into the home feels a bit like you've stepped back in time to the turn of the 20th century.

The entry hall is a wonderful space. It's high ceilings and spacious width showcase the great original staircase and its details. The space also provides ample room for an umbrella stand, area for shoes, or whatever else you might need.

One thing I was very happy to see was apparent as soon as we entered that the home. The majority of the home's architectural details were largely intact, as was the majority of the original floor plan. This home is far from the "open concept" layouts you see everywhere today, but instead embraces the stylistic and utilitarian function of many smaller rooms. (Let me go on record saying I hate the term "open concept." That should not be a commonly referenced term in today's lexicon. Perhaps "open floor plan" or "open living." "Open concept", as a label, is just dumb. Sorry for the rant.

Where was I? Oh right, architectural details original accents. Just look and how wonderful the original floors are still looking.

In addition, many of the original transoms are still fully intact and just need a little bit of TLC.

Off of the main entry hall are three doorways to each of the adjacent rooms. To the right are the two parlours, and straight ahead is access to a small room that they are calling a bedroom.

In this case, the use of a good wide angle lens really makes the room look far more spacious than it is. Though this room is a bedroom in the listing, I'd definitely use it as more of an office or den. It's got a small fireplace in the corner, and great light from outside. I could easily see working from this room, writing blog posts into the wee hours.

Accessible from within this bedroom/office is the first floor's only bathroom, and it's a full bath. I'm not sure when this bathroom was added to the house, but it's definitely not original. It's actually one of those things that I'm surprised nobody has opened up access to this room via the front hall, providing a powder room to the first floor. It may look good from the photos, but issues are somewhat obvious in person. The room has potential, but it surely needs some reconfiguration and renovation.

In the back of this bathroom is a closet with some telltale old wallpaper in it, showing just how many styles and generations this home has lived through.

The main parlours are intact and feature a set of original pocket doors in need of a little TLC, and the two parlours are both high ceilinged, large, and have fireplaces in the central corners.

One of the really cool things about the main floor is the very retro kitchen. It doesn't fit with the house in the least, and I'm pretty sure it was last updated back in the 1950s. Someone put a few new stainless appliances in the room that just don't fit (either by dimension or style), but the room is still cool.

Though the real estate photo captures the whole room, just check out my closeup photo of the cabinets. They probably wouldn't remain our kitchen cabinets and counter if we purchased the home, but I'd be sure to save them and use them elsewhere.

Upstairs the house has several nicely sizes bedrooms situated around a central hallway. Each has several windows and quite a bit of natural light.

Each bedroom also has a closet, which is not that common in homes in this area. 

There is another full bathroom for the floor, though it needs some help as well (again, the photos can be deceiving).

At the very back of the second floor is a slightly sagging sleeping porch that is yet another area of the home that has a lot of upgrade potential.

On the third floor is a partially finished attic area through a very tight staircase. It's set up as a sort of office and has a painted floor and lots of light.

Next to the finished space, but an area you pass through from the right stairs, is a rather large unconditioned attic space.

The space is staged with a small kid's teepee, but I'll tell you one thing for sure. No kid in their right mind would be playing alone/sleeping in this part of the attic. It feels far too spooky as it is (and really hot in the summer/cold in the winter).

Outside, a very large backyard with tons of potential has "You could throw some great parties back here!" written all over it.

In the back corner of the yard is a very useful shed that appears to have been very recently installed.

Though the house and its major architectural elements are largely intact and the home photographs beautifully, the home needs quite a bit of work. From system updates to major cosmetic items, whoever decides to buy this house has to have a pretty nice sized budget or ability to spend a lot of time on the work. If that right person or people come along, this will easily be one of the gems of the block right in the heart of a great neighborhood.

And now for our game...

Would you trade?

Alex: Overall, I really like this house a lot! It's not the right house for our friend, but it's very much the right house for me. Though I wouldn't trade our house for this one, it's one I would love to spend the next 10 years or so renovating. The original details, unchanged floor plan, and pure potential for a stunning place is absolutely great. There are plenty of problems with the house, from suspect material below shingle siding, to sagging floors and flooring patches that cover up untold problems. The home has very little insulation, probably needs to have the electrical and plumbing updated, and I'll go out on a limb and say there is probably a structural issue or two that just might need to be resolved (though this is just a random guess). But with all of that being said, tons and tons of potential. The backyard is large enough to entertain and to house a small pool, the interior has the potential to be a truly polished gem, and the kitchen is large enough to be almost anything you want it to be. There's room for an addition without sacrificing too much yard, and the surrounding houses across the street are nicely kept. It seems like a great house in a great neighborhood. I'll surely keep my eyes on this house to see how the whole thing shakes out.

Wendy: No, I definitely wouldn't trade our house for this one. This house would be perfect for a family with small children, but it's not as well suited to our lifestyle as our current home. It has some good features, certainly, but I just see all of the work that needs to be done. The rooms have been staged nicely and the bright, fresh paint helps take your eye away from some of projects, but upon closer inspection this one is a real fixer upper. For this reason alone, I wouldn't trade. Alex is right, with the right owner, someone with enough time and money, this will be a fantastic home.

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: Weichert, Realtors and listing agent, Robyn Bomar, where MRIS 2012 noted.

Comments 8


9/14/2012 at 12:27 PM
Wow this house has many similarities to my own house interior/size wise. Definitely a huge disparity in price since I payed a little less than a third for mine and it sits on a much bigger piece of property. These prices remind me of housing prices in the suburbs surrounding Boston. Although close to the city I couldn't afford a house for that much even if I made twice as much and I do pretty good.
I wouldn't trade either you location is top notch and who wants to start over again. I know doing DIY is fun but its nice to catch your breath and take a break.
Wait, what? You can take a break from DIY? Sounds crazy to me.

We've slowly gotten used to prices in the DC area and just sort of learn to ignore them (or occasionally shake our heat at them).
9/14/2012 at 2:27 PM
Very cute place .. and actually seems like a good price for that lot size and right there in Del Ray. And, can you say Dairy Godmother? lol.

I'm in one of these old farmhouses and you are so right, they do have a charm about them, but definitely have their downsides. 100+ years ago makes bathrooms/plumbing/electrical/hvac v bizarre/inadequate additions, wall insulation was not a priority (if it even existed), ceilings are low, and let's not talk about crawlspaces. All I know is, updating this farmhouse now feels like "putting lipstick on a pig", and a big part of me wishes I could just start over. At what point is restoring a historic structure not worth the investment? It has me in a funk.
You are absolutely right, Dairy Godmother proximity alone is worth at least 50% of the list price.

To me, even the most insignificant of historic structures is still usually worth it. I might be in the minority here, but I truly believe this. When you restore something, you are maintaining a piece of the fabric of your area's history. That in of itself makes it worth it to me, even if sometimes it feels like you're slogging along or spinning your wheels. But don't worry, I can still completely understand how you feel. I can say we've felt this way many times while working on our house.
9/14/2012 at 8:27 PM
The inclusion of the photos you took of details added a lot. This house has a lot of charm but WOW is the magic of the "good wide angle lens" you noted evident everywhere. Most of the rooms are pretty small, except the dining room -- I looked at the room sizes in the listing.

I also admire the tact you use in writing these open house reviews. Though the real estate photos certainly display the house in the best possible way, there are some apparent short-cuts and issues which must bug you, the old house perfectionists.

It's definitely not tradeworthy compared to your house, not even for the yard which has a lot to overcome. The only thing I would prefer to your house is the large entry hall -- admittedly I'm partial to large halls living in a 1920s house.
Even though I'm only taking photos with my iPhone, I try to get the detail elements that agents either don't care about or want to spent time photographing. Sadly, it is with iPhone lighting, so that leaves something pretty significant to be desired.

I typically try to be as tactful as possibly, so I'm glad to hear you say that. I always have to remember that this is actually someone's home (usually), and I'd rather not having random people coming into my house and then trashing it on the Internet without my knowledge. Just because something isn't my doesn't mean I need to focus on it.

We wish we had a nice and wide entry hall, it's one of those major lacking items in our house. If only we had an extra three feet of width on our home, we'd have a really nice entry hall.
threadbndr (Karla)
9/16/2012 at 7:48 PM
I would trade if I had the budget to fix the issues. This house is very much like one of the houses I grew up in/around. My cousins had a house that looks very similar outside had a staircase almost identical to this house. Plus that one had a huge wrap around porch on three sides.

I always loved that house. I hope whomever buys it will keep the good and fix the 'problematic' things.
9/16/2012 at 8:00 PM
Holy mother of GOD houses are pricey in your area! 799K for a Victorian? For comparison, the average houses in my home town (which is much cheaper than larger cities nearby) is around 150-200K. Fixer uppers like mine are in the 75-120K range. I paid 85K for mine, which was a good price considering the more recent upgrades to the heating, electrical, and plumbing.

The house does photograph really well, and I love the paint colours, floors, and original trim. But I can see some of the issues you point out, like poor cabinetry, for one, which is expensive to swap with nicer stuff. The upstairs bathroom vanity/sink and taps were pretty terrible.
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