During the Eastside/Westside community discussions, people occasionally asked, “What is the problem with people building a house to fit their family?” The response was often, “Nothing. But a lot of these new houses are being built and resold immediately.” When pushed for examples of houses built to be resold, none of us had a house that popped readily to mind. Recently, as I walked past Dunn Elementary, a house for sale jumped out at me and I realized that it fits the pattern that people were referring to in our discussions.
The neighborhood where this house was built is a little different than most of the rest of Old Town. Instead of being made up primarily of pre-war bungalows, the houses south of Mulberry, from Grant westward, were built primarily after the war. Though the houses are similar in size to the pre-war bungalows, they’re built in a modernist (that plain box look) style. I can’t say these are the most beautiful houses in Old Town because they’re just plain not. But there’s a certain ascetic to them when you walk down the street and compare the similarities as well as the small variations from house to house. That is, until you hit a house like 506 S. Washington. This house not only doesn’t fit the size of the other houses in the neighborhood, but it doesn’t fit the style either. It might, sorta, vaguely, possibly have a chance at being called bungalow style (if you take your glasses off, shine a bright light in your face, and squint a lot). But there’s no way you could say that it matches the modernist style even remotely. The size and style difference in itself isn’t bad, but it makes the house stand out like a sore thumb when it’s viewed in context.
The house at 506 W. Washington was built in a lot that used to be the “back yard” of (OK, so really it was a side yard. But it was the equivalent of a back yard for) the house to the north (to the left in the photo). The lot was subdivided and sold in 2007 for $100,000. It looks like it was resold in 2009, again for $100K. The house was built and in August of 2010 it was sold for over $400,000. The current owners are listed as living in a suburb of Perth, Australia. They’re selling the house for an asking price just $20,000 more than they paid for the house 2 1/2 years ago.
This house is an example of what bothers many residents in Old Town. The land was purchased and built upon by someone with the sole intention of reselling the property once it was built. The purchaser doesn’t even live in the country (at least not at this point). So the house obviously wasn’t built to suit a current Old Town family that found they couldn’t live in a small older house. (The house in Perth is, ironically, a small bungalow.) And now it’s being resold again. This is a pattern that’s true of many rebuilds. This house isn’t hugely oversized. It’s not particularly ugly like some new builds are. But it wasn’t built by folks who already lived in the neighborhood and needed a little more space. It was built by someone hoping to make a buck at the expense of the neighbors who now not only have a house on their street that sticks out like a sore thumb, but who also are dealing with a rotation of neighbors.
A couple of other houses that were built to be immediately resold include 529 W. Mountain (which was bought in January 2012 for $257,900, mostly scraped, and rebuilt at a much larger size and different style and is now being sold for around $749,000 (the asking price)) and 317 Wood Street (which was bought in June 2009 for $250K, scraped, rebuilt and resold in August 2011 for $740,000 to a couple that currently live in Anchorage, Alaska and rent the house out).
When houses that fit in with the look and feel of the neighborhood are removed and replaced with houses that don’t fit and they’re bought by people who don’t even live here, and they’re housing people who come and go, then the look and feel of the neighborhood can change dramatically. It’s a change the folks who have lived in Old Town for awhile don’t want. We love welcoming new neighbors into our community. But there’s an expectation that they’ll join us, not destroy what we love.