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Real Estate: Buyer's Market

The House with Character


Owner: Tricia Bryant.

Previous house: Libbie Avenue, circa 1915, two-story with custom addition.

What she wanted to buy: "I knew I wanted to be east of Libbie and in a condo. I love the urban lifestyle and was ready to move after [tropical storm] Gaston knocked down trees in my neighborhood." She needed about 2,300 square feet to hold most of her furnishings.

When she knew this was it: "This is the only place I looked at, and it was the last unit in the building, the ugly duckling that was being saved for me. I believe in housing karma. When you know it, you know it."

What helped her decide: Bryant's real estate agent, Millie Green, looked at Bryant's home and furnishings on Libbie to get a feel for the amount of space she'd need. Green handled both sides of the transaction, selling Bryant's previous home and closing the deal on the condo after Monument Construction, the building renovator, made some interior changes and added a small, raised terrace to the unit's west side.

What she got for the money: Original stained-glass windows with operable clear-glass layers, hardwood floors, granite gourmet kitchen, gas-log fireplace, space in the dining room to seat up to 20 guests, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a powder room. An office with a view to the living room. Raised mini-terrace. Large closets. Maintenance fees of $400 a month pay for exterior upkeep, a storage room, a gym and some utilities.

How she made it her own: Bryant's eye for design and penchant for travel helped her fill the one-level space with African tribal masks and artifacts, large-scale mirrors, at least two dozen clocks and furnishings gathered from Leo Burke, Glass Boat, Trappings, Caravati's, Motley's Auctions and West End Antiques. "Every room should have a lamp, a clock and a mirror," she says. Her extroverted personality is reflected in the party-ready seating, dining areas and sumptuous guest suite.

Neighbors host a notable Halloween block party and progressive holiday dinners, and Bryant often walks to nearby restaurants, shops and cultural attractions. "And I come home to a church every day," she says. "How much more peaceful can you get?"

Charm Factor

Details that add character to homes.

Richmond is a mother lode of architectural interest, which makes it easier to find homes with charming details in its older neighborhoods. "You can find a house with character in every price range," says longtime broker Tom Innes of Re/Max Commonwealth. "For about $350,000 the best areas to look in are Ginter Park and the Forest Hill area, and maybe Westover Hills. As the price goes to $500,000, the Fan has many houses with fine details. Higher than that would be Westhampton, Tuckahoe Terrace or Windsor Farms, where you'd expect to pay at least $800,000. And the really exceptional homes, estates with tremendous details, are now in the several-million-dollar range."

For buyers with more modest budgets, old warehouses in several neighborhoods are being converted into condos. A.C.O.R.N., the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, is a nonprofit group that helps locate old homes ripe for a fix-up in many price ranges throughout central Richmond.

And while Innes says today's real estate buyers are usually more informed and exacting than ever, the first few steps inside a doorway usually determine whether the person buys a house: "Emotion tends to kick in, and most people know right away if this is a house they're serious about." HS

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