Some houses seem to have potential buyers just lying in wait, ready to pounce as soon as the for-sale sign goes up. 210 Isabel Street is one. It was for sale for two days before the owners accepted an offer. It was just sold in 2018, and then it took three days.
Buying a house is like finding someone to marry. You only need one, but the possibilities are limited to those available at the moment. And it often seems like all the good ones are taken. You could wait your entire adult life for some to become available. Others are out there again every few years. Here are current examples of each type (houses).
Florence and Camille Kivette might have stood out anywhere, but in a small town like Gibsonville there couldn’t have been any way to miss them. For decades. The blue Cadillac and the big parties, the grand house out on the edge of town and Elon College — the sisters loved them, and they weren’t shy about what they loved.
Florence Olga Kivette Childress, born in 1917, and Marjorie Camille Kivette, born in 1920, both were graduates of Elon. They lived together almost their entire lives, even during Florence’s marriage (sadly shortened to just five years by the death of her husband, an Air Force captain). They held huge parties, led the town’s parades and drove their blue Cadillac to Elon for football games, plays and frequent meals in the dining hall.
Update: The three properties are listed separately as of December 15, 2020, all for $325,000. That results in a relatively routine price of $118/square foot for 704 Spring Garden and a wildly high $184/square foot price for each of the other two.)
It’s hard to know what to make of the offer that appeared in local real-estate listings on Friday: Three adjoining houses on Spring Garden Street for sale together at $975,000. All are rentals. 704 Spring Garden is a classic 1900 College Hill home, long ago divided into three apartments. 700 and 702 Spring Garden are single-unit houses, relatively new and essentially identical — built on long-vacant lots in 2003, four bedrooms, four bathrooms, 1,736 square feet each.
The $975,000 price comes out to a head-turning $157 per square foot. There are a couple ways to put that into perspective. Twenty-five College Hill rental houses have been sold in the past five years. Only seven have topped $100 per square foot, the highest being $121 (211 S. Tate Street, then a single-unit rental and now owner-occupied). The 15 multi-unit rental properties have ranged from $63 per square foot to $120 per square foot. So the Spring Garden trio’s owner is looking for a premium of more than 25 percent above the priciest College Hill rentals.
Or consider that owner-occupied houses in College Hill sell at consistently higher prices than rentals, and in the past five years, only two out of 42 have sold for more than $157 per square foot. So, the Spring Garden 3 also are priced at a premium to 95 percent of the owner-occupied houses sold in College Hill since 2015.
On the surface, then, the price of the these houses is well out of proportion for College Hill rentals. But a deeper look shows … what? What could make these three houses worth $975,000? There’s no way to tell from the listings. They contain no interior photos of any of the houses, so if there’s something wonderful inside, the seller isn’t letting on (but why would there be in three rental houses?). The exteriors are OK, not as bad as many rentals but nothing special. The location is no better than that of dozens of other such houses in the neighborhood. Are 21st century houses more brilliantly designed than 100-year-old houses? Are they made of superior building materials? Are they in better condition? Do they have more character? No, no, not necessarily, and no.
Who knows what goes on in the minds of “real-estate investors” (as landlords fancy themselves these days)? Maybe someone with more money than sense will snap these houses right up. Whatever the deal is, good luck.
Surprisingly Pricey Home Sales in Recent Years
Just because a house is listed at a way-high price doesn’t mean it won’t sell. There have been a few conspicuous outliers among College Hill home sales in recent years.
There’s the truly weird 2018 sale of 619 South Mendenhall Street for $420,000 ($145 per square foot). The only house in College Hill that’s sold for more since 2015 was the Bumpas-Troy House, 114 South Mendenhall Street, built in 1847 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That sale was for $425,000 in 2016.
When 619 South Mendenhall was sold in 2018, it had barely survived a disastrous renovation. Five years earlier, the owners started adding a third story without bothering to get a certificate of appropriateness. The city caught up with them and halted work, but not before the entire roof had been removed. For months, only a leaky tarp protected the house from a rainy autumn and winter while the owners wrangled with the Historic Preservation Commission, finally accepted a compromise plan, changed their mind, appealed the plan they themselves had accepted to the Board of Adjustment, lost, and finally had to settle for the compromise. They had bought the house for $135,000 in 2012. And then, astoundingly, they were able to sell it for $420,000 in 2018. Less astoundingly, when the house was sold again this year, the sellers had to take a loss of about $70,000. (The 2018 buyer was an out-of-state LLC with no idea about the local real-estate market.)
On a square-foot basis, the most expensive College Hill house sold in recent years (and maybe ever) hardly looks the part. 611 Joyner Street is sweet little bungalow, just 1,186 square feet. It sold for $129,900 in February 2018. A swift five months later, after what must have been one heck of a renovation, it sold for $222,000. That doesn’t sound like much, but long division tells us it’s a brilliant $187 per square foot. If all rentals in the neighborhood could get that kind of renovation, we’d be Irving Park.
Also high up on College Hill’s all-time most expensive list is 817 Rankin Place. In 2016 it went for a still wow price of $389,000, $173 per square foot. It’s an infill house, built on another long-vacant lot in 2005. It also has an apartment above the garage, so that’s something. But it originally sold for just $250,000 in 2005. Eleven years later — even after the biggest real-estate bust in modern American history — it had appreciated 56 percent, a reminder that the right price for a house is whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
For purposes of comparison, consider …
Seven of the Finest College Hill Homes Sold Since 2018
Update: The owners accepted an offer eights days after they listed the property for sale. That deal fell through, however, as did a second contract. A third contract resulted in a sale, though at a surprisingly low price: $274,000 (on June 15, 2020).
Southside is a downtown neighborhood of classic old houses and well designed new homes that fit very nicely together into a “traditional neighborhood” redevelopment plan. Houses come onto the market in Southside more rarely than any other neighborhood in Greensboro, so if you’d like to live there, you need to be ready to go when the infrequent opportunities arise.
Update: The house sold for $201,000 on March 10, 2020.
A piece of Guilford County history: From 1869 until 1962, Pleasant Garden Male and Female Academy — later Pleasant Garden Boarding School and even later Pleasant Garden High School — brought secondary education to southern Guilford County. As of 1907, it was one of only two state-certified high schools in the county, and it continued to attract boarding students. Today, about all that’s left of it appears to be 6104 Laurel Knoll Drive.
Update: The listing was withdrawn October 25, 2019.
It’s often hard to know exactly what you’re seeing just from the for-sale listings of houses that need renovation. From the foundation to the roof, there’s no telling what trouble awaits until you get a thorough inspection. With that in mind, take a look at 3311 Oak Ridge Road in Summerfield.
Yikes. Nothing subtle about Issue No. 1. Aside from the nightmarish vegetation, though, this stately old place doesn’t look so bad.
Update: The house sold for $415,000, its full asking price, on November 6, 2019.
The Paisley House, 409 Hillcrest Drive in Westerwood, may be oldest house in Greensboro that’s still a residence. It was listed for sale on October 4; the sellers accepted an offer on October 8. A quick deal like that isn’t uncommon in Westerwood, one of Greensboro’s most attractive neighborhoods, especially now when so few homes are for sale there. What is uncommon is that the house is so much older than the neighborhood. The Paisley House was built in 1820; Westerwood was developed about 100 years later.
Residents of Sedgefield report seeing crews from a demolition company at work in Adamsleigh, the renowned 30,000 square foot mansion in the golf course community. An article this week in the News & Record indicates that time may have run out for the fabulous house. Built in 1930, it stands with Graylyn in Winston-Salem and Hillside in Greensboro as one of the Piedmont’s grandest mansions. But its new owner wants to build a house, and Adamsleigh is in his way.
There’s been a conspicuous shortage of homes for sale in the Dunleath Historic District lately, so 810 Cypress Street is a rare find. It was sold 10 months ago and thoroughly renovated. When it was sold, it looked like this:
Two interesting old houses turned up for sale in the past couple of weeks with a disappointing element in common: Both owners appear more interested in selling to developers than to homeowners. Each of the properties has a bit of acreage, and both are in areas that have been developed with subdivisions in the past few decades. Losing them would eliminate pieces of Greensboro’s historic character from once-outlying neighborhoods where little of that quality remains.
The for-sale sign went up at 616 East Lake Drive last Wednesday. The sellers accepted an offer by Saturday, and all I could think was, “What took so long?” Even at a relatively high price (for Westerwood) of $725,000, it’s no surprise the house went off the market so quickly. It’s one of the most impressive mid-century houses in Greensboro.
Every year, Preservation Greensboro creates a “Watch List” of local historic homes and buildings that are in danger of being destroyed. Some are saved, like the remarkable Shaw House at 111 Arden Place, rescued last year by new owners who are renovating the one-time hunting lodge in the College Park neighborhood. Others aren’t, like the Art Deco Showfety Building, which was sacrificed for construction of a parking deck.
This year’s list includes several iconic homes along with the Pilot Life office complex in Sedgefield, the Southern Railway Passenger Depot on South Elm Street, and one of the few Egyptian Revival office buildings in the state.
The Lydia and James Cartland House is one of the earliest in Lindley Park. Built in 1905 across the street from its present location, the house crossed the street sometime in its first 20 years. Today, it’s nicely restored and a beautiful example of its time period and its neighborhood.
207 North Park Drive is a Fisher Park classic, a Craftsman bungalow with beautiful stone columns. Built in 1912, it overlooks the park on one of the neighborhood’s finest streets. It sold last week for $398,900, its full asking price and a pretty impressive number considering it’s not quite 2,000 square feet. That comes out to $206 per square foot, up near the top of the range for the neighborhood and way above what many Fisher Park houses have sold for recently. The house was on the market just over a week before an offer was accepted.
Even at that price, though, the sellers took a loss. They bought the house for $399,750, and that was 12 long years ago. It’s not a big loss, less than $1,000 (but don’t forget the real estate agents’ commission, likely 6 percent — almost $24,000). Still, how could such a fine house in Fisher Park fail to appreciate in 12 years? The answer: The house was bought in September 2007, only a year before real estate crashed. The pre-catastrophe market was just about at its peak.
Few architects have been as historically prominent in Greensboro and across the state as Harry Barton. For more than 20 years until his death in 1937, he designed several of the Greensboro’s most notable buildings, including the UNCG Auditorium, the Quad and others on the campus; the Guilford County Courthouse; the Cone Export and Commission Building; First Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant; and World War Memorial Stadium. His home designs ranged from the elaborate Italian Renaissance style of the Sigmund Sternberger house at 710 Summit Avenue to the relatively simple Effie M. Anderson House at 303 S. Mendenhall Street.
There are few houses for sale in Greensboro’s three historic districts this winter. College Hill, Dunleath and Fisher Park have a total of just six houses for sale right now (three others under contract). Still, some of those homes are among the finest historic homes in the city. One of the highlights is 305 S. Mendenhall Street in College Hill, the Stokes-Dees House.
There aren’t enough older homes for sale in Lindley Park and Fisher Park to go around. Since March 1, at least 20 classic homes in Greensboro have sold at a premium to their asking prices. Five have been in Lindley Park and three have been in Fisher Park. The other 12 have been scattered around town.
Update: The house was sold for $420,000 on September 12, 2018.
There are grand, beautiful houses that have been sold three or four times in the past 20 years. This kind of turnover typically says nothing about the house; we just live in a restless time. That’s especially true for the upwardly mobile types who can afford to pay, say, $400,000, $500,000 or more for a house. People who are in a position to make big money tend to go where it leads them.
The foursquare house at 429 North Cedar Street is available to someone who might want to move it. The structure has been relocated once before. It sits on a cinderblock foundation. Many original architectural features have been lost, but they can be re-created or re-imagined.
Update: The final upset bid of $252,000 was filed July 17; I think it was the 10th, but I could have missed one or two. The sale closed on July 28, 2018.
906 Olive Street is a nice little Fisher Park house. Built in 1938, it has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, 1,938 square feet. It has a smallish front porch, gray shingle siding and a couple trees in the front yard. It’s a little on the modest side for Fisher Park. There have been a few more or less similar houses for sale in the neighborhood recently. It’s in foreclosure, also like a few others recently. Nice but not especially remarkable.
The counties surrounding Guilford have seen plenty of history, Caswell in particular. In the early decades of the nation’s history, Caswell was one of the state’s most prosperous and prominent counties, but, long beyond living memory, its fortunes crashed. Now, about all that’s left of its glory years are some truly impressive houses, scattered here and there from Camp Springs and Cherry Grove up to Milton and Semora.
The Moore-Gwyn-Ewalt House in the Locust Hill area is a beautiful example of Caswell’s past — 6,226 square feet of Federal-style elegance on 200 unspoiled acres. The house was built in 1790; considerable square footage is in the form of two well-designed wings built in 1995. It was listed June 1 at $1.75 million. The address is 5869 U.S. Highway 158. Situated southwest of Yanceyville and close to N.C. 150, it’s within a relatively easy commute to Greensboro.
Update: For all the anxiety the sale of Edgewood created, in the end it went smoothly and quickly. The property sold for $785,000 on July 11, 2018. The buyers are a family who plan to restore the property.
Historic Edgewood was put up for sale today at $850,000. The listing refers to it as a bargain, and it is, although, ironically, the $770,000 BB&T paid for it in a foreclosure auction was no bargain at all.
BB&T is readying Edgewood for sale. Crews have been trimming shrubs and undergrowth from the property this week, and some trees have been taken down or trimmed. And now a real estate agent’s sign has appeared at the curb of 111 Arden Place.
The stone mansion and 2.5-acre site in Sunset Hills date back to 1915. BB&T, apparently one of multiple lenders with money in the property, bought Edgewood in a foreclosure auction in January. The bank spent $770,000 to get it. Anyone who wants to save it is probably going to have to outbid developers who would tear the house down and squeeze in as many big, expensive new houses as they can. And in one of Greensboro’s most popular neighborhoods, no less. Once “For Sale” replaces “Coming Soon,” the outcome may not be far off.