Real estate pros say what sells houses can be summed up in three words: “Location, location, location.”
Fort Wayne real estate investor Judy Anderson says the location definitely sold her and her husband, Don, on their home at 915 W. Berry St.
But it wasn’t just that the house was close to downtown and along a quiet block in West Central historic neighborhood.
No, what really attracted the Andersons was that the place was just around the corner from the home of three of their five grandchildren.
“That sealed the deal,” says Judy Anderson, a former resident of Aboite Township. “We did want to be closer to the grandkids.”
The location was so attractive, Anderson adds, that the couple could even look past the fact that the Second Empire-style structure – a side-by-side duplex built in 1883 – had sat vacant for nearly a decade and was in awful shape.
“It had like 50 years of deferred maintenance,” recalls her son, Mike Anderson, father to those grandkids and a professional house rejuvenator in Fort Wayne. “I had gone through it previously and thought, ‘Man, this is really heavy lifting.’ ”
But Judy Anderson says the condition of the property, which was about to be sold at auction after a foreclosure, made it more or less a blank canvas.
Both sides of the duplex had been chopped up into rental units with scant potential, so there was little risk in tearing things out and starting over.
She and her husband decided to return the east side of the duplex into a single-unit home for themselves.
Faced with five sleeping rooms with a kitchenette and a shared bath on the second floor and two apartments on the first floor – including one with a bathroom built under the carved-oak stairway – they took everything back to the walls. That left plenty of raw space to reconfigure into a livable floor plan.
One plus of the house, Judy says, is that it was open from front to back on the first floor. That led her to an unusual choice – placing a contemporary kitchen, with a breakfast bar and an informal dining space, in the center of the house instead of at the rear.
“It flowed better,” she says.
A formal parlor with a fireplace and a casual living room are on the street side of the kitchen, while a full bath and a sizable office space now occupy a rear addition built around 1919.
The office can be converted into a first-floor bedroom should it be required by mobility restrictions as the couple ages, Judy says – an important consideration because Don had a stroke awhile back.
The current master bedroom is on the second floor, attached to one of two back-to-back baths in the center of the house. A front bedroom with a full bath is the guest suite. A spare bedroom and a new back staircase are at the rear.
The couple also created a new walk-in closet for the master bedroom and second-floor laundry.
The other side of the house was turned into four apartments, including a two-story, Chicago-townhouse-style unit. The Andersons say they’ve had no trouble keeping them rented through a company Judy runs with Mike.
Despite the modernizations, many of the home’s period features were preserved.
It took weeks of painstaking work with tiny tools to strip paint from the staircase, which has a quaint window seat on its landing, Judy says. But the wood is now back in gleaming condition.
The parlor’s original oak mantel has found its way back to the property, after Mike tracked it down and presented it to his parents as a Christmas present.
“It was sitting in someone’s garage,” Judy says.
“It took six people to bring it in,” Mike adds.
Future plans include turning the third floor into a playroom and building a carriage house with an apartment for Don’s mother in the backyard, near a newly constructed deck.
The home also has received a colorful exterior facelift with celery, sage and terra cotta paint accented by black and cream. Architectural details such as dentil molding have been highlighted, and repairs have been made to the patterned slate mansard-style roof.
Judy Anderson says she’s decorated the interior of the home by mixing contemporary furniture from the couple’s previous house with a few cherished antique pieces from her husband’s family.
She acknowledges the place represents quite a change. The Andersons’ previous house was a five-bedroom, four-bath contemporary with an indoor swimming pool and a large wooded lot. But the property was always requiring maintenance, she says, and the couple, both 65, feared they’d soon be unable to keep up.
Now, with most of the work on their current house complete, they’re enjoying their new life as urban-pioneering seniors.
“I think West Central is going through a really good revitalization,” Judy says.
“The concept of being so close to so many interesting things – downtown, the botanical conservatory, the library, the ballpark, the museums – it’s all appealing. We love the Rivergreenway. We do a lot of bike riding on the greenway.”
With the grandkids?
“Of course,” she says.