A north end Charlotte neighborhood thinks big

06/19/2014 9:08 AM

06/24/2014 10:17 AM

The tiny Lockwood neighborhood near the Amtrak station on North Tryon is gentrifying ... one house at a time.

There’s a 981-square-foot home listed at $42,000 and a 3,900-square-foot stunner with five bedrooms and five baths listed at $379,000.

“You just can’t find a really beautiful home with a lot of character in the $200s,” says Realtor Elizabeth Grillo of EG Real Estate Consultants. But you can in Lockwood, she said of the little-known neighborhood where the average list price is $186,200.

It’s just one more example of the renaissance unfolding in parts of Charlotte’s north end, a low-income and industrial part of town drawing new development and attention, including the large Brightwalk subdivision.

Theatrical lighting designer Chip Fischesser and his wife, Julie, moved to Lockwood from Charleston in 2006. They chose the neighborhood for its proximity to uptown, I-77 and I-85 and for its charm.

“My wife saw enough potential in (our) house to make an offer,” Fischesser says. Since moving in, the couple has built a new deck and a small shed, added some landscaping and put “lots of insulation into this old house.”

Risk and reward

Plenty of people prefer old. Grillo is one such early adopter of older neighborhoods in transition. She lived in NoDa before it was the hot, mainstream arts district it is now. She knows that buying in a neighborhood in flux comes with risks. And potential rewards.

“Many people who live here – the longtime residents and the new ones – are devoted to this neighborhood. They are good stewards of it, and that’s exactly what you need to turn a place around,” Grillo says.

William Green, 29, is a first-time buyer who moved to the neighborhood in March. He says he “fell in love” with the location and is happy to be between the N.C. Music Factory and NoDa, near the interstates and “close to the center city without being in the middle of it.” His commute to Red Ventures in University City is “under 10 minutes, even at rush hour.”

Lockwood has come a long way. But as far as the neighborhood has come, Fischesser and his wife still wonder if it’s right for them for the long haul. They now have a 5-month-old daughter to consider.

The couple has discovered that being urban pioneers involves risk, with signs of drug sales, vagrancy and prostitution still evident on the streets now and then, he says. “I have to commend the work of the CMPD,” Fischesser says. “They have done so much in our neighborhood to try to clean it up.”

Several Lockwood homes have been restored to their former glory. But there are owners who have allowed their rental properties to fall into what Fischesser calls a “deplorable state.”

Grillo points to other examples of struggling neighborhoods that are now not just desirable – but downright tony.

She cites Wesley Heights as a recent instance of a close-in neighborhood that had potential, went through tough times as it transitioned and has become priced too high for some who would like to live there. “The most important thing about Wesley Heights and Lockwood is the old and new neighbors who are working hard to make it diverse and safe,” she says

The risk of waiting until a neighborhood has fully turned the corner is that it may be too late, she said. “I tell some clients, ‘By the time a neighborhood has become all joggers and baby carriages, you may not necessarily be able to afford it.’ ”

‘It sounds like home’

The neighborhood itself is small – just a few streets between North Tryon and North Graham streets near the Amtrak station. Some homes are 1920s bungalows. Others were built in the 1930s and ’40s. Many have the original exposed brick inside. There’s one home on the market now with a Wolf range, heart pine floors and four original fireplaces. Its list price: $235,000.

William Green’s home, just shy of 900 square feet, is the perfect size for him and his housemate. The home originally had three bedrooms and one bath, but Lockwood’s unofficial mayor Christopher Dennis, who bought it and had begun renovations when Green found it, converted it to a two-bedroom house.

The home has a grander kitchen for its resident chef than the original shotgun-style one it had – and Shaker-style cabinets and granite countertops. The remodeled bathroom is a showstopper, too. “The kitchen and bathroom are the rooms people flip over,” he says. “My house is on the diminutive side, but the bathroom is really massive for a house this size.”

Not only do many of Lockwood’s homes have charm and good bones, but residents who work uptown have the briefest of commutes. And the skyline views beckon, too. Green plans to create a garden in his side yard to take advantage of that vista.

A neighborhood in transition isn’t for everyone, but Green hasn’t encountered any difficulties. “My only challenge was getting used to the train schedule” and their horns, he says. “But now it sounds like home.”

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