Saturday, July 16, 2005

Old houses out; mansions in

By TOBY COLEMAN, Staff Writer
The News & Observer

CARY -- When Carolyn Kasdorf and her husband, Cary, found their next home, they didn't need to take a look inside.

Why bother? They're going to tear down the 37-year-old split-level house, anyway.

"It's the oldest house in MacGregor Downs," said Carolyn Kasdorf, a broker with Fonville Morisey Realty. "Everybody that lives there wants us to tear it down."

In this nearly 40-year-old subdivision in south Cary, the For Sale sign has begun to signal doom for the generously apportioned homes that once brought people to these well-mowed acres of country club fairways. People prize the land these houses sit on so highly, they spend $535,000 and more to buy the houses they want to tear down.

Triangle builders began the teardown movement in Raleigh a few years ago as property values inside the Interstate 440 Beltline skyrocketed. They snapped up small homes around downtown and West Raleigh, razed them and replaced them with houses with more bedrooms, higher ceilings and bigger rooms that have sold for $750,000 or more.

It has become so common in Raleigh that "the first question out of somebody's mouth when something sells inside the Beltline is, 'Are they going to renovate it, or are they going to bulldoze it?'" said Mary Edna Williams, a broker with Re/Max.

Now, the demolition crews are showing up in suburbia.

Their targets: homes built in the 1970s on lots near the greens of North Ridge Country Club in North Raleigh and MacGregor Downs in Cary. Realtors say speculative builders and people looking for their dream home will pay top dollar for these homes because they sit on big lots and boast spectacular views. But they want to tear them down because they lack the 10-foot ceilings, massive bathrooms and flashy lighting today's home buyers want.

"It makes economic sense," said Curt McDuffee, a builder whose company, McDuffee Builders, tore down a $450,000 MacGregor Downs house this year. "The money you put into it you get back, because it's a new house."

The hotbed has been MacGregor Downs, a subdivision where roads named after Scottish cities wind around a country club, a golf course and a large lake. Realtors and builders say the subdivision's half-acre lots and proximity to downtown Raleigh and major shopping centers make it a place where people will eventually spend more than $1 million for a big, new home.

In the past few years, builders and residents have torn down six homes to make way for newer, bigger ones.

Investors like the Kasdorfs are leading the charge. In the past few years, they have bought three houses in the subdivision. They have already torn down one and have plans to tear down the others.

"We don't care about the house at all," said Carolyn Kasdorf. "One of the things the seller likes when we buy the house is we don't have an inspection, because we don't care."

They prefer to buy older houses, because "the older it is, the more you feel OK with tearing it down," she said. "You have some feelings that you're tearing down somebody's castle, but what was built then is not the style people live in anymore."

Take Ernestine Ragan's house on Edinburgh Street. For 20 years, Ragan lived in the 3,500-square-foot lakefront house under ceilings 8 feet high. She cooked in a 32-year-old kitchen and walked on carpet.

Then, last year, as the retired teacher began considering a move, a woman paid her $450,000 for the two-story house. Ragan, now 72, took the money and moved into a one-story condominium. After she left, demolition workers knocked down her house to make way for a bigger one with hardwood floors, 11-foot ceilings and kitchen counters made of granite.

"It hurts to think I have lost such a beautiful place," she said. "But the house was not too hard to give up."

A few blocks away, builder Rene Langford is building his own castle, complete with stone turrets, on the land where a one-story brick ranch house used to stand.

Kim Riley, one of Langford's neighbors on Lochinvar Court, said she thinks everybody in the subdivision is "ecstatic" that people are replacing old homes with new ones.

"I think they're excited to see their property values increase," said Riley, who heads the architecture review committee of the homeowners' association. "People are wondering who might sell next."

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