Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Madison Real Estate: Flunking 'Residential Architecture Styles 101'

by Tom Bozzo

I've previously picked on a real estate listing for the agent's method of disclosing the kitchen renovation in the new owner's future. At the time of the earlier post, no picture had been available on the MLS. So I was a bit surprised to see that the
"Grand Ole [sic] Colonial" on Rowley is actually a pretty average-looking Foursquare.

The National Association of Realtors actually has decent online resources for correctly identifying residential styles (the Foursquare was covered in a July '04 article), so the agent looks a little underbriefed.

OK, I'm a stickler about this sort of thing. When we bought our previous house in 2000 when price levels were much lower but rapidly increasing, and the internet still an underdeveloped resource for most real estate agents, the most desirable houses sold so quickly that a house not driven-by because of a poorly written description would be gone forever. (It may also be a lingering legacy of my "American Culture" class from high school, actually more like a history of American decorative arts class, which I thought I didn't enjoy at the time.) In this year's search, among the signs of a peaking market was that there was no house so desirable at prevailing prices that we couldn't sleep on the decision.

Real estate obsessive's note [you mean this entire post wasn't a real estate obsessive's note?]. The City of Madison Assessor's website is a good friend of the serious house-hunter, both as a source of comparable-sales data and as a check on sometimes fanciful square footage claims, though the amount of personal if not officially private information it exposes to the world can be disconcerting.

What the Assessor doesn't have much of a handle on, even by the loose standards of real estate marketing, is style classification.

The city puts the Rowley "Colonial" into an "Old Style" category that's a catchall for a lot of older two-story houses that aren't obviously a popular period revival style (e.g., Colonial, Tudor). This makes some sense -- more, anyhow, than "Grand Ole Colonial."

On the other hand, our house is textbook French Provincial Revival style, to the extent it would be a decent real-life stand-in for the Realtors' sample drawing (perhaps a bit less frou-frou in the details):

According to the Assessor, we fall into a classification called "Victorian Georg[ian]."

There are plenty of Victorians and related styles in Madison's older neighborhoods, for which the classification is appropriately deployed (e.g., my bosses' grand Queen Anne in University Heights), though Georgians -- brick houses in general, really -- are relatively rare around here. That those two styles should be slammed together into one classification should itself raise a titter among the architecturally sensitive.

At least our place has a symmetrical brick facade, which at least gives it some features typical of the Georgian style, though the second story and roofline are all wrong for it. Things get loopier, though, as the Assessor has a habit of using "Victorian Georgian" for Prairie-style houses, for instance these -- among my favorites from the Nakoma walking tour:

Go figure.
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