Soapdish: What you get in an urban home, from $20k to $2.5m

Greater Cincinnati has always been considered something of a “steal” when it comes to real estate, particularly when you compare how much house you get here for the money as opposed to other parts of the country. From stately and majestic Tudors to row upon row of rowhouses to soaring Queen Annes, virtually all architectural styles and permutations are represented in great supply.

What we don’t have is a local edition of a surveying the local real estate landscape with a suitably snarky eye and catty demeanor. But never fear, your humble Soapdish columnist is here with a local version of the popular New York Times “What You Get” column.

Today we survey a smattering of Cincinnati neighborhoods in prices ranging from $20,000 to $2.5 million, from starter homes to Gatsby-esque manors, employing a highly subjective, not-really-professional “amateur eye” on the local scenery.

For my purposes, I mostly used the Sibcy Cline website for assistance, as I find it to be the most user-friendly for this assignment — though this is in no way an endorsement of them or any other real estate brokerage (or agents for that matter). In fact, I purposely avoided discussing this column with real estate agents in order to present a more unvarnished observation of what’s a completely random selection of listings.

(Editor's note: Since the actual real estate listings will eventually disappear when homes are sold or prices changed, we're using PDFs of the listings at the time Casey wrote this column instead of live links.)

And so, without further delay, let’s get started.

What you get for $20,000

I first went up the hill to Mt. Auburn to inspect a listing for a rather majestic, albeit slightly forlorn, brick corner home at McGregor and Highland listed for $20,000. McGregor Park Subdivision, as it was historically known, was one of Cincinnati’s first planned subdivisions, dating back to the 1890s.

Unfortunately, many of the grand homes fell into some disrepair in later years, much of it still visible today. That said, however, there’s a group of relatively new homeowners looking to preserve and rally around the cause of the McGregor Park Sub, with a Facebook page dedicated to their cause. 

Getting back to the listing, while peering in the windows of 308 McGregor I was informed by a helpful next door neighbor that the listing had been pulled and will probably go back on the market at a higher price. The neighbor, Wes Zimmerman, bought his home around six years ago for $17,500 and has been working on it ever since. He noted that several other nearby homes had sold for at or under $20,000, making this corner something of a ground zero for that price point.

This was a helpful bit of history, but having our $20,000 listing pulled led me to search elsewhere for that elusive bargain property. I found it in the interstate-friendly neighborhood known as Camp Washington. Fun Fact: Camp Wash was the site of Ohio’s first state fair in 1850.

While some recognize the name only for its chili, Camp Washington has been targeted by many first time homeowners for its affordable prices, near-downtown/Clifton/Northside locale and fairly dense little streetscapes with shotgun-style homes. While somewhat orphaned by I-75, a quick search yielded this under-$20,000 gem.

The listing is somewhat bereft of information (or photos for that matter), but the eye-catching phrase “Investor Alert!” is all you need to know to check out this 125-year-old wood-framed, three-bedroom home. A somewhat decorative front porch seems to be the highlight, along with a fenced-in driveway featuring scattered pallets and a few non-decorative food grade barrels. The listing also features helpful neighborhood information, noting that “Downtown shopping at Tower Place Mall and along Fountain Square is just minutes away.” Tower Place Mall is now a parking garage.

Ranching in Mt. Airy for a shade under $100,000

Moving west to the verdant hills of Mt. Airy finds this cozy ranch for under $100,000 on the aptly named Ponderosa Drive.

An exceedingly modest exterior belies what appears to be some acceptable upgrades in the kitchen and bath. While the blurry dining room photo leaves something to be desired, I like the open floor plan, ample windows and ... wait, is that a classic Cincinnati Westside basement bar on the lower level? With a walkout to an expansive backyard, this four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath setup offers the perfect compliment for those who wish to live nearby a lush 2,000-acre urban forest. 

Rowhouse showdown in Price Hill for under $100,000

If mid-century ranching in Mt. Airy isn't quite your gig, check out this attractive 125-year-old rowhouse in East Price Hill. Reality television fanatics will recognize Summit Avenue as the locale for last summer’s 10-week “extreme makeover” style show TV, which drew criticism from some quarters when people noted that the “trashed” characterization of the homes was overly hyped and fabricated for TV viewers.

With its stylish bathroom upgrades and requisite granite countertops, this house looks like it could have been on a home makeover TV show. Attractive old fireplaces and 10-foot ceilings complete the package, and you’re within walking distance of the popular Incline Public House.

Gingerbread house in Westwood for $132,900

A cozy cottage in Cincinnati’s largest neighborhood, described in the listing as a community “with an illustrious past and an inviting presence” (whatever that means), this three-bedroom, two-bath 115-year-old home features soothing interior earth tones, an attractive staircase and some original fireplaces. While the kitchen looks like the site of a stalled makeover, the white appliances and dated cabinetry can be easily replaced.

But hold on, now, that’s not all. Check out that somewhat ramshackle detached carriage house with bonus romper room on the upper level. The mind reels with possibilities! 

Wild on Woodburn for $175,000

Located a stone’s throw from nationally acclaimed Walnut Hills High School, this stately 3,200-square-foot brick beauty features impressive woodwork and stained glass windows throughout the 121-year-old structure. There are five bedrooms and two and a half baths, with a number of attractive fireplaces throughout.

While the backyard features a crumbling driveway and an oddly misplaced three-car garage, such negatives can be overlooked at this price. All just a short distance from the increasingly bustling and hip intersection of Woodburn and Madison, known as DeSales Corner.

Tudor starter in Northside for under $180,000

At the end of a woodsy cul de sac with a welcoming front yard fireplace that practically screams “come on over, neighbors,” this 83-year-old “mini” Tudor is within stumbling distance of The Comet yet still has the feel of a wooded estate.

The arts-and-crafts style avocado-hued fireplace looks like a veritable shrine to roaring fires. Hardwood floors throughout and original finishes highlight this listing, along with an enclosed back porch overlooking the woods.

Six bedrooms, porch living for under $220,000 in Madisonville

Located right off Erie Avenue, this six-bedroom, four-bath house wouldn't look out of place at a farm — but here it is in Madisonville, just on the fringes of Hyde Park. A large wraparound porch, stained glass windows and original woodwork throughout work to overcome what looks like an all-white kitchen makeover from the 1980s. If your growing family has an absolute need for six bedrooms, then this could be the place for you.

Requisite “painted lady” in Columbia-Tusculum for under $250,000

One of our older listings, at 135 years old, this quintessential Columbia-Tusculum Victorian cottage comes with all of the requisite bells and whistles: colorful lavender exterior, stained glass and original woodwork throughout, (arguably Rookwood) fireplace, comfortable front and back porches and an efficient and nicely redone kitchen with a dog door! It's a short walk to Stanley’s Pub or any of the other restaurants and coffee shops in the CT business district.

North Avondale style for $350,000

Long considered one of our undiscovered “gems,” North Avondale offers a variety of architectural styles on its rolling hills, from majestic mansions to starter Tudors, complete with its own wooded trails and nearby nature center. And it’s almost always a bargain compared to other near-downtown, historic, “big house” neighborhoods.

This impressive mid-sized Tudor situated on the hillside over Mitchell Avenue offers up some impressive high-end finishes, vaulted and beamed ceilings and a curious “mirror wall” in one of the bedrooms. Four full “en suite” baths, each one more impressive than the next, culminate with a peaked, tiled, shower “sanctuary” (see photo 19). Outdoor entertaining spaces cap off the features for this well-done home. And excellent schools within walking distance: The New School as well as North Avondale Montessori.

South of the river charm for under $375,000

Situated in the attractive Mansion Hill Historic District of Newport, just a short walk or bike ride across the bridge to downtown Cincinnati, the historic tree-lined streets of Mansion Hill have long-been a showpiece of historic preservation. This 120-year-old home on Overton Street offers a wealth of original historic accoutrements, including four operable fireplaces, original floors, period lighting and the like.

Not lacking in modern amenities, the home also has a fairly recently (just prior to the “stainless appliance revolution”) redone kitchen, a music room (“bongos!”) and the all-important historic fireplace in the master bath component. Most importantly, this house has a name, in this case the “Girty House,” which sounds like it might be named after an old flapper.

Clifton Gaslight stately manor under $500,000

Ascending up the price ladder, we now chance upon the coveted Clifton Gaslight District, one of our holy grails for walkable neighborhoods adjacent to cozy business districts featuring restaurants, retail and an art house movie theater.

In this case, a regal five-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath on Middleton is filled with some impressive woodwork (just look at that staircase) and a couple of decorative fireplaces. The room decor in some of the other bedrooms just screams “empty nest” (is that a climbing wall on the closet?), but this house offers a perfect opportunity for a family looking to settle in for the long haul.

Former car wash turned luxury home in OTR under $600,000

For those who just can’t leave their suburban garage behind, this home features the trendiness of an urbane city aerie along with a huge first-floor garage and storage space. Located in the virtual epicenter of Over-the-Rhine, this single family home was built on top of a historic garage that previously featured a car wash as well as selling sundry items such as “Ball caps, candy, sunglasses, pop” and such items.

The interior offers a flowing and open floor plan for entertaining, complete with semi-enclosed porch. California closets and a sleek bathroom highlight the master suite. It’s the perfect opportunity and change of pace for the downsizing family looking to move out of the Clifton manor described above. There are two extra bedrooms for your visiting college kids and/or suburban friends who want to come down and check out the “hot” restaurant scene around the corner.

Dueling East Walnut Hills estates for $2.5 million

In our final entry, did you win the lottery but don’t want to leave the city behind? Well, we have two neighboring options just for you!

First up is a 94-year-old castle situated on a somewhat “private” lane and wooded estate offering just the right mix of Ye Olde Castle world charm and new, modern upgrades. A veritable near-urban estate with all of the comfort of Sherwood, this place is chock full of the usual historic woodwork, grand entertaining rooms and elaborate fireplaces. A plethora of windows keep it from feeling dark and medieval like some of the neighboring castles. The kitchen and bathrooms are what you would expect from a listing at this price, and the downstairs spa wouldn't look out of place in a Wall Street hedge fund manager’s mistress’ townhome.

If #8 Beechcrest doesn’t meet your lofty standards, feel free to walk across the street to #10, a neighboring 134-year-old castle that offers a slightly darker, more august presence. This brick manor is loaded with richly detailed millwork, a Rookwood fireplace in seemingly every room and the all-important dueling spiral staircases in the master bedroom, replete with observatory. It's unclear if the red UK-style phone booth nestled near the garage is included in the price. Walk to nearby O’Bryonville business district for “Shark Tanks” at the pub and elegant, expensive antiques to furnish your manse.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Casey Coston.

Soapbox columnist Casey Coston, a former corporate bankruptcy and restructuring attorney, is now involved in real estate development and construction in and around Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton as Vice President at Urban Expansion. He's also a civic activist and founder of a number of local groups, including the Urban Basin Bicycle Club, the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network, the World Famous OTR Ping Pong League and LosantiTours: An Urban Exploration Company.