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Greg Peck: Grand homes on Court Street need buyers

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Greg Peck
July 2, 2014

I met Bill Doan last week. Maybe you know him. He's a retired banker who once worked at the forerunner to what is now BMO Harris Bank in downtown Janesville.

Bill and his wife, Evelyn, have lived more than 20 years in one of the nice, big homes on East Court Street, up from the Rock County Courthouse. Maybe you've noticed the Doans' home, or the other handful that are for sale.

These stately homes are among the many in Janesville's central city that have architectural appeal. A three-block stretch including the Doans' home has seven houses for sale. That seems like a lot. I've been bicycling past these homes going to and from work the past two summers, and I have waved to Bill whenever I've seen him outside. His home's “for sale” sign went up recently, and curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped to introduce myself.

Bill and Evelyn started raising their kids in Milton before moving to 611 E. Court St. more than 20 years ago. Now in their 60s, they're looking to downsize. Bill says they'd like to travel more, visit relatives out of state and not have to worry in winter about the big house back home. They're not even sure they'll stay in Janesville. First, they must sell their Colonial-style two-story home, which is well-maintained inside and out, and has more than 3,300 feet of living space. The home is more than 160 years old. The price? $168,900. It obviously needs the right buyer.

So do the other homes for sale in these three blocks. Some are in wonderful shape, including the 3,400-square-foot Victorian next door at 603 E. Court St., which once served as a Bed and Breakfast. That home has five large bedrooms, four full baths, two fireplaces and a wrap-around front porch. The price is $199,000. Some other homes for sale need paint jobs and, as they say in the real estate business, tender loving care.

My wife, Cheryl, and I have invested thousands of dollars in exterior upkeep and improvements on our home each of the past few years. Not that our home was in bad shape, and it isn't nearly as old or as large as these Court Street homes. I can only imagine the cost of a paint job on those featuring grand architecture and ornate wood trim. Let that paint job go too long, and the rotted wood will likely cost a small fortune to replace and maintain historical integrity.

These are stately houses, Bill Doan agrees, but they aren't museums. They serve as “our homes,” he says simply. Buyers will be those who appreciate space and architecture and are willing to invest in upkeep.

Then factor in heating bills. Some of these homes are so large, I imagine utility bills might be enormous. Bill Doan, however, says he did extensive insulation of his home, and his utility bills are reasonable, about $225 a month.

In San Francisco, a handful of “Painted Ladies” sit close together in Alamo Square. This visual treat of Victorian architecture is one of the tourist city's most photographed spots.

If Janesville's many majestic homes were so bunched, they, too, might attract tourists. They're a little more spread out, however, and, unfortunately, in varying states of repair and disrepair. Now these homes, particularly those needing work, must attract buyers, lest some of Janesville's historic architectural gems fall too far into decay.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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