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click to enlarge PRICIER THAN CHENAL: Hillcrest home on the market for $289,900.
  • PRICIER THAN CHENAL: Hillcrest home on the market for $289,900.

Say you're looking for a house in Little Rock and you've got about $275,000 to spend (maybe a little more but you just don't want to think about it too hard). You want 3 BRs and 2 BAs and a yard for the dog.

You start in ritzy Chenal, where a nearly spanking new house rises from a perfect expanse of green, its interiors gleaming with new paint, its “great room” featuring a fireplace with an elegant mantelpiece. The kitchen counters are granite and there is a lovely deck. The closets are walk-in.

Surreptitiously, you find the toilets flush just fine. And why not? The house isn't even 10 years old yet.

It's got the 3 BRs, it's got the 2 BAs, and it even has another ½ BA to boot. It's a roomy 2,600 square feet, and at $279,900 it's not that far out of your price range. That's $127 a square foot.

Then you check out House No. 2. It's not in Chenal, but it has 3 BRs and 2 BAs. It's got a lot of charm, the kind that comes from age. It has other things that come from age — windows that don't quite fit in their frames anymore, a tile roof whose 75-year guarantee has just expired, and a second bathroom squeezed in under the stairs where a crawl space used to be. There's a sweet little garage in the backyard, and that's where the washer and dryer are. The closets are reach-in.

There's a group of neighbors on the porch next door drinking gin and tonics and you meet them and it's not long before they tell you about the bats that used to fly in and out from under the eaves, but that's all taken care of now. Your best friend looks at the house and calls it “precious.”

It's 1,900 square feet and the owners want $290,000 for it. That works out to around $150 a square foot.

What do you do? You go for House No. 2, of course, because it's in Hillcrest. You've got yourself a bungalow, pal, in the best neighborhood in Little Rock.

That's what our voters said: Hillcrest is best. The Heights is good, downtown is good, Pleasant Valley is good.

But it's Hillcrest, despite the driveway that's too narrow for your car and the little bit of knob and tube wiring you glimpsed in the attic. It's got sidewalks, shopping and a popular public school all pretty much within walking distance. There are children and dogs spilling out of practically every door. And besides, you're going to plunk down another $100,000 and make the house real nice.

Realtor John Selva publishes Hillcrest MarketWatch, an eagerly anticipated monthly newsletter that lets everybody know which house sold for how much, what still hasn't sold and at what price, and how many days the houses have been on the market.

The May newsletter reported the sale of a 1,550-square-foot clapboard house on I Street, a coveted address, for $230,000, or $145.81 a square foot. It has 3 BRs, 1.5 BAs. Available in Chenal for $239,000: A 2,034-square-foot house with 4 BRs, 2 BAs, built in 1999, brick. Whirlpool tub. A two-car garage. Utilities underground. Walk-in closet. $117 a square foot.

See?

There is the occasional disbelieving “you want how much?” reaction to Hillcrest house prices, Selva, a Crye-Leike agent, said. He had one on the market north of Markham near Van Buren, one of the rare 1950s ranch-style bricks, priced at $140,000. “It had a little bit of waviness in the kitchen floor, but nothing compared to some of the houses” in the neighborhood, Selva said. An out-of-town dad shopping for his med student daughter took a look and joined the “you want how much?” chorus. It sold the second he turned his back on it.

Johnson Melhorn, who's sold real estate in Hillcrest for many years, says it's true that you can sometimes get more for your money in Chenal — both in terms of size and condition. Mid-sized homes in Chenal are on average more expensive per square foot on the low end and cheaper on the high end than in Hillcrest.

(But Melhorn points out, correctly, that comparing square foot costs in the two neighborhoods is like comparing apples to oranges, since those costs can vary with house size. For example, the price per square foot of West Little Rock's multimillion-dollar homes can vary from around $300 to $400. As of this writing, the highest per square foot price on the market in Hillcrest was $185.85.

(No Hillcrest home has hit the million- dollar mark yet, but a house on I Street — part of a controversial development on a wooded lot that neighbors wanted to stay that way — sold for $725,000 on June 1. Presumably, one can walk into its closets.)

It used to be that if you liked Hillcrest houses but couldn't afford one, you'd look in Capitol View or Stifft's Station. Those prices, however, are going up too. “The money starts in the Heights and it rolls downhill,” Selva said.

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