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Real Estate Marketplace: How much is a view worth?

Saturday, October 19, 2002

By Gretchen McKay

In real estate, a property's value is determined largely by the 3 Ls: location, location, location. Fred Niepp, who recently put his 105-year-old Victorian farmhouse in Elliott on the market, has taken that adage to heart.

It's not the actual neighborhood that makes his house valuable. He can count on one hand the number of homes in this tiny West End community that have sold for more than $100,000.

Fog shrouds the panoramic view of the Point that the owner of this Elliott home believes is worth $825,000. The 2-1/2 story home sits on a half-acre overlooking the Ohio River. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

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From Niepp's point of view, this view of the Point is worth $825,000. After all, if houses or condos on neighboring Mount Washington can command a half-million dollars or more for sweeping views of Downtown, why shouldn't his?

"When people want to photograph the city, this is where they come, it's so spectacular," Niepp says. "That's what we're selling."

Realtor Debbie Platts, who is marketing the property for Prudential Preferred Realty, concurs.

"There are lots of homes [overlooking the city] on the market, but not with this type of property or the amenities," says Platts, who used residences along Grandview Avenue and Williams and Bingham streets as comparables when setting the price. "And you don't have to go on a balcony to see the view."

Anyone who has ever driven across the West End Bridge is probably familiar with the house, which sits alone on the ledge in the shadow of a tall flagpole. In the winter, a 22-foot-tall neon Christmas tree twinkles brightly in the dark. (Niepp is a second-generation neon maker.) In warmer months, this is the spot friends and family rush to for an unobstructed view of the fireworks or events at the Point.

But a one-of-a-kind view of the city skyline isn't the house's only selling point. The 2 1/2-story home boasts a half-acre yard, something almost unheard of on densely populated Mount Washington. And its location near the end of a series of twisty, dead-end streets at the top of a cliff overlooking the Ohio River guarantees Niepp and his wife, Sherry, are almost never bothered by neighbors or curious passers-by.

"It's an oasis of privacy," he says.

The house itself, lovingly restored to something even grander than its original turn-of-the-century charm, is also a treasure. Built in 1897 by David Esplen, the Victorian-style house was so dilapidated when Niepp bought it 27 years ago that he considered tearing it down and starting from scratch.

Instead, he and his wife spent almost two decades virtually rebuilding the house and its seven rooms, with everything from a new roof and slip-resistant rubberized decks to a lavish master bath.

The main entrance beneath the wrap-around covered porch features slate flooring and an antique wood and beveled-glass door with leaded-glass transom. When the sun hits the glass, says Niepp, all the colors of a prism appear on the walls of the adjoining living room.

The back door opens onto the original butler's pantry, which in turn leads into the recently remodeled kitchen. Here, modern elements such as custom cherry cabinetry, bright white appliances and cream-colored Corian countertops blend with much older pieces, like the antique marble candy counter that serves as an island.

An exposed brick wall with a two-sided fireplace (one side opens to the kitchen, the other to the dining room) adds to the overall feeling of welcome, while the windowed breakfast area offers a panoramic view of the bustling city below with your morning coffee.

The second floor holds three bedrooms, although two have been converted into a study and a spacious master bath.

The 13- by 12-foot master bath features a pedestal sink, crown molding, shutters, antique lighting fixtures and a 130-year-old clawfoot tub with walnut trim. Large casement windows flood the room with natural light and offer a spectacular view of the barges and boats traveling along the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

The property also has an in-ground pool with Omni-Stone patio and separate cabana, a yard lushly landscaped with flowers and fruit trees and several fish ponds. Wraparound porches with awnings keep the afternoon sun at bay but still offer a view of the many deer, wild turkey and other wildlife that make their home on the wooded hillside.

And if you don't care about any of that? You could always tear the house down and build your dream house.

"The value is not in the home but the lot," says Niepp.

For information on 616 Angle St., call Debbie Platts at 412-367-8000, Ext. 244. You can also take a virtual tour at www.prudentialpreferred.com, MLS # 424172.

Gretchen McKay covers homes and real estate for the Post-Gazette.

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