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Press Coverage

Old Fig Garden looks ripe

Business partners see potential for profit in Fresno renovations

By SANFORD NAX
Fresno Bee
July 30, 2006

Architect David Brown likens Old Fig Garden to St. Francis Woods in San Francisco or Claremont Hills in Oakland, both unique neighborhoods with a style that is universally popular.

"When Ron said, 'Come check it out,' I thought, 'Fresno? You've got to be kidding me.' " But Brown put his doubts aside, drove over from the Bay Area and discovered that his friend and business partner, Ron Hodge, was on to something.

Old Fig Garden, they decided, is where they would make their mark.

Hodge and Brown have bought four older houses in Old Fig and, using Brown's architectural eye, plan to gut them, make them over and then resell the properties.

Hodge lives in Fresno. Brown resides in Connecticut but makes frequent trips to the central San Joaquin Valley. They formed a corporation, The Fig Group, and plan to stamp a design of a fig leaf and the year it was remodeled into the concrete walkway of each house.

They are not typical real estate flippers. They say they don't just install new carpeting, slap on a coat of paint, make a few cosmetic improvements and sell the property in a few weeks.

"It's just not paint, powder and sell!" Hodge said. "We want to take every consideration into detail to keep the original flavor of the house. We want to put in a new house that feels like it has always been in the Fig."

Hodge said he doesn't worry about the costs of carrying a mortgage while remodeling. He figures the eventual sales price will be more than enough.

His first project in the neighborhood was a 65-year-old, 2,000-square-foot home with a 1,000-square-foot guest house at Wilson and Holland avenues.

He spent two years gutting, designing an expanded open floor plan that appeals to today's buyers and creating a Santa Barbara Mediterranean-style house that is almost twice the size of the original.

The rooms were all reconfigured. The master bedroom is now a family room. What was once an office is now the foyer, complete with cutouts for safekeeping of car keys, high windows that bring light in and a multilevel ceiling.

A 1,600-square-foot addition contains a new master bed! room and bathroom, and two extra bedrooms. A three-car garage was cons tructed with metal doors that were faux painted to resemble wooden carriage doors.

Wood floors and doors were battered with chains and chisels to give a distressed look. Adhering to the Santa Barbara character, the house has two styles of stucco and 500 hand-cut tails on the overhang of the roof.

Five sets of double French doors lead to a courtyard, and four sets of double French double doors exit to patios. Hodge said he tries to incorporate doors to a courtyard or the outside in every remodel.

In the kitchen, he installed an eight-burner stove with a pot filler for pasta-making.

Hodge and Brown tried to stay true to the character of the 1930s and '40s, even incorporating skinny door jams typical of that period. "It is a little detail that most people don't notice," Hodge said.

He declined to reveal the purchase price or the cost of the makeover, but a local attorney paid $1.5 million for the property.

Hodge said Old Fig Garden is the only place in Fresno where he can do the extensive makeovers and still make money. Many of the houses are older, need work and sit on big leafy lots. And the neighborhood is popular. Building on those characteristics can lead to a nice profit, he said.

"You've got $400,000 houses a few doors down from million-dollar houses," he said. "That tells me there could be a $1 million house there."

Brown said gutting a house to what Hodge calls "its bones" and rebuilding is 30% to 40% more expensive than simply tearing down and constructing a new house on the same site.

"But there is something that is kind of not right about that," he said. "I personally like the old classics."

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