Stained-glass and the 'Pittsburgh potty'

FOR SALE: Charming three-bedroom home. Decorative fireplace, stained glass windows, garage, one bathroom, two basements. $198,000.

’Tis the season for room draw, which means many students are thinking about dorms and university apartments. But what about living in a house off campus?

While this house does not actually exist, many of its features are characteristic of the older homes in Pittsburgh. It may sound as if it has all of the necessary amenities — plus a few extras, like a second basement and stained glass windows — but it turns out that some of these “perks” are worth avoiding. Whether you’re new to the area or not, read on to discover (or rediscover) some of the features unique to Pittsburgh homes.

Imagine arriving at this house, only to find carpeting on all of the floors. As a prospective buyer, you might have really wanted hardwood. Don’t give up yet! In many Pittsburgh homes, for one reason or another, hardwood floors are covered up by carpeting. They may not, however, be new or even pretty. Coldwell Banker agent Linda Corcoran, who operates from the company’s Squirrel Hill branch, said, “Because [the floors] are hidden, we don’t know what kind of condition they’re in until we tear up the carpeting.”

The next surprising find in this “charming” house is that the garage is actually unusable (at least for your car). Because Pittsburgh is full of hills, there are some very steep driveways. In these areas, it’s almost impossible to park your car — and even harder to get back out on the street.

Another problem caused by having a house on a hill is steep stairs leading up to your door. If you don’t relish the idea of climbing up steep stairs in Pittsburgh’s humid summers and icy winters, be sure to look for a house on a level area of the street. This way, you’ll have a usable driveway and/or garage, and walking to your front door won’t be an uphill battle.

And now, for the truly bizarre: the second basement. Often, second basements are the result of an addition to the home. Having a second basement may sound useful, as it provides additional storage space and the possibility of an extra room. However, in reality, most of these basements can only be entered from the outside and are usually unfinished. With a little time (and some money), the second basement can be turned into a usable room.

This fictional Pittsburgh home also includes a fireplace and stained-glass windows. The fireplace is listed as “decorative” in the ad, but that doesn’t mean that it’s pretty; it means it doesn’t work. Again, don’t give up — it still might. “We list fireplaces as decorative because we can’t know the condition of the chimney,” said Corcoran.

With a little investigation, you may find yourself the owner of a fully functioning fireplace. “We have a fireplace with a mantelpiece with deer heads and bear heads [at my house],” said junior computer science major Kim Weston, a Pittsburgh native.

Stained glass windows are also common in Pittsburgh. Corcoran estimates that about 50 percent of older homes have stained glass windows. She said, “They add aesthetic and character value to the home.”

There is one more issue to address: Your house has three bedrooms... and only one bathroom? Don’t worry, we’re in Pittsburgh — things may not be as they seem. There is often a “bathroom” in the basement of older homes, usually referred to as a “Pittsburgh potty.” This is a toilet, and possibly a shower, situated in a corner of the basement without being closed off. The Pittsburgh potty won’t be listed in the real estate section, but if you want a second bathroom (and some privacy), all you’ll have to do is build some walls.

Now that you’ve uncovered some of the hidden, unique, and just plain cool features of older Pittsburgh homes, you should be prepared to do some local house hunting — especially if your room draw number leaves something to be desired.