By LINDA MOSS
A Clifton real estate investor is looking to turn a Montclair house, once owned by Russian spies, from an eyesore into a showcase, planning to invest more than $200,000 in renovations and flip it for about $700,000.
“I think it’s going to be a good project,” said Jeremy MacDonald, one of the owners of North N.J. House Buyers LLC. “Montclair is a very nice area, especially this street in Upper Montclair, is a dynamite area. And I think everybody’s on our side to get this house back to where it belongs — a nice, renovated move-in home.”
MacDonald is one of the owners of North N.J. House Buyers LLC, which bought the property at 31 Marquette Road in June for $340,000 in cash, far below its list price of $433,900.
MacDonald said he has already applied to the township for building permits to start updating and adding a small addition to the two-story colonial, which is in the upper part of Montclair not far from Route 3. He expects to have the work done and the house back on the market in three to four months.
The colonial made news in June 2010 when it was raided by the FBI and its owners, a couple known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy, was arrested as part of a roundup of Russian spies that spanned several states. A shocked Montclair, and the rest of the nation, were to learn that the husband’s and wife’s real names were Vladimir and Lydia Guryev, and their quiet suburban life was a cover for their espionage activities.
The eyebrow-raising news about the Russians embedded and hiding in plain site in suburbia is said to have inspired the award-winning FX show “The Americans.”
MacDonald said he doesn’t think the history of the house, built in 1950, will deter anyone from buying it.
“I don’t think it’s either good or bad,” he said. “What we really liked about this one [house] is it’s the worst house on a very nice block … That fits the business model of any developer or real estate investor. That’s where you can do well.”
In the top-to-bottom renovation, MacDonald said he will replace the house’s siding, roof, heating/cooling system and plumbing; remodel the kitchen and bathrooms; refinish the basement; and build an addition above the home’s rear family room, adding 200 square feet. That addition will house a master-suite bedroom, with a walk-in closet and its own bathroom. He said he will not need any zoning variances to do the work, since he is not increasing the house’s footprint.
His company has retained a landscaper to maintain the house’s grounds, which will also be redone as part of the renovation work, MacDonald said.
“From doing our research, we know the neighbors aren’t happy with this house, and I’m sure they’re going to be happy once it’s renovated and it’s fit back in … because it’s the eyesore of the community,” he said.
He first eyed the property when it came on the market in 2013, after being seized from the Guryevs by U.S. Marshalls. MacDonald said he wasn’t even aware that it was the former Russian spy house back then, and was not able to go forward with the purchase because the property’s title wasn’t clear.
Flash forward to this year, when a real estate broker that MacDonald said he often works with, Renee Daniels of Keller Williams Village Square, told him about the house and informed him of its history.
“She gets us a lot of houses in the area,” he said. “And this happened to be one of them that popped up on the market again. So it was on the market, off the market, and came back on the market.”
The seller this year was Santander Bank N.A., which had foreclosed on the property. But this time around, the house’s title was clear and MacDonald’s company bought it for cash, as it often does when it is investing in real estate.
“We usually pay cash,” he said. “We have private investors that we work with that have lent us money. And we use our own cash. We probably do close to a dozen homes a year.”
North N.J. House Buyers acquires and restores homes in Essex County, MacDonald said. Right now it also has another property in Montclair, at 112 Lincoln Street.
In 2015 the Marquette Road house was assessed at $437,700, with $15,433 in local property taxes, according to Garden State MLS.