Buy a Waterfront Property for a Year Round Vacation
What draws us to the water? For some it is a reminder of childhood when they lived near a lake or enjoyed vacationing at the beach. For others it is a source of fun, whether that means boating, water skiing, swimming or just relaxing on a long pier. Still others like the feeling of tranquility they experience when looking out on a lake, a river or a pond.
Whatever your reasons, if you are looking for waterfront property in our area, you have many options. The gated community of Lake Monticello is nearby and offers a range of different property styles and prices, some on the water, the rest with easy water access. A little further away are Lake Louisa, surrounded by the gated community of Blue Ridge Shores, and Lake Anna, a popular spot for weekenders, but growing in popularity among people looking for a community where they can live year around.
River property has its own special appeal and may be for those wanting a more rustic location, away from subdivisions. It is more difficult to find, but there are options in our area for those who seek this type of waterfront.
The demand for water property is strong, and agents who specialize in this area enjoyed a good year last year and anticipate more of the same this year. If you are in the market for waterfront property now is the time to look while interest rates are still low, and prices still reasonable.
Why People Like Water
One of many reasons people choose to live on or near water is that at the end of the day, it offers an escape from the stress of work. Vicki Wilson, Principal Broker/Owner of Monticello Country Realtors, summarizes this with one of her company’s favorite sayings about waterfront life: “Vacation at home year round.”
Like a lot of people who seek water front property, Wilson grew up on a lake in the Midwest. It was cold there in the winter, cold enough to ice skate on the lake, not an experience that is available at Lake Monticello where she lives today and has her business.
Rick Walden, with Virginia Estates, Inc., grew up in a subdivision that was walking distance from a swamp and a bird sanctuary. As a result he learned to love water early on and describes it as “soothing.” He lives today surrounded by ponds that he put in himself after he moved and discovered how much he missed being near water.
Of course people are also drawn to water because they like activities like boating, swimming, fishing or water skiing.
The Waterfront Market
Waterfront and water access properties are doing well. Wilson described the inventory at Lake Monticello as “very low.” Of the homes on the market in her area, quite a few are under $200,000 which makes them good options for first time buyers and people looking for a second home, she explained.
Walden specializes in rural properties, many of which front rivers and streams. Regarding the market he said, “I have sold more this winter than the last two years combined.” He currently has a 2,000-acre listing on the Rappahannock River, which is also a highly productive farm. A number of environmental groups have expressed interest in this property with the intent of putting it into a conservation easement. Part of its appeal is its uniqueness. “There are not many properties that size on the water,” Walden said. The farm comes complete with a sense of history exemplified by the manager who lives on site and whose family has managed this acreage for four generations.
Lake Anna is another very popular waterfront community for people seeking either a second home or a permanent place to live year round. The market there improved greatly last year, according to Barbara Robison with Lake Anna Realty who added that it “continues to improve.” She has just written three contracts on Lake Anna homes helped along, she said, by the continuing low interest rates.
Libby Sandridge with Dockside Realty agrees, saying that the market is “definitely picking up.” She explained that 2013 was better than 2012 and she already has had a great first quarter in 2014. “The market finally leveled out,” she said and “the only way to go is up.” She has several Lake Anna lots under contract.
Sandridge also works at the smaller Lake Louisa, surrounded by the gated community of Blue Ridge Shores. There “homes are moving,” she said, “even the ones that are off water. We’re seeing lots of buyers and sellers in the market now,” she continued.
Toni McQuair with Long and Foster Realtors, a Lake Anna specialist, agrees stating that “last year was a terrific market.” She experienced a bit of a slow down this year due to the winter weather but now its “full speed ahead.“ She added that she is “looking forward to another good year in 2014.”
Who is Moving to the Water?
Lots of people who buy water properties are second homebuyers, McQuair said. Many are from Northern Virginia and Maryland, “but we also get a few from Richmond.” Some of the buyers are retirees or people close to retirement who are purchasing a second home where they intend to settle permanently later. For the most part they are people who can drive there in less than two hours, making it easy to get away for the weekend.
“There has been a real demographic shift in the last ten years,” McQuair said, explaining that today there are many more permanent residents in the area than there once were. It helps that there are now essential services nearby such as a Food Lion, a Dollar General, several new restaurants, a veterinarian, an attorney and a liquor store. These commercial services make it easier for people who want to settle there full time.
Robison estimates that about 50 percent of Lake Anna residents are full time today, the rest are weekenders. She just sold a property to some clients from Illinois who moved nearby for jobs and wanted a place to de-stress at the end of the work week.
Others prefer to make the lake their full time residence. Robison has noticed that people who move there while they are still in the labor force often choose lake access properties rather than water front. When they are ready to retire they sell that home and purchase a waterfront property in the same community. People like the protections of living in a subdivision, she said, but appreciate that Lake Anna is still “not as strict” as some others giving it what she called “a rural feeling” in an area which is just 90 minutes from DC.
Many people who settle in Virginia waterfront properties are from up north and like to experience four seasons, but still want to escape the harsh winters, Sandridge explained. She has worked with a variety of different buyers from nearby areas, but also from New York and New Jersey. While some are retirees, “we’re seeing more people with young children buying homes in Lake Anna,” she said.
Lake Anna has two sections, a public side with all of the commercial enterprises such as restaurants and marinas, and a private side which is all residential. Most buyers have a strong preference for one or the other, Sandridge said.
Sandridge has sold property at both Lake Anna and Blue Ridge Shores. The latter is much smaller and quieter. It is also much closer to Charlottesville for people who want to commute there to work. “Often people move there because it is familiar, or because they know some of the other residents or grew up knowing someone there,” Sandridge said. It is a small family community where boating is allowed, but where jet skis are prohibited.
Of the three lakes, Lake Monticello is the closest to Charlottesville. It also attracts a lot of second home buyers and people intending to retire and live there permanently eventually. There are many “programs and amenities for retirees,” Wilson said, including clubs and volunteer opportunities. Families also like Lake Monticello, which has beaches, boating and water skiing, and there is a new high school in the area that was ranked in the top 10 percent of all public high schools in the US and DC in 2013.
Investors also like waterfront property because of its popularity, which gives it great resale value. Sandridge, who has investment property at both Lake Anna and Lake Louisa, believes that the former may have more potential for appreciation.
Walden also mentioned the investment value of waterfront property saying, “When people call, inevitably 80 to 90 percent want privacy, mountain views and water. When waterfront property is available people are willing to pay more for it.” One of his investors lives overseas and is not intending to relocate any time soon. However he contacted Walden because he wants to purchase waterfront property now before it is all gone.
Waterfront is also a good investment for those who want to get into the rental business. Consult your REALTOR® for advice on the best places to buy investment properties and for professional assistance with finding good renters. For example, McQuair said Long and Foster has a rental office to handle the large volume of customers, most of who rent by the week.
The Riverfront Lifestyle
If you are someone who wants a more rural setting, a riverfront property may have more appeal than one on the lakes where everything is more developed.
Walden has seen a lot of interest in his rural properties lately. He recently sold three of five parcels that are part of a 300-acre plot in Nelson County on two miles of riverfront. The buyers (who were looking for both views and water) included someone from the local area and a professional now living in Virginia Beach.
If you like the idea of riverfront, consult a REALTOR® who is knowledgeable about this kind of property. For example, Peter Lee with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., explained that people looking at property on the north side of the James River would find they have to cross a railroad track to get to the water. In early days there was a towpath on this side of the river used to help move barges carrying goods down to Richmond. Eventually a track was built on the same tow path.
Riverfront property may also come with flat or bottom land where building is prohibited due to flooding potential. Lee described one such listing he had which eventually sold to horse lovers who liked the flat area for riding. However someone with dreams of a home right on the riverfront would have been disappointed to learn they had to move back a ways to get a building permit.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author. She lives near Charlottesville