If you like the idea of living where you have space and privacy without having to worry about encroaching development, then Madison County may be the perfect place for you to find a new home. Madison County residents love its beautiful scenery and rural lifestyle and are committed to keeping it in this unspoiled state free of big box stores.
Once part of Culpeper County, Madison became its own entity in 1792 when it was created by an act of the General Assembly. It was named for the Madison family who owned property along the Rapidan River, of which James Madison, our fourth president who helped draft the US Constitution and author the Bill of Rights, is a descendent. Montpelier, his estate in nearby Orange County, continues to be a major tourist attraction today.
Madison has much to offer, including gorgeous mountain views and a host of outdoor activities to attract campers, hikers, hunters, and fishing enthusiasts. Graves Mountain Lodge, known for its rustic cabins and generous family style meals, is in Madison as is Old Rag Mountain, a popular destination for hikers and climbers. The county’s comprehensive plan that limits sewer facilities means large commercial developments are unlikely any time in the near future. At the same time, however, the county does encourage smaller businesses such as its thriving tourist industry.
The real estate market in Madison is doing well, and is finally recovering from the downturn of the last few years. While retirees (and people planning for retirement) often purchase property there, it is also a popular spot for people from DC and other nearby urban areas who want a quiet, private place to go on weekends as well as for those who choose to settle there and commute to jobs in cities such as Charlottesville, Culpeper and Fredericksburg.
Every location has its own special appeal. Madison is “very rural,” said Christiane Lindsay with Montague Miller & Co. It has great farmland and wonderful views. If you live in the east end of the county you can enjoy the panoramic views at a distance, she explained, while those in the western end of the county can “live in the views.”
People enjoy Madison’s private and rural atmosphere, which is close enough to urban centers to be a convenient weekend getaway while not too remote to easily access modern conveniences. “You can be back in the hills, but in short order be in Charlottesville or even DC,” Lindsay continued. “It’s truly a country retreat,” but, she added that those who want to get out quickly and find good restaurants, theatres or shopping in town can do so.
There are also good places to eat without leaving the area such as the nearby Willow Grove Inn which, Lindsay says, “is as good as it gets.” It has a great restaurant and she explained she is “thrilled” to be able to show it off to visiting friends and real estate clients. A variety of local B & Bs are good stopping points for those passing through or those who want to enjoy Madison’s natural beauty or many activities. They also are convenient for county residents who need a comfortable place to put up guests when they come for a visit.
Tomarie Boyd, with Re/Max Crossroads in Culpeper, described the Madison lifestyle in glowing terms, pointing out that the county is not only lovely it is also “very laid back compared to Culpeper or Spotsylvania. It’s just a less hectic way of life,” she said, explaining that once people settle in Madison “they never want to move anywhere else. There isn’t a lot of turnover there,” she added.
Boyd also explained that many people don’t like the kind of restrictions they face when they buy a home in a subdivision. Madison doesn’t have a lot of subdivisions and people appreciate that they can purchase a rural property and paint their house any color they choose. At the same time, it’s close enough to urban areas that they can still easily commute to town for work, she added.
There is a long tradition of people moving to Madison to get away from the stress of urban life. Herbert Hoover, our nation’s 31st President, made Madison County his getaway place after he purchased land for a summer home, which he later called Rapidan Camp. Today it is sometimes referred to as the “first Camp David” or Camp Hoover. During Hoover’s time, many people also referred to his retreat as the “Brown House,” to distinguish it from his main residence in DC.
Today Rapidan Camp lies within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. As the first ever presidential retreat, it consists of 13 buildings that have been restored to look like they did when Hoover used to vacation there during his time in office.
Madison’s Real Estate Market
Local agents are very positive about Madison’s real estate market.
“The market is definitely picking up,” Lindsay said, adding that they were seeing sales across all of the different price ranges. Her office is having what she described as a “great year,” already having exceeded their goals for where they expected to be at this point. “We are definitely ahead of the game,” she said.
Bill Gentry, owner and principal broker with Jefferson Land and Realty said, “we are seeing slow incremental improvement in the market.” Last year he said that most of the sales were in homes selling for less than $250,000. Today they are seeing more sales in the $250,000 to $400,000 price range. “There are more of them on the market and they are selling within a fairly short time frame,” Gentry said of this higher price range.
Of course, he cautioned, this applies to properties that are priced correctly for the market, which may not reflect what a particular seller has invested in their home. For example, recently Gentry advised some sellers that they would be lucky to get as much as $219,000 for a lovely cottage on a few acres, in spite of the fact that their investment exceeded $270,000.
There is also some movement in the $400,000 to $900,000 price range, Gentry said. He recently sold a farm with a restored home on 80+ acres on what he described as an “idyllic” piece of property. He previewed it when it first went on the market and thought it was priced too high. Sometime later the owners reduced the price by $150,000, which was more in line with the market, and Gentry’s buyers didn’t hesitate to write a contract on it.
While the market is active, Gentry noted that today’s buyers are more cautious than they once were. Many people have concerns about income and job security, and may not make an offer on a home if it seems outside of their comfort level. This may be the case even if they qualify for a higher mortgage and the home is correctly priced.
Madison County Buyers
Who is moving to Madison County? While it is a popular place for retirees, they aren’t the only ones looking for homes there.
Gentry described some buyers who purchased a nice farm property twenty years ago at age 55. Today at age 75 they have no debt but can’t take care of the property anymore and don’t want such a large house. People like this have a lot of equity and frequently choose to downsize, but when they move, they stay within the county.
Other types of buyers are people coming in from out of the area looking for a place for a weekend retreat. Many have the intention of eventually making it their retirement home, Lindsay explained. She described one of her clients, a family from northern New Jersey. They are getting ready for what she called “the next step,” purchasing land on which to build a home in the near future.
Living in the country is a dream for many people that can be realized in Madison County. Gentry described a couple he worked with from northern Virginia. The husband retired from practicing law and they purchased a house in Madison that reminded them of one they rented when he was in law school.
Given the difference in prices, people can sell a home in northern Virginia and buy a farm in Madison and still put some of their sale proceeds in the bank. Lindsay’s clientele includes a couple approaching retirement who bought a horse farm where they were able to realize a long time dream of working with handicapped children, introducing them to horses and riding. This couple also loves breeding and raising dogs, a business that can be noisy and disruptive to neighbors. Their new horse farm in Madison County with plenty of acreage allows them to enjoy both of these activities without fear of bothering anyone else.
Madison is also appealing to younger people still in the work force. Lindsay described yet another family who lives in DC because both spouses like their jobs. However, they wanted a getaway place where they could bring their dog and a young child on weekends. They were willing to drive, but not too far. Madison County was the perfect location.
Madison also suits first time home buyers who have jobs in nearby towns, but want a country lifestyle. The continuing low interest rates mean they can find a country home to meet their needs, said Patti Lillard with Montague Miller & Co.
Many buyers who relocate to Madison do so for the privacy, but many also appreciate what Lillard refers to as the “rural lifestyle.” She described this as a lifestyle where everyone knows everyone else and if they so desire can choose to get involved in the community. This sense of belonging is a draw for many first timers and retirees alike.
Madison is Popular with Tourists
Tourism is the Madison County industry that has enjoyed the largest incremental growth, Gentry said. While visitors will find lots to do when they visit, these same activities are also popular amongst residents.
Over 33,000 acres within the boundaries of Madison are today part of Shenandoah National Park where hiking, climbing and camping are popular activities. Hunting and fishing enthusiasts will find many opportunities including streams with native trout, as well as several others stocked by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries between the months of October and May.
President Hoover was especially fond of fishing, describing it as an “opportunity for refreshment of one’s soul and clarification of one’s thoughts by solitude.”
Visitors to Madison can select from several B & Bs in the county and many also enjoy visiting the local wineries, which Gentry said are all doing very well. In addition to tours and wine tastings, they offer scenic locations for parties or special events such as weddings.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author. She lives near Charlottesville.