By Ken Wilson –
“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm (after they’ve seen Paree)?” some people still say, but they’re just showing their age. Cities have their charm (and suburbs have their convenience), but they’ve never been places to see the stars and they’re no longer where all the action is. If the hippies picked up their Whole Earth Catalogs, dropped out and went back to the land to flee “square” society, their Gen X and Millennial grandkids (biological and spiritual), a revolution or two later, are bringing hip urban energy and enterprise to the Virginia countryside all around Charlottesville.
The country is cool again, or the country has always been cool for those cool enough to know it —take your pick, but look around. It’s pretty out here, and it’s quieter and cheaper, and the living is easy. “I like the privacy,” says Sharon Duke, REALTOR® with William A Cooke, LLC of her Louisa home. “I like having land around me. When I go home I like it to be kind of a sanctuary, I don’t like people just showing up at my door.”
Many of the people who come to her, Duke says, are looking to trade in city living for the same deal: “There are the people who just want to have that open space to look at, and there are the people who want to actually use those open spaces—to have livestock, to do farming—because that’s how they can afford it. They want the right to do whatever they want to with their land. I often have people calling that don’t want to have covenants and restrictions; they want to have room to do some gardening, to have some chickens or goats and have fresh eggs or make goat cheese, or something like that.”
Quite a few of her clients, Duke says, start cottage industries: “Some do woodworking, some save their seeds and sell them at farmer’s markets. Some are going the green route and doing turkeys. One of them wanted the country because they got started doing bees. I’m on the board for the Chamber of Commerce and we have quite a number of small cow farms.” Then there are the ever-ingenious crafts people who make adult beverages. “More and more cideries are coming out to the country, and we have plenty of wineries,” Duke adds. “And hops growers —there are two places I’m aware of in Louisa that are selling hops to the breweries.”
Marlo Allen, Associate Broker with Mountain Area Realty, grew up on 20 acres in Nellysford and sees the same thing happening in Nelson County. “This is my backyard so to speak,” she says. “I love it here. I have 18 acres on the Rockfish River. People are moving to Nelson County quite often from northern areas that have maybe higher taxes, more congestion, and more traffic. They’re coming here to get away from that.
“A lot of times people moving here are looking for a little quieter lifestyle, but still easy access to shopping and medical care and those types of things. I think one thing that we have going for us is we’re a half hour from Charlottesville, so you still have the culture and the arts and the shopping and whatever you may need as any easy commute. But you can come home to the peace and quiet, more acreage, more distance from your neighbors.
“I get people who are looking for a rural setting with views and quiet, maybe water. Just the other day I got a call from someone who was looking for a mini-farm, a place where you can raise a few chickens and grow your own vegetables.” Then there are the “enterprising” types, “who want to capitalize on the tourism industry that we have”: the breweries, wineries and cideries of Route 151—“Virginia’s Weekend Address”—for example, or the hiking, skiing and other year round attractions of Wintergreen Resort. “Whether it’s small businesses like B&B’s or raising gardens or just being able to raise their own food, they don’t get that opportunity on a small parcel in the city.”
Everyone knows the cost of living is lower in rural areas, and the cost of housing is too. From grand, historic estates to starter homes (especially for those who don’t mind living up close to the road), there is “a little bit of everything for everyone,” Allen says.
“Today I closed on a home that was just under $100,000. In mid-year 2017 our county median was $250,000, so we’re going to be hovering somewhere around that now. Last year our median was lower, so we are on the rise, but it’s still affordable. There are affordable options here for first-time homebuyers. Or if someone wants a big farm and wants to pay $800,000 or $900,000 for it they have that option too. There are plenty of people who are more interested in the land and the barn than they are in the house. The house is not that important to them—they spend all their time outdoors.
“Not everybody wants to do a commute to work,” Allen notes, “but for the people who do want to be out here it’s because they want more land, more privacy, and the serenity that this area offers. It’s truly about loving where you live.”