Madison County: Close-In Living With a Host of Amenities

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Madison County: Close-In Living With a Host of Amenities

By Celeste M. Smucker –

Madison County is acclaimed for its beautiful scenery and multitude of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and fishing. It appeals to homebuyers who want an amenity-rich, rural lifestyle and those who value privacy at a reasonable cost. Easy access to the employment, shopping, educational, recreational and cultural benefits of Charlottesville is yet another aspect of Madison life that residents appreciate.

The county’s comprehensive plan limits sewer facilities and keeps development minimal.  Residents never have to worry they will wake up one morning and find themselves living next door to a subdivision or a big box store, and can be confident their valued rural lifestyle will persist well into the future.

Home prices in the county are rising and inventory is limited like elsewhere in our region. First time buyers can still find a home there, but they must be prepared to act quickly.  Pre-retirees buying a vacation place or retirees ready to relax and enjoy the scenery will also discover an option to suit them whether it is a resale property or a brand new home.

Madison’s Laid-Back Lifestyle
The Madison County lifestyle has been popular for hundreds of years.  Founded in 1792, the county  was named in honor of a Madison family that owned property along the Rapidan River. Members of that  family were forebears of President James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, who settled with his wife Dolley in nearby Orange County.

Many of the REALTORS® who work the Madison market, have roots that run deep there, and for them there is nowhere else to live. 

A good example is Carl Broyles with Montague Miller & Co. whose grandfather ran the Old Rag Mountain Post Office before that area was part of the National Park. “I grew up here and I will never leave,” Broyles said.

He described the beauty of the open farm land and the mountain views that draw people from all over as well as Madison’s many outdoor activities. “You don’t have to leave the County for recreation,” Broyles said.

Mountain views are often what buyers say they want most when they first meet with their REALTOR® said Montague Miller’s Patti Lillard, another Madison native. What they may not realize until they move in is that the county has much more than that to offer. 

For Lillard, Madison’s relaxed, rural lifestyle is a “sweet spot in its own world with green spaces and easy living.” It is also a place where everyone knows their neighbors, she explained, calling it “a little piece of heaven,” with plenty of opportunities for involvement in community activities for those who want to take advantage of them.

The local schools are at the center of many activities that make life in Madison special.  In March of this year, the high school’s Forensics team competed against schools from all across Virginia to qualify for the national tournament held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  The Madison team finished first in the state and three of the students qualified for the Nationals.

Recently, too, the middle school received a $5,000 Environmental Education mini-grant from the  Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District. Participating students are looking forward to a three-day, two-night environmental education opportunity this summer.

Julie Holbrook, with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., has been a Madison County resident for nearly 30 years.  She described a high level of parental involvement in the county’s schools noting that plenty of other Madison residents support them as well when they come out and cheer for the home team at local sporting events.

For John Ince, Associate Broker with Nest Realty, Madison County became one of his favorite places when his parents retired there in 1980.  He added that he and his four sisters “grew fonder and fonder of the area with each family reunion.”

The County has “several faces that appeal to nearly every personality,” Ince continued. “From the high reaches of the Blue Ridge with challenging hikes like Old Rag and White Oak Canyon to the genteel plantations of Somerset and Locust Dale, there really is something for everyone.”

Homebuyers and visitors also appreciate Madison’s easy access to public lands in the Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest.  Both are within easy reach of Charlottesville and the DC area, Ince explained.

Or they can visit the town of Madison, which he describes as “an unspoiled slice of Americana where you’ll find a Main Street with antebellum store fronts and one of the handsomest court houses in Virginia.”

Madison is also a great place for horse property and horse lovers and is known for “some of the best trail riding in the country with hundreds of miles of well maintained horse trails throughout the National park system,” Ince observed.

If you dream of a home with lots of privacy, Madison County has just what you need. The smallest lot size is three acres, and you get plenty of “elbow room” for the money plus great views and a nice community, said Madison resident Bill Gentry with Jefferson Land and Realty.

Madison’s proximity to DC is another benefit, Gentry explained, saying that he enjoys going to events at the Kennedy Center. “You can be there in just an hour and a half, get your culture and be back in a day,” he quipped. 

Herbert Hoover, our 31st President, was one of Madison’s most famous residents. The land he purchased there for a summer home was called Rapidan Camp while today it is sometimes referred to as the “first Camp David” or Camp Hoover.  During Hoover’s time, people often called it the “Brown House,” to distinguish it from his main residence in DC.

Hoover was an avid fisherman and no doubt would have enjoyed an annual Madison-based fundraiser that capitalizes on its renowned trout streams.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is an organization with a mission “to assist in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.”  The tournament features fly fishing teams from around the country made up of a veteran and a professional guide.

Madison’s Real Estate Market
In 2017, 104 homes sold in Madison, a big reduction from the previous year that saw an unusually high number of sales at 141, explained Adam Beroza with Cheri Woodard Realty in Sperryville. He described 2017’s 104 sales as “about average.”  Interestingly, the biggest decline was in homes priced under $250 thousand and that may reflect an inventory shortage as much as a lack of demand for homes in this price range.

The current inventory of homes for sale in Madison is just 61, which is low compared to years past when over 100 was more typical, Lillard said.  She added that this translates into a limited number of listings within each price range not leaving buyers a lot to choose from, especially at the low end. Lillard also expressed concern about the lack of homes on one level that appeal to retirees. 

She described the under $250 thousand market as especially competitive, perhaps explaining why she is seeing fewer first time buyers lately. She urges first timers to get pre-qualified and be prepared to jump quickly when they find a home they like.

Home building is happening in Madison, she said, more so than last year.  Builders are not putting up a lot of spec homes, but the occasional ones that go on the market sell quickly.  She has also observed builders advertising homes to be built on local lots. 

There is good news at the high end of the market where sales are up. Last year saw three transactions at the over $1 million price point, Beroza reports compared to just one the year before. 

Lillard described a recent sale of a home priced at $1.2 million that went under contract in less than two weeks.  These days she works with more clients buying homes in higher price ranges than in years past.

In an interesting trend on the seller side of the market, Lillard has observed what she believes may be an increase in the number of elderly people selling their homes to move in with children or relocate to Florida or to some other type of living arrangement.  If this is indeed a trend it may mean more homes on the market for all the eager Madison-area buyers.

Madison Homebuyers
Madison agents see clients from Fredericksburg, Richmond and Tidewater, as well as New England, Chicago and the west coast.  However, the two most popular places to relocate from are Northern Virginia and DC. Some move in and commute to jobs, while others telecommute during some or all of the week.  For still others their Madison property is a second home.

Madison attracts buyers from the DC area, Ince explained, because the drive to the northern parts of the county, like Etlan, Syria or Nethers, is just over an hour.  This makes it convenient for people who want a place they can get to quickly on weekends to decompress from the stress of their jobs and city life.

Some buy in Madison and commute to Charlottesville or Fredericksburg, Beroza said, describing a recent client who moved there to have more space and a place where he could keep farm animals.  He makes the commute to his job in Fredericksburg every day.

Many pre-retirees choose Madison as well.  Typical of this group, Beroza noted, are the buyers who sell the family home, purchase a condo in the city and now spend four days a week at their country place with plans to eventually retire there. 

He sees a lot of second home buyers in the areas west of Route 29 where the views are especially  spectacular. Some want just a cabin for weekend and vacation use, while others buy something more substantial as part of their transition to retirement.

Lillard noted that some buyers in the pre-retirement group look for what she describes as a “farmette,”  a country property with acreage that may be a second home until retirement when the buyers expect to move to Madison permanently. 

And then there are farm buyers, often in their mid to late 40s, who may be two income families or doing well in their business, Gentry said.  Farm buyers may also be part of  a “movement to self sufficiency,” Lillard added. These may include families with children who want out of the city and to live where they can have horses, cows or goats.    

If beautiful views, privacy and a country lifestyle are what you want, talk to your agent about Madison County.  Then get pre-qualified and be prepared to act quickly to take advantage of interest rates that are still relatively low and prices that remain reasonable. After you move in, you can relax and rest assured that your property will remain rural and free of development for a long time to come.


Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.

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