By Celeste M. Smucker –
Mountain views, gorgeous lakes, and year-round vacation lifestyles all draw people to our area whether for jobs, retirement, or just get away from urban life. Some pass through on their way elsewhere, others come for specific events like the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival or the Montpelier Races.
Still others come to sample local wines or enjoy the growing number of breweries, cideries and distilleries or they arrive after they read about how high our area ranks on different measures of lifestyle quality. The list is long and appeals to people on the lookout for the best of the best, including second home buyers who want a nice place to enjoy weekends and vacations.
Nationally the sale of vacation homes was down in 2016, but agents report that is not the case here. Investors are also active in our area including a growing number of vacation buyers with plans to offset their mortgage payments by renting their property on a short term basis when they aren’t able to enjoy it themselves.
If you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside after a stressful week or need a beautiful place to spend the warmer months before returning to Florida when cold weather arrives, you can find it here whether it is a rustic cabin in the woods, rural acreage, a condo in the mountains or a waterfront home with its own dock.
While inventories of most local properties are down, price increases, for the most part, have been modest, which means there are still many good deals available for buyers who act quickly. This, plus continuing low interest rates, means second home buyers can find the perfect getaway and still enjoy low monthly payments.
Year Around Attractions Draw Mountaintop Buyers
If you love spectacular views and look forward to outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, snowboarding, tennis and golf, you’ll find all of that and more at local mountaintop resort communities.
“Wintergreen is booming the last six months,” said Francesca San Giorgio, Broker with Four Seasons Realty in Nelson County. In spite of this there is still plenty of inventory and it’s a good time to be a buyer. San Giorgio has been very busy since January working with several buyers a day, many of whom are second home buyers.
“There have been sixty homes sold and closed on the mountain at Wintergreen in the last six months,” said Brian Chase with Wintergreen Resort Premier Properties. The median price was $189,000 and the price range huge, from $40,000 to the mid-$600,000s. Since 85 percent of Wintergreen property owners are second home buyers, this activity is a good indication of the popularity of vacation homes.
Chase described Wintergreen as “amazing, one of the most special places on the east coast” that attracts buyers from nearby population centers within a four hour drive including the Carolinas, Northern Virginia and Maryland and Southwest Virginia.
In addition to being a gorgeous place with spectacular views, Wintergreen offers activities for all age groups from 5 and older and attracts families who can “share in the joy” of living and/or vacationing there.
San Giorgio described Wintergreen buyers as mostly forty and older, often young families with kids. While they start out being second home buyers, it is not uncommon for them to fall in love with the area and make this their primary home, she added. Often these are people who love the view and whose job allows them to work from home.
Amenity rich mountaintop living is also available at Massanutten in Rockingham County near Harrisonburg. Dave Cureton with Massanutten Realty was once someone who lived in northern Virginia and bought a home in the mountains to get away from it all on weekends and during vacations. Then 13 years ago, after falling in love with the area, he realized weekends and an occasional vacation visit weren’t enough and became a permanent resident.
Today as a full time REALTOR® with Massanutten Realty he is “busier than ever. March was good last year,” he continued, “but this year is even better.” He added that like many markets in our area there is a shortage of inventory. As of mid-April there had been 19 home sales and 17 under contract with just 29 active listings compared to 40 at the same time last year. Prices range from $121,900 to $399,900 in housing styles from contemporary to an old style log cabin.
Massanutten has a higher proportion of full time residents than does Wintergreen, but attracts a lot of second home buyers as well, including some that buy with the intent to make the property a full time rental. For vacation buyers, the Home Owners Association rules allow them to do short term rentals of their properties to other vacationers so long as they follow common-sense guidelines such as no noise after 10 p.m.
One source of vacation buyers is timeshares that Cureton explained bring “a steady stream of buyers to Massanutten.” He joked that timeshare people come year after year and then suddenly wake up and realize “oh, there are houses here.” That’s when they decide to become a property owner.
Waterfront Also Popular
Vacation buyers who love the water have options from large communities like Lake Anna to the east and Smith Mountain Lake to the west, to smaller, gated communities like Lake Monticello and Lake Louisa, east of Charlottesville.
Our area is a top pick for vacation buyers from Northern Virginia and DC expecting to retire in the next two to five years. Part of our popularity is the location just a few easily drivable hours from where they live. And of course they can enjoy golf, swimming, boating and fishing during the summer and skiing and snowboarding at Wintergreen or Massanutten when snow falls.
“At one time people looking for a vacation property wanted a small place in the country that was just adequate for weekend visits,” explained Tom Morace with Century 21 Monticello Properties. Today, though, many vacation buyers want higher end properties such as on Lake Monticello’s waterfront where they can live comfortably when they retire but retain the option of selling for a profit if they change their mind and decide to move.
Lake Anna is another popular spot for vacation buyers from Northern Virginia and Maryland as well as locations such as Richmond and Charlottesville and business is good.
“Currently the sales of homes at Lake Anna are exceeding those for the same time last year,” said Libby Sandridge with Dockside Realty. She added that “With interest rates rising many are deciding to get off the fence and purchase before they go much higher.” She described the Lake Anna market as “unbelievably exciting” with 44 homes sold since the beginning of 2017 and 39 currently under contract.
While Lake Anna is growing in popularity with telecommuters and those finding full time work in the area, it continues to be primarily a second home community. “Vacation rentals are booming, and vacationers are finding it harder and harder to find a rental,” she added. This popular lake community overlaps three counties increasing the complexity of real estate transactions there and Sandridge advises “it is important to receive advice from a local, experienced Lake Anna agent,” whether you are buying a primary residence or a vacation home.
For vacation home buyers who like waterfront but want the peace and quiet of a small, private lake plus the security of a gate, Blue Ridge Shores in Louisa County is a good choice. Sharon Duke with William A. Cooke, LLC described it as a place with lots of second homes, many of which have been purchased and remodeled to better suit the needs of current owners.
Second home buyers often choose to offset their mortgage payments by renting their properties on a short term basis. To protect their property they hire a local property manager to handle the paperwork, cleaning, and other complications of short term rentals such as setting the right price and finding qualified renters.
A good example is RSI Rentals, Inc at Smith Mountain Lake. Tammy Schiemann, RSI’s owner/broker, explained that their clients include people who purchased their home for vacations or in some cases as part of retirement planning. Some eventually do retire there, but in other cases “life happens” and they move one, she continued. Meanwhile, though, keeping the property rented when they are away helps pay the mortgage, and using a company like RSI helps assure the property is well cared for in the owner’s absence.
Schiemann’s clients are mostly from out of the area from as close as Northern Virginia, to as far away as Ohio and Florida. One customer comes all the way from Wyoming to enjoy vacationing in Virginia, renting to others the rest of the year.
Rural Acreage Still Popular
It’s not unusual to get calls from second home buyers who want a country retreat that comes with the privacy of 2 to 10 acres explained James Dickerson with Charlottesville Solutions. These buyers also recognize the long term investment value of rural acreage that is growing in popularity as inventory shortages of resale homes increase the demand for land for home building.
Christiane Gathright with the Amherst office of Montague Miller and Co. relocated from Madison to Buckingham County after her recent marriage. She is definitely seeing a demand for rural properties from people who want a place they can get to in less than a half a day’s drive.
Some want to live near the James River while others want a place where they can hunt and fish on their own land. This could be something rustic, such as a wooded property with a pond that she recently sold to a government employee with plans to retire there. Others come from Tidewater, Richmond and Maryland, including a recent transaction to a couple who wanted a place to relax and enjoy their ATV on their own property.
Second Home Finance
Mortgage money is available for second home buyers who qualify explained Julia Morris with Fulton Mortgage. She added that the same guidelines apply to vacation home buyers as are used for those purchasing their primary home. Short term vacation rentals are allowed under these guidelines, so long as the buyer meets certain IRS requirements, which are different if they fall into the category of investor. Consult your lender or accountant for more details
Morris has helped a variety of second home buyers recently including some who live in Charlottesville and purchase their getaway place as close by as Afton or Stanardsville.
If you have been dreaming about having your own weekend getaway, now is a great time to buy it before prices and interest rates rise and put it out of reach. Fortunately, one of our local agents and lenders can help you sort through the choices and find the home and the financing that is best for you.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville