Is a second home on your horizon? Maybe you’d like a nice cottage on a lake or a riverfront property where you can go to get away from it all on weekends and holidays? Or perhaps you are planning for a retirement lifestyle that includes gorgeous vistas, boating, fishing and water skiing. Better yet it might be time for a more vacation-like lifestyle year round.
Fortunately in our area there are many scenic waterfront communities and in today’s real estate market one of them will have a home that is affordable and right for you.
Before you look, however, make a list of what you want most. For some people just being on or near the water is enough. Rick Walden, REALTOR® and owner of Virginia Estates, Inc., describes living on water as “soothing.” He learned to love water as a child because he grew up in a subdivision that was in walking distance of a swamp and bird sanctuary. He also loves the sight of sunlight reflected on water. Today he lives in a home surrounded by ponds that he put in himself after he relocated and discovered how much he missed the water.
What do you enjoy most about living on water? Maybe it’s long lazy days fishing from your own dock? Or do you prefer the challenges of trout fishing? If so, then a home in the mountains near a trout stream will appeal more than lakefront. If you are the social type who enjoys community activities you will want a very different piece of property from someone who craves privacy. Do you enjoy swimming and boating? If so, is it enough to have access to beaches and a marina? Or do you want to have your own private dock where you can swim, launch a boat or just enjoy the sunset reflected in the water?
All of these different kinds of waterfront amenities are available in our area and, thanks to our current real estate market, you will also find prices that were unheard of just a few years ago. So if you didn’t find what you wanted back then, take another look. In addition to favorable prices, interest rates are the lowest they’ve been in over 60 years, which means it’s a great time to lock in affordable monthly payments on your vacation, retirement or year-round waterfront home.
The Many Variations of Waterfront
If you are someone who enjoys a private, rural lifestyle, riverfront property may be the perfect choice, especially if you want to build your own house. Finding property that actually fronts on the water may be a bit of a challenge since many rivers have roads and railroads running along side of them. In addition, although mortgage money is available,Walden, who specializes in rural property, explained it is always more difficult to find financing for raw land. Currently he has some large parcels for sale which front directly on the Rockfish River, but most of his buyers, he said, pay cash. Prices start at around $300,000.
If you want a more developed place to live, there are several lake communities within reasonable commuting distance of Charlottesville including Lake Louisa, Lake Monticello, and Lake Anna, all of which offer values appealing to first timers, people seeking a weekend get away, or those looking for something more luxurious.
Lake Louisa is surrounded by a gated community called Blue Ridge Shores. This family-oriented neighborhood has some properties directly on the water, and many others that are within easy walking distance. For those who don’t live right on the water, there are three beach areas for swimming. Boatslips are available for rent at the marina for those who need them. Residents can also use the community center as well as enjoy the tennis and basketball courts or take a leisurely stroll on the walking trails.
Lake Louisa offers fishing, boating, water skiing and white boarding, but jet skis are prohibited. Libby Sandridge, a REALTOR® with Lake Anna Island Realty and a Lake Louisa property owner, has introduced many clients and customers to Lake Louisa’s waterfront lifestyle. She explained that Blue Ridge Shores banned jet skis because it is a small family-oriented community that has concerns about noise and dangers to children. There are also restrictions on boat size and horsepower.
Sandridge explained that properties right on the water at Lake Louisa are difficult to find, and when they do go on the market they don’t last long. Prices for these homes start at about $275,000. In addition, there are some terrific deals available on homes elsewhere in the subdivision, including some foreclosures that start as low as $100,000.
A little closer in to Charlottesville is Lake Monticello, also a gated community. While the lake is similar in size to Lake Louisa, the community itself is much larger with a great deal more to offer. In addition to water activities such as boating and fishing, it has an 18-hole golf course with a pro shop, five swimming beaches, a marina with boat slips for rent, a well-stocked fishing pond and a large swimming pool complex. In addition, on the perimeter of the community are many amenities such as restaurants, a day spa, medical services, a pharmacy and fitness centers.
When you live in a gated community like Lake Monticello, not only do you have to deal with the gates when you go in and out, but you have to remember to let the security guard know if you are expecting visitors. While many people appreciate this level of security, if you are someone who has lots of friends and relatives dropping by, or if you don’t have the patience for the gate, you have another option, according to Diane Miller, a REALTOR® with Century 21 Monticello Properties. Miller explained that there are sections of Lake Monticello that are outside the main gates. Residents of this area have the same privileges as those who live inside, but don’t have to contend with entry and exit through the security booth.
While Lake Monticello has properties that sell for over $1 million, in today’s market there are many good buys including at the low end. For example, Miller said there are foreclosure and short sale situations that have prices between $100,000 and $130,000. Don’t expect a garage at that price, she said, but some homes are available and offer a good opportunity for first timers or people looking for a second home. “We see a lot of buyers out here who have decided the Charlottesville market is too expensive,” she said. “Often they are surprised at how much more house their money will buy at Lake Monticello compared to in town.” Of course in addition to a good price, new owners also have access to all of the waterfront amenities.
While a little further from Charlottesville, Lake Anna is another popular place to find waterfront property. Created by Dominion Power over 30 years ago to provide a cooling source for the North Anna power plant, today it is a major recreational and waterfront center with both residential and commercial real estate opportunities. While the other two lakes have 300+ acres, Lake Anna is much larger with 13,000 acres, said Kate Elim, REALTOR® with Dockside Realty who is a Lake Anna specialist and resident.
The Lake Anna community is divided into two parts—one with 9,600 water acres and the other with 3,400 water acres. The larger, or public side, has commercial activity such as hotels, restaurants and the marina. The private side is quieter with no commercial activity. Swimmers may prefer this side because it serves as the cooling lagoon for Dominion Power and is a few degrees warmer. The two are separated by three dikes and you can’t get from one side to the other by water.
If you love boating, Lake Anna has many acres to explore and, according to Sandridge who also owns property on this lake, there are no restrictions on boat sizes or numbers. Unlike at Lake Louisa, jet skis are welcome. Fishing is also a highlight of the Lake Anna lifestyle and people come there from around the country for fishing tournaments.
Another major attraction of this area is the Lake Anna State Park, which offers hiking trails, a swimming beach, picnic facilities, camping, and cabin rental. Horseback riders and bikers are also welcome on some of the trails.
Over all there are approximately 120 different neighborhoods on 250 miles of shoreline that are part of Lake Anna. This kind of variety comes with many different price ranges. Lot prices range from $50,000 to $400,000 depending on whether you have your own private waterfront, a view of the lake, or just lake access.
As in the other communities, you will find some great values here, including short sales and foreclosures, some with frontage on the water. For example, Sandridge explained that homes that may have sold for $800,000 during the hot market will be selling for $650,000 to $700,000 today.
Why People Buy Virginia Waterfront Property
People buy waterfront in our area for a lot of reasons. If they are looking for a second home, a big one is convenience. All of these lake communiities are an easy commute from urban centers such as DC, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, making it easy to get away for a weekend, or for a nice vacation with minimal travel.
For many people, a second home is a way to diversify their investment portfolio by acquiring property when prices are low. This purchase can also be part of retirement planning. Walden said many of his buyers are within five years of retirement, and most are from out of town. Of the people who have purchased his parcels on the Rockfish River, only one is local, the rest come from places such as Tappahanock, Virginia Beach, and Maryland. One of his investors is from overseas and is quite young, but wants to purchase waterfront property now before it is all gone.
Whether or not they actually retire there, the purchase may be a good investment because waterfront property has good resale value, according to Walden. “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,” he said.
Consult a Waterfront Specialist
Waterfront properties require special knowledge and expertise. For this reason, when you are ready to buy, consult a REALTOR® who works regularly with waterfront and understands the benefits and potential pitfalls of purchasing this kind of property.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, editor and author of Sold on Me, Daily Inspiration for Real Estate Agents. She lives near Charlottesville.