By Celeste M. Smucker–
There’s a reason why Charlottesville is prominent on so many “Best Of” lists like 50 Best College Towns, Top 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs, Top 100 Best Places to Live and many more. Those of us who live here know it’s an all-round great place to call home. So what to do if you love all that is Charlottesville, but also want to live close to or on a beautiful body of water?
If this describes you, ask your agent about Lake Monticello, a popular gated community in nearby Fluvanna County whose resort lifestyle is accessible to everyone from young, first-time buyers to families needing more space, and professionals, retirees and others who want an elegant waterfront property where they can dock their boat and enjoy the view.
Lake Monticello’s main attraction is the water, but residents also enjoy a world class golf course and plenty of other activities. Swimming, tennis and boating, are all big draws for families, young professionals, telecommuters and retirees many of whom also rave about two other features of lake living: the laid back atmosphere and the security that comes with being in a gated community.
The lake also attracts its share of second home buyers ready to relax on weekends far away from the day-to-day stress of their lives. It’s not uncommon, though, that once they experience the magic of being at the lake, they end up selling their other home to enjoy their relaxing lifestyle full time.
For those who have office jobs, Lake Monticello is a short commute to Charlottesville and even Richmond is easily accessible. And if you are a buyer that has been looking closer in, you will be thrilled about the home prices at the Lake that compare favorably to what are available in either Charlottesville or Albemarle.
Lake Monticello’s Real Estate Market
The third quarter market report from CAAR shows that Fluvanna County home sales are up 2.4 percent over last year, accompanied by a robust increase in pending sales of 32 percent. These results are reflected in the optimism expressed by agents who work the Lake Monticello market.
“The market is still very active in Lake Monticello,” said Patsy Strong, Principal Broker at Strong Team REALTORS®. “We have buyers calling and emailing every single day asking for homes, and they are looking for all types of homes,” she continued indicating the buyers want everything from homes suitable for first timers to luxury homes on the waterfront.
Strong expressed a concern, shared by many REALTORS®, that “inventory is extremely low right now.” And the good news is that there have been 206 homes sold year to date at Lake Monticello with another 40 homes pending a closing. “Last year, we saw 242 homes close in Lake Monticello, so we may very well beat that number this year,” she said.
“First time home buyers can do well [at Lake Monticello] with 15 active homes under $200,000 currently, between $129,000 and $200,000,” said Vicki Wilson, Principal Broker at Monticello Country REALTORS®. The lowest price home to sell this year actually went for $77,500, she explained, adding that it sold “as is,” and needed work.
There are currently 65 homes for sale at the Lake in price ranges from $150,000 to $1 million said Diane Miller, Associate Broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Company. She suggested that while 65 might seem like a lot of options, any given buyer’s choices are restricted to a narrow price range based on what they can afford and what is suitable for their family. She echoed the concern that inventory is limited making for buyer frustration and putting pressure on prices that are “inching up.”
New construction is an option for some buyers not finding what they want in the resale market. “There is building going on at Lake Monticello,” Miller continued, stating that in some cases builders already owned the lots and are now ready to start building while others are scouting out what is on the market.
“There are a handful of waterfront lots available,” Wilson related. “They range from $90,000-$374,000,” depending on how much water access or frontage they come with and how remarkable the view. She stressed the importance of working with “a seasoned, experienced agent that has new construction experience,” when building your Lake Monticello home.
Why Lake Monticello
Lake Monticello was originally the brain child of some developers who, back in the 1960s, saw a piece of forested property and envisioned a lake surrounded by homes. The project got off the ground, and soon the Home Owners Association (HOA) took over the community’s management. By the early 1980s, Lake Monticello had become a modest 400 lot subdivision.
The original lake with just 35 to 40 feet of water, got a big boost from torrential rains that came with Hurricane Camille in 1969 that in turn weakened a nearby dam and caused an influx of water from another lake. Today the 350-acre lake has 22.5 miles of shoreline surrounded by 4,200 homes and a large cross section of people lucky enough to enjoy a year-round vacation lifestyle.
All Lake Monticello residents enjoy essential services provided by the HOA—of which they must be members—and must pay annual dues to cover amenities such as common ground maintenance, trash pickup and snow removal. Fees also cover the security gate and a full-time police force.
“The Lake Monticello Homeowners Association continues to make nice improvements here, which are attracting new buyers from all over the country. Who doesn’t want to live in a Community where neighbors wave to neighbors and every day feels like a vacation?” Strong concluded, adding that “Lake Monticello has had a phenomenal year with new dining facilities constructed and opened, plus planning set for a new pool complex! The golf course has never looked better, and the summer saw lots of residents enjoying swimming and boating activities!”
In the event of a fire or medical emergency, a fire and rescue squad stands ready to help just outside the gate, and they and the police are quick to respond regardless of the weather. Wilson had an emergency at her home one winter evening that prompted a call to the rescue squad. Help was there within five minutes even though many local roads were closed due to snow.
Affordability is a big draw for people who start their home search in Charlottesville. Maggie Gunnels, with the Lake Monticello office of Long & Foster, once lived in a “70s rancher” in town. Now she lives in a much nicer home at the Lake where she estimates buyers can enjoy as much as two times the square footage for the money compared to what is available closer in.
Recent price increases have also added some nice equity to people’s homes. Gunnels described a 1,300 square foot rancher that a year ago would have sold for under $130,000 and today would be listed in the $150,000 to $160,000 range.
The quality of the Fluvanna County schools is an important consideration for families with children who appreciate the variety of student programs available and, the District reports, a high level of parental involvement. When it comes to college, seniors in the Class of 2017 received an impressive $896,136 in scholarship money.
Many learn about Lake Monticello when they enter the second home market. Often, though, after they experience life on the water they choose to move there permanently.
“I have sold several homes in the past couple of years, where buyers have bought a second home with plans of retiring in the future. Most of them have taken an early retirement and moved here permanently,” Wilson said. “They fall in love with the lake and the ‘vacation at home’ feeling, so they move sooner rather than later.”
In some cases second home owners bring work to their weekend home and after they realize they have access to essential high speed internet service and can also enjoy the beautiful views, or walk around the Lake when they are ready to take a break from the job, decide to sell their other house and work at the Lake full time.
“I have seen it over and over again,” Strong said. “Buyers purchase a waterfront home for weekend use, then they start extending their weekends and working there on Fridays and Mondays. Eventually I run into them in the store in the middle of the week and they confide that they have made the move to the water permanent.” She added that they always have a big smile on their faces when they explain why they made the move.
Lake Monticello Buyers
Back in the 1980s, the original Lake Monticello developers looked for buyers in New York and other northern cities explained Keith Smith with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. At that time, he and his wife Yonna, also an agent, traveled down from New York City in response to an ad offering to pay visitors $150 to come experience Lake Monticello. Like many others, they fell in love with the area and the lake, bought a lot and relocated.
Although they soon realized they had paid too much for the lot, they urged Smith’s father to join them in their new lifestyle. He in turn invited some of his friends who also settled at the lake after seeing the beauty of an area that was such a pleasant contrast to life in the City.
The trend of lake residents encouraging family and friends to join them continues today. “One of the most interesting things we see is people who move here and enjoy it so much they end up getting family members and friends to join them…it says a lot about the quality of life at Lake Monticello that people would move here, and then convince friends and family to do the same,” Strong said.
Today buyers still come to Lake Monticello from the northeast and from Northern Virginia, Wilson explained. They come for the “low home and land prices, the proximity to Charlottesville and Richmond and the community activities and involvement. Many of my clients get involved in the volunteer opportunities within Lake Monticello and Fluvanna County once they are here,” she said.
Essentials Close at Hand
In Lake Monticello’s early days, residents drove to Charlottesville for everything from groceries to medical, dental and vet care and even gas. Today essential services such as medical facilities, dentists, attorneys, veterinary care, a pharmacy, a grocery store and restaurants are all nearby and at Zion Crossroads Lowes and Walmart are popular places to shop. In addition, residents can now jump on the interstate and head west to shop at Wegmans and other great stores, enjoy a nice lunch and even take in a film, all at the new 5th Street Station.
If you love the idea of living at Lake Monticello, now is the time. The market is rebounding strongly, but prices are still reasonable and interest rates remain historically low, which means many great deals.
But don’t wait. Agents are reporting inventory shortages and price increases, all of which will make this vacation lifestyle increasingly inaccessible as time goes by.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.