By Celeste M. Smucker –
Is the stress of urban life taking its toll? Fighting traffic getting old? Do you yearn for a time when neighbors called to each other from their front porches and shared good news or were there for each other when times were tough? Or perhaps your family prefers the privacy you can only get from living on acreage, or needs more square footage than you can afford if you buy a home in Charlottesville or Albemarle, or maybe your friends and relatives love to visit but hate sleeping on a hide-a-bed in the living room.
If you share any of these frustrations and think a move is the answer, Orange County could be the perfect choice. In Orange your money can purchase a relaxed country lifestyle, plus more privacy and more house than are available closer in. And—thanks also to lower county taxes—you will have money left over each month to spend on a comfortable bed for your guests and a nice deck where you can all sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Orange is a predominantly rural county known for being one of Virginia’s top grape producers. However, it is also a place where job seekers find a surprising number of good-sized national companies such as cabinet component manufacturer American Woodmark, aerospace and defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, book publisher MPS, and Walmart. In addition, Green Applications, a textile printing and distribution company—expected to offer employment for 300 local residents in the Gordonsville area—is now open for business. Check their website for current job openings.
Home buyers may first notice Orange County’s many and varied amenities when they visit there as tourists, drawn to the quaint shops, excellent local restaurants and vineyards where wine tastings are a fun way to find new favorites.
History lovers come for guided tours through Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, and to visit the site of the popular Montpelier Races where both horses and Jack Russell terriers compete every first weekend of November. And those intrigued by the unusual and scary can also check out Gordonsville’s historic Exchange Hotel, where numerous paranormal sightings have been reported over the years.
Once they see what Orange County has to offer these same tourists may start looking for a REALTOR® and, when they find the perfect house or estate, breathe a sigh of relief as they let go of urban stress and settle into the laid-back country life they have been dreaming about.
Local agents report an improving market helped along by depleted inventories in Charlottesville and Albemarle that have pushed home buyers further out in their search for a suitable place to live. Fortunately, favorable prices and continuing low interest rates combine to make for an excellent time to buy, facilitating transactions for everyone from first-timers commuting to Charlottesville, Culpeper, Richmond or Fredericksburg for jobs, to those looking for the privacy of a gated community, the historic splendor of an estate, or a farm for raising livestock.
Orange County’s Real Estate Market
Local agents are enthusiastic about Orange County’s market and agree it is definitely coming back to life. This optimism is reflected in Long and Foster’s Market Minute for the month of October that shows 50 homes sold—a year-over-year 19 percent increase—plus a healthy decline in active inventory of 22 percent. Other positive signs are a 5 percent year-over-year increase in the median sales price and a 19 percent decrease in the average number of days on the market.
Keller William’s Tom Woolfolk also described Orange County’s 2017 market as one characterized by both a tighter inventory and fewer days on the market compared to a year ago. “If priced right the homes will move,” he indicated, adding that there is an active market in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range which, he says, “will always do well if the house is decent.”
While there are even a few options near $100,000, first timers should be aware that these properties may not be in a condition that is acceptable to lenders. On the other hand, they can be attractive to investors who pay cash, renovate and resell or hold for rental Woolfolk said. He described the rental market as “perennially strong,” since there are always families that can’t qualify for a mortgage.
Justin Wiley, with Wiley Real Estate – Orange, said “the market is more active than it has been,” although it still lags behind Albemarle and Charlottesville. He is happy to say that “the overall land and farm market has improved this year,” with more activity in areas closer to Charlottesville and in properties priced at under $1 million. There are also “signs of improvement” in the over $1 million market for farms, he added.
“The improvement in the real estate market over the past three years has impacted Charlottesville and Albemarle dramatically resulting in a very low inventory of available homes,” said John Ince with Nest Realty Group, adding that “this has put more pressure on neighboring counties like Orange and Greene.” This is especially true in the parts of these counties that are within 30 minutes of Charlottesville, he concluded.
When it comes to first timers, Ince suggests the best opportunities will be found in the Towns of Orange and Gordonsville, “with much more affordable prices [compared to] similar homes closer to Charlottesville.”
As far as farms and estates, “there are currently several noteworthy estates available in Orange County with prices up to $4.5 million,” Ince said. This should not deter buyers for whom those prices are out of reach as “there is also a good inventory of smaller country properties with acreage for under $400,000.”
Orange County’s Allure
Many Orange County buyers are drawn to the small town atmosphere in communities like Gordonsville and the Town of Orange and appreciate the slower pace of life that makes this county so popular. Of course easy access to the amenities of Charlottesville and other nearby urban areas makes a move to Orange even more enticing.
If you are tired of battling traffic you may be ready for what Jack Samuels with Jack Samuels Realty described as the “peaceful, easy feeling,” that characterizes Orange County along with the strong sense of community in a place where “people all know each other.” He added that “life is a lot easier here,” in reference to his leisurely drive to work where he confronts very little traffic.
Pat Crabtree, with Montague Miller & Co, offices in the Town of Orange and compares it to Mayberry RFD. She appreciates that people know each other and look out for their neighbors, concluding that community gathering places like the park and the farmer’s market just add to this kind of connection. Of course home owners who want more privacy and an even more rural experience can choose a home on acreage or a farm with fenced pastures and gorgeous mountain views.
Ince described Orange as “a rural county with productive farms and a wealth of antebellum estates. James Madison’s home, Montpelier, is just one of a score of noteworthy estates that are part of America’s history. The farms and estates of Somerset, Gordonsville and Rapidan are revered for their history and the inherent quality of the underlying soils.”
A resident of Orange, Ince said: “Personally, I find living in Orange County to be ideal. I especially enjoy a charming small town like Orange where I run into people I have known for decades and there is never a line at the DMV.” At the same time, he appreciates “having all that Charlottesville has to offer just 25 minutes away. Rural Orange County and Charlottesville are indeed different worlds but it’s possible to have the best of both.”
Wiley called Orange County “a great place to live,” portraying its lifestyle as “wonderful without the sprawl and traffic. It’s close enough to Charlottesville, but you can still have a rural life,” he added stating he also likes the tax savings compared to when he lived closer in and finds the overall cost of living lower. Although he grew up elsewhere Wiley moved to Orange some years ago and while he has observed a lot change in his time, “it still feels like it used to,” he said.
Some other benefits of Orange include its easy access to shopping and medical care and its location to the north, which takes the stress out of getting to the main airports. The county’s location is also attractive to two-career couples where one works in Charlottesville, the other in Richmond, Fredericksburg or Culpeper.
Orange County Home Buyers
While most of Orange County is rural, there are a few subdivisions as well. The gated community of Lake of the Woods is located on the far eastern end of the county and is attractive to retirees from Northern Virginia who want more space. This neighborhood also attracts people who work in D.C. or Fredericksburg because of the easy commute to work, Woolfolk said. He explained that this is the fastest growing sector of the county and has the newest schools.
For people who commute to Charlottesville, there are subdivisions near Gordonsville. One, called Coniston Manor, was started in 2006 just before the crash, so it never really took off, Woolfolk said. This year saw sales of all but one of the homes there, many to couples who work in Charlottesville.
Another relatively new community, Gordonsville Gates, is now seeing resales on the market, Woolfolk said adding that it is an attractive place for young families and professionals. He recently had some clients—an attorney with a school teacher spouse—who settled there.
Orange also attracts telecommuters who work remotely. Missy Garrison with Montague Miller & Co. had a telecommuting client who relocated his family to Orange from Texas. She learned on meeting him that this was a homecoming for him as he was originally from Orange and a graduate of the local high school. Fortunately for him—and other Orange County residents—high speed internet is available to facilitate his work. “It’s the main thing buyers ask for,” Garrison said.
Still another type of Orange County buyer is the person looking for more property so they can participate in farming or agro-tourism, Wiley explained. Examples are wineries, pick your own pumpkins farms and vegetable growing for distribution to restaurants that want to source local produce. He also had some recent sales to buyers expanding their cattle operations.
If you like the idea of living in a rural area, but don’t want to give up shopping at your favorite stores, meeting friends for coffee at Starbucks or attending concerts and other cultural events, ask your REALTOR® about Orange County. You may find just about everything you need there, and the rest just a short drive away. And if you have been home shopping closer in, you will also be pleased by the lower monthly payments thanks to Orange County’s favorable home prices and tax rates.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.