By Celeste M. Smucker _
One of the most exciting real estate markets in Charlottesville is the area south of downtown near the new 5th Street Station. Until recently, this region’s popularity was hampered by residents’ concerns about the need travel to 29 North or to nearby localities like Waynesboro or Zion Crossroads to shop or find essential services.
All of that changed with the opening of 5th Street Station and its anchor tenant, the upscale grocery store, Wegmans. No longer do south side dwellers need to put up with traffic or go out of their way to avoid it. Instead they can buy groceries, enjoy restaurants, a theatre, sporting goods stores, essential medical care and much, much more all in one location just minutes from home. Combine this with easy access to Interstate 64 and a location within three miles of downtown and you have a formula for success.
This success is reflected in the opening of several popular new home communities—where sales have been impressive even during December—and in the rapidly rising prices and lack of inventory in established neighborhoods such as Mill Creek and Redfields. Both of these communities (and others nearby) have always had their followings but are now more popular than ever.
This means buyers who love the idea of living near 5th Street Station, should talk to their agents about options that include new and resale homes as well as everything from townhomes, to attached homes, to single family residences in a range of prices from affordable to upscale. And if this is you, don’t wait.
Even before Wegmans this area was a favorite of medical residents and when March rolls around and they receive confirmation of their upcoming postings, those moving here will be out house hunting, increasing competition for the already limited number of resale listings in these desirable communities.
What Home Buyers Want
For many Charlottesville home buyers, seeing the mountains and living close-in to jobs and the amenities of town and the University rank high on the list of what brings them to our area and keeps them here. And the south side of town is an area where all of that is possible.
“Early on families were drawn by a desire to put their kids in County schools,” said Tom Raney with Nest Realty Group, and some of the early, large, south-side developments like Redfields and Mill Creek featured mid-range price points as starter homes to attract families with kids.
Other south side families appreciated the nearness of private schools such as Tandem Friends School, serving children in Grades 5 through 12, and The Covenant School for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 students.
This part of town is also desirable for other reasons. Buyers, frustrated by rising prices, and the need to do extensive renovations on older homes in close-in neighborhoods like Belmont and Fry Springs, are beginning to recognize that areas south of town also fall into the magic three-mile radius of downtown and have much to offer, especially now that 5th Street Station is open.
Yonna Smith with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., described the area south of town as one that had been “percolating for awhile.” When Wegmans arrived, though, it “took the lid off,” she said stating that a combination of the location near downtown, scarce inventory and low interest rates combined to create “the perfect storm.”
Of course, Smith said, Charlottesville’s reputation “is amazing,” and often brings former students back to the area. Recently she worked with two different clients who couldn’t wait to return and both chose to live in a one of the south side neighborhoods. One of them is a retired physician who graduated from Medical School here and the other a couple from New York who did undergraduate work at UVA and had long wanted to return.
The area has “a rural community feel to it, but it’s close to all the major amenities,” said Robert Russo, with Nest Realty Group, who has sold many homes in Redfields since it first opened in 2006. He emphasized the importance of the area’s proximity to UVA and the Medical Center, which is perhaps why he sees lots of professors as well as law and med students moving there.
Of course those commuting elsewhere appreciate the area’s quick access to Interstate 64 when they need to head either east or west. John Updike with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. described a recent client who chose Redfields because of its nearness to his main office at Boar’s Head and his need to go often to Richmond for meetings and appointments.
Karen Kehoe with RE/MAX Regency, who lives in Redfields, said “I love being seven minutes from two hospitals. As we get older it can be life or death getting to a hospital quickly. I love the easy access anywhere just off the interstate and love the 5th Street Station with everything you’d need including medical and eye care and even Krispy Kreme all just five minutes away.”
South Side Real Estate Market
Back when the area south of downtown, and especially the part south of the interstate, was less developed, there weren’t a lot amenities except the open country and some terrific views.
It wasn’t until Albemarle County noticed that major developments elsewhere like Waynesboro and Zion Crossroads were attracting Charlottesville-area shoppers and siphoning off retail traffic that County Supervisors decided to address the issue, Raney said. Providing incentives for growth, including approval of 5th Street Station on the south end of town, were key to opening up the area to development, and the market has responded.
“The market is just incredible,” Kehoe said who believes that 5th Street Station has “increased values tremendously.” She cited her own house in the Courtyard Section of Redfields, where “everything is taken care of from mowing the yard to snow removal from the walk and the drive.” HOA fees for that section also cover exterior maintenance except the roof and trim. In the time she has lived there the value of her home has increased from $290 thousand to $375 thousand.
Smith concurs describing a “very busy market.” People are moving in from multiple locations she said, both locally and from out of town. Many that have been watching the downtown market are not prepared to pay a lot for a home and then put out even more to renovate it to meet their needs. These folks are now looking south, impressed by the nearness of 5th Street Station. She refers to the center’s impact as “the Wegmans phenomenon.”
Changes to the area have had a big impact on the price of resales, Raney agreed. Some homes in established neighborhoods like Mill Creek that were selling for $240 thousand back in 2010 are now on the market for $349 thousand. This rapid increase in prices has drawn investors who come in, renovate and flip homes for a profit, he continued.
There is a real “buzz” on the south side of the County that has led to the development of a number of subdivisions, Russo said. He described both Oak Hill Farm and Whittington as two of them that are “very popular.”
Whittington was one of the first neighborhoods to benefit from the growing popularity of south side locations, Raney said, and it “took off from the beginning.”
Featuring “gorgeous views and … countless miles of wooded walking trails” Whittington, where home prices range from the low $600 thousands to just over $1 million remains popular, and as of January, 2018, had 31 pending sales (those awaiting closing), Kehoe explained.
Oak Hill Farm is a newer and very popular choice as well. “Marketing launched in late 2016 but before roads and infrastructure had even started,” said Greg Slater with Nest Realty Group. Remarkably, “sales started before buyers would even know when they could have their home or drive to their lot. In 2017, 38 homes sold with an average price of $633 thousand. Just 14 of them have actually been completed and closed,” he emphasized.
Nest Realty’s T.J. Southmayd, Craig Builders Customer Representative at Oak Hill Farm is also enthusiastic about sales stating: “Due to high demand, we’ve sold close to half of our home sites before even finishing the model home,” a farm house themed property that is open daily.
“Just recently, Sunset Overlook launched sales adjacent to Oak Hill Farm and they have had 16 sales of attached and detached homes,” Slater said. “Average [prices there are] $344 thousand.
“What is very telling, though, is that 13 of those sales happened in December. This is remarkable and tells me there was plenty of pent up demand and many of those buyers chose to contract to build now instead of waiting to see what is coming in this year’s resale market,” Slater concluded.
Sunset Overlook is also notable for having townhomes in the mid $200 thousands making them accessible to first time buyers.
South Side Buyers
Established neighborhoods like Redfields and Mill Creek have always been mixed, Raney said, attracting a combination of singles, young families, and retirees in a wide range of ages. The neighborhoods are also characterized by a community orientation.
Many of the downsizers come from outside of the area, often to settle near their grandchildren, and appreciate that most of the models are built on one level or have a first-floor master suite, he added.
The higher priced neighborhoods like Whittington, on the other hand, attract professionals who are moving up and have young families, as well as those who have lived in their last home for a long time, have a lot of equity and enjoy building a new, last home before they retire, Raney continued.
Russo described the new construction buyers as well-off professionals who work at the University or at one of the multi-national corporations that have local offices. A fair amount of them are move-up buyers who just sold a $350-$400 thousand home and are ready to move to one in the $550-$700 thousand range.
“We’re seeing young families buying their first or second home because they need more space as well as those looking to downsize or simply get all on one level,” Southmayd said about Oak Hill Farm where homes start in the $500 thousands and average in the low $600 thousands. “The location seems to attract buyers from many different walks of life and we’re happy to customize a home to fit each of their needs,” he added.
Call Your Agent
If the south side of town sounds like a good bet, contact your agent today. If resale is what you want be prepared to make your move quickly since, when these homes come on the market, they will not be available long. This means the lucky buyers will have sold their previous home and have cash or a strong pre-qualification letter in hand. Your agent will also be an essential partner if what you want is to start from scratch and build a new home.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.