By Celeste M. Smucker –
Albemarle County is a popular place to live offering many attractive amenities. Home sales are brisk with interested buyers actively keeping an eye out for new listings. It’s not just the resale home market that is hot. Builders are also busy as inventory shortages and demand for green features and more functional floor plans send many buyers in search of a brand new home.
The county’s comprehensive plan requires that growth and development be restricted to 5 percent of its area, which means subdivisions and essential services are concentrated in places such as Pantops on the east of town, Crozet to the west and Hollymead to the north. Another active spot is south of Charlottesville, where neighborhoods have new life thanks to the opening of 5th Street Station.
Buyers will find a range of housing options to choose from, everything from condos and townhomes to gated communities, horse farms and estates. Albemarle also features walkable neighborhoods where residents who want more community interaction can enjoy shops, gyms, restaurants, coffeehouses, salons and other gathering places without ever leaving their community. On the other hand, those preferring the privacy of country life will find many rural areas are protected from future development by a growing number of conservation easements.
Exceptional scenery featuring mountain views is a big part of Albemarle’s appeal as are the many outdoor activities available there. Whether you enjoy hiking and fishing, running, walking, biking or horseback riding and tennis you will find it nearby when you live in Albemarle.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle area consistently receives high marks for being a great place to live, thanks to its natural beauty, the four-seasons climate, availability of recreational activities and low health care costs, plus a healthy economy that features low unemployment and a growing high tech sector.
Albemarle’s Real Estate Market
Thanks to its lifestyle offerings and close-in location, Albemarle has an active real estate market, where the biggest challenge is a lack of inventory.
Barbara McMurry with Montague, Miller & Co. said that the 2017 market in Albemarle is “off to a good start.” She added that there is plenty of mortgage money available and interest rates are still low. Of course it is a real plus that the weather has decided to cooperate this year with a very mild winter. She joked that agents used to say “the bugs and the buyers come out at the same time,” which historically has been at least March. However this year, she said, the spring market really got started in January.
Unfortunately, McMurry continued, the early spring market has not meant an easing of the inventory shortage. Describing buyers’ eagerness to find the right house she said that many are “camped out” just waiting for a house with the right price, style and location. Her advice to buyers is that they need to be ready to act quickly, with a pre-approval letter in hand.
Judy Savage with Keller Williams Realty also expressed concern about the lack of inventory. “The market in Albemarle County is pretty tight right now because of the lack of inventory in price ranges under $450,000,” she said stating “there are fewer houses on the market and it is driving prices up.” She went on to say that she recently listed a 50-year-old single family home for $289,900 and in less than 24 hours had six competing offers that pushed the price over $300,000. That was after 10 showings. And yet another of her listings, priced at $430,000, sold the same day she put it on the market.
Jim Duncan with Nest Realty described the market in what he called “the City and urban county,” as “significantly active,” with buyers coming from “all demographics.” He looks forward to more homes coming on the market as it is not uncommon for them to go under contract quickly, sometimes in as short a time as a few days making it challenging for buyers. The new construction market is also doing “very well overall,” he added.
“The real estate market in Albemarle County is brisk,” reports Marina Ringstrom with Long and Foster Real Estate. “The continued influx of new construction has been a strong factor,” she continued adding “to compete, existing homes must be priced well, in good condition, and where necessary, upgraded.”
Rural Properties Popular in Albemarle
While all of our region can boast scenic beauty as a benefit, Albemarle has the additional advantage of being the county closest in to the many advantages of Charlottesville such as quality hospitals, restaurants, the Downtown Mall, the University, jobs and other social and cultural amenities. Even for buyers who love the privacy of a rural home or estate, the push is to live as close in as possible.
For example, John Ince with Nest Realty Associates has found that compared to years past, rural buyers are more focused on being close to town. A veteran of 30 years in the Charlottesville real estate market, Ince says “I’ve seen a change in attitude in this current generation of near-retirees. They enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside but really appreciate all that Charlottesville has to offer as well. That makes any country property inside 20 minutes from town, golden.”
Ringstrom cited the growth of services at both Pantops and 5th Street Station as being important for those who “prefer rural destinations, but not more than 10-15 minutes away from shopping and health care.”
First Time Buyers
Inventory shortages are especially challenging for first time buyers who want to live in Albemarle County or the City of Charlottesville. However, some options continue to be available. “They are not a huge part of the market,” McMurry said but they are available in town and in Albemarle County.
Savage agrees stating that “of the six offers I received in the last twenty-four hours, they were all first time home buyers utilizing low down payment type financing.” She added that since new construction, single-family homes are more in the $500,000 range, they are out of reach for most first timers unless they opt for a town house.
Many buyers are apparently opting for attached homes such as a town house. CAAR’s recent Year End Market Report stated that year-over-year closed sales of detached homes in Albemarle County increased 5.6 percent compared to the end of 2015. Attached home sales during that same period increased 41.7 percent.
“Buyers continue to move here from all over the country,” Ringstrom said adding that “Charlottesville is still being hailed as one of the very best places in the country to retire, raise a family and do business.” She moved to Charlottesville in 1996 and is currently a resident of Glenmore in the Keswick area of Albemarle County with no plans to move. She is one of many people who feel this way about Albemarle starting with Thomas Jefferson who called his part of the county the “Eden of the United States.”
For people who move here from up north, part of the draw is the climate, which is relatively mild but still has four seasons. And it’s not uncommon for people to move someplace like Florida, and then relocate to Charlottesville after a couple of years of no autumn or spring. Agents jokingly call them “half-backs” for moving all the way south, then half way back. Of course they also appreciate the much lower prices, property tax rates, and heating costs compared to the Northeast, or Northern Virginia.
Albemarle is also very popular amongst those who love the outdoors. The county offers everything from fly fishing and canoeing to walking, hiking, biking, running and horseback riding. McMurry, a runner, says it is wonderful to have “so many great places to run,” including the county’s parks available for year around outdoor activities.
For those who prefer to ride horses, two of Albemarle’s parks, Preddy Creek and Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Park offer 70 miles of riding trails, and in some areas such as Keswick in east Albemarle County, they can also ride on private property. Pam Dent with Gayle Harvey Real Estate said that Keswick is known as an area that allows horse lovers to ride on large unbroken sections of farmland. “The landowners are passionate about this tradition,” she said.
Other popular activities in the county that draw both residents and visitors are its wineries and orchards. Many of these rural businesses also participate in what is now called agri-tourism offering wine tastings and pick your own fruit, such as apples and pumpkins, in season.
These agri-businesses are part of what McMurry calls the “rural flavor” of Albemarle, representing the 95 percent of the county that is not developed. And it’s not unusual for visitors to come to enjoy these many outdoor activities, and decide, after a few trips, to become permanent Albemarle residents.
Of course history buffs will find a lot to like about Albemarle. Founded in 1744, it was named for its governor, Willem Anne van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, an American colonist and British diplomat. The original county seat was Scottsville located on the James River, the quickest way to transfer goods from east to west prior to railroads. Charlottesville became the county seat in 1761, and Albemarle’s current boundaries were formalized in 1777 after several surrounding counties split off and became their own entities.
Two of our founding fathers and former Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, are native to Albemarle, and today their respective estates, particularly Jefferson’s Monticello, bring thousands of visitors to Albemarle County from all over the world. Monticello, a designated National Historic Landmark, is also a United Nations World Heritage site and attracts over 450,000 people a year.
Why Home Buyers Like Albemarle
People move to Albemarle for many reasons. They come for jobs at the University and the growing high-tech sector. And, of course, many University grads who fell in love with the region when they were students, often return here when they are ready to retire, enjoying the outdoor activities and the enrichment available through their alma mater’s non-credit courses.
Access to quality medical care is a big factor, especially for retirees who want all of the area’s amenities plus the security of knowing they have the best possible care when needed. The US News and World Report recently ranked UVA Hospital as #1 in Virginia, and #3 nationally in 3 adult and 4 pediatric specialties, while Martha Jefferson was ranked #12 in Virginia and high performing in 5 procedures/conditions.
Families appreciate Albemarle’s top ranked school system recently ranked #5 in the state by Niche.com using such indicators as test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores, and teacher quality.
From very early on, Albemarle has been known for its horse farms and incomparable natural beauty. Today it offers a host of modern amenities that make it a popular choice for a wide range of buyers. Call your agent today to help you find the best Albemarle County home for you.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville