Walk to the downtown mall, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee with friends and family without leaving your neighborhood, and maybe even let go of a car. If all of this appeals, consider the popular walkable community of Belmont offering a downtown lifestyle that is still affordable, though agents warn, “not for long.”
The Belmont neighborhood dates back to Charlottesville’s earliest days when a combination of factors made it a popular and convenient place to live. Today it attracts a diverse population of residents from first-timers to downsizers who are ready to leave suburbia behind to enjoy a walkable, downtown lifestyle.
Working Belmonters, whose jobs are downtown, may walk or ride their bikes to work, while those whose employment is elsewhere appreciate short commutes to places like UVA and the medical center. Belmont is also popular with investors and those who relish the challenge of updating and renovating a home.
While Belmont’s real estate market has experienced some ups and downs, now is a good time for sellers, thinking about a move, to give their agent a call and learn what their house will bring in today’s market that is full of ready and willing buyers.
The Belmont lifestyle has roots in Charlottesville’s very early history when much of its early popularity was due to its prime location at the intersection of two major routes (paths by today’s standards), Three Notched Road—a reference to distinctive marks placed on trees marking the route to and from Richmond—and Old Scottsville Road—connecting Charlottesville to the site of Albemarle County’s first courthouse in Scottsville.
The neighborhood grew in size in the late 1800s when the Belmont Land Company purchased an estate called Belle-mont and divided it into building lots. In a description of this rapidly growing area, local historian James Buck described it as a “quaint country suburb of a rapidly expanding Charlottesville.”
In the early 1900s, Belmont’s nearness to the railroad contributed to its prominence as did the demand for housing amongst its employees who wanted the convenience of living near their jobs.
Belmont’s Real Estate Market
Today Belmont attracts a wide range of buyers from Millennials working downtown to retirees and pre-retirees ready to give up the headaches of maintaining a large house and lot in the suburbs.
Cynthia Viejo with Nest Realty Group, a 35-year veteran of the real estate business, has been keeping an eye on the Belmont market since the 1980s when she recognized its potential as an up-and-coming neighborhood. However it wasn’t until the year 2000, when investors began buying and flipping homes and buyers who couldn’t afford property north of downtown began looking in Belmont, that things really started to change.
Viejo described the current market there as “very strong,” warning that prices are climbing. One result is that often buyers are forced to compromise on the amenities they want, which could mean living with less square footage, only one bathroom, or a smaller than desirable yard. She described one of her recent Belmont listings priced at the low end of the market at $249,000. The size was “just shy of 800 square feet, with expansion possible,” she said.
She advises buyers to look for a home with “good bones” that can be renovated taking care not to overdo. It’s alright to “personalize,” she said but cautions buyers not to lose sight of resale potential. She added that they should choose an agent well-versed in the area’s homes and market for the best advice on these issues.
Belmont also attracts investors explained Rob Alley with RE/MAX Realty Specialists who described the market there as “investor friendly,” because rents are high enough to cover their mortgage payment.
Alley added that many first-timers can still buy a home in Belmont where prices less than the FHA maximum are available.
Play Close to Home
While walkability and the nearness of the downtown mall are big plusses for Belmonters, often they can find the amenities they want right in their own neighborhood.
Viejo explained that Belmont’s downtown also has a number of trendy spots that keep people on that side of the bridge describing it as “an extension” of what is attractive about the downtown mall. “People can walk out their front doors, walk to downtown Belmont and enjoy wonderful, delightful restaurants that are fun and vibrant.” She recently enjoyed a friend’s birthday party there and said, “it was nice seeing the vibrancy of the area.”
Belmont appeals to people looking for a place with a community feel. Its walkability contributes to this feeling as the more people are out and about on foot, the more they see and meet their neighbors compared to places where most people walk only as far as their car prior to driving somewhere else.
Often Belmont buyers are people who don’t like the suburbs but “march to a different drummer,” explained Robert Ramsey with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. While some could afford to live elsewhere, they choose to stay for all of Belmont’s benefits. Others are people with grown kids who decide to move back to town after a time in the suburbs and want to downsize their space but still live in a single family, detached home.
Are you in the market for a home? If you like the charm of an older home and neighborhood, want to live near the downtown mall and enjoy leaving your car behind when you meet friends for brunch, ask your agent about Belmont.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.