By Celeste M. Smucker–
Looking for a relaxed, country lifestyle close to Charlottesville? Look no further than Greene County on the other side of the Albemarle line where you will enjoy mountain views, own a surprising amount of house and land for the money compared to closer-in, and still have an easy commute to town.
Greene is also home to a host of outdoor and recreational activities from hiking, camping and fishing to golfing and antique shopping and known for tastings at local wineries, one of which, Stone Mountain Vineyards, offers panoramic views from 1,700 feet.
Today this popular bedroom community of Charlottesville offers something for everyone from a public school system that boasts a 94 percent on-time high school graduation rate to an active and welcoming senior center in the town of Stanardsville, Greene’s County Seat.
Stanardsville is also the proud recipient of Federal money (awarded by the Virginia Department of Transportation and matched by funds from the local community) to be used for Phase 2 of updates to its streetscape making it a safer, more aesthetic place to live, work and visit.
There is good news about the local real estate market as well, which agents report is making a comeback from the recession and the sequestration (temporary Federal Government hiring freeze) that followed. At the same time, there are still some great opportunities for buyers—including first timers—although the under $250,000 options are increasingly hard to find as the market tightens.
In other words, if you want to enjoy all of the benefits that Greene County has to offer for a remarkable price, the time to buy is now before rising prices and interest rates put these affordable, close-in homes out of reach.
A big part of Greene’s appeal is its central location that is close, not only to Charlottesville, but to Harrisonburg to the west via Route 33. To the north, Culpeper is also just a short drive away and both Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia are easily accessible, a situation that works well for couples who have jobs in two different locations such as Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. It is also a popular spot for telecommuters or those who only have to be in the office a day or two a week.
People who love hiking, biking, camping, and fishing, while admiring beautiful mountain scenery, will find all of that and more in Greene County, explained Alan Yost, Greene County’s Economic Development and Tourism Director.
The County borders Shenandoah National Park—created by a bill passed in Congress in 1926— and offers spectacular scenery with access to Skyline Drive via Route 33. Construction on the Park began in 1933 and brought much needed employment to the area during the Great Depression. Today it is enjoyed by local residents and tourists who seek out the stunning views, the rivers, and the recreational activities.
Those who prefer to while away their time playing golf can enjoy some of the same views when they reserve a tee time at Greene Hills Club, a private 18-hole course open to the public Monday through Friday, Yost added.
While Greene has always provided a relaxed country lifestyle, in years past it had little in the way of local shopping. However today it offers the convenience of a growing number of stores like Lowes, Food Lion and Walmart that make it possible for residents to buy the basics without leaving the area.
Contrast that to the way it was before the growth in the county really took off, said Matthew Woodson with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. who grew up in Greene. When he was young shopping was a big production and his family drove to town every Friday to visit Safeway and load up on whatever they needed for the entire week. Today, essentials like groceries, gas and restaurants are all nearby, which makes living in Greene a lot more attractive, Woodson said.
In addition to shopping options there are plenty of restaurants for those who want to dine out locally including ethnic specialties such as Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and Italian. Or check out Jack’s Shop Kitchen with an American menu that features “fresh and local products to embrace the Virginia life style,” now with vegetarian friendly and gluten free options.
For those looking for an elegant night out or dinner plus an overnight stay, the Lafayette Inn and Restaurant in Stanardsville is a great choice. Built in 1840, the Inn is loaded with history, its first guests having arrived by stage coach. Over the years it has also served as a saloon, a boarding house and (during the Civil War) a hospital.
Today it draws people from all over for events, fine dining and overnight stays with full concierge service available. It is also the first local restaurant and inn to be recognized by Virginia Green—a partnership between Virginia is for Lovers, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association—that acknowledges businesses in the tourist industry for their commitment to recycling, waste reduction, and energy and water conservation.
Greene’s Real Estate Market
The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® reports that at the end of the first quarter of 2017 sales of single family homes in Greene were up 2.3 percent compared to last year at the same time, while pending sales (homes that are sold but not closed) were up 13.8 percent. Also noteworthy is the median number of days on the market (DOM) that fell from 72 in the first quarter of 2016 to 40 in 2017. The lower DOM was accompanied by a reduction in inventory of 38.6 percent, reflecting a healthy demand for Greene County homes.
Local agents are pleased with market activity. Things were “awkwardly busy” in February, Woodson said, possibly due to the warmer than usual weather. The market slowed a bit in May, he continued, but overall it is good, though less so than has been experienced closer to town. He said the Greene market is outside what he calls the “ring of fire,” which is how he describes the very happening market in some parts of Charlottesville and Albemarle.
“The market is more active than in the past couple of years,” said Ginny Barefoot with Roy Wheeler Realty Co, adding that 107 homes have sold and closed since the first of the year. “Homes that are in good condition and well priced are selling,” she said.
With all the recent sales agents are concerned about inventory shortages and the relative lack of new construction activity that could make up the difference.
“We are struggling to get some new construction,” Woodson said, adding that there has not been much in the way of development, especially with public utilities, for a number of years. Consequently there is a real “pent-up demand” for homes in the over $300,000 range. He estimates that home sales in the county will go up significantly when there is more new construction activity.
One piece of good news is that work is currently under way on a new subdivision in Ruckersville where some roads are already in, Woodson said. Called Oxford Hills, it is a Ryan Homes project that will have 120 homes and a public water supply. Sewer will be handled by one mass drain field that serves the whole neighborhood.
Greene appeals to a wide range of buyers from first timers to growing families, retirees and down sizers.
Homes in the first time buyer range, at $250,000 and below, are available, Barefoot said, but that number is dwindling. She suggests these buyers ask their lender about the zero down, 100 percent financing available through USDA Rural Development Loans that would apply to homes in Greene.
With its easy commute to nearby urban centers, Greene also attracts families with adult members that work at NGIC, UVA Research Park and elsewhere in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and Culpeper. Families with children appreciate the local school system, with its highly qualified teaching and professional staff, 51 percent of whom have advanced (Masters or Doctorate) degrees.
Barefoot raised three children in Greene County and gave the school system high marks saying that her kids were challenged throughout their time there. In addition, thanks to a cooperative program between the local high school and PVCC—that now has a branch in Stanardsville—two of her children graduated from high school with a substantial number of college credits.
Retirees who read about all of the benefits of living in Charlottesville often choose to live in Greene because of its affordability, Woodson said. Many from New Jersey, New York and the mid-west
are tired of cold winters and welcome our area’s milder climate that still has four seasons as well as the reasonable home prices and low property taxes available in Greene.
Barefoot called Greene a “good transitioning place,” stating that Lowes is a big draw for pre-retirees anticipating their non-working years especially if they enjoy gardening or other projects around the house.
Open for Business and Tourism
Drivers into Greene County are greeted by a sign that says “Open for Business,” expressing the county’s commitment to creating a business-friendly environment. An example of this commitment is investment in a sewer system along the Route 29 corridor and down Route 33 to accommodate business expansion. In addition, the county is evaluating a water improvement project that would create a 100-acre lake to assure sufficient water for county businesses and residents 20 years into the future.
History lovers and tourists will also find a lot to like about Greene. Once part of Orange County, Greene became a separate entity in 1838 when early settlers complained about the distance they had to travel to reach the county seat. They named their new county for Nathaneal Greene, a Revolutionary War hero and designated Stanardsville as their county seat.
The County’s official seal features a graphic of a golden horseshoe that commemorates a famous expedition through the area to Swift Run Gap by then Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spottswood in August of 1716. According to the Greene County Historical Society, local legends assert that he gave golden horseshoes to followers in commemoration of this trip.
Civil War buffs appreciate Greene County starting with a local marker commemorating the Battle of Stanardsville, an engagement between the Confederate Cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart and General George Custer’s Union troops. April visitors can watch this battle being re-enacted in an annual event that includes family-friendly activities, music and dancing.
Another highly anticipated event is the annual Virginia Clay Festival in Stanardsville in September—this year on the 23rd and 24th—described as “an art show celebrating the creative possibilities of clay.” This festival is a gathering of Virginia artists and features potters, sculptors and jewelers along with music, food and children’s activities.
If you like privacy and love a short commute to town, call your agent today about Greene County. You’ll be amazed at the views, the lifestyle and at the amount of house and land your money can buy there.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.