By Celeste M. Smucker –
Comfortable rural living where you can see the stars at night is one way people describe life in Louisa County located just to the east of Albemarle. Others point to its vibrant economy and central location with easy access to the three major urban centers of Charlottesville, Richmond and Fredericksburg. Second home buyers and those who love living year around on the water can choose popular Louisa locations like Blue Ridge Shores, a gated community within commuting distance of Charlottesville, and Lake Anna, a bigger development at the other end of the county.
History lovers appreciate Louisa’s rich heritage carefully preserved by the local historical society, located at the Sargeant Museum in the town of Louisa. Residents, guests and visitors are invited to participate in a variety of activities there throughout the year including the annual family-friendly Heritage Day on Saturday, April 29, an event that offers a glimpse of Louisa’s lifestyle in the years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
As elsewhere in our region, Louisa’s real estate market is hot, with inventory shortages and rising prices, and agents have high expectations for 2017 following an impressive 34.5 percent increase in sales for single family detached homes last year.
Agents also report increased interest in land sales as many buyers, frustrated by the lack of inventory in resale homes, are choosing to build instead. Others want acreage for privacy, to raise horses and cattle, or to participate in the growing trend of agri-business.
Louisa buyers enjoy the county’s central location, and those who love the outdoors and want to enjoy the beauties of nature, are looking for privacy, or who prefer the amenities of a gated community like Spring Creek at Zion Crossroads or Blue Ridge Shores, will also find much to choose from.
For example, Charlene Easter with Spring Creek Realty shared how much one of her buyers likes the friendliness of the community, but at the same time appreciates that “quiet time is always nearby, especially to enjoy the wide variety of birds.”
Still another Spring Creek home owner said: “I spend a lot of time walking through the neighborhood, and I love its natural beauty, the hills and old trees.”
Maury Atkins with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. emphasized the importance of Louisa’s central location and its proximity to northern Virginia and DC, accessible via Highway 15 or Interstate 95.
He recently worked with a client who relocated to our area from Texas for a job at State Farm. Louisa appealed because of the ease of the commute—her job is just 15 minutes away—but she was also thrilled to get a better deal both price-wise and property tax-wise compared to living closer in.
She has a lot of company. A recent Spring Creek buyer explained that while Western Albemarle was appealing, they picked Louisa because, “it was a better value for our dollar.”
Of course two career couples with jobs in different cities can live in the Zion Crossroads area of Louisa and easily commute to either Charlottesville, or Short Pump, which is just 40 minutes away on the outskirts of Richmond.
There is a special advantage for Charlottesville commuters, explained Sharon Duke, an agent with William A. Cooke, LLC who has worked with a number of what she calls split-commute couples. Whether you are driving to town in the morning or coming home after five, the sun is always behind you and never in your eyes.
Recent years have seen a big increase in commercial development in Zion Crossroads where Louisa residents can often find much of what they need saving a trip to town. Lowes and Walmart are popular spots and are also attractive to people who live in the east end of Charlottesville who want to avoid the congestion on 29 North.
The recently opened 5th Street Station is also a plus for Zion Crossroads dwellers who want to take advantage of Wegmans and the many other stores, services, restaurants and even a theatre just a short drive down the Interstate.
Louisa’s History On Display at the Annual Heritage Day
Back in 1742, Louisa split off from Hanover County when it had enough families to justify a courthouse. Named for Princess Louisa, the youngest daughter of King George II of England and Queen Caroline, it enjoys a rich history on display at the Sargeant Museum thanks to the Louisa County Historical Society located in the town of Louisa.
Historical records dating back to pre-colonial days are available for those who want to explore the history of their property said Elaine Taylor, Director of the Sargeant Museum. She explained that Louisa’s pastoral/agricultural setting draws buyers from places like Northern Virginia and the Historical Society can help give these modern property owners a “sense of place.”
For example, the Society has maps of old Indian paths and can also show a home owner who lived on their property during the Civil War and earlier, by consulting maps of land grants dating to as early as 1720.
Of course, they will also find information about historical figures and events such as Patrick Henry who practiced law in Louisa and represented the county in the House of Burgesses. During the Civil War the Battle of Trevilian Station, the largest cavalry battle of this conflict, was fought in Louisa in June of 1864.
There is more to history, though, than learning about big events.”It is difficult for people to understand their roots without seeing [for example] hands-on ways of farming,” Taylor said, which is why the Historical Society sponsors events such as the annual Heritage Day that is all about what life was like between the two wars.
So many of the resources we take for granted today were non-existent back then Taylor explained and “you can’t understand an agricultural county unless you can see, experience, and learn about life before electricity and mechanization.”
For example, there were no furniture stores so people made their own. To get an idea of what that entailed, Heritage Day will feature demonstrations from crafts people such as woodworkers, sawyers (carpenters who saw timber into boards) and two types of chair caners (one doing formal chair caning the other using cattail rushes) to demonstrate some of these lost arts.
Of course animals were used for everything, and the Old Dominion Draft Horse and Mule Association will be there doing a harnessing demo. Visitors can also observe blacksmiths and horse wranglers as well as other types of crafts persons such as weavers, a spinner, a tanner, a tobacconist, telegraphers, and toymakers.
Heritage day will also have special events for the younger generation with demonstrations of how to make cornshuck dolls and how to shell and grind corn. A Native American will teach kids about Indian sign language and face painting, Taylor said describing him as someone who “loves working with kids and showing them a quiet way to move through the world in harmony with nature.”
The festival draws people from DC, Charlottesville, Richmond and Fredericksburg and is expected to bring more than the 600 who attended last year’s event. To join the fun mark your calendar for Saturday April 29 from 10 a.m.to 4 p.m., rain or shine on the grounds of the Sargeant Museum in the town of Louisa. Plan to arrive early to take advantage of all the different events. Admission is free. Visit the Louisa County Historical Society website for more details.
Louisa’s Real Estate Market
Agents are excited about this year’s market that got off to a good start and is expected to continue to be strong.
For example, Dan Girouard, Broker and VP of Subdivision Operation at the gated community of Spring Creek said, “the market here at Zion Crossroads is doing great. Our builders are getting ready for a very busy year and offer brand new decorated model homes for our guests to preview. Resales are at an all-time low with only 19 currently available with an average “days on market” of 91, which is lower than Spring.”
Duke described the market as doing well “across the board,” with low inventory and “everything selling.” She said this includes both large and small lots both in and out of subdivisions. As long as homes are well-priced, she added they will sell. She added that one of her Louisa buyers ended up having to look in nearby Goochland because they couldn’t find what they wanted in Louisa.
Duke also just sold an 82 acre piece of property to some buyers who wanted privacy, while still another prospect called about finding a 10+ acre lot because they didn’t see one for sale when they looked online.
While multiple contracts on the same house are common in some areas of Charlottesville, agents are beginning to see that kind of interest in Louisa as well. Duke took a listing on a “distressed property,” and was surprised when two investors competed for the chance to renovate and rent it.
James Dickerson with Charlottesville Solutions described the current Louisa market as “improving,” from Lake Anna to Charlottesville. He added that many Baby Boomers are retiring and downsizing, while some that are still working are buying property now—in some cases second home or vacation type property—to enjoy on weekends and eventually to live in after retirement. He has also noticed Millennials moving out of rental and into home ownership.
Recently he had clients from far away San Francisco who wanted a lifestyle free of congestion where they could still count on having good health care. They chose Louisa because of its proximity to DC, the mountains, and the beach, plus its easy access to Universities in both Charlottesville and Richmond.
Dickerson added that it definitely helps that Louisa has high speed internet access across the county, which appeals to everyone, especially to telecommuters and others who work from home.
Atkins described the Louisa market as “good, strong,” adding that he is seeing price increases throughout the residential sector. He has also seen increased interest from investors and observed the sale of “a plethora of building lots,” including some for which development was complete before the recession but never sold. In what he sees as the “last stage of recovery,” developers are starting to seek out larger tracts for future development.
With all of this activity are there still options for first time buyers in Louisa? The answer is yes but they need to act fast. Duke has some first timers who can only look at property on weekends. Unfortunately that means they have lost out on some homes that came on the market during the week and sold before the weekend arrived.
Are you longing for a quiet rural lifestyle with privacy and easy access to town? If so, talk to your agent about Louisa, but be prepared to act quickly, as inventory is low and the well priced homes won’t last.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.