Travel a short distance east of Charlottesville and you will be in Louisa County, situated north of Interstate 64 and east of the Albemarle line. Louisa was once part of Hanover County, splitting off in 1742 when sufficient population justified a courthouse. The new county was named after Princess Louisa, the youngest daughter of King George II of England.
Louisa County is rich in history. During the Revolutionary War it was a Louisa man, Jack Jouett, who rode through the night to Charlottesville to warn Thomas Jefferson that the British Colonel Tarleton and his troops were on their way. He arrived ahead of the colonel, allowing Jefferson and other Virginia Assemblymen (who had been forced to flee Richmond) to escape. Louisa also was the site of the Battle of the Trevilian, the largest cavalry battle fought during the Civil War.
Today Louisa’s vision statement describes the county as a “vibrant, dynamic and forward looking community.” It offers a variety of housing options for just about any buyer from first timers, to those looking for farm property, or empty nesters wanting a carefree retirement lifestyle. And these residential opportunities are supported by a growing commercial sector including restaurants, big box stores and medical care services.
Louisa’s Real Estate Market
Louisa is a big county which incorporates several major real estate markets and Multiple Listing Services. The Lake Anna neighborhoods on the east attract people looking for vacation properties and retirement situations. On the western end of the county are homebuyers who may appreciate the short, scenic drive to Charlottesville and the top rated golf course at Spring Creek. In between are a range of rural properties from farms and estates to smaller lots, many suitable to first time buyers.
These different market segments represent “different worlds,” within the county, said Maury Atkins with Roy Wheeler Realty, Co. The real estate market is strongest in areas around the edges of the county where people can commute easily to major urban areas like Charlottesville, Richmond or Fredericksburg. It is less active in the middle of the county in localities such as Mineral and Louisa that are located more than a 30-minute drive from urban centers. Atkins explained that for many people that much of a commute is just “too far,” although it can be attractive to first timers who are willing to drive further in exchange for a lower priced home.
At Spring Creek at Zion Crossroads, sales are very strong whether for new homes or lots. Also existing homes are selling faster than they were a year ago with fewer days on the market, said Dan Girouard, Sales and marketing Director who described 2014 as a “fabulous year.”
Sharon Duke with William A. Cooke, LLC, described the market as “very busy.” She has been writing contracts all through July and August, usually a time when things slow down because so many people are on vacation. “It’s still a buyers’ market, “ she said, “but prices have come up recently.” She was also excited about the market in Spring Creek, which she says is doing well today and did not suffer as much as other areas during the recent economic down turn.
Why People Move to Louisa
Louisa has much to offer individuals and families who want a relaxed lifestyle with a lot of convenience.
The county’s central location is a big plus, said Atkins who is a native of the area and lived in Louisa before Lake Anna or the developments at Zion Crossroads. Depending on the part of the county, residents can be in easy commuting distance of Charlottesville, Richmond, or Fredericksburg and, of course, Northern Virginia and DC are also easily accessible via Highway 15 or Interstate 95.
People who live near Zion Crossroads have a short commute to jobs at State Farm, Martha Jefferson and other Pantops area locations, Duke said. She added that another advantage of living east of Charlottesville is that whether you’re going to work or coming home, you don’t have to drive into the sun. For variety, or in case of an accident, commuters can choose from several routes into town including interstate 64, Route 250 or the scenic drive on Route 22 through horse country, she added.
Louisa can also be a great central location for spouses who work in two different cities such as Charlottesville and Richmond, Girourard said.
Many retirees like Louisa’s relaxed country lifestyle, but appreciate the easy access to shopping, restaurants and other amenities in town. Girouard has noticed a recent trend of retirees moving to Spring Creek from other golf course communities such as Glenmore or Lake Monticello. Often these individuals are tired of their big houses and want to downsize, but still “want the nice amenities of a golf community to meet their lifestyle needs,” he said. It also helps that the property taxes are lower than they are in surrounding counties like Albemarle. “You get more bang for your buck in Louisa,” Girourard said.
Who is moving to Louisa?
Louisa is popular with buyers who want land. Duke, who is from Louisa and “loves it there,” was quick to explain that there is a lot of land for sale. “For years people in Charlottesville didn’t think to look to the east when searching for a home or a piece of property,” she said. “They are now realizing all that Louisa has to offer.” Her most recent sale was to some buyers from Keswick who like living to the east of Charlottesville, but wanted more land.
Many families like Louisa in part because they can get a bigger house or more property for less than they would have to pay in neighboring counties. Duke described some beautiful river front property on the South Anna River with easy access to Route 250 and a wooded 45 acre plot available for $125,000.
Margaret Ramsey with Roy Wheeler Realty, Co. has been working with a family from the Gordonsville area. They like the quality of life there and the small town feel but need a larger home for their growing family. They were lucky to find a 2,600 square foot home on seven acres for $250,000 in a nearby neighborhood in Louisa.
Also of importance to families are the local schools. In 2011 an earthquake damaged Louisa’s elementary and high schools, both of which had to be rebuilt. The new Thomas Jefferson Elementary School opened this year. There is also a brand new high school complex going up which Atkins described as “superb.” The high school recently received a Bronze Award based on student achievement from U.S. News and World Report. Award recipients are in the top 25 percent of high schools in the country.
There are lots of opportunities for first time buyers in Louisa today. Atkins remembers what the market was like before the recent downturn. Prior to 2005 there was nothing available in Louisa for under $200,000. Today a first time buyer can find a nice finished home in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range. For example, Duke described a 1,400 square foot home on three acres available for just $150,000.
The popular Spring Creek neighborhood at Zion Crossroads has much to offer a variety of different home buyers including options for first timers or move up buyers. Of course builders can also accommodate the special needs of downsizers, Girouard said.
Spring Creek is also an attractive alternative for golfers with a course that rated #58 on Golf Digest’s listing of America’s 100 greatest public golf courses. It also made Golf World’s Best of the Best list, ranking #1 for course condition.
In a related development that Girouard called the “talk of the town,” the new clubhouse at Spring Creek will be opening very soon. The exact date is not known at this moment but “stay tuned for details,” Girouard said. The clubhouse will have a restaurant, a lounge and banquet facilities and overlooks the 18th green, which Girourad describes as a “fabulous setting.” There is also a Pro shop which has just opened.
The new facility will add a nice gathering place and social element to this community which has been very well received, Girouard continued, explaining that prospective buyers “fall in love with it,” while established residents say that it is “worth waiting for.”
Louisa also has a lot to offer buyers seeking a more rural lifestyle. “Louisa is incredible for anyone who wants an agribusiness,” Duke said. That would include people who raise animals like sheep, angoras, or alpacas, or any kind of crops. One of Duke’s clients was a nurse in Charlottesville before moving to Louisa where she raises vegetables and sells heirloom seeds. Also “the Mineral farmer’s market is awesome,” Duke said. You can always count on getting “great stuff,” and there is always a good turnout, she continued.
Louisa’s Commercial and Economic Development
There is growing commercial development in Louisa which makes life easier for its residents, and of course, the growing number of homeowners drives more commercial development.
For example, an Advance Auto Parts store joined Lowes and a Super Wal-Mart at Zion Crossroads, and the number of fast food places and the choice of ethnic cuisine are also growing, along with personal care services such as nail salons and an Anytime Fitness.
An increasing number of medical and dental care services can be found in the Spring Creek Business Park which Girouard called a “medical campus.” Martha Jefferson offers imaging services including digital X-rays and mammograms, lab and EKG services, while full-time family physicians provide preventive and acute care, as well as chronic illness care and sports physicals.
The UVA Medical Park, a 45,000 square foot facility, offers a full range of services including imaging as well as primary and specialty care plus a pharmacy and a lab.
There are also dental services and a veterinarian, all so close to Spring Creek that Girouard jokes about how residents can take their pet for a check up in their golf cart.
Industrial development has also come to Louisa. “Louisa County is really trying to keep the cost of doing business low in order to attract new industry,” Ramsey said. Two years ago they developed a plan to bring in new businesses, which is starting to pay off she continued. Today there are four business complexes featured at the economic development website yeslouisa.com which also advertises one of the lowest tax structures for manufacturers in the state. One Louisa business, QBase McNeil Integrated Solutions just won a $360 million contract with the US government.
If you love a rural setting, but don’t want to give up the benefits of town, talk to your agent about Louisa, where taxes are lower and your dollars buy more house and land than they do on the other side of the county line.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.