Madison County: Close-in, and Affordable With Panoramic Views

Madison County: Close-in, and Affordable With Panoramic Views

By Celeste M. Smucker –

Home buyers love Madison County for its beautiful scenery and its multitude of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and fishing.  Just north of Greene County, it attracts those who value privacy at a reasonable cost, along with access to the employment, shopping, educational, recreational and cultural benefits of Charlottesville.

Buyers also appreciate Madison’s comprehensive plan that limits sewer facilities, which means they won’t soon be living next door to a large commercial development such as a subdivision or a big box store, and can be confident their chosen rural lifestyle will persist well into the future.

There is also lots of excitement about Madison’s real estate market as buyers in all price ranges are calling their agents to take advantage of great prices and continuing low interest rates.  Many are retired, but the area also attracts pre-retirees buying a second home as well as first timers, families, and telecommuters some of whom plan to grow crops or raise chickens, cattle and horses. 

Madison’s Enviable Lifestyle
People have been enjoying the Madison County lifestyle for hundreds of years.  Founded in 1792 it was named for one of the forebears of President James Madison (author of the Bill of Rights) who owned property along the Rapidan River.

Many of the agents who work the Madison market have roots that run deep there, and for them there is nowhere else to live.  One of them is Carl Broyles with Montague Miller and Co. whose grandfather ran the Old Rag Mountain Post Office before that area was part of the National Park.

“I grew up here and I will never leave,” Broyles said.  He described the beauty of the open farm land and the mountain views that draw people from all over. The area’s many outdoor activities are also high on his list of reasons for loving his birthplace.  “You don’t have to leave the county for recreation,” he said.

Patti Lillard, another Madison native and REALTOR® with Montague Miller and Co., agrees about the mountain views saying they are often what buyers state they want most when they first meet with their agent.  But what they may not realize is that Madison has way more than that to offer.  For example, she described Madison’s relaxed, rural lifestyle as a “sweet spot in its own world with green spaces and easy living.”

Lillard added that for those who want to be part of a community,  Madison is also a place where everyone knows their neighbors with many opportunities for involvement in community activities. She called the county “a little piece of heaven,” with an appealing quality of life. 

A big focus of community involvement in Madison is the local schools. Julie Holbrook, an Associate Broker with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., moved to Madison County more than 25 years ago and she and her husband raised their four children there.  She described Madison as a place where parents are very involved in school activities, but “even people who are not parents come out and support the local sporting events at the schools.”

Families are also drawn by the excellence of a school system that has been recognized 20 out of 26 years by the Virginia High School League’s Wells Fargo Cup for academic excellence. The award considers forensics, along with the annual yearbook, the newspaper, literary magazine, theatre presentations, scholastic bowl competitions, and creative writing samples.

Whether or not they are native to Madison County, agents are captivated by what it offers.  John Ince, an Associate Broker with Nest Realty, described Madison as one of his favorite counties.  He was introduced to its many wonders when his parents retired there in 1980, and said that he and his four sisters “grew fonder and fonder of the area with each family reunion.”

“You don’t have to wander far from Route 29 to understand the attraction” Ince continued. “To the west you have the spectacular Hebron Valley and the Graves Mill area which back up to the Shenandoah National Park. To the east you have the fine farms from Somerset to Locust Dale that date to the 18th and 19th century and cultivate some of the best soils in the Piedmont.

“A flyover of Madison would show it to be pretty sparsely populated with the little town of Madison showing a few clustered developments nearby but with the majority of the land just classic Piedmont farms, gently rolling fields and woods, crops along the river bottoms and the more eastern farms with their deep alluvial soils.”

Part of why people appreciate Madison County is that it is a place where home owners can escape the stress of urban life, yet still enjoy a lot of amenities without traveling a long distance. Bill Gentry with Jefferson Land and Realty looks forward to attending events at the Kennedy Center in DC. “You can be there in just an hour and a half so you can get your culture and be back in a day,” he explained.  Of course Charlottesville’s shopping, downtown mall and cultural activities are even closer.

Many home buyers also like privacy and plenty of space to spread out, and in Madison, where the smallest lot size is 3 acres, there is more “elbow room” for the money, along with great views and a nice community, Gentry said.

Outdoor activities are another reason people choose Madison.  They may come first for hiking, camping or fishing, or just to enjoy the autumn leaves in the fall or wildflowers in the spring, but  eventually they choose to relocate there and experience all of these benefits full time.

One of Madison’s most famous residents was Herbert Hoover, our 31st President, who purchased land there for a summer home later called Rapidan Camp.  Today it is sometimes referred to as the “first Camp David” or Camp Hoover.  During Hoover’s time, people often also referred to his retreat as the “Brown House,” to distinguish it from his main residence in DC.

Hoover captured some of the allure of Madison when he stated, “…even the work of government can be improved by leisurely discussions of its problems out under the trees where no bells ring or callers jar one’s thoughts from the channels of urbanity.” 

There are many ways to enjoy Madison’s outdoor activities and great scenery.  One of these is an annual fundraiser that capitalizes on Madison’s renowned trout streams. The recently concluded 11th annual 2-Fly Tournament was sponsored by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing that has a mission “to assist in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.”  The tournament features fly fishing teams from around the country made up of a veteran and a professional guide.

Madison’s Real Estate Market
Madison agents are enthusiastic about this year’s market. Lillard reports that as of the end of April, there had been 33 homes sold with 25 pending (under contract but not closed).  Of particular note is the average number of days homes stay on the market that has dropped from 217 in April of 2016 to 107 a year later reflecting increased demand for these properties.

And while Madison agents have clients from Fredericksburg, Richmond and Tidewater, as well as New England, Chicago and the west coast, perhaps the two most popular places to relocate from are Northern Virginia and DC.   Some move in and commute to jobs, while others telecommute during some or all of the week. 

Others use their property as a weekend getaway with plans to retire there while some just want a safe place for their family to relax and decompress on weekends away from the stress of  urban life.

Ince indicated his team had just “ratified a contract on a 100 acre farm in Madison,” at the end of April.  He said that “the country property market draws buyers from all over the country,” and that “the improving national economy has had an impact on the farm and estate market with several large farms that had been on the market for years finally finding new owners.”  He continued that while inventories for country property have been high, there have been a number of large sales recently and “we can expect to see those sitting on the fence making decisions.”

Broyles reported more buyers are now looking for land with plans to build, including some of his clients who want to retire to Madison and are now looking for the perfect piece of property.  He too advises that the higher end properties are starting to sell, and recently took a rural listing priced just under $400,000 that he expects will “go fast” in this current market.

Lillard said the under $300,000 market is busy, while homes priced at less than $200,000 sell quickly.  She is seeing a lot of clients that are retired and moving to Madison from Northern Virginia who prefer single floor living, or at least a floor plan with the master bedroom on the first floor. They like a property that is “not a hassle to maintain,”  with preferences running to brick homes with wood floors and newer windows, she added.

She also has clients in the pre-retirement age group looking for what she calls a “farmette,”  a country property with some acreage that may be a second home until retirement when the buyers expect to move to Madison permanently. 

Gentry describes farm buyers as people, often in their mid to late 40’s, who may be two income families or those doing well in their business.  In Lillard’s experience some also represent  a “movement to self sufficiency,”  including families with children who want to move out of the city and live where they can have horses, cows or goats.    

Part of Madison’s attraction to buyers from Northern Virginia and other high priced areas is the difference in real estate prices between the two markets. Someone can sell a small brick rancher in Northern Virginia, pay cash for a nice, private piece of property in Madison and still have a good chunk left over to put in an investment account to help fund their retirement, Gentry explained.

Madison also attracts a lot of first time buyers, Lillard said, who reports that of the 33 homes sold by the end of April, 18 were in the under $200,000 price range as were 10 of 25 pendings.

Broyles works with lots of younger people as well, many of them first timers with families, who purchase homes in Madison.  Often they are couples with jobs in either Charlottesville or Culpeper, and of course the location also works well for households that have a spouse working in each of the two cities.

If beautiful views, privacy and a country lifestyle are in your future, ask your agent about Madison County.  With interest rates still low, now is a great time to buy, and you can rest assured  your property will remain rural and free of development for a very long time.

Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.