Are you tired of the hustle and bustle of city life? Maybe you don’t like the traffic or the anonymity of living in a subdivision where you barely know your neighbors? Perhaps you love exploring local history, or appreciate sharing our area’s beautiful scenery with out-of-town visitors, or maybe what excites you is visiting local wineries, sampling their wares and bringing friends and family to join the fun. If so consider Orange County where all of these many facets of a quiet life are available in one place, and where your dollars buy more home and land than closer in, and—thanks also to lower county taxes— you have more money to spend on things you love.
By 1734 enough early settlers had chosen Orange County as their home to make it a separate, legal entity named for England’s William, Prince of Orange. Later it was home to two Presidents, Zachary Taylor and James Madison whose home, Montpelier, is a major attraction today for both tourists and history buffs. Orange County was also the site of the Battle of the Wilderness where Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E Lee engaged each other for the first time. Today Civil War enthusiasts can view significant events from that battle, which are accessible via hiking trails.
Residents of a modern Orange County continue to enjoy a place that is still primarily agricultural and known for being one of Virginia’s top grape producers. At the same time, job seekers will find a number of major employers there including cabinet component manufacturer, American Woodmark, defense contractor Aerojet, book publisher MPS, and Walmart, to name just a few. In addition, Green Applications, a textile printing and distribution company is in process of setting up shop in Gordonsville and expected to employ 300+ workers.
Orange County residents often discover it first as tourists, drawn to the quaint shops, a variety of excellent local restaurants and wine tastings at local vineyards. History lovers come for guided tours through Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, and the site of the popular Montpelier Races where both horses and Jack Russell terriers compete every first weekend of November.
Some of the same tourists attracted by Orange County’s amenities decide to stay permanently buying a house or estate and breathing a sigh of relief as they let go of urban stress and settle into their quiet country lifestyle. Local agents report an improving market, and one where favorable prices and continuing low interest rates combine to make for an excellent time to buy, and where everyone is welcome, from first-timers commuting to Charlottesville for jobs, to horse lovers looking for a country property that suits their favorite animals.
Orange County’s Real Estate Market
While Orange County’s real estate market suffered during our recent recession, local agents agree it is definitely coming back to life; a feeling confirmed by the online real estate service, Trulia, that reports a 23 percent increase in Orange County’s year over year median home prices at the end of November, 2016. In addition, sellers benefitted from a decrease in the number of days on the market compared to last year at this time.
Cathy Marco with Cowan Realty explained that the current Orange County market is “much more active than in the past,” although not as much as other places in the region. Home values there are also rising, just not as fast as elsewhere. Marco added that starter homes, defined as those priced under $200,000, “move quickly.” Even some large estates are selling but that is a “tougher market,” she said.
Pat Crabtree with Montague, Miller & Co. said the market is “getting there,” but it’s not yet what she would characterize as “bustling.” She believes her area was hit harder by the recession, and as a result, is taking longer to come back. She did, however, express concern about the low number of listings available for sale, and she has even experienced some instances of multiple offers, although that is not the norm yet. While this may be frustrating for buyers and their agents, it is a sign that well-priced properties are moving.
About the market, Melissa (Missy) Garrison with Montague Miller & Co. added that “things are picking up some.” She urges anyone who is ready to move to get into the market now while interest rates are still low. “Now is the time to buy,” she said.
Why Buyers Choose Orange County
The small town atmosphere in communities like Gordonsville and the town of Orange as well as a more laid-back pace of life are big parts of why Orange is so popular. Of course beautiful scenery and easy access to the amenities of Charlottesville and other surrounding towns make a move to Orange even more enticing.
Tired of fighting traffic whenever you go out? Jack Samuels with Jack Samuels Realty said it is the
“peaceful, easy feeling,” that brings people to Orange County along with the sense of community that comes from the fact that “people all know each other.” He added that “life is a lot easier here,” in reference to his leisurely drive to work where he confronts only one stop light and virtually no traffic.
Crabtree compared the town of Orange—where she has her office— to Mayberry RFD. She loves the small town feel and the fact that people know each other and look out for their neighbors. Community gathering places like the park and the farmer’s market on Main Street just add to this ambiance. Of course home owners who want more privacy and an even more rural experience can choose a home on acreage or a farm with fenced pastures and gorgeous mountain views.
Justin Wiley with Frank Hardy, Inc. called Orange County “a great place to live,” alluding to its natural beauty and the impressive views available there. Although he didn’t grow up there—he moved to Orange some years ago—he has nevertheless seen a lot change in his time, but says “it still feels like it used to.”
Home buyers who want assurance that the land around them will remain undeveloped and retain its rural character will be pleased to learn that Orange has quite a few conservation easements in place Wiley said. Buyers who want to take advantage of these easements should look for an agent that is familiar with them and can assist them to find acreage that meets their requirements.
Garrison, a life-long resident of Orange County, said that part of the appeal for her is that she “doesn’t want to live in hustle and bustle.” When she looks out over her ten acres she sees “deer and not cars. This is where I find peace,” she added.
Some other benefits of Orange include its easy access to shopping and other amenities in town, and its location to the north, which takes the stress out of getting to the main airports. The location is also attractive to two-career couples where one works in Charlottesville, the other in Richmond, Fredericksburg or Culpeper.
Historic Orange County
Buyers who want to own a piece of history should talk to their agent about options in Orange County. A region in the county called Somerset—often described as “the jewel of Orange County” and compared to the English countryside— is a good place to look.
Some well-known examples of Orange County historic properties include Frascati, built in the early 1800s for Philip Barbour, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Exchange Hotel Civil War Museum in Gordonsville is another famous building that once served weary train travelers before it became a hospital treating soldiers from both sides of the Civil War, and, eventually, a museum. Yet another Orange County landmark is Mayhurst, an estate built by James Madison’s great nephew where, during the Civil War, Confederate troops camped on the lawn. Today it is a luxurious Bed and Breakfast.
Buyers Love Orange County
Many parts of Orange are in easy commuting distance of Charlottesville, and for people living in the Gordonsville part of the county, Richmond is also an easy drive down the interstate. This means buyers—including first-timers—who long for the quiet of country life can find a home in Orange County and still enjoy a reasonable and scenic commute to work.
The agents who work with first-time buyers say affordable properties, some on an acre or two, are available and urge them to call their lender about getting pre-qualified so they can start their home search, keeping in mind that these are the properties that move the fastest.
Orange County’s employers bring people to the area when they transfer them to a local facility, and often the new hires want to live near where they work, knowing that the amenities they appreciate are a short drive away. Garrison recently worked with a family—recently relocated from Ohio for a corporate job—that found a nearby home they love in the mid-$300,000 range.
The area also attracts telecommuters who work remotely. One of Garrison’s buyers is able to work from home and recently relocated his family— including a new baby—from Texas. She learned on meeting him that he was also returning home, and in fact had originally met Garrison when they were both students at Orange County’s high school. A big plus for him—and most other people who move there—was the availability of high-speed internet. In fact, Garrison said, “it’s the main thing buyers ask for.”
Orange is also popular with retirees who like the slower pace of life, access to cultural and shopping amenities in town, and the close proximity of world-class medical care. Many also enjoy Orange County’s home prices, especially if they are moving from high-priced markets like those in Northern Virginia. Often they pass through the area first as tourists sampling wine at local vineyards or watching the Montpelier races while staying in a nearby B & B. “People are always passing through,” Samuels said, “and when they see what Orange has to offer, often, they decide to stay.”
Still another type of Orange County buyer is the person looking for more property so they can participate in the fast-growing trend towards farming or agro-tourism, Wiley explained. Examples are wineries, pick your own pumpkins farms and vegetable growing for distribution to restaurants that want to source local produce.
Of course horse farms are also big in this area. Wiley, a horse owner, has served on the board of the Montpelier Races that he described as the largest event in the county, exceeding fifteen thousand visitors a year. Crabtree called the Montpelier Races “Orange County’s homecoming,” adding that they attract visitors from all over.
Something for Everyone
If you yearn for the slower pace of rural life, but don’t want to give up shopping at your favorite stores or attending concerts and other cultural events, ask your REALTOR® about Orange County. You’ll find most everything you need there, and the rest is just a short drive away.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.