By Celeste M. Smucker –
Enjoying a waterfront lifestyle is high on the list of many home buyers searching for the perfect place to live. Fortunately, in our area, they have plenty to choose from ranging from a house on a local lake, to a home on the James River, to a rural property with its own pond.
Whatever the setting, water adds value to our lives and calls to us for many reasons. A big one being that it takes the edge off day-to-day stress and provides a tranquil and relaxing place to hang out. And that’s true whether we are working, vacationing or retired.
Fortunately waterfront or water access living doesn’t have to be something we enjoy only occasionally while on vacation or visiting a lucky friend or relative. The many waterfront opportunities in our area offer housing styles and price ranges to suit a wide range of buyers who want to experience more vacation in their lives.
Sometimes they ease into it gradually, spending vacations on the water a couple of weeks a year while still working. Then they decide to purchase a second home and add occasional weekends to their time away. As they feel their stress dissolve, their weekends in the second home get longer and longer until finally, they find themselves living on the water full time.
If water calls to you, contact your REALTOR® today. You will be amazed at the number of opportunities that are affordable and nearby.
Lakefront communities with multiple amenities, both tangible and intangible, are popular in our area with numerous options for eager water lovers.
Vicki Wilson, Principal Broker with Monticello Country REALTORS®, relocated to the gated community of Lake Monticello after she and her husband enjoyed visiting there for years with the 4th of July fireworks an annual high point. “We loved it so much, we built our waterfront home here twenty years ago,” she said, “and never left.”
A big part of what Lake Monticello offers is its close-in location just 15 miles from Charlottesville.
“Buyers are attracted to Lake Monticello because of the quality of life offered by the community and the entire Charlottesville area,” said Patsy Strong, Principal Broker with Strong Team REALTORS®. “Whether people are looking for the fun and relaxing waterfront lifestyle or the world-class experiences in Charlottesville, Lake Monticello offers an opportunity for people to have both,” she added.
Lake Monticello residents can also find many essential services close to home. The community has a “small, hometown feel, with city conveniences,” Wilson said, adding “we have a newly renovated clubhouse, and golf clubhouse [and] there are several new restaurants, shops and businesses open here. You don’t need to drive [to town] to get the services of a city.”
For buyers who want a quieter, gated community, nearby Blue Ridge Shores in Louisa County may be an option. Its private lake has five miles of shoreline, and features fishing, water skiing (but not jet skis), tubing and boating. Swimming is also popular there and the community maintains three beaches.
If you want to live near water and also love horses, consider Louisa’s Shenandoah Crossing with its 60-acre lake plus equine center and stables. Home owners also enjoy hiking and golfing, or cooling off in the pools or at the water park.
To the east, Lake Anna overlaps Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties with a small section extending into Orange. Dave Guna, owner of Lake Anna Island Realty in Mineral explained that it is the second largest lake in Virginia, with multiple communities and many different housing options to choose from.
As recently as 15 or so years ago, Lake Anna was “the best kept secret,” Guna said. Today it is increasingly popular due in part to the fact that it is an easier, quicker drive than the ocean front. As a result, he is seeing more full time residents there, up from 30 percent in the 1990s to closer to 65 percent today.
A surprising number of Lake Anna residents commute to DC via the train, Guna continued, or drive to Charlottesville, just a 45 minute commute on the Interstate. Residents go to both Fredericksburg and Richmond for jobs as well.
Smith Mountain Lake, the largest lake contained entirely within the Commonwealth, is located west of Charlottesville near Roanoke. With over 500 miles of shoreline and multiple communities overlapping two counties, buyers will find everything they need.
Described as the “hidden jewel of the Blue Ridge,” by REALTOR® Deb Beran with Deb Beran Properties, the lake was created from a dam and reached full capacity over 50 years ago.
Architect and broker, Leslie Becker, owner of SML Properties International and Premier Vacation Rentals at Smith Mountain Lake, is a long time Smith Mountain Lake resident. She relocated after searching for lake communities from Virginia to Pennsylvania. She cites the return on investment from property ownership as a big reason for her decision along with easy access to DC and the Northeast via the bullet train out of Lynchburg, and direct flights to LaGuardia from Roanoke.
Flowing from the mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, the James River “has been an active part of our lives for a long time,” says Paul Kilgore with Montague Miller and Co. Active in Amherst County Real Estate for over 30 years, Kilgore knows the river well.
When rail took over water as the main means for transporting goods from west to east, tracks were built along the river, zigzagging back and forth across it and effectively eliminating 50 percent of river frontage, Kilgore notes.
In some cases, high steep banks also limit river access, Kilgore continued, while boaters may find parts of the river too shallow to navigate. There are exceptions, however. The area above the Reusens Dam has consistently deep (5 to 17 feet) water sufficient for any kind of boat.
If the river life appeals to you, call an agent well versed in the area and be aware that while building lots are available, they are hard to find, Kilgore warns. Still, with “stealth and a little luck,” (plus a knowledgeable agent) you can find the right property, Kilgore assures.
A Hot Market
“The market at Lake Anna is doing very well,” Guna said, “especially waterfront homes.” He added that water access homes are also moving.
“The market is coming back,” said Libby Sandridge with Dockside Realty who specializes in Lake Anna properties. While there is still inventory, the number of sales are up with 112 sold properties compared to just 100 this time last year.
Lake Monticello’s market is also impressive. “There have been 135 homes sold year-to-date compared to 125 [sold at] this time in 2017. There are some remaining waterfront lots on the market as well,” Wilson said.
“I am pleased with the sales we have seen in the Lake Monticello waterfront market this year,” Strong says. “To date in 2018, there have been 4 waterfront homes closed, and an additional 9 waterfront homes pending with prices ranging from $345,000 to $760,000. By comparison, there were 25 waterfront homes sold here in [all of] 2017.”
“Currently, there are only 7 waterfront [homes] on Lake Monticello’s active market.” However, Strong concludes, “I am anticipating more waterfront homes coming on [the market] later this fall, enabling waterfront home sales to exceed last year’s total.”
Lack of inventory is an issue for river front properties, Kilgore reports. When homes and lots “come on the market they sell quickly,” he said as there is a lot of buyer interest. He called the river a “unique destination,” with species of fish not available anywhere else.
Water Access Homes Available for First Time Buyers
First time buyers who want to live in a water community can still find homes in their price range. Wilson reports that home prices for current listings at Lake Monticello start at $139,000, well within the first timer range.
Similarly, at Lake Anna there are lake access homes starting at $169,900 Sandridge said.
Buyers Who Love the Water
While retirees, people anticipating retirement, and second home buyers are the obvious candidates for waterfront and water access property, this is changing as more people telecommute or work a business out of their home.
Sandridge reports that “Lake Anna still remains a second home community, however we are seeing more primary home buyers due to Dominion Power and other local companies not to mention that today many jobs are giving employees the option to work remotely.”
The availability of high speed internet makes it easy to work from home at Lake Monticello Wilson said. These residents can enjoy the lake all day long. The Lake is “a great stress reliever” she continued, offering amenities from boating, fishing and swimming, to “star gazing, playing a round of golf, tennis or enjoying the playgrounds with your kids or grand kids.”
At Lake Monticello “the buyers for waterfront homes are diverse; some are well into retirement, others retiring in several years, and still others are purchasing a weekend getaway for their growing young families,” Strong adds. “Interestingly enough, they all purchase here with [the] idea of enjoying a more relaxed waterfront lifestyle, which they immediately find at Lake Monticello!”
Young families with children are becoming more common at Smith Mountain Lake, Becker notes. Often they are entrepreneurs who work from home. However, the health care sector is a big draw bringing people willing to drive the half hour or so to their jobs, she concluded.
She estimates that about half of the buyers are people looking for a second home who plan to retire there and half are full time residents. While there are exceptions, most second home buyers come from no more than three hours away, minimizing the drive and assuring they won’t be too far from family and friends when they do finally move there for good.
The Right REALTOR® is Essential
“Choose a brokerage that specializes in waterfront properties and homes,” Wilson said, a sentiment echoed by the other agents.
“Location counts more than any other single factor,” Sandridge explained in reference to Lake Anna’s unique and multi-faceted market. This is one of many reasons that “it is important to be careful and make sure you are receiving advice from a local experienced Lake Anna agent,” she added.
Always ask your agent about the depth of the water and whether it is controlled, Becker advises. The water depth of Smith Mountain Lake is “controlled within five feet,” so it will always be deep enough for boats.
If you are a seller of a waterfront or water access home, you also need to call your knowledgeable local REALTOR® to help you set a reasonable price and offer helpful advice and negotiation expertise when you receive a buyer contract.
If you are looking for the perfect second home, a place to enjoy retirement, or just love the idea of living on the water, there are many options available. Contact your agent now for more details.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.