What's shakin'? Sounding out the Louisa County market
The earthquake on August 23 was big news for our area, especially for Louisa County residents who found themselves at the epicenter of the action. And as most of us know by now, preliminary reports stating that there was little damage turned out to be erroneous.
Estimates of damage to residences tops $14 million, and the damage estimate to the public schools has climbed to $57.5 million, exceeding the insurance cap by $7 million. Both the county high school and one of the elementary schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. At least 1,400 high school students have been moved to the adjacent middle school, where mobile classrooms are being added to accommodate the increased capacity, and 570 students from Thomas Jefferson Elementary have been moved 20 minutes away to Trevilians Elementary.
Students are attending classes on a schedule of alternating days that may last through the end of the school year, putting a kink in weekend sports participation and straining the already crowded calendars of families across the county.
According to the county, there have been more than 1,100 reports of damage caused by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, with 680 of those reports assessed by late September. Frequent problems included shifted foundations and broken chimneys.
For those whose homes and businesses bore the brunt of the damage, there may be some relief available via section 58.1-3222 of the Virginia Code, which provides a tax abatement of levies on buildings "razed, destroyed or damaged by fortuitous happenings beyond the control of the owner.”
There’s no question that the earthquake was beyond the control of the property owners; however, owners can apply for the tax abatement only after certain criteria are met. First, the property damage must be severe enough to render the building unfit for use and occupancy for at least 30 days during a calendar year. Second, application for the abatement must be made within six months of the date the damage was sustained, a potentially onerous timeframe given that many property owners may be unaware that such a provision even exists. And finally, application for tax abatement is not available unless damage to the affected property exceeds $500.
For some property owners, the abatement may offer a modicum of relief as a result of obvious damages. For others, however, the harm may be evidenced in a more subtle fashion.
According to a recent post on the Charlottesville Bubble Blog, realcville.blogspot.com, the Louisa County housing market was showing painful signs of decline before the earthquake, with sales down 50 percent over pre-earthquake time last year. And there are a total of 212 homes currently on the market. With an average of 17 sales per month for the past three months, the Louisa market has more than a 12-month inventory, nearly double what real estate experts consider indicative of a "balanced" market.
The discovery of a previously little-known fault line isn’t likely to help the situation, either, especially since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently released a report stating that the 5.8-magnitude quake exposed the North Anna power plant to twice the force it was designed to withstand. Though the NRC has since issued a statement maintaining that there’s no risk to the public, the two reactors have not yet been restarted, and Dominion Virginia Power has been busy installing new seismic monitoring equipment– undoubtedly to prevent future surprises from the fault line.
Add concerns over the shuffled school schedule to the mix, and the potential buyers who once looked to Louisa County properties for their affordability, lower taxes, and easy commute to both Charlottesville and Richmond may find themselves looking elsewhere for stable real estate investments.Read more on: real estate market