Real recovery? Belvedere, Old Trail cite building booms

Realtors say they're seeing positive signs. New construction starts and sales have jumped in the past year, say the management of two of the county's most audacious mixed-use developments, Belvedere and Old Trail. Are we really leaving the real estate bust behind, or have we just been down so long it feels like up?

"It's hard to know or say with confidence where we are until we have hindsight, but right now, things are looking pretty good," says local real estate blogger Jim Duncan, a broker with Nest Realty.

Among the good omens Duncan cites are improvement in three measures of a market's health: volume of sales in the city and county are both up from last year by 15 and 10 percent respectively for the months of May, June and July, as is the median price– up eight percent in the city and 12 percent in the county. And the supply is down considerably from last year for the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises the city of Charlottesville, and Albemarle, Nelson, Fluvanna, and Greene counties, dropping 13 percent from 2,528 listings in July 2011 to 2,200 in July 2012.

"That's good," says Duncan, but muses that there could be a flip side.

"It's also not so good because it's an indicator that there are people out there who could sell but are choosing not to," he explains. When enough people believe the market has made a sufficient recovery, those hold-outs could flood the market, Duncan says, something he fears will "extend the recovery time for years and years."

Another potential recovery-blocker is the number of houses owned by banks through foreclosures. Some are vacant, some are occupied, others are in various stages of repossession. Duncan would like to see those houses put up for sale sooner than later.

"The faster they come on the market," he says, "the faster we can burn through them and seek a truer recovery."

While signs point to a recovery in its infancy, its effects are already being felt at two massive developments born in the glory days of the real estate bubble.

Four years ago, the Hook called Belvedere a lonely utopia. Today, however, the town center, known as The Village, has recently broken ground, townhouses are under construction, and the 294-unit luxury apartment complex, The Reserve at Belvedere, stands nearly complete– and quickly rented.

"For all its challenges, Belvedere is doing great," says developer Bob Hauser, who says that Phase 1– the first 117 houses– is almost complete.

Another positive sign for the planned 775-unit development off Rio Road was the recent purchase by the Senior Center of a six-acre commercial parcel in Belvedere (to which the Center will eventually move from Pepsi Place near U.S. 29).

"I'm a cynic," notes Hauser, who says he's resisted making optimistic predictions over the past several years, but is now feeling differently. "This time around, I think it's actually coming back," he says. "It's been going on long enough now that I think there's some momentum."

That's also the sentiment from the development manager at Old Trail, a Crozet-area community with a similar New Urbanist– or what the County calls "neighborhood model"– aesthetic.

"There's definitely a feeling of change in the market," says Dave Brockman, who works for Old Trail's parent company March Mountain Management. Brockman took the job of overseeing Old Trail six weeks ago as part of a restructuring effort that gave him control of the development long managed by the Beights Corporation.

Already, says Brockman, he's seeing big results: 40 single-home lots and 19 townhouse parcels under sales commitment to builders. With only 300 of a possible 2,000 units completed since 2005, that would mark 20 percent growth; and more sales, he says, are on the horizon.

"It's a tremendous amount of activity," says Brockman, mentioning plans to double Old Trail's commercial center, which is already home to three restaurants, an ACAC satellite gym, medical offices, and a hair salon.

With the third quarter market report looming at the end of the month from the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, new growth figures could back the emerging anecdotal evidence. But it'll take a while before he relaxes, Brockman says.

"As developers, we all go forward with an air of caution," says Brockman. "We don't get too far ahead of ourselves."


Now HERE"S some reporting!
For decades these R.E agents have sold out their neighbors and neighborhoods
by ushering wide-eyed buyers into mortgages they couldn't afford. I don't blame the lenders--
it's not their business to give a damn about hometowns,
but the realtors always took great pride in their positions as upholders of values and neighborhoods,
often couching their sales talk with outright lies. Oh, the market's gonna "burn through" those homes, alright.

Robert -

I hesitate to enter the discussion, but I'm curious - what are some of the "outright lies" told by realtors?

I can't speak to the "decades" of agents selling out neighbors and neighborhoods as I'be been in the business only for 11 years, but I'll say that some absolutely did not warn folks about the inherent risks in purchasing real estate, and the National Association of Realtors was complicit (see: "it's a great time to buy or sell" ad campaign).

What I said above is factually accurate:

- Sales volume and prices are up, for now.
- Bank-held properties need to come on the market in order for the market to truly recover
- Again, I can't speak for all realtors, but for myself, I absolutely do care about this community.

Right now, the data looks positive. I'll let you know in 18 months where we are today.

You don't blame the lenders? C'monnnnnn MAN

ahh belevedere. where plants animals and old slave burial grounds have to be moved to make room for your Mcmansion on .2 acres. Tragic tale of sprawl here It never got the starbucks or the organic community farm that were talked about initially. Just more mudslides and solar ovens in this community.

Belvedere is an already obsolete development. The concept has already been done in Robinson Woods for example, where much less land was used per house. That was good, but not good enough, as the houses are too big and expensive to be truly affordable. What is really needed is developments of intelligently designed small houses people could afford to actually buy as opposed to being perpetually in debt, paying on mortgages which will never be paid off. When I say "actually buy", I mean a house cheap enough so "middle class" people could afford to pay it off on a 10 year note instead of 30 years where they still owe 80% of the principal 13 years into the loan..
Why would someone want to remain in lifetime thrall to the financial industry when one could otherwise live in a smaller house that's paid off years before one's retirement? I for one would rather reach 60 having lived in a tiny cottage that was paid off when I was 45, than reach the same age living in a $500K house that I still owed $350K on. The subsidized mortgage business has resulted in a tragic situation for many people and a nation with an over-investment in unaffordable housing stock. Belvedere really is the same old soup warmed over with a few feel-good garnishes of "New Urbanism" thrown in to make people feel more ecologically proper..

The road system in Belvedere will be a great source of disappointment in the future to anyone that is unfortunate enough to buy a house there. Mr Hauser is not known for setting the funds aside for the"finishing touches" in such projects.

First, as a resident it has been great to see Belvedere flourishing. More families move in every month. I moved into the neighborhood in early 2011, and the place as exploded. This is a great and affordable (not all of us have McMansions) place to raise a family. The dense development holds so many benefits that you have to live here to experience.

I disagree with some of these comments about Belvedere (I actually agree with the R.E. agent comment). I think if you actually walked (not drive) through the neighborhood you will find few McMansions (Really! You think these homes are expensive, try buying a well maintained home downtown). Many homes here are typical size. I agree the developer could do more, but why should we continue to ask others to do things for our community when we should be willing to do it ourselves. I think, as residents, we should take pride in making the neighborhood better ourselves and build on the foundation created.

I don’t hesitate to let me daughters ride around looking for things to do and places to play. I would not do this in Forest Lakes, Dunlora or even downtown. I know my neighbors, and more importantly, they know my daughters. My home is a long term investment and so is my community. This is something I think the critics always seem to miss.

Streaks on the China, never mattered before. Who cares? When you drop kicked your jacket as you came through the door, no one glared.

Me daughters and me don't believe in McMansions, laddy!