View of the pool and the lake from the clubhouse.
Location: Lake Monticello
Schools: Central Elementary, Fluvanna Middle, Fluvanna County High School
Price range: $136,000-$715,000
Pros: Affordability, extensive amenities including beaches and public picnic areas
Cons: Commute time, school rankings, restrictive HOA
The true origins of Lake Monticello may be as murky as the water itself, but fans of the 3500-acre community are clear on what makes the Lake lifestyle so appealing.
“Where else can you get beaches, a golf course, a pool, tennis courts–– everything that makes the quality of life here just amazing?” asks Catherine Neelley, General Manager at Lake Monticello, listing a number of amenities that draw residents to the gated community.
In addition to the 350-acre, man-made lake with its 5 beaches, there are basketball courts, soccer and softball fields, playgrounds, and picnic areas. Situated approximately 15 miles southeast of Charlottesville in Fluvanna County, Lake Monticello–– first conceived of by a group of businessmen in the 1950s, and developed in the 1960s and '70s by Great Eastern Management Co.–– is now home to roughly 12,000 people.
Lisa Rogers, long-time Lake Monticello resident and realtor with Century 21 Monticello Properties, points out some additional benefits of the community.
“One of the most positive aspects about living here is that you’re situated between Charlottesville and Short Pump,” she says. “You’re about 30 minutes from either one. But it depends on what you want. If you want lower taxes and you’re looking to get more bang for your buck in terms of square footage, Lake Monticello is a great place to be.”
With 349 residential sales over the past couple of years and 137 current listings, the market at Lake Monticello seems to be improving.
“The market has picked up, almost like it was back in 2004 or 2005, but not quite,” Rogers says. “Homes are selling at lower rates, but they are selling if they’re priced right. I know that some owners are upset because Fluvanna County has reduced assessments to more realistic prices.Previously a lot of homeowners had gotten used to thinking their houses were worth more than were.”
As with other areas of the country, sales of distressed properties have had an effect on property values.
“Short sales and foreclosures have been driving sales and prices at the Lake for some time,” Rogers says. “That creates a situation that’s worrisome and problematic for some owners.”
Land sales at Lake Monticello, like most other places, have been slow for the past couple of years with just 17 sales recorded in the MLS (Multiple Listing System) and 36 currently on the market.
“A lot of these lots were purchased when the market was going up, and folks don’t want to sell for less than what they paid,” Rogers explains. “But owners have to get realisitic if they expect people to be able to afford to build on the lots.”
Jennifer Zajac, a former Lake Monticello resident in the process of selling her home, lists the beaches, the pool, the people, and the annual 4th of July celebration among the things she'll miss most.
"Fourth of July at the Lake is great!" she enthuses. "There's a swim across the Lake, a sand sculpture contest, a 5K, and then fireworks. It's pretty terrific."
What's not so terrific, in Zajac's opinion, is the Fluvanna County public school system, although Fluvanna County High School ranks among the top high schools in the country according to usnews.com. Central Elementary, however, doesn't fare so well, ranking 1,053rd out of 1,149 elementary schools in Virginia.
Along with the county schools, there's one other thing Zajac will be happy to leave behind.
"I won't miss the HOA," she declares. "They're increasingly restrictive."
One of the restrictions Zajac alludes to is a recent controversy that arose when the Lake Monticello Owners' Association entertained a proposal requiring children under the age of 16 to have adult supervision when using Lake amenities. Backlash from the residents— who pay about $1,300 in annual dues and club membership fees— has prompted the LMOA to adopt a code of conduct instead, according to an article in the Fluvanna Review.
This isn't the first time the LMOA has found itself in the hot seat for what some see as unreasonable restrictions. Back in 2007, the Association banned the Mobile Munchies ice cream truck from operating within the community, citing potential safety issues as the reason.
Zajac, a mother of two, sums up her feelings about the Association with a shrug. "They don't make it easy to be a kid," she says.