ANNUAL MANUAL- Real Estate
The median sales price of a Charlottesville area house in 2006 was $274,000. That's $18,900 more than the 2005 median, according to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors. Think the high end isn't also white hot? Think again. In 2006, 108 residential transactions in the county and city topped $1 million.
HEY, BIG SPENDER
Albemarle County may not be Beverly Hills, but that doesn't mean some serious coin hasn't been dropped for prominent properties in the area. In 2004, John Carr and Raymond Hunniston III ponied up $24 million for the Castle Hill estate in Cismont, a favorite breakfast spot of would-be gubernatorial kidnappers. As steep as those figures are, they're nothing compared to two monster transactions in 2005. Fred Scott sold Bundoran Farm in North Garden to Qroe Farm Preservation Development for a reported $33 million, and Hunter Craig shelled out a whopping $46 million for the land surrounding artists' enclave Biscuit Run. No recent transaction have come even approached those numbers, with 2006's biggest sale coming when Clover Hill Farm went on the block and sold to Robert Micley and Carolyn Henderson for $13 million.
However, there are some signs the market may be cooling off. The average number of days of a house was on the market went from 60 in 2005 to 76 in 2006. Also, in 2006 4,332 residential parcels changed hands in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and surrounding counties, compared to 4,665 a year earlier. Additionally, total sales came to over $1.49 billion, down from $1.6 billion. But there's no doubting the market has come a long way, baby. In 1989, the value of such sales was just $104.2 million. No wonder there are so many real estate agents around here! –data source: CAAR
ON THE LEVEL
Dave Phillips, CEO of the Charlottesville Albemarle Association of Realtors, says the apparent slowdown is only the sign of a healthy market leveling itself out. Phillips explains, "2005 was a statistical anomaly. It was the perfect storm of condo sales, a hot real estate market, and investors pouring speculative money into the market. That kind of spike is just not sustainable.
"At the end of 2006 and into this year, we've seen prices going down and the market going slightly down, and then stabilizing into a gradual increase of sales and price."
WHO'S MOVING HERE?
Retirees and others fleeing high taxes and living costs are stampeding to Central Virginia– thanks to such pubs as Money magazine and– on March 30, 2004, a new book called Cities Ranked & Rated, from Frommer's, that ranked Charlottesville #1 among American cities. But perhaps Frommer's, too, has felt the slight real estate chill. We dropped to #17 in this year's edition.
By state law, municipalities are required to assess at market prices, so quit yer yappin'. Or call the Equalization Board– but beware that this three-person, court-appointed body has the power not only to decrease but quite possibly increase your assessment. If recent years are any indicator, that's a likely possibility.
Charlottesville– Values continue to rise, though it's gotten steadier: they jumped 23 percent in 2003; 17 percent in 2005; 14.3 percent in 2007. Assessor: Roosevelt Barbour 970-3136
Albemarle- Albemarle County continues to grow rapidly, and so, too, do real estate values! 18.7 percent jump in 2003; 27 percent in 2005!; 29.8 percent in 2007! (Albemarle reassesses every two years) Assessor: Bruce Woodzell 296-5856
Apartment search- One local search engine is run by apartment group Blue Ridge Apartment Council. Another option is OffGrounds.com, started by students for students and faculty (817-0721). If you want to rent a house, try the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) at (817-2227). However, only members of the BRAC are listed, so don't forget the old-fashioned methods of asking around, walking around, or... drumroll... checking out the Hook's classified ads.
Rights and responsibilities- If you're a student, you can get free advice from Student Legal Services (924-7524). And UVA's housing office (924-6873) offers a pamphlet called "The Off-Grounds Living Guide" that explains city ordinances.
If you're not a student, you might want to take a peek at the Virginia Landlord-Tenant Act, online or at the library– it governs rental real estate dealings.
–>>For more info on renting, check out our Consumer section.
BUYING AND SELLING
Real Estate Weekly- Among local real estate publications, this one has the greatest array of ads and even a few little how-to tips. 817-9330
Property search- The best local search engine is run by a local realtor group, the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (817-2227), and is available on the CAAR website at the bottom of their homepage.
"FSBO"- The crowd-pleasing, if realtor-angering, way to sell a house typically involves putting up a sign and then hoping. While the method often draws sneers as a tool of sellers with unrealistically high opinions of their property's worth, it has worked in hot neighborhoods as a way to avoid paying that nettlesome six percent commission. In the last three years, four discount brokerages have opened. Assist-2-Sell says it'll sell your house for as low as $2,995, HomeSell offers to do the job for $1,500, C-Ville By Owner will list your castle on its website and in print for $200, and Help-U-Sell has a sliding scale.
Assessment data can be found online or by phoning or visiting the City Assessor's Office on the top floor of City Hall. 970-3136.
The deeds are located a few blocks away in the clerk's office in the basement of the Circuit Court at 315 E. High St. 970-3766
Circuit Court Clerk: Paul Garrett
Assessment data can be found online or by visiting or phoning the County Assessor's Office at the County Office Building. 296-5856
The actual deeds are located on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex by Jackson Park in Court Square. 972-4083
Circuit Court Clerk: Shelby Marshall (retiring at the end of 2007)
–>>For more info on neighborhoods, check out our Newcomer section.
Free home-buyer classes- The Piedmont Housing Alliance offers free three-hour seminars to first-time home-buyers twice a month. 817-2436
Information on low-interest loans can be found from various local sources, but a good starting point is the Piedmont Housing Alliance (817-2436). This private non-profit shares information on various assistance programs including the Albemarle Housing Program (296-5839) and Jimmy Carter's favorite house-building charity, Habitat for Humanity. 293-9066.
BUILDING AND RENOVATING
So you wanna build?
Albemarle- The rules can be obtained from the Community Development Office located in the County Office Building. 296-5832
Charlottesville- Taking a cue from Albemarle, the City also consolidated its zoning, building, and neighborhood offices into the Neighborhood Development Services in City Hall. 970-3182
So you wanna dig?
Call "Miss Utility" at 800-552-7001 at least 48 hours before you want to dig, so you don't hit an underground pipe or wire and kill yourself and/or others.
"I saw the sign"
When Albemarle County developers request a zoning change, officials put up a beige sign with a code number to alert neighbors about an upcoming public hearing. Besides checking the number online, interested citizens can call the zoning office (296-5832) for sign numbers 1-25, which would typically indicate a variance issue or an appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Community Development Office (296-5832) handles sign numbers 26-99, which would generally cover special use permits or rezonings.
ALBEMARLE- In its quest to keep a little bit of land undeveloped, in 2002 the County began buying development rights through its Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) project. The County budgets $1 million per year for the program– perhaps you'll want to sell yours? 296-5832
What's a proffer? There's no secret or dirty trick involved; it's basically an above-the-table bribe from a developer to the County to get a zoning amendment. You can see all the proffers dating back to 1979 on Albemarle's website.
RELIEF FOR THE ELDERLY/DISABLED
Albemarle- If you're over 65 and/or permanently disabled, make less than $25K, and have a net worth under $80K (excluding your house), you may be eligible for rent relief. 296-5851 x3117
Charlottesville–Similar situation. The City offers a "wealth" of relief measures for disabled and elderly homeowners and renters including a package administered by the Commissioner of Revenue that offers tax relief (20-100 percent of property taxes), free trash stickers, and several hundred dollars off one's annual utility bills. 970-3160
WELFARE FOR THE RICH?
Farmette owners are notorious for taking advantage of something called "Land Use Taxation," which means that a mogul with an 8,900-square-foot palace can pay just $976 in taxes on his 50 acres– about as much as the owner of a one-acre lot in Forest Lakes pays. Defenders of the program point out that the discount fosters agriculture– or at least open spaces.
THE HARD HATS
Blue Ridge Home Builders Association- This trade association represents builders and suppliers, and every spring it hosts the three-day "Home Show." Every fall it sponsors the "Parade of Homes." 973-8652
PEC- The Piedmont Environmental Council, although based in Warrenton, has a strong presence here as a voice for moderating growth. 977-2033
ASAP- Advocates for a Sustainable Population go farther than PEC; ASAP actually want to stop growth. 974-6390