Caplin's corner: He's making Venable affordable

Jeremy Caplin might just be the Mother Teresa of Charlottesville real estate.

That may seem a bit extreme, but given that local property values appear to be soaring completely out of control, could he at least qualify as a Robin Hood?

For the past 10 years, this Charlottesville native has championed the redevelopment of a charming string of 30-some houses between 10th Street and 13th Street, turning a renovation project into an intensely personal mission, and a real estate business into a community development initiative.

Caplin's entry into the landlording game was spurred by the plight of a longtime family friend who almost lost his house as a result of several ill-considered loans. The incident sparked an interest in property ownership and management, and by 1993 the UVA theater professor had decided to leave the halls of academia to devote himself to softening the often prickly housing market.

"I wanted to do something where I had control, where I could see the results," says Caplin, 49. If he's using the view from Grady Avenue as a benchmark, he must be pleased with his work– many of the houses facing the street have been transformed from run-down, boarded-up shacks into tidy homes with white picket fences and, perhaps, 2.3 kids. If there's anything he's done wrong along the way, it's his decision to take a pass on some houses in the area.

"You can't buy 'em all," he laments.

These days, Caplin says, his typical rents hover around $400/month– some two- and three-bedroom single family homes rent for $300-$325, some for $450-$550, and one woman pays $200 a month for a one bedroom cottage. Those numbers are less than half what some downtown apartments bring– and all the more astonishing when many students will gladly shell out four-figure monthly rents.

He doesn't appear to be subjecting his tenants to substandard service, either.

"He's the best landlord I ever had," says an enthusiastic Bea Wicks, one of Caplin's longest-renting residents. "I wish he'd buy all of them."

Even with all his success, Caplin has no intention of focusing elsewhere. If anything, he wants to saturate the Venable neighborhood with his presence, ensuring its preservation throughout Charlottesville's rapid growth spurts.

"If I do two houses on the same block, you can really feel it," he says.

Not only tenants appreciate Caplin's mission: His work has earned the respect of his peers.

"He's done more for a neighborhood than the city of Charlottesville could even imagine doing," says real estate tycoon Gabe Silverman. "He doesn't live in the neighborhood, he is the neighborhood."

Jeremy Caplin

Jeremy Caplin