Ups and downs
The first-quarter report for 2012 released by the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) shows that overall sales in the region have increased while the time houses spend on the market has decreased. Foreclosures and short sales are also down with bank-mediated listings accounting for just six percent of the active inventory. And speaking of inventory, that may just be where the best news of all lies for sellers and for folks in the industry. The active inventory (the number of homes currently offered for sale) has dropped to the lowest level we’ve seen since 2006, with 2,152 homes for sale at the end of the first quarter. That's down more than 14 percent since last year and now falls well within the 2,000-2,500 units that has been considered indicative of a normal market.
The bottom line: $230K is our median
Home prices in the area have seen their fair share of ups and downs with certain sectors of the market, like Albemarle, showing increases while others, like Charlottesville, declined. Sale prices on detached homes decreased more significantly than prices on attached homes, contributing to an overall decrease in this market's median sales price to $230,000, 2.7 percent less than the $236,450 from the same period in 2011.
The waiting is the hardest part
In a healthy real estate market, homes typically sell within an average of 90 days. In March of this year, half the homes that sold were on the market for 108 days or less. Within Charlottesville city, half the homes offered sold in under 33 days.
In years past, Albemarle County saw some whopping transactions, including $24 million for Cismont's Castle Hill estate back in 2004, and the infamous Biscuit Run sale for $46 million. It's been a while since we've seen figures that high though. Last year, Chapel Springs Farm topped the list for biggest sale at $10,900,000– a tidy sum to be sure, but light-years away from the figures we saw just a few years ago. So far in 2012, the sale of Viewmont Farm by Dr. Charles Hurt leads the pack for both largest sale and largest amount of acreage. Situated on 875 acres, it sold in April for $5,200,000. Currently on the market for $16,000,000, the former Kluge abode, Albemarle House, has the distinction of the being the area's most expensive residential listing. $16 mil is hardly chump change, but it's quite a comedown from the original asking price of $100 million, a figure that would've made even Austin Powers proud.
Back in 2004, Charlottesville's #1 spot on Frommer’s Cities Ranked & Rated contributed to an influx of retirees and other folks. In 2007, we dropped to the #17 spot, but a recent US News poll lists our fair city, which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, in the #2 spot for well-being. Development may be proceeding at a break-neck pace to accommodate new residents, but it appears we Charlottesvillians are pretty dang satisfied with our lots in life overall.
Area assessments, based by law on market value, have been steadily decreasing, offering a mixed bag to homeowners. Some appreciate the tax relief while others find themselves "upside down"– owing more than their property is worth. The Equalization Board, a three-person, court-appointed body that has the power to adjust assessment amounts, may be able to help, but in many cases the solution may lie in the passage of time.
CHARLOTTESVILLE– After years of double-digit inflation, where homes were being sold for more than their assessed values, many transactions now reflect the opposite with the selling price at or below assessment. In 2012, city assessments fell by just 1.22 overall, a figure that surprised a number of folks who follow the dipping local market until it was revealed that many short sales and foreclosures weren't factored into the mix. Assessor: Roosevelt Barbour 970-3136
Apartment search: Prospective apartment dwellers can check the search engine run by the local apartment group, Blue Ridge Apartment Council or investigate Apartment Search of Charlottesville/Albemarle, which is published four times a year and is also available online (817-2000). If you’re looking 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 and walking around. Or let your fingers do the walking and check out the Hook's classified ads.
Rights and responsibilities: Students can get free advice from Student Legal Services (924-7524). UVA's housing office (924-6873) offers a pamphlet called "The Off-Grounds Living Guide" that explains city ordinances. Non-students might want to take a peek at the Virginia Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, which governs rental dealings.
Buying and selling
Real Estate Weekly: Among local real estate publications, this one has the greatest array of ads and even some how-to tips. 817-9330
Property search: The best local search engine is run by the 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 DIY way to sell a house, which used to involve putting up a sign and hoping for the best. While the method is often attacked 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. For prospective sellers who don't want to go at it completely alone, there are several discount brokers who may be able to help. Assist-2-Sell says it'll sell your house for as low as $3,995, HomeSell offers to do the job for $1,500, and Help-U-Sell has a sliding scale.
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
The actual deeds are located on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex by Jackson Park in Court Square. 972-4083
–>>For more info on neighborhoods, check out our Newcomer section.
Novice home buyers
A starting point is the Piedmont Housing Alliance (817-2436), a regional nonprofit that offers free three-hour seminars to first-time home-buyers twice a month and shares information on various assistance programs including low-interest loans and the Albemarle Housing Program (296-5839). Jimmy Carter's favorite house-building charity, Habitat for Humanity, has an active local chapter 293-9066.
Can we build it? Yes, we can!
Can you dig it?
"I saw the sign"
What's a proffer? There's no secretive or dirty trick involved; it's basically an above-the-table bribe from a developer to the County to get a zoning amendment. Check out all the proffers dating back to 1979 on Albemarle's website.
Relief for elderly/disabled
ALBEMARLE-- If you're 65 and over and/or permanently/totally disabled, make less than $69,452, and have a net worth under $200K (excluding your house), you may be eligible for real estate tax relief. 296-5851 x3442
Help for the other half
Probably the single most controversial land preservation program ever created. As the Biscuit Run state park deal revealed, they can be used not just to save land from development but to bail out millionaire speculators. Even Albemarle County buys development rights through its ACE, or Acquisition of Conservation Easements program. Learn more at 296-5832
Blue Ridge Home Builders Association– This trade association represents builders and suppliers, and every spring it hosts the three-day "Home and Garden Show" and the newly minted "Earthcraft House Tour," which features resource and energy efficient homes in various phases of construction. 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 and launching side projects like "Buy Fresh, Buy Local." 540-347-2334
ASAP– Advocates for a Sustainable Population goes farther than PEC as ASAP actually wants to stop growth. 872-0044
SELC – The Southern Environmental Law Center is a multi-state organization headquartered on West Main Street that tries to work from within all branches of government to conserve and sustain. Most recently, though, they lost a big battle when the state's transportation secretary suddenly decided to build the U.S. 29 Western Bypass. 977-4090