Getting off the fence!

Mountain vista from the deckLess than eight weeks ago I was asked to contribute my thoughts on the farm and estate market in the Charlottesville area which I consider as the seven counties that surround Charlottesville; Albemarle, Orange, Madison, Greene, Nelson, Fluvanna and Louisa. My outlook was carefully pessimistic, bemoaning the lack of activity while advising buyers about the excellent inventory and great values among motivated sellers.

Apparently the sluggish market was at a tipping point as we have seen a flurry of activity in the last two months that I believe indicate a change in the direction of this exciting segment of our real estate market. Jump started by a round of significant price drops, several large farms have gone under contract recently in Albemarle as well as Greene, Madison and Orange counties. Many of these properties  had been on the market for two or more years and were now generating excitement and offers. There were 25 sales of properties over $750,000 with more than 15 acres in the last six months and there are currently 18 similar properties under contract in our market area.

Several factors have come together in the last year to help with the farm and estate market. The robust stock market has improved net worth and confidence for affluent buyers. The booming residential market in Charlottesville has restored faith in real estate ownership in general as an appreciating asset and most sellers have come to terms with realistic pricing making investing in country property an understandable value proposition.

As the real estate market reacts to supply and demand, the farm and estate market typically lags behind, responding more slowly since immediacy is rarely part of the buyer profile. Recent activity is encouraging and seems to be indicating that the buyers are back in the picture. If inventory fails to keep up with this increased demand we could see prices begin to rise again for farms and estates and rural property in general.

My advice to sellers is to strike while the iron is hot.. while out of town buyers are in town enjoying our beautiful countryside and Spring weather. Now is the perfect time for a price reduction to stimulate activity among buyers ready to pull the trigger once again. Here are some of my current offerings with recent price reductions poised to take advantage of an improved market.

Misty Ridge 20 acre Keswick horse farm Reduced $100,000

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Octonia Highlands Farm 82 acre farm in the South River Valley Reduced $100,000

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Brills Shop Farm 191 acre grazing farm Reduced $100,000

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Etlan Road, Spectacular Madison County Farm with views of Old Rag, Reduced $15,000

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Why would anyone want a farm in Virginia?

Ridgeview Farm, Orange County. Click picture for property brochure.

When your world consists of finished square feet and you’ve found a way to make that wonderful with beautiful decorating, climate control and all the comforts money can buy, why would you even think about a farm? When your outdoor grill turns your multi level deck into a gourmet smorgasbord and you toast your perfect neighbors with a chilled chardonnay, why would you ever imagine a silent, starry night without another home in sight? When your children excel on the soccer field, enjoy sleepovers with dozens of friends and prep for college with AP classes, why disrupt their happy lives with cows and horses, mowing and mucking?

When a challenging day in the office leaves you with a few more gray hairs and a perfect day in the suburbs begins to feel mundane, imagine a world where things grow because the sun shines and your day is governed by the weather and the sunset, where work makes your muscles sore and you can see what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, where your nosy neighbors are replaced by lowing cows and your outdoors speakers are crickets and tree frogs.

For many people there is a primal pull back to nature, back to the land. Perhaps it’s where true safety abides. All our carefully laid sticks and stones are so easily swept away yet the land remains with the ability to provide food and shelter for our basic survival. Perhaps it’s a subliminal contingency plan. Survivalists aside, there is a feeling that’s hard to describe as one stands upon the land and feels apart from the civilized world yet connected to a larger world that exists, even thrives without us. Perhaps that’s what “grounded” really means and why the Realtors Preamble begins, “Under all is the land”

Think about it. Fifty, a hundred acres, farm land, woodland, mountain land, a getaway where you and yours re-connect, work and play. You don’t have to go all in, few do. Most of these beautiful farms are run by farmers who have lived here forever and make a living by leasing farms, maintaining them for you while they reap what they sow. The woodlands take care of themselves too, growing more valuable each year and qualifying for low forestal use taxes. Now that land is appreciating once again, it may fit nicely into an investment plan, a gift for future generations that has no equal.

Take Ridgeview Farm in Barboursville for example. It consists of 185 acres of gently rolling, grazing land with majestic views of the Southwest and Blue Ridge mountains. It was recently a registered Angus farm and a training facility for the owner’s daughter’s show jumpers. The five bedroom home, guest cottage, stables and indoor arena are beautifully maintained. The fields and fencing are also in great shape and ready for you or a tenant farmer to put them back to work. A farm of this quality is always easy to lease with payments covering taxes as the land appreciates. There are several other farms like this, priced to sell as the market recovers. Call your country property specialist or call me if you don’t have one to find out how you can get back to the land.

Up in the hollow

Last evening was wonderful. I had been asked to prepare a listing presentation for a family, out in the county, out in one of the hollows. The hollows exist all up and down the Blue Ridge and generally follow a stream out of mountains. The streams create some nice workable bottom land and have attracted homesteaders over the centuries that have tended to be pretty self sufficient. They have a sense of community defined geographically at first which then evolves into the rich lore of the mountains as families grow generation by generation and interact story by story.

Five siblings had gathered to interview me. We stood in the bare kitchen of the 1920’s farmhouse. It’s a small farmhouse, four bedrooms and one bath in a little over 1600 square feet. I stood along one wall while all five of them stood along the opposite wall. This was the very kitchen where they all grew up and ate every meal. The youngest was now more than 50. The wood fired cook stove was still hooked up to the flue and there were stacks of short stove wood on the back porch even though mother had passed away more than a year ago.

“She made the best biscuits in that stove, biscuits every morning. She made gravy every day too, never had a meal without gravy. Guess nobody would want that old stove now, would they?”
The four brothers had shared one room upstairs. They all had their own jobs and projects caring for the 50 acres of mountain pasture and woodland. One took care of the chickens, one took care of the hogs and they all took care of the vegetable garden which was over an acre. They weren’t talking about it nostalgically but as if they had just been doing it all yesterday. I asked why the linoleum floor in the kitchen was rubbed black in a couple of places.
“That’s where Mama stood by the stove and that’s where Daddy’s chair always was. We always sat in the same place around the table you know” You could see where the kitchen table had stood. It wasn’t a big table for seven.

We talked about the hollow a little, how you could get anything you wanted. Moonshine? Smiles all around. The property had been in the same family for generations. I expected to see some regrets but found none on their faces. None had continued the farming life. All were on an acre or two but all had moved out of the hollow and become successful in different professions around Charlottesville. I gave them my spiel and they listened carefully, asked important questions then all five signed the listing agreement. It’s a beautiful property and some retiring couple will likely buy it and build a fine home on one of the high knolls with views all the way down the Piedmont Valley. They might chuckle as they describe the hollow to their friends in Alexandria but hopefully, over time, they’ll embrace the lifestyle as they learn it, as the trucks that drive by become familiar and the waves more sincere. It’s a chance to understand an important and rich part of Americana where self reliant folk know they can rely on each other, where you know you could survive off the land if you needed to. You might just find a part of yourself that remembers.

Charlottesville real estate market report, First half 2012

Charlottesville Country Properties’ merger with Nest Realty has made us stat experts, something we may have lacked in the past is now one of our new strengths. The Nest Report is an in depth look at the rich data that profiles our real estate market and will give you a valuable insight into to trends that may well effect your decisions to buy or sell real estate. The data is compiled from our multiple listing records and formatted and analyzed to give you an easy understanding of important changes in our various sub-markets. Overall, the news looks good, sales are up inventory is down.

While trends in the farm and estate market don’t appear as positive at first glance, (3 fewer sales than first half 2011, 23 vs. 26), pending sales are very impressive with 19 properties currently under contract, 12 of which are over one million and two over five million. I expect to see pent up demand show itself soon as our buyer’s real estate becomes more liquid and the assumption of declining values disappears.

I’m proud to offer this comprehensive report from Nest Realty, one of the many benefits to you and to me of being associated with Charlottesville’s most innovative real estate company

Q2 2012 Charlottesville Nest Report

Year End Market Report

by John Ince, President Charlottesville Country Properties, LTD.

Click here and view at 100% to see
CAAR 2011 4th Quarter and Year-End Market Report

We’ve got a real sharp looking market report with lots of great data. It will be dissected every which way by pundits who call it hopeful and those who call it gloomy. My take on statistics is that you can find what you’re looking for no matter what that is. I have it posted here for you so feel free to dig in.

Key factors in this report are the sharp increase in pending sales, (those under contract and set to close) at the end of 2011 compared to the end of 2010. There is also a 7% drop in our inventory level year to year which will bode well for sellers (eventually). The median price of a home dropped 3.75% year to year. That’s a little bit of a surprise to me, but might dovetail with the fact that expired and withdrawn listings (those that didn’t sell during their listing period) dropped about 7% which may indicate that sellers and listing agents are coming to terms with this new market and pricing their properties where they will sell. Foreclosure and short sales were both up slightly, but we still have a market dominated by conventional sales, (80.9%) which puts us in the “good” category nationwide.

I was recently interviewed about this report and made the comment that real estate valuation is part analytical and part subjective, especially country property. Averages and medians are important factors to be aware of but every property is unique in quality and character. What is that “million dollar view” really worth, what’s the value of 150 year old heart pine flooring or that 200 year old oak in the front yard. It’s not a number you can pin down or ignore, but it is what makes country property more fun.

Veteran’s Day with my Father

by John Ince, President Charlottesville Country Properties, LTD.

11-11-11 Veteran’s Day

November 11 has always had a double meaning to me. First, it’s my mother’s birthday which we almost always had off from school and second, it’s Veteran’s Day. Growing up in a Navy family, surrounded by active military, it seemed more like a day when “we” were being recognized than a day to pay tribute our veterans. As the years have gone by and my lifestyle developed completely unmilitaristically, I’ve come to appreciate November 11th as a day to recognize “them”, with my father, a retired Rear Admiral and Class of ’49 Annapolis alumni as the iconic veteran, not just to me but to all who know and respect him.

My mom died in January of ’09 and is buried at the Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis. My father, now 85 and living in Madison asked if I might be free to drive up to Annapolis with him today and visit my mom’s grave with him on her birthday. I first thought that I must be too busy. I can’t take a whole day off. Then I thought there is nothing Mom would rather have on her birthday than my Dad and I spending the day together. Thanks Mom.

We began the day at St Clair, my father’s home in Madison County at 8:00 sharp, both of us knowing in the back of our minds that we had not spent a whole day together, just the two of us, ever. It was a crystal clear, flag snapping day as we headed north to my dad’s alma mater. The questions in my mind about what we would talk about vaporized as we talked about Mom, my sisters, his old dog Meg, Madison County politics. Time passed quickly and pleasantly and well before 11 we were entering the gate at the Naval Academy, the sentry saluting with extra flourish when he saw the two stars on my dad’s front bumper. The cemetery overlooks the water and my mom’s marker has a spectacular view across the river to the parade grounds below. We wished her happy birthday and left a small bouquet of flowers. My father’s name is on the marker beside hers to be filled out in full when he joins her someday. All of the grave markers had fresh American flags for Veteran’s Day and they are a fascinating lot. Reading the stones is mesmerizing with many 19th century sailors and officers who went down with their ships or served gallantly in this famous engagement or that. It now starts dawning on me that this is not an ordinary Veteran’s Day for me as my father starts telling anecdotes as we pass markers of officers he had known.

The Naval Academy is one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. The chapel will take your breath away and the uniformed Midshipmen on their way to class make you marvel at their vigor and readiness to serve. We decided to go to the Naval Academy museum before lunch, a marvelous museum worth hours and hours chronicling the history of the US Navy with dioramas, artifacts, ship models, uniforms, swords and documents. As we reach the WWII section my dad starts talking as we move from display to display. WWII ended just days after he was sworn into the Navy but he lived the history we only studied in school. “That’s Nimitz” he told me pointing at a photo of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. “Have I told you about meeting him?” Then on to Korea where he pointed out a model of the single engine bomber he flew off a carrier. “She was a tough old bird” Finally on the way out we stopped at a display of all the class rings. The class of ’49 was the last class to ever have any human form depicted on it. It had a bare breasted mermaid on each side.” I did that” he told me. “I was the head of the ring committee and I got the bare breasted girls on our ring. It never happened again!” He also was Director of the Naval Security Group which intercepted and translated coded Russian transmissions during the cold war, living a clandestine life under the highest security clearances. We’ve only just begun to hear stories about his adventures thirty years after his retirement.

At lunch Dad told me about receiving the letter from his Indiana Congressman informing him that he was his first appointment to the Naval Academy. My dad was in the V-12 program at UVA at the time and was thrilled with his appointment. He told me about Plebe year, how he was paid twelve dollars a month but only had liberty on Saturday afternoon. My dad went to flight school after he graduated, was a flight instructor for a while, flew in Korea then got into intelligence and cruised the Pacific with the 7th Fleet while we lived in Japan. He served as aide to Admiral Moorer who later became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs then rejoined the Naval Security Group to become its Director before retiring in 1980. He had a rewarding 30 year career in the Navy then dedicated the next 30 to living happily ever after with my mom in Madison County.

How fortunate I was to spend a day like this with my father. I have memories of him in uniform as a Lieutenant all the way to Admiral and now at 85 he really is a veteran and with stories and memories that are part of our nation’s history. I’m lucky to know a man like this who served his country with pride an honor and set a fine example for those who served under him and for those he served. Thanks Dad. Thanks Mom.