Developers put a fresh gloss on housing

Residents moving into the Hidden Farm Estates neighborhood off of Chopping Road, near the town of Mineral, have a choice between two styles of homes: The one-level rancher or a two-story traditional home. 

With so many people working in Richmond, Charlottesville or Fredericksburg, Louisa’s central location makes it a mecca for people looking for a new place to live, work and play. It’s rural enough to still experience the quiet, country life, yet close enough to the city to enjoy urban vibes.

There are more housing options than ever before, with others planned to support future growth. It looks like the trend will continue as the county keeps growing.

According to the Census Bureau, Louisa has grown by 10 percent over the past 10 years, with many newcomers flocking to Zion Crossroads and Lake Anna. To accommodate the growth, developers are mixing things up.

Mixed-use developments in growth areas

Close to restaurants, retail stores and other conveniences such as day care facilities. Close proximity to walking trails and sidewalks. Quick interstate access. Connection to the community. A mix of housing options. All of this, of course, at the right price.

Those are just a few of the things people moving to Louisa are looking for these days.

With so many newcomers moving from larger areas like Northern Virginia, the new normal feels like somewhere in between urban and rural.

Certain areas of Louisa are becoming a playground for developers who want to give buyers and renters a city lifestyle at a rural price. It’s especially noticeable in Zion Crossroads, one of the county’s fastest-growing areas.

In any growth area, “affordability, the idea of linking residents and fostering connections in planned communities and bringing a variety of homes together within a community are really big-ticket items,” said Jodi Mills.

Mills is the director of sales and marketing for Stony Point Design | Build in Charlottesville. She’s also the president of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association and examines trends in the Central Virginia housing market, including Louisa.

She believes the success seen in areas like Greene, Augusta and Louisa counties is a direct result of less expensive lot prices, the availability of starter homes, attached townhomes and mixed-use communities with rental apartments.

Mills’ firm is the developer of Zion Town Center, a mixed-use development set to spring up in Zion Crossroads in the next few years.

The planned community will feature a combination of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. Future residents will be able to enjoy retail stores, restaurants and other conveniences such as day care in close proximity to home.

“In a mixed-use community such as Zion Town Center, with box stores and retail locations planned, the chance of attracting residents is strong,” said Mills.

But only if the price is right.

Unlike Spring Creek, Zion Town Center won’t be a gated community or have an extensive amenities package. Mills said that these features can drive housing prices above what first-time homebuyers or move-up buyers may be able to afford because they also drive up homeowner association fees.

When it comes to working alongside localities to deliver affordable and sustainable housing options to local markets, “[developers and builders] still have a lot of work to do,” she said during her recent interview on “The I Love Cville Show” with host Jerry Miller.

“Is there a demand for one, two and three-bedroom homes? Yes, there is,” said Mills. “But on the right-priced lot … We have our work cut out for us,” she told the host.

As far as what buyers are looking for in the area, trends have pretty much stayed the same for the past few years, but with a few key differences.

Mills and her colleagues see that many buyers today still prefer homes with an open foyer entryway that opens up to dining and living areas. But, unlike before, people are starting to prefer multi-purpose living spaces that can be used as offices or playrooms. Another trend is eliminating redundant spaces such as breakfast nooks and dining rooms.

In the Central Virginia area, Mills said, many buyers are opting for larger homes that average 3,000 square feet or more. They’re also choosing quality components to reduce heating, cooling and electricity costs such as foam insulation and solar panels. The challenge for developers is keeping up with ever-changing codes and standards.

New neighborhoods in rural settings

Subdivisions are setting the stage for the next generation of homebuyers in Louisa County.

More and more buyers are migrating to the county in hopes of finding a newer, nice house in a safe neighborhood that’s already upgraded with quality fixtures and finishes. For many buyers, that means moving into one of Louisa’s many new subdivisions.

One of Louisa’s established subdivisions is Hidden Farm Estates, located off of Chopping Road.

Out of 70 available lots, less than 15 are still available, according to Stoney Marshall of The Marshall Group with Hometown Realty. He is working directly with the developer to sell the remaining lots.

Over the years, Marshall has seen a wide variety of newcomers to the neighborhood. Many of them are moving to Louisa from out of state, while other Virginians are seeking a more rural setting.

Regardless of the reason for moving, Marshall said he’s seen all generations buy property in the neighborhood. From first-time homebuyers to move-up buyers to empty nesters wanting to downsize, there’s something for everyone.

Many of the clients who come to him looking for a new home are interested in one-level floor plans. He caters to this audience by offering four different ranch styles with different bedroom and bathroom configurations. For other folks, particularly people who have purchased a home previously and are “moving up” to a bigger house, the developers offer two distinct two-story floor plans.

A big draw for Marshall’s clients is the quality of materials used within the home. Higher-end finishes in all of the homes include stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, hardwood floors and crown molding — just to name a few.

“We offer good quality features in our homes, even at the base price,” said Marshall. “I think our product lines have set the tone for [homes] in Louisa County.”

Buyers are also concerned with privacy. With most lot sizes a little less than two acres each, there’s plenty of distance between neighbors, said Marshall.

Another attractive feature of the neighborhood is high-speed internet access and cable service through Comcast.

“Everybody is looking for high-speed internet access as an option,” said Marshall. “Especially today, the ability to function from your home or run a business from home has a lot of appeal.”

“We offer a great value for homeowners,” he said. Just being able to offer something below $200,000, especially new construction, is hard today. [That price point] has been helpful to get people in the door and introduce them to the community,” said Marshall.  

Apartments are an option, too

For folks who aren’t ready to find their dream house yet, Louisa has a few options for renters.

There are currently two apartment complexes, one in the Town of Louisa and another in Zion Crossroads, that cater to people who don’t want to buy yet.

Built by the same developer, Waverly Place in Louisa and Stonegate in Zion offer many of the same amenities, styles and features.

Renters can lease a one, two or three-bedroom apartment with granite countertops, a private balcony or patio, a washer and dryer in each unit starting at $975 a month at Waverly and $1,115 at Stonegate.

Both locations also offer tenants access to a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pools and a business center. Residents are connected to the internet via a high-speed broadband connection and have trash pickup services available five days a week. For an additional fee, renters can bring along two of their favorite four-legged companions too.

These amenities combined with the flexibility of a lease make renting in Louisa a viable option for families and singles alike.

For some people, the price point at these locations may be a little high. So, Louisa also has limited availability of affordable housing solutions that may fit better into some budgets. Options such as Pine Ridge and Jouett Square are slightly cheaper per month but don’t offer the same amenities.

Buyers and renters may also find help with housing through organizations like the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation and Habitat for Humanity. Both programs are designed to help new homebuyers and people seeking a second chance to make a fresh start.

The problem is so many people are looking for affordable housing in the area, so availability for these housing options is low. Both programs have stringent qualification guidelines and long waiting lines. But, for residents who get accepted, the programs offer support and resources to get started on the journey of homeownership or renting.

With the rise in population, Louisa’s housing options are expanding to support the growth. In the years to come, residents will see more developers building a mix of housing options for people to call home.

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