With all the numbers that get thrown around when it comes to real estate — mortgage rates, assessments, appraisals and commissions — it’s easy to lose sight of the most important part of buying a house: finding a home. With that in mind, for this year’s ultimate real estate guide, we fanned out in search of great places to live, talking with relocation specialists, county planners, Realtors and homeowners to find neighborhoods that fit the bill in five categories: family friendly, resort living, maintenance free, walking and land. The 40 neighborhoods that emerged can be found on the following pages. To ensure that a prospective home will indeed be a great place to live and not a money pit of unforeseen repairs, we’ve also got advice on a few inspections you may want to consider that go beyond the routine home inspection.
Of course, we’re not completely ignoring the financial side of homeownership. On Page 82, you’ll find our annual breakdown of real estate values in the area, with information on average sales prices for 2005 in 119 neighborhoods, as well as historical sales info for those same neighborhoods stretching back to 2000. We’ve also added similar information for 10 condo and town-house communities in the region, to reflect that segment of the market. Finally, don’t miss Dave McCormack’s reflections on his experiences as a real-estate investor. In his quest to “make the math work” while buying low and selling high, he’s opened himself up to everything from catastrophic fires to electrocution.
Communities that welcome children
It was a premiere at Linwood Holton Elementary, and Cindy Creasy-Woolfolk’s Ginter Park neighborhood was out in force. Several children from her street were appearing in The Jungle Book at the school. “That’s the kind of neighborhood we are,” says Creasy-Woolfolk, who attended with her two sons.
The established city neighborhood is just one of many family-friendly communities in the metro Richmond area. The amenities that fit the bill can vary, from sidewalks and walking paths to playgrounds, pools and clubhouses, and neighborhood schools.
In Ginter Park, neighbors stroll the sidewalks, and, says Creasy-Woolfolk, “When they do, they are apt to stop and visit.” Kids in the North Side community take advantage of playgrounds at the nearby Union Theological Seminary or on the grounds of Linwood Holton. Over on Hawthorne Avenue, the Lewis Ginter Recreation Association is a spot where families can swim in the pool, play basketball or tetherball, or hold a get-together.
North of the city, Lori Cahen describes her neighbors in Hanover’s Ashcreek subdivision as “one big family,” adding that “we have 27 kids just in our cul-de-sac.” She chose the subdivision because of its family feel and amenities — playgrounds, basketball courts and a neighborhood pool with a swim team. Close by are schools, restaurants and shopping centers.
Neighborhood schools and wide sidewalks attracted Beth Anderson to Henrico’s Twin Hickory community. “The kids can ride bikes or walk to school,” she says.
Families can also walk or bike to the Shady Grove YMCA or the library, and Twin Hickory has tennis courts and a four-pool complex with a clubhouse (staffers will help organize parties for residents).
South of the river, Sandi Cosner and her family built in Hampton Park because the neighborhood was geared toward children. The Chesterfield subdivision has among its list of amenities two pools, a skating rink and a miniature golf course. Also in the community are two ponds for fishing. “We have outdoor carnivals in the cul-de-sacs and block parties,” Cosner says.
Henrico’s Mooreland Farms is home for three generations of Mahood Fonville’s family. The established community is located near Collegiate School and boasts a pool, two tennis courts, and an environment that residents describe as safe and neighborly. “We have kids of all ages in our neighborhood,” says Fonville. “On nice days, most of them are out on bikes or playing baseball or basketball in their backyards.” —Joan Tupponce
Other Areas to Consider:
More family-friendly areas include the old-fashioned town of Ashland, where you’ll find several parks — one specifically geared toward skateboarders — and annual family events. Also on the list is Henrico’s Wyndham subdivision, which features a 22-acre lake with nearby gazebo and amphitheater, playgrounds, a swim and racket club, a community park with a soccer field, and volleyball and basketball courts. Amenities in Chesterfield’s Summer Lake community include a 12-acre lake stocked for fishing, walking trails, natural areas, tennis courts, basketball courts and a children’s water park.
For acreage, look to Richmond area’s outer limits
As an investment, “GRC stock” — Goochland Red Clay — can’t be beat, according to Realtor Frankie Carter. The standard price in central Goochland County along the James River is $10,000 an acre, and Carter expects the cost to keep rising. “I have never seen it go down,” says the 62-year-old county native. “You’re not going to lose anything.”
Richmonders are packing their bags for Goochland and points north, south, east and west of the city limits — all in a quest for large plots of land and the accompanying peace and quiet. We considered rural properties of five acres or larger — land that is increasingly in demand.
Significant acreage is generally available only in the outlying areas of Richmond’s outlying counties, planners and Realtors say, forcing buyers to look farther from the city. Today, some are searching as far west as Gum Springs and Hadensville, areas as close to Charlottesville as they are to Richmond.
Jesse Lockhart sold his 100-year-old Floyd Avenue home to move to West Cliff, a subdivision off Riddles Bridge Road with lots ranging from six to 10 acres. Many of the lots have homes already on them, although some are open for building, and Carter notes that there has been turnover on some of the properties. A 10-acre plot was priced at $149,500 in the spring.
Lockhart’s retiring next year, and the 59-year-old Alabama native and his wife decided they wanted a quieter environment. The couple moved into their newly built house — complete with a home movie theater and a garage for his two “toy” sports cars — in February. Their cat has since lost weight running around the larger house, and Lockhart now has a prime view of stars in the night sky. “I can’t even see my neighbor’s lights,” he says.
Goochland’s Knolls Point, a subdivision off River Road West, offers lower prices for its large properties: $395,000 for 83 acres, some of which are wooded, and $429,000 for 76 open acres. Purchasers can hire whatever builder they want, although there is a minimum house size of 2,000 square feet.
Buyers are looking at other counties as well, and in some cases, they are finding better deals.
In Amelia, where a new comprehensive plan limits residential growth to the area in and around the village of Amelia, most 10-acre plots are just inside the county’s borders. Oak Springs Plantation, near the Chesterfield County line, is a “top-end” development perfect for horse owners, says Realtor Kelly Cox. Thirty acres cost $200,000 to $220,000, and smaller properties average about $10,000 an acre. The land is tied to a particular builder. Other areas in the county are less pricey, averaging $5,000 to $7,000 an acre south of U.S. 360.
Hanover County has several 40-acre, four-lot subdivisions in its western end, a size influenced by zoning regulations, says Daniel O’Brien of the county’s planning department. Most available land is near U.S. 301, but O’Brien warns that some lots are deceptively large. An 18-acre plot, for instance, may have only two acres suitable for building because of wetlands or slopes, he notes.
In the Beaverdam area of Hanover, the Anderson Mill subdivision features five- to 10-acre lots. When we took a look, a six-bedroom home on 10 acres was being offered for $420,000. —Kate Andrews
Other Areas to Consider:
Some land is still available in western Chesterfield, and Powhatan is a hot area, although it’s getting more expensive. Realtor Rick Stockel says he sold 10 acres near Flat Rock for $190,000 in February. Goochland’s Haskins Ridge is a jewel in the rough, with eight wooded lots off Route 6 near Gum Springs. A 40-acre lot is a relative bargain at $269,000.
Neighborhoods offering pedestrian pleasures
A few months ago, Amanda Day moved to Short Pump off Spring Oak Drive near the Wellesley subdivision, and perhaps surprisingly, one of her favorite things about the new neighborhood is its pedestrian convenience.
“I don’t have to drive anywhere,” she says, noting that numerous restaurants and strip malls (not to mention Short Pump Town Center) are all just a short walk away. “There’s a path from my house to Ukrop’s,” Day says, and she regularly makes the two- to three-minute walk there to pick up groceries.
As development booms and the Richmond area widens, residents become more and more dependent on their cars. Even so, neighborhoods still exist where folks can get things done on foot.
For those who want to be in the West End but not quite so far out as Short Pump, the area around Patterson, Libbie and Grove is filled with charming houses and plenty of businesses within easy walking distance, from grocery stores to restaurants, from antique shops to the Regal Westhampton art cinema.
Of course, you can’t talk about pedestrian neighborhoods in Richmond without mentioning the Museum District and the Fan, where walking is a way of life. In the Fan, residents can stroll to boutiques, salons, and more than 50 restaurants and bars. Across the Boulevard in the Museum District, retail-and-restaurant mecca Carytown, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, grocery stores and the historic Byrd Theatre are all easily walkable from most residences. Andy Bennett of Virginia Realty and Relocation notes that the Libbie and Grove area, the Fan, and the Museum District are also located on bus routes, so residents can easily head downtown for work or pleasure without driving.
Also in the city of Richmond (and convenient to bus routes) are Forest Hill and Westover Hills. Perhaps the greatest pedestrian asset for the two neighborhoods, which are loosely divided by Cedar Lane, is easy access to the James River and Forest Hill Park.
Also on the South Side, The Grove subdivision off Woolridge Road is surrounded by walking trails. The paths lead to the Midlothian Family YMCA, a pond, four parks and Coalfield Road, where walkers can follow sidewalks until they reach the shops and restaurants of Midlothian Village. —Megan Marconyak
Other Areas to Consider:
Chesterfield’s Woodlake subdivision has 10 miles of paved paths leading to the lake, schools and strip malls with small businesses and restaurants. Residents of the Bellevue and Lakeside neighborhoods in the North Side have convenient pedestrian access to an array of creature comforts in MacArthur Avenue’s retail district.
Local ’hoods with vacation-worthy amenities
Carolyn Leake sat quietly and watched as a pair of eagles flew over the lake in front of her. The scene unfolded while she relaxed in her own backyard.
Leake and her family live in a lakefront home in Goochland’s Kinloch community. “It’s very peaceful, a soothing place to be,” she says. Neighborhoods like Kinloch are welcome retreats for homeowners who choose a leisurely lifestyle, and they often feature lakefront living, golf, swimming, tennis and fitness centers.
Leake’s rural community has a 70-acre lake and sits squarely between the private Kinloch Golf Club, with a 7,112-yard championship course, and Hermitage Country Club, with two 18-hole golf courses, a swimming pool and a fitness center.
Marina Alexander is equally thrilled with the view from her home in River’s Bend. The Chesterfield subdivision is bordered by the James River. “Various properties here are either riverfront or river view,” Alexander says. “Some have water access.” The community also includes a nature trail, a riverfront pier, a swim-and-racquet club, lighted tennis courts, an 18-hole riverfront golf course with clubhouse, and a sand volleyball court.
Water is also a major draw for Chesdin Landing. The Chesterfield community, situated on the banks of Lake Chesdin, includes a golf course, three tennis courts, a basketball court, and a fitness center. “We even have a card room where you can get together and play cards,” resident Lisa O’Donnell says.
The Founders Bridge neighborhood in Chesterfield features rolling hills and championship golf. Residents are just steps away from the headquarters of the Virginia State Golf Association and the Independence Golf Club, where an 18-hole course is paired with a nine-hole par-3 track. Other amenities include three pools, tennis courts, bike trails, playgrounds and designated natural spaces.
Brickshire is another sought-after golf-course community. The New Kent neighborhood has an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse, a swimming complex, tennis courts and a fitness center, plus nature preserves and walking trails. Equestrian facilities are close by, and the community also has an RV/boat storage area. —Joan Tupponce
Other Areas to Consider:
The lake community of Brandermill, which is scheduled to complete its final section of homes this fall, is worth a look. Amenities include a championship golf course, bike paths, pools, 15 miles of trails and a clubhouse. The Salisbury neighborhood, which straddles Chesterfield County and the city of Richmond, features Lake Salisbury and Salisbury Country Club, which offers tennis and golf.
Not doing it yourself gains in popularity
Maybe it’s that last case of poison ivy or a tumble from the ladder into the bushes while cleaning the gutters, but whatever the reason, some Richmonders are getting tired of yardwork — and they’re doing something about it.
Condos, town houses and other maintenance-free residences are a major growth area for Richmond real estate, appealing to young professionals and empty nesters alike.
Most of the developments, popping up everywhere from downtown to the outer suburbs, offer maintenance for home exteriors and yards, as well as neighborhood common areas. But 5100 Monument Avenue, the venerable Henrico County high-rise near Willow Lawn, offers more to its residents, most of whom are senior citizens.
Staffers will make minor plumbing repairs at a cost of $10 per half-hour of work, plus the cost of any necessary parts. Also, light bulbs are replaced from 1:30 to 2 p.m. daily, says Carol Martin, 5100’s manager. All a resident needs to do is call, she notes.
South of the river but within the city limits is Martin’s Grant at Old Gun, a new 41-home complex with prices starting in the $490,000s. Empty nesters from Richmond and out of town are moving to the neighborhood, which includes a putting green and nature trails, says D.O. Allen Homes sales representative Courtney Allen. Lawn care, irrigation, snow removal, window washing and outdoor painting are all covered by a maintenance fee.
Also in the city is the Presidential Court Club Condominiums complex, set to open by early summer in the renovated Dooley-Madison home near the Jefferson Hotel on West Franklin Street. An indoor pool, a concierge, a doorman and a gym are among the urban-style amenities. Prices for the 26 condos range from $181,000 to $600,000, depending on the size of the unit.
North of Richmond in Hanover County is Lakeridge Green, a town-house subdivision near Virginia Center Commons. “You just don’t have to worry about anything,” says Realtor Linda King. Roof repairs, trash pickup, exterior maintenance, mulching and planting are all covered by the subdivision’s maintenance fee. Lakeridge Green’s 1,800-square-foot town houses start at $277,000.
Off Hull Street in Midlothian, Rockwood Terrace town houses cost $195,000 and up. The brick-and-siding homes, some of which are still under construction, come with pre-installed security wiring, exterior maintenance and snow removal.
Kimberly Cooke and her 14-year-old daughter moved there in February, after deciding they needed more room than their condo provided. “I am the type of homeowner — I don’t like yardwork,” Cooke says. In the neighborhood, she sees employees working on the pond’s drainage and starting new landscaping projects every day.
Also, the diversity of races, families and ages of neighbors makes for an invigorating environment for both mother and daughter, Cooke notes. “We loved where we lived before,” she says, but at Rockwood, “you’ve got a nice home neighborhood.” —Kate Andrews
Other Areas to Consider:
Oregon Hill’s Overlook Townhouses, new homes with a prime James River view, sell for $290,000 to $550,000 to mostly young professionals and empty nesters. Bay Cove’s large townhouses overlook Wilde Lake in western Henrico County and sell in the $230,000 to $250,000 range. Hathaway Towers, off Forest Hill Avenue in the Stratford Hills area, features condos with a view of the city skyline, costing between $200,000 and $250,000.