Signs of life — and some strife

The real estate market continues to struggle nationally, and while Rappahannock County isn’t immune from the forces that have kept that sector of the economy from bouncing back, there are some differences here.

“Real estate is local and Rappahannock County is a very special place,” says Denise Chandler, owner of Country Places Realty in Washington. “Most people come here for its rural character and don’t want subdivisions. They want the scenery, the arts, cuisine and theater. You can feel a million miles away and still be only an hour and a half from D.C. . . . We’re different from Culpeper and different from Fauquier County.”

Nationally, sales of new single-family houses in July fell 12.4 percent since June and were down 32.4 percent. The median price of new homes sold in July was $204,000. Analysts noted a first-time home buyer tax credit no longer exists to spur sales.

The real estate market in Rappahannock “hasn’t suffered as much. We don’t have the subdivisions or the volume of homes. In a subdivision with each home identical, the sales price can be dependent on the prices of another,” Chandler said.

Even so, she says, “we’ve seen short sales [houses sold for less than what is owed on them by the sellers].”

Of nine sales currently under contract in Rappahannock County, three are foreclosures and two are short sales. Each was listed at less than $264,900, Chandler said, citing figures from the Metropolitan Regional Information System (MRIS). The four other homes under contract that are neither short sales or foreclosures have pending sales prices of between $449,000 and $4.9 million.

During 2009, 46 homes were sold in Rappahannock County ranging from a listing that sold for $79,900 to a sale that went through for $1.895 million.

So far this year through Sept. 3, 42 homes have been sold ranging from a $39,200 cottage in Sperryville to a $2.9 million home in Montpelier.

This seems to indicate that Rappahannock County is on track to record more homes sold this year than the 46 sold last year, with the 42 already sold and nine under contract as of the first week of September. That leaves Realtors with the rest of September and three full months of the year to go.

And more properties are fetching higher prices.

Chandler pointed to the seven properties that were sold this year between May and early September that were sold for prices above $500,000. During the 120-day period between May and September of 2009, only two of the 17 homes that were sold were for prices above $250,000.

“We’ve gotten a lot of people looking for foreclosures or entry- level property. Now we’re starting to see the upper market doing better than in the past,” Chandler said. “That doesn’t mean sellers have it easier. Property still needs to be priced right.”
She offered a cautionary word to sellers:

“While local Rappahannock Realtors are busy and the sales volume is up from 2009, sellers must be realistic as to current market sentiment. Purchasers have nothing pushing them to purchase, especially in the secondary home market, and are taking their time in making decisions. Now more than ever, a home sale is a function of being very well priced and in a condition equivalent to the pricing.”

Chandler has been a Realtor since 1986 and has been a broker in Rappahannock County since 2002. Country Places Realty is located at 309 Jett St., Washington.

Sam Snead of Sam Snead Realty of Front Royal said that “though we’re still in recovery I think I’m a little bit more optimistic, but we still have a ways to go. Sales have been low but there was a pickup in July with three sales” in Rappahannock County, he said.

“The MRIS is showing an increase in activity and a bit of an uptick. But the market has been dragged down by bad news about jobs and foreclosures. We’re seeing a lot of foreclosures. You see one occasionally in the paper,” he said.

Rappahannock isn’t immune from the what’s impacting the housing market elsewhere and to think otherwise is “phooey” as Snead put it.

“We’re in it as much as anybody and we’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

Snead did note that “if you’re a cash buyer and well-heeled you don’t need the help of banks” to buy a high-end property in Rappahannock.

But getting a loan isn’t so easy for others. Banks “aren’t lending as free and easy,” he said.

Appraisals are reflective of what has been sold and if they involve foreclosed and distressed properties “they are not indicative of the market as a whole.”

Snead hopes that by this time next year the inventory of homes for sale will have dried up.

“In Rappahannock there is a lot of inventory trying to be sold. You see the same ads over and over — and that’s not a good sign,” he said.

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About James Ivancic 67 Articles
James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at jivancic@fauquier.com.