- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

Despite reports of a national real estate slowdown, some real estate agents in Frederick County - which includes Winchester, Middletown and Stephens City as well as a number of unincorporated areas - say they have been doing a robust business during the late fall and early winter months.

We’re busier now than we were in July, says Andy Waldo, an agent with Winchester’s Keller Williams Realty. We’ve recently gotten a lot more stuff under contract.

Properties priced at $300,000 and lower are moving fairly well, Mr. Waldo says. Conversely, sales at the high end are pretty slow unless [a given property] is extremely nice.

With a reputation for good schools and plentiful job prospects, Frederick County is a draw for some who have been priced out of other Northern Virginia towns and cities. About 1,119 properties are available for purchase countywide.

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems statistics for Frederick County sales in November - the most recent month for which statistics are available - underscore Mr. Waldo’s points. About 15 three-bedroom properties sold for $200,000 to $249,999; another dozen went for $250,000 to $299,999.

In the $500,000-and-higher category, five properties with five bedrooms or more were sold in November. Another seven homes with five bedrooms sold in the $400,000 to $499,999 range.

Year-over-year statistics show that the average listing price for houses sold was $342,466, a 6.72 percent climb over November 2005’s average listing price.

However, in November 2005, 125 properties were sold; in November 2006, just 79 were.

Deborah Matthews, a Realtor with ERA Oakcrest Realty Inc. in Winchester, says she thinks that with prices down and interest rates low, savvy buyers are taking a good look at Frederick County’s attractive features, including a healthy job market.

For example, there’s a lot of industry in Winchester, Mrs. Matthews says, from General Electric to Rubbermaid Commercial Products. Many of my clients live and work here, though I have sold some houses] to people who travel” into Washington or elsewhere for work.

Nearly all of Mrs. Matthews’ home sales take place in Middletown, Stephens City and Winchester.

Frederick County also has drawn interest from builders such as Toll Bros. Inc., whose 149-lot Twin Lakes Overlook community is managed by Pascale Roy.

Homes there start at $394,975 and average in the $450,000 range after upgrades such as certain cabinetry or flooring have been factored in.

“Right now I have 28 houses under construction,” Ms. Roy said. “We sell about four a month.”

About 41 houses have settled since they became available in January 2006, she says.

Ms. Roy also reported an end-of-year sales uptick. Business was slow in the summer, “then it picked back up in the fall. In November, we had three sales, and we were pleased with that. We’re seeing an increase in [foot] traffic and in people’s interest.”

Properties in Twin Lakes Overlook, just outside Winchester, have 9-foot ceilings on the first floor, an average square footage of 2,900, and two-zone heating and air-conditioning, with electric on the upper floor and gas on the lower.

“Most of our competitors don’t have that,” Ms. Roy says.

It’s a buyers’ market, Mr. Waldo says. So buyers are making demands of sellers like never before.

“I have a contractor I am keeping busy because home buyers are asking for absolutely everything to be fixed,” he says. “Plus, we’re doing things with gifts of equity on loans, which are getting buyers into much greater interest-rate deals.”

Getting past the uncertainty of the midterm elections also has helped, he says.

“Our split foyers are moving very well, and our single-level ranchers are also selling well,” he says.

Baby boomers from New York and New Jersey are among the most active customer demographic exploring and buying in the region.

Mr. Waldo also has in his current Middletown listings a 3,000-plus-square-foot property on 58 acres.

“We just lowered the price and are offering a $20,000 agent bonus to anyone who brings an acceptable offer,” he says. “Right now, price is driving everything.”

Regardless of what buyers are able to spend, the county’s cultural and historic attractions are available to all. Among them are Middletown’s Belle Grove Plantation (see related story), the Newtown Heritage Festival in Stephens City - Newtown is among Stephens City’s former names - and the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester, with exhibitions aimed at helping children and families learn about science and natural history.

Winchester, of course, was home to country singer Patsy Cline, whose death in a plane crash in 1963 at age 31 is still mourned by music fans. They continue to flock to Winchester to see the drugstore where she used to work, the radio station where she got an early break, and her grave site.

“I was in tourism for many years, and one of the most frequently asked questions was, ‘How do I get to the Patsy Cline sites?’ ” says Judy Sue Kempf, who leads Celebrating Patsy Cline Inc. (CPC).

With seed money from the city, CPC is assessing the fundraising that would be required to build a museum about Miss Cline’s life and contributions to country music in the heart of Winchester.

Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the firm behind the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., is on board to design the project.

Even with those high-flying credentials, Winchester - like the rest of Frederick County - likely will retain its small-town appeal.

“Winchester is what you might call a homegrown town,” Ms. Kempf says. “We’re classified as a city, but we’re still small enough to be friendly and homey.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide