A Lot of Land

By Wendy Gooditis

Recently I was standing on the shore of our beloved Shenandoah with a couple of clients from out of town, watching their little daughters throw stones in the river. We had been talking about various houses on the market when the husband said to me, “You know, we wanted to buy land and build, but when we started talking to builders and found out that it would cost $300 a square foot, we realized we couldn’t afford it.” I’m sure I looked as shocked as though someone had thrown a bucketful of river water on me. I stuttered and gulped, and then managed to gasp something like “I think you’ll be happy
to be shopping in Clarke
County now.”

Eventually I was able to get across the fact that they could build a perfectly lovely house for somewhere between $125 and $175 on this side of the mountain. They are now happily looking for land and hoping to talk to some of the reasonable builders in our area.

Various internet sites (www.b4ubuild.com, www.home-cost.com) are telling me that the national average cost for building a house per square foot is $125 or lower, while the average cost in Virginia is $105.52. So apparently our average cost here is a little bit above the national, but still, unless you want gold-plated faucets in your master bath, you don’t have to pay $300 per square foot to have the house of your dreams. Some of the variation in these numbers depends on what is included in the construction. The range I told my client was given me this year by a builder who says it includes a driveway, a drainfield, a well, and a basement, with medium-quality materials. Things like fancy rooflines, custom built-ins, and elaborate landscaping will raise the cost, naturally.

Anyway, I bring this up because it occurs to me to say that there are beautiful pieces of land available in the county, and for certain people who have the image of their dream house emblazoned on the inside of their eyelids, this is the best way to go, though probably not the easiest.

We have small lots: for example, two cute lots of just over two tenths of an acre each, on Ridge Road in Berryville in a pleasant neighborhood. These are perfect for a cozy house convenient to stores and offices.

We have great big pieces of land: for example, 185 acres of part field, part woods on Sunny Canyon Lane in Boyce. It’s a heavenly place for a farm (maybe horses?!) in a beautiful part of the county.

We have all sizes in between: some examples being a beautiful 1.6-acre piece in Millwood with a mountain view, a private 4-acre lot on Minniewood Lane off Triple J Road in a lovely neighborhood, and 88 acres with a barn in prime farmland on Old Winchester Road in Boyce.

We all have our favorites, of course. Do you prefer woods? The 60 magnificent acres of forest off John Mosby Highway await the creation of your personal paradise. Rolling fields? The newly-listed 190 acres on Millwood Road undulate in graceful green waves, with long mountain views to refresh the spirit. On the river? 5 serene acres in secluded Calmes Neck, with the beautiful Shenandoah flowing in your backyard. And many others awaiting their turn to become a homestead as well.

Clarke County, though dedicated by temperament and by history to the idea of open space and preservation of natural beauty, does still have places for people to build. The difference between us and some other counties I might name is that the zoning restrictions are very tight, and the number of dwelling unit rights (DURs) is set in stone. So there will be some carefully thought out building of houses where the zoning permits, with no possibility of a tidal wave of townhouses washing up on the hayfield next door.

In the same way that prices vary widely in houses and buildings, there is a wide variation in the cost of land. Some lots may already have a well, or a driveway. Some may have one or more extra DURs. Some may have that view across the valley which practically stuns one to a standstill. All these things add value to the land. A smaller site costs more per acre than a bigger one, normally. A cleared or partially cleared site costs more than a completely wooded one, because of the cost of clearing land in order to build. And in any county, some areas are going to have higher values than others, perhaps because of the posh houses in the neighborhood, or the convenience of the spot
for commuters.

In the last year or so, on average, pieces of land outside of town more than three acres in size have been selling for anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000 per acre, depending in part on some of the previously described factors. Lots smaller than three acres and in-town lots sell for a higher cost per acre, simply because the most important value in land is the ability to build a house on it, of course.

Therefore, all ye who desire the new and shiny dwelling, be of good cheer: your plot of earth awaits you. Take courage and pursue your dream!

Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots at 101 East Main St., Berryville, VA 22611, phone (540)955-0911. Wendy would be happy to answer any questions you may have about real estate, and can be reached at Gooditis@visuallink.com or at (540)533-0840.