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Sunday, August 30, 2009


Charlottesville seemed like the next logical place for us to explore. Here was a place with all sorts of magnets.....Montecello, University of Virginia, and at the time it was listed as one of the top 5 places to live in America by a major news magazine. It was prime for the tourist traffic we needed to sell our wine, and had just enough rural atmosphere combined with modernistic fare to make it attractive.

As in the previous episode, we put our faith in a local realtor to help guide us in our selection process. We needed someone to help sift through the numerous real estate listings so that when we raced down there we could get right to the business of fine tuning the searches and visiting the best properties with the highest potential.

She was a petit realtor. All piss and vinegar with a non-stop gift of gab, and 3 cell phones in the car ringing all the time. Her reasoning was that she was all over the counties and some phone services had better reception in some areas than others. With my limited experience with providers I can agree with her assessment, though it was annoying to be carrying on a conversation with her while she fielded what seemed to be a never-ending stream of incomings.

There was no doubt that she was successful. If it wasn't for her horses and her farm, her second love had to be running around looking at real estate (which provided her the funds to support the farm). She even had hired a special assistant to field calls, set up appointments, and put together fact pages so she didn't have any paperwork to do herself. A real machine.

Which provides all the background one needs to understand how the process went on. Though it was done in what appeared to be a pure volume approach, it did lead to a couple of serious offers being made which I'll get to in a moment. She took my criteria, basically ignored most of it, and bombed me with 20 to 30 to 50 listings for me to review for each trip that I had planned to make to the Charlottesville area. I must have visited the area 4 or 5 times. My basic response was to review them, all of them, ask enough questions so that I could trim the list down to maybe a half dozen or so (which I thought the criteria I had provided would do), and then schedule a trip down to Charlottesville for a day or two of running around. Pictures are deceiving, as well as the brief descriptions that are in the MLS listings, and more times than not a quick look while passing in a speeding car was all that was needed to rule out a property. It comes down again to a realtor not taking my time seriously by checking into some of these properties first. It's the "let's jam as many properties down their throats" scenario and maybe one of them will grab if for no other reason than it will wear them down and desiring to get something positive for all the effort spent.

But this was no normal expedition. It is one that'll have to be right for the next 40 years, or for that matter work well with our plans and dreams. It is not a nice place that we will live in "close to work and schools" that'll last us maybe a half dozen years and then we move on.

We saw properties that were fully wooded, where it would take thousands of dollars just to clear. We saw land absolutely destroyed by loggers, with old decaying tree stumps clogging the landscape, costing nearly just as much to clean up before we could start. We saw beautiful pieces of property where a square was carved out of the middle for a small property spin-off by the previous owner. We saw once again those infamous power lines going right through the middle of the property with all their right-of-ways. We saw land hidden so far back in the woods that vines would never see the light of day, excepting maybe from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

But we did see 2 properties that were interesting enough to make bids on, and this is where the repeat trips and bidding process began. Usually I would screen a property, and if I got really excited (Diane has a scale she measures my excitement with to decide if she should get involved herself), the 2 of us would go down to Charlottesville together for a 2nd look, and ultimately an offer to be made. Of course these trips resulted in a minny vacations.....going to see where Jefferson spent his time, or a drive through of the UVA campus. Trips included visiting many of the other wineries where we participated in tastings, or going out to eat at the many restaurants that were in the area.

The first property was down in Nelson County, about 30 minutes just south of Charlottesville. It was a nice piece of buildings, rolling hills with a blend of wooded acreage and cleared land being used to raise cattle. It was out in the middle of no where, and unfortunately many of the rural homes that one had to drive by to get to it were not right up on top of the attractive scale (we were concerned about first impressions of visitors, as well as the ease to get there from the city). At this time we had intentions to build a restaurant, and have a B & B , which as time has moved on we have adjusted our way of thinking.

The realtor managed to schedule a meeting with the owner, who apparently lived near Newport News (hours away) working in the ship building trade. It was a property left to him by his father, one the wife never had any real attachments to, so it was his to price and sell "to the highest bidder". And that is what he thought we were. We gave him what we believed was a fair price. He differed. My interpretation of his side of the negotiation was that (a) the area had been cited as a best place to live, and therefore justified a premium, (b) developers had driven up the price of land based on this best place annoitment, (though none of them were interested in land within 10 to 20 miles) (c) it had some timber on the property and it was priced to reflect the additional income stream that we would get from the land, and (d) we were Yankees so because all Yankees are rich he should get a piece of that pie. Hmmmmm, not a great middle ground for buy-sell negotiations. He was unyielding, and there were just enough things that made us uncomfortable that we moved on. Oh well.

And then there was the 2nd property we really liked. Picture a long driveway with gorgeous trees lining each side of it, from entrance to the circa 1800's home at the end. On each side of the driveway there were cleared fields, currently being used for hay to feed 3 Arabian horses back in the stable (that came with the sale I might add). It was a very nice property with only one big problem.....for some reason the owner wouldn't show us the inside of the house !

We did eventually decide to put a bid on the property, but being refused entrance put a big kabosh on this one. I can't understand what they were thinking, and my normally aggressive realtor couldn't figure it out either, though she stated that they had a set price (regardless ?) that they weren't going to move from primarily because they had no initial plans as to what they were going to do once the house was sold. They had a business in an neighboring town, and they needed a certain amount of cash to make the move, whatever that means to a buyer. It was a beautiful spot, but time wasted.

Diane and I were now frustrated beyond belief. We saw the clock ticking, all these wasted trips leading to no where (though we did taste some very good, and not so very good, wines in western Virginia). Every trip that went by got us further away from starting our dream, not to mention the difficulties in timing our vineyard purchase with the sale of other real estate we owned in Massachusetts. We had a buyer up there who was getting itchy for a Close, but whom I kept putting off until we found the right land to purchase. It was a tense time.

But then Diane came up with a despiration hail-Mary suggestion.......why don't we look in eastern Virginia ? You gotta be kidding......inexpensive farm land closer to the ocean and populated areas ? It made no sense, but as I said, out of complete frustration, what was there to lose....

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