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Broadband Needs

Date: Mar. 28, 2010
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There's been a lot of talk in these parts for quite awhile about the lack of broadband once you get outside the towns. Many of you reading this blog are still in very rural areas where broadband simply is not available.

Broadband is critical for economic development now and in the future. Rappahannock County, in particular, has a serious problem in this area.

The FCC recently came out with a plan to expand the reach and speed of broadband in this country. As part of their efforts in this area they are trying to map what is available now around the country. You can test your connection at this site and add that data to what they've already collected. Please do this!

And, let's do a little data collection here. Let me know what your results are and where you're at. Let's see what we can find out about the area. Pass this link along to your friends and have them report here as well.

Here are my results for Amissville in Rappahannock County:

Download speed: 1001 Kbps

Upload speed: 252 Kbps

Latency: 753 ms

Jitter: 85 mps

By the way, if you're looking for definitions of each of these, they're also available on the FCC site.

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Challenging Tax Assessments

It's no secret that local governments are hurting financially these days. And, property taxes are a huge source of funding. It's only natural that they'd turn once again to this potential source of additional funds.

Of course, the problem is that home values have declined substantially and so, in the normal course of things, you'd expect the assessments to decline as well.

But most of us will not see assessments that look anything like what our homes are actually worth.

I'm sympathetic to government's need for funds to keep important things like schools, fire fighters and police working. But I also know how hard things are for many families right now.

If your property tax assessment looks out of whack, don't be afraid to challenge it. The Virginia Homeowner's Alliance is now giving you the tools to do just that.

And, while you're there, think about joining. It's a great and growing organization and it won't cost you a penny to join!

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Local Service Options

Monday, January 19th has been designated a National Day of Service as part of the inaugural events. Whatever your political persuasion hopefully we can all agree that people stepping up to help in their communities is a good thing.

I've got two events posted for Fauquier County. I believe they're the only two events listed locally.

To find out about helping with the Fauquier County Food Distribution:



To find out about helping with a local food drive:



I'm disappointed that there aren't more local activities. Surely there's enough work to be done locally that no one should have to drive to Chantilly, or Sterling or Leesburg to participate!

So, if you know anyone involved in a local charity and think they may be able to find a way to use this even, please encourage them to get it on the website.

If they need a little help figuring out how to do that I'm happy to lend my services.

And, I hope lots of you will participate in one of the events!

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Reinventing Our Communities

Warrenton and Culpeper have, for some time now, been considered bedroom communities. Basically the people who have been moving here were commuting to someplace far away to work each day and coming home to sleep.

As more and more families couldn't afford homes closer to their jobs, they came looking out this way. Often they put up with miserable commutes in order to get that new house for their family.

This was part of what fueled the boom in real estate in our communities. And, the end of that flock of commuters moving here has had much to do with the real estate bust, at a local level.

Even with the recent decline in the price of oil, a real long-term reduction in gas prices now seems unlikely. And, as long as gas is at or above $4/gallon, those commuters are probably not coming back.

So, what's next? Who is going to buy these homes?

It seems clear to me that both Warrenton and Culpeper are going to need to reinvent themselves. Whatever we're going to be in the future, it's probably not what we've been in the past.

It's probably unrealistic to think that we're going to bulldoze all those new subdivisions and go back to the sleepy small towns that we once were.

It's equally unrealistic to believe that the commuters are coming back and that we can thrive as a bedroom community.

So, who do we want to be? Clearly we're going to need to attract businesses that pay high enough wages that families can afford to buy homes. What kind of businesses do we want to attract? What's a good fit with who we are today, our history and who we want to be in the future?

I'm not sure our local governments have yet figured out that we need to re-imagine ourselves as something different. Although I see signs of hope in each community.

Warrenton is talking about turning trash into energy. Might this be the start of becoming a green city and a push to attract green industry?

Culpeper is building new condos downtown next to the train depot where they hope to soon have another train headed into DC. This could be the start of the new Culpeper.

These are clearly seeds of something new. Now let's start public discussion and brainstorming around this challenge and potential solutions. It's going to take years to figure this all out and to begin to make these changes. Let's get started now!



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400 and Counting

I'm going to take a moment today to acknowledge that this is my 400th blog post here! I've enjoyed every minute of it and have learned more than I would have thought possible!

It's been fun hearing from you. All of you are the reason this blog exists. The purpose remains the same now as it was at post number one. This is here to give you, the consumer, more access to information on real estate in general and on the Fauquier (Warrenton), Culpeper, Prince William, Rappahannock and Warren county real estate market.

The occasion of the 400th post is prompting some reflection and analysis and watch for some adjustments going forward that will hopefully make this blog even more relevant.

And, because I wanted today's post to have an upbeat feel, here's an article on what I believe is ultimately a very positive sign for the real estate market overall. Work outs for troubled mortgages have not been happening in anywhere near he numbers they need to. This points to better systems and processes to make that happen.

And, one more milestone occurs later this week. Next weekend I'll turn 50!


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Dead Farmers Markets?

Seth Godin is one of my favorite author and his blog is a great place to go to get a shot of adrenaline for your brain!

He's got a blog post about The Death of the Farmers' Markets. It's not really so much that the markets themselves are dying as that many of them have been so wildly successful that they've gotten very large and very commercial and now have no room for actual farmers! The farmer's spot has been taken by people selling packaged foods, of course!

I'm happy to say that he's got it wrong in this area! Our farmers markets are still pretty small, local affairs. There are still local producers of local foods there. I hope that will be the case for a very long time. Maybe that's one of the advantages of living in a more rural area!

And, if you're on the lookout for local food sources you might want to check out the page I've added to my web site with sources of local foods, directly from the people who have grown them. If you've got additional sources that I'm unaware of, please let me know and I'll be happy to add them!

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New Kind of Real Estate Market

Historically this area has seen rapid growth and escalating prices as families looked to move further away from Northern Virginia in search of more value for their money and better quality of life.
Those days are over and will probably not return for a very long time!
  • Gas prices will likely remain high.
  • Home prices are not low enough to make the extra fuel/time costs attractive.
  • Traffic congestion will likely only get worse.
  • There are unlikely to be any mass transit alternatives available from this area any time soon.
  • No more overbuilding!
  • Any new construction that gets approved should reflect future demographic/housing trends.
  • New construction needs to be developed with a view to the larger community, not just that subdivision.
  • Education (at all levels) must be a top priority.
  • We need to attract employers who will employ highly skilled/highly paid individuals.
  • We need to be a destination in our own right, not simply an “outer suburb”.
  • We need to look to other regional centers of growth and opportunity and foster mutual cooperation with those centers. (Culpeper – Charlottesville, for example)
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Culpeper Possibilities

I had the great pleasure this past week of sitting down with three students from the University of VA Darden Graduate School of Business. Sara Cerminara, Polly Howe and Katie Horsman are working on their MBAs and wanted to sit and talk about Culpeper real estate.

It was an interesting conversation and I was impressed by their questions. Even better, they got me thinking about what Culpeper could be and what areas for growth might make sense.

First of all, kudos to Culpeper for some of the work they've already done. Things like attracting the Library of Congress facility were clearly a great move! Culpeper clearly appears to have a head start over many surrounding counties in attracting the kind of businesses that can help their community grow.

Clearly Culpeper will need to focus on local economic development in order to continue to prosper. Looking to build a community based on commuters to Northern VA and DC would seem to be a poor long term strategy. And the more I think about this the more I think it makes sense to look more towards creating a community of interest between Culpeper and Charlottesville.

The corridor between these two communities is already seeing extensive growth. There is a good transportation route between the two communities. There would seem to be an opportunity here to work together to build something that doesn't rely on Northern Virginia or DC for growth, jobs, etc.

Given the educational, employment and commercial opportunities in Charlottesville, I believe Culpeper should be working to create a dialog with this community to foster closer ties. Anybody know of efforts already under way in this area?

Thanks, ladies, for getting me to think a little more deeply on some of these topics!

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They're Back!

Centex, that is!

Remember last year when they were going to do a deal that would give Warrenton $22 million and they would build homes in a 55+ community with prices at $900K?! At the time I speculated that the world had truly gone beserk if they believed there was a big market of retirees looking for $900K homes in which to retire. At least I was willing to be they weren't looking for those homes in Warrenton, Virginia!

And, eventually, the deal did fall apart. Centex executives no doubt came to their senses!

But a deal has been put back together. And while the money Centex is contributing is now down to $15 million, I suspect this is a smarter deal all around and much more likely to actually come to fruition.

I did notice, though, that there's no mention of the price of the homes that will supposedly be built here. I'm guessing they won't be anywhere near $900K!

What do you think?!

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A Greener Warrenton

Date: Feb. 11, 2007
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Warrenton's mayor, George Fitch, has issued a call for Warrenton to become more energy self-sufficient; to, as the local newspaper put it, "go green".

First of all, I applaud Mayor Fitch for taking this step. A focus by the town on renewable energy resources is a welcome one. Every locality should be looking at ways to reduce our energy consumption and our dependence on sources of energy that are bad for our planet and increasingly bad for our country.

The mayor's focus seems to be on buildng a small scale biorefinery capable of producing ethanol from locally available materials such as corn. The idea of small local refineries that are joint public and private partnerships is, in my mind, a good one. It could be good for the local economy, local farmers and, to some extent, for energy efficiency.

My concern is that ethanol made from corn, which seems to be the cornerstone of the plan is not all that efficient a fuel. Some studies show that more fossil-fuel energy is expended in the production of corn-based ethanol than we would ever save by burning it.

But it's early yet and the idea is just getting off the ground. There's time for fact-finding and, eventually, modification of the original proposal. The Warrenton Town Council has provided $5000 for a feasibility study and I look forward to hearing the results.

I hope that no one is waiting for this to solve our energy dependence problems though! This is another instance where "waiting for the world" is definitely not the way to go! Each of us can be looking at ways to reduce our own carbon footprint. Whether your motives are cost savings, saving the planet or making our country energy independent, there are plenty of good reasons to look for ways to reduce our energy consumption.

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