Crossing the river used to be taboo. Not anymore
In 2014, the Smiths were exploring renovating their home off River Road, near the University of Richmond. They were generally happy with their 4,500-square-foot house, but they wanted to remodel the kitchen and porch, among other improvements. Then they discovered the cost, which led to a revelation: Why not just build a new house?
They did. In Hallsley, an upscale subdivision in western Chesterfield County.
The Midlothian community had all the bells and whistles – walking trails and pools, easy access to shopping and good schools.
Their 11-year-old son, Jackson, quickly acclimated to new friends and his new school, J.B. Watkins Elementary. Daniel, who sells medical equipment for a living, found the commute to his office in Mechanicsville was actually easier, albeit a few minutes longer: Just hop on state Route 288 to Interstates 64 and 295. It’s about a 40-minute drive, but with fewer stoplights and secondary roads.
“We didn’t think we’d ever leave the house in Henrico, quite honestly. We had good schools and restaurants,” he says, adding that he and his wife looked to build in Henrico but couldn’t find what they wanted. “Hallsley just so happened to be in Chesterfield.”
The Smiths aren’t alone. Their story illustrates what realtors and builders have known for some time: western Chesterfield is now the region’s leading market for mid-range to high-end homes. As western Henrico runs short on new inventory, families are skipping across the river.
While there is no hard data to determine where new homebuyers are from, few would deny that Chesterfield, rightly or wrongly, carried a social stigma during the housing boom of the 1980s. Living south of the James River connoted a more rural mentality, to some. In fact, West Enders were known to sport a bumper sticker to illustrate their geographic loyalties: “Richmond’s West End: Members Only.” Recent home-buying trends in the region suggest that stigma is fading. “There are definitely more buyers choosing Chesterfield because of the lack of inventory in Henrico,” says Craig Toalson, chief executive of the Home Building Association of Richmond. “Henrico is built out. Wyndham has one little section [left], but it is really built out to Goochland,” which neighbors Henrico to the west.
Adds Laura Lafayette, chief executive of the Richmond Association of Realtors: “You get a lot of house in Chesterfield. Land values are less expensive, [though] they are not inexpensive homes by any means. The scarcity of land in Henrico makes it [more] expensive.”
The shift to Chesterfield is a significant one. For years, Henrico’s West End – which borders the city – and farther western stretches around Short Pump have cornered the region’s high-end housing market.
That’s no longer the case. Of the top 10 subdivisions in the region, ranked by the number of new home closings in 2016, eight were in western Chesterfield, with the other two in Hanover County, according to a report by Integra Realty Resources - Richmond.
Leading the pack was Hallsley with 186 lot closings and 135 home closings. Next up was Magnolia Green with 172 lot closings and 128 home closings. Other top 10 Chesterfield developments were RounTrey, Collington, Harpers Mill, Silverleaf, Foxcreek and Watermark.
No Henrico subdivision made the cut.
“I do think that the increase in new home sales in Chesterfield is partially due to the supply of [available] lots in the county. It should continue going forward as new communities are developed and open,” says Thomas R. Tyler, director of housing markets for Integra.
“In Henrico, where new home sales have recently declined, homebuilders are currently somewhat limited by a tighter supply of vacant lots, particularly in the West End,” Tyler adds. “Activity in [Chesterfield] will likely increase going forward as sales commence in several new communities,” he notes.
For now, “The west end of Chesterfield is a hot market. It is the hottest market in Richmond,” Tyler says. “They have very strong developers at Hallsley and Magnolia Green, and they do a very good job at marketing.”
Accessibility and a shifting jobs market are also factors. Many of the region’s larger corporations have left downtown for suburban environs in Henrico’s Innsbrook and now Goochland’s West Creek, home to CarMax and Capital One Financial. With the completion of state Route 288 in 2004, which serves as a beltway of sorts around the city that connects western Chesterfield and western Henrico (and includes an interchange at West Creek), living south of the river now offers an easier commute.
Meanwhile, for some, the daily commute is a thing of the past. While job location remains a key driver in housing choices, it’s no longer the primary consideration for many. New houses in places like Hallsley and Magnolia Green are being constructed with in-home offices as telecommuting becomes more common.
Joan Dorsey, co-founder and principal broker at Jefferson Properties LLC, says some buyers are moving to the area from out of state and work remotely. “In the world we live in, some work in their homes and travel from them,” she says.
The shift in buying preferences has also led to a rise in wealthy, high-income homeowners in Chesterfield.
According to the Chesterfield Planning Department, which crunched U.S. Census data to get a sense of the demographic profile of western Chesterfield along the western corridors of Hull Street Road and Midlothian Turnpike, residents in these areas tend to be better educated, on average. Fifty-one percent have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, compared to the county average of 37 percent, according to county demographer Chelsea Hartman. Unsurprisingly, average household income is higher, too: $76,987 for the area, compared to $72,609 for the county.
They tend to be commuters as well: about 34 percent work in other parts of Chesterfield; about 20 percent commute to Richmond; and 19 percent drive daily to Henrico County. Half of the area’s residents have occupations in management, business, science and the arts.
And like the Smith family, many of those who thought they’d never leave Henrico are discovering that subdivisions in western Chesterfield are similar to those in western Henrico – both boast good schools, lots of amenities and easy access to shopping and jobs.
“We’re seeing a lot of ages and family styles,” says Connie Pollard, senior vice president of marketing at East West Communities, which planned Hallsley. In addition to families with children, the subdivision attracts empty nesters and retirees who want maintenance-free living, she notes.
For Daniel and Anna Smith, making the move to Chesterfield didn’t come without some early hesitation. While Daniel grew up in Chesterfield – he graduated from L.C. Bird High – Anna was a native West Ender. She attended Mills Godwin and never really considered living south of the river.
But they found a builder they liked, Brian Perkinson of Perkinson Homes, and discovered Hallsley.
“It had the amenities we wanted, a nice clubhouse and trails, and we found a great builder,” Daniel says. “Everything just lined up to Hallsley.” ¦