Housing & Real Estate
Since 1983, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has recognized Hampton Roads as a significant group of socially and economically integrated communities. Its prime mid-Atlantic location in southeastern Virginia embraces two areas: South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula — often referred to as the Tidewater area. South Hampton Roads includes the cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Franklin, Suffolk and Virginia Beach, and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry. The Peninsula consists of the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and Williamsburg, and the counties of Gloucester, James City and York.
The name “Hampton Roads,” almost 400 years old, has been in use since the region was barely a struggling British outpost in the 17th century. It refers to the large natural harbor where the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth rivers pour into the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. “Roads” in nautical terms means “a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor.” Hampton Roads’ population is not confined to one central city but is spread among several growing cities. The area was recently recognized as the nation’s most diverse, with a population of 1.8 million people, according to the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
The military is a major presence with Joint Base Langley-Eustis (Army and Air Force), Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story (Army, Navy and Marines), Naval Air Station Oceana and Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Naval Station Norfolk and Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. That largest naval base in the world is in Hampton Roads. Active-duty military personnel number about 83,000, and those numbers jump to around 350,000 when retirees, family members and the reserve forces are added.
Hampton Roads Communities
306 Cedar Road
Chesapeake, VA 23322
The city of Chesapeake’s heritage stretches to Colonial times, but the independent city itself is relatively new, coming into being only in 1963 when the city of South Norfolk and the former Norfolk County consolidated and voters picked the name “Chesapeake.”
Developed enclaves alternate with protected farmland, forests and wetlands; a large portion of the Great Dismal Swamp lies within the city limits, and so does the Dismal Swamp Canal, the nation’s oldest continuously used man-made canal, which George Washington helped survey.
Chesapeake’s more than 230,000 residents live in a quiet, family friendly town. Many of the homes have ample yards for play, and numerous military retirees opt to stay or to return.
View Chesapeake’s Citizen’s Guide to City Services at www.cityofchesapeake.net/Residents/Citizen-s-Guide-to-City-Services.htm.
207 W. Second Ave.
Franklin, VA 23851
The city of Franklin, population 8,526, is a manufacturing and farming community on Virginia’s fertile Coastal Plain. It began modestly as a railroad stop on the Blackwater River in the 1830s, but its real financial growth kicked off in 1887 with development of a sawmill, and with World War I’s demand for lumber, its future was assured. The sawmill-based operation merged in 1956 with a New York paper bag company and flourished until 1999, when the operation was purchased by International Paper. The International Paper Mill along the Blackwater River produced lumber, pulp and paper products, and chemical byproducts until it shut down in May 2010, but it has since resumed limited operations.
Franklin’s location along its lifeline river has also made it vulnerable to flooding, particularly after hurricanes. In 1999, in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, the raging Blackwater submerged downtown Franklin under 12 feet of water.
22 Lincoln St.
Hampton, VA 23669
The city of Hampton is the hub of Hampton Roads. The shoreline city, “America’s First,” was the initial point of land touched by the English colonists who continued upriver to establish Jamestown, and after being settled in 1610, Hampton became the country’s first continuously English-speaking settlement. Today, Hampton is a regional shopping and entertainment destination with easy access to more than 100 attractions.
The city of Hampton, population 136,699, has multiple resources to help newcomers make informed decisions when considering home-buying. For new-resident information, visit http://hampton.gov/index.aspx?nid=884.
2400 Washington Ave.
Newport News, VA 23607
The city of Newport News — on the Virginia Peninsula, midway between Williamsburg and Virginia Beach — started as a tiny fishing settlement on the north side of the James River but has grown into one of the finest natural harbors in the world. Newport News, Norfolk and Portsmouth constitute the Port of Hampton Roads.
The city’s 182,965 residents enjoy one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S. Newport News Park offers hiking, biking, boating, fishing, archery and camping.
For the Newport News Newcomer’s Guide online, go to www.nngov.com/313/Newcomers-Guide.
810 Union St.
Norfolk, VA 23510
The city of Norfolk has been rated No. 2 in the country for military retirees in a joint study by www.bestplaces.net, military.com and financial services firm USAA, and the city hosts the world’s largest naval base and the busiest port on the East Coast.
It’s a bustling place, population 245,428, jam-packed with people in a hurry, and all that bustle crowds the roads. A joint study by Avis, Motorola and Sterling’s Best Places ranked the Norfolk-Newport News-Virginia Beach as the nation’s 10th-worst to navigate.
Residents praise the weather (warm and humid but with sea breezes and no winter to speak of), the beaches (especially Ocean View), and the Norfolk Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
The housing stock skews older, and gentrification is in full flower; those who have always yearned for a Victorian cottage should be able to find one, but those who favor slick, modern condos can find them too. Norfolk has more than 300 well-established neighborhoods to choose from. The city’s New Residents Guide is online at www.norfolk.gov/Index.aspx?NID=1983.
500 City Hall Ave.
Poquoson, VA 23662
In the city of Poquoson, new homes contrast with old farm houses, and families whose roots are generations deep mingle with newcomers looking to escape big city living. This former fishing village at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides and revels in more than 84 miles of shoreline on Chesapeake Bay. In 2014, CNBC rated this suburb of Norfolk-Newport News-Virginia Beach as No. 5 on its list of 10 Perfect Suburbs based on affordable housing, good schools, educated residents, low crime, employment and reasonable commutes.
For more information about local education, quality of life, real estate and relocation and the business community, visit www.poquoson-va.gov.
801 Crawford St.
Portsmouth, VA 23704
The city of Portsmouth, population 96,004, was born as a shipbuilding town when John Wood, an early English colonist, recognized its harbor potential and asked King James I for a land grant for a shipyard in 1620. These days the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth builds, remodels and repairs naval vessels, and the city itself has busy port facilities and much waterfront along the Elizabeth River, part of the harbor of Hampton Roads. The U.S. Coast Guard named Portsmouth a “Coast Guard City” in 2009.
The Olde Towne section contains one of the greatest numbers of historically significant homes among Alexandria, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and since 2000, the downtown has been undergoing urban renewal. Tree-lined streets lead to the charming waterfront. See www.portsmouthva.gov/newcomer-info for newcomer information.
441 Market St.
Suffolk, VA 23434
The city of Suffolk, birthplace of Mr. Peanut and the largest city in Virginia by area (400 square miles of land) was founded by English colonists in 1742 as a port on the Nansemond River. The city always has been a transportation gateway with highways, trains and, of course, waterways.
Early on, the colonists’ major cash crop was tobacco, but they later turned to mixed farming. In 1912, Planters’ Peanuts set up shop, and peanut growing became a major industry, aided in national marketing by introduction of the company’s mascot, Mr. Peanut. For many years, the call letters of local WLPM, Suffolk’s AM radio station, stood for World’s Largest Peanut Market.
More recently the city’s economy has diversified into high-tech, thanks to the location there of various major military commands. In 2014, Suffolk had 86,806 residents.
View the city’s Newcomers Guide online at www.suffolkva.us/community/newcomers.
2401 Courthouse Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
The resort city of Virginia Beach, population 450,980 in 2014, had more residents than any other city in Virginia, and was the 39th largest in the U.S. Its major industry is tourism, and hundreds of motels, hotels, restaurants and high-rises line the miles of oceanfront beach (the Guinness Book of Records calls it the longest pleasure beach in the world).
The sleepy little vacation community of Virginia Beach didn’t really take off until the late 19th century when the railroad, electricity and the Princess Anne Hotel all began service. The resort incorporated as a town in 1906.
The city is blessed by its location north of the pummeling from southern storms and south of blustery northern weather systems, giving it a languorous, subtropical climate that marks the northern limit for Spanish moss. Mild winters are rarely marked by snowfall, and any that does fall is light.
401 Lafayette St.
Williamsburg, VA 23185
The city of Williamsburg, onetime capital of Colonial Virginia, stretches along a high, wooded spine occupied by the original Middle Plantation between the James and the York rivers on the Virginia Peninsula, and these days is a mecca for history buffs, retirees and ardent golfers.
Its elevation worked against it in the early days when transportation was arduous and mostly along waterways, and the railroads came late. In general, history rushed by without touching the city harshly, but now its restored historic area, Colonial Williamsburg, is one anchor of Colonial Virginia’s Historic Triangle, along with Jamestown and Yorktown, and draws more than 4 million tourists every year.
Williamsburg is a college town as well, site of the prestigious William & Mary College, founded in 1693, and the Williamsburg Regional Library is known as one of the best in the country. In 1698, Williamsburg became the capital of Colonial Virginia, a position it held until 1780 when then-Gov. Thomas Jefferson moved state government to Richmond because he believed Williamsburg was more vulnerable to British attack.
The first hospital for psychiatric patients in the nation was built in Williamsburg in the 1770s — the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds — and continues today as Eastern State Hospital.
Find Williamsburg new resident information online at www.williamsburgva.gov/Index.aspx?page=79.
Planning Your Move
Relocating to a new home can be one of the most stressful situations in life. Whether moving across town or across the nation, preparation and organization can make all the difference. First, decide whether to use a professional moving company or make it a do-it-yourself (DIY) operation.
For a DIY move, consider distance, labor help and the costs to rent the moving van, gas, lodging during the move and insurance. A transportable storage unit can bridge a professional and DIY move. When the unit is delivered to your residence, you load and secure it for transport and then unload it at your new residence.
Whatever the method, be sure to obtain as many quotes as possible from professional movers, as well as cost estimates for a DIY move. Next, compare the costs for each type of move, factoring in the stress and physical exertion involved. Ask any company you are interested in for references and use them to inquire about reliability and customer service.
Regardless of which method you choose, the first step should be to inventory your personal belongings. The list, with photographs of any valuables, will be important for both insurance purposes and to help keep you organized during transit.
Plan for one full day to pack each room — though the kitchen and garage may take longer. Make a rough estimate of your packing schedule and then add 50 percent more time. It always takes longer than predicted to pack. Toss or donate unused items to lighten your load. Visit www.goodwill.org, www.salvationarmy.org or www.clothingdonations.org for locations near you or to arrange a pickup.
Pack for success:
- Consider what you’re packing and control box weight. Books should go in small boxes while bedding can easily fill a larger box.
- Wrap fragile items with cardboard dividers, tissue paper or air bubble wrapping.
- Use bright colors when wrapping small items so they don’t get thrown out accidentally.
- Use crumpled paper or newspaper to line the top and bottom of boxes.
- Tape a copy of your inventory list to boxes to identify what’s inside and where it should go.
Buying Versus Renting
The decision to buy or rent is the most important step in your relocation process. Purchasing a home entails a long-term emotional and financial commitment with various pluses and minuses attached. Advantages include the possibility of building equity and the freedom to design and decorate your property or landscape. And don’t forget the tax benefits. Disadvantages include upkeep, property taxes and fluctuating property value.
Renting, on the other hand, makes moving easier and someone else maintains the property. Amenities such as laundry rooms, exercise rooms, swimming pools and tennis courts vary from one rental complex to another. The main disadvantage is loss of control over the residence. Some complexes, for example, restrict or prohibit pets and personal touches such as painting. And the landlord or property managers can also raise the rent with proper notice.
Before determining your best option, account for all of your needs, review your financial situation and research your options thoroughly.
Finding An Apartment
Find local apartments listed in the online chamber of commerce membership directories (www.hamptonroadschamber.com, www.virginiapeninsulachamber.com), local newspaper classifieds, online or through referrals from family or friends.
Be prepared when you meet with the leasing agent, property manager or owner. Bring a list of what you are looking for in a rental; it is important to be clear about your needs and to get all your questions answered. You will also need to provide information and verification about your job, income and past rental history. Dress to make a good impression and treat the meeting as though it is a job interview — be polite and arrive on time.
Before you decide to rent, inspect the apartment with the landlord. Look for the following problems:
- Cracks, holes or damage in the floor, walls or ceiling.
- Signs of leaking water, leaky fixtures or water damage.
- Any signs of mold or pests.
- Lack of hot water.
- Inadequate heating or air conditioning.
Use a written checklist with the landlord to document the condition of the rental before you move in, and keep a copy of the completed checklist to use when you move out.
Buying a Home
Buying a home is a complex process and, as the recent housing crisis demonstrated, requires a thorough education on the part of the buyer. First, fully understand your financial position — credit score, available savings, monthly income and expenditures. Subtracting your expenditures from your income, for instance, will yield the amount you can afford for housing.
Be sure to account for all insurance costs associated with owning a home, possible homeowner association fees and property taxes in your monthly expenditures. Overall, loan rules became more stringent in 2014, but according to www.ginniemae.gov (Government National Mortgage Association) and www.homebuyinginstitute.com (the Homebuying Institute) loan programs still vary on the percentage of your income that can be used for housing-related expenses. Lenders use a two-part debt-to-income ratio to decide if an applicant will be able to repay a loan. The front-end ratio calculates housing expenses versus income, and the back-end ratio calculates all debt as a percentage of income. Most conventional loans allow 28 percent front-end debt and 36 percent back-end debt, with the Federal Housing Administration at 31/43 and Veterans Affairs at 41 percent combined.
Next, research the different types of home loans to determine the right fit for your financial situation and discuss your options with a lending professional. Lenders are diverse today, and not all homebuyers obtain their mortgage loans through their banks and credit unions. For example, you may choose to work with an Internet lender, a mortgage broker, a homebuilder or a real estate agency lender. To determine which lender is best for you, get recommendations from friends and family members and check credentials as well as Better Business Bureau ratings.
A preapproved loan before starting your search for a home can determine your spending limits and signal any potential issues in the way of receiving a loan. For any home loan application, the mortgage company will order a credit report, so it may be good to get a free report in advance to determine your credit status and make sure the report contains no erroneous information.
To order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll free 877-322-8228, or download and complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348. For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans.
Knowing your monthly budget and the amount of your loan are invaluable during the next phase, especially finding the answers to questions before the hunt for a home begins.
First, determine your home preferences. Does a single-family house, condo, town house or duplex best fit your needs and budget? Do you prefer a new home, an existing home or to build one? Though new homes generally cost more, existing homes may come with maintenance issues and renovation costs. How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want an attached garage? Will you live in the city, a suburb or in the country? How close to work, school, shopping or public transportation do you want to be? Answers to these questions will greatly assist your search and the next stage — hiring a real estate agent.
The ideal agent will help find your ideal home and guide you through the purchase process. First, interview potential candidates to ensure they understand your needs, know your homebuying and neighborhood preferences, and are readily accessible.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Hampton Roads Loan Fund Partnership
The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission works through the Hampton Roads Loan Fund Partnership to administer funds from the federal HUD HOME program to help eligible first-time homebuyers with down payments and closing costs. The loan fund partnership’s goal is to support local community development in neighborhoods and populations that historically have been underserved by mortgage lenders and traditional home ownership programs. Go to www.hrpdc.org/departments/housing/hampton-roads-loan-fund-partnership for more detailed information and all eligibility requirements.
Virginia provides housing programs and incentives to help residents with home ownership. For more information, visit http://portal.hud.gov and select Virginia from the “State Info” drop-down menu.