A Far-Out Oasis: But Growing in Leaps and Bounds
Prince William County, once a quiet rural area, has now begun to look more and more like its populous neighbor, Fairfax County. With at least 18 planned communities in the county and countless other subdivisions, it is no surprise that American Demographics Inc. counted Prince William among the 20 fastest growing counties in the nation between 1980 and 1990.
Stafford County still offers plenty of open spaces, and peaceful, rural areas, but it too is growing at an ever-increasing rate. A multitude of new subdivisions is being built, seven planned communities have been started in Stafford, and nearby Fredericksburg boasts Lee's Hill, a large planned development that includes a golf course among its many amenities. Even with all this development, three public marinas, streams, rivers and hiking trails still supply a natural setting for Stafford residents wishing to escape suburban or city life.
"People always want more house for their money, and they are willing to commute from Stafford to D.C. or Crystal City in order to get more house," said Barbara Tivnan, managing broker of Long & Foster's Stafford office. "My perception is that Stafford and Spotsylvania counties are growing at an even faster pace than Prince William, and sales are brisker in these areas.
"North Stafford, especially along the Route 610 corridor, is really booming, and sales of new homes and existing homes seem to be neck and neck."
Prince William County has two strong areas of development, according to Anna Pitheon, president of Housing Data Reports.
"Both the Manassas to [Interstate] 66 market and the Route 95 market toward Stafford are pretty vital areas, with good infrastructure and ample amenities to support the growing population," Ms. Pitheon said. "The bulk of activity in the Stafford market is centered along the Route 610 corridor.
"But these two counties offer a different mix of housing. In Stafford County, new construction is 70 percent single-family homes, and 30 percent town houses. In Prince William County, about 40 percent of new construction consists of single-family homes, 50 percent are town houses and 10 percent are condominiums. This mix of housing is similar to Fairfax County."
Prices in Stafford County tend to be somewhat lower than Prince William County, with houses of comparable size and quality costing $20,000 to $25,000 less in Stafford, Ms. Tivnan said.
"It's that old dollars-for-distance trade-off that people need to make," Ms. Pitheon said. "Someone who might be able to afford only a town house in Prince William can sometimes get into a single-family home in Stafford."
More people have been able to consider living farther from their work in part because of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter system that now offers several stops in both Stafford and Prince William counties. The VRE provides an alternative commuting method and the possibility for more people to enjoy the rural life while commuting to other parts of Northern Virginia and even to the District. The trip from Fredericksburg to Union Station averages only 75 minutes.
The effect of the VRE on the real estate market may have been overestimated by some developers in Stafford and Prince William, since quite often the move-up buyer is an executive or management-level employee who works unusual hours or needs a car. …