Scott Buzzelli looks like a Virginian. Dress him in a cowboy hat and a leather vest, and he easily could have been one of the charmingly handsome cast members of that 60s TV show with James Drury and Lee J. Cobb. Scott is one of the owners of Middleburg Real Estate. So, instead of chaps and a dirty shirt, his jeans are more expensive and his jacket is tailor-made. When we met in his second story office on E. Washington Street, he was doing what every real estate professional does on a Tuesday morning – going over weekend numbers.
I’m a little ahead of myself. After my conversation at Julien’s, I wanted to speak to a business that I thought would have been impacted by the growth of the local wine industry. Since I have been a real estate professional for the past 17 years, naturally, that was the first option that came to mind. A block away to the right of the restaurant’s doorway was Middleburg Real Estate. So, off I trod.
In November of 2009, Scott Buzzelli and his partners at Atoka Properties purchased Middleburg Real Estate. The small boutique brokerage is one of the oldest continuously operating companies in Loudoun County, having been in business since 1939. Thus, they have enjoyed a long and excellent reputation serving residential and commercial clients in and around the area. Many of their agents are very active in the Middleburg service and philanthropic community.
Given all that history, I figured this was a pretty good place to find some answers. I hoped that I would be fortunate enough to find an agent in the office who would be willing to spend a few minutes with me in a short debrief.
When I entered the office, and explained to the receptionist that I was a journalist in search of a story (saying that is still an out-of-body experience), she eagerly walked around the office to see who was available to speak with me. Like most small real estate offices before late afternoon, there were only a couple of agents present. Both happened to be speaking to clients on the telephone. (A sign of a busy market?) Extending my hand, I was about to thank her for her courtesy and effort, when she asked if I “would like to speak to the owner. I’m pretty sure he would make himself available.”
“Of course,” I said. “That would be fantastic.” Two minutes later, I was sitting down with Scott.
I hoped she hadn’t told him I was with The Washington Post.
Scott is a wine man. Better yet, he is a red wine man. When he told me that he liked bold Cabs and big Tuscans, I knew we would get on fine.
I began our conversation by telling him about my real estate background. I wanted to let him know that we could just talk without him having to stop every five minutes for clarification. Then, I told him (yes, I know I am supposed to be the one listening) that I thought that the wine industry probably had a positive effect on property values, given the injection of revenue that it has brought to the area.
He told me that I was partially correct. So, I that is when I decided to listen.
Middleburg’s property values, just like the rest of the county, felt the downward pressure of the recession of 2007. In the DC market, downward pressure on property values increased the farther away the community was from the city. Middleburg is about 90 minutes away. While housing prices in many neighborhoods in the D.C. metro area started to recover in late 2010, according to Buzzelli, Middleburg was just hitting its rock bottom in 2011.
Ironically, the Virginia wine industry started to take off in the mid-2000s. By 2010, the industry had grown so much that the Virginia Wine Board commissioned its first study on the economic impact of wine and wine grapes on the Commonwealth’s economy. So, while wine was on the rise, Middleburg residential real estate was still feeling the blues. I think “The Virginian” could see the surprise on my face. He laughed.
“Wait a minute. It’s not a sad story, Howard. By 2013, residential started to see an upward trend. Now, the market’s median price point is about one million dollars. More importantly, houses are selling faster. We aren’t Vienna, McLean, or Arlington. But, then again, we will never be a close commute to the city.”
I knew that the wine industry had grown at an even more accelerated rate over the past five years. I asked him if he credited the housing boost to any of that economic activity. He told me that the commercial market has been positively affected by increased sales activity in the county. But, it wasn’t exactly for the reason I thought.
“Howard, it’s not so much the wine; it’s the craft beer…”
That was the nugget I was hoping for. I did a little digging.
As it turns out, the number of craft breweries and nanobreweries in Northern Virginia has soared since 2010. Beer enthusiasts in Loudoun have helped lead the charge, capitalizing on relaxed regulations that make it easier to pursue dreams of brewing small-batch, locally sourced ales and lagers. In 2012, the Virginia State legislature changed a provision governing on-site consumption at brewery tasting rooms, allowing the sale of pints of beer rather than just tasting samples.
Since the law was revised, the craft beer industry in Virginia has seen a 75 percent growth in the number of breweries, driving a statewide economic impact of $623 million, per Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, a group composed of small, independent breweries in the Commonwealth.
The industry has become so strong around Middleburg that 19 Loudoun County breweries officially signed on to establish the LoCo Brewers Association. Among other things, the LBA’s stated purpose is “to promote and support Loudoun breweries by: supporting the production of high-quality beer by craft brewers and presenting a unified voice to legislators and regulators in Loudoun County.”
Although the wine and grape industry has had its economic imprint felt within the county, over the past five years it is the craft beer industry that has had the most acute effect on the commercial real estate market.
“The most basic and apparent reason why breweries are popping at a greater rate than wineries is the initial investment required is a fraction of what a winery purchase or startup would need. And, the fact is that more people drink beer. It’s not for me. It’s too filling, and I can’t take the carbs. But, the numbers are what they are. If you drive around these breweries, especially on the weekends, they are packed.”
Scott went on to tell me about a recent trip he made to a local pizzeria. He asked for the wine list, which used to have as many as 25 selections; it had been pared down to about 15. In contrast, the place offers over 200 beers in the bottle and on tap – many of which are produced locally.
We both looked at our watches at the same time. It was past noon. Time flies when you are talking about houses, food, and alcohol. It was time for me to be moving on. I thanked Scott for making some time for me. He had been very generous.
As any good Realtors would, we parted ways discussing future business. I told him about a client of mine who is always talking about buying a second home in horse country. He told me about investment opportunities for future clients in Middleburg and Aldie – a town just down the road a piece. I don’t know if I’ll be doing any business in Middleburg in the coming weeks. But, I know where my first stop would be if I do.
If you would like some information about property listings or investment opportunities in Middleburg, VA and the surrounding area go to: www.atokaproperties.com/