Pick up a copy of the new issue!
Pick up a copy of the Summer 2014 issue, on newsstands now! Click the following link to find the closest location to you. http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy
Our newest issue highlights the sixth annual Castleton Festival with the full program published in the back of the magazine.
Featured stories include the Alvictus Spy House, the history of Hurricane Camille, five great hikes in the Piedmont, beautiful summer landscape paintings, poetry, photo contest semi-finalists and more!
Take a peak at other featured articles on our homepage. http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/index.cfm
Stony Man cheese from Evrona Dairy.
By Ed Matthews
Today, let’s talk about cheese making in the Commonwealth of Virginia (a state whose health and agricultural inspectors do so much to prevent cheese makers from doing what they do). Despite the state-imposed red tape, a few brave souls have persisted in making cheese for many years and what they’re making is now better than ever. Here are three examples from our cooler.
Grayson cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy.
Meadow Creek Dairy
Rick and Helen Feete have been plugging away at Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, Va., for years—I’ve been buying from them for over seven years—and are making some of the best cheeses in the world right now. Their raw Jersey milk Grayson, a squat 4-lb. square with a red rind and creamy paste, has won first place from the American Cheese Society. To my taste, I think this is the best cheese made in America right now, but Grayson is certainly not for the faint of heart. It reminds me of a cross between a true Münster, which most Americans have never encountered in its runny, ripe, funky state, and Taleggio, the red rind cheese from Italy. It’s one of those cheeses whose funk is worse than its taste and a glass of Linden Claret mellows out the taste. I love this cheese. www.meadowcreekdairy.com
Derby cheese from Oak Springs Dairy.
Oak Spring Dairy
While Rick and Helen live all the way at the other end of the state from me and I rarely get to see them, Allen Bassler lives right in my backyard over in Upperville, VA where he makes cheese from Brown Swiss and Jersey cows on Mrs. Mellon’s farm. I run into Allen from time to time and he’s also a customer. Allen used to have a website, kind of, years ago, but he’s the kind of guy who’d rather make cheese and not fool around with marketing it. He makes a few basic kinds of cheese: Derby, Cheddar, and Gouda. Although I think he should leave these names for the originals and find new names for his own versions, they do give you a good idea what to expect, except that the Gouda is a young, soft, white melting cheese, rather than the aged prototype that you are expecting. I think the Derby (said “darby” in English fashion and pictured to the right) is his best cheese. I’ve seen his cheeses for sale at the Leesburg and Berryville farmers markets.
And now for some of the best sheep’s milk cheese in the world. Dr. Pat Elliott at Everona Dairy in Rapidan, Va. has been making sheep’s milk cheese seemingly forever and it is a thing of beauty. Her signature is called Piedmont and it won the Farmhouse category for sheep’s milk cheese at the American Cheese Society’s competition in 2005. I love this cheese immensely. The son of Piedmont, called Stony Man, is made with a thermophilic “heat loving” culture, which allows cheese maker Carolyn Wentz to heat the curd, giving a smoother, denser paste that I really enjoy. I’ve never met Pat or been to her farm, but I hope to rectify that this year. When I spoke with her a few weeks ago, she urged me to try her new blue Camembert-style sheep’s milk cheese. Fabulous, but it didn’t last 24 hours in house, hence no photo. All the Everona cheeses are spectacular and we are so lucky to have this gem of a dairy right here in Virginia. www.everonadairy.com
Now for the inevitable question: where can you find these cheeses at retail? Except for Allen’s cheeses, I don’t know. I either buy direct or I buy through a distributor. In any case, I buy whole cheeses, which is a lot more than you want or need for home use. But, you can certainly sample these and all our other farmstead dairy cheeses on one of our cheese plates here at the restaurant.
Originally published May 28, 2009 on http://oneblockwest.com/virginia-cheese/
About the author: Ed Matthews is the owner and executive chef of One Block West, a fine dining restaurant in Winchester, Va. The restaurant’s menu changes daily and showcases the bounty of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Additional places to buy cheese in the Piedmont:
Stony Man Gourmet Farmer, Washington
337 Gay St., Washington, VA; 540-860-9090
Fields of Grace Farm, Remington
11084 Sweetbriar Lane, Remington, VA; 540-439-2309
Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville
901 Cool Spring Lane, Berryville, VA; 540-955-1425
Flora Artisanal Cheese, Charlottesville
400 Preston Ave., Charlottesville, VA; 703-505-9396
Culpeper Cheese Company, Culpeper
129 East Davis Street, Suite 100, Culpeper, VA; 540-827–4757
Marshall Farms, Unionville
24109 Consitution Hwy., Unionville, VA; 540-854-6800
Camille Was No Lady
When residents went to bed on August 19, 1969, they were experiencing summer rain, not a raging storm. Photo by Rick Beck, Blue Ridge Life Magazine.
Camille Was No Lady
45 years ago, this hurricane wreaked havoc in Nelson County
By Richard Deardoff
Living in the foothills and mountains of Virginia, we seem to always be exempt from terrible weather which we watch assault other areas. Hurricanes lash the Gulf Coast and Florida, tornadoes rip across the Plains, volcanoes, and tremors threaten the West Coast. Recently some of these phenomena have struck the Commonwealth, and there are some who blame global warming or fracking. However, long before current climate concerns were popular, one of the most devastating hurricanes in history struck rural Nelson County.
To those of a certain generation, Nelson County is familiar as the setting for the hit television series “The Walton’s” — a bucolic vision of an extended American family growing up southwest of Charlottesville during the Great Depression. In the 1970’s this dramatization of Earl Hamner’s Virginia childhood highlighted traditional values of hard work and honesty. To a nation reeling from Watergate and Vietnam, the appeal was undeniable. Traveling to Nelson County today still evokes images of Virginia before urban sprawl. There is only one traffic light in the entire county, added after the first McDonalds was erected on Route 29. While rural electrification began in 1937, it was only in the past two years that the last hollow received full service.
Forty-five years ago the county was largely a farming community — a sufficient distance from both Charlottesville and Lynchburg to be isolated from either. On the evening of August 19, 1969, residents had gone to bed amidst what seemed to be a summer rainstorm. The evening news had reported that Hurricane Camille — with winds of more than 200 miles per hour — had landed on the Gulf Coast killing 143 people before heading north up the Mississippi Valley. Since moving inland, it had been demoted to a tropical depression and appeared to pose little threat to Virginia. However, the storm veered east from Kentucky heading toward the Atlantic with Nelson County straight in its path. Madison County, surrounded by mountains that would trap the rain clouds for eight hours, created what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called, “one of the all-time meteorological anomalies in the United States.”
Why was there no warning? At the time, the U.S. Weather Bureau was tracking Camille — along the pathway she was assumed to follow. Remote central Virginia was literally “beneath the radar.” The closest tracking stations were in Washington, D.C. — 150 miles away and Pittsburgh, 200 miles away. Each of these missed Nelson because of the curvature of the Earth.
By 9 p.m. people were ending their day. Sheriff Bill Whitehead, after monitoring primary elections in the county, was in bed by 9:30 p.m. The Thompson family had driven four hours from Hampton to visit their grandmother. Warren Raines and his brother had spent the day working on the 1954 Ford station wagon near the Tye River and went to bed as the sun went down.
By the time Sheriff Whitehead was alerted something was amiss he stepped outside and could hardly breathe. “I had to shield my nose with my hand to get any air at all,” he said. Rain was coming down in the largest concentration ever recorded in North America. The Thompson family quickly saw their trailer starting to float. As people fled to higher ground, many of the houses they left behind, the very earth they had grown up on, changed completely.
For more of the story, pick up a copy of the Summer 2014 issue, now on newstands! To find your closest newstand, visit: http://thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy
About the Author: Richard Deardoff has served on the Board of Directors for the Brandy Station Foundation, has been named Teacher of the Year for Fauquier County Public Schools twice, and is a former Civil War Trust Teacher of the Year. He and his wife, Suzanne, live in Culpeper County.
Great Piedmont Hikes
Crabtree Falls in Nelson County. Photo by Leonard Atkins
Great Piedmont Hikes
Five of my favorite places to spend summer days
By Leonard M. Adkins
It is always nice to take a hike, but winter’s long, dark hours often keep us close to home. With summer’s extended daylight, it’s time to explore farther afield. Herewith are five of my favorite places to spend some of these days. It is not a “best of” list, but rather a “get acquainted with” what the Piedmont has to offer.
The quiet beauty of Prince William Forest Park is all the more remarkable because of its proximity to heavily-populated Washington, D.C. In addition to picnic areas, campgrounds, rental cabins, and a backcountry campsite, it has nearly 40 miles of trails passing through a forest that has been maturing since the park’s 1936 establishment. The moderately easy terrain undulates by an old pyrite mine, two waterfalls marking the piedmont’s passage into the tidewater, and the old orchards and cemetery of a former farm site.
Although they’re miles from the Chesapeake Bay’s mouth, the marshlands of Mason Neck State Park, northeast of Prince William Forest Park, are affected by the ocean’s tides, providing habitat for blue crabs and other saltwater water creatures. Belmont Bay’s shoreline attracts bald eagles, osprey, ducks, geese, and herons. A trail system of less than 10 miles, with an elevation change of no more than 50 feet, has a boardwalk over wetlands where painted turtles bask in the sun. Other points of interest include a cattail-lined marsh and a forest of oak, hickory, and poplar.
Depending on the source you consult, Crabtree Falls in Nelson County drops anywhere from 500 feet to 1,200 feet. No matter which is correct, know that this is such an impressive waterfall that the U.S. Forest Service has lavished much attention upon it. Graded switchbacks, wooden steps, and native stone observation decks ease the 1.5-mile ascent of 1,000 feet. If you’re feeling a bit lazy, the first cascade is reached within five minutes.
Fields and forests with elevation differences of 1,200 feet ensure abundant wildflowers in Sky Meadows State Park near Paris from winter to fall. Skunk cabbage appears by mid-February, and cutleaf toothwort and rue anemone bloom in early April, followed by violets, spring beauties, and chickweed. Soon afterward, wooded areas become their most colorful—pink wild geranium grows above corydalis’ yellow trumpets and mayapple’s white flowers droop below green foliage. In summer, jimsonweed dots road banks and daisies and crown-beard thrive in meadows. Touch-me-nots bloom in September and mullein adds bits of gold into October.
Centuries before Lake Anna State Park (south of Culpeper) was created in the 1970s, the area was home to Native Americans and early settlers. Later, iron furnaces processed local ore, a gold rush lasted from 1830 to 1850, and plantations flourished before the Civil War. Numerous trails allow visitors to roam the 2,400 acres, discovering natural beauties and finding reminders of past human activity.
This article is excerpted from Adkins’ book, 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia, published by The Countryman Press, available at online booksellers and outdoors stores.
About the Author: Leonard M. Adkins has hiked more than 19,000 miles exploring the backcountry areas of the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and the Caribbean, including his five traverses of the entire the Appalachian Trail. He is the author of more than 17 books on the outdoors and travel. Find out more at www.habitualhiker.com.
Landscapes of Summer
Landscapes of Summer —‘A Various Language’
By Greg Huddleston
From the beginning with its first issue in the fall of 2007, this magazine has been about celebrating the beauty of the land around us here in the Piedmont region. That celebration of beauty has been noted on these pages in many different ways but especially so in the section near the back of each issue labeled “Art Gallery.” Who better than the many gifted artists and photographers living throughout the region to capture the essence of the “here,” helping to make sure the rest of us see and appreciate what we have.
The artists of this issue, all noted painters of the landscape, have much to say, and speak in languages varied and distinct. Each artist can claim a unique style offering a personal vision of the Piedmont. I’m reminded of William Cullen Bryant’s famous opening lines:
“To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms,
she speaks A various language . . .”
Was he thinking of the artists of his day out painting the land?
Aldie Morning, oil, Donna Clark
“I paint in series - images that are not place specific. I consider them personal dreamlike mindscapes of imagined locations in my natural world.”
Working largely from photographs edited to eliminate non-essential elements, Loudoun artist Donna Clark paints the Piedmont landscape reducing it to its lowest common denominators. Her minimal art is characterized by luminous color often separated into distinct bands. Clark’s canvases, reminiscent of beloved abstract painter, Richard Diebenkorn, capture a light that permeates throughout space. Hers is the light of sunsets and twilights diffused by rising mists and fogs –– times of day in between. At first, you may not see the Piedmont you know and love. Keep looking.
To see more: www.donnaclarkartist.com
Crooked Run, 16" x 20", oil, David Williams
“. . . Time spent in observation of the world allows a kind of gentle prayer to be delivered on the wind, watching as sea grasses bend and birds glide silently above treetops. The soul of the world is thus revealed and the first brushstrokes are laid down on canvas.”
David Williams’ paintings are lush, vibrant views of the world around us. Often painted en plein air, and using a limited palette of three to five colors, his paintings achieve both solidity and an ethereal sense of light. I might also add a palpable sense of temperature whether the warmth of a sunny day in summer, or the coolness of an autumnal morning.
David says his love for the outdoors was instilled early on, growing from childhood explorations of field and forest, river and bay. Influences collected during his youth color his work to this day, forming the foundation of a lifetime interest in nature and art.
To see more: www.williamsart.com
Light Through Trees, 30" x 30", Trisha Adams
“I am interested in the way a painting — a flat, inanimate object — can evoke feelings, especially those of joy, whimsy, wistfulness or serenity.”
Expect visual energy. Expect bold color and brushwork. Expect the unexpected. Whether she is painting still lifes or landscapes, Trisha Adams manages to surprise and delight.
A landscape by Trisha Adams can stop the viewer in his tracks. Where did she get that blue? How did she know how perfect that blue would play against that yellow or orange in her evocation of that scene? Where did that lime green come from? Why am I now happy having seen those colors orchestrated in such a manner?
Trisha began painting in 2001 and by 2004 she was painting full time. Landscapes are a favorite subject and she enjoys traveling to Provence, Italy and Mexico to paint. She is a member of the 100-year-old Washington Society of Landscape Painters.
To see more: www.trishaadams.com
For more artwork, pick up a copy of the Summer 2014 issue! http://thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy
The Decline of the Monarch
Wild Ideas: The decline of the monarch
Pam Owen explores the complex life of the iconic monarch butterfly and the reasons for its 15-year population decline.
By Pam Owen
Historically, millions of monarch butterflies return to their overwintering grounds during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration at the end of October. Last fall was different, according to a Nov. 13 article in the New York Times:
“This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year.”
An iconic butterfly species, the monarch (Danaus plexippus) has been in decline for the past 15 years, according to a study published in Insect Conservation and Diversity (March 2012). Monarchs overwinter in high-elevation fir forests of Mexico and journey up to 4,000 miles north to breed in the summer. During the 2009-10 overwintering season, the study’s authors write, the total area in Mexico occupied by the eastern North American population of overwintering monarch butterflies reached an all-time low and, despite an increase, remained low in 2010-11.
Photo by Patricia Temples. A monarch chrysalis.
The reasons for the sudden collapse of monarch populations are complex, mirroring the insect’s complex life cycle, but they all the actions of Homo sapiens, starting with habitat loss. The monarch’s habitat has been disappearing through conversion of land to development and crops here in the U.S. and illegal logging in Mexico. Unstable weather due to global warming, with abnormal temperatures or precipitation, is also cited as among the causes of monarch declines.
Photo by Patricia Temples. A monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed.
At the core of the habitat issue here in the U.S. is loss of native plants, specifically milkweed. While adult monarchs will feed on a variety of flower nectars and fruits, their young will only eat milkweed species, in the genus Asclepias. The most common species, prosaically called “Common milkweed” (Asclepias syriaca), is only one among more than 20.
They all produce toxic chemicals that deter most other animals from eating the milkweed and, in turn, the monarch. According to the same New York Times article, some monarchs can escalate their war on parasites by seeking out more toxic types of milkweed.
Land conversion is not the only threat to the monarch’s habitat. Federal subsidies have incentivized farmers to put every last acre of available land, including part of the U.S. conservation reserve, into corn and other crops used for biofuels. Most of the crops are genetically modified, primarily by Monsanto, to resist the herbicide glyphosate, the prime ingredient in Roundup, produced by the same company. Farmers can then use more lethal doses of glyphosate to destroy every native plant growing on cropland, including milkweed, without destroying the crops.
According to the Insect Conservation and Diversity study, Iowa alone has seen a “drastic reduction” of common milkweed growing in glyphosate-treated fields: a 90 percent loss from 1999-2009, and a 79 percent loss from 2000-09. We’re basically turning our native ecosystems into sterile, toxin-filled monocultures.
There is increasing pushback on the war on milkweed. Last year my conservation email lists lit up with requests from members for sources of the seed so they could plant more milkweed on their land. Conservation organizations have also been pushing to protect public lands where milkweed normally grows. As an Oct. 13 article in the New York Times put it, “After decades of trying to eradicate milkweed, gardeners are being encouraged to plant it in their gardens, and townships and counties are being asked to let it thrive in the roadside ditches.”
Will planting more milkweed here in the U.S. save the monarch? Its fate is tied up with its historic migration route. Not only are the fir forests being decimated by illegal logging, but ironically, people’s love of monarchs have led to increased numbers showing up in the overwintering grounds, disturbing the masses of monarchs that congregate there.
Photo by Patricia Temples. An adult monarch on butterfly weed, in the milkweed genus. While monarch caterpillers will eat only milkweed, the adults feed on nectar and fruit from a variety of plants.
Abnormally high or low temperatures and precipitation caused by global warming have also led to increased monarch mortality, according to the authors of the Insect Conservation and Diversity study, among others. Those monarchs that do manage to find a place to overwinter and survive the weather and the ecotourists are finding their journey north increasingly challenging, as habitat along the way continues to disappear.
What about monarchs in Rappahannock? Data now being collected through the Old Rag Master Naturalists’ butterfly count (as part of the North American Butterfly Association’s annual count) will help chart the butterfly’s progress, but the three years of data collected so far is insufficient to show real trends. What we do know from the count is that alarmingly few monarchs have been recorded in the three years of the count and, unlike many other butterfly species counted, the trend for their numbers is not upward.
Although the number of species recorded in the 2013 count (41) had declined by almost 20 percent from the previous year, the number of individual butterflies counted more than doubled that of 2012 and almost quadrupled that of 2011.
Of the 4,798 individual butterflies counted last year, 2,375 of them (nearly half), were eastern tiger swallowtails. In contrast, only two monarchs — 0.04 percent of the total — were recorded. The previous year, the monarch percentage was up to 0.3 (eight individuals) and in 2011, it was 0.2 (two individuals). (See my column last August for more about last year’s count.)
Photo by Patricia Temples. An adult monarch butterfly perches on a boy's hand.
It’s not surprising that the eastern tiger swallowtails fared better than the monarchs, although the actual numbers of swallowtails are pretty amazing. As across the animal kingdom, it comes down to generalists versus specialists. While the monarch young only feed on milkweed, the eastern tiger swallowtail’s young will dine on the foliage of many trees; if one tree species declines, the swallowtail can just shift to another.
Unfortunately, data from the Rappahannock count is also in line with results from the Fauquier County NABA count, according to Louise Edsall, assistant director and beekeeper at Environmental Studies on the Piedmont, which manages the neighboring count. In an interview last summer following both NABA counts, she said that, as in Rappahannock, fewer than 10 monarchs were counted in Fauquier in both 2012 and 2013.
A participant in Project Monarch, a program of Monarch Watch, Edsall says in 2011 she was raising more than 50 of this species’ from eggs collected on milkweed in the wild: “I tagged over 100 monarchs in 2011. This year  I have yet to find the first egg or caterpillar. So sad.”
She is not alone in being concerned. According to that New York Times article, some experts fear that the butterfly’s spectacular migration “could be near collapse.”
© 2014 Pam Owen
How you can help monarchs
To help monarchs, plant more milkweed, push for monarch conservation and help with monitoring local populations. Citizens are invited to join the Rappahannock butterfly count on July 15. Expertise is not required and basic training in butterfly identification is provided. For more information, contact Don Hearl at 540-825-6660 (540-672-5712 after 5:30) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about monarchs and other butterflies, check out the following sources:
Pam Owen's column will appear monthly on piedmontvirginian.com. For more columns by Pam, go to www.rappnews.com/category/nature/, or follow her blog: http://wildideasintheblueridge.blogspot.com/
Rivers Define Us
Photo from the Library of Congres Archives.
Letter from Amissville: Rivers Define Us
By Walter Nicklin
The name “Piedmont” invokes images of the land, specifically the rolling hills forming the beautifully undulating landscape that literally means at the foot (“pied”) of the mountain (“mont”). But the Piedmont is actually defined by water.
Geologically and geographically, the southeastern boundary of Virginia’s northern Piedmont lies precisely at the fall lines of the Potomac, Rappahannock, and James Rivers. Below the falls lies Tidewater Virginia. The Piedmont’s northwestern boundary runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains, from which the headwaters of the Rappahannock and its tributaries spring. (The Potomac and James actually cut through the mountains, so their headwaters are further west.)
Indeed, the Piedmont’s rich history was determined by its rivers. At the fall lines, where ocean-going ships could travel upstream no further, grew Virginia’s major commercial hubs — Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Richmond. During the Civil War, the so-called “Rappahannock Line” separated Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Union’s Army of the Potomac. The Battle of the Wilderness, for instance — whose 150th anniversary occurred just this May — took place on the terrain of the Rapidan-Rappahannock confluence.
Further upstream, Kelly’s Ford and other river crossings were the pivotal points for flanking maneuvers and resultant skirmishes, sometimes full-scale battles. One such site — Waterloo Landing — is witnessing a skirmish of sorts today. Its old truss bridge has been closed for safety reasons; should it be torn down or rehabilitated? The battle lines are drawn.
Waterloo Landing was the upstream terminus of a 19th Century canal paralleling the Rappahannock and linking Fredericksburg with the upstream Piedmonters. Beginning in 1853, a series of wooden bridges were constructed here. In 1878, the new, durable metal-truss bridge was installed that is still standing today.
Considered a significant engineered work, the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Hedgeman-Rappahannock Rural Historic District nomination that has been submitted to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Although not as historic as the bridge, I’m still ancient enough to confess that some of my fondest boyhood memories, from a time long gone, are entwined with it. It was our favored, seemingly foreign, destination for my friends and I bicycling from Warrenton, less than 10 miles away. From the bridge span, we would fish and (probably illegally?) use BB guns to target-practice at the rock outcroppings below. Beneath the span, we would swim and launch canoes, as we heard the scary, rumbling sound of an occasional vehicle crossing overhead.
Recently I had an opportunity to relive those memories as I floated beneath the bridge on a canoe trip made possible by heavy spring rains. Normally, the upper Rappahannock is much too shallow to run without constantly getting hung up on the river’s ubiquitous rocks. In its shallow, unmuddied waters, you’re reminded that the Rappahannock is one of the very few East Coast rivers unpolluted (except for agricultural runoff) and running free (with the dam in Fredericksburg now gone).
The Old Waterloo Bridge is much more than an occasion for reverie and nostalgia, however. It contributes to the unique character of the northern Virginia Piedmont. It’s not always the case that human engineering enhances the landscape so. When it does, we should preserve it.
The Old Waterloo Bridge has been designated one of Preservation Virginia’s “Most Endangered Landmarks” in 2014: preservationvirginia.org/press-room/release/2014-most-endangered-historic-sites-list-press-release
A local high school teacher has created a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WaterlooLanding?fref=photo
The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) has started a “Save the Bridge” campaign: www.pecva.org/our-mission/transportation/995-save-the-waterloo-bridge
Piedmont Real Estate: What is a Realtor?
Piedmont Real Estate: What is a Realtor?
This is the first column by Rappahannock County real estate agent Amy Sloane Timbers. Have a question about real estate matters? Write Amy at email@example.com.
By Amy Sloane Timbers
I am often asked, “What is a Realtor?” That question is usually followed by, “What’s the difference between an agent and a real estate broker?” In its basic form, all of these are people who help manage real estate, or real property, as it is sometimes called. Real estate agents, brokers, and Realtors all make the transferring or renting of real property more efficient and hopefully profitable.
Realtors are real estate agents or real estate brokers who are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The word “Realtor” is a registered trademark of the NAR, and as such, it is always printed with an initial capital R, and the first time it is used in an article it is followed by the ® symbol to show it is, indeed, a registered trademark. Only members of the NAR are Realtors and they are the only ones who can use the “Realtor” name. The word is pronounced “REAL tour.”
There is also a Virginia Association (VAR) of Realtors, and a local real estate board, the Greater Piedmont Association of Realtors (GPAAR). Not all real estate agents or brokers are Realtors or members of the professional organizations. The real estate agencies, or companies, set their own policies about these organizations. Most agents and brokers are independent contractors with a company, but again not all are. Each agency has guidelines for their agents and brokers to follow.
Every state sets their own licensing requirements, which differ from state to state. In Virginia, an individual can be a real estate agent without being a real estate broker. Brokers are all agents who have completed additional educational, examinations, and time requirements as set by the state. In some states the title varies. A broker in West Virginia may have met very different requirements than a broker from New York.
Agents do many things. The most common and well known is helping people buy or sell property and manage rentals. How they help is as varied as they are. Market analyses, deed researches, marketing plans and courier services are just a few of the things agents do to help with the transfer of property. A few popular movies have helped perpetuate the idea that agents are good house cleaners — but you wouldn’t be able to prove that by me.
Brokers can do everything agents do. Brokers can also open their own agencies or manage an office for a company. Not all agents choose to become brokers. Many brokers continue to work for a company instead of starting their own company, and, in Virginia, are known as associate brokers.
One thing an agent cannot do is an appraisal. However, they can do a market analysis, which compares sales prices of similar properties. The process is similar to an appraisal, but appraisers have their own specific requirements. Banks usually require appraisals for a loan and are not able to use a market analysis for this purpose.
Agents do not set the values, or sales prices, for property. That figure is set by the buyer and the seller. The sales price is the amount that the buyer is willing to pay that the seller is willing to accept at this particular time. This amount can be influenced by other terms of the contract, such as an all cash offer instead of financing or closing in 9 months instead of one.
Both buyers and sellers should know what is available to buy in an area and what has been sold at what price. Their agent can help them do this. Many times there are special situations that can change what they seller or buyer is willing to do. Agents try to fit all these pieces together and help both buyer and seller reach an agreement.
Another popular question is, what do I do? I often ask myself that at the end of the day. Some days I make phone calls coordinating people and information so that a closing can take place. Some days are spent crunching numbers for a seller, an estate plan, or for my own education. Other days I spend in the car previewing properties. Negotiating an offer can take weeks too, especially with so many bank owning real estate. One of the things I enjoy the most is showing property to renters, buyers, or in some cases to sellers as part of the educational process.
Brokers, agents and Realtors all help make the process of managing, selling or buying property easier. They can also be consulted with for estate or value planning. What we do and how we do it is as varied as the people we are.