Top Real Estate Experts Survey the Long-Term Landscape


(Thursday, May 15, 2008 2:25 PM EDT)

Middleburg Life celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and although many aspects of the publication have changed, the real estate firms and the real estate market have always been of importance to the paper.

But what has Hunt Country real estate been like for the past quarter century? How have things evolved?

Industry leaders Thomas Anderson and Gloria Armfield of Armfield, Miller and Ripley Fine Properties; Ann MacMahon of Sheridan-MacMahon; and Philip Thomas of Thomas & Talbot Real Estate all shared their thoughts on their experiences over the last 25 years with Middleburg Life.

What is your most memorable moment being involved in real estate in the Hunt Country for the past 25 years?

Gloria Armfield & Thomas Anderson: Aside from the forming of our partnership, the most memorable moment was in the mid-1980s, when the phenomenon of connecting national and international boutique firms was revolutionizing the luxury industry.

Leading Estates of the World and Sotheby's International Realty selected us as their exclusive representative. It was an exciting moment, not only for us, but for the owners of very important farms who shifted their properties to our firm.

We soon found ourselves sitting at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, on the Sotheby's International Realty advisory board, with other owners of the greatest firms in the world.

Ann MacMahon: There is no specific memorable moment other than the fact that two of my children have joined [in my work] and have been very successful in the brokerage business.

Philip Thomas: The most memorable moments of being involved in real estate in Hunt Country for the past 25 years have been working with fascinating people, such as Jack Kent Cooke, Gov. Bruce Sundlun, George Ohrstrom, Bill Backer and Forrest Mars, to name a few.

I feel comfortable in saying that our firm, since 1967, has sold every major property in Hunt Country, at least once, and many several times over.

What has been the most enjoyable aspect of your work in real estate in Hunt Country?

GA & TA: Meeting the wonderful people! Our clients and customers have become our dearest friends over the past 25 years. We have shared this wonderful career with these friends who have been very supportive and encouraging. They made our business what it is and continue to send us more customers and clients; it's just amazing when we look back over our career.

AM: The best part of the work in the country is meeting new people, and making friends with them after the transaction is completed.

PT: The most enjoyable aspect for me has been working with independent, sophisticated individuals who have a deep appreciation for our area. And being a part of the conservation movement in our area from the ground floor: first working with the founding members of the Goose Creek Association back in the mid-1960s with James Rowley, and being part of the advent formation and use of scenic easements guided by George A. Horkan Esq., Bill Backer and Charles Whitehouse, Eve Fout and others.

These visionaries were the guiding light for our present-day strong conservation movement in our area, and for me it was a great pleasure working with them in the 1970s and 1980s. Their philosophy of preservation of our area is still the standard bearer of today.

What is the biggest difference between the real estate market now and the real estate market of 25 years ago in Hunt Country?

GA & TA: The pace! The business is much faster. Twenty-five years ago, it was much more centered around a person's whole life, as opposed to just a purchase of a property.

Searching for a property used to be a journey where you would take your client out for several days, pack picnic lunches, spend long days seeing and discussing properties, and included social introductions, cocktail parties, almost more like a social event that ended with someone becoming a new member of our close-knit community.

AM: The increase in the number of firms in this area, and the huge improvement in efficiency due to the electronic advancements. We can get information to and from people in minutes with no messengers into Washington. This is still exciting for me.

PT: Twenty-five years ago was just the beginning of the high-tech influence with the “new money” generated in the Reston-Dulles-to-Silicon Valley area. Most of the young, wealthy group had, and still have, an appreciation of conservation in our area, an appreciation which was fostered originally by our foxhunting community.

What are some positive changes you've seen? Negative changes?

GA & TA: The ability to interact effectively between our local market and the national and international marketplace is so much easier as a result of technology and the Internet.

At the same time, it has created less personal interaction with clients and customers, because of their ability to obtain information before our dialogue begins, which sometimes forms inaccurate perceptions.

PT: The positive changes have been the growth of the membership in conservation groups, such as the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Goose Creek Association and many other local conservation groups. Hopefully, conservation has become a way of life.

Negative environmental changes are occurring in Hunt Country. In my opinion, these can be very subtle, such as those caused by the increased air traffic at Dulles Airport in the form of noise pollution and, more importantly, the dirty exhaust residue spewed by planes landing and taking off, which leaves a black oily residue on the plants and the population - we're breathing it! Not good! We also feel the natural pressures of an increasing population and development to the east.

What do the next 25 years look like? Are there any challenges you expect to face?

GA & TA: There will be challenges, just like there have been over the past 25 years, but we will continue to be a boutique real estate firm that specializes in our community, one of the world's most renowned markets.

With all of the local efforts underway to protect our community, the next 25 years look very promising for us in the Virginia Hunt Country, but we must stay on course.

The challenges will center on our ability to keep the feeling of our Hunt Country community, endeavor to preserve open space, and place more land into easement programs. This will protect our community, we will preserve our boutique business, and the Hunt Country will become an even more desirable market.

AM: We have always tried to do good brokerage and hope to continue. Who knows what the next year will bring, much less the next quarter century, but I hope we are all around and busy as we are today.

PT: In the next 25 years, I feel that real estate in our area will become more valuable, mainly because of the easements that are in place and those that, hopefully, will be placed.

It has been a pleasure for me personally to be on the corner of Madison and Washington streets since 1967 (although I have been involved in real estate in the Middleburg area since 1962). Then, there were only a handful of agents; today there are hundreds.

When I first started in the real estate business, you could buy any property of note “for sale,” land and improvements included, for $500 an acre or less (even though their conditions were a bit tattered).

It's been a pleasure finding purchasers who purchased properties through me - Llangollen, Ayrshire, Huntland, Grafton, Long Branch, and others, to name a few. These properties, when sold, were basically in deplorable condition. To find people who had the means to restore these properties back to their original grandeur gives me great pleasure.

Also, nurturing and having the top agents in Hunt Country in my office, year in and year out, is also a great pleasure and source of personal pride.

Phil Thomas has been involved in the local real estate scene since the early 1960s. He says the most memorable part of the profession has been his opportunity to work with exceptional clients, from Jack Kent Cooke to George Ohrstrom and Forrest Mars.

Return to index of articles