The Truth About Radon Gas

There’s a scene in “The Princess Bride” where the villainous Vizzini offers his adversary an invisible, odorless and tasteless poison. While his description is meant to conjure laughs, he could have just as easily been talking about radon gas.

You can’t see, smell or taste radon, yet exposure to the gas can make you sick. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today after smoking.

Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and may sneak into the air you breathe by penetrating your Smith Mountain Lake home through cracks in the foundation. It can be discovered in all parts of the country and can cause a dangerous high indoor radon level in any home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels.

While it’s not a requirement that you test for radon when you make an offer to buy a home in many places, it’s a good idea to ask for a Radon Inspection Contingency.

A Radon Inspection Contingency can put some structure into getting a “short-term” radon test done on any Smith Mountain Lake home to make sure the levels of radon on the lowest level of the home are below the 4.0 pCi/L level.That level was a target set by the U.S. Congress for indoor air quality, and the U.S. EPA enforces that mandate.

If you are preparing to sell your Smith Mountain Lake home, you should test for radon before you even put it on the market. This can save valuable time during a real estate transaction, as long as you have all the paperwork and testing data to show the prospective buyer.

The quickest way to detect radon is with short-term tests, which remain in your home for two to 90 days, depending on the device. The most common detectors are charcoal canisters, alpha track, electret ion chamber, continuous monitors and charcoal liquid scintillation.

Test the home in the lowest level that you currently live in, or a lower level not currently used, but which a buyer could use for living space without making renovations. Elevated radon levels can be remedied with a radon-reduction system, which can reduce the gas by up to 99% percent and cost less than $1,000 to buy and install.

Buyers and sellers should be smart about radon. Every new home should be tested after occupancy, even if it was built radon-resistant or with a radon reducing system installed.

Smith Mountain Lake Pirate Days

It has been officially declared the weekend of July 20th through the 22nd as “Smith Mountain Lake Pirate Weekend”. All citizens and visitors are encouraged to participate in the festivities.

Mission: SML Pirate Days is a  community event platform that everyone (residents, businesses and visitors) can participate in.  The theme is simple and ‘family friendly’.  It provides a great way for area businesses to connect their marketing efforts to create a memorable Smith Mountain Lake experience.


Bridgewater Plaza, Route 122, Halesford Bridge

  • Bridgewater Marina – Treasure Hunt, WSLK Live Radio Remote, Giveaways & more
  • Reading with Noah – Children’s Pirate weekend
  • Lake House Beanery – Official Pirate T-shirts for sale
  • Mangos – Pirate themed weekend, music by Dragonfly
  • Gifts Ahoy, Bridgewater Sportswear and Fun ‘n’ Games – 1st 200 children in the door will receive free Pirate stuff


Come dressed in any kind of Pirate Attire, model for us and we will give you $1.00 off any sandwich at Portside per person or $1.00 off per person on a cruise for that weekend. Sunday, we will have a best dressed Pirate Contest. The Best Pirate costume will get either a Gift Certificate for 2 lunches from Portside, or 2 Sightseeing Passes for the Virginia Dare.

Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas

Pirates on the Alpaca Farm!!! Dress like a pirate and get a free Treasure Map! Pirate treasure hunt amongst the alpacas. Know your Pirate facts and also learn about Alpaca facts! Every child who turns in their map gets a prize from the treasure chest of goodies! Pirate games all around the farm, vendors and crafts, demonstrations and Pirate music. $3 pp all ages on Saturday only! 12-5pm, Smith Mountain Lake Farm, Morewood Rd, Hardy, VA

Pirate Essentials – easy to find & order online

  • FLAG!   Skull and crossbones
  • Yard signs
  • Eye Patch (kids love em)
  • Doubloons
  • Pirate Bandannas, tattoos, hats, stickers, swords
  • Goodie bags, treasure maps
  • Treasure chests filled with toy assortment
  • Toothpick pirate flags – great idea for food service
  • Pirate Pins
  • Telescopes
  • Jolly Roger Flag Pennant Streamers
  • Decals

Pirate ideas:

  • Put a Pirate Flag out in front of your business
  • If you have an electronic sign – find a Pirate image to post
  • Any sign – ‘Welcome Matey’s’
  • Lakeside business/residents can transform a dock or boat into a pirate place.

Business Ideas:

  • Employees wear Pirate hats, T-shirts; Talk like a Pirate
  • Restaurants: Pirate theme food/beverages  like ‘grog’, Pirate Bites; Nuggets,
  • Treasure Hunt
  • Coupons

For more information, click on, or e-mail

Transactions for the Team: Buying a Smith Mountain Lake Property with Others

Under any circumstance, buying a home or property at Smith Mountain Lake raises emotion, evokes concerns and hopes, elevates stress, tests relationships, and causes people to learn about wants, desires, and reality. Entering into the adventure of home-buying with others is doing all that through the faceted lens of a kaleidoscope, and sometimes without the beautiful results. Simply put, buying a property at Smith Mountain Lake with or for someone else can be a trying experience.

Somehow spouses manage to accomplish the task, but even then it can be a tricky transaction that sometimes leaves one party feeling steamrolled, or both parties feeling discontent. When parents and children, or siblings, or even whole families come together to purchase a home or property, things can get tricky. Work closely as part of a team, understanding all the aspects of the task at hand and you will leave every member of the buying group more satisfied and your home-buying experience will be a slam-dunk.

Rule 1: Know the Game being Played

Before you go looking with a realtor, it is highly advised that the group develops a team of commonly-trusted professionals that will guide the team in its thinking and decision making process. Each member of the buying team should understand who is working with them, and the function that they serve, to ensure that the goals of the purchase are being met.

Whether you are buying a Smith Mountain Lake property with friends, family members, or investors, work to ensure that every person involved in the purchase has a clear understanding of the structure of ownership and tenancy, tax, insurance, investment and estate issues, if they are relevant. Before you can pick a Smith Mountain Lake property, all of this should be sorted out and clear. This will enable the group to move more quickly should the need arise, and allow all the parties to work together in a united front as negotiations unfold in the purchase of the property, the final minutes of play.

Once everyone understands the mechanics of the purchase, it’s time for the team to bring on another member. That’s right; the right team member can be the key to a successful strategy in finding the right property for everyone involved.

Rule 2: Bringing in a Top-Draft Player

Prudential Waterfront Properties real estate agents can move around the court quickly and efficiently, helping to facilitate a purchase, and generally affect the flow of the game to keep all the players doing their job in an orderly and efficient fashion. They have played this game before, they know the rules, and they understand the psychology of the players. Often real estate agents have worked with agencies, lenders, inspectors and other service providers, so they can share their experiences and leverage that knowledge to your team’s benefit. It’s rather like knowing the referee, and understanding how they might call a shot.

But your real estate agent, like any team player, can’t do their job without having insight into the game plan and the other members of the team. Developing a business relationship that allows your real estate agent access to the game plan and profiles of the players will enable the entire team to have a strategy for optimizing the purchase of that perfect property. Bringing in a top-draft player can take a team quickly and efficiently to the win, but the game is still played by a team.

Rule 3: Develop a Winning Strategy

Buying a Smith Mountain Lake home or property with others can be a lot like a long drawn-out game, requiring stamina and skills, or simply a whole lot of luck. In worst case scenarios players get hurt. Sometimes “fouls” stop the clock. Poor sportsmanship can ruin reputations. However, when a team is coach able, with excellent players and a real strategy, that same game is a lot more fun, and often results in a quicker, better win.

So How Do You Find Your strategy?

Look around at your team. Inherently there are roles that each member plays. This is not to say that any role is less important, but knowing the strengths of the players will enable you to make decisions that meet everyone’s needs. Every player will have something to add. Some team members play defense; they ensure that the property meets the most basic of needs. They are interested in the security of the inhabitants, the ease of living, the ability to maintain a property. Others play offense; they want to know that they got value, that the home is a good investment, that they will be able to sell it in the future, that the property meets a goal or a dream. Players that seem more like cheerleaders sometimes have good things to offer. Lesser-abled players might still have interesting information to add to the game plan, so make the effort to hear what they have to say. Even the lowly towel-boy or water-person, team members with less of a “say,” might have seen a thing or two watching the team members operate over time.

Also, note other skills that team members possess. Is there someone with a lot of skill or experience, who team members will listen to, that can be trusted to coach? Will the coach have a role in the playing of the game? Is there a clear choice for Captain? Ultimately, someone will have to be the voice for the group, and they will be communicating with a variety of people to ensure that the interests of the group are being met. Understanding if the Captain or other members of the team have more weight in making decisions will be key in a successful transaction, or winning game. As you develop the team strategy for picking a property, knowing the status of each team player will provide a clearer picture of your win in the post-game wrap up. Don’t discount players in the team; it is worth the trouble of working on the skills of every person involved.

In addition to team members, roles and skills, a good strategy includes plays that enable each member to participate. Randomly going to visit properties without a clear way that team members will operate can cause confusion and chaos. How will you decide when you have found the right one? Getting every player involved in the game will provide the team with information that will make that decision much more clear and ensure that everyone is invested in the win.

Successful buying teams have invented strategies that worked for them. One such team had each member develop a list of criteria that they wanted in a property or home. Each member of the team had their own list, and each list had 5 criteria on it. These criteria were the top 5 things that each member wanted in a property. They weren’t random, they weren’t picked for them, and they had to come from the heart and really address what the team member would need to feel right about the purchase. These lists were shared with each other so every member of the team could understand what was important to each other and why, but when members of the buying team viewed a property they would evaluate it using their own list. No one could try to influence another team member about what criteria were on their list; it wasn’t a contest of influence or persuasion, it was an exercise in finding the truth.

Together, members of the team came up with a plan for these evaluations. Each of the criteria on a list could earn 0 points, half a point, or a whole point. A perfect property would end up with a score of 5; a total “loser” in their book would get a 0. The group agreed to only consider properties that scored at least 3.5 on everyone’s scale. In this manner, every member of the team would get at least 75% of what they were hoping for in a property. Some teams might adjust this percentage – desiring to meet 80% or more of the each member’s criteria. This is just one strategy, but it exemplifies working together towards a common goal of achievable satisfaction. Oh, and sharing all of those lists with your real estate agent? That’s a very good idea.

When the Last Buzzer Sounds

Why All this Talk of Team Spirit and Sports? Purchasing a Home or Property isn’t a Game, Right? Think Again.

As in all sports – there is a goal: winning. We all want to buy the best house we can for the least amount of money, getting all of our criteria met. However, there are larger lessons we learn from playing team sports. We learn about playing a “good” game, we learn about working together to achieve a common goal, and we learn the best way of winning by doing it together.

The people involved with you in buying a home or property might be in your life for quite some time. Certainly you will have some relationship to them as you finish the transaction and continue to know and interact with them. More importantly, your work with them in purchasing the property will give you valuable information about yourself. Navigating that win, the purchase of a property with all team-members feeling like they were part of the game-winning play, now that is a game we all want to see. And, we might even want to play it again!

Top 10 Tips to Successful Home Buying at Smith Mountain Lake

Tip #1: Research Is The Key To Discovery

Home sellers won’t call you with an offer to buy a maintenance-free home with a wonderful mortgage. You have to find the gems yourself! Only by reading available materials, talking to friends and experts, and spending time looking at different homes, schools, and neighborhoods will you end up with your American dream. Avoid the nightmares by learning how best to buy and maintain a home.

Tip #2: Make A Plan And Get Pre-Qualified

Every important decision needs to be clearly thought out. Developing a home buying plan can help you focus on the important factors and organize the entire process. You may even want to use a binder with sections on house hunting, home financing, service providers, etc. Loan pre-qualifying helps you determine the home price you can afford and presents you as a genuine prospect to the seller. A lender typically uses the 28% formula (your monthly mortgage can’t exceed 28% of your monthly income) in approving your loan. Planning your actions and getting pre-qualified will keep you out of the panic mode and allow you to take advantage of opportunities. A thorough plan will save both time and money!

Tip #3: Value, Value, Value

The days of 10-30% annual appreciation have passed. Homebuyers in the 1970′s benefited tremendously from what seemed like ever appreciating home prices. Nowadays, you’re looking at slow growth while guarding against the possibilities of falling prices, skyrocketing ARM rates and corporate layoffs that can dramatically affect your home values. The classic rule of buying the worst house in the best neighborhood still applies. If you buy with an eye towards improvement, you can customize the home to fit your needs. The saying, “make money buying a home, not selling one,” should keep you focused on the long-term importance of the purchasing price.

Tip #4: Create A Top 10 List Of Amenities

When shopping for a home, list the features (fireplace, fenced-in yard, new appliances, etc.) that are most important to you in deciding on which home to buy. Establishing “your criteria” early on will save time shopping for inappropriate homes and may keep you from buying a home on a whim. As detailed in Tip #3, your top reason for buying a home should be the value you are getting. Some of your top 10 amenities should logically be sacrificed if an incredible value is available.

Tip #5: Fixed vs. Adjustable Rate Mortgages

Adjustable rate mortgages have an initial fixed rate, which is followed by a period of adjustment intervals during which the rate adjusts based on the performance of several key indexes. Typically the initial fixed rate on an ARM is slightly lower than the comparable rate of a fixed rate mortgage.

Fixed rate mortgages allow buyers to take out a long term loan without having to worry about changing interest rates or monthly payments. Most fixed rate loans are offered in either 15 or 30 year terms.

Most buyers will be well served by a fixed rate loan, but each situation is unique. While ARM loans have become less popular in recent years, they can still be a viable option for some buyers – especially those who plan on selling again in the short term.

Whichever loan you choose; make sure that you scrutinize all the closing costs. If you are required to have a mortgage escrow account and private mortgage insurance, make sure you understand the terms and cancellation procedures (your Real Estate Agent has publications to assist you). Also, make sure there are no prepayment penalties so that you can utilize an accelerated mortgage plan. A good mortgage reduction plan can save you tens of thousands in interest costs, and shorten your loan term, with only small extra principal payments. If you experience negative changes in your job, health, or marital status, you can revert to the standard payments in your mortgage contract.

Tip #6: Sign A Contract That Protects You

Make sure that the contract you put on a house allows you to arrange financing, inspect the home and negotiate any problems that you uncover. Ensuring that the contract you sign will minimize potential legal battles will let you swim in your new pool with your family and neighbors instead of with the sharks.

Tip #7: Put Yourself In The Seller’s Shoes

You are about to make one of the most important decisions that will affect both your life and the life of the seller. If you take time to understand the reasons the seller bought the home, their reasons for selling, and the home improvements they have or have not made, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate the home and negotiate a better deal. In the end, the home buying process excludes the professionals and comes down to the individuals buying and selling the home. A closer look at the seller may help you in deciding whether and for how much to buy a particular home.

Tip #8: Develop A Mortgage Shopping Chart

One of the biggest decisions to make before putting a contract on a home is how to finance the purchase. There are 10,000 lenders competing for your mortgage business. The days of simply walking into the community bank and negotiating with the loan department manager are over. Today, you can apply for a loan over the Internet or even use a mortgage broker to shop for your loan with hundreds of lenders. When choosing a lender, you want to avoid apples to oranges contrasts by comparing fixed rates to fixed rates, not fixed to ARM’s. Create a chart that lists different types of loans, fees, and at least five mortgage providers (including a mortgage broker).

Tip #9: Get A Quality Home Inspection

Although it is hard to believe, more people pay for inspections before buying used cars than when making the biggest investment of their lives – their homes. Paying for a qualified home inspection before you buy a home isn’t just spending “a little extra” for peace of mind; it’s absolutely essential for anyone who doesn’t want to spend thousands of dollars for repairs.

Tip#10: Peace Of Mind: Home Protection Plans

To protect both you as a buyer, as well as the seller, it is a good idea to purchase a home protection plan.  What exactly is it? A home warranty, or home protection plan, is a service contract, normally for one year, which protects homeowners against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of their major systems and appliances that break down due to normal wear and tear. A negotiable contract between the buyers and sellers which does not overlap or replace homeowner’s insurance policy, this type of warranty can save the new homeowner lots of headaches, as well as put seller’s fears to rest. The warranty covers mechanical breakdowns, while insurance typically repairs the related damage. For example: if a hot water heater burst and destroyed a wall in your home, the warranty would repair the water heater and your insurance would pay to fix the wall.

Smith Mountain Lake, Va. Tucked away in the woods –

Smith Mountain Lake:, Va. Tucked away in the woods


Smith Mountain Lake, about 27 miles southeast of Roanoke, Va., is far removed — in distance and sensibility — from the throb of cities and suburbs. The 20,600-acre man-made reservoir with 500 miles of coastline still evokes a sense of refuge much as it did when it was created in 1966 by the damming of the Roanoke River and the Blackwater River.

It isn’t that Smith Mountain Lake is the land that time forgot. What was once a little-known retreat in a rural swath dotted with tobacco farms and logging camps has been intruded on by modern life. Today, the lake is a tourist and weekender hot spot where the arrival of summer brings with it the pouring in of city-weary visitors from throughout the region.

Rolling meadows

Tucked into a broad, wooded valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the lake has long been a destination for mid-Atlantic residents seeking to escape the grind. But in recent years it has been attracting second-home buyers from the Northeast who are snubbing traditional escapes like the Shore and Florida in favor of a place that offers rolling alpine meadows and picturesque wilderness.

It’s where for the last two years North Jersey residents Adam and Clarissa Dawson, home maintenance business owners approaching their 60s, have enjoyed rich weekend and vacation time, filled with children, grandchildren and friends, and almost non-stop outdoor activity.

The semi-retired couple had purchased a fractional ownership condo in a luxury oceanfront golf community in South Florida five years ago and were happy vacationing there. That was, until a corporate transfer sent their daughter and young grandchildren to Virginia. “We’re pretty typical modern grandparents who are very attached to our grandkids and smother them with affection,” said Adam Dawson. “Naturally, we want to be as close to them as possible.”

So, having grown accustomed to spending vacations close to family, they sold their deeded interest in the club for $625,000 and bought a $519,000, four-bedroom house with views of Smith Mountain Lake, within reasonable driving distance of their daughter’s apartment.

The lake is typically used as a seasonal escape — from springtime through early fall — but the Dawsons spend time there year-round, golfing and participating in multigenerational outings and outdoor recreational activities during warm weather and hosting family gatherings and private social events from late fall through the winter.

Although economic and credit woes have slowed development in the lake region in recent years, over the past decade new building has been on the upswing and increasing numbers of baby boomers have discovered the lake as a vacation and potential future retirement destination.

55-plus crowd

Many come from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Washington area. However, more are arriving from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

“Of course, there are people of all ages here, but we’ve definitely noticed a lot more of the 55-plus crowd exploring the area and we understand why,” said Dawson. “As much as we used to think that we’d be retiring to someplace in the Sun Belt, we’re really starting to lean toward permanently settling here. If we do go that direction, we’ll probably sell again and get something right on the water.

“That would be really nice!”


An out-of-the-way south-central Virginia haven with both lake and mountain appeal. Boating, fishing, swimming and golfing. Spending quiet time and private socializing at home. Wildlife-watching, hiking and primitive camping at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. A strong vacation rental market to offset mortgage costs.


Though Moneta and other area towns have pockets of commerce, there’s relatively little in the way of restaurants and ready-made fun. Larger-scale shopping and organized cultural pursuits require a trip to Roanoke or Lynchburg.

The costs

While there are manufactured homes in the area starting in the $100,000 range and smaller cottages farther from the lake starting in the high $200,000s, many single-family properties go for at least $500,000 and quickly rise to low seven figures, depending on size and proximity to the water. Prime waterfront estates can go for as much as $4 million.

The weather

Beautiful, warm summers, colorful, brisk falls, cold winters with very little snowfall and lush springs.

Getting there

Delta, United and US Airways provide service to Roanoke, with advance-purchase, round-trip flights (with stopovers) starting at about $410. The drive from Roanoke Regional Airport takes about 45 minutes.

Where to stay

Westlake Waterfront Inn ($90-$160; 540-721-3307; has 26 clean, comfortable rooms, all of which provide lake views.

Must see

The Booker T. Washington National Monument, the birthplace of the slave-turned-educator, commemorates his life and accomplishments through exhibits, audiovisual and park ranger programs, a bookstore and periodic related special events.

For more information

The official website of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce ( has information about the lake area and offers a free visitor and newcomer guide.


How developer Ron Willard built Prudential Waterfront Properties –

“I came to work for the company … 100 years ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I feel like.”

Although Jane Sullivan Horne may have the starting date off by some 200 million years, her recollections of the early days of working for and learning from Prudential Waterfront Properties owner and lake developer Ron Willard are quite clear.

Willard, through his business, The Willard Companies, has developed several residential developments including The Water’s Edge, The Waterfront and The Boardwalk, and commercial centers including Westlake Towne Center. Among the feathers in his cap is Prudential, which is celebrating its 25th year in business. Sullivan Horne has been there for almost all of them.

Like Willard, the real estate firm’s origins are humble.

“I was the person selling real estate seven days a week,” said Willard. “Seven days a week, daylight to dark, on the hood of my car I sold millions.”

For almost 10 years, Willard both developed and sold properties. In 1985, he hired the first salesperson, Bitsy Davis, now with Long & Foster, and the following year added Sullivan Horne. She and Ramona Washburn, now Ramona Simpson, started working for Willard at about the same time, Sullivan Horne recalled. Neither had any experience selling real estate.

“I said, I don’t care if they don’t have any real estate experience,” Willard recalled telling his sister when he first decided to hire someone to help with sales. “I said, I just want somebody that can sell and let me train them in real estate.”

Sullivan Horne said that’s how she and Simpson ended up among the first to graduate from what she calls “Ron Willard Training School.”

“Ron put us in his car and he made us walk every lot,” recalled Sullivan Horne, adding that Willard taught them about other important parts of the business such as home construction, drainage fields and determining viewsheds.

“He said, ‘There’s no way you can sell something if you don’t know what you’re selling,’” Sullivan Horne recalled. At that point, Willard and his sales staff were selling only developer-owned property. When customers came back to ask for representation on resales, Willard said they were turned over to one of the lake area’s real estate agencies. That meant the sales were going elsewhere.

“That’s when we developed the name Waterfront Properties of SML Incorporated in 1987,” he recalled. “It was a full-fledged real estate company.”

Helping assist the sales staff in the transition was Ann Bowen, who worked as the broker for Waterfront Properties until her death in 2004.

“Ann helped move us from … four or five of us in the beginning to being more of a real estate brokerage firm,” said Sullivan Horne, who counts Bowen among the top friends she’s ever had. “[With Ron], Ann was the other half that was our glue that really held us together.”

Following Bowen’s death, Realtor Cathie Daniel was named the principal broker for Waterfront Properties in 2004. Within a year, Daniel brought the national Prudential brand to the business and the real estate agency became Prudential Waterfront Properties as it is known today.

Daniel said in the company’s 25 years, it has supported a number of community events and causes such as the After 5 Jive concert series, which benefits United Way of Franklin County; SML Charity Home Tour; Toys for Tots; and Franklin County e-cycling Day.

“We have always believed in being part of the community and giving back to the community that supports us,” said Daniel. “We grew up here, we didn’t just come in.”

The SML community has supported Prudential as well.

It was honored in 2010 with the Prudential Real Estate Round Table Award as one of the top three offices in the U.S. South Region, and was nominated for Business of the Year by the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

Daniel attributes the company’s success to customer service, the training its agents undergo and a steady presence in the community. She said joining Prudential has broadened the company’s reach and allowed Realtors an opportunity to pursue speciality training in sales.

“Every one of our agents has a certification of some sort beyond the standard Virginia license,” said Daniel. “I think that’s a testament to their commitment to the industry and to the profession as well.”

There are 20 agents working for Prudential now, and that’s been the norm, she said, even during the past few years, which have seen real estate sales plummet both nationally and at the lake.

“For our agents, this is their career,” said Daniel. “We don’t have a lot of turnover; they come and they stay.”

That stability has helped Prudential weather the tough times.

“We’ve not been immune to [the recession]. We’ve had our struggles, but we are still strong,” she said.

But like most real estate sales people, Daniel is ever optimistic that the market is about to pick up.

“We’re seeing a lot of improvement so far this year,” she said. “Things really are looking up.”