Head for the Hills: Modern living, rustic settings beckon Intown homebuyers

Big Canoe

The serene beauty of the north Georgia mountains has long been enjoyed by the locals and served as an inspiration for artists. Today, more folks are discovering the beauty and benefits of living in the foothills of the Appalachians, especially people in the nearby Atlanta area.

Modern-day developers consider the landscape carefully and build to protect the area’s natural resources. Homeowners enjoy the pay-offs – a wide variety of top-notch recreational opportunities and breathtaking vistas.

Rustic living with modern conveniences at Big Canoe.

Big Canoe is a prime example. The gated private residential community set is set in the rolling mountains of Jasper, Ga., just a one-hour drive north from Atlanta. The rise in sales reflects the neighborhood’s popularity.

“The current real estate market in Big Canoe is very healthy,” said Katie Wercholuk, Marketing Director, Big Canoe Company, LLC. “It’s almost as strong as the height of the 2005 market, and we’re well on our way to surpassing those records.”

She added that 2016 was the best resale home year of all time in Big Canoe’s 30-year history. Through the end of April 2017, resale transactions increased by 39 percent compared to the same time last year. “More often than not, we’re seeing multiple offers on Big Canoe homes and home sites,” Wercholuk said.

The sales upsurge is echoed by Kim L. Knutzen, Managing Broker, Harry Norman REALTORS Blue Ridge Office. “This is one of the strongest markets I’ve seen since 2003, when I moved to the mountains full-time and opened up the Harry Norman Realtors office,” she said.

Riverwalk Toccoa

Knutzen noted that while there are still good resale valued homes available, she is seeing an issue with low inventory. Resales tend to move well with price points of $200,000-$500,000 and certain amenities, such as a waterfront or mountain view.

“We’ve seen an influx of buyers for Old Toccoa Farm, a new development and the only fly fishing and golf community in our area,” Knutzen said. “We also have other non-amenitized properties such as Aska’s Grand Vista, which not only offers mountain views, but also has views of Lake Blue Ridge.”

Old Toccoa Farm, just 85 miles north of Atlanta, is near the historic town of Blue Ridge, Ga. It boasts price points of $450,000 and up for custom and spec homes, with lot prices starting at $90,000. Aska’s Grand Vista, located roughly five miles from downtown Blue Ridge, has price points running from the high $400,000s to the mid $600,000s.

Faron W. King, Broker/Owner, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, reported that the market remained brisk through the winter months, “…leading us right into the typically strong spring selling season, which is a bit unusual,” he said. “The milder winter coupled with people’s confidence in a stronger economy has them in the mood to buy a second or retirement home.”

Cherry Lake

King said that while it’s still true that many mountain homes are bought by retirees and vacationers, that’s not the whole story. “We’re seeing younger buyers wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Atlanta for a weekend getaway, and it turns into a part-time home if their career allows them to telecommute,” said King. “They spend as much time here as their schedule allows, and reliable high speed internet access is at the top of their required list of amenities.”

Nathan Fitts, Nathan Fitts & Team of RE/MAX Town & Country, is also enthusiastic about the strong sales. “This is the best market we’ve experienced in years,” he said. “We have a demand for all types of homes and properties. Over the last few years, vacant land sales had been struggling, but they began to make a turnaround in 2016, and so far in 2017, they’ve continued, as new construction is booming and in high demand.”

He said that the prices for a three-bedroom, three-bath mountain view home in the area, including resales and new construction, range from $65,000 to $985,000, with the average sales price of $287,323.

Fitts pointed to the ever-popular Aska Adventure Area as a hot spot for those moving to Blue Ridge, especially for people looking for second homes and rental investments. “These desirable communities include Necowa Cove, which overlooks and fronts the pristine waters of Lake Blue Ridge,” he said. Deer Crest, Ridges Over the Lake, Raccoon Ridge and Little Creek Overlook are also on many homebuyers’ wish lists.

Blue Ridge bungalow

Other hot properties, according to Fitts, are The Heights at Cashes Valley, an upscale modern rustic community consisting of homes starting at $500,000, Riverwalk on the Toccoa, and Cherry Log Mountain/Lake. North Georgia also offers a variety of full-time living communities with craftsman and traditional style living, such as Owen Glen, in Blairsville, and the nearby Thirteen Hundred, complete with golf, tennis and swimming pool.

“These all-inclusive communities and these types of amenities are becoming more and more popular since many people are moving to this area full time, rather than just using these houses as second homes,” Fitts said.

While many people buying in the foothills plan to use their mountain home as a second home until they retire to the north Georgia mountains, the market trends are beginning to change, according to Fitts. “In addition to second homes, we’re seeing a huge increase in primary home sales,” he said. “In previous years, a high percentage of our buyers were from Atlanta and Florida, and a majority still are, but we’re now seeing relocations from all over the United States. Almost half of our closings in 2016 were not with Georgia based buyers, and were purchased as homes for full time living.”

Big Canoe has also seen an increase in pre-retirees who are attracted to the lifestyle and options that the community offers. “Many metro Atlanta residents are becoming empty-nesters, but they’re still working and planning for the future before it’s time to retire,” Wercholuk said. “Since we’re only an hour to downtown Atlanta, and even closer to Buckhead, we’re starting to see an increase in younger buyers.”

The view from the porch in Blue Ridge.

As far as second home and vacation homebuyers, Big Canoe remains steady at about 60/40, full time residents vs. part time or weekenders. Wercholuk expects that these trends will remain consistent in Big Canoe for some time, especially as metro Atlanta counties continue to expand in population.

While low inventory has become a concern in many areas, that’s not a problem in Big Canoe, which sprawls across 8,000 acres. “There’s always enough inventory to meet the demand,” Wercholuk said. “New construction is still moving and there are still plenty of opportunities to build or buy.”

Knutzen added that another segment of the population that’s buying in the north Georgia mountains are investors who buy homes and rent them out through cabin rental programs.

She said that she does see the need for more well-designed homes in the area, but the issue is being addressed. “Developers and builders are stepping up to the plate to meet the demand,” said Knutzen. “Old Toccoa Farm has definitely filled a void for our area.”

“Inventory continues to be a problem in most areas of the region we serve,” King said. “This is evidenced by the fact that many of the builders are building custom homes for end users, and that’s product that never hits the market.” He added that when an attractive property enters the market as a resale, there are typically multiple offers and it often goes for above list price.

Fitts agreed that inventory has been low over the last 12 months, but added that there are many new communities and developments that will be coming on the market soon. One is a new anchor for the downtown Blue Ridge area.

A view from the deck at Big Canoe

“I’m currently working with developers who are planning a mixed-use project near downtown Blue Ridge with the live, work, play concept,” he said. “It will feature some exciting new shared office spaces, a concert venue, retail and dining opportunities and an indoor market.”

Also, in the early stages, is a plan for a self-sustainable community just outside the Blue Ridge area. Fitts noted that it will be north Georgia’s first community of that type.

The trend of heading to the hills is only increasing as homebuyers look to the north Georgia mountains to find their dream retirement homes, hideaway vacation houses or full-time relaxing residences. As developers continue to meet the demand, there are more spots of heaven available for everyone.

 

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