Head for the Hills: North Carolina real estate market heats up

Lake Glenville in the Highlands-Cashiers area of North Carolina.

The entire Highlands-Cashiers Plateau in North Carolina has been drawing people there to get away or retire for generations. It’s a beautiful stretch, set in the Nantahala National Forest, with old growth trees meandering around the Blue Ridge Mountains, serene lakes, rushing streams and picturesque waterfalls.

Because of the higher elevation, the climate is considerably cooler than Atlanta. It’s easy to understand why many Atlantans head there to find a home, whether for full-time living, weekends, vacations or retirement. And that’s causing real estate in the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau to heat up.

“The Highlands-Cashiers market is strengthening since the 2008 adjustment,” said Jody Lovell, Broker/Owner of Highlands Sotheby’s International Realty. “In 2016, the market was up 8 percent in unit sales and 19 percent in volume. So far this year, the market is up 19 percent in unit sales and 12 percent in volume.”

The outlook for real estate is very optimistic, she added, as more people appreciate the serenity of the mountains, the culture, activities and fine dining that’s available, as well as the many opportunities to enjoy nature.

“Low inventory is not a problem,” Lovell said. “Since inventory was stockpiled during the recession, it’s still a buyers’ market, making it a good time to purchase. There are some amazing homes on the market right now.”

A home in Lonesome Valley, NC.

She pointed to several current listings. There’s a small cabin named The Love Shack, listed at $280,000; a 20-acre horse farm with a 6-bedroom main home, a log cabin guest home and barn with skeet shooting and two large ponds for $2,390,00; and a sophisticated home on a large waterfall at $3,595,000, “…with lots of inventory in between,” said Lovell.

Each year, there’s a trickle of buyers who are moving here permanently, she added. Lovell expects to see that number increase, especially as temperatures continue to rise.

“There’s a wide diversity of buyers right now, from young couples looking for a small cabin to retirees searching for a mountain sanctuary to enjoy with family and friends,” Lovell continued. “The Old Edwards Inn is of the top ten places in the U.S. to have a wedding, according to some reports, and it has attracted younger people to the area.”

Bill Gilmore, Provisional Broker, Highlands Cove Realty at Old Edwards Inn, and Realtor with PalmerHouse Properties, reported that in the last year, from June 2016 to June 2017, there have been 582 closings in North Carolina’s Jackson and Macon counties, according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) statistics.

The town of Highlands, a popular mountain destination, is located in Macon County, just past the Georgia and North Carolina border. From Atlanta, it’s only about a two-hour drive to the northeast. Continue another 15 minutes or so, and you’ll reach the village of Cashiers, N.C., set in Jackson County.

“We have a strong market. This is a big region geographically and we have something for everyone,” he said. “Between Cashiers and Highlands, you can get the best of both worlds, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to get into the area.”

A dramatic setting for a home in Highlands, NC.

A townhome in Sapphire, N.C., about eight miles east of Cashiers, recently sold for $43,500. With the walkability trend, however, in-town properties cost more and sell fast. As an example of the difference, Gilmore said that the recent purchase price for an in-town Highlands townhome was $1,122,000.

But there are more options for people wanting the convenience of a walkable lifestyle. “Cottage Walk is a new construction, in-town community in Cashiers that still has inventory available,” he said. Gilmore also noted that the rental market is especially hot, and allows potential homeowners to try before they buy.

“During the first six months of 2017 the real estate market has been an interesting ride, and has emphasized the uniqueness of our area,” said Kenneth Taft, Broker-In-Charge/General Manager of Landmark Realty Group. “We’ve enjoyed good, stable activity. A total of 270 homes and properties have sold during the first half of 2017, which is up 23 percent from the same time last year.”

Taft explained that Highlands-Cashiers prices, inventory and activity have remained strong and consistent. Since it’s a resort community, specializing in the second home market, there is definitely enough inventory to meet the demand, he said.

“The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is truly one of the premier vacation spots on the east coast,” Taft added. “Like any resort and second home market, the people who typically buy here are those who have visited before and fell in love with the area. They want to have a ‘home base’ here, whether they’re using it as a weekend getaway, during the summer or as an investment until they can retire here full time.”

When it comes to what’s a hot property, Taft said that it entirely depends on what people like to do. For golfers, there are several desirable neighborhoods that surround award-winning courses such as Wade Hampton, Mountaintop and Wildcat Cliffs.

A home in Cashiers, NC

“If the buyer prefers water sports, they’ll focus on properties near Lake Glenville or Lake Toxaway,” he explained. “If they just want to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, they may want to live in a community such as Whiteside Cove or Lonesome Valley. We have a wide variety of properties to choose from.”

Susie deVille, Owner/Broker-in-Charge, White Oak Realty Group, also sees an exceeding strong market in Highlands-Cashiers. “Demand for properties across all price points is high, with walk-to-town properties of particular interest,” she said. “Highlands’ lively shopping, dining, cultural activities and evening entertainment options are abundant and are driving the desire for properties with proximity to Main Street.”

There is a shortage in new construction, according to deVille, and a high demand for homes within walking distance to town.

“We have a younger demographic than has historically been the case for our market, with the average age of more than half of my buyers under 50 years old,” she said. “More and more, wealthy investors under 50 are purchasing their retirement properties now.”

She added that in many cases, these properties are income producing and serve as wonderful vehicles for offsetting ownership costs. Many investors come from the Atlanta metro region, and given the proximity to Highlands, they enjoy their properties nearly every weekend. Some even find creative ways to telecommute during the week, deVille said.

“Overall, the real estate market in Highlands-Cashiers is continuing to improve, with varying performance levels within different communities,” said Thomas Bates, Development Planning and Sales, Lonesome Valley.

Cashiers Valley, NC

He reported that following three consecutive years of strong sales, Lonesome Valley is experiencing its best first two quarters this year. A residential mountain farm community, Lonesome Valley is located about five minutes by car northeast of Cashiers. The community features extensive hiking trails, fly fishing in streams and ponds, lake activities, rock climbing, fine dining and a day spa.

The question of inventory is more about quality than quantity, Bates explained. “There are a lot of older homes currently on the market, but folks typically are looking for something fresher and newer. New construction is rebounding and builders are very busy again.”

Bates said that he primarily sees second home buyers with a multi-generational ‘family investment’ in mind. Most of the buyers are purchasing homes for their immediate family’s use, with plans to spend the majority of their eventual retirement there.

“At Lonesome Valley, we’re seeing a lot of families who are investing in a simpler life in the mountains, without an overabundance of amenities and a stronger connection with the natural world,” he said.

Taft summed up the state of real estate opportunities in Highlands-Cashiers. “While still considered a buyers’ market here, new owners in Highlands-Cashiers can feel confident that they’re buying into an area that has great amenities, upscale dining and shopping, and outdoor activities,” he said.

3 Comments
  1. Great article! We have visited here for decades, but bought a cottage in Cullasaja about 18 months ago through Jody Lovell, truly a wonderful person and fabulous broker. I’m told that if her sales were in Atlanta instead of up here, she would be Number Two in volume in that big city. There are about 900 year round residents in Highlands, which swells to maybe 25,000 in season; it would take Einstein to do the math on her success rate!

    Our taxes run about $1600 a year and the HOA fees are maybe twice that. Lots of people don’t lock the doors to their houses, but nearly everyone locks their cars… to keep the bears out! We have a herd of elk nearby, and the cougars have come back because of all the trout there are in the many streams and lakes. They are so clear that you can count the scales on a fish’s back.

    Do you remember that funny scene in Crocodile Dundee where he was walking down the street in New York and tried to say hello to everybody he passed? It’s like that here, except that everybody speaks back – there are no strangers or rude people in Western North Carolina. They’re all back in Atlanta enjoying the traffic, crime, insults, taxes, over-priced real estate, crooked politicians, congestion, and….each other.

  2. No wonder that the real estate heats up in this region. Just see these beautiful pictures and you will be immediately attracted by the peaceful nature and friendly atmosphere in the area. I would love to learn about the option of buying a place there right away. We see that the outlook for real estate is very optimistic. This means that soon there will be a lot of happy people living there, having forgotten all about their money issues because they have found this great deal.

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