Chilling in the Mountains: Pre-retirees starting search early for dream homes

Cool weather, beautiful landscapes and a relaxed lifestyle all help to make the mountains a perfect place to settle, and many metro Atlantans plan to retire there. Not everyone waits to claim their little spot of heaven, though. More and more people are making the move to find or build their mountain retreat now and enjoy before and after retirement.

Keith and Robin Sievers label themselves “outdoor people.” They’ve settled into their new home, a two-story mountainside home with main and terrace levels, in Big Canoe, a gated private residential community set in the rolling mountains of Jasper, Ga.

The climate and natural landscapes of north Georgia are perfect, the Sievers said, and so are the amenities they enjoy in Big Canoe, where they’ve found the lifestyle they were looking for. The community boasts a unique Jeep Trail, award-winning 22+ mile trail system for hiking and biking, three outdoor dog parks, three waterfalls, three lakes and scenic mountain landscapes.

“It’s amazing to live in a beautiful mountain community that’s 30 minutes from the north Atlanta suburbs, and just 30 minutes from the start of the Appalachian Trail,” said Robin. “More importantly, though, are the wonderful people who live here and the many cherished friendships we’ve made.”

They admit that mountain driving was a challenge at first, but added that they quickly adapted. “While some driving is required to get to everything we need, the essentials are close at hand,” said Keith, “and we’ve learned to group our errands into enjoyable ‘urban safaris’.”

Katie Wercholuk, Marketing Director, Big Canoe Company, LLC, reported that she has seen an increase in pre-retirees attracted to the lifestyle and options in Big Canoe. “Many metro Atlanta residents are becoming empty-nesters, but they’re still working while planning for the future before it’s time to retire,” Wercholuk said.

The McNeely’s at their mountain home.

Old Edwards Club, between Highlands and Cashiers, was the spot where Lynda and Bill McNeeley found their mountain home. “We both grew up in the mountains,” Lynda said, “but had always gravitated to the beach. We first went to Highlands in the late 1980s. The cool weather and great mountains, smells and activities drew us in. We bought a small cabin in town and went there about once a month for 12 years.”

The McNeeleys joined Old Edwards Club in 2007 and bought their permanent retirement home in 2009. The house is a 2,500-square-foot cottage with a lovely screened-in porch and mountain view.

“Every morning we wake to the same beautiful view,” Lynda said. “Our friends love to visit and come every year, and our grandchildren love it as much as anyone. Bill’s sister-in-law and some friends from Atlanta bought here after just one visit to Highlands.”

Old Edwards Inn & Spa

Old Edwards Club offers a relaxed, family environment, and Old Edwards Inn & Spa, located in Highlands, spoils visitors with delicious food and wine, a nationally ranked spa and a world-class golf course designed by Tom Jackson. “We have something for everyone,” said Bill Gilmore, Provisional Broker, Highlands Cove Realty at Old Edwards Inn, and Realtor with PalmerHouse Properties.

Lynda said that she and Bill adore Old Edwards, and everyone they’ve met is friendly. The McNeeleys added that there’s plenty to do, too. They walk to the golf course, pool and the best restaurant in town. There are wonderful pools and fitness, hiking, shopping galore, amazing waterfalls and the nicest merchants you could ever meet, Lynda said.

“Add craft shows and great markets that offer every kind of food you can imagine,” she said. “It’s easy to find what you need to cook gourmet meals at home, so we rarely eat out.”

While Bill is retired, Lynda still works full-time remotely as a Residential Mortgage Loan Officer with Fidelity Bank Mortgage, so many of their Atlanta trips are scheduled to coincide with closings or office activities that she wants to attend. It’s a wonderful setting for working and taking good care of her clients, she said.

According to Gilmore, the area’s internet and cell phone service is first rate, making it a place where executives can take care of business when they need to, and then unplug and relax.

Lynda has had no issues with mountain life. “It’s a quick two-and-a-half-hour drive to the city if I have a business commitment. And our community has a house watch during the off season, so we never have to worry about anything,” she said. “Just one phone call and they’ll check on anything for you. And they’ll even dig you out of the snow if you come during the off season—I love that!”

The golf course at Old Toccoa Farm.

Duane and Kim Champlin are currently overseeing the construction of their Old Toccoa Farm mountain retreat. “We had a weekend cabin near Blue Ridge before we retired, and we fell in love with the area,” Kim said.

Old Toccoa Farm, just 85 miles north of Atlanta, is near historic Blue Ridge, Ga., and about 15 miles from the Aska Adventure Area, which features camping, hiking and water activities like tubing, canoeing and kayaking.

According to Duane, the couple wanted long-range mountain views. “We got that, plus we’re living on a golf course in a gated community,” he said.

The Champlins moved to the north Georgia mountains from Gwinnett County. What they’ve found in Old Toccoa Farm is peace and quiet, golf courses, the Toccoa River, wooded trails and “the friendliness of everyone we come across,” said Kim.

They noted that they have lost a few conveniences, but said they’ve gained much more. “We have a relaxed and friendly environment,” said Duane, “and a whole lot less congestion!”

Kim L. Knutzen, Managing Broker, Harry Norman REALTORS Blue Ridge Office, reported that there has been an influx of buyers in the new development. “Old Toccoa Farm is the only fly fishing and golf community in our area,” she said.

The interior of Willie and Sheryl McCutcheon’s North Carolina cabin.

Sapphire, N.C. turned out to be right setting for Willie and Sheryl McCutchen’s mountain getaway. The couple still resides full-time in the rural town of Kingstree, on the eastern side of South Carolina.

Willie retired from the telecommunications business in 2005 at the early age of 56. “Sheryl and I sometimes talked about getting a second home, but never took it very seriously,” he said. “She’s always loved the beach, and probably would’ve preferred something on the coast initially.”

While that would have been convenient, since their Kingstree home is only about an hour’s drive from the beach, Willie didn’t think that it made much sense to have a vacation home so close by. And Willie was diagnosed with melanoma in 1993, so “beach life wasn’t exactly on the top of my list,” he said.

Several years ago, the McCutchens became friends with the owner of the High Hampton Inn & Country Club in Cashiers, N.C., Will McKee, as well as his partner in High Hampton Realty, Manuel de Juan.

High Hampton Inn

Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountain, the historic High Hampton Inn has been a place of Southern hospitality since the nineteenth century. The inn’s 1,400-acre playground offers golf, tennis, hiking, fly fishing and a European spa.

“After several stays at the inn, we fell in love with the area and began to talk seriously about the possibility of acquiring something in the area,” Willie said.

They looked at a number of places in the summer of 2015 until de Juan showed them a log cabin in a Holly Forest community in Sapphire. The Homeowners Association offered an amenities package with access to indoor and outdoor pools, skiing, a fitness facility and private lake/beach.

Willie said that he and Sheryl knew right away that it was the place for them, and they closed on the property in January 2016. “I think what sold us was its quaint interior,” he added. “We’ve enjoyed fixing it up.”

Sapphire Valley, NC

At this point, the cabin is just a vacation home, according to Willie, and he suspects it will never be more than that. Since it’s just five hours away from Kingstree, it’s fairly convenient.

“We love to come periodically, especially with our two grandchildren, ages five and eight,” he added. “We also enjoy letting friends and family use the cabin when we’re not here, but we don’t rent it.”

When asked what he and Sheryl enjoy most about the mountains, Willie mentioned the beauty and solitude and, of course, the cooler temperatures during the summer. He said that even though they have neighbors, they still feel fairly secluded, which is very important to them both.

“One of the things I find appealing about owning a vacation home in the mountains, especially as compared to the beach, is the difference costs associated with insurance and taxes,” Willie said. “I was very surprised at the reasonableness of property taxes and casualty insurance.”

He noted that he and Sheryl haven’t encountered any real challenges to living in the mountains, other than periodic bad weather in winter and the occasional bear on the porch. “I’m not kidding!” Willie said. “But bears generally aren’t a problem if you don’t leave out things to attract them, like garbage or bird seed.”

Blue Ridge Mountains

Purchasing a mountain home before retirement is a good strategy, especially since the north Georgia mountains are starting to attract buyers from across the country. When Gary and Christy Ray decided to move from a mountain/lake area in northwest Nevada to be closer to family, they wanted to locate in a similar environment in Georgia. They found their mountain cabin in Love Mountain, an upscale rustic neighborhood that features wooded settings and mountain views, in Morganton, Ga.

“The north Georgia mountains are a perfect fit for us,” said Gary. “With the beautiful mountains, sunsets, lakes, affordable living, proximity to Atlanta and wonderful southern hospitality, we couldn’t have made a better choice.”

Christy added that everyone in Blue Ridge has welcomed them with open arms. “Within two months, we’ve made a lot of new friends and already feel like a part of the community,” she said.

The area offers a variety of activities, music venues and craft fairs, along with outstanding restaurants. “This is what we love about the community,” Christy said. “We attended a fabulous wine pairing dinner at a local restaurant in Blue Ridge and met some lovely people who we plan to see again.”

Faron W. King, Broker/Owner, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, said that while many mountain homes are bought by retirees, 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.
He suggested that people not wait for retirement to begin looking for their dream retirement home. Good advice, it seems, with the current rush to the hills.

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