Half Backs – Retire to North Carolina

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High Country, Low Prices – Can you Retire to North Carolina?

My father used tell me a joke about the retired man that fell off a five story building and landed smack in the middle of a busy sidewalk. A crowd gathered around him before a policeman elbowed his way up to the man.

“What happened?” Queried the cop.

“I don’t know, I just got here.”

That’s a bit how I feel after being more or less “off the grid” for the last two weeks. No Phone. No internet. No email. No newspaper. No radio. No daily news. No, I didn’t retire to North Carolina… not yet at least. But I did take a twelve hour car ride into the high country of North Carolina. Gail and I rented a house near Blowing Rock, stocked the house with provisions and started a two week decompression that was long overdue. I prepared by downloading a dozen books into my Kindle, bringing my whittling tools and hiking boots and some warmer clothes. I told everyone we would be back today. I lied. We came back yesterday and used our “margin day” to adjust back to our normal fast paced paced lives.

I will admit that we did tour two developments, one in Banner Elk and one in Blowing Rock. You didn’t really believe that I could stay away from real estate for two weeks did you? (And I did sneak into town a few times to check on, if not reply to, emails).

What’s going on in real estate in the High Country? Well, I had conversations with experts Jan Blair of Blowing Rock Gallery of Homes and Land, Drew Taylor from Blowing Rock Real Estate, Jim Fitzpatrick (Fitz), sales rep for Headwaters at Banner Elk, and Dan Friess, sales rep for Blue Ridge Mountain Club.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Their “sweet spot of the market” – meaning where they would like to have more inventory because it sells fast – is $300 – $400,000 homes.
  • There are basically two kinds of home sites – view and NO view. Most view lots need serious site preparation to build a home. I was told if an advertisement said “good buildable lot” – it means no view.
  • Prices in the High Country never crashed like home prices in South Florida and most of my experts said prices have not risen much in the last two years.
  • Prices for a new home are around $220/sf
  • View lots start just below $200,000
  • Taxes on a $500,000 home will be about $1500 per year.
  • Speculative home building is just to starting to take place. All agents said they need more inventory of buyer ready homes – so the sense from them is that things are picking up.
  • The developers I talked to are downsizing their offerings. They want to gear their homes for the retiree,  they can’t sell the $3 million homes but $400,000 “cottages” sell (we toured a few cottages – 2000 square feet plus garage – to me a perfect second home size).
  • Season is from mid-Spring to when the leaves are done falling off the trees in late October. The middle of October is high season – but the season does not trail off, it skids to a halt – except for Ski areas.
  • They covet Florida buyers but lately their buyer pool is mostly second home buyers from within the State.
  • Elevation is important to buyers. The higher the home the cooler the home, and generally the longer the views.

The house Gail and I rented was in the Pisgah forest. We had views of Grandfather Mountain, but we really were in the middle of the woods, one and one half miles off the main road, mostly on gravel. My favorite spot was Blue Ridge Mountain Club. It had the highest elevation, the most spectacular views, paved roads, amenities like a clubhouse and hiking and ATV trails, and homes starting in the low $500’s, home sites below $200,000. (This was formally a Bobby Ginn project – slated for estate homes in the $2,000,000 plus range).

Prices still seem high to me in the High County – especially compared to South Florida. Before we send some of our Snowbirds “halfback” home and they end up in North Carolina – we need to get them here first.

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