Featured Hike: Appalachian Trail at Carver’s Gap

This is the summer of hiking for Jimmy and me for a couple of reasons. First, we have had our heads down and worked insanely for the last 4 years. We are reclaiming life-work balance after selling the office, and this glorious spring and summer have been perfect for hitting the trails. Second, we are going out to Yellowstone in the fall, and we want to be in better shape for daily hiking. We have a way to go. We can tackle a 4-5 mile hike, which is really about as long as I want to do. But then we are pretty wiped out for 24 hours, so the stamina needs some work (hey, we are 50+ and nearly 60, so do we get some slack?).

We are trying to hit some trails we have not done before, and we are trying to get up to higher elevations to prepare for Yellowstone. Asheville is about 2200 feet. We can easily find trails at 4000-6000 with a little driving involved.

Yesterday, July 4th, we really didn’t have a plan for where we were going. We headed up north and ended up at Roan Mountain on the NC/TN line. The Appalachian trail crosses there at Carver’s Gap, and many thru hikers consider that one of the most beautiful sections of the Trail (I read this), so we decided to check it out. And it was magnificent!

You start from the parking area through an enchanted forest. I expected to see tree nymphs and fairies amongst the ancient spruces and moss covered trees and rocks surrounded by ferns. It was a magical start, and then you emerge shortly on the first of several balds.

You can follow the trail as far as you like (to Maine if you are so inclined!), and there are some spur trails off of it. The clouds were below us and above us, and it was just a fantastic hike at about 72 degrees!

I have lived in these mountains all but 11 years of my 51 years, and I never tire of exploring them and hiking them!

Featured Hike: River Loop Trail (Upper), Black Mountain Campground

This hike is an easy one, and a moderate length at about 4 miles (with the side trail to the waterfall). The Black Mountain Campground is not in or near the town of Black Mountain, though as the crow flies it probably isn’t that far. You can access it in Pisgah National Forest off Hwy 80 either from Burnsville or from Marion. With an elevation of 3000 feet, it is a little cooler than Asheville but not so high that you feel the thin air.

The trail begins alongside the Green Knob and the Mountains to the Sea trail directly across from the entrance to the campground on the Forest Service road. You have a bit of an uphill climb until the other two trails branch off, and River Loop then follows the contour of the mountain until it descends back to the Forest Service road, crosses it, and then follows the Toe River along the other side back to the campground.

It is a delightful hike all the way. The first stretch is more of a hike, and on this July 1st, the rhododendrons were still in full glory, so it was magnificent. Once you cross over to the trail along the river, it is literally a walk through the woods. This is a great hike for families or anyone not feeling to ambitious as far as elevation changes. But it is long enough that you feel like you did something to earn a big burger for dinner.

Truths About Home Ownership

Owning a home is the American dream. And with mortgage interest rates still low and a good economy, it is a great time to make that dream come true, whether you are a first-time buyer or moving up to your dream home.

I am, clearly, a huge advocate of home ownership, but there are positives and negatives.

Even with a mortgage, which most of us must have in order to purchase a home, you are investing in something that will someday bring you some return. However, I think we fall into the trap of thinking our homes are money makers, and that is not the type of investment a home should usually be. A home should be an investment in that you are going to be able to re-coup what you have put into it at some point as opposed to rent, which never comes back to you. But it isn't a given that this will work out. As we learned in the Great Recession, home values can decline below what you paid for the house or have invested in it in principle. And if you have re-financed and cashed out your equity, well, guess what, you already got your pay-back.

But a few things recently also brought to my mind the tangible realities of owning a home. A client recently closed on an older home that was well-maintained. The client had had a home inspection, which can evaluate things as they are, but not what might happen tomorrow. And sure enough, the day after closing, the hot water heater went out. Then the dishwasher quit working. ARGH. What an unpleasant surprise to thave to pay for new appliances after just paying for the house with what you thought were working appliances! This client had waived getting a home warranty plan, which might or might not have covered these appliances (they have lots of small print, especially for older units). He took it in stride, saying that this is part of owning a house.

And he is right. When you are renting, if something quits working, you call the landlord. You don't have to pay for it. But when you own a home, it is surprising how many things can eat up that money you were saving for vacation. We bought our current home a little over a year ago. It was built in 2005, so that seems pretty new to me considering all the nearly 100 year old homes I have owned and the general age of homes in and around Asheville. But these days, 10-15 years is about what you can expect for appliances to last. So in the last year, we have replaced the water heater, dishwasher, oven/range, and had serious work done to the HVAC. We also had to replace undersized gutters, cut down some threatening trees, fix electrical issues, and there are still some less urgent things we need to address.

Some days, when I add all that up, I think, "maybe we should just rent!" But no, I am not cut-out to be a renter. I love the feel of ownership, even if it is a little delusional since the bank owns my house until I pay it off. But I can do what I want to my house. I can plant what I want in my yard (as long as the HOA doesn't complain). As I pay down my mortgage, my payments are far less than comparable rent would be, and I can take the interest off on my taxes. The value has gone up already in the year we have owned it, so at this point, it is a great investment.

But most importantly, I feel that it is my home, and that I can be emotionally attached to it and my little plot of land. It gives me a sense of stability that renting never could. My mom is still in the house that she and my dad bought in 1969. It is a part of our family, and through my many moves it made me feel like there was always a place that was home. I still love that home in which I grew-up, but now I have my own "forever" home and feeling of permanance. And that is priceless.

Is home ownership sometimes a burden? Sure. Is it worth it? You bet.

Asheville Real Estate Market Spring 2017

In short: high demand, low inventory, rising prices

When people meet me and learn that I am a real estate agent, the conversation quickly turns to "how is the market?" Most folks are aware that Asheville is a booming market with more and more people moving here daily to take advantage of our bounteous outdoors and four mild seasons. "Prices can't keep going up. It is a bubble!" they say.

Well, history and probablility prove them wrong on both counts. Every year that I have been in the real estate business (since 2001), with the exception of the awful Great Recession years, people have said the same thing. And we weren't in a "bubble" pre-recession. The market was strong and increasing at a rapid but reasonable pace. The issue then was financial, particularly irresponsible lending and sub-prime loan packaging.

I have been told, though have not done the research myself, that other than the Great Depression and the Great Recession, Asheville real estate prices have never dropped substantially. This has always been an area that attracts people, both as tourists and as new residents. Ever since the railroad came through in the late 1800s, making the area easily accessible, real estate has boomed.

The current market is a reflection of factors. First, the relocation to the Asheville area continues. Asheville and surrounds has made every list I can think of, and some I can't, and people just want to live here. Many of these people are retiring. We don't get as many relocations of working people because, well, we have no real industry and a dismal job market. These retirees have made their money in other more expensive areas of the country, so while our prices are undoubtably high, they don't look so bad to them. This continues to drive our prices upward, as it has since the Vanderbilts, Groves, and other Northerners arrived 100 years ago.

Second, there is an inventory shortage. People in the area aren't moving out of the region as they once did for jobs. Perhaps more people have figured out a way to make a living here (thank you internet!), so I don't see the exit of as many young adults as I once did. I used to say they were on a 5 year cycle of coming to Asheville, trying to hash out an existence, then giving up to go to Charlotte or Atlanta. This still happens, but more people are staying put. Additionally, people who live here are afraid to put their home on the market because they know it will sell quickly. Yes, that is terrific. But then they have to find a house to buy, and in this tight inventory market that is truly a challenge.

Third, and this relates to the inventory shortage, buildable land is hard to find. Developers want to find a large parcel of land close to town and on public water and sewer. It is pretty much all gone. Or, it seems too expensive to build a housing neighborhood unless it is apartment buildings, which are springing up like weeds. Our topography makes building expensive and challenging, and there are places that God just never meant for homes to be built (doesn't stop some builders). In-fill homes in town are HOT items, and builders are slicing off larger yards to fill in new houses where they can. But these are then priced at a premium, and there just aren't enough of them to ease the inventory shortage.

Lastly, it is my feeling that while we are not in a bubble as supply and demand will continue to raise prices, our prices are outpacing what many people can possibly afford to buy. Many of my clients are those young retiring baby boomers, and while they may be able to retire early, they usually have a budget between $300,000 and $500,000. Sadly, a modest, basic, often in need of rehab or remodeling, home in town begins at $300,000. So while I don't see a bubble per se, I wonder if things will slow – not decrease but slow in terms of price increases – in the next few years.

As always, barring a financial collapse, I don't see prices here going down. And many of my clients are buying now for future retirement to get in while they still can!

Mortgage Information for Asheville and Beyond

A big thank you to Linda Brandt at Atlantic Bay Mortgage for the list below of the four factors that go into loan approval:

1. Property purchase- Primary, secondary or investment. While there is no rate adjustment for secondary home, there is for an investment property and the rate will be a bit higher2. Credit Score- this is critical, as you know. Lenders take the mid-score of each borrower and then the lowest of each mid when determining interest rate
3. Loan To Value(LTV)- this is probably one of the most important. The more money down, the lower the LTV, the better the rate since the borrower has more invested in the property and therefore less risk of default
4. Debt to Income Ratio(DTI)- a low DTI means the person has a lower risk of defaulting on the loan since they are not maxing out their income to make the mortgage payment.

Linda Brandt
Mortgage Banker
NMLS #1012381, Licensed in NC

Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group

32 All Souls Crescent, Asheville, NC, 28803
Office: 828-263-6355 | Mobile: 828-776-5755 | Fax: 844-895-4654
lindabrandt@atlanticbay.com | www.atlanticbay.com/lindabrandt

Where You Live Matters, Even in Asheville

Jimmy and I lived in Asheville proper for nearly 20 years, in both North Asheville and West Asheville. We loved living in town and being able to walk to restaurants or downtown. All four of our “in town” houses gave us some ability to “walk-to” things, and we were happy as could be. When you work in real estate, temptations arise, and over the years, especially early on, we sometimes went on adventures in the country, fantasizing about having land, a mini-farm, a creek, and abundant privacy. Then we would drive back into town and breathe a sigh of relief – city living was for us.

But sometimes things change and that change brings you a new sensibility. This past winter, I decided that we needed to give-up our much loved smallish house on the most prime lot in the best located part of West Asheville (between “downtown” West Asheville/Haywood Rd and the River Arts District with a view of downtown Asheville – sweet!). We loved our neighborhood and our neighbors and thought we were perfectly content. But I needed, for peace of mind, a home into which my mom could move if she needed to make a change (from her big home of nearly 50 years) in a hurry.

We knew we wanted to stay close to town. It was January, and we needed to do this quickly before our busy season started in March. It didn’t take long to exhaust the options in town, especially in North or West Asheville where we wanted to be. One day, I told Jimmy that we were going to look at Biltmore Lake. We have always liked that neighborhood, which was begun about 2002, around Enka Lake, a small lake that fed water supply to the now gone Enka/BASF plant to the east of it.

But Biltmore Lake is “suburbs.” It is about 15-20 minutes outside of downtown Asheville, and Jimmy was highly resistant. “But they have trails,” I said. “And the lake” (small lake for paddle boating and swimming). I dragged him out, we drove by the four possibilities, and decided that one was appealing, if a bit large and over-budget for us. It was one of those moments that I love when they happen to my clients. We walked in with an open mind, and just kept nodding and getting more excited as we looked through the house. This was it! The house suited our needs, and we loved most things about the floor plan. But the setting is special, nestled in the trees (I thought I had to have bright sunshine, but there is still abundant natural light), with a creek in the front and stream in the back. Tranquility!

We moved in April, immediately both had the flu for 2 weeks, and then began to settle in to the house and our new neighborhood. While we do miss the vibe of being in town, we found that the peaceful natural setting, quiet, and privacy more than compensated for town. And the commute, which was a real adjustment when you are used to being 10 minutes from everything, turned out to be a great disconnect from the hectic day at work. It felt like coming home to a sanctuary apart from the hustle and bustle of Asheville proper.

And, we and the dog are in much better shape. While we enjoyed walking our in-town neighborhoods, it was hard to take the dog because she was so distracted by other animals in close proximity to the sidewalk. Now, we literally walk out of our backyard onto a trail that connects with about 6 miles of trail system just within Biltmore Lake. Some of the trails do run behind homes, so there are still encounters with other dogs, but somehow it goes better. Then we discovered that we could walk up the mountain behind the neighborhood onto another system of trails that ultimately connects into Bent Creek Experimental Forest. We walked so much more this summer and fall than ever before, which has been great for all of us ageing pups.

So all of this is to say that where you live really does affect the quality of your life. You would think I would have known that after 15 years selling real estate and having lived in something like 7 homes of my own since leaving apartment life. But it really became clear with this move. I think it took us a few homes to figure out what was really important to us. But it also may be a different season of life where we want to chill in the outdoors and go into town for the energy and fun rather than live in the energy and visit the outdoors for the chill.

As you begin to think about buying your next house, really take some time to note what matters most to you. Setting (location, location, location is not just about resale value) as well as the floor plan and features of the house can really impact your enjoyment of the property and quality of life.

Are Bathrooms Affecting Asheville Real Estate?

By now, most folks are probalby familiar with North Carolina's infamous "Bathroom Bill" (House Bill 2 – HB2). In short, this bill made a big issue out of something which had never been a problem: transgender folk using the bathroom with which they identify their gender. I have been using bathrooms in North Carolina for 50 years, and I have never had a problem with this or with the fear-mongering scenario that a guy will dress as a woman to use the women's room to molest children. The HB2 bill also took away other rights regarding harrassement and was overall punitive and stupid. On a personal level, it has caused me heartache to watch my LBGT friends have to consider where they will be welcomed and treated well since this bill has brought up anti-gay sentiments in some sectors and drawn attention back on people who just want to live their lives in peace – if not acceptance.

The result of the HB2 debacle has been a national outcry against North Carolina, with many companies protesting this discriminatory bill by canceling conventions here, artists canceling concerts, and the NBA pulling out of Charlotte. On a smaller scale, individuals have changed plans to travel to our state, or if they do come, they refuse to spend money here. While trying to support the LBGT community, these boycotts are actually hurting those they want to support. This excellent article gives a good overview of the situation.

After reading the article, someone asked me if HB2 was hurting my business, and that question made me stop to ponder (we "ponder" in the south). I hadn't considered it before, but I did know that personally, my transactions are down for the year when the market is actually booming and sales are abundant. I did move and have some personal distractions, so I had attributed my slower year to that, but then I realized that I haven't had a single gay or lesbian client all year. And that is very unusual for me. I mentioned it to some clients who said, "oh, yes, our [gay] nephew and his partner won't consider moving to North Carolina because North Carolina 'doesn't like them.'"

NO. I mean NO. North Carolina likes you! Our legislature is practicing fear and diversion tactics to distract the voters from the real issues in the state, like the education crisis (also brought on by the legislature). And jobs. And coal ash. You know, the important stuff.

And Asheville is very different from this narrow perception of our state. In fact, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and most of the more urban areas of the state are disgusted with HB2. And we need like-minded people to come here to affect change.

Asheville is a welcoming and embracing town. Gay or straight, trans or not, unless you are a bigot, you will be welcomed in Asheville. If you are thinking of moving here but worried about the state spiraling backwards, then come help us move back to the progressive future that was in our sights just a few years ago before fear took over common sense.

I realize not everyone will think it prudent that I post a blog about a controversial "issue." After all, as someone trying to attract home buyers and sellers, shouldn't I err on the side of neutrality? Maybe, but on this I can't be neutral, because it isn't about what bathroom you use. It is about human dignity and rights and not discriminating blatantly or subtly against anyone. Anyone.

Moving Tips – Materials

Isn't moving fun! I have done my fair share of moving. Since college, I count this as my 10th move. Since my mom sent me out of the house with a ton of old (but very nice) family furniture, most of my moves, even in my 20s, involved movers. But I always pack the boxes myself, and getting boxes and packing materials (without paying for them) can be tricky. Lots of visits to the liquor store . . .

Jimmy and I are now in the midst of move #10, so I put together a short video with some ideas:

My Own Medicine is a Bitter Pill: Selling My Own House in Asheville!

Jimmy and I thought we had the house we would stay in forever. But life changes, Mom needs to move in, and we must sell and buy a different type of house to accommodate our new needs. So we are preparing the current house for sale, and I find myself having to take my own advice in staging and preparation. I know that my house is a hot commodity due to location, setting, and upgrades, but I want it to be as competitive as possible, so we are decluttering and staging.

The house is only 1500 sqf with no basement or attic, so how do we have so much stuff – especially since I consider us on the "minimalist" side of the scale!? In an effort to make the house as tidy as possible, we have rented a mid-sized storage unit nearby. And we have filled it up! Granted, things could be stacked higher, but wow, where did all that stuff come from?

Here is what we have done:

1. Removed excess furniture. The house wasn't over-crowded, but the goal in staging a house is for it to look like the ideal – the model home. None of us really live that way, but that is how a house should be shown. It enables prospective buyers to look past your furniture and stuff and see the potential for them of living in the house. You don't want an empty house as most folks can't imagine it furnished, but rather you want just enough furniture to show how great the space is but to allow the buyer to see themselves and their stuff there. We took out some over-sized bookcases – and all the books 🙁 Then we removed an extra table and chairs that remained after we bough a new dining table – no one really needs two dining tables and chairs! The extra chest of drawers that blocked a window is gone. And we removed my grandmother's dressing table and secretary which serve no real purpose other than that I am sentimental about them. Now all the rooms look more spacious!

2. Organized and cleaned-out pantry and cabinets. So, if you have a food product that you moved from your last house, and it expired in 2009, you probably are never going to use it. Lots of things left the pantry for the garbage or the crisis ministry (if still good). Extra "party" plates and serving pieces were packed-up. We have a lot of this type of stuff that is rarely used and most people don't have, so I removed it to show that there is really plenty of storage space in the kitchen!

3. Linen closets and bath cabinets. Same thing as the kitchen. All the extra/expired stuff is gone!

4. What we should still do! There are some minor cosmetics that could be better, and we may get them done before listing it (especially if we get snowed-in this weekend). I tell my sellers that I am going to tell them the ideal is that they should do to get the house ready. But I realize that most people can't do everything, so I will priortize for them what is most important. I have done the same thing with our house. I feel confident that the many, many pluses overwhelm these small cosmetic fixes.

If it were summer, we would also make sure the grass is kept mowed and the yard tidy, but winter saves us some outside work.

I have always said that real estate agents should have to buy and sell every 5-10 years just to remind us what we ask our clients to go through to maximize for a quick sale and highest price. I moved last in 2009, so I guess I am due for my reminder!

Downtown Asheville in December

Downtown Asheville is getting festive! Music, decorations, and people everywhere!

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There are some wonderful window scenes and lots of people out and about on the streets and in our unique shops.

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""And on every street corner you hear . . . Well, there were bells, but they are on the ground. These folks were terrific playing spoons, banjo and washbucket bass!