Living the Good Life - High Country Mountain ViewMajestic view, nature, recreation, culture – all in the High Country!

By Lynne Brandon

Part-Time Home Sweet Home

For many people, priorities shifted in 2020 – as a result lifestyle choices like where to live was a major consideration. Young professionals looked at relocating to different parts of the country. For those close to retirement it opened new doors and beckoned those with wanderlust to live anywhere – whether they were still working or not.

The idea of a second home is not new – credit for that goes to the Florida “Snowbirds”, who have been making the yearly migration to the Sunshine State in the winter for decades. The difference is that younger retirees or those close to retirement are not waiting for the “Golden Years.” They are embracing a lifestyle once only seen on the 90s TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

For this adventure-seeking crowd, it means taking retirement to a new level with a second “home sweet home” at the mountains and the coast. Not one, but two homes. The adventure-seeking crowd expects homes that are newer and nicer with more amenities – landscaping, smart technology, modern design and more.

And best of all, for today’s active retirees, a second or third home spells freedom. It checks a lot of boxes with high priority given to a low maintenance or no maintenance lifestyle. Low maintenance or no maintenance is a key factor – allowing for more time to walk on the beach or hike the Appalachian Trail.

Go West, Young Man (or woman)

Since 1981, Blue Ridge Realty & Investments, LLC (Blue Ridge Realty) has been developing residential communities in the High Country that appeal to retirees as a second or part-time home destination. The High Country is home to some of the highest elevations in the state – the Blue Ridge Mountains and charming towns like Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain, Banner Elk, Boone, Linville, West Jefferson, and others in the surrounding seven-county region.

House at YonahloseeNew construction in the mountains of the highest quality in the tranquil setting of Yonahlossee.
Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Realty

“The appeal of the High Country is easy,” said Todd Rice, co-owner and Managing Broker of Blue Ridge Realty. Mountain towns at lower elevations can still get hot in the summer, creating a greater appeal for the High Country. “We have a great climate with four distinct seasons, which is something a lot of people want. In June, the High Country is a great place to escape the summer heat with temperatures in the 70s.”

“The culture in the region is diverse, thanks to the presence of Appalachian State University with its sports, theatre, and music programs which are renowned in the Southeast,” Rice continued. “Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, and other towns attract like-minded people interested in culture, arts, and nature. We have it all, and it makes our region a unique market.”

Rainbow Trout in CashiersRainbow trout caught in Cashiers, North Carolina.

The natural beauty of the High Country makes it ideal for recreation with every sport imaginable from golf, fishing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and more. Those with fine dining tastes are pleasantly surprised to find high quality culinary choices in the region. The vibrant beer culture found in the mountains is also a big attraction.”Retirees like to head to the coast in May and June before temperatures heat up, but when the mercury rises, many head to the mountains in July/August. The mountains and the coast are convenient to the second-home owners who have homes in the Triad and the Triangle,” said Rice.

Retirees are a large demographic, but a growing trend is with families staying for summers with young school-age children – many who eventually go to Appalachian State after spending their childhood years in Boone.

Real estate in the High Country is still being discovered. Bankers from Charlotte and folks from the Triangle mingle with people from the North who had never heard of Boone according to Rice. “Mountain homes here are a bargain, and Boone will win out when compared to other mountain resort markets such as the Rockies, and areas of the Adirondacks and Poconos,” he stated. Though Rice concedes, “inventory is a little low currently, but we typically have more listings in the summer (Memorial to Labor Day). We have property at all price points, and our agents know the area well and work hard to ensure they find the right home for all buyers.”

When it comes to purchasing a property in the High Country, agents who live in the region make a difference according to Rice. “We have seven office locations throughout the High Country, with realtors who live in and love this region. They listen to buyers’ needs and what lifestyle or investment they want to achieve, whether it is a farmhouse with rolling pastures, or a chalet with mountain views and everything in between. We offer full real estate services for buyers and sellers, and not just for residential. Our services are for all types of real estate:  land, commercial, development of properties, and property management for long term rentals.”

Rice’s father started Blue Ridge Realty in the early 80s, with a focus on protecting the environment while developing quality communities. “We have larger lot sizes and less density which people enjoy,” said Rice. A good example is Sunalei Preserve with more than 200 acres as conservancy land (some of it is part of Elk Knob State Park) including headwaters of the New River (one of the oldest in the US). “We have a high level attention to detail to ensure lots are in harmony with the community. We build roads with layouts that make sense for placement of homes to optimize the features of a property. Of course, we also have experience with new construction and project management. We’ve put years into this process to make sure that everything is done tastefully, of the highest quality and still in harmony with nature, and preserving the beauty of the mountains.”

The Coast Calls

The Myrtle Beach region is experiencing a renaissance as a favorite destination. It appears on many “best of” lists including “10 Affordable Beach Towns Perfect for Retirement” by The ranking touts the Myrtle Beach area and its 60 miles of golden coastline, celebrity-designed golf courses and decadent seafood restaurants, and a boardwalk with entertainment options and shopping.

Though a popular vacation destination, Myrtle Beach remains affordable compared to other destinations. The average home sale price in the range of $300,000 is a bargain when compared to Charleston and Florida markets.

Windy Hill - Surf - Exterior

Windy Hill - Surf - Living RoomWindy Hill neighborhood in North Myrtle Beach – the former home of Dan and Kerry Wolfe was featured on HGTV’s “Beach Front Bargain Hunt.”
Photos courtesy of Grand Strand Realty

Brandon L. Brookshire, Carolina Strand Realty Vice-President & co-owner, has plenty of experience with the trend of retirees with multiple homes – both professionally and personally. Brookshire lives two lives, one at the beach and one in the mountains (West Asheville). He is invested in both. “I am from Myrtle Beach and always enjoyed going back and forth from the mountains to the coast. I love the mountains when it is hot at the beach.”

His love of the mountains comes from generations of family living in the western part of the state. “My great-grandfather worked at Biltmore Estates as the head cabinet maker,” said Brookshire. “I have many of his pieces in my home in Asheville.” When he is not at his mountain home he can be found at his other residence at Barefoot Resort & Golf in North Myrtle Beach.

Brookshire remembers when the greater Asheville (now called the Aspen of the East) metro was in decline in the late 70s. Retirees or semi-retired homeowners from the North who lived in Florida part-time and later migrated half way back to North Carolina (called half-backs), changed the downward trajectory and started a renaissance in the mountains.

He pointed out that retirees with multiple homes is not a new concept. In reality, retirees from the north (aka snowbirds) set the tone years ago with the annual trek to Florida for an extended winter vacation and part-time homes.

“Retirees started setting up homes in Lake Lure, Cashiers, and other towns,” said Brookshire. “They wanted North Carolina over Florida due to the weather, the Blue Ridge mountains, Biltmore, and the other great attractions.”

Build it and They will Come

The beer culture craze started in Asheville with the opening of Highland Brewery in 1994. Since that time the growing beer landscape has attracted major national brands, California-based Sierra Nevada and Colorado-based New Belgium, both, which built $1 million-plus facilities. Today, younger generations and retirees are moving to the mountains due to the flourishing beer culture with 15 breweries in Asheville and more than 70 in the mountain region. The western part of the state is now North Carolina’s beer capital.

A renaissance started and golf courses added to the amenities in the early 90s. Farm-to-table restaurants started the foodie scene and attracted those who appreciate quality food. “People move to the mountains for the climate and that there is so much to do,” said Brookshire. “For many, it is the main residence with a second home at the beach.”

Brookshire works with national builders to make it affordable to have a mountain home and a second home at the coast. “Our niche at the coast is building all-brick houses,” said Brookshire. He references the childhood tale of the “Three Little Pigs” and the strength of brick – especially at the coast.

Like many of his clients, Brookshire’s happy place is also at the coast. “I am 3 miles from the ocean.” Many of the same mountain amenities attract retirees to the coast, such as the opening of Grand Strand Brewing. “We have a growing beer industry with five or six breweries – Black Drum, Kingston Plantation, and others,” said Brookshire.

For many a break from the heavy taxes in the Northeast ($10K annually compared to $1K annually) as well as other parts of the country is a calling card. Healthcare is a major influencer determining where people live. Myrtle Beach has expanded health care options in the region with five new hospitals built in the past few years.

Weather also influences lifestyle decisions. “Retirees want a break from shoveling snow,” Brookshire explained. “They play the weather game and go where the weather is best for them at the time – either way it is only a 4.5 hour car drive.”

“Myrtle Beach is the most affordable beach destination on the east coast – we have transformed into a retirement community with a resort image,” said Brookshire.