Interest rates spur March real estate activity

Interest rates continued falling in March, spurring a busy month of real estate activity in the High Country. Local inventory grew, while nationally the sale of vacation homes hit a 12-year high.

There were 106 homes worth $28.8 million purchased in March, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor®-assisted sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

March 2015 sales graphicThe total sales were two fewer than March 2014, but the median sold price for the month – the midpoint at which half of all homes sold – was $200,000. That’s a 5.7 percent increase from the median price recorded last March, $189,250.

That marked the fourth month in the past six the median sold price has been $200,000 or greater, a streak last recorded in Spring 2012.

Inventory also grew in March, with Realtors® adding more than 200 listings. As of April 12 there were 2,458 homes on the market.

Interest rates continued attracting buyers. The 30-year fixed rate fell a half-percent from early March to April, from 4.38 percent to 3.66 percent as of April 9, according to lending giant Freddie Mac.

In that same time span the 15-year fixed rate declined from 3.03 percent to 2.93 percent.

The low rates combined with a long-standing buyers’ market in the local area are hopeful signs for increased real estate activity as the traditional busy season begins.

“It’s hard to believe that 3 to 4 percent mortgage rates are still with us,” said Pam Vines, president of the High Country Association of Realtors®. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

The READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the three-county area, reported 234 properties sold in March well above the 206 sold in March 2014. Yet the cumulative sale price was down slightly, from $40.3 million to $40.06 million.

The average sale price for all property transactions in March was $171,179 according to the READReport, a 13 percent decrease from the average in March 2014, when it was $195,667.

Year to date, property sales are up 12 percent, from 563 in the first three months of 2014 to 628 this year.

With regard to national trends, the High Country market could be impacted by a spike in demand for vacation homes.

According to the 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), there were 1.13 million vacation-home sold last year, the most since the statistic began being tracked in 2003.

It was a 57 percent increase compared to 2013, when 717,000 vacation homes were sold.

The survey also reported decreases in investment-home sales (down 7.4 percent) and owner-occupied purchases (down 12.8 percent) in that same time span.

“Affluent households have greatly benefited from strong growth in the stock market in recent years, and the steady rise in home prices has likely given them reassurance that real estate remains an attractive long-term investment,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Furthermore, last year’s impressive increase also reflects long-term growth in the numbers of baby boomers moving closer to retirement and buying second homes to convert into their primary home in a few years.”

The median sales price of both vacation and investment homes declined in 2014. The median vacation home price was $150,000, down 11.1 percent from $168,700 in 2013. The median investment-home sales price was $125,000, down 3.8 percent from $130,000 a year ago.

HCAR signs CRS Data as Public Records Vendor

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – CRS Data, a leading provider of public record information for real estate, banker and financial professionals in the U.S., is proud to have been chosen by the High Country Association of Realtors® as its select public records vendor.

CRS logoCRS Data’s MLS Suite has been developed to service a wide range of tax data, including customizable maps, neighborhood information, comparables, mortgage information and more, made available through intuitive, in-depth search options. CRS Data’s MLS Suite has been designed for maximum navigation and usability.

“Our members need to have the most easily accessible and reliable tax data available to help create professional, thorough reports for their clients,” said Laurie A. Phillips, executive officer for High Country Association of Realtors®.  “CRS Data is prioritizing ease of access with timely data updates and award-winning customer support. We’re confident this will be a great product for our members to turn to daily for their tax data demands.”

The High Country Association of Realtors® has signed on with CRS Data (Courthouse Retrieval System, Inc.) in a 3-year agreement.  All of their 500-plus members will gain online access to the company’s MLS Tax Suite, currently used by a growing number of MLSs and real estate associations across the U.S.

“We chose CRS Data for their commitment to creating a cutting-edge property tax data product that would allow our members to stay ahead of the curve,” said Phillips. “We want to give our members the best tools available, and CRS Data’s approach to property tax data, including how their product is accessed and easily serves information, matched with our unique needs.”

Headquartered in Knoxville, CRS Data currently provides access to comprehensive property data resources in more than 12 states and 500 counties.

“We are very excited to provide the CRS Data MLS Suite to the members of the High Country Association of Realtors®,” said Nikki Morgan, MLS sales executive for CRS Data. “Our customer experience and data teams work to create a dependable product while constantly looking at new innovations that can ensure our customers have access to the information they need at any time and on any device.”

CRS Data most recently expanded its data service to include 67 counties in Florida. Servicing bankers, MLSs, appraisers, investors, and other specialty financial customers, CRS Data is focused on providing accurate and timely property data, quality products and unparalleled customer satisfaction.

About CRS Data
For more than 20 years, CRS Data  has worked to put powerful, accurate data at the fingertips of its customers. Simply put, the company is dedicated to doing data better. CRS Data’s innovative suites, robust data, reliable technology and outstanding customer service are why real estate professionals, MLSs, and bankers across the nation turn to the company for their property intelligence. Visit to learn more.

Chamberlain named Realtor of the Year

chamberlainEarly in his career, Joe Chamberlain learned how to react to the unexpected.

More than once the Ashe County Realtor® would be busy taking potential buyers to a property for sale when the hazards of mountain driving called for quick action.

“I can recall on a few occasions having to yell for clients to get out of my vehicle as I found myself sliding back down an icy road towards a steep cliff,” he said, adding no one was injured in the scares. “You just never know what you might encounter when traveling through the rural mountain countryside.”

He also didn’t know what he would encounter when he attended the recent annual membership meeting of the High Country Association of Realtors®. With more than 200 of his peers present, Chamberlain was surprised with the 2015 Realtor® of the Year award March 5. The honor is given annually to a Realtor® who embodies the professionalism and spirit of Realtors®, is involved in leadership positions within the industry and remains active within local community organizations.

“As a Realtor®, I spend most of my days talking to people so it is not often that I am left speechless,” said Chamberlain. “However, I was truly surprised and humbled when they announced my name. It was a moment I will not forget.”

Chamberlain opened Mountainscape Realty in Jefferson in 2005. He serves on the Board of Directors for the High Country Multiple Listing Service, chaired various task forces, and served on the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. He’s also active with the Rotary Club in Ashe County, both as a member and past president, and has chaired a long list of committees.

chamberlain_with_award“It is evident that he embraces this little corner of the world and has become as engrained in it as it has become engrained in him,” said past Realtor of the Year Marc White, introducing Chamberlain as the award winner during the recent membership meeting. “His unwavering dedication to this community, his family, and friends resonates in his strength of character.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Chamberlain completed a four-year stint in the United States Air Force before he attended Florida State University. After a brief career in law enforcement, he went back to school and earned an MBA. He then moved to the High Country and started his own real estate business.

“I chose real estate because of the opportunity it provides me to work with a wide range of people,” he said. “However, unlike my past career, now my clients are happy to see me.”

“While buying a home can certainly be stressful, it is most often a happy event for my clients,” he said.

Chamberlain describes his role as a Realtor® as being crucial in aiding buyers and sellers through that “stressful” experience of buying a home. Buyers need an advisor who knows the local market and can identify properties to fit their needs. Sellers need someone who can advise on an appropriate listing price, and ensure the property is well marketed.

Realtors® can also manage the sale process through closing and assist with any challenges that arise.

“The High Country is such a great place to call home,” he said. “Buying and selling a home here should be an exciting and rewarding process which is why I always recommend finding a great Realtor® to work with.”

West Jefferson a “Great Place” in NC

West Jefferson is a Great Main Street
One of the many wonderful towns within the High Country was recently honored as a Great Place in North Carolina, as chosen by the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association.

In describing how West Jefferson was chosen, the APA-NC mentioned both the history and small-town character of the community.

West Jefferson plays host to visitors all year long and hospitality is the town’s business. During the holidays, the town is alive with shoppers and every car in town is donned with a Christmas tree. Ashe County is the top producer of trees in the country and people come to get one fresh. In fall, people come to enjoy the changing colors of the trees. You can experience the color on any number of hiking trails but the same view can be found on Jefferson Ave. The Centennial Celebration this year also hopes to draw the community in and those that have called West Jefferson home. Jefferson Ave was made a great place because of the work ethic and community spirit that went into the town. Planning played a key role in laying out the town’s vision of a safe and attractive downtown. These well laid plans became a reality as the town worked with NCDOT and other stakeholders to slow traffic and improve pedestrian access in town.

West Jefferson indeed has a great downtown, one very friendly to browsing on foot.

The warming glow of a High Country sunset

The first day of Spring is still a few days away, but March 16 sure felt like the season arrived early. Temperatures were in the mid-60s and there was plenty of sunshine, highlighted by a stunning High County sunset. The closing seconds of daylight went viral on social media.

Banner Elk sunset.

A photo posted by Craig Mcphail (@ohmymcphly) on

Tonight's sunset was truly a work of art. // #vsco #sunset #goodfirstdayback

A photo posted by Garrett Ross (@gertross) on

No place like Boone

A photo posted by @sumner_jones on

Beautiful evening sky over Blowing Rock tonight! #sunset #booneview #blueridgemoments

A photo posted by Christine Lindsay (@cclinds) on

I guess mountain sunsets are cool too #boone #nc #ncmountains #sunset #mountainsunset

A photo posted by Caleb Forbes (@calebforbes) on

Brisk sales in February

A month heavy with snow proved to be among the busiest for local Realtors®, with February sales hitting an eight-year high for the month.

February 2015 graphicMeanwhile interest rates remain below where they were a year ago.

There were plenty of local buyers in February, with 92 homes sold worth $20.41 million, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which records all Realtor® transactions in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The median sold price for the month was $210,950.

The brisk business came in a month of wintry weather. Grandfather Mountain’s weather station recorded five records for low daily temperatures, and area schools missed for more than nine days due to wintry weather.

“The wintry weather may have delayed a few closings but not the slow and steady pace of housing recovery in the High Country,” said High Country Association of Realtors® President Pam Vines. “Although prices have not recovered to their all-time highs of several years ago, the higher volume of sales means that more buyers and sellers are finding that middle ground that reflects today’s prices.”

The sales for February were well behind the norm prior to the real estate crash of 2008. In February 2007, local Realtors® sold 124 homes worth $33.3 million. One year later, those numbers dropped to 90 homes sold worth $24.46 million.

After dipping to just 34 homes sold worth $7.69 million in February 2010, activity for the month has gradually increased. Overall, from 2008 to 2014, Realtors®’ average activity for the month of February was 68 homes sold worth $16 million.

With regard to local inventory, there were 2,249 homes listed with Realtors® as of March 7. That’s slightly more than the 2,244 homes listed in early January.

The READReport, which records all real estate transactions in the three-county area, reported 214 sales worth $38.04 million during the month, a 33 percent increase from February 2014.

Interest rates continue to be attractive for home buyers. According to loan giant Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed interest rate as of March 5 was 3.75 percent, well below the 4.28 percent rate recorded a year prior on March 6, 2014.

The rate for a 15-year loan as of March 5 was 3.03 percent, well below the 3.32 percent rate of March 6, 2014.

Perhaps thanks in great part to interest rates, pending homes sales nationally are at their highest point since August 2013. According to the Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors®, home buyers in January signed contracts at a pace that highlights underlying demand in today’s housing market.

“Contract activity is convincingly up compared to a year ago despite comparable inventory levels,” he said. “The difference this year is the positive factors supporting stronger sales, such as slightly improving credit conditions, more jobs and slower price growth.”