Fall colors beginning to bloom

It’s that time of year again. The changing of the seasons from fall slowly into winter comes highlighted with a spectacular explosion of color. The peak time for leaf watching in the High Country is now through October 15.

An updated Fall Color Report is expected soon. Until then, here are a few photos of our fall color so far.

Realtor sales in August hit seven-year high


BOONE – It’s been almost seven years since local Realtors® sold as many homes as they did in August.

Sell prices were not what they were in 2007. But last month’s sales in the High Country were easily the busiest for the three-county area since the national housing market collapsed in 2008.

There were 168 homes sold by Realtors® last month, according to the Multiple Listing Service, which records sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s the most activity since October 2007, when 178 homes were sold. Only one other month in that seven-year span surpassed 150 – October 2013 (147 sold).

The two high selling months – October 2007 and August 2014 – exemplify how the local market has changed with regard to housing value. In the former month, total sales were $55.99 million with a median sales price of $230,000.

Last month, total Realtor® sales were $39.02 million, with a median price of $188,500, a decrease of 17 percent compared to October 2007.

For the year, Realtors® have reported a median sales price of $182,500, a 6 percent decline from last year’s $194,500 sales mark through the same eight-month span.

The prices are attracting buyers. Realtors® have sold 836 homes so far this year, slightly outpacing the 818 sold through August of 2013.

There is also plenty of variety. As of September 14, there were 3,255 listings in the High Country MLS, the most at any point this year.

“That’s where a local Realtor® can really help,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “Their knowledge of the local market, experience, and negotiating skills can be a huge benefit to both buyers and sellers.”

The High Country is again mirroring some national trends. After a soft June, sales spiked in July, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Its Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, to 105.9 in July, and is at its highest level since August 2013 (107.1).

“Interest rates are lower than they were a year ago, price growth continues to moderate and total housing inventory is at its highest level since August 20121,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist . “The increase in the number of new and existing homes for sale is creating less competition and is giving prospective buyers more time to review their options before submitting an offer.”

The 30-year mortgage rate averaged 4.12 percent as of September 12. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rate is similarly low, averaging 3.24 percent. According to the Washington Post, Freddie Mac expected the average 30-year rate would rise to 5.1 percent by year’s end.  It has pulled back its projection to 4.3 percent.

Real Estate Report: Sales bounce back in July

After a soft June, local Realtors® were kept busy in July with sales hitting their best mark in nine months. At the same time the number of homes for sale hit a high for the year, while mortgage rates hit a low.

July 2014 sales graphicThere were 125 homes sold worth $30.54 million last month, a 37 percent increase over the 91 homes sold in June and the most sold since 147 sold last October. That’s according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor®-assisted sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The 125 homes sold are on par with July sales the previous two years – 127 homes sold in July 2013 and 125 in July 2012. Prior to then, the best July for sales was in 2008 with 124.

One difference is this year’s longstanding buyers’ market conditions. The median sold price last month – the midway price point of all houses sold – was $189,800, the lowest such price for any July since at least 2007. It’s a 2.7 percent decline from July 2013 (195,000) and down 13.5 percent compared to July 2011 ($219,500).

Coincidentally, Realtor® sales for the first seven months of this year match the sales for the same span in 2013 – 688 listings. Yet the total sales value this year is $154.59 million, compared to $168.51 million the year prior.

Sellers continued to enter the market. There were 3,278 properties listed within the MLS as of August 17, the most for any month this year.

“Having just come back from the National Association of Realtors® Leadership Summit in Chicago, we found the real estate forecast for next year to be very encouraging,” said 2015 High Country Association of Realtors® president Pam Vines. “The High Country Association is looking forward to this uptick in our market.”

All local real estate sales were up for the month compared to last July, according to the READReport, which tracks Realtor® and non-Realtor® land sales in the three-county area. It reported 297 properties sold last month, up 8 percent from the 274 sold last July. The value increased 12 percent, from $45.58 million to $51.22 million.

Boosting buyers’ interest is the state of mortgage rates, which have recently declined. As of August 14 they were at a low for the year; 4.12 percent for a 30-year fixed, and 3.24 for a 15-year fixed. A year ago those rates were slowly increasing. The 30-year fixed rate was at 4.40 percent in July 2013, eventually peaking at 4.57 percent in mid-September.

To put those numbers in perspective, since 1971 the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 8.52 percent. The current rate is half that, at 4.14 percent.

Nationally there is a slowing of the housing market. The National Association of Realtors® reported earlier this month that total existing-home sales increased 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.87 million in the second quarter. That’s 4.5 percent below the 5.10 million pace during the second quarter of 2013.

Real estate market seeing declining activity

Realtor sales by month since June 2012

After four years of incremental sales growth, the High Country real estate market is showing signs of slowing.

Through the first six months of the year, Realtor®-assisted sales are down 3.3 percent compared to the year prior, and down 2 percent compared to the first half of 2012.

Median sold prices – the midway price point of all houses sold – are also declining. They are down 5 percent from the first half of 2013, and 10 percent from that span in 2012.

Those declines are occurring as supply is expanding. There are currently more than 3,240 homes for sale within the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which records Realtor® activity in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s a 26 percent increase compared to the 2,571 listings active last August.

These trends are reflected in the latest READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the High Country, including land and commercial lots. Total sales declined 4.6 percent year to date. The total value of those sales was down 4 percent.

Buyers are still looking, and there are a lot of opportunities to explore. Interest rates also continue to be favorable to buyers. Rates on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.15 percent as of July 10, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago, rates averaged 4.51 percent.

“With the current high inventory, our Realtor® association has teamed up with the High Country Host to reach potential buyers interested in coming to our area,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “This campaign will encourage residents from surrounding states to visit the High Country by highlighting our unique natural beauty.”

Realtors® sold 91 homes last month, making it one of the slowest Junes in recent history. Since 2009 an average of 107 homes have been sold in that month, with only the 89 sold in 2011 below this year’s mark. There were 128 homes sold in June 2013.

The median sold price last month was $190,000, the second highest recorded this year. That’s down slightly from last June, when the median sold price was $193,750.

The READReport also reported decreased activity for June. There were 261 sales for the month, compared to 297 a year ago. Total value was down 16 percent, $45.03 million from $53.88 million.

Nationally some analysts are expecting the housing market to slow. Well Fargo released a report July 10 which stated that, despite a strong May, home sales for the year are trailing the pace in 2013. “Even with the recent stronger data, the housing recovery remains well short of where it was expected to be,” the report said.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, speaking to the Senate Banking Committee July 15, said, “We see in the housing market where we had some progress but it now looks like it’s stalled.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors®, made similar comments in late June. While noting a surge in Realtor® sales in May, he cautioned, “second-half sales growth won’t be enough to compensate for the sluggish first quarter and will likely fall below last year’s total.”

Scenes from Fourth of July 2014

There were lot of activities over the holiday weekend, including parades in Boone, Banner Elk and Blowing Rock; Christmas in July in West Jefferson; and fireworks everywhere!

Grandfather Golf and Country Club Fireworks from Nelson Aerials on Vimeo.

Fourth of July in the High Country

BOOM!There are a lot of events planned. Here are a few.

The annual parade is Friday morning at 11. Cake and watermelon will be served at noon, followed by a free concert at 1 on the lawn of the Jones House Cultural and Community Center. A fireworks show will take place that evening at Clawson Brunley Park.

Blowing Rock
The annual Fourth parade is Saturday at 9 a.m. Other activities include horeshoes, water balloon toss, and face painting. Fireworks are Saturday evening from the Blowing Rock Country Club. There will be live music throughout the day.

The annual Bethel Blast at Bethel Elementary School begins at 5 and features free food, live music and fireworks.

The Liberty Parade begins at 11 a.m. , Refreshments, festivities and live music afterwards at Walter and Annie Cook Park.

Tweetsie Railroad
Tweetsie Railroad’s parking lot will remain open until 9 p.m. for its annual fireworks show.

Sugar Mountain
Watch the area’s fireworks from Sugar’s 5,300-foot peak. The Summit No. 1 chairlift will run Friday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Beech Mountain
The roasting of the hog and fireworks display over the Fourth of July weekend has become a Beech Mountain NC tradition that no one wants to break.

Parade at 4 p.m. with hamburgers and hot dogs for sell by the fire department. There is free watermelon for everyone and other goodies are sold for fundraising by the local churches, boy scouts and community groups. Children enjoy games in inflatable play places and an old fashion frog-jumping contest. Live music fills the air and finishes with a street dance at 7:00. At nightfall the firemen put on a fireworks display

Fireworks begin Friday at dusk.

West Jefferson
The annual Christmas in July festival features music, a puppet parade, Civil War reenactments, arts, crafts, children’s games, and festival food Friday and Saturday.

Diary of a local – Having a Blast in Bethel

Bethel Blast fireworksI was expecting the traditional fireworks display, albeit it shorter. A rocket would lift off. You watch it soar. It explodes. Crowd “ahhhhhhs.” Pause. Repeat. Then the big finale. Instead what I got was “BamBamBamBamBamBamBam!!” A continuous loop of shattered rainbows and falling stars. For 10 minutes. At least. Now that’s how you celebrate the Fourth!

The scene was the Bethel Blast, a community Independence Day celebration with little fanfare in one of the more remote areas of Watauga County. It’s 20 minutes from Boone and borders Tennessee. The Blast itself takes place at Bethel Elementary, the smallest of the nine schools in the county. But have no doubt, this is a major event that attracts thousands.

Independence Day in the High County is like a menu in a fine restaurant. So much variety. Each event has its own spice. Would you like the fireworks show and parade in Boone? Or a boat show on Watauga Lake followed by fireworks? Or something at a higher elevation, like fireworks in Banner Elk?

This year we made our first trip to the Blast. We were told there’d be live music, food and, of course, fireworks. After the afternoon rain dispersed, we headed off to holiday parts unknown. Just how big could this Blast be? Short answer – phenomenally big.

The Blast started at 5 and we got there just after six. The school was surrounded by cars parked in imaginative angles. A large tent was in the center of the school field, orbited by an overflow crowd. The music was as fine as the weather. Clear skies with a cool breeze. This was going to be a good night.

We walked with our lawn chairs and joined friends on the field. There were easily close to 2,000 people there. (And that’s down from last year, I was told, due possibly to the earlier rain). Under the picnic shelter were three long tables lined with food: fresh chopped BBQ with slaw and beans. Another tent had about six large tubs full of ice and sodas. All free. That’s right. Free. No charge. Happy Independence Day!

But that’s not the best part. There was also a tent dedicated to desserts. It was potluck style. People brought their best sweets and lined them up for public consumption. My wife donated homemade sweet-kabobs – watermelons slices speared with marshmellows and gummy worms. (They didn’t last long).

Bethel Blast crowdBehind the tent was a family’s dream day at the park. There was an area for kids games, and another for hula hoop contests and sack races. More than one frisbee criss-crossed the scene, and a rousing game of football was off to another side. Teenagers circled the track chatting to friends and trying their best to avoid the pedestrian traffic congestion surrounding the face painting tent. (Again, free).

When the sun began its descent, the crowd began arranging chairs to face the field alongside the school. The fireworks show was set to begin! But first, the National Anthem. No one had to say, “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” Everyone knew to stand. As soon as “buh-raaaaaave” faded from the speakers the show was on. And by on I mean “BamBamBamBamBam” on.

It was a a glorious assault on the senses. Vin Diesel isn’t this fast and furious. My four-year-old son was sitting in my lap immersed in the works of fire. Halfway through he turned to me and said, “This is so awesome dad. Thanks for bring me here.” That’s right, the fireworks show was so good children were moved to manners. That’s some mighty fine gunpower!

When the show – and finale – finished, there was applause, followed by the normal, “okay, let’s go home” mass migration to vehicles. All was orderly. All was calm. This … was High Country living.

I found out later the Blast is primarily the effort of a church, Bethel Baptist Church. It’s an outreach to the community. Kids are invited to register for Vacation Bible School, and a Bible lesson is offered amongst the many children’s activities. It’s a labor of love, one appreciated and now highly anticipated. And another grand reason I love calling the High Country home.

High Country real estate remains a buyer’s market

Buyers’ market conditions continue to drive High Country real estate sales, and they could extend well into the summer as the number of properties listed surges.

Local Realtors® sold 103 homes worth $24.04 million in May, the second time monthly sales surpassed 100 since November. It was also the second busiest May in the past six years, surpassing all years save 2012, when 107 homes worth $25.3 million were sold.

Median sold price for homes in High CountryAttractive prices may be driving those sales. Last month the median sold price – the price at which half of all properties sold for more than that amount and the other half sold for less – was $172,500, the ninth consecutive month it was $200,000 or less.

Through the first five months of the year, Realtor®-assisted sales have netted a median sold price of $177,500, a 4 percent decline from this time last year ($185,000).

The average sale price – the total of all sales divided by the number of properties sold – is also down; from $237,281 in the first five months of 2013 to $231,364 this year. That’s a decline of 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile more sellers have entered the market. In May there were 568 homes added or renewed within the High County Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor® properties in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s the largest one-month addition in at least eight years.

Since February the number of properties listed within the MLS has increased 28 percent, with 3,003 listed as of June 8.

“The High Country is a buzz of activity during the upcoming months. Many visitors enjoying the cooler weather and various festivities would love to own mountain property,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “With extensive inventory and attractive prices, this is a great time to buy.”

Realtor® sales for the first five months of the year are up 3.7 percent. There have been 450 homes sold, compared to 432 this time in 2013.

With regard to overall property sales in the High Country, the stats are flipped: sales are down but the value is up.

According to the READReport, which tracks all listings in the High Country including commercial lots and land, there have been 1,014 sales worth $180.8 million through May of this year. There were 1,039 sales for a combined $180.2 million in that same span last year.

For the month of May alone, there were 247 transactions worth $42.33 million, according to the READReport. That is almost even year over year, with 241 transactions worth $43.1 million last May.

Nationally, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) announced existing-home sales were up slightly in April, the first increase this year.

“Some growth was inevitable after sub-par housing activity in the first quarter, but improved inventory is expanding choices and sales should generally trend upward from this point,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Annual home sales, however, due to a sluggish first quarter, will likely be lower than last year.”

The median existing-home price nationwide for all housing types in April was $201,700, a 5.2 percent increase over April 2013.
June opened with a slight increase in mortgage rates, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year loan as of June 5 was 4.14 percent, up from 4.12% the week prior. The average for the 15-year mortgage climbed to 3.23 percent from 3.21 percent.

According to a recent report in The Boston Globe, many industry analysts expected mortgage rates to have risen to about 5 percent by June. Yet many investors have been moving into bonds, such as US Treasuries, pushing interest rates down.

Local real estate sales decline as summer buying season begins

Sales last seven months
Interest in the local real estate market cooled last month, with Realtor®-assisted sales hitting a 15-month low. Meanwhile, inventory surged.

Realtors® sold 77 homes worth $18.41 million in April, the fewest transactions recorded in a month since 64 homes sold in January 2013, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

The median price was $200,000, an eight-month high.

In recent years April has marked the beginning of the busy real estate season in the High Country, as least with regard to listings. Since 2010, it has been the busiest month of the year for new or renewed listings, with an average of 464 added to market.

This year 498 new or re-listed properties were added in April, the most within any month in at least the past eight years.

As of May 11, 2,857 properties were available in the High Country MLS, which tracks Realtor® listings in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The READReport, which records all real estate transactions in the High Country, also reported a decline in April. There were 204 listings sold for $36.12 million during the month, a 19 percent decline from the 251 listings worth $44.65 million sold one year prior, in April 2013.

“We seem to be following the National Association of Realtors® housing trend which shows that sales are down and inventory is up,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “With inventory up in our local market and the summer weather just around the corner, we are looking forward to greater sales activity in the coming months.”

While Realtor® sales are ahead of last year’s pace – 343 to 335 – the total dollar amount is down slightly, from $79.69 million sold in the first four months of 2013 to $79.39 million so far this year.

The median sold price is down 4 percent, from $185,000 to $179,000.

The local trends are being reflected nationally. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) reported little growth in existing home sales in March. There has also been an increase in unsold inventory, which is up 3.1 percent compared to a year ago. After several months of encouraging signs of recovery, there is now talk of the housing market slowing.

“There really should be stronger levels of home sales given our population growth,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, adding there are reasons to be optimistic. “With ongoing job creation and some weather delayed shopping activity, home sales should pick up, especially if inventory continues to improve and mortgage interest rates rise only modestly.”

Actually, mortgage rates continue to drop, defying many analyst expectations. Last winter some economists were predicting interest rates would hit 5 percent this year. Today they are at a six-month low. As of May 8, the rate on a 30-year loan was 4.21 percent, down from 4.29 percent the week prior. The 15-year rate also declined, from 3.38 percent to 3.32 percent.

Real Estate Report: Late winter weather doesn’t hamper sales

Sales in MarchLocal Realtors® sold more than 100 homes last month, the second time since 2008 they’ve surpassed that mark that early in the year.

The sales came despite a month of heavy winter weather. They could have been aided by a growing demand nationally for vacation homes, which is hitting an eight-year high.

There were 105 local homes worth $24.97 million sold in March, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which records Realtor® sales within Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s a four-month high, and a 9.4 percent increase over sales in March of last year.

The median sold price also increased for the fourth straight month, to $190,000. That’s an 18 percent increase since December, when it was $161,000.

Since 2008, local Realtors® have sold an average of 83 homes in March. That span includes a high of 115 in March 2012, and a low of 59 sold in March 2009.

For the year so far, 269 homes have been sold. That’s an 11 percent increase from this time last year, and up 14.5 percent from the first three months of 2012.

“We are optimistic that sales will continue to increase as our weather improves and more buyers come into our area,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®.  “We have a very large inventory to choose from and look forward to helping people achieve the dream of owning a home in our beautiful mountains.”

At the start of April there were just over 2,500 listings in the three-county area, up from 2,328 in early February.

The monthly READ Report, which tracks all real estate transactions in the High Country, is showing slight sales growth through the first three months of the year. It reported 563 units sold this year, up 3 percent from the 547 sold in that span in 2013. The total value is also up, $102.34 million to $92.42 million (11 percent).

This was despite a soft March, when sales for the month were down 9 percent (206 from 226 last year).

One of the driving forces behind the demand for High Country homes could be the vacation home market. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) recently released its 2014 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, which reported vacation-home sales increased 29.7 percent last year. Vacation-home sales accounted for 13 percent of all transactions, their highest market share since 2006.

Forty-one percent of all vacation homes purchased were in the South

Growth in the equity markets has greatly benefited high net-worth households, thereby providing the wherewithal and confidence to purchase recreational property,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “However, vacation-home sales are still about one-third below the peak activity seen in 2006.”

According to the survey, the typical vacation-home buyer in 2013 was 43 years old, had a median household income of $85,600 and purchased a property that was a median distance of 180 miles from his or her primary residence; 46 percent of vacation homes were within 100 miles and 34 percent were more than 500 miles.

Low interest rates continue to spur sales. The 30-year fixed rate fell in early April, from 4.41 percent to 4.34 percent, according to Freddie Mac. That rate was 3.43 percent one year ago. The 15-year fixed-rate average also edged down, to 3.38 percent.

All information is subject to change and should be independently verified. Copyright© 2012, HIGH COUNTRY MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE®. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer: High Country Association of REALTORS® makes no representations or warranties of any nature with regard to the privacy and/or business practices of the websites linked from or to Highcountryrealtors.org nor with regard to their use of any information they may collect.

REALTOR® — A Registered collective membership mark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics.