Asheville Mountain Real Estate Blog

Asheville, NC real estate for sale. Information for buyers, sellers and mountain homeowners, without pressure. Rich content for those who are far away about what it is like to live here through the generous use of media. And some nostalgia with our, "Baby Boomers' Fun Stuff", Thanks for stopping by.

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A small, highly personalized real estate firm specializing in mountain homes and land in greater Asheville.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baby Boomers: Rice-a-Roni

No real estate on Thursdays, just some baby boomer musings..

Heard a NPR piece on the birth of Rice a Roni this morning that serves as the topic for this week's boomer posting. There is a 7 minute podcast at that link, with some nice personal interviews.

It seems The San Francisco Treat had its origins after WW II in that West Coast melting pot of a town. The main players were a young Canadian woman, her Italian husband, and an Armenian landlady who combined to give birth to this most American of icons. It doesn't get much closer to the heart of boomers growing up than Rice a Roni after all.

Rice a Roni was regional by 1958, and went nationwide in 1962 with that hard to get out of your head jingle. The Rice a Roni theme was apparently taken from the song "Barney Google", a 1923 hit, with lyrics by the rather ubiquitous Billy Rose. (Think Me and My Shadow, or, It's Only a Paper Moon, wow).

Rice a Roni grew up in an age when the emphasis was on convenience, the dawn of dishwashers, garbage disposals, and TV dinners. Sadly, there don't seem to be any vintage commercials on the web. We all know the song, so why risk having it stuck in our heads for the rest of our day.

On a parting note, the dish has changed with the times, from the age of convenience, to the age of health and nutrition. Click here for a Rice a Roni Nature's Way commercial, the latest incarnation of that one pan, melting pot of a meal for diet conscious boomers. Chuckle.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bears in the Neigborhood

Living in the mountains means that wildlife is close by. In the case of deer, the perception is usually benign, but lately, it's the bears that are making news:
According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the bear population in Western North Carolina has grown in recent years, along with the simultaneous encroachment of humans into bears’ natural habitats...
The growth in population, and the impact of our drought on normal food sources has forced our furry companions into even closer proximity of late. Bears eat food too.

Living With Bears
Some essential information for coexisting with bears includes, taking care with the management of garbage around the house. Bird feeders can also act as lures to these mountain inhabitants. In the case of closer encounters, here are some essential links:

Black Bear Facts, from NC Wildlife.org
Even more black bear facts, from bear.org
Coexisting with, and encountering black bears, from The Wildlife Conservation Society
Behavior around bears, from the Western North Carolina Nature Center

Enjoy the closeness to wildlife, but be aware and informed.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

June 2008 Real Estate Statistics

Every month, we round 'em up, the major numbers in one snapshot, for your convenience and reference.

The Quick Summary
One caveat here is to bear in mind that any of this data is being compared to the already depressed numbers of June, 2007. A small bright spot occurs with new home inventories declining. However, in the overall, while the raw number of homes for sale continues to decline, sales are decreasing at an even faster rate.

Supply Data: Inventories Too Large
Permits, Starts, and Completions, (PDF): Permits declined 23.9%, Starts by 26.9% and Completions by 21.7% when compared with June, 2007. This data from The Census Department did little to boost builder confidence.

Single family homes are the most leading of indicators. When these are extracted, we see declines of 39.7% from June, 2007, and 62.0% from the peak in January, 2005. No region of the country departs significantly from this pattern, and the numbers represent the lowest levels since 1991.

On a final note, if any readers were under the impression that housing starts had increased, then please note this widely reported discrepancy in the numbers by way of The Wall Street Journal or Business Week.

New Home Inventories, (PDF): 426,000 new homes are for sale, which represents a 10 month supply. The raw number of homes in this category has been dropping. This is not surprising after more than a year declines in permits, starts, etc, on the order of 25% to almost 50%. It would be nice however, to see inventories move closer to a 6 months' supply.

Existing Home Inventories: Disappointingly, this segment, representing about 85% of total home sales increased to an 11.1 months' supply. During 2005 and 2006, existing home inventories stood at 4.5 months' and 6.5 months' supply respectively.

Demand Indexes: New Lows
New Home Sales, (PDF): 33.2% less than June of 2007. Calculated Risk does a good job of putting the picture for new homes into perspective.

The raw number of homes for sale is falling "pretty quickly" now, but sales remain as the worst June since 1991, a benchmark for previous real estate cycles. Interest Rate Roundup offers more on the meaning of it all.

In the South, new home sales declined by 33.4%

Existing Home Sales: 15.5% less than June, 2007, recent months have all been in this range when compared to the same month of the previous year. Prices fell 6.1%, again in line with recent reports, $215K vs. $229K.

In all, the existing homes data represents "the cycle high in inventory overhang, and the cycle low in sales and prices", not good news. We wrote back in March about how foreclosures might represent significant new source of pent up supply in this sector.

The Big Picture, Calculated Risk, and Paper Economy all mention this phenomenon with respect to the June data on existing homes.

Forward Looking Indicators
The raw number of homes for sale has been declining. However, the rate of sales has been declining at a greater rate, so that in terms of "months' supply", inventories effectively rise.

Any gains from that will probably be outweighed by the following and finding any news to signify a bottom will occur in Q3 2008 is difficult.
*Loan delinquencies quadruple from 2005, (Wall Street Journal), meaning the risk of more foreclosures becoming more inventory.
*Foreclosures, Q2, 2008, were 121% above Q2, 2007. This is almost 6 times the rate of Q2, 2005 meaning more inventory of unsold homes.
*More inventory will increase downward pressure on prices.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Asheville Escapes The Starbucks Effect

With shares down 60% from their peak in 2006, (Chart Source), coffee giant Starbucks plans to close 600 stores, or 8.5% of its network.

But here in the mountains, Asheville managed to hang onto all 10 of its locations, thus escaping the "Starbucks Effect" in real estate.

Starbucks Effect?
This very informal and anecdotal theory states: Starbucks achieved such popularity during its heretofore unfettered expansion, that the mere proximity of an outlet had a positive impact on home vales.

The subject has actually gotten some wider attention lately, in the wake of the store closings. The thinking is that a neighborhood's walkability might be decreased, and thus local values will decline. Thankfully this will not be the case for our city.

With the increasing price of gasoline, and the cost of commuting, the "walkscore" for an area is emerging as a more important criteria in the real estate transaction. So some fallout is theoretically possible. We have looked at walkability as a buyer's consideration in some detail before. For those interested you may click here, and here.

If this is indeed the case, then certain portions of the country were not treated so well by America's favorite coffee shop.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: John Lennon's Jukebox

No real estate on Thursdays, just some boomer nostalgia...

So John Lennon, no introduction needed, apparently had a personal jukebox for his home. The item was discovered during a 1989 auction, and sold for less than $5,000 US at the time.

Over the years, many an interview with various Beatles touched upon their influences and musical foundations, but the jukebox is something much more illustrative.

The playlist is in John's own handwriting and gives an almost living insight into the songs and artists that he deemed important, formative, and enjoyable.

There are only 41 titles from the mid 1950's through 1966. Somehow we missed it, but PBS Great Performances ran a special on it a couple of times in the past. Let's take a look at one of the songs John chose.

Fontella Bass, who actually had 5 tunes in the Top 100 during 1965 and 1966 gives us this week's video clip. The performance from Shindig! is the anthem Rescue Me, which reached # 4 on the US charts, and John's jukebox as well.

1 minute and 52 seconds.
Incidentally, the backup singers on the right are The Blossoms, who provided vocal support to an amazing number of people. Their biggest hit in their own right was probably Needle in a Haystack from 1965.

ENJOY !

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Asheville: Latest Real Estate Statistics

The Asheville Citizen Times reported "mostly dismal results" for Western North Carolina real estate markets during June, 2008.

The largest of our five local counties, Buncombe, showed a 36.3% decline in home sales, with almost a 15% decline in prices versus June, 2007.

Outside of Buncombe, things were slightly worse, with the composite numbers for the 5 counties showing sales down 39.6%. Statewide, sales checked in with a 26.9% decline. So unfortunately, we are around half again as bad as the whole of North Carolina.

Why Might That Be So?
*For a long time conventional wisdom has said that Asheville relies on other areas as feeders for its buyers. We wrote in detail about the mechanisms at work there. None of these have moved into positive territory.

*Gasoline has altered patterns for both tourism and real estate buyers. Neither of those factors would favor an increase in buyers.

*To a large extent, we are an area that caters to second homes and retirement places. In our county, there was one private study indicating that 80% of activity was in second homes.

There are local variations, but by and large, these are discretionary purchases. There is evidence that the baby boomer demographic, seen as critical to resort markets is pulling back.

*And in general, the belief that the market bottom is a ways off yet.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Asheville Weekend Fling Things: July 18-20

Two items to mention today, and maybe conveniently morphing into three or more, not a bad deal for a weekend in Asheville.

Laugh It Up
First up is The Second Annual Laugh Your Asheville Off being held at The Diana Wortham Theater, in the heart of downtown. Being such a hugely walkable city, this event lends itself well to an extended outing, browsing galleries or eateries along the way. Use either link for tickets and directions.

Several national comedians will grace the city for this event, which actually kicked off last night. Apologies on that.

Alonzo Bodden will be doing two shows on Friday evening. Saturday will feature an 11 AM show for kids, leading through the day to an 8 PM finale. Mountain Express offers background and resumes on some of the featured performers.

Bikes and The Arts
Another multi day event, which begins today, is the Liberty Bicycles French Broad Cycling Classic. The Asheville Citizen Times has called this a Mini Tour de France offering:
... all the close-up, speedy excitement of the mega Tour in a scaled-down format Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Around 400 participants on each day will acquire points for a cash purse. Races include a time trial, a long distance event, and a criterium. that is to say, a closed circuit course.

The last of these is said to be best for spectators, and is conveniently taking place in what is locally called The River Arts District, on Haywood Road. A handy map and directions can be found here. The event is free, and by all means, take the chance to see the rest of the district, and support the arts as well.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: Of Teen Idols and Movies

No real estate on Thursdays, so here we go...

Making the crossover from music to films is a time honored career strategy. Many would say that Bing Crosby was among the first to exploit this successfully. Bobby Darin specifically followed the Crosby model in his early years.

From the late 1950's though, teenage rock and roll movies became big business, and a genre unto itself. So many titles, with fairly vivid memories of the stars and the songs, but only vague recollections about the plots. No matter.

Sandra Dee, did Gidget in 1959, which spawned a few sequels. Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon made films a little later. The first was Beach Party in 1963, and in a clear demonstration that Hollywood sticks with a winning formula, all seven sequels used the words beach, bikini, or party in the titles. Brings a smile to the face to think about that.

For this week however, we will turn our attention to Elvis Presley, who first hit the silver screen in 1956. Certainly he typified as well as anyone, what Bing Crosby had pioneered, with an amazing 34 films to his credit.

Here is the video clip we chose, from 1964, the title track of a movie he made with Ann Margaret about another favorite theme from those years, driving fast.

2 Mins and 27 Secs, ENJOY !

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Asheville: Fine Wines, Wineries, and Tours

North Carolina is getting quite a name for itself as a state for fine wines. Seems that we have become:
...the 10th largest producer of both grapes and wine in the United States.
In fact, The Tar Heel State is now one of the top five destinations for wine and culinary tourism, and a large part of this activity is located in greater Asheville.

Downtown, it is now the exception when a local venue does not proudly feature NC wines. The industry has even grown to the extent that Appalachian State University has proposed a degree in wine production.

So, Asheville, The Paris of the South, has acquired yet another aspect to add to its hip and eclectic identity. Let's look a little more closely on behalf of readers who are unfamiliar.

Wine in Asheville Proper
With the peak of summer upon us, local attractions, including wines and wineries deserve to be mentioned here. Asheville's flagship destination, The Biltmore House, has an extensive winery in place, and has garnered an array of awards.

If something more low key suits your fancy, then would be visitors can stay in touch with more intimate Asheville wine events, at this location.

Region Wide Wines and Wineries
Maybe, like the characters in the movie Sideways, your own winery driving tour sounds like a good way to spend a day? It's quite easy to get out of the city, get a feel for the region, and sample some fine wines, all at the same time.

The website CatchWine.com maintains a useful list of nearby wineries. This is done in a Google maps format, very handy for driving directions, and a day in the countryside!

For a more ready made driving tour, we also have The Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, scroll down for a list of these wineries, located just a bit north of Ashevegas.

Not Visiting Asheville or Western North Carolina? A complete list of NC wineries, east or west, is provided by way of WeekendWinery.com.

ENJOY !

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays-Telstar

No real estate on Thursdays, just some baby boomer fun...

The blog Retro Thing has a nice article up with video and photos marking the anniversary of satellite TV broadcasting. On July 10, 1962, Telstar, its name and image still instantly recognizable to us, left Cape Canaveral. It was literally bound for the future.

In an illustration of just how far things have come, Telstar had a mere 20 minute window on each orbit for relaying broadcasts between Europe and the US. What was pure high drama to us then must seem quaint to younger readers.

Even More Quaint
NPR had a pre-Telstar report a few days ago on the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. CBS, with Walter Cronkite at the helm, had the broadcast rights, and these were the first Olympics on commercial TV.

The film was flown daily, yes on an airplane, from Rome to New York City for editing, scripting, and broadcast. The network ran 20 hours of Olympic programming that year. By contrast, for the 2004 summer games, NBC ran 1,210 hours, much of it by satellite.

Celebrating Telstar
Telstar captured the national, even the global imagination. So it is not surprising that by August of 1962, Telstar the song had hit the charts. Performed by The Tornados, the melody occupied the Billboard survey for a full 16 weeks here, 25 weeks in The UK.

The song still conjures a feeling of grand anticipation, and the simple fact that we can share these things the way we do in 2008 is testament to the profound significance of July 10, 1962.

This Weeks Video Clip
2 Minutes, Telstar by The Tornados

ENJOY !

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More To Do: Hot Doggett 100 Bike Race: July 12

Mark your calendars for this Saturday, July, 12th. It's a great opportunity for some fun in the sun, without needing to do a lot of driving.

The 3rd Annual Hot Doggett 100 Bike Race kicks off on that day. Named after Doggett Mountain, the event has three different race courses. Bikers will make their way through:
...some of the most scenic and lightly traveled roads anywhere in western North Carolina.
And all of it is based right here in our county, using Mars Hill College as the operations center. Racers apparently love this event, not only for its 9,600 feet of ascension, but also for its locker rooms with showers. Ahh, the lap of luxury.

Driving directions for those inclined can be found here. The events start early, proceeds are used to fund scholarships for local students, and Rotary service projects. More than 300 competitors are expected.

Asheville's outdoor calendar.
Madison County Tourism Web Site
Complete Biking Resources from our blog

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Asheville: Time for Summer Theater

Summer theater is an integral part of American culture, and nothing says regional pride like our own Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater, located right here in Mars Hill.

Known locally as "SART", this widely honored company benefits not only from their own excellence, but from the ambiance of a small and quaint downtown as well. Located on the campus of Mars Hill College, in the historic Owen Theater, (pictured above), the entire setting is perfect for a summer's evening of entertainment, dining, and stroll about town.

The Asheville Citizen Times checked in with a review of the most recent production, Smoke on the Mountain, which runs through this weekend. The SART season runs until Aug 24, and the remaining 2008 schedule is decidedly worth a look. Tickets, driving directions and so forth can all be found on their website.

And while we're at it, you can stay in touch with all of Asheville's theater happenings, courtesy of Mountain Express, our local news and arts weekly.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Canoe National Championships Come to Madison County

The French Broad River in Madison County will play host this year to The National Whitewater Championships in Open Canoe. The event spans the days from July 8th through July 13th.

This type of race is the conventional fastest time from point A to point B. Water levels in The French Broad are fairly low for this time of year, so the distance has been shortened.

Here is the main info page for the event, and a good resource for information on the river, weather, and nearby facilities. Just maybe a good excuse to get out in the sunshine if you were looking for one.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: July 4th Edition

It's July 4th weekend. Thinking about a theme for this week's baby boomer fun, the American Bicentennial came to mind. So let's take a look at a few items of popular culture in 1976.

Best Motion Picture: Rocky
Made for $1.2 million, a film like that today might get released on 300 screens vs. more than 3,000 screens for big budget cinema. The movie exploded and ended up grossing almost $120 million, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, won three, and spawned a franchise.

Top 20 Television Shows
Notice The Emmy Awards, including, Mary Tyler Moore, Carrol O'Connor, Beatrice Arthur and others. A personal nomination for best TV theme music goes from us to Welcome Back Cotter, by John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful. Video montage, click here.

And in Music
Just around July 4, 1976, the song Afternoon Delight, by The Starland Vocal Band peaked at number 1. At The Grammy Awards the band received five nominations, winning two, Best New Act, and Best Vocal Arrangement. They really were nice singers.

It is interesting to note that the band had an association with John Denver, including writing credits for the tune Take Me Home, Country Roads.

This Week's Video Clip
Afternoon Delight, a very nice live performance. Yes, that is Andy Williams that we see briefly at the start of the film.
3 minutes and 17 seconds
ENJOY !

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Finding The Asheville Real Estate Market: Best To Look Upstream?

USA Today profiled the Asheville real estate market a while back in their Close to Home series. Under the title "It's a Nice Place to Live But Sales are Down", the article captures the conventional wisdom, but we wanted some background.

Conventional widom is not rigorous analysis, but the parts fit together pretty nicely, and we might even discern some trends along the way.

The Basic Idea
The thought is that the selling prices for homes in greater Asheville are higher than local salaries would suggest. Therefore, the majority of homes are being purchased by buyers from outside of the region.

The USA Today piece noted that bit of deduction, it is other geographic areas that serve as "feeders for Asheville's real estate". A brief look at some data illustrates all of this.

Some Macro Data
The median price for a home in Buncombe County is around $265,000. For the 5 Western counties, that number is more like $254,000. So there is our ballpark. Let's look at Buncombe County, the most populous, to see if our incomes can afford that.

For median income, it looks like $37,738 is the number to pick. An old rule of thumb says that three times the amount of income is the area where home prices should be. This would give us roughly $120,000 for house prices. That's a notable gap, measuring less than half of the actual median selling prices.

So, the idea that home buyers are migrating from other places gets some traction here. Taking just a quick look at some population data, one can in fact, make a pretty good case that net migration is the largest contributor to our overall population growth.

Presumably, those are the buyers for local real estate that support the gap between local home prices and local income. One could say in this sense that they are upstream of Asheville.

But If It Doesn't Rain Upstream...
When it doesn't rain upstream a river starts to get low, and it hasn't been raining so much in the main areas where our buyers live. The translation is that if buyers cannot sell their homes back home, then buying a home and moving here is more difficult than in the past.

Our main feeders have been Georgia and Florida, with Virginia a distant third. If the most common contingency that buyers have is to sell their present home first, then those are fairly soft markets in which to accomplish that.

For a while now, Florida and Georgia have been top 10 foreclosure states. Virginia ranks midway in the nation, but has seen a 450% increase in foreclosures since 2006. (Source). There are local variations, but in general those are not easy conditions to sell one's home and move.

The Moral Of The Story
Let's take this analogy one more step with some riverboat wisdom that might be useful for buyers and sellers; If you're wondering about a drought or a flood in Asheville real estate, whether to buy or sell, it might be best to look upstream first.

Related Articles
Held Back By The House: Washington Post
Housing Market Slows Migration to Hot Spots: USA Today

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