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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Location: Mars Hill, NC, United States

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lists of 2008

Everyone else does it, let's make a list of some of the top moments and items from the year that is about to end. As the list goes on, we have some goodies down below for the more tech minded among us.

Around Asheville
Asheville on Money CNN's list of best places to live.
The Orange Peel is named by Rolling Stone Magazine as a Top 5 rock venue in the nation.
Asheville Named as the happiest city.
Asheville named in September as a top 50 performing city.
The Great Asheville Gas Crunch of 2008: From mid September until mid October. In our county, otherwise known as the year we lost the leaf traffic.

Other Lists
Best Careers: From US News & World Report.
Best Colleges: We offer two lists for balance. The first is from US News & World Report, a second comes from Forbes.
Best Books: From The NY Times.

Some Cool Tech Lists
Most Popular Free Downloads for Windows
Most Popular Free Downloads for Mac
How to Make Windows Vista Less Annoying
Top 10 How To Videos Online: NOTE, we did not view them all, some possibly not safe for work, but they are no less instructive, particularly the series on Photoshop.

Happy New Year, and Thanks for stopping by,
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No White Christmas in Asheville

The Citizen Times fills us in on the chances for a white Christmas in Asheville. Not going to happen.

Asheville proper in fact has seen snow on December 25, but 9 times in the past 67 years.

Asheville sits at 2,288 ft above sea level. In the mountains here, where your elevation can vary by more than 3,000 feet in a day, your weather experience can be quite different than down in the city.

Our best guess is for no new snowfall between now and the holiday throughout the mountains.

This blog will be on vacation until Friday, December 26, please accept our best regards for you and yours.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Latest Carnival of Real Estate

The Carnival of Real Estate is a moderated event which showcases the best writing in the field each week. This week's edition was held at Northwest Indiana Mortgages.

We were honored to be among those chosen for our article entitled, Why Can't Real Estate be Like Gasoline?, which is a short look at supply and demand in two different markets and how they relate.

The list of articles chosen can be found here.

Filed Under: Awards & Notices

Of Moisture and Skiing This Holiday Week

We just came through more than a week of fairly wet weather, with temperatures in the 60's.

Skiing This Week?
In the ski business the warm, wet weather was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the water available to make snow increased as holding ponds were sated, but a good deal of existing snow coverage was lost in the process.

At Wolf Laurel, our local slopes, the rain meant that a number of trails were closed, with the mountain open only to the halfway point. Sometime yesterday afternoon the temperatures dropped precipitously, and they will get a good 36 straight hours of snow making.

Historically this is plenty of time to reclaim trails at the top of the mountain with new snow, and with the weather slated to get back to the upper 50's, should make for nice holiday conditions. Stay tuned.

Rain and The Drought
The recent rains were welcome news with respect to the ongoing, (2 years now?), drought. The French Broad River which had been running at around 33% of average has returned to almost normal flows.

The Asheville Citizen Times gives better perspective. We have been downgraded to extreme drought. The worst is the exceptional category, but our deficit for 2008 will come in around 11 inches. This is approximately 25% under the norm. Combine this with a similar deficit from 2007, and we would like to see continued liquid from the sky in any form.

Be safe and well..

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Asheville Real Estate: Market Recap For 2008

It's the last month of 2008, and time for a year end roundup of greater Asheville real estate data.

These numbers are dramatic, even brutal, but our aim is to provide empirical information from which to make good decisions.

The Details
Yesterday, The Citizen Times reported real estate statistics for November, 2008. All that really matters is quoted below:
The 50.4 percent decline in sales over November 2007 is the steepest since at least 1995, according to records kept by Tom Tveidt, head of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce's research arm.
The article addressed only sales of existing homes, which are the lion's share of the market. It is useful though to bear in mind that this decrease is measured against the already depressed levels seen in 2007. When compared with the same month in 2006, the decline in greater Asheville is 62%.

How Does This Compare With National Averages?
In a word, poorly. Nationally, existing home sales for October, 2008, the latest month for which data is available, fell by only 1.6% from October, 2007. National numbers for November, 2008 will not be complete for another 10 days or so.

Why Does This Look So far Off From National Numbers?
Our best guess stems from a topic we have addressed more than once, the specific mechanisms of the greater Asheville market.

In short, Western North Carolina has traditionally relied upon buyers from Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. These states are at or near the heart of the foreclosure storm. On a percentage basis, they all occupy the top 10, maybe even the top 5, we've lost track to be honest.

High foreclosure rates hurt ordinary sellers, who cannot compete with cut rate prices. If someone cannot sell their home in our feeder states, they cannot buy one here.

The decline in closings in greater Atlanta for example, roughly matches the percentages we see here in the Asheville region.

What About Land Sales?
Land has been one of the great under reported stories in our opinion. In the counties that we watch most closely, land sales are down 75% to 85% from 2006, and in certain communities, the decline exceeds 94% from 2006.

Historically, land sales range from 1.5 to 2.0 times the number of home sales. In 2008, total land sales in our watch area will be around 75% of total home sales. No one we have spoken to can say this has ever happened before.

Summary: On An Annual Basis
We expect for the year as whole to see home sales in our counties down by 45% from 2006, and in certain communities, as much as 65%

The average drop in land sales for our area will be around 80% less than 2006. In certain communities, more than 94% less.

CONTACT us for any local or hyper local reports you may need, and...

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baby Boomers: Vintage Christmas Pop Tunes

Baby boomer fun is a periodic thing we do here, and with Christmas one week away, this seemed an appropriate topic.

From a website called All But Forgotten Oldies, we found this list of Christmas songs over the decades. Everything from Vaughn Monroe, to Brenda Lee, and more recent artists. It's pretty difficult to pick just one to display.

So let's go with something that might be obscure, but is certainly precious. This is the one and only Louis Armstrong reading, The Night Before Christmas, also known as A Visit From Saint Nicholas. The famous poem was first published anonymously in 1823.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why Can't Real Estate Be Like Gasoline?

Sometimes, the impact of supply and demand on gasoline prices is sharp, quick, and unpleasant. Just think of the price spikes that are now almost routine after a Gulf hurricane hits the right places.

But wouldn't it be nice if supply and demand in real estate behaved just a little more like gasoline?

When Gas Prices Were Up...
For October, the latest month for which figures are available, The Wall Street Journal reports:
Americans continue to cut back on driving despite falling gasoline prices, new government data show, signaling what federal transportation officials believe is a permanent change in driving habits.
Like real estate markets, miles driven have been dropping all year. For the year ended October 31, the mileage numbers represent the steepest one year decline in since 1942. Now that's a notable benchmark.

During the summer of 2008, when gasoline prices were in full bloom, it was popular to look at real estate data and talk about the death of the suburbs, as Americans looked to purchase properties with shorter commutes.

With gasoline prices down, will properties outside of town become attractive again? We haven't seen it, but of course this question remains masked by larger economic issues.

But We Are Buying More Gasoline Now...
Consumption figures, (as opposed to miles driven), are released in a more timely fashion, and the stimulus of lower prices on gasoline volume has revealed itself. For the week ended December 5, Americans increased their gasoline purchases for the first time since April of this year.

In fact, CNN Money reported on Sunday, that gasoline prices have probably responded to this already, having risen for the past couple of days. This coming on the heels of 86 consecutive days of price decreases.

Oh would that demand in real estate reacted this quickly.

The Home Builders Wish They Were OPEC
The OPEC countries, like home builders have wrestled with strategies to cutback production in the face of falling consumption. Crude has fallen 30% since October, and has declined around $100/bbl from the peak.

This is no surprise. It's a rational response for producers of anything under such conditions, just take a look at housing starts for the most recent period. Housing production is 70% less than its peak. Imagine a 70% cutback in crude and gasoline production.

In Praise of Supply and Demand
No, real estate does not react in the same way as gasoline to supply, demand, and price. One is lightning, while the other is a glacier. It's mostly a good thing too.

It is no great revelation that since mid September, all of us have been under the influence of much larger issues than simple supply and demand in our local markets, but this too shall pass.

The fact remains that any participant in any market, even the most sophisticated futures traders, begin their analyses with supply and demand. We have often written that real estate is no different.

The more exotic factors like ARMs, Alt-A's, and Option ARM resets will eventually work through. There are key supply and demand benchmarks that work as buy or sell signals. It is supply and demand where we will keep our eyes.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Greater Asheville: Assessing Local Real Estate

This is a broad overview of factors affecting Western North Carolina. For hyper local market reports, please contact us at: info AT BlackBearRE DOT com.

Basic Premise
The conventional wisdom around Asheville has long held that it is buyers from feeder areas who serve as the engine for our real estate market. We examined this in some detail a few months back, and we would not dispute the idea.

The top three states from which buyers emigrate to greater Asheville are Georgia, Florida, and Virginia in that order. If a major contingency is that a buyer must sell their home back home first, then the economic climate in those feeder regions is important to us.

What About Lately?
The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently profiled conditions in their area, a major source of Western North Carolina buyers historically. Closings are off 45%, and housing starts are down 67% from 2007, when numbers were already depressed from 2006. These numbers are in the ballpark for the mountain counties we watch most closely.

The villains for such a situation are well known, with the bad economy and the impact of foreclosures doing double duty. Foreclosures in fact now account for 45% of existing home sales nationally and new foreclosures contribute to burgeoning inventories. The impact of these distressed sales on ordinary sellers looms larger each month.

This is just one "lock" on the system but in short, ordinary folks who want to sell their homes cannot compete against cut rate foreclosure prices. The Big Picture recently posted a heat map of foreclosures nationally, and some of the "hottest" states are the traditional main sources of our buyers, Georgia, Florida, and Virginia.

Rephrasing The Catch Phrase
All real estate is local. This is a common but too simple phrase, which we would restate:
All local real estate is subject to factors which may extend beyond the usual meaning of the word "local".
Our market influences include states as far away as Florida. Our feeder states for buyers inexorably tie us locally to the fate of markets which are near the heart of the national picture.

It seems from here that for us locally, until foreclosures and the factors driving them are brought under control, stability is in the future.

Finding empirical data that is positive, even after $700 billion, or $8.5 trillion, (Who even knows?), in bailout packages proves difficult. What we do see is that almost 1 in 10 mortgages are in some stage of delinquency, and despite rescue and loan modifications, that 53% of rescued borrowers actually redefault on their loans.

Values, like demand, are falling, inventories are burgeoning. Basic supply and demand needs to be restored. This will occur through some combination of still lower prices, until demand erases inventories that are too large. It means there are some deals out there for the right two parties, but a real solution, a return to normalcy is a ways off.

The Congressional Oversight Committee on TARP, (Troubled Asset Relief Program), is something we are glad to see. Here are their first 10 questions to Treasury, pretty basic stuff. They are just beginning. We hope they work quickly.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Anomalies of 2008 Property Taxes

A few days back USA Today visited the anomaly of falling home values and rising property taxes. It turns out that property tax revenues have risen by 3.1% in 2008, despite double digit declines in home values.

In fact, according the the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, property taxes have not fallen since 1934. The bottom line here is that sure, statutes prevent inordinate rises in property taxes during boom times, and we like this. But state legislatures provide safeguards against falling revenue in times of bust, which we don't like.

This was actually a topic that was hot in some of our local neighborhoods over the summer. We provided some resources for relief at the time, and a few handy links for conducting an appeal.

State and Local Governments
It's no secret that state and local governments across the country are short of revenue. In November, The State Department of Public Instruction informed local school boards that something like $58 million would need to be turned back to state coffers for just these reasons.

Our suspicion is that successful appeals will become more difficult. Still, the evidence suggests that simply checking such basic items as square footage, number of beds, baths, and so forth can often yield a surprising number of errors by local assessors, and small victories by you.

Some relief is better than none.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Enthusiasm, Asheville, and the Mountains

How about an increasingly rare commodity, some upbeat news to end the work week?

A while back, Scrutiny Hooligans, a leftish Asheville political blog of no small repute, was nice enough to summarize a survey that measured citizens' evaluations of our fair city.

The results are extensive, and look at everything from fire services and the timing of stop lights, to the cultural opportunities that have earned us the moniker, The Paris of the South.

Echoing the favorable results in that survey, our friends at Carolina Mornings inform us of yet another "best places to live" list that names Asheville.

On a final note, Business Week briefly examined the relationship between residents' enthusiasm for their community and economic well being. Jobs and such in Western North Carolina have been a little tough lately, but it's nice to know that our enthusiasm may prevail in the end.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Department of Bailouts, Perspective, & Pondering

What's it all add up to?

We've been wondering about the various headlines this year. The ones listing pledges of so many billions here and there by The Fed, etc, in addition to the big $700 billion one we all heard about.

It turns out that we are somewhere around $7.7 trillion in total bailout pledges to date. The San Francisco Chronicle though has reported the number at $8.5 trillion so far, with a chronology of how we got there and where it's going.

What does this amount of money buy?

It seems that when adjusted for inflation this amount of money would have paid for; The Louisiana Purchase, The New Deal, WW II, The Korean War, Viet Nam, the race to the moon, the S & L crisis, the invasion of Iraq, and NASA's budget since day one, with money left over.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Regional Energy Projects Focus on Renewables

Not so long ago, with the onset of the winter heating season, we examined the costs of energy in greater Asheville. As a follow up, here are some recent regional developments on the electrical front.

Wind Power Comes to Madison County
Word of "the first rural wind power education program east of the Mississippi River" arriving in our own Madison County comes to us from the blog Ashevegas. Yes, by May of 2009, Madison High School will see the first of three turbines installed at county schools.

The project is small, with turbines in the 2 or 3 kw range, and the purpose is to put children face to face with future technologies. More can be found at the Progress Energy website.

World's Largest Residential Solar Array
Meanwhile, in Fletcher, south of Asheville:
The sun will heat and cool 400 units of what's being called the largest use of residential solar thermal technology in the country.
The article refers to a 38 acre, multi-use development where as much as 70% of electrical power will come from the solar arrays. The Asheville Citizen Times calls the installation the largest in the world.

Market Watch gives a complete rundown on the Fletcher project, while Mountain Express outlines this and other uses of solar, including the roof a local auto dealership at this location.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Real Estate Statistics: October, 2008

A little late this month with our roundup, but here we go...

The Quick Summary
There were small suggestions of improvement in the September numbers. These have been eradicated since the fall of Lehman, and ensuing economic news. Caution and deliberation remain the bywords in real estate locally and nationally. Huge inventories without adequate demand are the operative factors.

Supply and Inventories
Permits, Starts and Completions, (PDF): Declined 40.1%, 38.0%, and 25.96% from October, 2007. The reading for housing starts is the lowest on record, (Data begins in 1959.)

Single family starts, the most meaningful of indicators are now 71% less than the peak in Jan, 2005. This sector dropped 42.9% in the South from one year ago. Nice charts at Calculated Risk for those readers who are more visual.

New Home Inventories, (PDF): Are down 25% from one year ago in terms of raw numbers, but when inventories are expressed as months of supply, a measure that encompasses current demand, we saw a rise to 11.1 months. Six months of supply would be a nice place to be.

Existing Home Inventories followed the same pattern, a decrease in raw number of homes for sale, but a discouraging rise in months of supply at 10.2. This has been a long established trend that simply reflects the drastic declines in demand.

Demand Side Data
New Home Sales, (PDF): 40.1% less than last year, and 68.8% less than the peak in 2005. New home sales in the South declined by 38.5% from October, 2007.

Existing Home Sales, 3.1% less than Sept, 2008, and 1.6% less than last October. Prices fell by a record 11.1% from one year ago.

Forecasts Anyone?
In fact, in its latest estimate the NAR indicated that 45% of existing home sales are foreclosures. This puts a damper on any assertions that this sector has stabilized. Delinquencies are expected to double in 2009, so any existing home sales numbers will have to be scrutinized.

The Wall Street Journal had a detailed look ahead today
, the cover story in the personal finance section. The bottom is a ways off, still.

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Filed Under: National Items

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Consumer Focused Real Estate

Our thanks to Dan Melson, a prolific West Coast real estate blogger who also faithfully moderates the Consumer Focused Carnival of Real Estate.

Our recent article which offered an array of tools to compare the costs of different heating fuels was among those chosen in the latest edition of consumer focused writing.

Nice to be recognized.

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