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Blog :: 05-2014

Green building booms in Asheville


After the Great Recession put the brakes on the drive toward high-end housing, an emerging green trend has put new life into Asheville's real estate market.

Green Home Building in Asheville NC

                                                   (Photo: Erin Brethauer, )

Green building accounts for about half of the new home construction underway inside the city limits -- 25 certified green homes out of 59 new single family projects. West Asheville is even hotter for green building -- eight of the last 13 home projects that sold and closed in the past six months were certified green.

"If you're a builder in West Asheville, you should build it green," said Mary Love, a Realtor for Keller Williams, who chairs the board of the WNC Green Building Council.

Green homes are still a fraction of the total Buncombe County market, where some 1,300 homes, mostly existing, are up for sale. But builders, real estate professionals and others are seeing an edge for a home that's certified to be energy-efficient, conserves water, pollutes less into the atmosphere and has better indoor air quality.

These homes aren't just advertized as having green features, but are specially inspected and certified along a long checklist that includes technical and specific guidelines requiring more insulation, tighter windows and doors, more efficient heating and cooling systems, even the landscaping outside to prevent runoff.

"Going green makes it a lot easier to sell. Green used to be a special category. At this point, you're at a disadvantage if you don't build green," said Mike Figura of Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty and board treasurer for the Green Building Council.

A focus on green building has given an edge to builders and real estate professionals as consumers started looking at smaller, quality-built homes that will save them money on power bills.

While many builders and brokers focused on high-end properties before the financial meltdown of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market nationwide, many did not survive, Figura said.

"But green building held its value better, and many consumers saw it as a hedge against another downturn, even though they were paying a little more upfront," he said.

Green certification sells

To be listed in the Asheville Multiple Listing Service as green, a new home needs to be certified as North Carolina Green Built.

Formerly known as the NC HealthyBuilt program administered through the N.C. Solar Center, the program shifted to the WNC Green Building Council two years ago after the center lost its funding in state budget cuts.

For a fee around $1,200, a third-party appraiser will come in and test a house for energy-efficiency, going through a long checklist that looks at insulation in the walls and attic, tighter windows and doors, more efficient heating and cooling system, water conservation, landscaping and site selection as well as Energy Star-rated appliances.

That additional fee more than pays for itself in the re-sale value of the home over time, as well as saving the homeowner on heating and cooling bills, said Figura.

Green homes sold for a median price of $198 per square foot in the past 12 months in Asheville, compared to $175 per square foot for conventional homes.

Asheville's reputation for green homes extends nationwide. Love hears Asheville mentioned in the top five cities like Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., where green homes have gone mainstream in the housing market.

With relatively low inventory and the desirable location of urban Asheville, green homes are moving fast and at higher prices than green homes out in Buncombe County. Part of the cost comes with higher prices for the relatively few lots left in the city for new construction.

West Asheville leads way

Green fits with the urban ethic of Asheville as more consumers are looking to walk or bike to work, shop or dine out. And West Asheville is the epicenter for the green boom given the recent construction starts, according to developer James Boren.

"West Asheville is teaching Asheville about green, and Asheville has embraced it. Asheville is going to teach the rest of the Southeast, Charlotte and Charleston and Florida," Boren said. "Green is going to be the norm for all new construction in the next 10 years."

Boren got his start as a builder in Charleston, S.C., often working on high-end custom homes in the Low Country and in Florida. Over the past 25 years, he's built about 100 structures, but he decided to change his focus when he moved to Asheville about five years ago.

With his Green Earth Developments, Boren has about 18 green projects ongoing around Asheville. He's working closely with building contractor Beach Hensley, who's gone exclusively green in his construction in the past decade.

"We're seeing a demographic who are seeking it out. They are looking not just to save on their utility bills, but they like the satisfaction of helping the planet," Boren said on the porch of an unusually green cottage he remodeled on Norbeth Avenue.

Boren layered the shingle roof with containers of sedum, a hearty green plant that creates a no-fuss a green roof with plenty of insulation in both winter and summer

Next door, Hensley's workers are framing up another home for Boren, tucking a well-designed home on a footprint to save some mature hardwoods. Boren doesn't see much point in clear-cutting a lot to then put a green home.

That green sensibility extends not just in the house, but the whole construction process. Boren runs his trucks on compressed natural gas, trying to cut down on his carbon footprint. "It's part of our responsibility," he said.

For Hensley, "sensibly crafted homes" makes more sense as a tag-line as green becomes more common and building codes require higher grade insulation and less duct leakage.

And more consumers are seeing "green" as synonymous with "quality," since most green homes will boast granite counter tops and tile in the kitchen, hardwood flooring and other amenities.

While many designs will incorporate passive solar features such as windows and skylights for heating and light, green homes don't necessarily feature solar power. Tax credits go to homeowners rather than builders who leave it to a buyer to add solar panels.

A green home means smarter construction with higher insulation and tighter envelopes that keep heat from escaping the house in winter, or cooler air in summer, while letting in ample fresh air and plenty of light. There's also a focus on building materials that aren't toxic or omit any noxious smells or chemicals.

Locally sourced hardwood harvested from Western North Carolina forests also counts since less gas is burned to haul the wood to the site.

"The main reason for people to buy green is the energy efficiency, but there are a lot of buyers 50 years and up who are looking for better indoor air quality," Love said.

Green can cover a range of architectural styles from modern to more traditional arts and crafts. Hensley's finding a ready market for homes prices at $350, 000 up to $500,000.

But as more people want a green home in an Asheville neighborhood, demand is not keeping up and prices are starting to rise. "It's hard to find a green home for $350,000" Figura said.

While mortgages are standardized for homes, Figura said banks have become more willing in recent years to finance green builders, seeing how well the product has been moving.

"Green is not a fad. It's here's to stay in Asheville."

HealthyBuilt Homes

Green homes are certified in North Carolina through the WNC Green Building Council's NC Green Built Program

Green Homes certified to date in WNC: 863

561 of those are in Buncombe County, of which about 400 are in the city limits.

There are 120 Green Built homes in progress.

-Both the City of Asheville and the Town of Black Mountain offer permit fee rebates for certified homes.

85 percent of the state's Green Built certifications are in Western North Carolina.



Search all Green homes for sale in Asheville, NC here.


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                          Real Estate Rebound in Asheville, N.C.

                          asheville city sunset


                          Attracted to the climate and culture of Asheville, N.C.? Be prepared to pay a premium for real estate. For houses priced above $500,000, 2013 was the strongest year since 2007.


                          Families are drawn to Asheville, N.C., for its small-town feel, good schools and great outdoors. Young hipsters come for the eclectic vibe, craft breweries and lively music scene. And older Americans like the gentle seasons, health-care facilities and educational opportunities, such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of North Carolina Asheville, which offers courses and activities for seniors.

                          But the great life comes at a price. For houses priced above $500,000, 2013 was the strongest year since 2007, said Don Davies, owner of a real-estate agency that bears his name and includes Realsearch, a service that tracks real-estate trends in Asheville and surrounding Buncombe County. In the first four months of this year, the average asking price rose to $459,500, from $409,400 in the year-ago period.

                          "We're approaching the record asking prices of 2008," said Mr. Davies. At the same time, he noted, the number of homes sold from January through April dropped by 6% from the same period last year, mostly because of thin inventory and buyers' difficulties in securing a down payment or mortgage.

                          Earlier this month, Hadley Cropp, an agent with Asheville Realty Group, represented buyers from Chicago who bought a home on Reynolds Mountain in trendy North Asheville, at the asking price of $860,000. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom property sold within two weeks of its listing. "The market has totally shifted," said Ms. Cropp. "It's a seller's market."

                          Boosting Asheville's appeal are its distinctly different neighborhoods. Young, progressive residents flock to the burgeoning River Arts District, with its vibrant arts scene. The cool crowd also likes West Asheville, a funky area across the French Broad River that has tattoo parlors, bike shops and creative eateries.

                          " This is like a resort, but there is enough infrastructure to get done what you need to get done. "--Home buyer John McNabb

                          Older, more established home buyers prefer the pricier community of Biltmore Forest near the Biltmore Estate, Asheville's biggest tourist attraction, and the Ramble, a newer, gated community nearby that is attracting young families. Demand for luxury homes above $1 million is coming back with strength, said Ann Skoglund, an agent with Beverly-Hanks & Associates. Her most expensive listing is a $10.75 million house modeled on a French château in Biltmore Forest, but most homes in the leafy suburb cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.

                          Houstonians John and Darlene McNabb bought a 9,000-square-foot Tudor-style house last year in Biltmore Forest, a community located a few minutes from Asheville and near a private country club that was started in 1922 by the Vanderbilt family.

                          The McNabbs paid $2.8 million for their four-bedroom home on 2.4 acres overlooking a golf course. While still Texas residents, they now spend several months a year exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, along with the food and art scene in Asheville.

                          "This is like a resort, but there is enough infrastructure to get done what you need to get done," said Mr. McNabb, vice chairman of investment banking for Duff & Phelps Corp. in Houston and chairman of Willbros Group Inc., WG +2.81% a Houston-based company specializing in energy infrastructure.

                          Recently, Asheville's downtown Art Deco district was filled with evening strollers, to a backdrop of street music and noise spilling out of restaurants, many of them with a farm-to-table approach. At one, a modern tapas place called Curate, every seat at the bar was taken. In the summer, there are free downtown concerts, along with art gallery walks and annual events such as an arts and crafts show and a beer festival. Beer is a big part of Asheville's ascent. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Colorado-based Oskar Blues have expanded into the area, and craft brewer New Belgium is building a new brewery in Asheville.

                          "It will bring in jobs, it will bring in tourists and it will bring in money," said Mike Miller, co-owner of Town and Mountain Realty. At the same time, he is concerned that Asheville will be "loved to death," as he said, with new arrivals driving up property prices and causing future home buyers to look elsewhere. Mr. Miller said that in the past most buyers came from the New York area and Florida, but he is now getting calls from across the country, as well as Canada and Japan. He also noted a growing interest in new and green construction.

                          Terri King, president of Coldwell Banker King in Asheville, said she is seeing increasing demand for downtown luxury condominiums, especially from older residents who retired to large houses outside Asheville who then downsized to more manageable homes within walking distance of local attractions. Properties currently under contract include two contemporary condos atop the Hotel Indigo, IHG.LN +0.32% a high-rise with sweeping mountain views. One, a three-bedroom, was listed for $918,900, while the other, a two-bedroom, was listed for $810,900.

                          "The challenge of being a destination market is that the cost of living is higher than in, say, Knoxville, [Tenn.]," said Ms. King. "When people come to Asheville, they typically get sticker shock."

                          Write to Cecilie Rohwedder at

                          Photo - Mike Belleme for The Wall Street Journal


                          Ready to hit the market running? Check out the Asheville homes for sale over $500,000 here.



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                                                  1ST QUARTER ASHEVILLE AND BUNCOMBE COUNTY MARKET UPDATE

                                                  There were some contradicting indicators in the housing market in Buncombe County in the 1st quarter of 2014 while the City of Asheville's indicators all point upward. The number of homes sold in the 1st quarter in Asheville was up 8.2% compared to the 1st quarter of 2013, but for Buncombe County, the figure was an 11.8% decrease. View entire report here

                                                  Median Home Sales Price in Asheville and Buncombe County. Median home sales prices increased 11.1% in Asheville and 8.8% in Buncombe County between the 1st quarters of 2013 and 2014.  The rise in prices in the County is a positive sign and contradicts the downward signal of the lower number of sales.

                                                  Inventory levels are some of the best indicators of the health of a housing market. When inventory levels are 6 months or less there is upward pressure on prices, such as we've been seeing in Asheville over the past few quarters. Current levels in all price ranges under $800,000 have inventory near 6 months or less in Asheville.  Buncombe County's inventory levels are higher but have been coming down over time with levels over 6 months for all price ranges above $250,000.
                                                  The Average Days on Market (DOM)  is coming down in Asheville (132) but it spiked in Buncombe County to 216. While the spike may seem alarming, DOM is a lagging indicator after a downturn, and the County's spike was caused by properties that had been on the market for a very long time (over 2 years) finally selling as the market improves.
                                                  Green Building The brightest spot in the market continues to be green building, with low inventory levels and high average price per square feet.

                                                  For a complete market analysis, including charts and graphs, view the entire report here. If you have any questions or would like a price evaluation of your house, please contact one of our agents or call us at (828) 707-9556.


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