By Kathy Dean
When it comes to vacation homes or retirement, Atlantans have a long tradition of heading to the hills. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, just north of the city, are known for breathtaking views and a sense of solitude, making it the perfect hideaway from Atlanta’s hustle and bustle.
June Slusser, President, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, recounted some of the things that the north Georgia mountains have to offer, including an easy way of life, cool temperatures, no traffic congestion and proximity to the city. A big draw is recreation – fly fishing, boating, golf, hiking, bicycling, to name a few – and there’s a thriving arts community with galleries and theaters. Also, the cost of living is relatively inexpensive when compared with similar lifestyles throughout the country.
She said that Blue Ridge is on the brink of incredible growth, and the most sought after properties were those with mountain views or located on lakes or rivers. Buyers also look for paved roads and easy access.
“More restaurants, shops and activities have come to the mountains and that’s bringing more tourism which results in visitors falling in love with the area,” Slusser said. “We find that after a trip to the mountains, people go home and begin researching real estate in the area.”
Visitors get excited when they realize they can enjoy the splendor of the mountains but still be near the action and culture of the city. Babs Price, Realtor with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, said that residents of metro Atlanta who want a second home often choose mountain homes because they’re closer than any beachfront property. They can drive an hour to their cabins, instead of five or six hours to a beach getaway.
“Another big plus is that mountain homes are easier to maintain,” Price said. “Most of the mountain communities don’t allow grass lawns. The flora and fauna are what grows naturally. You just need a blower to blow the leaves off your driveway, then you can head out to play golf, hike or dine in one of our many fine restaurants.”
Some of the area hot spots, like Bent Tree, Georgian Highlands and Big Canoe, feature golf, tennis, hiking trails, horse stables, lakes and pools. Another important consideration, according to Price, is the availability of quality healthcare and the nearby award-winning Piedmont Mountainside Hospital.
All this brings a lot of interest. Nathan Fitts, of Nathan Fitts & Team with RE/MAX Town & Country, reported that there’s been a steady increase in vacation and retirement homes as the overall market and economy continues to rebound. New construction is on the rise with developments – like River Mist, on the Toccoa River, and River Escape in Cherry Log, between Blue Ridge and Ellijay – piquing a lot of interest.
“Even during the real estate crash over the last few years, we were fortunate, being in a resort type market, not to be as badly affected as most primary home markets,” Fitts said. “Many consumers saw the opportunity to buy while prices were low and the inventory was greater than it had been in years.”
Historically, the market was approximately 70 percent people looking for second homes and 30 percent people looking for retirement/primary homes, he added. In the last two years, however, there’s been a shift as more people are looking to retire to the mountains or live there fulltime. Currently, the market is about 50 percent second homes and 50 percent retirement/primary homes.
“The Aska Adventure Area is popular because it’s close to many outdoor activities,” Fitts said. “There are activities like tubing, kayaking or canoeing down the Toccoa River, hiking and mountain biking on trails, and trophy trout fly fishing waters on the Toccoa River and Noontootla Creek. It’s also near the pristine waters of Lake Blue Ridge, a huge recreation lake for boating, skiing, jet skiing and just soaking up sun.”
Highlands and Cashiers, two towns just over the border into North Carolina, are natural fits for Atlanta folks looking to escape the heat of the summer, but still stay within a two-hour drive. Judy Michaud, President and Broker-in-charge of Meadows Mountain Realty, explained why: “At an elevation of 4,000 feet plus, the average daytime temperature in the summer here is only in the mid 70s, and is generally 12-15 degrees cooler than Atlanta. Surrounded by National Forest with its rich history, cool summer temperatures and enviable way of life, Highlands has long been a haven for Southerners.”
She added that Highlands is multi-generational. Grandparents who bring their grandchildren to the Highlands Plateau today were brought there as children and want to continue the tradition in their families. And, unlike most resort towns, the majority of summer visitors are also homeowners, and the town has a community of concerned citizens and cultural organizations.
Price said that she found the mountains’ biggest treasures after moving there. “When my husband and I moved to the mountains, we were drawn by the beauty and the cool summers. The big bonus was the people. There are so many nice people who live in the mountains that it’s just unbelievable.”