Asheville was already a great city, and now it’s a luxury city

Appalachia may not conjure images of mega-mansions, but scenic western North Carolina is on its way up to rival wealth magnets like Aspen, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as a mountainous region for luxury homes.

Western North Carolina includes several small cities: its population is about 94,600 people,

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Asheville is the largest and the heart of the luxury housing boom, while Boone and Hendersonville are other players in the real estate scene. The area is full of mountainous places, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several state forests.

It’s a place that offers a high quality of life, according to Asheville native Marilyn Wright, a real estate agent with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in the city.

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“You get the full package here,” she said. “Asheville is a vibrant city with a large foodie population, microbreweries, and arts scene, and the mountains mean you can hike and bike to your heart’s content.”

Friendly locals, a mild year-round climate with sunny days bookended by mornings and cool evenings, and relative affordability compared to other popular second home destinations, are also part of Western North Carolina’s appeal, she said. These attractions attract buyers from all over the United States as well as around the world — although local real estate experts say most are from South Florida, the Northeast, Texas and California.

This, of course, is not the first time the area has dazzled wealthy visitors. Businessman George Washington Vanderbilt II famously built a massive Gilded Age mansion in Asheville in the late 1800s. The house, known as the Biltmore, is now a museum — though it remains the largest privately owned home in the United States at more than 178,000 square feet.

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The most recent boom in high-end real estate began five years ago and shows no signs of abating, Wright said. High-end home sales are the biggest driver of growth, but developments also contribute.

“The explosion of high-end real estate has moved along with demand at a rapid pace in recent years. It is unlike anything this area has ever seen,” Wright said.

Over the past three years, the typical price of a home in Buncombe County, which includes Asheville, has risen by $150,000, or 40%. In May, the median home sold for less than $500,000, according to data from Realtor.com. The demand for luxury homes pushed the prices of luxury products to new heights during this period. The challenge now is limited inventory compared to demand, Wright said.

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“Discerning buyers are facing intense pressure to find the homes they want, but sales continue to rise,” she said. As a point of reference, Wright had $63 million in sales last year despite the supply shortage, and is already on track to sell more than double this year, she said. The properties she sold include a $9.6 million home in Biltmore Forest, located 15 minutes south. Downtown Asheville. Spanning 10,000 square feet, the home is a design masterpiece made with custom-stained brick, reclaimed herringbone French oak floors, and hand-painted tiles by local artisans.

“We started seeing multi-million dollar properties in the area in 2008, and the numbers have gone up since then,” Wright said. “Now, homes costing $5 million or more are the norm rather than the exception.”

More luxury homes are on the way.

The Cliffs, for example, a collection of seven luxury private residential lake and mountain club communities in the area, closed 246 sales in 2021 for a total value of about $234 million. With homes priced from the $600,000s to $6 million, the seven projects offer amenities such as golf courses, health centers, tennis and pickleball complexes, a marina, a beach club on Kiwi Lake, and an equestrian center.

Sales continue at a rapid pace, according to Patrick Melton, co-founder of South Street Partners, the development company behind the ramps.

“We were initially concerned that rising interest rates would impact sales, but we have not seen a slowdown yet and are on track to maintain our numbers,” he said.

Developer Greg Koven, who brought the Zaha Hadid-designed One Thousand Museum Tower to downtown Miami, sees the benefits of a strong market. He recently broke ground on his latest project, Fairmont Residences, the Cedars, located in Hendersonville, about 20 minutes south of Asheville.

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The two-building project, scheduled for completion in mid-2025, will contain 130 residential units with prices ranging from $400,000 for studios to $3.8 million for penthouses. Koven said that sales have begun for the first building, and 80% of it has already been sold. He said: “My wife is from the region, and I have been visiting her for decades.” “I love the lifestyle, the scenery and the buzz of Asheville. I wanted to create a project where others could live that lifestyle in a luxury setting.

Then there’s custom builder Matt Osada, who is currently building dozens of homes for at least $3 million and has 10 more. “Buyers can’t find the properties they dream of, so they build them instead,” he said. He added that as a result, his revenues have doubled over the past three years from $10 million to $20 million.

Historically, homes in Western North Carolina tend to have a traditional aesthetic, but USADA clients prefer a more contemporary style. The homes he builds have features like large windows and high ceilings. Accents are minimal, but amenities like 800-square-foot closets, pools with elaborate handmade stonework and rooms devoted to collections like vinyl or bourbon records are not.

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“People really want to invest their money,” Osada said.

One of his clients is Jane Whitehurst, an attorney who moves to the area with her husband from Pensacola, Florida. Their home is currently under construction, designed at a cost of $4 million by prominent architect Mark Rudolph, founder of Vellum Architecture + Design, behind the glamorous Italian resort Castello di Casole in Tuscany.

Set in over three acres of land, the 5,000 square foot property will feature three bedrooms including a master suite with a library, gym, wine cellar and large glass panels throughout. The couple moves here for many reasons, Whitehurst said. “We were tired of Florida’s humid weather and wanted to live in a destination where we could be outdoors year-round,” she said. “We were also drawn to the down-to-earth vibe and cultural and food scene of Asheville.”

Lou and Laurie Appignani are also transplants, and have already moved into the 9,500-square-foot, $5 million contemporary home in Biltmore Forest that they purchased through Wright. They said they plan to split their time between Miami and North Carolina. “It’s beautiful here with the most amazing scenery, and it has so much to offer,” Lowry said.

But beloved locals might be at the top of their list. “One of our neighbors brought us homemade banana bread when we moved in,” Lori said. “There aren’t many places anymore where you can expect a gesture like that.”

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