“We just fell in love with it here,” Sherry said.
Now that Sherry is starting to think about retirement, she’s been slowing implementing her plan to live in Bryson City full-time while still being able to earn an income — and buying up some premium real estate in the mountains might be the way to do it.
The Pattersons have purchased two cabins from local Realtor Christina Lohmann in the last few years that they use and also rent out to vacationers. They traveled up from Daytona Beach, Florida, again last week for Lohmann to show them a couple of options in their search to purchase five cabin rentals.
Lohmann said it’s the cabin rental niche that has had Swain County’s real estate market booming again in recent years.
“We don’t get that many permanent residents moving in and buying houses — our market is based on investment properties and short-term vacation rentals,” she said.
Lohmann has been in the real estate industry for 20 years, though she’s only been selling with Bryson City Realty Group for the last three years.
“After the economy dived I had gotten involved in real estate here against what everybody else was doing and all of a sudden the economy started to turn around and all of a sudden people started to go on vacation again and realized it’s such a unique area we have here,” she said.
A couple of features on HGTV’s Log Cabin Living show in 2014 and again in 2016 have helped launch Bryson City into the spotlight for people across the nation looking for their our mountain getaway.
“People realized the best-kept secret out here and investors decided that instead of investing in the stock market they’d invest in vacation rentals,” Lohmann said, who was one of the Realtors who appeared in the HGTV show.
The publicity has been good for her business personally by generating leads, but it has also helped the county as a whole.
“My sales increased by at least $2 million in 2016 from 2015, so I’m really hoping to see more of that,” she said. “And when real estate is doing better then more people are coming here to visit and it benefits the businesses downtown.”
While some people are looking to buy several small cabin rentals like the Pattersons, others are buying much larger and extravagant log cabins as second homes. Lohmann said log cabins in the $200,000 to $350,000 price range are moving fairly quickly on the market. She said sales have been spread out around the county because everybody is looking for something different. Some prefer to be close to town, some want a mountaintop view and others wants to be out toward the Nantahala Gorge and Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Lohmann said the only problem she sees in Swain County real estate right now is a lack of inventory because people are buying homes up as quickly as they get listed or built. If there was ever a better time to sell your home or land in Swain County, it’s now.
“As of right now a lot of concern for agents is the lack of inventory — we can sell faster than they can build them,” she said. “There’s an influx of property available for new construction because a lot of people bought land before the recession with plans to live here but their plans fell through and now they’re trying to sell it.”
Ken Mills, economic development director for Swain County, said all indicators are looking good — real estate is up, unemployment is down and sales tax is skyrocketing.
“The Department of Commerce numbers just came out and our unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent and the increase in the real estate market is great — everything seems to be moving — all this tells me we’re in a sweet spot,” he said. “Swain County grossed $70 million in sales tax revenue in 2015 and tourism is a big part of that.”
Since 87 percent of the county land is federally owned, the commissioners are able to collect property taxes on only 13 percent of the county. That large sales tax revenue is what allows the county to keep property tax rates low for its residents. Without that revenue, Mills said an average family of four would have to spend an additional $60,000 a year in Swain County to replace the sales tax revenue brought in by tourists.
Swain County real estate sales
Homes sold: 120
Total value: $18.2 million
Homes sold: 97
Total value: $13. 3 million
Homes sold: 100
Total value: $16.5 million
Homes sold: 86
Total value: $14.1 million
Source: Swain County Tax Office