Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and a short distance from Pisgah National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville, in the US state of North Carolina, is a picturesque hub for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the summer. Yet, many longtime residents insist the city is at its best when cooler temperatures arrive in the autumn and the shedding trees transform the landscape.
Asheville has long appealed to affluent second-home buyers with an appetite for outdoor living, and draws a diverse mix of intrepid, upwardly mobile tourists and wealthy retirees. Thanks largely to its proximity to the mountains, Asheville has some of the most inviting and challenging whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking on the east coast. The French Broad river, Nantahala river and Nolichucky offer outdoor enthusiasts formidable water activity. Each location is about an hour’s drive from downtown Asheville. The area also attracts cyclists and hikers from around the country with some 70 different routes and trails in the nearby Nantahala and Pisgah national forests.
A blossoming arts community has also helped to bolster the area’s appeal among younger buyers, says Richard Pressley, an estate agent with Coldwell Banker King. “There’s a natural allure for older, more mature [people] to come to Asheville,” says Pressley, who specialises in high-end holiday and second-home property sales. “But the past decade or so has really seen a tremendous influx of younger people [visiting the area] who enjoy our way of life.”
It was that unspoilt scenic richness that lured Troy Winterrowd to Asheville 11 years ago. A trained architect, he moved to the city from Los Angeles and joined Real Living Carolina Property.
The estate agency has captured a niche market catering to an expanding group of affluent, younger home buyers that covet contemporary design, says Winterrowd.
“These are people who love a modern aesthetic,” says Winterrowd. “Even in a rustic setting, they want contemporary design that eschews mountain living.”
Asheville’s clean mountain air has been attracting outsiders for more than a century. The novelist Thomas Wolfe was raised here in the early 1900s and the writer F Scott Fitzgerald sought refuge from a respiratory illness in Asheville in 1935.
George Washington Vanderbilt, a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family, fell in love with Asheville during a visit in the 1880s. He eventually bought 125,000 acres of land and built one of the largest private homes in the US. Today, Biltmore Estate and its 250-room, château-style mansion are a popular tourist attraction and an example of the nation’s Gilded Age.
About 80 per cent of second-home and retirement buyers in Asheville are from outside the state, says Ron Armstrong, a property agent with Keller Williams Luxury Homes International. He says buyers that once considered places like California and Florida for retirement are typically lured to Asheville after a visit.
“We’ve seen buyers discover the place as tourists while on vacation and then decide to buy a property,” says Armstrong. “They tend to relocate to Asheville for good when retirement age rolls around.”
High-end property in Asheville is usually found south of the city centre in the areas of Biltmore Forest, Grove Park, and Lakeview Park. Two- and three-bedroom homes in these areas can range in price from about $850,000 to $3m. Loft-style condominium and single-family houses downtown in the city centre cost from $300,000 to $500,000. The northern part of the city, in areas such as Grove Park and Lakeview, is more expensive, with homes priced from about $600,000 to more than $1m.
The Ramble is the only private gated community within Asheville’s city limits. Its 400 homes sit on about 1,000 acres of land that was once part of Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. Prices range from about $925,000 to $3m depending on the property’s size, location and amenities.
In the Biltmore Park area of the city, Keller Williams Luxury Homes International is selling a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home for $3.7m. The property measures 6,100 sq ft and has a gym, wine cellar, five-car garage and views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the French Broad river.
In Reynolds Mountain, a 250-acre site in northern Asheville, a five-bedroom home with seven bathrooms and great mountain views is being offered for $3.5m. The two-story property has a spa, a covered pavilion with a stone fireplace, screened porches, a sunroom, wine room, lift and home theatre.
In the first nine months of this year the average price of a home in Asheville was $269,934, up from $245,100 over the same period in 2012, according to real estate company Beverly-Hanks and Associates.
Twenty-three homes priced at $1m or above were sold in the first nine months of 2013, up from 10 sold during the same period last year, according to Beverly-Hanks.
● The population of Asheville is 85,000, while about 250,000 people live in Buncombe County
● Annual temperatures range from an average of 28C in July to an average of 3C in January
● Property taxes are about $1.20 per $100 of valuation
● The closest international airport is in Greenville, South Carolina, about 80 miles away
What you can buy for . . .
$500,000: A two-bedroom, 800 sq ft apartment close to downtown
$3m: A three-bedroom, 3,000 sq ft house on about 1.5 acres of land
$5m: A four-bedroom, 5,000 sq ft house with mountain views and 3.5 acres of land