Up On High

BY JIM PARKER ON SEPTEMBER 14TH, 2017

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These ranch spreads, A-frames and traditional designs are up windy dirt roads, hidden in the woods or nestled among spectacular peak views for miles. Or they’re condos, townhomes or cliff-side properties in mile-up resorts or even city suburbs.

Mountain homes have been around almost since the early settlers, but the highland properties today draw on many Americans’ outdoor urges for a vacation home, ski lodge, log cabin or retirement residence on a high ridge or in the foothills.

One of the country's largest property brokers, United Country Real Estate, lists more than 2,150 mountain properties for sale in 24 states from California to Maine (as well as Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras) priced from $1,800 for a slice of land to $83 million for an 8,300-acre forested expanse northwest of Asheville, North Carolina. Enclaves are for sale in the Rocky and Smoky mountain states such as Idaho and Tennessee, as well as less expected hilly places such as Maryland and Oklahoma.

The list includes 112 houses and properties $1 million or higher, notes United Country, a national firm that specializes in rural properties and estates including mountain lands.

Sky high property seekers can crisscross the country to look for mountain deals. But many areas are known as historically popular spots for buyers from certain areas such as Charleston area and other South Carolina residents descending on the western North Carolina mountains during the summer and New England city dwellers traveling to the higher climbs of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

A few ties aren’t as naturally geographical, such as Southwestern homeowners looking almost to the Canadian border for a mountain home. “Texans love the fierce, independent spirit, wide-open space and natural beauty of Montana,” says Candy Evans, founder of high-end vacation real estate properties www.SecondShelters.com. “The fourth largest state has long been a favored vacation home setting for folks from North Texas, made even better last summer when American Airlines instituted daily nonstop seasonal flights to Bozeman Yellowstone Airport, the gateway to the area known as ‘Big Sky,’ from May through September – prime time to get away from triple-digit heat,” she says.

Ski resorts, too, draw vacationers for casual twists and turns down the slopes or for serious snow boarding or slaloming. In 2015, real estate information firm RealtyTrac found 18 communities all in the West that met its criteria, including proximity to an airport, jobless rate, median home price, annual home price appreciation, gross rent yield, foreclosure rate and “pure awesomeness factor.”

Top picks included posh resorts such as Aspen, Colorado, with a $920,000 median sale price and Jackson, Wyoming at $759,000, as well as lesser known communities. Huntsville, Utah, home to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain ski resorts was singled out for its second lowest $169,550 median home sale price and Bellingham, Washington, site of Mount Baker ski area, was also in the top group.

Even though mountain properties tend to be valuable, real estate and investment advisors warn buyers to be cautious in buying high-up properties as a second home.

On the money-management website Financial Samurai, founder Sam Dogen discloses his less-than-savvy investment experience buying a house at Lake Tahoe just after the late 2000s real estate swoon.

His tips include figuring out your future income, factoring in ups and downs; spending enough time looking over the property; running the number on multiple scenarios; getting a third opinion; talking to your neighbors; and checking sales prices for comparable sites.

“Vacation properties should be purchased primarily for lifestyle purposes only,” Dogen says. “When I bought my vacation property, I imagined a scenario where the family and close friends could go up and play. I wanted to always feel at home when on vacation and I really do every time I go up to Lake Tahoe three hours away. However, my purchase was a very poor economic decision if we just focus on the numbers.”

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