Gary and Anne Alexander sit in the sunroom of a model home at the new Skyland Falls housing development off Alderwood Drive in Kingsport. Skyland Falls is a 15-acre gated community featuring patio homes with attractive features. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT - The housing market may be slow in some parts of the country, but not in Kingsport.
Residential building permits are up, sales of existing homes are strong, and new housing developments are being constructed across the area.
"I can't tell it's slowed down any in my business," said Sam Kassem, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kingsport and owner of Kassem Custom Builders.
Kingsport's housing market is getting a boost from people moving to this area from other parts of the country. From July 2006 to May 2007, 1,389 new households moved to Kingsport, including 462 families who relocated from 34 different states.
Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming said the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen has made residential recruitment a priority for the city.
"We feel like we've made headway in commercial and some of the quality of life projects like sports fields and parks. And so now that we have those amenities in our portfolio, we'd like to reach out and invite people to live in Kingsport," Fleming said.
The Kingsport Chamber of Commerce's "Move to Kingsport" Web site is designed to attract folks via the Internet.
And some folks traveling by USAirways may have learned about Kingsport last year when the airline's in-flight magazine featured the city in a story and photographs.
Fleming said Kingsport's low cost of living, quality of life and central proximity in the eastern half of the country are all selling points to attract folks here.
"Everybody realizes that we have a strong economy and we are a very desirable place to live, not just for people who are already in the area but also for people throughout the country who are looking for an alternative," Fleming said.
"People like myself who've always lived around here don't fully realize what Kingsport has to offer," he added.
Of the 1,389 new households moving to Kingsport from July 2006 to May 2007, 259 families moved into newly constructed homes, while 1,130 moved into existing structures.
And with more people wanting to move to Kingsport, more and more builders are working overtime to make sure those folks have housing from which to choose.
New housing developments are being constructed throughout the area, and prices and amenities range across the board to accommodate all lifestyle needs.
In 2005, Sullivan County issued 871 residential building permits for about $52 million worth of construction. That included 298 new homes with a total construction cost of about $42.5 million.
In 2006, Sullivan County issued 911 residential building permits for about $57.4 million worth of construction. That included 270 new homes with a total construction cost of about $40 million.
But how much new construction is too much?
"I think the real key is being very consistent, being very thoughtful about how many homes are built," Fleming said.
He said that many builders in recent years were "conservative" in the Kingsport market because of downsizing activity among local industries.
But those days are long gone. And builders are hurrying to meet the demand.
"The Kingsport market is not too hot, not too cold, but just right," Fleming said. "Staying just right is an important thing to keep in mind."
Some of the most popular housing developments now being constructed in the Kingsport area are patio homes with one-level living, no steps, and no yard work. Such homes are attractive to baby boomers looking to move into a place where they can live for the rest of their lives, Fleming said.
Skyland Falls is an example of the patio home development. This 15-acre gated community being built off Alderwood Drive will feature 72 ranch-style condominiums, lush landscapes, and amenities such as a swimming pool, clubhouse with exercise room, security cameras, electronic coded access for residents, walking trails and water features. The development is a franchised concept called Epcon Communities. Its two and three-bedroom homes are energy efficient and come with open-room designs, sun rooms, two-car garages, fire sprinkler system in each room and closet, high-tech water control system, and electric fireplaces that can be used for heat in the winter and ambience in the summer. Prices range from $160,000 to $219,000.
Developer Gary Alexander and his wife, Anne, recently gave some visitors a tour of model homes at Skyland Falls. To date, 35 units are under roof, and 25 units are already sold. Eight families have moved in, and another five or six families are expected to move in by the end of this month.
"People who are moving into these homes are typically moving from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet," Anne Alexander said. "It's affordable luxury."
Gary Alexander predicted that Skyland Falls will sell out by the end of this year. "People see value in it," he said.
The Alexanders also plan to construct another patio home development off Fort Henry Drive next to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. That project, called Riverbend, will initially feature 100 units with room to build another 200 if the demand warrants.
Grading work for the project is underway and already, 25 reservations have been placed by families wanting to move to the site, Gary Alexander said.
Another patio home development is The Villas at Netherland Lane, a Mitch Cox Development Group planned community featuring 40 villa homes across from Asbury Place.
The development includes homes with either two and three-bedrooms and a two-car garage on the main level. Many of the homes also have a day light lower level available for another bedroom and bath or media room with storage. The development's first unit was priced at $239,900.
Settler's Ridge is another patio home development featuring 110 units on Woods Way off Memorial Boulevard in Kingsport. The homes range in price from $160,000 to $240,000.
Other patio home developments include Cooks Point at the corner of Harbor Chapel Road and Cooks Valley Road; Pinebrook Place off Stone Drive; and Cobblestone Place off Stone Drive.
Different housing styles are also available at other developments. One example is Old Island, a community of upscale homes with three distinct neighborhoods - Treetop Estates, Crockett Landing and Old Island. Homes range from 1,600 to more than 4,000 square feet and include patio homes, two-story traditional homes, and custom-built estate homes on five-acre tracts.
"Most of the people that have bought here are moving here from out of state to live and work or to live and work and retire here," said Old Island developer Jerry Petzoldt, with LifeStyle Homes.
He said newcomers range from families with children to retirees who recognize and appreciate what this area has to offer. Folks moving into Old Island are coming from as far away as California, Petzoldt said.
Fleming, the assistant city manager, said the area's low cost of living is attracting many folks from high-cost areas around the country.
"People can literally sell their property in higher markets and virtually pay cash for their home here - even the highest end homes in some cases. Then they can use their capital gains to invest or travel or whatever," Fleming said. "That's one of the things Kingsport offers - very affordable high-quality housing."
Other new housing developments include Hunts Crossing, an "old-style neighborhood" off Moreland Drive in Colonial Heights; Grande Harbor, an upscale 130-home development on Boone Lake near the Tri-Cities Regional Airport; and The Edinburgh, a 330-home development off Rock Springs Road which sits near the site of a planned elementary school. The development was recently annexed into the city.
Kassem of Kassem Custom Builders, is constructing another upscale housing development called Bailey Ranch in Sullivan Gardens. "Right now there's nothing in here for sale under $300,000," Kassem said.
He said folks moving into Bailey Ranch have relocated from various areas. "I've sold three houses to people moving here from Florida," he said.
"We're very fortunate - we've got a great area, and that's the biggest selling point," Kassem added.
The sale of existing homes has also remained strong in the area. According to the local Multiple Listing Service, 225 houses costing $100,000 to $200,000 were up for sale in Kingsport between June 2005 and June 2006. Those homes stayed on the market an average of 105 days. In comparison, 185 homes in the same price range were for sale in Kingsport between June 2006 and June 2007, and stayed on the market an average of 109 days.
The MLS shows that 91 homes costing from $200,000 to $300,000 were for sale in Kingsport between June 2005 and June 2006. Those homes stayed on the market an average of 141 days. The following year, 74 homes in the same price range were for sale in Kingsport, and stayed on the market an average of 110 days.
The statistics for more expensive homes reveal a similar pattern - not much change in the existing housing market from mid 2005 to today.
"The numbers show what I already believed - we are not experiencing any large, or even small, slowdown in the local residential market," said local real estate agent Jane Henry. "With interest rates still at historic lows, it's actually a great time to buy or sell in the Tri-Cities."