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April 2009
Coming Home to the Mountains
By Casey Jacobus

     The beauty and tranquility of the North Carolina mountains appeals to many who spend their days in the stressful offices and on the crowded highways of the Charlotte metropolitan area. Whether they dream of spending their vacation in the cooler temperatures of the mountains or owning a second home, many city dwellers are looking north for the privacy and peace of mind that the mountain’s natural beauty and wooded seclusion can provide.

     While Asheville and Black have long been destinations for those wishing to escape the heat of a Piedmont summer, the area of Alleghany, Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties, collectively referred to as the High Country, has recently grown in popularity.

     “We have the same cool temperatures,” says Lisa Randolph, one of the owners of High South Realty and broker-in-charge of the Ashe County office. “But the prices are much more reasonable and the commuting time is shorter. You can get the same temperature for half the cost.”

     The High Country also rivals its better known destinations for both natural beauty and outdoor activities. Everything from fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, to skiing and golf can be found there and the Blue Ridge Parkway offers miles and miles of views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains across North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

     With a population of only 25,000 people, Ashe County offers privacy to those who seek it, while recent economic development in the area has brought more businesses, restaurants and arts activities to the charming downtown area of West Jefferson.


Selling the High Country

     High South Realty is a growing company, manned by brokers experienced in mountain real estate and eager to help clients make their dream of owning “a bit of Paradise” come true. High South is dedicated to “bringing people home to the mountains.” Recognizing a need for cross-county access, the company is a member of the multiple listing services (MLS) of four counties in North Carolina and one in Virginia. It also has two brokers licensed in Tennessee.

     “We want to have a broad range of scope,” says Marketing Director Stacey Gibson. “We’re a one-stop shop for anyone looking for property in southwest Virginia or northwest North Carolina.”

     The company opened a second office in Damascus, Virginia, last summer, expanding its regional reach. This winter it began publishing a monthly High South Realty Magazine, which is distributed in six different counties. Intended as a resource for people living in the mountains or looking for property, it contains informational articles as well as photo and quote contests, event calendars, and area attractions.

     “We strive to do the best we can to promote the area in a positive way,” says Randolph. “We want to go ‘above and beyond’ to spread the word about what a wonderful place this is to live.”

     Randolph’s love affair with the High County began when she was a child and her grandparents bought a summer home there. After visiting from Florida, her parents moved to the mountains when Randolph was only seven. She grew up in Ashe County, leaving it to attend East Carolina University and then Queens College in Charlotte, but moved back in 1999.

     Randolph now resides in West Jefferson with her husband, Tim, and two young children. Growing up in Ashe County, Randolph developed a special love and appreciation for the area, the people and the community.

     “Outsiders are shocked at how nice people are up here,” Randolph asserts. “Everyone waves to each other and people go out of their way to be friendly. They look out for each other.”

     Randolph’s knowledge of the area, combined with her natural people skills, propelled her into a career in real estate. After working for Century 21, she accepted the role of broker-in-charge at High South Realty, attracted by the challenge of growing a new business. She believes the two characteristics that help make a great realtor are honesty and integrity.

     “With me, it’s not about doing whatever it takes to make a sale,” she says. “It’s about making sure my clients are comfortable and happy. If they are not happy, then I’m not happy.”

     Randolph is molding High South Realty into a company which emulates her dedication, professionalism and willingness to go above and beyond the expected. High South Realty’s number one focus is on residential property, although the company handles some commercial property as well. In addition, the company manages a thriving rental vacation business.


Owning a Bit of Paradise

     Since taking the helm at High South, Randolph has focused on growing the rental program, believing that people who visit the area for a short time will want to return and buy a place of their own. High South has a listing of houses that rent either short-term or long-term, ranging from small one-bedroom cabins to large houses that sleep 12 or more. There are houses in town, on the top of mountains, or on the river. From time to time the company runs various specials to help attract renters.

     “When renters turn into prospective buyers, they have a lot of choices to make”, says Randolph.

     “Everyone says they want seclusion and privacy,” she adds, “but you have to get a feel for the type of seclusion they really want. How far do you want to be from a gas station? A grocery store? Do you get sick on winding roads? Do you own a 4-wheel drive? Do you want to be near skiing? On the water? Have a view?”

     Tara and Teddy Coffey had to answer these questions when they began looking for a mountain retreat for their young family. As the Charlotte commercial banking director at Wachovia/Wells Fargo, Tara works long stressful hours in Charlotte. Teddy has a background in land development and construction and is an avid hunter. They live in a popular subdivision in Huntersville with six-year old twin boys.

     “We wanted it all,” says Tara. “We wanted property that Teddy could hunt on; we wanted a long distance mountain view; we wanted water access; we didn’t want to be close to a road; we wanted topography we could build on; and we wanted to keep it affordable.”

     They quickly learned they had to make compromises. Being on the water usually meant sacrificing a long distance mountain view; spectacular views often came with building challenges; and the price range of property was somewhat bewildering. After looking all over North Carolina from Asheville to the Tennessee border, they found 30 acres with an unfinished log cabin in Ashe County. Two years later they are thrilled with their mountain home.

     “It’s a complete escape from the everyday world,” says Tara. “It’s so easy to go for a weekend; it’s a pretty, easy drive of two and a quarter hours. The house is small, so we really spend quality family time there. I could not be happier; it’s fantastic for my family.”

     While Tara believes Ashe County is “less discovered” than other mountain locations, she says there are fun things to do in every season and plenty to keep her family occupied. Many of those activities center around the New River and the Blue Ridge Parkway.


A Scenic Retreat

     Ashe County is located in northwestern North Carolina among the Blue Ridge Mountains. It borders both Tennessee and Virginia. The New River forms in Ashe County and is one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers in the United States. In 1998 a 26.5 mile section of the New River in Ashe County was designated a National Scenic River.

     Formed before the uplifting of the Appalachian Mountains, the New River is second only to the Nile as the oldest river in the world and it also flows north. Because of shallow, gentle waters, the New River is ideal for canoeing, kayaking and tubing, while the opportunity for occasional minor rapids adds a bit of excitement to the trip. The New River is also recognized for its sport fishing. Smallmouth and redeye bass swim in is waters and trout fishing is excellent in the smaller, faster tributaries.

     The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most impressive national parks in the nation. Referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Parkway is one of only 23 roads nationwide to have earned All-America Road status. For more than 30 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the ridges of Ashe County, showcasing spectacular long range views, picturesque log cabins and breathtaking pastoral settings. Opportunities abound to picnic, hike, and look for wildflowers. Birding is another favorite activity.

     In addition to all the outdoor activities to enjoy in Ashe County, visitors often stop in at the Ashe County Cheese Company in West Jefferson or the Todd General Store, or take in the Churches of the Frescoes. Ben Long, an Italian-trained artist, painted three frescoes at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson and another at Holy Trinity Episcopal in Glendale Springs.

     Two wineries offer tours and wine tasting: Thistle Meadow Winery in Laurel Springs, and the New River Winery in Lansing. More than a dozen art galleries and specialty shops line the streets of West Jefferson. Colorful wall-size murals are scattered throughout the downtown West Jefferson area, in addition to the historic Ashe Arts Center, which also functions as an art gallery.

     The Ashe County Arts Council has also brought together members of the community to design, paint and mount quilt block paintings on barns throughout the county. The treasure hunt begins with help of a brochure pinpointing the locations of the 17 barn quilts, available at the Arts Center in West Jefferson.


Looking Ahead

     Although operating a realty company in today’s economic downturn might sound like a risky proposition, Randolph believes the future is promising.

     “We are promoting the area very aggressively,” she says. “We are continuing to do a lot of regional advertising. And, our phones are ringing. People may not be in a position to buy now, but when they are, they will remember our name and the property they’ve seen.”

     In addition to regional advertising and the company’s own magazine, Randolph sees that High South Realty plays an active role in the community. The company has sponsored the local Relay for Life, and was a contributor to this year’s Triangle Heart Ball in Raleigh and supports the local Sharing Center with donations of food and blankets.

     This winter High South bought space heaters and donated them to families in need. It also sponsored 20 children at Christmas, providing gifts of toys and food. Randolph is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and works closely with the local Homebuilders Association.

     “You have to work twice as hard in this economy,” Randolph advises. “But, if we stay focused and take care of our clients, the hard work will pay off.”

     Within the near future, Randolph believes the economy will improve and High South Realty’s business will grow dramatically.

     “I see it exploding,” she asserts. “I expect we’ll open another office, perhaps in Tennessee, and our staff will double, or even triple. In this business, it’s all about reputation. Word of mouth is very important.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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