Head for the Mountains: Higher altitude locales shake off cold winter temperatures to promote bustling season for rentals, purchases

Vacation homes and permanent residences can be found on top of mountain peaks and rolling hills in the western North Carolina mountains and elsewhere nearby (Provided).

Freezing temperatures chilled residents in the mountains of the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia this winter, but the weather hasn't cooled off spending and visits.

"We feel very upbeat about this year," says Tom Perry, agent with Connestee Falls Realty in Brevard, N.C.

The winter was uncomfortable. "It was really cold." At the same time, "We only had two snowfalls this year," Perry says. "Now that the weather is breaking, buyers are coming back," he says. "That's pretty good."

In 2013, real estate agents in Transylvania County, where Brevard is located, reported their best sales year since 2006. The same trends are shaping up for 2014, says Perry, noting that he's closed five sales already this year.

Buyers plan to retire in the mountains, either right away or at a later stage. "They come from Atlanta, Florida, Columbia, Charleston to get away from the heat," he says.

"We are starting to see second homeowners come back," he says. The economy's strengthening, and "people realize the market pretty much bottomed out. Interest rates are still low. It's a good time to buy," says Perry, a Cleveland, Ohio, native who moved to western North Carolina in 1998 as he prepared to retire from 35 years in the computer industry.

The mountain rental business also shows upward signs. "It's going really, really well," says Renee Baker, who two seasons ago opened Fodderstack Farm between Pisgah Forest and Dupont State Park. The converted barn provides a back-to-nature feel including grazing sheep, tame donkeys and free-range chickens hatching farm fresh eggs.

"Families come from Atlanta and North Carolina cities," she says. The next wave are mountain bikers and cyclists. "I (also) have women's groups come, to get away from the kids."

Fodderstack Farm stands about 15 minutes from Hendersonville to the east and Brevard to the west. "You basically rent the house," she says, noting that eight people typically fills the place.

Baker and her husband Drew moved from Chicago six years ago. He teaches at Brevard College. They bought the farm and soon after launched the rental business. "It's our first farm experience," she says.

The Bakers, too, survived the sub-freezing temperatures in the mountains this winter and early spring but weren't impacted businesswise. "We had people come on vacation through New Year's. January-March, nobody comes at that time. Basically, it's the off season," she says.

"It was really cold here - not much snow - like the rest of the country," Baker says. "I had to put blankets on the donkeys."

The biggest surprise with running the business, Baker says, involves the hospitality of the vacationers. "I wasn't sure what to expect (last year)." But "people respond in a very heart felt way."

Although 30 percent of real estate agent Perry's business is throughout Transylvania and adjacent counties, he specializes in sales at the 4,000-acre Connestee Falls gated community south of Brevard. Formed in the 1970s, the neighborhood touts about 1,300 residences with a golf course, swimming pool and clubhouse among its amenities.

Here's one of his listings:

"The perfect vacation getaway in Connestee Falls - a gated community in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. A golf course setting on the 3rd hole, this newer Linwood Cedar home has many stunning features: Stack stone wall surrounds the gas fireplace, huge wall of windows, vaulted cedar ceiling, granite countertops, cedar cabinets, stainless steel appliances, skylights, winter lake view, island cooktop. Mountain living bonus: a flat driveway," Perry says, noting that the offered price is $315,000.

"The slogan (at Connestee Falls) is 'Live where you play,'" he says.

To reach the mountains from downtown Charleston, get on Interstate 26 west and continue to Spartanburg. From there, most South Carolina and Georgia resorts are to the west, while North Carolina and Tennessee places are an hour or more further north.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.