The owners of Blackberry Farm announced plans in 2010 for a small residential development associated with the luxury resort in Walland.
The idea was to develop 18 home sites on 30 acres, even though other East Tennessee developers — particularly Maryville-based Rarity Communities — were suffering mightily from the economic downturn.
Since then, though, the Blackberry project has seen most of its inventory taken. Tyler Congleton, managing partner of Blackberry Development Co., said 17 of the 18 lots have been sold, with four homes completed, two more under construction and two more expected to break ground within the next three months.
Congleton said sales have gotten stronger over the last year. “I think it’s probably a combination of the fact that the bad years of 2009 and 2010 get further in the rearview mirror, and folks realize that the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket,” he said. “That and the fact they can see the progress. … Visual progress in a project like this is always a key factor.”
The residential project isn’t the only sign of progress. In May, Blackberry Farm got the top ranking among U.S. and Canadian resorts in Travel+Leisure magazine’s World’s Best Service Awards.
That reputation is among the draws for the residential project. Buyers have access to Blackberry’s concierge service and top-of-the-line dining options, while the residences feature designer touches.
The homes are built by Hickory Construction, and executive vice president Chuck Alexander said they typically include wood walls and ceilings, with many of the homes featuring antique flooring.
Alexander cited old Tennessee farmhouses as an aesthetic influence, adding “they didn’t have sheetrock.”
Congleton said buyers have come from 11 states and even an American living in Hong Kong. “It’s mostly families that are buying,” he added, “but it’s everywhere from … folks that are in their late 30s to recent retirees.”
Not every project with ties to Blackberry has taken off. In 2007, a group of investors spent $19.1 million to buy 5,000 acres on and around Chilhowee Mountain and announced plans for a low-density development associated with the resort. While a conservation easement has been enacted on part of that land, residential development — at one time estimated at 30 to 100 home sites — has not begun.
The market for homes at a site like Blackberry certainly isn’t a proxy for the broader residential market, and data from the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors highlights the challenges facing sellers of upper-bracket homes generally.
In April, for example, there were 34 MLS-listed homes and condos sold for $500,000 or more, compared to 43 such properties that were sold in the same month during 2006.
The good news? The trendlines may be turning. In April 2011, only 18 homes or condos exceeded that half-million-dollar threshold.
©2012 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)
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