Elevation and home prices in Macon County


If you have ever suspected that high-elevation homes in Macon County are more valuable and more likely to be owned by a non-resident, it looks like you’re right. This week’s column from the Coweeta Listening Project digs into county tax records and research papers on real estate values to describe and understand this phenomenon.

Using the most recent tax data available on the county website, we found that residential structures whose owners have a primary address outside of North Carolina tend to have higher home values. Of the 25,700 residential structures in Macon County, the majority (65%) are owned by households whose primary mailing address is in North Carolina. The average assessed building value for those properties is $167,755. The remaining 35% have out-of-state owners, and their average assessed value is nearly twice as high: $302,992.

Now we’ll take a look at where these higher valued homes are located. Generally, average land and building values increase at higher elevations. We examined the county’s GIS tax data, which lists an elevation for all structures in the county. We divided the range of elevations in Macon County into five equal parts. As you can see in the resulting table, home values rise significantly as elevation increases.

Finally, we examine the relationship between ownership and elevation. While the majority of residential properties in the county are owned by households with primary addresses in North Carolina, most of these houses are located at lower elevations. However, for each of the other elevation categories analyzed, there are more homes owned by out-of-state owners than by instate owners.

We have seen that Macon County’s highelevation homes are of higher average value and tend to have out-of-state owners. Now let’s try to understand this phenomenon. In Macon County, it is likely that new construction must happen at higher elevations because there is little suitable developable land remaining at lower elevations. Thus, the out-of-state second homeowners driving the demand for new construction tend to build up high. However, this does not explain housing prices.

The most common assumption is that elevation increases home values because it provides homeowners with a better view. Surprisingly though, real estate research has not been able to quantify the effect of a mountain view. This is because in a mountainous area, all homes tend to have some type of view (unlike ocean-front or lake areas, where only waterfront properties have views).

To further complicate the picture, grand mountaintop views tend to mean worse access to services, groceries, and the like. As much as people like to “get away from it all,” studies show that people value convenient access to amenities and that isolation decreases prices. Usually, higher elevations also mean that builders are dealing with steeper slopes, which in turn increase construction costs, making these lots less desirable. Holding elevation constant, an increase in lot slope tends to reduce price. Holding slope constant, we expect the effect of elevation to be unclear because higher elevations have better views but are also less accessible. In fact, a recent paper by Coweeta LTER scientists Carolyn Dehring and Craig Depken found that in Asheville higher elevation was associated with lower land prices, controlling for other lot characteristics.

To really understand the effect of elevation on price in Macon County we would need to be able to look at vacant land lot sales and prices and to control for elevation and the quality of view, among other things. Recent volatility in house prices makes such an undertaking difficult. Even so, though the research on real estate worldwide is mixed on the relationship between price and elevation, Macon County’s tax records show a relatively clear relationship between elevation, price, and the out-of-state versus instate ownership.

 

Elevation

Average Value

Ownership

< 2570 ft.

$ 196, 179

Majority in-state

2,571-3,241 ft.

$ 359, 296

Majority out-of-state

3,242-3,912 ft.

$ 666,246

Majority out-of-state

3,912-4,584 ft.

$ 1,112,628

Majority out-of-state

> 4,584 ft.

[not enough comps]

Majority out-of-state

 

This column is produced by members of the Coweeta Listening Project (CLP), a branch of the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research Program. Views expressed here are not representative of the USDA Forest Service or the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab. Please share questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics at cwtlistn@uga.edu or Coweeta Listening Project, UGA, 210 Field St., Room 204, Athens, Georgia 30602.

 

Original Citation: The Coweeta Listening Project. Franklin Press. Column on "Science, Public Policy, Community." Page A6. Dec 5, 2012.