A look at home options after the wildfire

A wildfire that’s been described as the worst in the last century came raging from the National Park’s Chimney Top area just a little over a month ago. With so many displaced, it has left us with a real estate nightmare.

Evaluations have determined more than 1,100 properties were destroyed by the wildfire and about as many were damaged in some way in Sevier County.

It is times like this that we recognize the incredible value of human life and the sweetness of each day that we arise to see the sun and smell the coffee brewing. The toll on human life is 14 at this point. Every life is incredibly precious and no words can ever adequately describe the grief, nor can any words ever feel rich enough when we attempt to comfort out friends and family.

But even in times of tragedy, we retain our hope. Resilience and confident resolve is what we heard out of the community leaders, from the mayor of Gatlinburg to the pastor of Roaring Forks First Baptist Church to the mom digging through the ashes to find any keepsake that might have survived. All were looking forward and not backward. All were celebrating the lives that were saved and concentrating on the things that matter: we have each other.

As a REALTOR, my phone began to ring with one caller after another telling me of the house I had sold them. Many of these were second homes, cabins that were to be their ticket to retirement. Now those homes are gone.

“What do we do now?” was the question uttered over and over again with each new call.

I always say there is some silver lining in every dark cloud and I am looking for it now.

Here are some things we can expect. Insurance adjusters will be working day and night for another few weeks to determine property values as they assess the damage from the wildfire. Most of the properties will be covered by some kind of insurance, but many insurance policies will not cover actually replacement. This means that not all of the destroyed structures will build back. Decisions will be made as to whether to just pay off the mortgage (if there was one) and buy an existing home, rent for a short time while life is being sorted out and healing is beginning, or build a new structure on the existing lot.


Buying a new home will probably seem the best route for some who lost their home in the wildfire, so it’s important to understand the challenges before making a final decision. Inventory of total homes in Sevier County for sale is a bit low so those choosing to buy may find they do not have as many homes to choose from as they would like. It may be necessary to move further out of the area and commute. Purchase prices of existing homes are still generally lower than the cost to build new, however. So it might be a win to find an existing home. Each homeowner who has lost a home in the wildfire needs to examine his or her insurance policy to understand the pros and cons of the options offered. Due to inventory shortage, I would suggest that you contact a real estate agent as soon as you can and begin looking at what might be a possible home for your next season.

I would also encourage you to contact a lender and discuss your situation. Ask them about their best lending products. There are a number of loans at this time that do not require any down payment for a very low down payment. Interest rates are also very low, so you will be pleasantly and possibly surprised at the monthly payment. All of Sevier County qualifies for what’s called a rural development loan, which is a government backed loan that doesn’t require any down payment. Another loan that might be needed to give you more options is a rehabilitation loan. It allows you to borrow more than the price of the house in order to remodel or add onto it. This might be necessary as you may not find the exact property you were looking for and you would desire to make adjustments to it. It could even allow you to consider a property that would be an overnight rental cabin or chalet without, say, a garage or storage or a kitchen that is satisfactory but in every other way met your desire. You could borrow enough to cover the price of the home and the changes you want to make. This would allow you possibility of opening up your search.  This way, you would have a house to live in while you make it a true home that meets your needs.

If buying a new home isn’t the right option, you do have other choices.


Another option you can consider – and we are asking our sellers to make this option possible – would be to place an offer on a home with a stipulation that you can occupy it immediately while you are completing the insurance claim on your home, and while you are possibly also applying for a loan. In real estate lingo, this is called early occupancy. You are allowed to move into the house that you were buying as soon as you have a binding contract. You go ahead and place the utilities in your name the seller keeps the insurance on the building intact and you keep insurance on the contents during the occupancy time. Depending on how the seller is situated financially, they may be able to waive a monthly fee for this early occupancy. Sellers are particularly inclined to do this when they have received a generous offer on their house. And in some cases they will have a mortgage and would not be capable of allowing of allowing you to occupy without asking for a monthly fee and it would be treated like rent or it could be placed against the purchase price and you would receive a credit. There are a number of ways to approach this. You can depend on a good realtor to guide you in this process.

Those choosing to rent will also find that the number of rental properties available is really slim in our area. You might consider checking into overnight rental companies and see if they have any houses that would do month to month leases. RV parks have become popular for those who are not quite ready to build or buy so they temporarily house themselves in their RV. Perhaps a road trip would be a positive way to get some perspective if you can work from the road or are retired. Perhaps Sevier County individuals who have RV’s sitting in their drive ways would consider renting it to those of us who need some months of temporary housing/shelter?  Or it might be possible to purchase one and place it on your lot while you build back.


If after looking at your options and your insurance plan it seems that the very best option for you and your family is to build back, then here are some things to keep in mind. It’s important to understand that you may not be able to build back exactly what you had before the wildfire.rebuilding after wildfire You’ll want to check into this before you get too far down the road. The reason is that we have had many code changes, particularly in relation to fire codes and so the house that burned may not in today’s world meet regulations. You will want to know whether you are grandfathered in or whether changes will need to be made. You’ll also want to know what type of permit you had for your septic if you were not on a sewer.

Get a diagram from the health department of your septic field line. You may find that your septic system was not permitted for as many bedrooms as you had. This was very common in Sevier County until just a couple of years ago. Before then, when a home was sold the seller and agent were not required to advertise the number of bedrooms it was permitted for, so this discussion may not be something you had at the time of purchase.  The good news, however, is that it is possible to increase your field lines and to increase your capacity for your septic but it is something you will want to check into before you get to far into the rebuilding process. Have a geologist check out your foundation and see if it is going to need to be replaced or whether you can build back up on it.

We have many good builders in our area but due to the devastation of the downturn in the economy we lost much of our contractor industry, so we do not have enough licensed builders to handle what will be necessary to restore our area so this will be a challenge. In the last few weeks I have met with builders who are preparing to ramp up their construction companies, who have built many, many Sevier County homes in the past. They will be very well connected and able to handle many projects. You do want to be very, very careful as to whom you choose as a builder. There are so many horror stories and many ways that building can be a heartache (or maybe just a headache). You will want to be careful that you do not go with in a “fly-by-night” operation or get involved with anyone coming into the area looking to take advantage of the situation so be careful. Feel free to call our office and get a list of contractors that we have done business with, contractors who have a superb track record that we would be able to endorse.  It is also going to be a challenge to build back in that it is more expensive to build then where the current market pricing for existing homes is, so you will need to find creative ways that do not negatively impact the pricing structure of what you’re building to get it into budget.

So I am sometimes asked, “What is the value of building back?” That’s a fair question. We do not expect that the majority of individuals will pursue the construction process so those who do need to have the very highest property value if they were to resell it. It will be important to evaluate your area as well. Are there going to be buildings restored around you, or are you going to be located amid a wasteland of foundations? What type of quality will you have around your new construction?

If you choose to sell your lot (or land depending on all the factors mentioned above) will it produce value? I would expect that many areas will have an abundance of lots, and that will in turn drive down the price. You will also want to consider if you are in an HOA whether it will require that you continue to pay a monthly fee. Will they require that you remove foundation and debris? These are all expenses and consideration should be given to those questions. You will also be paying property tax on your vacant land. With as much property as we have lost in the wildfire, there are not going to be a lot of buyers for your land at premium prices.

One little side note: it’s worth thinking about how many of us now have wide open views previously blocked by many beautiful trees. Though we are saddened that we have lost so much beautiful vegetation, nonetheless we now have a knocked down crazy good view. I would recommend that you plant vegetation that will control erosion but that would not block future views. For example, indigenous plants like rhododendron, Mt. Laurel and Hemlock, dogwood , and holly are all plants that don’t grow high or don’t mind being trimmed.

Whatever your decision, we are here to help you through the process. If you are looking for a new home, we can take you to see what’s on the market. If you are looking for a place to rent, we can put you in contact with people who can help you find a place. And if you lost your home in the wildfire and want to build back, feel free to contact us also for a list of cabin builders that we consider highly.

Six commonly asked questions about selling

selling a homeAre you thinking about selling your home?

Recently, I wrote an article for the Sevier News Messenger about the questions I am most commonly asked by new homeowners planning on selling their home or cabin on the market.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

If you are thinking about selling your home and have other questions you’d like to ask, don’t hesitate to call! I stay busy, but I’m never too busy to help you with any of your real estate needs. Call me anytime at 865-765-6157 or 865-429-2121. You can also call my support line at 865-654-2111.

3-bedroom split-level home includes recreation room!

July’s “House of the Month” is this split-level three-bedroom, two-bath home located just 15 minutes from downtown Sevierville!

split-levelBuilt in 2003, this split-level house on Eledge Lane includes more than 1,800 finished total square feet on a large lot. With a main floor of approximately 1,300 square feet, this three-bedroom, two-bath home also includes a partially finished basement that serves as a recreation room. Upstairs, the kitchen was recently remodeled with glimmering, granite-look counters and painted cabinets. Other rooms in the home have been given fresh coats of paint throughout the split-level house to really bring it to life! Relax inside in the comfort of the living room or enjoy the outdoors as you grill out on the back deck!

This split-level home offers a number of features and amenities, including ceiling fan(s), a two-car garage, a great room, a recreation room, washer/dryer connections, and high-speed internet. Appliances that come with the home include a dishwasher, electric range, a microwave/range hood combination, and a refrigerator.Eledge_Lane-16

Located in a low traffic neighborhood in a magnificent country setting, the split-level home sets on a large, spacious, flat nearly half-acre yard that will provide hours of fun for the whole family. What’s more, it is easy to maintain. With nearly half an acre of ground, you have plenty of room to expand and enjoy the outdoors!

This split-level home is close to a number of businesses, shops, and other important facilities, such as the local hospital, Sevier County High School, the newly opened Wal-Mart Market, and the Sevier County Airport. New Center School is just 3 minutes away.

You can find additional details about and photos of the property here.

If you would like to know more about or schedule a visit to see this split-level home, please call me at 865-765-6157, my support line at 865-654-2111, or my office at 865-429-2121.


Selling your cabin

selling your cabin tip

If you’re thinking about selling your cabin, this article is for you!

You might be surprised to learn that investment cabins make up roughly half of our local real estate market in the Great Smoky Mountain area. People come from all over to purchase them, so many of them are not locally owned. Of course, finding the right cabin to buy takes time and requires a bit of consideration, research, and understanding about what’s needed to make it the best source of income. This can mean a long, drawn out process for people who come from outside the area, and can result in a search that requires many visits over several months before the buyers find the perfect investment cabin for them. Selling your cabin quickly requires you to be a bit proactive before you put it on the market.

The first step in selling your cabin is to understand its market value. You need to know what prospective buyers are looking for (probably some of the same things you were looking for when you bought the cabin).

One of the most valuable pieces of information when buying an investment cabin is what its maximum rental income value can be. This makes it equally important when selling your cabin to know how to demonstrate its potential as an investment as well. In order to get top dollar for an investment cabin when you sell it, it needs to already be renting very well. The more it collects in rental income, the more you can ask for when you set your purchase price. While there may not be much you can do about the rental history once you decide on selling your cabin, there are things you can do to the cabin itself to improve its appeal to prospective buyers walking through. Your goal when selling your cabin should be to actually cause those prospective buyers to see the potential increase in the rental revenue.

In fact, if you are thinking about selling your cabin, there are several things you can do very quickly that should help to maximize the value.

First, deep clean the cabin. This seems simple, but most cabins get dirtier and dirtier as time passes. A regular cleaning won’t get the job done the way a deep cleaning will. As realtors we repeatedly see a clean property bring many more dollars than the one that didn’t get the deep clean.   Do some pressure washing, put a fresh coat of stain on the areas that are showing wear, and silly things like making sure every light bulb works! You will not believe how buyers devalue your cabin when “little items” don’t work. They start becoming suspicious that big scary items don’t work that are behind the tongue and groove, like the hot water heater or the heat and air system!

Secondly, prune, chop, mow, and throw around some fresh mulch!   Give your landscaping some attention. This is literally worth thousands of dollars in value when you are selling your cabin. When a buyer arrives at your cabin, the yard outside is their first impression and you want them to have a great feeling about the cabin before they go inside. Get your family to help if you can’t afford to hire a professional landscaper.  Personally. I always was successful bribing my kiddos with ice cream cones or a trip to the Ole Smoky Kitchen in exchange for their help to get rid of the pesky weeds and leaves.

Our third great secret is to throw out anything broken. This is not the time to be practical, it’s better to have one less chair than a broken one sitting in the cabin. Strip off those worn out window treatments and discard the old area rugs and welcome mats that are very welcoming anymore. Just throw them away! Sometimes we get used to broken items. I can hear my husband, “But it still works.”Oh my goodness, if you have a hoarder that is near and dear to your heart (or maybe you are the hoarder), don’t go “cold turkey.” Take it to your storage unit, hide it in the basement, or under the steps. Just get those broken items out of sight before selling your cabin.

Century21 MVP Luxury Log Home for Sale_002
Replace rotted boards on the deck before selling your cabin. If you have even one rotted board, a buyer will want to negotiate for major repairs and possibly replacement of the entire deck!

The fourth recommendation on our list before selling your cabin is the most important piece of increasing its purchase value. Get a handyman (we can help you with this if you need a recommendation). Have him do the small repairs you just haven’t gotten around to. Put on the list things such as patch holes where woodpeckers had dinner, fix any leaking pipe, and replace the molding around doors that have become weathered or scratched by pets. Give him a small budget and ask him to do as much as he can with your budget.   Ask him to go over your cabin with you and make good suggestions. Look for cabinets hanging a bit off kilter. You might need a light coat of stain on the cabinets if they look worn, or new wood on decks that have rotted. The whole deck doesn’t need to be replaced but if you don’t fix the one rotten board, then very likely you are going to be asked to replace the whole deck.  Remember that a buyer is going to have an inspection done and they are going to ask for these items to be fixed anyway. If you get a jump on the repair needs, fixing them before selling your cabin will probably save you money and the buyer won’t be looking over your shoulder while you take care of the items found by an inspector.

Lastly, number five, change out the old TV’s. You won’t believe how buyers look at old television sets that can be replaced for several hundred dollars and say, “Oh my gosh!” They grab their heads and say, “Everything is so outdated!” I say as their agent, “It’s just a TV. We can change that!” But it settles in their mind that they are purchasing an outdated cabin.   It is true that a new flat screen television makes a large difference in renters choosing it over other cabins. I think renters use the age of the TV’s and electronics as a barometer on the condition of the cabin. Remember, if you won’t replace it, then the buyer will have to and that is money you will be giving up when it comes time to start negotiating the price. And usually, the buyer doesn’t offer a few hundred less, but a few thousand, as that is the value in their mind.

These are just a few things you can do to prepare. If you have other questions about selling your cabin, I and my staff are here to answer them for you – email or call us at 865-765-6157 or 865-654-2111.