A look at the second half of 2020 in Smoky Mountains real estate

As we move through the second half of the year, many of the people who contact us about buying cabins first ask if the challenges from COVID have affected the market. It’s a great question, and something we are constantly monitoring. The answer, though, is not really. The condition we were in with our market through most of 2019 still holds true today. We have a shortage of properties – especially with vacation cabins – and a flurry of ready, willing, and able buyers who are looking to own a second home or investment property in the Smokies. I do still expect there to be some people who need to get the cash out of their cabins for other life pursuits and may be under some pressure to sell, but this is still a sellers’ market. I don’t foresee that changing this year.

The number of buyers hasn’t dropped off, either. This is due to lowered interest rates on financing and a strong tourism market that keeps the rental cabin business profitable. Cabins are booked solid through September and we are seeing an uptick in the number of visitors to the area. Many of those bookings have been scheduled at the last minute. Our guests can stay in a cabin and practice social distancing just as easily as they can at home, so many people find that appealing.

New construction is still an option, too. It’s taking a little longer and it’s still as painful as ever. We’ve seen price increases in lumber and other materials, but lenders are still offering loans on new builds and the rates are as competitive as buying an existing cabin. So, it’s still a viable option if you’re in the position to be patient with the process of waiting to make your money back while it’s being built.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the rental vacation market is still very strong. We are excited for people to come and visit our area, enjoy the national park, and enjoy the comforts of our vacation cabins. Just remember to be wary of your surroundings, be respectful of our residents and other guests in what is a difficult, stressful time for a lot of people, and bring your mask. But most of all, enjoy the treasures that are here, and enjoy the time with family and friends who come with you!

Looking to save on your tax bill?

I’m excited to share with you information on a new law that went into effect a few weeks ago to help us vacation cabin owners as a result of the COVID pandemic we are working our way through.

The law, called the CARES Act, includes a provision that will allow cabin owners – and other businesses – to charge the losses against taxes we paid in previous years for up to the last five years. Some of the relief you can seek on your taxes under the CARES Act (as listed on the irs.gov website) include:

  • waiving the carryback period in the case of a net operating loss arising in a taxable year beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2021,
  • disregarding certain amounts of foreign income subject to transition tax that would normally have been included as income during the five-year carryback period, and
  • waiving a carryback period, reducing a carryback period, or revoking an election to waive a carryback period for a taxable year that began before Jan. 1, 2018, and ended after Dec. 31, 2017.

I’m working with a company called ACRS (Accelerated Cost Recovery Solutions) that specializes in helping with tax reduction on vacation cabins through a process called Cost Segregation, “a strategy for accelerating depreciation, reducing taxes, and increasing cash flow,” as their company puts it. The process is simple. Every item in your cabin has a monetary depreciation value that can be determined by someone like ACRS. Whether it’s a pool table, a kitchen set, or even the lamp in the corner of the living room, all of these items can be checked to determine what the value will be for reducing your bill at tax time. Having this study done can save you a bundle, and you only pay about 10 percent of what you get back in taxes for the study.

You should talk to your tax attorney or CPA to see if a cost segregation study is right for you, but in the meantime if you’d like to learn more about it you can check out the ACRS website for a bit more explanation on how the study works.

Right now they are doing a study of my cabins to help me figure out where I can save on my tax bill.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

The future of rental cabin investments

As we continue to navigate the global challenge of the coronavirus and its impact upon the economy, many are asking what the effect on the real estate market will be over the next few years. In a recent article, I shared about what we learned from the downturn in the last decade when we saw foreclosures and short sales. I don’t expect we will see that sort of thing this time around, for several reasons.

One of the main differences this time is the stimulus and business loan programs that are being offered. The federal government has already issued one-time payments to families – something that didn’t happen during the crash in the late 2000s – and they are considering more. Also, even people who aren’t normally eligible for unemployment are being allowed to sign up for it now due to loss of work. These stimulus packages, if they are all approved, will lead to people earning up to three times as much than they made when they were working – particularly those who were considered lower income earners. The result of this will be seen as early as the third quarter of next year, with an inflation increase of 3 to 4 percent. It will also probably lead to increases in mortgage rates during that same time period, probably closer to where they were before the current pandemic all began.

Right now, interest rates are incredibly low and it is a fantastic time to buy, especially if you are looking at options for long-term investment. As we move into a new season, property values for the strongest investments are expected to increase. Coupled with higher interest rates in that next season, the window of opportunity to buy will close.

On the sellers’ side of things, this is a fantastic time to sell if you own a investment or vacation/second home cabin. Inventory continues to be low and market prices are holding steady, however we know from our past experience that as summer approaches there will be people who need the cash equity from their cabins. Perhaps it was something they were using strictly as a vacation property or it wasn’t earning enough on rental to help the owners stay ahead of the mortgage payments. Those cabins will be priced below market value and their sales will impact appraisal values on cabins that are sold after. So sometime around September we will begin to see a slight shift in appraisal values. Cabins that continue to cash flow will be less likely to be sold during this time, and so inventory will continue to be low. This will also mean new construction will continue to be a popular option for many people.

And it will be worth the wait for the cabin to be built, as the new construction options will include newer, more popular amenities, upgraded materials and design to match what is most appealing for our guests. So when it is done it will be worth more than something that is older and outdated, and will generate more in gross revenue rental income as a result.

As always, I am always available to talk with you and answer any questions you may have about the current real estate and rental cabin market. Stay safe!

Introducing Lake Haven Resort at Douglas Lake

As we work our way through the challenges with the coronavirus, one question we are frequently asked is how the real estate market here is doing. Before this happened, we were in a sellers’ market due to a low number of properties for sale and a high demand among buyers. The result of that sellers’ market has been a strong focus on new construction with many new construction projects planned for this year.

That hasn’t changed. The need for new residential and vacation cabins is still there, and the good news is that there are developers and builders working to meet that demand. One of the areas we have been working with developers is a new resort at Douglas Lake. We are very excited to announce Lake Haven Resort as our most recent construction development project!

Work has already begun to create this gated community. Several of the cabins planned for the resort in the first phase of construction will have lake views in a high-ridge pristine park-like setting. These cabins will be built as one and two bedroom homes that can be placed on an overnight rental program with gross rental income projections of up to $40,000 depending on how much you use the cabin for yourself. As we move into the second phase, owners of cabins built in the current first phase will have the first option on owning in the second phase.

The purchase price for these cabins starts at $199,000 and we have several lenders who will finance the construction project. Contact us to find out more about this project and see if it is right for you!

Building in 2020

As we approach spring of 2020, we continue to see a strong sellers’ market for our vacation cabins here in the Smokies, meaning we have a low number of cabins for sale and a rising market value for properties with strong rental potential. Our theme for last year was “building is making a comeback,” and our theme for this year is “a season of building.” Many new construction projects planned in 2019 are now underway and more lots are continually being developed as places to construct cabins (and traditional homes, too).

If you currently own a vacation cabin, this is the best time to sell. The market value compared to building has not plateaued, and if you’ve owned your cabin for a while, it’s likely you could take what you make from your sale and put into a new construction. This will mean new amenities, updated designs in line with the current trends, and a concept utilizing both of those ideas that will translate into higher passive income for you. For example, cabins with indoor pools are performing better than ones without because they attract people at times of the year such as January when there are less people coming in for a visit. The National Park is closed during the winter, but people will still rent a cabin to go swimming in its indoor pool.

Those of you who have followed my newsletter will know our top local resorts are Sherwood Forest, Starr Crest, and Legacy Mountain. Last year, cabins in those resorts sold at prices that hadn’t been seen since before the downturn in 2008. Along with that, we saw the time to receive an accepted offer for many cabins – not just in those resorts, but in general – drop from a few weeks to a few days. This trend is continuing even now. So if you’re thinking about selling, now is the time.

One of the first steps to take in considering selling is to see for yourself what your cabin is worth in today’s market and compare it to the price you paid when you bought it. We can definitely help you with finding those two things out! Just give us a call or send an email or text. I look forward to hearing from you! I can be reached at 865-765-6157 or 865-654-2111, or by email at deborah@deborahkorlin.us.  You will be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.

And if you’re considering buying, this is a great time for you as well if you are able to make the decision quickly. I’ve talked before about how to put the strongest offer forward for the cabin you want. Although prices are higher, the rental income for these properties continues to be strong. You will want to hold onto the property for as long as possible until you reach a point where you can sell it and invest the money in what you have planned for your next season, whether that is a bigger cabin or another life goal you are working toward. Our tourism industry attracted a record number of people in the last year, with totals breaking more than 12 million people. And we know that the majority of people who come here want to stay in a vacation cabin.

If as a buyer you are more interested in building, that is definitely an option. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will have to wait a little while to start making money, as it takes between six to nine months to build. Some builders are financing their projects and then selling when completed, but most are requiring buyers to secure their own construction loans to fund the project.

Remember, now is the time.

Resort cabin is ready to rent!

If you’re looking for an investment that is ready to go, you won’t want to miss seeing this recently remodeled cabin at Hidden Springs resort! The basement is finished, with a newly added game room and additional bedroom! The cabin’s recessed hot tub and generous game room provide plenty of space for guests to relax and take in the mountain location of this home. Just minutes from Dollywood and Pigeon Forge, this cabin is conveniently located within a short drive of the area’s major attractions! Resort features and indoor and outdoor pool that allows guests to swim year round!

To learn more about this cabin, click or tap here.

To schedule a showing at this cabin, call or text our team line at 865-654-2111.

Finding the Win in Real Estate in 2020

Throughout 2019, our theme has been “building is making a comeback.” And it has. We’ve seen so many new cabin construction projects over the last year, including a few resorts we helped developers and builders to implement. Hibernation Station was one of our team’s most exciting projects! We absolutely love some of the new products!  In particular “log” cabins that are being constructed from a special concrete that is not only indistinguishable from a traditional log cabin, but also higher quality and lower maintenance.  Carpenter bees aren’t going to bore into concrete! 

Part of what has made building so popular is the fact that we have a shortage of available cabins for sale. As early as last spring, we began to see prices climb on vacation rental cabins due to the high demand among buyers, and if it was an awesome cabin, the demand was even greater. This past year, it was not uncommon to see a cabin receive multiple offers within days, sometimes hours, of coming on the market. And the later it was in the year, the more those offers were. Our team has had several cabins listed that were under contract within a day or 2. The demand has just pushed the prices higher and higher, until we will very soon reach a point where the cost to buy a cabin matches the cost to build one.

So going into 2020, the most important thing to keep in mind when building a cabin is that you need to build with the current trends in mind. You want to stay on the front of the changing designs.  You will want your new investment cabin to reflect what people are looking for now and tomorrow. Before you all go away screaming and pulling your hair out, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will make the project easier to manage.

Choose the floor plan that best fits the most popular desires. Some of the concepts that are out of date now are elements like tiny kitchens where the refrigerator is positioned up against the stove, whirlpools in the bedroom, no game room, no special media-theater amenity and non-existent outdoor areas because the cabin is sitting at the edge of a wooded cliff overlook. Instead, the next generation of cabins will have larger kitchen spaces, a defined dining area, a private bathroom for every bedroom, and space for outdoor living, kitchen, fire pit area. Indoor pools and swim spas are also popular if you have the space in your floor plan to include them. All of these amenities will add to the gross rental income and should pay for themselves. Elements that have never gone out of style; walls of glass, rustic elements, the cabin look and feel, drama and openness to the floor plan, lofts.

Be patient with the construction process. As building becomes more popular, the wait time for a cabin to be built can increase. Even after you pick out the lot that can accommodate the design you have selected, you may find that you need to wait a little while due to other steps before building can begin. You will need to secure permits and HOA approvals, conduct surveys and appraisals- all before you break ground. So while you’re waiting, you’re obviously not making money on your investment. You need to make sure you can manage the long game until your cabin is finished. As a good rule of thumb, plan on about a sixteen months from start to finish.

Be willing to sell an existing cabin to finance your new build. If you have a rental cabin already, don’t remodel it – sell it. It’s less expensive to build something correctly than it is to remodel. Additionally, new cabins are at the top of the rental market because of the adjustments in the amenities. So it will cost as much or more to remodel something existing to make it match what’s being built new (where it’s even possible), but probably won’t increase the value to match that of a new cabin. The value of a new cabin is between 20 to 25 percent more than an existing cabin of similar size. In fact, many of our top investors making their living on vacation cabins are selling their existing cabin to build a new one. Roughly 90 percent of our Hibernation Station clients were people who owned in another popular resort, Sherwood Forest.

In the coming months, we will be sharing details on new resort projects that are developing and what is happening with the existing cabin market. I expect the trend of multiple offer situations on existing cabins to continue, so if you prefer to buy than to build you will need to prepare yourself to win the bid. I will share more on how to do that in my next blog article.

Making the Most from Your Cabin Investment

As we near the end of 2019, we’re reaching that time of year where cabin owners who are thinking about their taxes in the spring make the decision to sell their investment/vacation property. Maybe that’s you. In terms of where the market is at, this is the time if you’re thinking about selling.

In my November blog, I talked about why that is true. Low inventory coupled with a flurry of buyers that hasn’t really slowed down despite the lack of properties to choose from has resulted in a resurgence of new construction. 2020 will be a season of building and property values will start to plateau once the construction projects takes root. So if you’re holding an older cabin, now could be a super good time to take advantage of the cycle and sell it. You can purchase something new for just a little bit more. 

The question we are hearing from our buyers and sellers now is how long until we reach the top of where cabins can cash flow positive? Until about two years ago, we were seeing cabins gross roughly 15 percent, on average, of what they sold for. So this means a cabin that sold for $200,000 was yielding a return of about $30,000 gross rental income. Then you’d have the split with the rental company if you were using one, and pay your expenses from your net income. That amount would vary based on taxes, HOA dues, amenity fees, etc. Now that same $200,000 cabin is likely to sell for $325,000 but with about the same gross rental income. You might be able to negotiate a slightly better split with the rental company, but you’re probably looking at around 10 to 12 percent of the sales price in gross rental income, rather than 15. So it will still provide positive cash flow.  We have also seen gross rental revenue increase in cabins that were upscale, fully outfitted and had amenities like a fire-pit;  therefore it is possible that the reduction is actually an increase for some.

So when will we plateau, or slow down in terms of market prices?  I believe it is likely when the purchase price rises to the point that the revenue only covers costs and no longer makes an income.  Then our properties become attractive to those who desire a true second home. Those in the market will be owners who only want revenue to defer some of the cost, whereas a true investor will look elsewhere for passive income. It will be much like you see at the beach where those who are wealthy and have discretionary excess income purchase a second home for their enjoyment and if rentals defray maintenance cost and HOA dues they’re pleased. 

But right now is a wonderful time to sell high if you bought low and a wonderful time to buy something that will cash flow positive pay for itself and give you a tax write off.  Where else can you stay in your investment and watch the sunset? Not in your stock and bonds!

If you’re thinking about buying a rental cabin as an investment, there’s a win for you, too. What’s important is that you buy sooner rather than later and prepare to hold it even if the market plateaus or enters another downturn. Even in the downturn more than a decade ago, our clients who prospered through it did so by using the rental income to pay the cabin off. Then, they waited until the market was on the upswing before selling. Even in those years when property values were low, rental income didn’t change.  In a downturn we become an even more attractive destination.  Vacationers who were going overseas playing in the Caribbean decided to stay closer to home and to drive to their vacation destination rather than fly. Americans believe in vacationing! It’s very close to mom and apple pie. And since we are within a day’s driving distance to 75% of the population of the United States.

Whenever you can it is always a good move to own the latest, greatest, newest, largest in short to have the best.  And sometimes that means remodeling, refreshing, or just buying new. As time marches on, make sure your investment stays strong and at the top of its potential performance! 

My team and I are always here to answer any questions you may have about our local real estate market. Call us at 865-654-2111! We would love to talk with you! We never mind giving you specific values on your property so you can make informed decisions. 

Design your own cabin at Cobbly Nob

This month’s cabin of the month is a pre-construction build in Cobbly Nob. In this 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath you can pick your finishes and colors. The cabin design included more than 2800 square feet in the desirable Cobbly Nob community. Located on a beautiful, private wooded lot, the cabin design also includes two master suites each with private baths, and one large bedroom downstairs. The cabin’s open floor plan offers high quality, brand new materials! The kitchen opens to the great room, with the dining room located in between. Other amenities include a half bath on the main level and the downstairs has a super large recreation/media room.

This cabin is perfect for a second home or as an investment overnight rental property. Pics are of like construction by this builder. To learn more about this cabin construction, click or tap here.

If you’d like to visit the property or talk with us about this build, please call me and my team at 865-654-2111 or 865-765-6157.

Vacation rental cabins provide great investment opportunity

Our real estate market in the Great Smoky Mountains is known among investors as one of the top 10 places to invest for overnight rentals. Vacation cabins are incredibly popular, and we attract millions of visitors every year. What makes this region such a draw for so many is the variety of offerings. We have the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at our doorstep. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg work to be the absolute best at hosting festivals, parties, and other events. Outside of the holiday festivities which always leave our rental market “sold out,” our local communities play host to car shows, concerts, and all sorts of other activities throughout most of the year. On top of that, our local attractions – Dollywood is well known, but also the museums, go-cart and miniature golf, and many other family-themed local businesses that cater primarily to our visitors – provide plenty of fun and entertainment.

So over the years, the vacation rental cabins have added to the experience of being in the mountains. Our rental companies have worked hard to continually develop the cabin model so that it best accommodates guests’ needs, from everything to including game rooms with pool tables to the eventual construction of indoor swimming pool areas within cabins. The goal has always been to make the cabin as appealing as possible to guests so that it stays booked as many nights of the year as possible.

If you’ve been seriously thinking about buying a vacation rental cabin and have been watching our market these last few months, I’m sure you have noticed the trend of our region as a sellers’ market hasn’t slowed down from a year ago. In an article I wrote a year ago, I shared with you that the number of available cabins on the market had begun to slow. Since then, we’ve seen that number continue to decline while the prices have continued to climb. As the prices have reached a point that is almost in line with the price to build a new cabin, we have seen building begin to make a comeback this year.

The good news in this is that even as the prices rise, the number of tourists visiting our region has risen with it. What’s more, we’ve seen the number of people staying a little further outside Pigeon Forge rise with it. In March, local media were reporting record numbers of visitors in places like Wears Valley, as there are ways into the National Park from that side of the county that have begun to be discovered.

For sellers, the important thing to remember is that as construction continues to ramp up, the window of opportunity to sell your cabin will begin to close. Eventually new construction will be as appealing as buying something existing, so we expect to see prices level off – not drop, but stop climbing as buyers shift to a building focus. For buyers, the important thing to remember is that even though the deals of yesterday are gone, cabins are still a very strong investment option thanks to our thriving tourist industry.

If you are planning to buy or sell a cabin, or build a cabin and would like to more about the current market, my team and I are always here to help! Call or text us at 865-654-2111 and we will be glad to answer any questions you have!