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Stock surge boosts sales of high-end homes

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

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The record-setting stock market pumped some new energy into the upper end of Charlotte’s real estate market last year. As the Dow soared, said Valerie Mitchener of HM Properties, wealthy buyers became more comfortable buying big, expensive houses.

“There was a point, I think, when anything over $2 million really slowed here,” she said. “Even people who had money were hesitant. ... Now there’s much more activity, many more people buying in that price range. ... I’m definitely getting more calls.”

Mitchener said she’s seeing increasing activity in such popular, close-in neighborhoods as Myers Park, Eastover, Foxcroft and the SouthPark area. “And there’s a lot of new construction, which is a really good sign.”

Emails are flying among top agents and brokers, she said, asking whether anything new has come onto the market at the upper end.

Mitchener’s firm doesn’t deal exclusively in high-end homes, but handles quite a few. One of her current listings is the most expensive in MLS Area 5 in southeast Charlotte. It’s in Ballantyne Country Club and is on the market for $3.95 million. (It has eight bedrooms – and 11 bathrooms.)

“High end” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s hard to attach a dollar figure to that label. But Mitchener said that in her experience, the market at $2 million and up behaves differently from the market below that level.

These figures underscore just how much that slice of the market has improved: In 2012 in Mecklenburg County, 14 homes sold for $2 million or more. Last year in Mecklenburg, 34 homes sold through Carolina Multiple Listing Services for $2 million or more.

Conventional wisdom is that the wealthy cut back when the economic headlines turn gloomy. Those who don’t depend on monthly paychecks start behaving more like those who worry about their next paychecks.

Mitchener largely agrees with that.

Tighter lending and tougher appraisals hurt sales at the upper end, just as they did in every other price range. But mostly, she said, wealthy buyers had to regain confidence about investing in Charlotte real estate.

The S&P 500 was up almost 30 percent at the end of the year, its biggest jump since 1997. The Dow gained 26.5 percent last year – setting record highs along the way – its best since 1998. It closed at 16,576.66 at the end of the year. It’s easy to see how those headlines inspire confidence.

Other business and economic news inspired confidence, too.

This one might surprise you: Mitchener said that the upper end of the market benefited when news broke that Wall Street-backed investors were buying up $150,000 houses. Those sophisticated investors spent millions on area real estate. That helped sophisticated buyers here become a little more comfortable about investing in Charlotte.

Said Mitchener: “Is that trickle up?”

Special to the Observer: homeinfo@charter.net
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