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High-end homes boom in Davidson

A former spec house has now been sold in the Reserve at River Run in Davidson.
A former spec house has now been sold in the Reserve at River Run in Davidson. JEFF SINER - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Builder Donna Wildrick Logan had plans drawn up for an expensive speculative home in River Run in Davidson. Her plans – and the price – were ambitious in a still-recovering housing market.

She sold it before she broke ground. She’d hoped to sell it for $959,000, an imposing figure – but the buyers added a wide front porch, a screened porch, a pool, an exercise room and a couple more bathrooms – and pushed the price to $1.1 million.

At 5,200 square feet, “It was the largest spec house ever in River Run,” she said. “They love the house and they love the community.”

Among newcomers to the neighborhood are Matthew and Katie Comiskey. With a third child on the way at the time, they were looking for their “forever” home. They’d looked at existing homes, but couldn’t find what they wanted.

The Reserve at River Run, a new phase in the 24-year-old community, is buzzing. Builders are erecting whole blocks of custom and speculative homes priced at more than $750,000. Streets are jammed with trucks and tractors as workers swarm. Many homes top 4,000 square feet.

Why now, and why River Run?

Successful buyers are comfortable spending again. “There’s still a market for that high end. ... People that have the money are feeling a little bit more confident. ... If they’re coming from up north, they’re not afraid of the price.”

And as the Observer recently reported, the overall Charlotte-area housing market is poised for continued strengthening in 2015 as the economy continues to improve and the region adds jobs.

River Run was poised to take advantage, Logan and others say, because this is one of only a couple of places in Mecklenburg County where lots in a neighborhood like this are available for homes like these.

Hedge funds come knocking

River Run, developed by E.G. Reinsch Inc., of Arlington, Va., opened in 1991. The Reserve at River Run, where these expensive homes are going up, is the fifth phase of development. It’s at the southeastern tip of the community. A wide stone bridge built by the developer crosses the west fork of the Rocky River to provide access from the existing development.

The Reserve opened about 20 months ago – and folks with Wall Street money noticed.

“Hedge funds started banging on our doors,” said Danny Fesperman, project director for River Run. “They wanted to buy every lot. ... That made me feel good.”

Developer Lola Reinsch declined those offers, and The Reserve offered lots priced from $130,000 to $400,000.

Twenty-seven homes closed in The Reserve in 2013 and 2014, at an average price of $871,000. Eight sold for more than $1 million.

A midwinter report on available homes showed 13 in various stages of planning or completion, priced from about $650,000.

That doesn’t include homes being custom built for families that have contracted with individual builders. Those won’t show up on the official tally until permanent financing is completed. Director of Sales Jessica Shirlen estimates there are 10 or more of those.

Those families are likely seeking the same things that attracted the Comiskeys.

“We were specifically looking for a neighborhood or subdivision in a good school district with a strong community feel where we could raise our children the way we grew up – playing outside with friends, going to the pool, cooking out,” Matt Comiskey said. “(River Run) is only minutes away from downtown Davidson, and very close to Cornelius, Huntersville and Concord, allowing us to take full advantage of all four areas. Its proximity to I-77 and I-85 is great, too.”

A shortage of lots

The economic downturn caused many developers, at all price ranges, to sell lots at close-out prices.

Because developing lots is so expensive, few new lots became available as housing stalled. Roads and utilities – and new bridges, like the one at The Reserve at River Run – require large investments before the first lots are sold.

Area builders at all price ranges have fretted openly about the scarcity of lots ready for development.

The developers of River Run have deep pockets and stuck to their long-range plans. The only other high-end neighborhood that was able to accomplish that, say the builders and others at River Run, is Cheval in Mint Hill, which will host HomeArama in July.

The Reserve at River Run has been so successful that lot prices in a second section just went up about 10 percent. Lot prices in the new section range from $155,000 to $400,000.

Builder Services Inc., the new-home sales arm of Allen Tate, has been selling in River Run since 1992. BSI President Mike LaRuffa said no other planned high-end new home subdivision sold as many lots and houses last year as River Run, including Cheval. “Nothing came close,” he said.

As impressive as sales have been, as stunning as it is to see this many expensive homes going up, LaRuffa said, this year promises to be even more successful. “This year we’ve sold four homes at $800,000 or more... including two at $1 million. Yes, we will top last year.”

River Run at a glance

River Run, a golf and country club community, opened in 1991 off Davidson-Concord Road southeast of Davidson. It now covers about 1,100 acres.

▪ There are 780 occupied homes, according to Jessica Shirlen, director of sales. Some 50 owners have moved within the neighborhood over the years. “They upsize and they downsize,” Shirlen said, “but they stay.”

▪ There's a 33,000-square-foot clubhouse, 16 tennis courts – including four indoor courts – along with pool, lazy river and water slide. The country club is private and member-owned.

▪ A new section for expensive custom homes, The Reserve at River Run, opened 20 months ago. Twenty-seven homes closed in The Reserve in 2013 and 2014, at an average price of $871,000. Eight sold for more than $1 million.

▪ Builders are Custom Homes of the Carolinas, E.S. Johnson Builders, Evans-Coghill Homes, Kearey Builders, Landmarq Custom Homes, Linnane Homes, Lorenz Custom Homes, Peachtree Residential, Plattner Custom Builders, Arthur Rutenberg Homes, Southern Cottage, T. Whelan Homes and Tom Palmer Homes.

▪ For an online look at River Run, and links to the builders, visit www.riverruncommunity.com.

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