Elder Mountain mansion becomes biggest home sale ever in Southeast Tennessee at $4.6 million

Photo by Jesse Hunter/@jesserhunter / The Mills home on Skillet Gap Road sold for more than $4.6 million.
Photo by Jesse Hunter/@jesserhunter / The Mills home on Skillet Gap Road sold for more than $4.6 million.

In the biggest home sale ever in Southeast Tennessee, an 11,347-square-foot mansion atop Elder Mountain has been sold for more than $4.6 million.

Sharon Mills, the late daughter of the founder of the Olan Mills portrait studio, built the picture-perfect house on 26.5 acres atop Elder Mountain in 1998. The residence overlooks the Tennessee River Gorge just 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga.

The record-high residential sale has yet to be filed with the Marion County Register, and real estate agent Jay Robinson, who handled the sale for the late Sharon Mills, declined Tuesday to identify the buyer.

The Elder Mountain home went on the market in June 2021 with a $7 million asking price. Previously, the highest residential property sold in the Chattanooga area was just more than $4 million for houses in Riverview and on Chickamauga Lake.

"The house is structurally fabulous, but ultimately, it is a piece of art, and it has attracted attention from all over the country," said Robinson, the Keller-Williams agent who listed the property.

Mills, who died in 2020 at the age of 73, was known for finding "the best of everything," her nephew, Kincaid Mills, told Bloomberg News.

"Sharon Mills was a collector," Robinson said in a statement about the sale of the Elder Mountain mansion. "From her exquisite art collection to the orchard designed by heirloom apple expert Tom Burford, the Mills' home was filled with art and collectibles, with the home itself considered the largest piece of art."

The house was designed by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, the modern American architect who designed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' home in Martha's Vineyard during the 1980s and restored part of the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 2010. The Mills mansion was erected on 26.5 acres of mountaintop woodlands next to a protected land trust and overlooking the Prentice Cooper State Forest across the river.

The house fans out from the kitchen and dining room pavilion that is rotated 15 degrees to look up river, to the primary bedroom, which is rotated 15 degrees in the opposite direction to look down river.

Over the years, the home moved from propane heat to geothermal, making it almost totally self-sustaining.

Robinson, who was Chattanooga's top-selling real estate agent last year and has sold more than $1.3 billion of properties over his three-decade career, said the sale of the Mills' house is part of more than $10.2 million of transactions his team completed in February and March. Robinson said 2022 has come "roaring in like a lion."

"As more of these historic homes come on the market, it will be important for the seller and the buyer to have a partner they can rely on throughout the process," Robinson said. "Our team is honored to have the trust of so many."

The Mills mansion is unique, but Chattanooga's appreciating housing market is generating more million-dollar sales.

Seven-figure home sales, once rare in the Chattanooga market, now occur about every two days, on average. Last year, a record 175 homes sold for $1 million or more by Chattanooga real estate agents.

A riverfront mansion on Browns Ferry Road owned by David Duplissey tops even Mills' $7 million list price. In 2020, Duplissey listed his 17,772-square-foot house on 26 acres for $9 million, and the property remains for sale nearly two years after hitting the market.

Last month, Chattanooga real estate agents sold 5.6% more homes than they did a year ago, while median home prices in the Chattanooga region were up an average of 22.4% over the past 12 months to tie the record price set in January of $290,000 for a typical single-family residence. According to the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, the typical home sold in 21 days last month.

Even with the price increases, however, Chattanooga home prices are still 30% less than the U.S. average, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Growth in million-dollar home sales:

The number of homes sold that were priced $1 million or more nearly doubled last year in the Chattanooga market.

* 2021 - 175

* 2020 - 95

* 2019 - 49

* 2018 - 47

* 2017 - 42

* 2016 - 22

* 2015 - 19

* 2014 -16

* 2013 - 18

* 2012 - 18

* 2011 - 18

* 2010 - 14

2009 - 17

Source: Multiple listing service, Greater Chattanooga Realtors. Numbers reflect sales of single-family homes, town homes and residential condominiums.

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