Jeff Lloyd and his wife have lived most of their life raising their family and building a successful commercial contracting and facilities management business around the San Francisco Bay area.
But Lloyd, who had briefly lived near Knoxville 39 years ago as part of his work, says he maintained a desire to get back to East Tennessee, especially as he nears retirement.
"I kind of fell in love with Tennessee and its people back then and always had an interest in living there again," he said.
After visiting potential sites for retirement in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Tennessee, the Lloyds decided this spring to buy a lot atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County overlooking the Sequatchie Valley
"This is like a little slice of heaven up here and seems to be conducive to our way of thinking and living," Lloyd said about the lot he ultimately bought in Jasper Highlands. "We made this decision to buy in Jasper Highlands just as COVID-19 was starting to bloom. How Tennessee has responded confirmed our decision."
The Lloyds are among hundreds of homebuyers from 47 different states who have visited and ultimately bought into one of Tennessee's biggest mountaintop residential developments.
Over the past decade, the developers of Jasper Highlands have sold more than $100 million of property and are now preparing their fifth phase in the 8,893-acre development to add 150 additional lots for sale. Developed by Thunder Enterprises, Jasper Highlands will ultimately include about 1,500 lots, which typically range from one to five acres and sell anywhere from $59,000 for interior lots up to more than $1 million for some of the prime bluff-view lots near waterfalls.
"Despite the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, we're seeing a tremendous increase in buyers who are seeking a more relaxed lifestyle," said John "Thunder" Thornton, CEO of Thunder Enterprises and developer of Jasper Highlands. "We've had residents from California and New York accelerate their plans to move to Tennessee in pursuit of a quiet respite. It's clear to us that the affordability, seclusion and variety of amenities our community offers are challenging to find elsewhere."
Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises, said he was worried earlier this spring when the coronavirus shut down so much of the economy and limited travel. Since most of the prospective home buyers in Jasper Highlands are coming from other states, the developers worried that visits and sales would slow.
But after an initial slowdown, Bradshaw said Jasper Highlands hosted 104 visits last month from potential buyers and others are taking virtual tours as the project's web site traffic has also increased.
"There were so many unknowns in March as this virus began to spread and we were very nervous about what that would mean going into our usual busy selling season," Bradshaw said. "But we've been pleasantly surprised how quickly people from California, Illinois and other places have come to Jasper Highlands and they are more eager to get here, they're signing contracts faster, and they are accelerating their time frame to move to Tennessee. Rural, spacious living looked good to these people before, but now it looks great."
Social distancing is a bit easier on Jasper Mountain with the average residential lot in the gated community of nearly 1.5 acres in size. Jasper Highlands also includes hundreds of miles of trails through the more than 3,000 acres of undeveloped and protected land around the residential lots, Bradshaw said.
But Jasper Highlands also has community gathering areas, including a pavilion overlooking the Sequatchie Valley and another green space that includes a swimming pool, tennis and pickle-ball courts, a dog park and green areas built around a giant, three-story gazebo. Another amenity area is being added this year with a second swimming pool in the complex, Thornton said.
Jasper Highlands also added a wellness center in early 2019 and opened the Top of the Rock restaurant, the Fiery Gizzard, the Mountain Market and microbrewery last fall at the entrance of the development.
Although the community facilities were shut down during April, they have since reopened, operating under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
Thornton says the growing complex offers seclusion, without isolation.
"I think our future looks very bright because we offer the best of all worlds," Thornton said. "We have spacious, mountaintop living and we're only 25 minutes from the base of our mountain to downtown Chattanooga with all of its great cultural, entertainment and business services."
Home Owner's Association (HOA) fees are currently $82 a month and Jasper Highlands also operates its own fire department, with coverage of empty lots at $60 a year and completed homes at $300 a year.
Jasper Highlands boasts lower property taxes than most areas of the country ($542 per year for every $100,000 of assessed value) with no state income taxes in Tennessee. Lloyd said he expects to significantly reduce his tax burden and other expenses in Tennessee compared with California. According to the online service BestPlaces, the cost of living in San Francisco is nearly 69% higher than in Chattanooga.
"We closed on our lot at Jasper Highlands at the end of April and we haven't been able to stop talking about it ever since," Lloyd said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340