Lookout Mountain may be the traditional image of luxury living in the Chattanooga area, but lofty heights are not a requirement for many high-end homebuyers.
"It really depends on what their interests are," says Kathy Rohsenberger, a certified luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Kinard Realty whose recent listings have included homes in Chattanooga, Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Harrison, Ooltewah and Cleveland.
According to Coldwell Banker's metrics, she says the baseline figure for a luxury home in Chattanooga is about half a million dollars. "It's different based on the area of the country you live in," she adds. "A $500,000 house would not be considered high-end in New York, of course, or California. In San Francisco, $500,000 might get you a lot," as in, a parcel of land.
Brad Pruitt, president and CEO of Signature Auctions, which brokers high-end real estate, says he'd put the local baseline for a luxury home even higher.
What homeowners want
The 2019 State of Luxury report from Coldwell Banker says high-end homebuyers are looking for amenities that:
» Appeal to wellness. Using high-end condos as an example, the report says the “bare minimum … is to have state-of-the-art exercise equipment with separate rooms for yoga, meditation and spaces to meet with physical or massage therapists.” Also popular are saltwater pools, as well as special lighting and air and water purification systems in exercise and recreation areas.
» Embrace technology. Buyers want homes that can integrate technology into their lives, whether through smart-home features or systems that make it easier to receive packages or ride-shares. The Ten50 tower, a condominium development in Los Angeles, for example, is equipped with a drone landing pad for deliveries by air.
» Accommodate pets. “Pets are really important to owners, especially dogs, so in just about every new development you see dog walking areas, some with doggie spas and dogs on treadmills, doggie day care [and] pet washing stations,” says the report.
"Typically, we define luxury as three to four times a market's average," he says. "The average price point for a transaction [in Chattanooga] is similar to the national average, which hangs around the mid-200,000s." That would start Chattanooga's luxury homes in the $750,000 range.
Having half a million to a million dollars to spend can certainly buy more house, though "more" is not always measured that way. Such homes may come with bluff views or waterfront access or golf greens over the back fence, and luxury homes are at the forefront of built-in amenities compared to lower-end markets.
As Pruitt explains: At the average price point, say $240,000, "buyers have 1) a lot of options, but 2) can't really be that discerning," he says. "You can get a smaller house that's nicer, or a bigger house that needs work. At the average price point, it's hard to get everything you want."
In the higher price ranges, there may be fewer homes on the market, but the homebuyers' wish lists are generally easier to fulfill.
"At that point, it's just a beauty contest," Pruitt says.
National trends suggest that embedded technology, work-at-home amenities and nods to sustainability are among the latest trends for luxury living. While a sprawling estate may forever typify a luxury home, sometimes the homebuying decision is less about capacity and more about convenience — the extras that will simplify the homebuyers' lives.
"The ultra-rich have an affinity for buying quantity, and while they don't compromise on quality, they do sometimes elect to own smaller homes artfully created, instead of mega mansions or showpiece villas," says a Coldwell Banker State of Luxury report for 2019.
Rohsenberger says she often sees such thinking at work among her clients, many of whom are drawn by Chattanooga's Gig City reputation and/or its outdoor scene.
Smart home technology, which allows the homeowner to control everything from air conditioning to security cameras from an iPhone, is often a selling point, especially when powered by Chattanooga's fastest-in-the-nation fiber-optic internet service.
"A lot of times I'm seeing empty-nesters who need a little bit of room, just enough for visiting grandkids, but want to have all the niceties, which includes a smart home — like a computer on your refrigerator that can tell you what you need from the market," she says.
Chattanooga's outdoor recreation opportunities also often come into play, whether it's easy access for a relaxing bike ride or a weekend of rigorous rock climbing.
Sometimes, it's simply an appreciation for the area's climate. "A lot of people come to this area because of the four seasons," says Rohsenberger. "They come from Florida or Arizona or California or from up north. This is a place where they can be outside almost year-round."
For that reason, many of her clients look for homes with outdoor living areas.
"People who buy these luxury homes are generally entertainers," she says. "Whether it's formal parties or casual get-togethers with friends, they like having space outside to entertain."
How the market is responding
The 2019 State of Luxury report from Coldwell Banker identifies four commonalities for luxury properties:
* The persistence of demand for high-end properties around the world.
* New developments rising up to meet demand.
* Preference for owning multiple homes in several countries.
* Resilience of luxury markets in areas hit by natural disaster.
Rohsenberger says most of her clients are established couples in their 50s who have retired or are nearing retirement. They're not into fads. They don't necessarily need lots of space. They do want premium finishes and the latest amenities in a home that evokes "classic, simple elegance," she says.
If there's room in the budget to customize a space, her clients follow their own minds rather than trends, such as opting for a wine cellar over a workout room. "It depends on what's important to them," she says.
Chattanooga's successful startup culture is also fueling the desire for luxury homes locally, and that crowd skews younger, says Pruitt.
"There's a very large 25-to-50 age group making it a more trendy environment," he says. "If the buyer is 30 years old, compared to 80 years old, it does affect the aesthetic of what they're looking for. They want houses that are contemporary and modern."