Mark G. Freeman doesn't really want to sell his house. And who can blame him.
In the morning, he can stand on his spacious deck on the edge of Lake Chickamauga and watch a beautiful sunrise to his left. In the evening, he turns right for a beautiful sunset.
By the numbers
74: Number of homes in Hamilton County for sale that cost more than $1 million
19: Number of million-dollar homes that sold in Hamilton County between August 2017 and May 2018
1.5 years: Average time it takes to sell a million-dollar home in the area.
$6.5 million: Most expensive home in Hamilton County that’s for sale (23,000 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 7 full baths, 5 half baths, 2 kitchens)
Coming home from work, when he turns into his quiet, 13-house neighborhood in Soddy-Daisy, "you forget everything and it's just 'Ah,'" says Freeman, a local orthopedic surgeon.
But Freeman and his wife, Tara, know they need to move closer to town to be near the school and his son's friends.
So they've put their 6,700-square-foot, five-bedroom, four-bath home on the market for $1.39 million with reluctance. "We love it here," he says several times in a 30-minute conversation.
The Freemans' home is one of 74 million-dollar-or-more homes in Hamilton County that are listed on the website for the Greater Chattanooga Realtors. There also are some in such locations as Ringgold and Rising Fawn, Georgia, and Pikeville and Cleveland, Tennessee, and other locations. And there are many $1 million-plus plots of undeveloped property on the list.
Realtor Jay Robinson at Keller-Williams says the number of million-dollar homes currently for sale is "the lowest inventory above $1 million that I've seen the last 20 years." With pickings so slim, the homes that are on the market are selling faster, he says.
"This is the best year we've seen in total number of transactions above $1 million," says Robinson, who represents 12 such homes now for sale.
Homes in the price range take an average of about 1.5 years to sell, a robust figure in luxury real estate, he says.
"Fewer people are trying to sell, so the pent-up demand has been taken up," Robinson says. "Those people who were looking have bought."
Realtors in the area say that most homes in the million-plus range are on Lookout Mountain or in Riverview and the Enclave, also in Riverview and both on the Tennessee River. Some riverfront condominiums also land above $1 million and there are a few homes scattered along the brow of Signal Mountain.
But as Chattanooga spreads out, homes in that price range are sprouting in Ooltewah and East Brainerd. In fact, the most expensive one on the Greater Chattanooga Realtors website is a $6.5 million, 23,000 square-foot behemoth sitting on three acres in Ooltewah.
Henry Glascock, who has sold, appraised and auctioned property in Chattanooga for the last 45 years, says sales of pricier homes are "commiserate with overall economy."
With more money, homebuyers "are able to move up and look for something in the 'rare air,' if you will. There's not a lot of folks out there that are used to that kind of price range."
Hamilton County Property Assessor Marty Haynes notes that, in the period from 2013-2017, the price for 80 percent of the homes in Chattanooga rose between 1 and 15 percent. Values have risen faster in neighborhoods such as Riverview and along the brow of Lookout Mountain, he adds, but that's more for the land than the home. There simply isn't much land left on which to build in those areas, he says.
Who are the buyers?
When it comes to purchasing a $1 million-plus home, the buyers aren't much different than those buying $150,000 ones — except, of course, that 30-year mortgage with 20 percent down and 4.5 percent interest rate comes to about $3,800 a month before property tax and insurance.
Freeman's lakefront home marks the first time he's spent over $1 million on where his family lives, and he acknowledges that his stomach had a few butterflies when it came to spending more than seven figures. But he couldn't resist a home that has so much to offer, from the ample size of its interior to the pool that he helped redesign, from the rich colors that spring up on all sides when the seasons change to the bald eagles that soar above and sometimes land in the tree right off his deck. Again, he has a photo to prove it.
Despite his monetary investment, he says, the home is not the central figure in his life.
"I realize that material things are not what's important. It's family and friends, things like that," he says. And the house is a "great" place to spend time with those family and friends, he adds.
Everyone tends to look for the same basic amenities when homebuying, Robinson says.
"It's always kitchen and always master bedroom and master bath," he says.
But as the price goes up, desires go up, too, he explains. Buyers in the upper realms want "volume," meaning spacious rooms, tall ceilings, lots of windows, big decks.
Glascock notes that many people who can afford a $1 million-plus home are older with larger families, so they need more room.
"They have grandchildren that come to visit and children that comes to visit," he explains. "It's unusual to have a young family with that kind of wherewithal."
As the price goes up, other amenities go up, too. Perhaps lakefront property or a view from the brow of Lookout, Signal or Elder mountains A guest suite with a separate bathroom and kitchenette. A theater room. An exercise room. Construction with high-end, high-quality materials.
"A $100,000 kitchen in an exceptional home is not that unusual," Glascock says.
Robinson sums it up in a single phrase: Quality of life.
"At its core, a house is a commodity; it's no different than milk or soybeans or lumber or whatever," he says. "Prices go up and prices go down. You buy a commodity or a stock for two reasons: You buy for appreciation; you want it to increase in value. Or you buy it for the dividend."
The dividend can cross many lines.
"It's emotional and physical and sometimes spiritual. You buy the real estate for the enjoyment of use," Robinson says.
"You live in a state with no income tax; that's a dividend. Are you close to schools? That's a dividend. The dining room is big enough to entertain the whole family and you've got bedrooms where everybody can visit at Christmas. That's a dividend."