The number of million-dollar homes sold in Hamilton County reached a new high in the past year (49) and continued a three-year run of seven-figure home sales that exceeds sales for the previous seven years combined.
Still, the number is still a vanishingly small percentage of the approximately 10,000 homes sold in Hamilton County last year. Million dollar sales account for less than 1 in 200 homes sold here.
Whether the up trend continues, however, is always the question, according to two Chattanooga Realtors who annually account for around half of all million-dollar home sales in the region.
Realtors Linda Brock and Jay Robinson combined to sell 25 of the 49 home sales that topped $1 million between July 8, 2018, and July 8, 2019, according to the Greater Chattanooga Realtors' multiple listing service database. Sales data shows that 125 million-dollar homes sold between July 2009 and July 2016; over the past three years, 138 homes in the same category have closed.
"The economy has been good for the past three years, and there have been a lot of local buyers interested in big homes," says Robinson of Keller Williams, who just completed his 30th year as a licensed Realtor and heads the Robinson Team of eight agents.
Both Brock and Robinson believe that it will take a significant event that rattles the American economy to stem the growth in local million-dollar home sales, a tide that coincides with the performance of the national economy under President Donald Trump. Such an event in 2020, Robinson says, could result in a 30% decrease in million-dollar home sales over the next five years.
He believes that 2020 might be that "turning point year for local and national real estate, and a lot of the catalyst will have to do with the election and its impact on the stock market and interest rates."
Brock agrees the election is important and cites other events like military conflicts that could shake the economy on which home sales of all price ranges hinge. She believes a combination of events created a high level of confidence over the past three years, and that sparked the jump in the million-dollar category in 2017.
"It's all going to be dictated by the overall economy," says Brock of Real Estate Partners, who has sold homes for 24 years. "I think the change will be the product homeowners buy in this category of sales. With the exception of a world event, the next five years will see a strong million-dollar market actualized by Millennials and those in Generation X."
The change in product, both Realtors agree, has its base in the generational shifts of homebuyers. Baby boomers born between 1946-1964 remain a part of million-dollar home sales, Brock said. But her experience is that those in Generation X (born between 1965-1980) are driving the market with an uptick from Millennials (born between 1981-1996).
"Millennials and those in Generation X are coming along behind baby boomers, and they have been making investments before they even have the money," says Brock. "They are more aggressive with their investing from the beginning of their careers."
Robinson said 80 percent of his seven-figure sales are with local buyers, and that 80 percent of that number are baby boomers. He agreed that the generational shift with Millennials and Generation Xs will change the product sold on the million-dollar market in the Chattanooga area.
"The buying patterns among Millennials and young Generation Xers are different," says Robinson. "They don't want the same things that others have wanted in the million-dollar product. The structure of the average million-dollar home today is something Millennials and Generation Xers don't care about. They have their office in their pockets.
"They want the view or the waterfront, but not necessarily the structure. In prime lots, the value of the dirt has gone up exponentially."
At Cameron Harbor on the Tennessee River, for example, five luxury townhomes have each sold for more than $1 million over the past three years and another four have been sold with more in the pipeline, currently priced at $1.4 million each.
Growth in million-dollar home sales
The number of homes sold above $1 million has tripled in the past decade in Hamilton County.
2019 - 49
2018 - 47
2017 - 42
2016 - 22
2015 - 19
2013 - 18
2012 - 18
2011 - 18
2010 - 14
2009 - 17
Source: Multiple listing service, Greater Chattanooga Realtors
"There is a lot of appeal to being on the water close to downtown," says Darlene Brown of Real Estate Partners, who is selling the Cameron Harbor townhomes.
Brock, who said 75% of her sales in the high-end market are to people moving to Chattanooga, concurs future buyers will be different. She said executives moving to Chattanooga often mention the reputation of the city as a hub for outdoor activities.
"The generation behind the boomers don't want a big house, but they want a well-appointed house in the right place," says Brock. "They want a higher quality of construction and kitchens that would win chef approval, whether they are eating at home or not. Bathrooms need to be reminiscent of spas, and they don't want wasted space."
Brock said there is ample land to build million-dollar homes, depending on where someone wants to live. As of mid-July, there were 52 listings valued are more than $1 million with eight of those listings pending.
"The dirt can drive the millions market based on the location," says Brock, who cited a sale on Lookout Mountain where a buyer tore down an older house valued at around $600,000 and replaced it with a $2.5 million home.
"What has been driving my market is Chattanooga," she says. "Even with a local buyer, they have said to me that they believe now is the time to capture the equity in their current home and buy more house. They say one of the reasons is that they see high-end real estate being bought from outside the city."
Robinson and Brock both close double-digit, million-dollar transactions as the agent for the buyer, and both agree that transactions at the seven-figure level are smoother because money is not always a determining factor in the sale.
"Working with a million-dollar buy is a more relaxed market because they may be better experienced in home buying," says Brock. "Still, I believe home buying transcends the price point because everybody's home is a 'million-dollar' home to them."