By Emma Castleberry
The real estate market in Asheville and the surrounding area is facing a lack of inventory, a problem that’s plagued homebuyers and agents for years now. People don’t want to move out of their homes and leave this desirable area, and there is limited space for building new homes. Whereas areas like Las Vegas and Houston can simply expand outward into flat land, Western North Carolina struggles with steep slope building guidelines and mountains that naturally limit the creation of new inventory. As an answer to this problem, Walnut Cove Realty has started the innovative Luxury Spec Home program.
“It came out of a grassroots effort,” says Josh Smith, president of Walnut Cove Realty. “We continued to see people coming out of areas like Houston, Chicago and the northeast and there wasn’t anything for them to buy.” Walnut Cove partnered with their trusted builders and residents of The Ramble and Walnut Cove to fund the construction of several large, luxury homes. The Walnut Cove Realty team drew on their extensive experience with the market and the modern buyer to build a house with all the popular features, many of which have become more important since the pandemic: an office on the main level for working from home, flex space for hobbies and a home gym, and—perhaps most importantly—a short build time.
By starting the homes before they’re purchased and anticipating demand, buyers can come in later in the construction process and implement the finishing touches to personalize their space. “They can pick floors and paint and granite and hardware on cabinets, and they feel like they just designed their home, but they don’t have to spend 45 days closing on the lot and six months with a designer before building even starts,” says Smith. “It takes a year when you’re trying to figure out the whole design process.” With the Luxury Spec Home program, the builder uses general consumer patterns to create a plan, the neighbors raise the money, the home is built and “the buyer ends up buying it just like it’s for sale,” says Smith. “The neighbors are willing to invest in providing product to further enhance their neighborhood.”
Butch Heatherly of Heatherly Construction was one of the founders of this unusual approach and the first to partner with Walnut Cove Realty to create a luxury spec home. “In 2016 and 2017, all of our clients were coming in and looking for product and there was nothing,” says Heatherly. “I went to my designer and architect and I said, ‘I want to design a house that 90 percent of the market is going to like.’ I want to build a nice, luxury home that is drawing from a large database.” The first house built by Heatherly Construction at Walnut Cove sold before the foundation was even laid, and that success has continued as the partners have really dialed into what buyers want. “It has allowed us to create something that’s really marketable and also have some fun with it,” he says. Heatherly helps buyers understand how to spend their money wisely on beautiful features that matter, such as the distinctive, free-floating staircase that he’s placed in many of the homes.
Tom Dillard of Dillard Jones Construction is also working on two homes—one in The Ramble and one in Walnut Cove—as part of the Luxury Spec Home program. “People can come in and it’s already up and going,” he says. “From furniture to the lighting plan to the permitting. We have those details figured out so it’s faster and efficient, and they get what they want sooner: a-state-of-the-art home.”
Dillard says the home being built in Walnut Cove is located on the golf course with beautiful views of the mountains. At about 5,500 square feet, the home provides plenty of space for entertaining, and the convenient location near the community’s gate allows for quick access into town. Dillard says the luxury spec home they’re working on in The Ramble is designed for a family: a two-story home with plentiful outdoor living space on the main floor. Both communities offer a beautiful, natural setting, incredible “plug-and-play” amenities, and an active, engaged collection of neighbors.
“For the foreseeable future, in our part of the region, it’s going to be hard to get enough product in front of consumers,” says Smith. “They’re coming, and as long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to work hard to provide them with excellent homes in beautiful neighborhoods.”