Selling a home at higher-than-average price, however, was a different story.
Housing markets in Asheville and Buncombe County set a bevy of records in 2015, putting home ownership out of reach for some while also offering huge rewards for people who bought years ago and are ready to sell now.
Local trends reflect those across the country, national experts say, where low inventory also is pushing up prices.
Particularly significant among regional records is the median Asheville home sale price, which leapt to $242,500, a 7.8 percent increase over the previous record of $225,000 attained in 2006 and last year, said Mike Figura, owner and broker of Community Lifestyle Mosaic Realty in Asheville.
The combination of that price increase with the number of homes sold in Asheville and Buncombe County demonstrates a weaker pace of activity is unlikely, Figura said.
A total of 1,389 Asheville homes sold last year, the most ever. In Buncombe County, the most sold since 2006 at 2,510.
“The last time we saw (prices) that high, in 2007, they were rising after volume (sold) dropped off,” Figura said. “That’s an indication of a slowdown. Now, we’re seeing peaks in homes selling and home prices – and they’re continuing to rise.”
That means the current market is more demand-driven and the prices are “more real” than they were before the market crashed in 2007, Figura said. “The fundamentals are different.”
Other statistics reveal the strength of the seller’s market, said Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends.
The average asking price for homes in Buncombe County, including Asheville, as of Jan. 5 was $539,641 – the highest ever.
Also as of that date, 1,187 county homes were on the market – the lowest since 2004, Davies said.
“At one time, what was setting high (average) prices was that there were lots of homes over $1 million,” he said. “Now, the inventory is low and the demand is high. That’s driven prices up and makes the average higher.”
With fewer houses priced between $230,000 and $280,000, only more expensive residences remain, Davies said – another cause of a higher average price.
National attention on Asheville as a destination, as a desirable place to retire, as a region with four seasons, and as a beautiful location with a high quality of life all benefit the seller at the expense of the buyer, said Susan Duncan, owner and broker in charge at Exit Realty Vistas in Arden.
“The (sellers’) market is really booming; it’s very hot right now,” Duncan said.
This cuts two ways, Figura said.
“I’m happy to see real-estate appreciation for those who invested at the right time,” Figura said. “This is their nest egg.”
At the same time, Figura said those hoping to reap a substantial return on a real estate investment by starting now “are going to have a much harder time than those who started 15 years ago.”
Jonathan Stanley, 39, an IT director at a Hendersonville-based nonprofit organization, is among those homeowners set to benefit.
He and his wife own a 1,450-square-foot house on Dale Street in West Asheville that Stanley bought just over 13 years ago for $117,500.
“I plan to list it at $225,000,” said Stanley, who’s currently renting that house to tenants and living in Mills River, Henderson County, with his wife, Tracy, and their daughter, 5, and 1-year-old son.
They are keeping their options open. The Stanleys might buy in Mills River or they might decide to build a new home, he said.
The target time for “serious” house-hunting is summer, Stanley said.
He hopes to clear about $75,000 in profit once commissions and other closing costs are paid to purchase a new home.
The Stanleys are searching for something in the $300,000 price range that’s about 2,000 square feet, he said.
“We’re planning to have more children.”
But many in Asheville and Buncombe County looking to buy are challenged due to rapidly rising prices, low inventory and out-of-towners paying cash for what is available.
“It’s sad to see in our society that you can be a hardworking adult and not be able to afford decent housing,” Figura said.
This is happening nationwide, too, said Jonathan Miller, the New York-based co-founder of Miller Samuel, a residential real estate appraisal company, and the commercial valuation firm Miller Cicero.
“Low inventory is forcing housing prices to rise far faster than wage growth,” Miller said.
“Housing prices are above the prefinancial crisis high that was a product of zero lending standards,” he said.
In the current cycle, prices are rising for the opposite reason.
“Tight credit causes inventory to fall because sellers can’t buy in the same numbers they did before,” Miller said. “This is not healthy or sustainable.”
At the local level, one result is that homeowners are able to sell high, but they’re also going to have to buy high, said Duncan, the Exit Realty Vistas owner.
“Even if people want to downsize, that’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “Either way, they’re going to take a hit.”
• $242,500 – Highest-ever median home sales price in Asheville.
• 1,389 – Most homes ever sold in Asheville during calendar year.
• $539,641 – Highest average asking price for homes ever attained in Buncombe County, including Asheville. Recorded on Jan. 5.
• $350,000 – Highest median asking price for homes ever attained in Buncombe County, including Asheville. Recorded on Jan. 5.
• $249,000 – Highest quarterly median home sale price ever attained in Asheville.
• 1,187 – Lowest number of residences available in Buncombe County, including Asheville, since 2004. Recorded on Jan. 5.
• 43 – Number of residences available in Buncombe County, including Asheville, with asking prices below $100,000.
Sources: Mike Figura, owner and broker of Community Lifestyle Mosaic Realty in Asheville; Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends.