Columns 2008

December 17, 2008

We’ve been having some of that famous mountain weather lately, with lots of fog and drizzle. We’ve had about 2″ of rain at our place since last Wednesday, but I understand that Dial got a lot more than we did.

I’ve had a lot of requests for details on the new beer and wine ordinance. First, it is important to understand that it applies only to unincorporated Fannin County. It does not apply to Blue Ridge, Morganton, or McCaysville. Blue Ridge has turned it down, while Morganton and McCaysville have not considered it.

The draft ordinance prohibits bars and lounges. Restaurants are defined as eating establishments with a permanent seating capacity of at least 80 people – say 20 four-toppers – that are serving at least two meals a day, five days a week. If sales of food products and merchandise falls below $3,000 monthly or 60% of the combined business volume (or alcohol sales exceed 39.9%), the license will be revoked.

The ordinance outlaws the (previously permitted) practice of brown bagging.

The ordinance does not allow for package stores. (Beer and wine will continue to be sold at gas stations, grocery stores, and other locations in the city limits of Blue Ridge.)

Initial application fees are $5,000 each for beer and wine, and will not be sold separately. The effective initial cost is thus $10,000. The annual renewal fee is $1,000.

Licenses can be sold or transferred, but cannot be sold for more than $10,000. Licenses will be revoked if sold or transferred for a profit.

The ordinance allows for a maximum of 25 licensed establishments.

Vineyards and farm wineries are permitted under the ordinance.

Applicants for licensure must submit a letter from a registered land surveyor certifying the the location is more than 600 feet from any school or church.

The ordinance does not allow for Sunday licenses, so restaurants will continue to be dry on Sunday, just like those in Ellijay. (Sunday package sales are prohibited throughout Georgia.)

The first reading of the ordinance was last night, but I don’t have a report from that meeting at this time. Another meeting will be held later this month, to complete the required two readings. It is possible that there will be modifications to the ordinance, but probably not very likely, given the time constraints.

This action was taken by the outgoing commissioners, presumably because it was not thought likely that the incoming commissioners would support the measure. (Steve Morris, who will continue on the commission, ducked this vote, as is his usual practice.) It isn’t clear at this point whether the incoming commissioners will try to repeal the ordinance, or even if they want to repeal it. I think it’s likely that they will take the attitude that they’re glad that it happened, so long as they don’t have to take the blame for it, and leave well enough alone. But this is Fannin County, and anything can happen. Apparently, if anyone actually succeeds in getting a license before the end of the year, it would be impossible or very difficult to repeal the ordinance.

December 10, 2008

At last night’s Fannin County Commission meeting, Howie Bruce and Tommy Ledford voted in beer and wine in county restaurants. Apparently, they will hold the required two public meetings on the ordinance before the end of the year, to ensure that the measure is passed before the new commissioners take office.

Local Pastor Jerry Rice reportedly condemned Ledford and Bruce – and all their offspring unto four generations – to die in Hell forever.

The Blue Ridge City Council met the same night and voted the measure down, despite the fact that the results of the County Commission were known.

And, we had 2-1/2″ of rain last night, countywide.

December 5, 2008

We’ve had a bit more rain, perhaps as much as a half inch in some areas. The snow seems to be over, although there are still a few traces in the outlying areas.

We’ve got an interesting situation and a fascinating – or comical – meeting coming up, depending on how seriously you take these things. Howard Slaughter – known locally as author Karen Slaughter’s father – has gone to both the city and the county saying that he represents a development group that wants to invest $40 million in Fannin County. They plan to build a country music venue, hotel, and mall on 515 near the Gilmer/Fannin County line. The project is supposed to involve 200 local construction jobs and up to 400 jobs after completion. National chains including Bass Pro Shops have been mentioned, and Travis Tritt is rumored to be behind the music venue. According to Mr. Slaughter, in order to make the project possible, either the City of Blue Ridge has to annex the property and vote to allow beer and wine by the drink, or Fannin County has to vote to allow beer and wine by the drink. If beer and wine are not permitted, the project is not economically feasible, and the development group will be forced to take the project to Ellijay.

Outgoing Fannin County Commissioner Tommy Ledford is in favor and has voted for beer and wine before. Outgoing Chairman Howie Bruce has refused to vote for pouring licenses before, as has Commissioner Steve Morris, who will continue in office with the newly-elected commission. The new newly elected commissioners, Garnett Webb and Bill Simonds, are not expected to vote for the proposal. So the last chance for its success – at least for the next four years – is with the outgoing commission.

This all places the outgoing commissioners in a difficult situation, because times are extremely tough for our local economy and this project will obviously make a difference. Both Morris and Bruce have indicated that they will seriously consider the proposal, although beer and wine by the drink is extremely unpopular with many of the local people, whose attitude is that we do not need “the thirty pieces of silver.” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the downtown merchants feel that the measure is essential for their survival, and it is inarguable that we are losing a whole lot of sales tax revenue to East Ellijay, with the studies showing that about half of our visitors travel down there to eat.

For those of you who enjoy this sort of thing, the upcoming commission meeting should be a real doozy. The local pastorate is sure to show up in force and share some of the “fire and brimstone” threats and promises that have proved effective before. For those among you who enjoy exegetical adventures – or who just want to experience some of the real old time mountain religion before it all disappears – the meeting begins at 6:00 PM on the third floor of the courthouse, Tuesday, December 9th. Take it from an old hand: You’ll probably need to be there at least a half hour early in order to get inside the meeting room. I usually find that the floor show falls a little flat, but I’ve seen it a number of times before. If you haven’t, chances are you’re in for a treat.

If you missed Light Up Blue Ridge, the corresponding event in Copperhill – Light Up the Basin – is on for tonight, beginning at 6 PM. From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 from the Blue Ridge McDonald’s, crossing the river into Copperhill.

I’ve been seeing more migrating waterfowl. There was a small flight of Hooded Mergansers on the pond at the new RV park on Loving Road yesterday, and I’ve seen quite a few mallards flying up the river near the dam. Blue Ridge Bird Seed is having a bird walk tomorrow (Saturday). The focus will be on wintering songbirds. Meet at 611 E. Main Street at 7:45 AM or at Fannin County Park at 8:10 AM. The Christmas bird count will be January 3rd. For information, 706.258.2473.

December 1, 2008

We had about an inch of rain at our place over the past few days, and so far this morning, about two inches of snow. The snow came in very quickly in the early morning. At this point, 2:00 PM, 515 and the downtown streets are fairly clear. A few hours earlier, the downtown streets were in bad shape – especially the old highway – and 515 was in bad shape between June Walker and McDonald’s. There was a very bad head-on crash on that stretch around 11:30 AM. The situation seems to be stable now, but temperatures are expected to drop sharply this evening, and the roads that are still wet will freeze, making it difficult to get up and down from the ridgetops.

November 25, 2008

We had about a half inch of rain yesterday (Monday) at our place. Last week was unseasonably cold, with temperatures as low as 20° in the morning. It was typical mountain weather, in that it was intolerably cold on the days when the wind was blowing hard, and not bad at all on the days when it wasn’t blowing. Most of the leaves are off the trees, and we seem to have progressed into deep winter without the benefit of the usual Indian summer, unless it is still to come, which I somehow doubt.

The annual Light Up Blue Ridge holiday event will be Saturday, November 29. The festivities begin in the downtown park with Bobby Don Bloodworth and the Gopher Broke band at 11:00 AM, followed by the all-tuba Christmas orchestra at noon. Santa arrives at 1 PM. Free horse and carriage rides will be featured all day, and there will be some form of entertainment throughout the day up until the lighting of the Great Tree at 6:30 PM. Festivities will continue until 8:00 PM, and the downtown merchants will be open throughout the event.

Best wishes for the holidays!

November 14, 2008

We’ve had about 6/10″ rain this week, and there’s more in the forecast for today. It was much needed, but it’s not even close to what we need. Most of the leaf color has faded from the trees, but there’s still some color in the woods. I suspect that if the sun came out, it would still be pretty. The mornings lately have been very pretty with temperatures around 55° and lots of fog.

Foreclosures and Short Sales: What’s Happening Right Now?

We handle plenty of foreclosures, so we’ve got nothing against them. But are they always the best deal? And are they right for you? I’ve had a lot of questions about this, so here’s my best advice at this point in the game.

Please note that I’m not talking to serious, seasoned investors – those people who own six or more rental properties. These folks know what they are doing, and they can evaluate the risk/benefit ratio for themselves. I’m primarily talking to people who are looking to buy a single property for their own seasonal or weekend use.

First, there’s a big difference between foreclosures and short sales. The foreclosure sales we’ve been involved in have gone fairly smoothly. The bank has a list price, we make an offer, we negotiate, we agree on a price, and we close. Our experience has been different with short sales. We’ve found that they can take six months or longer to complete, and that in many cases, the lending institution demands significantly more than the agreed upon price, just before the closing. Our recommendation based on this is pretty simple. If you have a choice between a foreclosure and a short sale, go with the foreclosure.

Foreclosures are, by definition, bank or lender-owned property. You can buy them directly from the lender, or you can buy them through us. If you buy them through us, our role is essentially to act as a buyer’s representative. In other words, our job is to advise you of the pros and cons of the neighborhood, local regulatory and governmental issues, access to recreational opportunities, due diligence issues that affect the property – wells, septics, road maintenance, construction issues, and restrictions – and contractual issues that need your consideration. Most lenders will pay us a commission if we bring them an offer.

Again, if you are a seasoned investor who is familiar with our market and its due diligence issues, it may make sense to buy directly from the bank. If you are an end-user, not an investor, your interests may be better served by having our advice as a buyer’s representative. Bear in mind that the bank will not be representing you, and that you will not be receiving either a seller’s disclosure or a one year builder’s warranty on a foreclosed property. (It is also important to realize that you will not receive a General Warranty Deed on a foreclosure sale.)

But aren’t foreclosures always better deals?

First – and most obviously – a foreclosed property is one that the market has rejected. It wouldn’t be a foreclosure if the seller had been able to sell it in the normal real estate market.

If it’s a new property, why didn’t it sell? In some cases, it’s because it isn’t a very attractively designed and sited house. Either the lot isn’t very attractive, the development isn’t attractive, the infrastructure in the development – roads and wells – isn’t complete, or the cabin’s design isn’t very attractive. In some cases, it just wasn’t very well built in terms of fit and finish. In the case of a resale, it’s often because it wasn’t well maintained.

So, maybe it wasn’t attractive enough to sell against others in the market. But what about the value proposition? Isn’t the bank willing to settle for a whole lot less less than it’s worth? Well, what it’s worth to the bank is based on what they have in it, not on the market. We’ve tracked foreclosure sales, and the average discount over the asking price on a foreclosure in our market is running less than 10%. This is a shocking fact to people from some other markets, where banks have been willing to accept fifty cents on the dollar. Unfortunately, that’s just not happening in our market. In our market, the banks have been pretty stubborn about their listing price.

Even if the bank is willing to settle for “what they have in it,” that doesn’t mean that the property is worth what they have in it. Why not? In some cases, the builder paid way too much for the lot, betting on an appreciating market. In a lot of other cases, the builder didn’t put all the money he borrowed into the house. There are many cases where the builder bought a new pickup truck and a bass boat instead of putting all the money in the house. (Please don’t laugh. This is serious stuff.) In cases like this, the house simply isn’t worth anything near what the bank “has in it.”

The harsh fact is unfortunately this: A foreclosed property is usually a property that has been built by a builder who is a failure. Maybe he would have been all right if the market had continued to boom, maybe not. But in a weaker market, his product didn’t stand up to the test.

Also, the builder may have cut corners or may not even have completed the house. Some of these defects may not be as obvious missing siding or fixtures, but may be structural issues. In some cases, these places have been empty for several years, and may even have been stripped. Obviously, a builder who sees foreclosure looming isn’t going to spend money maintaining the property. In the case of foreclosures, it’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”

In all honesty, I’ve yet to see a foreclosure sale that I thought was as good a deal as the best deals in the conventional market. There has been a lot of downward pressure on price, and builders are eager to get rid of existing inventory. For their part, resellers tend to have more equity in their property and many are able to take less and still make a profit if they are motivated to sell.

For my money, I haven’t yet seen a foreclosure that’s made me want to run down to the bank and plunk down my money, and that goes for cabins and land. And it isn’t because I haven’t been paying attention.

What does it all mean? (1) Look before you leap. (2) Think carefully about whether you need the advice of a real estate professional who knows the local market. (3) Don’t just assume that a foreclosure is a smoking deal just because it’s a foreclosure. (4) Shop the conventional sales along with the foreclosures to be sure you’re getting the deal you deserve.

I’ll be glad to help if anyone is interested in seeing what’s out there.

November 7, 2008

The weather has continued to be simply beautiful. There’s a bit of rain in the forecast for today (Friday), but the weekend looks good. There is still a lot of color in the woods, but I expect that most of it will be gone in a week. We didn’t get the bright reds this year – except early in the season – but we have had very bright yellows and some more subdued reds. The best viewing times seem to be at sunrise and sunset, with the sun shining sideways through the trees.

Fannin County election results are posted below.

The USARA National Adventure Race is on in Blue Ridge. The start was at 7 AM today, and it is planned as a 24-hour race, with the cutoff time being 1 PM Saturday. It is a 100 mile course, to be run all night. I expect that the winners will come in some time in the very early morning. I’m assuming – but I don’t know for sure – that the finish line will be in the downtown park as usual. I think there will probably be some festivities there between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM.

The Second Annual Cherry Log Music Fest and BBQ will be held at the Cherry Log Christian Church Saturday, November 8. The barbecue will be catered by the Pink Pig, and there will be a charity book sale and bake sale as well. The musical lineup includes the Wolf Creek Band, the Cherry Log Rascals, the GopherBroke Band, and Liberty Jones. Barbecue plates are $8 for adults and $5 for children under 12. For more information, contact the church office at 706.632.1048.

The Knights of Columbus are having a pancake breakfast in Blue Ridge on Saturday at the downtown Catholic Church, St. Anthony’s. Breakfast is $3, but veterans eat free.

Also on Saturday, Tom Striker of Blue Ridge Bird Seed will hold a winter bird identification workshop from 9:00 – 10:00 AM at Sweet Treats Coffee and Ice Cream, on East Main Street next to Blue Ridge Bird Seed. 706.258.2473.

November 5, 2008

Fannin County Election Results and Vote Totals

The Republicans swept all races – without exception – in Fannin County yesterday:

John McCain 7799 (73%), Barak Obama 2606 (25%).

Saxby Chambliss 6490 (64%), Jim Martin 3093 (31%).

In the local elections, those who were not running unopposed:

Fannin County Commission Chairman, Bill Simonds 5928 (59%) Jerry Proctor 4092 (41%)

Fannin Commission Post 1, Garnett Webb 5971 (59%), Tommy Ledford 4175 (41%)

Fannin County Sheriff, Dane Kirby 6099 (58%), George Ensley 4400 (42%)

Fannin County Coronor, Dustin Long 5399 (54%), Becky Callihan 4670 (46%)

These results are unofficial and incomplete (they do not include provisionals).

There were 10,785 cards cast.

October 27, 2008

We got about 1-3/4″ rain at our place on Friday. Most people probably got more, because it’s been pretty dry on our ridgetop all year. We never got the promised freeze last night, but it is supposed to be coming Tuesday night. There seems to be quite a bit more color in the woods this morning, so next weekend will probably be the peak of the leaf season, unless the leaves are knocked off the trees by high winds or heavy rain before then.

Unfortunately, I’ve received a number of requests to comment on the Fannin County election. I’ll do my best, but this is not a task I relish.

There are three positions up for election, the County Chairman, County Commission Post 1, and County Sheriff. The Sheriff’s race is between George Ensley, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Dane Kirby, a former Georgia State Trooper. George is very well liked in the county, but he has also been in office for sixteen years. Given that the dominant trope of this election year is change, Kirby seems to have the lead at this point.

The County Chairman post – which is being vacated by Howie Bruce – is probably the most important race for the future of the county. The County Chairman is the day-to-day CEO of the county, with the Post 1 and Post 2 commissioners serving part-time, essentially meeting twice a month with the Chairman to set policy. The Republicans are running Bill Simonds for County Chairman. The Democrats could not prevail upon anyone to run as a Democrat. Jerry Proctor is running for Chairman as an Independent, although I believe his sympathies, at least in national terms, are more Republican than Democratic. Simonds has a background in construction management on projects including Turner Field, while Proctor is a former owner of Appalachian Waste Systems, the outfit that provided solid waste management to Fannin and other counties before he and his wife sold it.

For Post 1, incumbent Tommy Ledford is running as a Democrat and Garnett Webb is running as a Republican. Garnett has most recently served on the Board of Education. (The Post 2 position occupied by Steve Morris is not up for reelection, as the terms were staggered in the last election, two years ago.)

These races are probably too close to call at this point, although any Republican candidate has to be the heavy favorite in any Fannin County election. This is especially true in a general election year, since many local people habitually vote the straight Republican ticket. This makes it an uphill battle for any Independent or Democrat running in Fannin County.

In its own way, this election is about change. Bill Simonds is perceived as a local, while Jerry Proctor is perceived as an outsider. The locals who favor the status quo – if not an outright return to those thrilling days of yesteryear – will be voting for Simonds and Webb. The progressive contingent, which includes the most of the downtown merchants, favors Proctor and Ledford. These two perennial local factions have been fairly evenly matched lately, especially on the issue of beer and wine in our restaurants. That suggests that the side that does the best job of getting their people out to vote will win the election. However, Proctor has worked very hard and has gained some support in unexpected places, especially among some of the older local business people. All things considered, he’s doing a whole lot better than many people expected, and I think he can win, if his people actually go to the polls.

The Post 1 race is also close. Tommy Ledford is quite popular, although he has probably been hurt as much as helped by his incumbency, given that the current County Commission has ducked virtually every issue of significance facing the county. Also, there’s no doubt that Garnett Webb has worked much harder than Ledford during the campaign. The stage may thus be set for a “split decision” – Proctor and Webb – which would be a victory for the status quo in practical terms, given that Steve Morris will likely vote with Webb, not Proctor.

October 23, 2008

We’ve been having the nicest fall weather I can recall for a number of years. It looks like we’re in for a little rain today and Friday, but the forecast for the weekend looks good. A hard freeze is predicted for Monday night, which may finally make the hardwoods turn color. While there’s some color in the woods, the early colors have faded some, and most of the hardwoods have not turned.

I’ve had lots of inquiries on the Blue Ridge Golf & River Club, the new upscale golf development on the Toccoa River. In addition to a mile of river frontage on what many consider the best trout stream in Georgia, the development will feature a conference center, restaurants – with a state liquor permit – and a mix of owner-built homes and developer-built cottages. The cottages can be placed in a rental program for the conference center, and some of the designs feature lockouts so that owners can occupy the premises at the same time as guests. The business model is based on Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee, which is owned by Pete Bailey, the lead developer for the project. The golf course itself is a Dave Axland / Dan Proctor design. These are the designers of the highly regarded Wild Horse design in Gothenberg, Nebraska. All things considered, it is the best thing to have happened to Blue Ridge in a long time.

Work has progressed smoothly. The wastewater system is mostly completed, the guardhouse is done, and the four holes along the river are close to completion. We will be hosting a community open house event this weekend, so if you are in town, please stop by. The open house will be from 1:00 – 5:00 PM both Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine. You can reach the development by going out Ada Street from downtown Blue Ridge and turning right on Curtis Switch (Ada Street runs by the feed store and the old roller rink, where Blue Jeans restaurant is housed). Then cross the river and turn right into the development.

The easiest way to find it is probably to go east/north on 515 (toward Blairsville) and turn left on Hwy 60 north. After you go down the steep hill toward the bridge over Hot House Creek, turn left on Curtis Switch. The main entrance is on the left, just before the Toccoa River.

October 16, 2008

The weather has continued beautiful, but dry. It’s just been perfect for hiking, fishing, or just taking a nap in the hammock and enjoying the breezes. Tuesday morning, we got early up to watch the Hunter’s Moon setting over the Cohuttas. The sun was coming up, there was quite a heavy fog, and the shifting shades of grey, purple, and blue were really wonderful. Unfortunately, most of the early color from the dogwoods, sourwoods, and hickories has faded, and the oaks and maples haven’t really turned color yet. I’m still hopeful that we’ll get some good color in the next week or so. It might help if we got a bit of rain, although it may be coming a bit late.

Our 10-Day Sale is winding up on the 19th. We have over 300 properties that have been reduced from 5-10%.

A lot of people have asked me (1) whether we have gas and (2) whether we can get financing. The answer yes. We never had a bad gas crunch, at least nothing like what went on in Atlanta. We’re paying about $2.99 at this point. And, we’re still not having problems getting good financing for our buyers. Our Coldwell Banker Mortgage rep says that she has had some problems in the Atlanta suburban market, but that our buyers are typically a bit more qualified, and that there haven’t been any real problems in our market. I realize that’s counter to a lot of the doom and gloom that you’re hearing out there, but it’s a fact.

We’re getting into the fireplace season, so don’t forget to check and see when the last time you had your chimney swept. How often you need it depends on how often you have a fire and how well seasoned your wood is. If you get a flashlight and a mirror, you can take a look up in your chimney to see how things are going. If your stove pipe looks nice and clean, you may be fine. If it looks pretty furry, you might be at risk for a chimney fire. I got mine swept the other day for $100, and in my opinion, it’s money well spent. I’d go with someone who is willing to go up on the roof and take the spark arrester off and clean it, rather than one of the guys who works from inside the house. It doesn’t make a mess if the guy knows what he’s doing.

I cover most of the local festival action in the column for October 9, but there’s one other event I’d like to mention, the Mountain Harvest Arts & Crafts Sale. It’s 9-5 Saturday and Noon-5 Sunday, October 18-19. It’s held at the Farmer’s Market on Old Hwy 76, which is near the Swan Drive In Theater. (The old highway runs above – and south of – the old downtown, from the Ace Hardware to June Walker Chevrolet.) This is usually a great place to buy canned goods, honey, and mountain crafts.

October 9, 2008

We’ve had beautiful fall weather, and we actually had a much needed rain yesterday. We got about an inch and a half at our place, up on the ridge, but my neighbor down in the valley below got two and a half inches. It was much appreciated, because the streams were very low and the dogwoods were very stressed, down in the woods.

The sourwood and dogwood have turned, along with some other the other trees, and the woods are very pretty, especially with the sun shining through them. Most of the oaks have not yet turned, but I’m still betting on the third week in October for the peak. It’s very beautiful right now, however, and I never know what the weather will bring. If we get a high wind and heavy rain before the third week, many of the leaves may be gone by then.

I’ve started a monthly marketing newsletter, which – unlike this one – will go directly out by email. It is mostly pitched to prospective buyers and features real estate news and local events. I’m also going to write a little piece every month about local history, day trips, or fun things to do. If any of my regular readers would like to receive that as well, just drop me an email and I’ll subscribe you to it.

We’re in the middle of the fall festival season, so here are a few picks for the next week or so.

October 10-19, Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Hiawassee, Ga. This is one of the biggest and best local festivals, and the music offerings are included in the price of admission. If you have never been, you really should go. The exhibit halls alone are fascinating, and it’s a good place to buy crafts and get something to eat. Here’s the official description: Arts, crafts & exhibits. Clogging, singing, authentic mountain demonstrations, pioneer village, kiddie rides and a new show, Kay Rosaires Big Cat Encounter. Regional food and lots of fun for the whole family. Also included in this is the Ole Time Fiddlers Convention. 706-896-4191.

October 11-12, 18-19. Apple Festival. The apple festival is on in downtown Ellijay. If you are going, remember that Hwy 5 is closed north of town at the intersection with 515 (they’re working on the bridge that goes over the railroad). Description: Thirty seventh annual Apple Festival, over 300 vendors with handmade/hand crafted items, on-site demonstrations. Lots of good things to eat. Other fun things to do will be an antique car show on the 13th and a parade on the 20th. For more information, call the County Chamber of Commerce 705.635.7400.

October 11-12, 18-19, Cherry Log Fall Festival , Cherry Log, Ga. Cherry Log is located about halfway between Blue Ridge and Ellijay. Description: First 3 weekends each October, the community of Cherry Log celebrates the harvest with the Cherry Log Festival. Serving delicious homemade breakfast and lunch, offering arts and crafts, homemade cakes, pies and canned goods, bluegrass, gospel and country music at the Cherry Log Community Clubhouse, 341 Cherry Log Street. Great food and entertainment. Fun for the whole family! For more information 706-276-3217.

October 11-12, 18-19, Sorghum Festival , Blairsville, Ga. Description: Meeks Park (located on Hwy 76 just before Blairsville City Limits on your right as you come from Blue Ridge). Georgia’s official Sorghum Festival, one of the longest running festivals in north Georgia. A parade kicks off the 2 weekend event. Bluegrass music, cloggers plus many other forms of entertainment add to this event which features a variety of artists and craftsmen who sell handmade goods. Sorghum is the 3rd most popular cereal grain in the US, and a staple of early Georgia farmers going back to the early 1800’s. A very festive time and a great event for the entire family. For more informations including times call the Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce 706-745-5789.

October 18, Blairsville, Vogel State Park (11 miles south of Blairsville via U.S. Hwy. 19/129). Description: Celebrate autumn’s arrival with: a cakewalk at 2 p.m., chili and drinks for sale at 5 p.m., hayrides start at 5:30 p.m., bonfires and line, square and round dancing at 6:30 p.m., and hear a professional storyteller around a bonfire at 8 p.m. Parking $3 parking. Vogel State Park 706-745-2628.

And for those of you who – like me – love bluegrass:

October 14, Blue Ridge, Kiwanis Fairgrounds, Jones & Austin Streets. (This is in the vicinity of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, south of the old highway that runs above and south of the old downtown.) Description: Experience real mountain Blue Grass Music. Musicians are local players. Free admission all donations go to the efforts of the Kiwanis Club. Call before you come just to make sure. 706-258-2736 Sponsored by Blue Mountain Music & Treasures. 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.

October 9 & every Thursday night. Pickin in the Park is moving to the Arts Center in downtown Blue Ridge for the winter, 420 West Main Street (downtown Historic Blue Ridge across from City Park). Description: Enjoy wonderful acoustic musicians. These are casual drop in sessions, everyone welcome to join in or sit back and enjoy the great music. Every Thursday night from 6:00 to 9:00 PM through the winter months. 706-632-2144.


October 3, 2008

We’ve been having some beautiful fall weather, but it has continued very dry. Mornings have been starting out as low as 43°, but it’s been warming up nicely in the afternoon, unless the wind is blowing on the top of the ridge. Up there, it’s been sweater weather.

We have been fortunate not to have had too much trouble getting gas. So far, most of the stations have had gas most of the time, and there haven’t been lines. We’re paying between $3.77 and $3.99 for regular.

One of the best fall events is coming up this weekend, the Fall Festival at the John C. Campbell Folk School. In addition to the school itself, the festival features over 200 juried and non-juried craftspeople. Handcrafted items for sale include jewelry, woodturning, pottery, weaving, ironwork, photography, rugs, woodcarvings, furniture, paintings, and baskets. There will also be live music and dance, crafts demonstrations, food, and children’s activities. Admission is $5 adults, $3 children, under 12 free with adult. The Folk School is in Brasstown, NC. You can get there through Murphy, but the best way to get there from Blue Ridge is detailed on the “day trips” section of my website, which is on the “local info” button. 800.FOLK-SCH or

If you prefer Suches, this weekend is also the 31st annual Indian Summer Festival at the Woody Gap School. There’s a 10K run, BBQ, clogging, arts & crafts, a play by elementary students, and mountain music. Admission is $4, under six free. Proceeds benefit the Woody Gap School. Suches is the smallest school district in Georgia. Suches is south on Hwy 60 from Morganton. 706.747.2401.

September 25, 2008

The weather has been simply beautiful lately. This morning, we had 46° on the porch, and the evenings have been wonderful. Unfortunately, it has continued dry, with only a trace of rain in the past ten or more days.

Some of the dogwoods are beginning to show signs of turning. It’s still a bit early to tell – and it’s always a guessing game – but I think signs are pointing to the leaf season starting about the third week of October.

This weekend kicks off our busy season, so if any of you are planning to come up and look for property, it would be a good idea to book time with your agent now. Most of us work on a “first come, first served” basis, and there are only so many weekends until the weather turns cold.

Here’s the information on this Saturday’s Family Fishing Festival at the fish hatchery. From Morganton, you would go south on Hwy 60 to Rock Creek Road (just before the Deep Hole Campground):

National Fish Hatchery, Suches, Ga., Highway 60 to Forest Service Road 69
Fun for the whole family. 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. 16 and under can fish free. Bring your poles and bait and the hatchery provides the fish in Rock Creek. Bring the kids out to learn about environmental conservation, trout fishing as a sport, USDA, US Fish & Wildlife and much more. T-shirts, great food and enjoy a morning of great fun fishing.
National Fish Hatchery

September 11, 2008

We’ve had a little bit of rain this week – about 2/10″ at our place – and it has been a little bit cooler.

This is a big weekend for the downtown, with the Wildlife & Nature Arts Festival in town. This is an expanded version of what we used to call the Wildlife Arts Festival, and it will take place in the downtown Blue Ridge park all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. There will be lots of original art for sale, along with many exhibits. Highlights will be Okfenokee Joe, S.O.A.R. (Save our American Raptors), the Georgia Jr. Duck Stamp Exhibit, and a performance by Blue Ridge Grass Saturday at 6 PM. They’re one of the oldest and best known bluegrass groups both here locally and throughout the southeast.

The vote was held last night in the Blue Ridge City Council over (1) wine and beer in the downtown restaurants and a (2) a request by the Arts Association for a special wine permit for fundraisers. Both were denied. Today, people are steaming because Harold Nalley campaigned on a promise to vote for both and then led the charge to deny them. There are more people more upset about this than I’ve seen here for some time. The Blue Ridge City Council is a very long-running comedy show, but this is serious stuff. Many people think this is a life or death issue for the health of the downtown. It also impacts the our tourism and the tax revenue it generates.

Speaking of government, I recently learned something when I received my tax bill. As I’ve said before, we have a freeze on property tax for people with homestead exemptions. What I failed to understand previously is that this freeze applies only the county portion of the tax bill. Unfortunately, that’s not the largest part.

Finally, the deadline to register to vote in the fall election is November 4. If you want to vote in Fannin, but won’t be here on November 4, you can always vote absentee. It’s very easy to do in our county.

September 5, 2008

It has been dry this week, so most of us are watching the tropical storm activity in the hopes that we will get a little rain from one of the systems that’s roaming around down there. It doesn’t look good for getting anything out of Hanna, but at this point Ike looks like a better bet. Hopefully, it will just be rain and not damaging winds for anybody here or on the coast.

The Labor Day Barbecue was a success, and a lot of people told me they enjoyed their lunch. The fall festival season is still a few weeks away, but there will be lots of things to do when it gets here. For your reference, here are a few dates to remember for the rest of September.

September 13, Mountain Music Festival, Vogel State Park (south of Blairsville)

September 14-October 2, Oktoberfest, Helen

September 19-20, Bluegrass Festival, Historic Courthouse, Blairsville

September 27, Family Fishing Festival, Fish Hatchery, Suches

Construction has started on the gatehouse and the four holes along the river out at the Blue Ridge Golf and River Club. As I’ve said before, this will be a unique development for Blue Ridge, and one of the premier golf communities in the country. The course has been designed by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor, who are famous as the architects who designed Wild Horse in Gothenburg, Nebraska. There’s over a mile of river frontage with what’s probably the best trout fishing in the mountains, and the views over the Cohuttas at the top of the property are dramatic. Lots start at $236,000 and cottages at $480,000. The cottages can be placed in the rental program for the conference center, which will be a nice option for those who want to leverage their investment. I have the revised site plan for the community ready to email to prospective buyers, and it probably gives the best idea of what we are planning for this beautiful piece of property. We expect to have 40-50 lots closed by the end of September, so the community is off to a good start. Call or email me, and I’ll be glad to get you the details.

August 28, 2008

We got a significant amount of rain over the course of the storm last week. It was probably enough to keep everything in the woods alive until the end of the growing season, except for the things that are already gone. At least, I hope so. We got about 5 inches at our place, but people in the office have reported everything from 3 to 5 inches. I talked to Eddie Ayers, our extension agent, and he said that he had heard reports of up to 12 inches over in Towns County, a couple of counties to the east of us.

Our Town is playing at the Blue Ridge Community Theater, August 29 through September 21. That’s 706.632.9223.

The Labor Day Barbecue is scheduled for Monday in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. The event is kicked off by a Community Worship Service Sunday evening at 6:00 PM, followed by a traditional Ice Cream Social. The barbecue is served on Monday from 11:30 to 6 PM, assuming it lasts that long. This is a rain or shine event, and it is very popular. It is safe to assume that lines will be fairly long at peak times. The menu is usually a choice of chicken or ribs, with beans, cole slaw, and homemade dessert. Last year, there was also a BBQ sandwich offering. This is a 28-year tradition to benefit the Good Samaritans of Fannin County. It’s usually very good, and I never miss it!

The music schedule is:

11:15 Blue Ridge Dulcimer Players

11:25 Blessing of the Meal

12:00 Hogsed Brothers (Old Fashioned Southern Gospel)

12:45 River Park Band (Bluegrass & Bluegrass Gospel)

1:30 Emily Carey (12 year old singer from Blue Ridge)

1:40 Looking Up (Contemporary & Southern Gospel)

2:30 Tom Morgan & Lynne Hass (Traditional Appalachian & Celtic)

3:15 Vicki Brice (Contemporary & Southern Gospel)

3:45 Caylor Family (Southern Gospel)

4:15 John Sabia (Folk)

4:30 End of the Road Band (Old Time Mountain Music)

5:15 TBA (Bluegrass)

I should be working at the Blue Ridge Golf & River Club Sales Office in the old downtown for most of the day, so stop in and say hello if you’re in town!

August 22, 2008

It’s continued dry, and we’re hoping for some rain from what’s left of Fay. We need it, because things are starting to die in the woods again. There is a red oak in the downtown park that’s probably over 200 years old that recently died. I think that’s partly because they foolishly built a playground over its roots, but it might have survived that if we’d had normal rainfall. A lot of the old boys in town have said that they remember playing under it when they were kids, and that it was a big tree then.

The City of Blue Ridge is holding another hearing on the beer and wine situation on Monday, August 25 at 10 AM at City Hall. The new city hall is located in an old bank building across West 1st Street from the Post Office. This is an important meeting for the future of Blue Ridge, and I urge you to attend if you have an interest in this issue.

There’s been a male osprey perching in a dead tree just upstream of the 515 bridge over the Toccoa. He’s easily visible from the bridge, and he’s been there a lot lately. I know why, because the other day I saw three very young kids and their dad take eight trout from a spot right under where he’s perched. Of course, he’s not there when they are releasing from the dam, which they’ve been doing every afternoon. He’s a nice addition to the kingfishers I usually see in Tammin Park.

August 15, 2008

We had a delightful cold spell last weekend, but our weather has bounced back hot and dry. Once again, I’m beginning to worry about how dry the woods are, and I’ve had to water our plantings twice – a week apart – since the last good rain. I think the southern and western parts of the county have had some rain, but it missed our location (southeast of Mineral Bluff).

We’re still swimming in the lake, but there’s no doubt that they’re running the water out at a pretty rapid rate. We’ll be swimming in it until October, at least, but everybody dislikes these early draw downs.

I’ve seen lots of young critters lately. Every year, we have a Carolina wren nest somewhere on our property. She usually chooses a spot just outside our front porch screen, on a beam that’s sheltered by the overhang. It’s a pretty good place for a nest. A couple of days ago, we were lucky to see the chicks leaving the nest early in the morning, running around on the ground and learning how to fly. The other day, I saw a doe and a little spotted fawn. The fawn was just a day or two past being able to walk, but was able to easily jump one of those decorative “horse and rider” fences that we have in our development. I would have thought it was too late in the year for fawns, but evidently it’s not.

The best deal of the summer? It’s probably my little cabin on Flat Creek Crossing, MLS 168380. We’ve dropped the price $25,000, because my sellers want it gone. Those of you who have done some serious looking know that there aren’t very many cabins that are any good for around $200,000 – especially if they’re all wood, no sheet rock. We’ve got this one priced at $209,999, and it’s a beautiful little place. It’s log-sided, nicely maintained, two bedrooms and two baths with a bonus loft. It’s very nicely furnished, and has real charm. The setting is fairly secluded, even though it is just off Aska Road. There are only a few other cabins in the vicinity, and the cabin sits beneath huge hemlocks on a little creek. The screened porch and hot tub look out over the creek, and you can hear it running. From the screened porch, you can see one other cabin, and it’s a ways away. In addition – and this really is the icing on the cake – there is deeded river access to the “beach area” on the Toccoa River. This is on Flat Creek River Road, and it provides a perfect place to dunk in the swimming hole, access the river for fishing, or put in a tube or kayak. You also get all the advantages of being in the Aska Adventure Area, with its famous restaurant and hiking trails. It’s never been rented, but it would probably make a good rental cabin. You can get all the details by entering the MLS number – 168380 – in the “MLS Search” on my homepage. If you like what you see, email me and I’ll send along a link to all the photos.

That’s a good example of why I continue to think that now is the best time to buy mountain property. Our listing inventory is beginning to level off, and interest rates are starting to rise. (We’re expecting a 2% increase in mortgage rates over the next six months to a year.) I believe that most segments of the market have seen about a 25% price correction over our peak market prices in 2005. The best deals are probably in new construction over $300,000, but there has also been a lot of pressure on all sellers to “take the fat out” in response to market conditions. When the existing inventory is absorbed, it stands to reason that replacement inventory will be priced sharply higher, because the cost of building materials has continued to rise with the gas crisis, and builder licensing is now in effect, which will raise costs due to the requirement for builders to provide workman’s comp. It seems obvious that the best deals for some time to come will be on purchases made in the period before the market begins to recover and new construction resumes.

By the way, although we handle foreclosures, I’ve yet to see any big advantage in buying them, because they have usually been neglected (and often aren’t completely finished). In most cases, I think there are better deals on conventional sales and resales.

We’re getting lots of inquiries on the Blue Ridge Golf and River Club, on which we have an exclusive listing. This will be a bigger deal for Blue Ridge than the Brasstown Valley Resort is for Young Harris. It will put Fannin County in a completely different category, with the first real conference facilities we’ve ever had in the county. The fact that the cottages can be placed in the club’s rental program will provide a way for members to leverage their investment, and you just can’t beat the combination of golf and fishing opportunities on the same property. No residences will be built between the golf course and the river, so the mile of river frontage will remain greenspace for the entire community. The state liquor license, which has already been approved by the county, will also set this community apart. All things considered, it will be the premier destination in the mountains for people who are seeking the recreational and social amenities the club will offer. With lot prices starting at $236,000 (including a membership) and nearly $50 million in improvements slated for the property, the club promises to be an excellent investment opportunity as well. Please call or email me for more information and a tour of the property.

August 8, 2008

It has been hot and dry this week, with high humidity by our mountain standards. There was a thunderstorm last night that I think brought some rain to the west and north side of the county, but it didn’t reach us at our place, east of Mineral Bluff.

I toured the Blue Ridge Golf and River Club yesterday, and I was quite impressed with what’s been done so far. The sewage treatment plant is under construction, and the roads have been improved. Work has begun on the four holes on the river (there are no riverfront home sites, in order that the space near the river remain open and accessible to all members.) The clubhouse and driving range will be at the top elevation, and have beautiful views. The course will play down to the river from the clubhouse. Many of the lots have dramatic mountain views. The onsite construction crew specializes in golf courses, and work seems to be going very well.

The first building to be constructed will be the gatehouse, followed by the first cottage, which will serve as the temporary sales center. It is available for turnkey purchase, with a $5,000/month lease-back for two years, and has a beautiful view of the river and two of the fairways. It is good to know that this important project is finally going forward, as it is very important to the future of Fannin County. As I mentioned before, we have an exclusive listing on this property (see details below), so please do contact me for showings, or to answer any questions.

In Gilmer County, Mark Chastain defeated Jerry Farist for Chairman, 1,421 to 1,378. Will Beattie defeated Leon Watkins for Post 1, 1,421 to 1,386. Both are unopposed in November. In November, Gerald Davis will face J.C. Sanford for Post 2. Turnout was a little better than in Fannin, with 3,170 votes out of a registered 14,612, or 21.69%.

For those of you who are interested in the market, I’ve just posted the numbers for July and for the first six months of 2008. These are on the links at the top of my home page to my articles on Blue Ridge, Blairsville, and Ellijay. The market analysis is at the bottom of each article.

August 6, 2008

Fannin County Runoff Election Results and Vote Totals

Garnett Webb defeated Tommy Vannoy for Post 1 Commissioner, 1105 to 725. He will face Tommy Ledford in November. Lewis DeWeese defeated Vickie Rhodes for Board of Education, 1113 to 680. He is unopposed in November.

That’s 1,830 votes in the Post 1 race and 1,793 in the Board of Education race. There were 4,393 votes cast in the primary, so turnout was less than half than in the primary election, or about 13% of registered voters vs. 31.5% in the primary.

August 4, 2008

Tomorrow is the run-off election. The local races are a runoff between Tommy Vannoy and Garnett Webb for Post 1 Commissioner and Lewis DeWeese and Vickie Rhodes for Board of Education.You can read the details in my posting for July 16.

August 1, 2008

We had about 2-1/2 inches of rain at our place in the past week. I think the part of the county that’s west of Mineral Bluff got even more. At present, my place is a mycologist’s paradise. There are more varieties of mushroom poking up out of the ground than I’ve ever seen before. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than 100 species present.

The wonderful news from Blue Ridge is that the Blue Ridge Golf and River Club has secured adequate funding and has cleared the necessary environmental and permitting hurdles. The project is now on track, and it will take Fannin County to a completely new level. It is, quite simply, the most important thing that’s happened in Fannin County for quite some time. The club has a mile of river frontage in one of the best areas for trout fishing on the Toccoa, and will include a number and level of amenities unheard of previously in the county. The club is expected to obtain a liquor license from the state, in the same way that the Brasstown Valley Resort obtained theirs. The county commission has already signed off on the application, and the project appears to qualify strongly for the program.

Pete Bailey, the lead developer, has extensive experience, including the Cuscowilla development on Lake Oconee. The overall concept of the Golf and River Club resembles Cuscowilla, with the architectural concept being more northwestern lodge than our traditional log cabin. The plans call for about 100 cottages, which can be placed in a rental program to aid with accommodations for the club’s conference facilities. Full maintenance will be available, inside and out. The golf course is being designed by Bunker Hill Golf, whose partners have contributed to many Top 100 golf courses, including Old Sandwich and Wild Horse. Approximately 150 at-large memberships are contemplated.

Lots start at a very reasonable $236,000 to the 400,000s, with completed cottages falling between $500,000 and $1,000,000. Most of the lots have views, and the course itself will have stunning views out over the Cohuttas, with dramatic elevation changes. The buyers of the first lots will stand to make the most on their investment, as some $48 million in improvements are slated for the property. The club will have its own on-site sewage system, which will allow for recycling of gray water for irrigation, making the project a model of environmental sensitivity. Construction is beginning soon on the first four holes and the gatehouse, and nine holes are slated for play by fall of 2009 or spring of 2010. Our office, Coldwell Banker High County, has an exclusive agreement for marketing and sales of the property. Contract me by email or phone, and I will get you the details. We are ready now to show property, and sell lots.

For all of you who are waiting for the market to go even lower before you decide to buy, I have a simple message: Interest rates are beginning to climb. We heard a presentation from a very well regarded economist the other day, John Tucillo, and his projection was for interest rates to climb 2 points by early 2009. We have some really incredible deals now, and – by the way – it’s awfully nice here this summer. You can keep delaying your purchase in the hopes that prices will go lower instead of recover, but you are probably going to be facing a significantly higher interest rate, and you’re also missing out on all the fun you could be having right now. I haven’t seen lower prices since at least 2002, and to my mind, it’s time to buy.

July 25, 2008

We had a thunderstorm last Tuesday, when all the weather was coming through Georgia. It brought us a little over an inch of rain, which was much appreciated. The woods were getting awfully dry again, and folks were beginning to be concerned. The weather has been a bit cooler this week, and the katydids have been in full song every night.

One of my neighbors has a native wildflower I’ve never seen before, a Green Dragon. It’s related to Jack in the Pulpit, and it’s now in fruit, a tight cluster of mostly red berries at the end of a long stalk. If any of you have seen these in the county, I’d appreciate hearing from you with the general location and details.

Jerry Proctor’s petition was certified by the election commission, so he will face Bill Simonds for County Chairman in the fall as an Independent.

You can read about the details of the county runoff election below. It will be held August 5.

The Fannin Board of Education has tentatively approved a millage increase that will result in a 9.82% tax increase. A public hearing will be held August 1, 8 AM at the Board of Education Office (in front of the High School at 2290 East 1st Street).

July 16, 2008

Fannin County Primary Election Results and Vote Totals

All of the (three) Democrats running for county office in the primary were unopposed. In the Republican primary, Bill Simonds defeated Howie Bruce for County Chairman, 2,273 to 1,402. For Post 1 Commissioner, Garnett Webb got 1,564 votes to Tommy Vannoy’s 1,006 and Steve Seabolt’s 998. Dane Kirby defeated Johnny Scearce for Sheriff, 2,010 to 1,767. For Board of Education, the totals were Vickie Rhodes 996, Lewis DeWeese 965, Greg Hampton, 921, and Brian Sanford 731.

In Georgia, candidates must receive at least 50% – plus one vote – to win. So Webb will face Vannoy in a runoff for Post 1 and Rhodes will face DeWeese in a runoff for Board of Education. The runoff will be held on August 5, with early voting from July 28 to August 2. You can vote in the runoff even if you didn’t vote in the primary, but if you did vote in the primary, you have to vote on the same ticket. Thus, people who voted in the Democratic primary will not be eligible to vote in the runoff, which is between Republicans. You must show a photo ID to vote.

Precinct-by-precinct totals are available on the News Observer website,

Bill Simonds will face Jerry Proctor for Chairman in November, if Proctor’s petition is certified. The winner of the Post 1 runoff – Garnett Webb or Tommy Vannoy will face incumbent Tommy Ledford. These are four year terms. Steve Morris, the Post 2 Commissioner, has two years left on his term. (Terms were staggered in the last county election, with Chairman and Post 1 being elected for two years.) Dane Kirby will face incumbent George Ensley for Sheriff.

For those who like to look a little deeper: In terms of turnout, the total number of votes cast was 4,393, or 31.5% of all registered voters. This compares to about 7,201 total votes in the great alcohol referendum of 2007 and 7,135 in the county election of November 2006.

Thus endeth “the Bruce Administration,” as Howie likes to call it. The fact that Bill Simonds soundly defeated Howie – the incumbent – shows that disaffection with his administration ran very deep. I was writing a little tongue-in-cheek when I said that I thought it would be close, but the margin of victory was greater than I expected. According to the seasoned political observers I consulted, that disaffection comes from two sources.

Let’s talk about the “progressives” first, for want of a better term. These are the people who are disinclined to believe that “growth will take care of itself,” in Randy Collins’ immortal phrase. They are inclined to think that we ought to do something to plan for growth, or we are likely to kill the goose that laid the golden egg – by destroying the beauty of the county. These people favor things like landscaping along the 515 corridor, extension of mountaintop protection, and lighting ordinances. They may also be inclined to favor – horror of horrors – zoning. Some of these people also think that we ought to have beer and wine by the drink in our restaurants, so over half of our visitors don’t go down to East Ellijay to eat dinner and risk deciding that – all things considered – they’ll stay there next time. These people tend to view the signal accomplishment of the Bruce Administration – the killing of the Fannin Future initiative – with grave misgivings. They are also inclined view the current commission’s endless playing off of issues like zoning – which has now been studied by at least a half dozen committees, study groups, and commissions – as a cynical and dishonest tactic.

But, as Tommy Vannoy’s poor showing against Garnett Webb indicates, these people did not decide this election. For one thing, it remains to be seen whether Simonds differs significantly with Howie on these issues. (One of the wonderful features of our county elections is that candidates generally refuse to say what they will do if elected, contenting themselves with straightforward stands against activists in the federal judiciary and people who hate America.) But in order to have defeated Howie so crushingly, Simonds must have received many votes from people who believe that Howie simply did not do the day-to-day job he was elected to do. According to several people I talked to, Howie succeeded in doing something well nigh impossible, which was to make lots of people who actively disliked Dr. Vollrath – our previous County Chairman – actually nostalgic for him. Whether you loved Doc or hated him, you could usually walk in to the Chairman’s office and see him. If you had to leave him a message, his voicemail wasn’t full, and he would call you back. He was a straight shooter. He would make a decision and stick to it. These are simple virtues, but they tend to mean a lot to someone who has a problem.

So … we’ll chalk this one up to a disconnect between the job to be done and the resources brought to bear on actually doing it.

Most of the seasoned political observers I spoke to attributed Tommy Vannoy’s poor showing to the fact that he simply didn’t work hard enough. Garnett Webb, while he undoubtedly won some points with folks by voting against raising the school millage rate, simply worked harder and longer than Vannoy did. Too many people in the county still do not know who he is, and he did not do a good job of getting his people out to vote for him. On the theory that he should have received most of the 3,330 “yes” voters in the great alcohol referendum, he fell about 2,000 votes short of reaching his potential. He has a rocky, uphill road in the runoff, because there were many more votes cast for the two “local” candidates, who received 2,562 votes to his 1,006. With the smaller turnout likely in the runoff, he probably still has a shot, but only if he can deliver his people to the polls.

I’m inclined to attribute Dane Kirby’s victory in the sheriff’s election to the fact that he is a fresh, young face in Fannin County politics, because Johnny Scearce is quite popular in his own right.

I’m not sure what to say about the ascendancy of Vickie Rhodes in the Board of Election contest. She is the former school bus driver who was terminated by the system for allegedly allowing older students to bully a younger student on her bus. She ran unsuccessfully in 2006. Voters apparently accepted her assertion that she does not have a vendetta against the administration, but is simply interested in education. I’d say that she probably faces an uphill battle against Lewis DeWeese, who served on the Board of Education for many years, simply because there were about three times as many votes cast for other candidates as for her.

July 10, 2008

We’ve had about 2-1/2 inches of rain at our place this past week, and it’s been much appreciated. There are still some rhododendron (mountain laurel) in bloom around the creeks in the county, and the blackberries are approaching harvest time. The wild cherries have come, but only the squirrels get excited over them.

Our 10-Day Sale continues through Monday, July 14! To qualify for the sale, our sellers have agreed to lower their asking price 5%, and over 250 of them have done so. Stop by our offices or get the details online at

Tuesday, July 15 is the primary election for some state and local offices. In Georgia, you can choose which ballot you want to vote, and most people in Fannin County will be choosing the Republican ballot, as the only candidates with opposition on the Democratic ballot are running for US Senate and the for Public Service Commission. Unless you have a strong opinion about those two races, you might as well vote in the Republican primary. All Democratic candidates for county office are running unopposed. Actually, the only candidates for county office on the Democratic ticket are the incumbent Sheriff, Coroner, and Post 1 County Commissioner. The Democrats, given their perennial sorry state in Fannin County, were unable to prevail upon anyone to “take one for the team” by running for Commission Chairman.

The Republican primary election is essentially the election, as the Republican candidates almost always win in Fannin County – especially in a general election year.

Turning to the Republican ballot, incumbent County Commission Chairman Howie Bruce is opposed by the Fannin County Republican Party Chairman, Bill Simonds. That’s obviously an interesting situation, with the party chair running against his own party’s incumbent. Neither candidate can be described as progressive. The choice here will likely come down to whether the voters are inclined to think Howie has done a good job and deserves a second term. Some of our chronic malcontents seem to feel that he has refused to act on a number of worthwhile initiatives and has made it very difficult for people to contact him for everyday problem resolution. These people will likely vote for Simonds. On the other hand, our beloved good old boy element, pleased as they are with the status quo and inalterably opposed to zoning, outsiders, animal rights activists, alcoholics, astronomers, downtown merchants and other undesirables who favor change – will likely vote for Howie. My fearless prediction is that it will be close.

By the way, we learned from a recent Letter to the Editor of the News Observer that it was the cowardly alcoholics who secretly removed the replica of the Statue of Liberty from the Veteran’s Memorial in the downtown park, but that’s another story.

The winner of the Republican primary election for Commission Chairman will be opposed by Independent candidate Jerry Proctor in the fall election, assuming that the Board of Elections certifies his petition. Proctor is a newcomer to Fannin County politics – he previously operated Appalachian Waste Systems – but the feeling seems to be that he is the more progressive candidate.

Steve Seabolt, Tommy Vannoy, and Garnett Webb are running for Post 1 Commissioner. Seabolt and Webb have been on the Board of Education. Vannoy is a retired builder who was involved in the late, lamented Fannin Future organization. Webb is favored by folks for whom taxes are the most important issue (he recently voted against raising the school millage rate). Vannoy is favored by the progressive element.

For County Sheriff, Dane Kirby -a former Georgia State Trooper – is running against Johnny Scearce, the current Blue Ridge Police Chief. The winner will face incumbent George Ensley in the election.

Steve Morris, the Republican incumbent Post 2 Commissioner, is not up for reelection this year.

July 2, 2008

We’ve had a little over an inch rain at our place over the last week. The weather has been a little more seasonal, with mornings a bit below 60 and afternoons around 80.

Our office is hosting a huge 10-Day 4th of July Sale! We have over 250 sellers who have agreed to reduce their asking price at least 5% for this event. Some have reduced their price even more. After this special event, prices will return to what they were before the event, in most cases. You can get details online at, or stop in the office and pick up the information. The sale begins July 4 and runs through the 13th.

It’s still a little early for the blackberries, although I have seen a few bushes with enough berries to make it worth the picking. And, if I don’t publish the famous recipe soon enough, I’ll get about 50 emails reminding me, so here it is! I hear it’s great, although we’ve never tested it ourselves, of course.


2 cups berries
2 cups ice cubes
½ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup white tequila
¼ cup sugar

It’s best to wash the berries ahead of time and then put them in the freezer until they are almost frozen. It also helps if the tequila is in the freezer. Buzz the berries in the blender. Strain the seeds, if you care about these things (they tend to fall to the bottom of the glass, anyway). Add the other ingredients. Either buzz it again with the ice or serve it on the rocks. If it isn’t cold enough, you may want to refrigerate the mixture for a bit. Yes, it does need all that lime to taste like a margarita. Enjoy!

Here’s the rundown on 4th of July celebrations and fireworks.

July 3 – Fireworks in McCaysville/Copperhill on Tater Hill. Festivities begin at 7 PM. Fireworks at dark.

July 4 – Old Fashioned 4th of July in Epworth. Begins at 8 AM with pancake breakfast. Then cake sales and country fair type events like the dunking pool, hay ride and so forth. A patriotic program is held at noon.

July 4 – Barbecue and Fireworks on Lake Blue Ridge. North Georgia Shrine Club will have barbecue at the marina starting at 2 PM. The barbecue is usually quite good. The music starts at 4 PM and fireworks at dark. If you aren’t interested in barbecue you can also watch the fireworks from Morganton Point, which is just across the lake from the marina.

July 4 – Miner’s Homecoming in Ducktown. The Barker Brothers – excellent bluegrass – start things off at 4 PM at the Hoist House (Ducktown Basin Museum).

July 5 – Parade starts in downtown Blue Ridge at 10 AM.

July 5 – Miner’s Homecoming starts again with breakfast at the Hoist House at 8 AM. There is a new video production that will be screening on local history. The Duck Race begins at 2 PM and there will be a car show at 4 PM. Music at 7:30.

Have a great 4th of July, and don’t forget to celebrate our freedom!

June 24, 2008

Apologies to my regular readers. We’ve had a family emergency and are behind in a lot of things. Just time for a quick note. The unseasonably warm weather has moderated. We even had one morning last week when the temperatures out in Dial were as low as 50. This week, morning temperatures have been around 60 and afternoon temperatures have been a little above 80, except in downtown Blue Ridge, where it’s always warmer.

Our mountain laurel is still in bloom, and we’ve had a few small rain showers – about 3/10″ at most. The blackberries still seem to be a couple of weeks away from perfection.

June 12, 2008

It has continued to be unseasonably warm. I’ll never call anything else hot after my time in Tucson, but it has been warm. The farmers have finally been able to get some hay in, which is a very good thing. Last year, there really wasn’t any hay until a lot later in the summer, and a lot of people either had to sell their stock or travel to purchase hay.

I’ve seen the first mountain laurel (rhododendron) in bloom. I expect it will be blooming throughout the county in the coming week or so. If you’ve got a favorite spot down by the creek that has some, it’s a good time to visit and take your camera along. There are few “Kodak moments” that compare to a shot of blooming mountain laurel beside a flowing stream.

Several people saw Charles Seabrook’s piece in the AJC’s Sunday Living section about the Cooper Creek Scenic Area and have asked for directions. This area is known for the beauty of the area, the creek, and the exceptionally large first-growth trees. It’s one of the few places I know, aside from the Joyce Kilmer area near Robbinsville, NC, where you can easily see the giants. It would also be a good place to look for mountain laurel along the creek.

From Blue Ridge, you would go north/east on Hwy 515 (the four lane) to a right on Hwy 60 south. Turn left at the T onto the old highway. Just after the post office in Morganton, turn right on Hwy 60 south (which you have been following since you left 515). About ten or fifteen miles down 60, you will come to the Cooper Creek Store on the right, at the place where Cooper Creek flows into the river. You can turn left here on Cooper Creek Road and follow the signs to the campgrounds. Follow forest service road 236 through the campgrounds, and it will take you around the western edge of the scenic area. There’s a trail head and parking area just past the second campground. If you continue on this road, you’ll eventually come out on the second Cooper Creek Road, near the Corinth Church. You would turn right and after a short distance turn right on Hwy 60 to return to Blue Ridge. The river is right there in front of you at this point.

One advantage of this route is that you can make the side trip to Sea Creek Falls, just before the first campground. There’s a sign there now, on the left just before you cross Sea Creek. If you miss that sign, there’s a real estate sign on the right just past the creek advertising “Double Creek.”

You can also do this loop the other way by continuing south on Hwy 60 until you come to the second Cooper Creek Road. The first left, on forest service 236, takes you back along the loop I describe above, traveling the other way.

You can also continue out to the end of the second Cooper Creek Road, which turns into forest service road 33. If you follow that around long enough and don’t get lost, you’ll come out on 180 near Lake Winfield Scott. You would then turn right to go back to Hwy 60 at Suches and then turn right to head back to Blue Ridge on 60, or turn left and follow 180 north to Hwy 19/129 at Vogel State Park, and turn north on 19/129 toward Blairsville. If you go that way, you can also turn right at 19/129 and travel the short distance to Neel’s Gap and check out the hiking store where the Appalachian Trail crosses. It was built by the CCC and is a beautiful building. There are some nice views there. The store serves for the first point of resupply for the through hikers traveling north on the AT.

I think its the most fun just to bang around out there, but you can find some specific instructions to getting to certain tree areas by Googling “Sherpa Guides Georgia Cooper Creek Scenic Area.” These directions will be a little hard to follow, however, unless you know the area and have the forest service map of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Now that they’ve closed our forest service office, you can find that at the Blairsville Forest Service office, which is on the left on 515 just before you come into Blairsville from Blue Ridge. If you get to the technical college on the left, you’ve gone too far.

The instructions for getting to the area Seabrook visited are to go out the second Cooper Creek Road to a gate on an old road on the left side of Cooper Creek Road, about .4 miles past Grady Grizzle Road. I haven’t done this walk, so I can’t vouch for the directions.

The Army trains in that area, so if you think guys jumping out of planes and stuff like that might disturb your hike, you can call Camp Merrill in Dahlonega at 706.864.3367 to see if anything like that will be happening. I’ve been startled more than once when I’ve been back in there, but only in the winter.

June 7, 2008

We’ve had about two inches of rain at our place this week, but 3/4″ of that was a thunderstorm last night that I think was fairly localized. It doesn’t seem to have rained in Blue Ridge.

The deadline to register to vote in the primary election for county officials is June 16. The primary is on July 15. In Fannin County, the primary election is really the election, because the Republican candidates for local office almost always win, especially in a general election year. With the presidential election, turnout will be heavy, and many local voters will vote straight Republican. There are actually two Republican candidates for county commission chairman, Howie Bruce and Bill Simonds. That the Republican county chairman would challenge the incumbent Republican for the top county office must say something about how things have been going lately. The Democrats were unable to prevail upon anyone to “take one for the team.” Jerry Proctor has announced plans to run as an Independent, but he has not yet qualified (his petition has not been presented yet) and he will not appear on the primary ballot. In any case, if you want to have some say in who runs the county, you should vote in the primary election. The Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a candidate forum Thursday, June 26, from 6-9:00 PM at the Fannin High School’s Performing Arts Center.

The tax revolt in Ellijay is heating up, with huge countywide increases in assessments. In Fannin County, there were some shocking percentages, but mostly in subdivisions that have not been reassessed for up to ten years. I’ve heard some grumbling in Fannin, but people in Gilmer County are outraged. We’ve compiled some information that may be helpful to people who want to appeal their assessment in Gilmer County. Just contact me by email and I’ll forward it to you.

In Fannin County, people who hold homestead exemptions continue to be reassessed normally, but do not actually pay the increased tax rate. In effect, their taxes are frozen until the home is sold. This was enacted to give some security and relief to people on fixed incomes who live, for instance, out on the lake. The thinking is that it is unfair to these people to tax them out of their homes just because their neighbors sold and cashed in big. As far as I know, Gilmer does not have this exemption.

May 29, 2008

We’ve reached a point I’d call summer in the mountains. Most of the blooming is done, although I’ve seen a few native azaleas hanging on in places sheltered from the sun. I haven’t seen the mountain laurel (rhododendron) in bloom yet, but most of the blooming things have come and gone. The next thing to look forward to is the ripening of the blackberries, and it looks like a good year from them. We’ve been having much more rain than last year, and things look nicely green. It all looks a lot more like the “temperate rain forest” that it used to be than it has for quite a while. The rain gauge shows about two inches of rain at our place in the last week.

The biggest local story is undoubtedly the massive increases in tax assessments in Fannin and Gilmer counties. Many, many people received a reassessment notice nearly doubling their taxes, so if you received one, you are not alone. In some cases, these properties have not been reassessed in years, and are still assessed below fair market value. In other cases, I’ve seen reassessments far above fair market value, especially in our current market. Either way, the percentage increase has been shocking.

It is not difficult to understand the circumstances that led to these reassessments. Both counties have stubbornly refused to allow beer and wine by the drink, meaning that East Ellijay continues to have a monopoly on restaurant development and continues to enjoy the benefit of the associated shopping trips. Also, in the current real estate market, the county government is not receiving anywhere near the same level of income from building and septic permits. Gas prices have doubled. The schools continue to demand more money, and new residents continue to want new services. Naturally, the local politicians are playing the game of “not raising taxes” by keeping the millage rate the same, so the only available source of additional income is through raising assessments. The politicians will disclaim all responsibility for this, of course, and try to hide behind the idea that the tax assessor’s office is “independent of the county commission.”

Nonetheless, I expect these issues to play into the upcoming local elections. The deadline for registration for the local primary in Fannin County is June 16. It will be my regrettable duty to report on the campaign when the time comes, but suffice it to say that here in Fannin County, the existing commission has shown very little vision and initiative. For the most part, they have limited their actual actions to approving a long list of dubious variance requests. The “tough calls” have not been on the agenda, but instead have been ducked or referred to an endless series of committees and study groups.

Needless to say, the burden of paying these property tax increases will fall disproportionately on the second home owners, which is either wonderful or not, depending on your status.

May 16, 2008

We had about 6/10″ of rain yesterday. At this point in the year, we’re in what I would describe as “late spring.” The laurel – not the rhododendron or mountain laurel – bloomed last week. There are still a few native azaleas holding on, and there have been lots of reports of native wildflowers in the coves. In general, everything green is doing a whole lot better than last year. For instance, I’ve got grass growing in my gravel drive, which really wasn’t a problem last year, and the lake is at or over full pool. No doubt we’re still behind in rain, but at least we have had some this spring.

The fabulous news from Blue Ridge is that we have a new German bakery, Meyer’s Breads and Bagels. It’s on the old highway, up above the downtown, near Angelina’s and the Fannin Sentinel. It is owned by a couple from Germany. Christiana does the baking and Siegfried does the front of the store. I haven’t visited yet, but I have tasted the product, and it’s very good. The word is to go early or they are sold out. 706.632.0220.

The big event over the Memorial Day Weekend is Arts in the Park, May 24-25 in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. 706.632.2144.

There is also a Classic Cars “Cruise In” at the Home Depot, 6 PM to dark, May 24. 706.632.3656.

May 9, 2008

We had about 4/10″ of rain at our place last night. It was needed, but it wasn’t the gully-washer I had been hoping for to send the rest of the pollen downstream to Muscle Shoals. We’ve reached late spring, with most of the the dogwoods done and the flame azaleas beginning to fade in most locations. It seemed to be a better year than usual for the native azalea, but I didn’t see the usual number of lady slippers. The blackberries set their flowers about the middle of the week, and it looks like a better year for them than last year. There are some broods of young turkey running around, about the size of a softball, and I heard the first Whip-poor-will calling the other night. I think the spring migration is almost over, but we’re still seeing some interesting migrants coming through the county.

Tom Striker of Blue Ridge Bird Seed is holding a “Peak Migration Bird Walk” in Cashes Valley on Saturday, May 10. Participants will meet at the store (611 East Main Street, next to Great Eats) at 7:45 AM. Call 706.258.2473 for more information.

This Saturday is also the Georgia Mountain Classics Car Show in downtown Blue Ridge. This is always a good time, and there are always some interesting cars. It’s amazing how many antique autos there are in the county – maybe aided by Ted Weaver’s body shop, which usually has some interesting projects going on.

There is also a Flute and Drum Circle at the Arts Association in downtown Blue Ridge at 7 PM. This is scheduled for every second Saturday of the month.

On May 13, the Blue Mountain Jam is scheduled for the Kiwanis Fairground. They advise calling 706.258.2736 to make sure it will take place.

Also, Pickin’ in the Park is now up and running every Thursday night at the Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park, off the River Road (just upstream from McCaysville off Hwy 60). It starts about 6 PM and runs until dusk. Lawn chair and picnic dinner is suggested.

Finally, for your chance to win a million dollars, here’s the press release for the Rotary’s Triple Crown Golf Tournament, May 14:

The Rotary Club of Blue Ridge would like to invite you to participate in the inaugural Triple Crown Golf Tournament. The tournament will be a three man format with the top three teams in each category earning cash prizes. Butternut Creek Golf Course in Blairsville Georgia will be hosting the tournament starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 14th. Proceeds will help to fund the many community efforts that the local Rotary Club is involved in, including adult literacy, water quality, the Ferst Foundation, and many more. The cost to participate in the tournament is $75 per player or $225 per team. Hole sponsorships can be purchased for $100.

Jason Farmer of Rotary said “Rotary’s Triple Crown Tournament will be the definitive tournament in North Georgia,” Farmer Goes on to say “Whoever holds the Triple Crown Trophy at the end of the day will hold bragging rights for the entire year.” Rotary will also be providing the opportunity to win $1,000,000 in a format that has not been seen in North Georgia. The three players who are closest to the pin on a pre-selected hole will have the opportunity at the end of the tournament to take one shot on the selected hole. A hole-in-one will earn the player $1,000,000. Rob Kaser, president of the Rotary Club, said “How many opportunities are there to pay $75, get to play golf, spend time with good friends, and also have the chance to win one million dollars.”

If you would like to participate in this exciting community event, please visit or call Jason Farmer at 706-633-0000.

The Rotary Club of Blue Ridge meets every Tuesday at noon in the Community Room of The Appalachian Community Bank located on Orvin Lance Connector in Blue Ridge.

April 30, 2008

We’re having a bit of “dogwood winter” this week, but it has been very beautiful. We had about an inch and a half of rain at our place over the weekend, and it was much appreciated. The native azalea (flame azalea) has started to bloom, and I’ve seen the first Lady Slippers (native lilies). I think the rain made the lilies bloom, as they were a little late this year. The dogwoods have peaked in most areas of the county, and if you haven’t been up yet to enjoy the mountain spring, you probably should come this weekend. I think it will be the beginning of the end for most of the flowering natives.

Most of the leaves are on the trees, and the lake is at or near full pool. The pollen is still fairly thick, but I believe that it is on the decline.

I promised a report on the Mennonite Farmer’s Market in Delano, TN. We visited last Saturday, after the Polk Ramp Festival. They are open six days (closed Sunday) and had a good selection of early produce including several varieties of lettuce, scallions, green tomatoes, beets, white radishes, collards, cucumbers, and strawberries. We probably missed some other things because we were there fairly late in the day. Of course, they had their sorghum, preserves, and baked goods. And they had beautiful tomato plants, in many different varieties, and various fruit trees. The live animal market, which is held on the last Saturday of the month, was in session and was very interesting. There was also a gentleman there selling grass-fed beef from a trailer. Directions are in my column below for 9/13/07.

April 22, 2008

We had about 6/10″ rain at our place Saturday, but I think it rained harder down toward Ellijay. Since then, the weather has been absolutely beautiful, except for the pollen. We seem to be at or near the peak of pollen at this point.

In our part of the county, the dogwoods are almost all in bloom. Ellijay seems to be ahead of Blue Ridge, but I was surprised to see that in Cashes Valley, at least along the creek, there weren’t many in bloom last weekend. I think this weekend will probably mark the peak for the dogwoods in most of the county. And, yes, my wild crabapples are finally in bloom.

We attended the Turtletown Ramp Festival last Saturday. The Polk County Ramp Festival is this coming Saturday. I believe that the Robbinsville Ramp Festival is also this coming Saturday. The Polk Festival is 50 years old, and there will be a special Friday evening event with music. The main festival is still Saturday morning. Full directions can be found in the archives for 4/21/03, but the event is held at the 4-H camp on Route 30, which runs off the Old Copper Road (Hwy 64) up toward Reliance. The turnoff for Route 30 is in the vicinity of Parksville Lake.

I’ve received a hot tip that the Mennonite Farmer’s Market in Delano, TN is open. I hope to get there after the Polk Ramp Festival, so I should have a report next week. Directions are below, in the column for 9/13/07.

The first Pickin’ in the Park is scheduled for Thursday,May 1st at 6 PM in the Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park. It goes rain or shine each Thursday until September. This is a favorite local institution in a beautiful setting. Take a lawn chair and a little picnic dinner, or plan to do a little fishing in the river while listening to the music. The Ron Henry Park is on the Toccoa. From McCaysville, you would go south on Hwy 60 and turn right just before the tracks onto River Road. The park is a few miles along, on the right.

The 12th Annual Georgia Mountain Classics Car Show is scheduled for May 10 in downtown Blue Ridge.

April 17, 2008

After the little cold snap, the weather has been absolutely beautiful for the past couple of days, with highs around 72. Some of the dogwoods are in bloom, and others seem poised to bloom soon. Oddly, my wild crabapples haven’t blossomed, the first time I can remember that happening in twenty years.

This weekend Springfest – an arts and crafts festival – is at the Farmer’s Market, which is located on the old highway in Blue Ridge, almost next door to the Swan, our local drive-in theater.

April 10, 2008

The last three days have been over 70, and I actually saw 75 on the porch yesterday afternoon. Mornings have continued cool, and it looks as though we may have a bit of rain over the next few days. The sarvis has pretty much peaked, the red buds look wonderful, and one or two dogwood are beginning to bloom on our property. I haven’t seen any native lilies yet, but chances are that they are out there, or soon to come. I was walking property in Ellijay a day or so ago, and I noticed that Gilmer County seems to be a bit further along than Fannin County, in terms of the progress of spring.

The big news from Blue Ridge is that the Blue Ridge City Council voted to allow wine to be served at special functions, by special permit. The Arts Association had requested this as part of their efforts to build the Arts Association into one of the best in the state. The Blue Ridge Business Association had also requested that the city consider pouring permits for restaurants, but this step was not approved.

I’ve heard from three or four people lately who said that while they aren’t in the market for real estate, they do enjoy reading my columns. I appreciate the feedback. Remember, everyone everyone is welcome to ask questions. I’ll be glad to answer them as best I can.

I keep getting requests for fearless predictions – not about the election, thank goodness – but about the real estate market. Here’s what I think at this point. We’ve yet to see the total number of listings in the MLS start to drop, so we can’t say objectively that we’re in recovery yet. But we have seen more normal traffic this spring than we’ve seen a a while, and we’re starting to see a fair number of transactions in the the office. My best guess is that 2008 will bring some happiness, with 2009 being more of a normal year than the past several. (By normal I do not mean 2005, which was an abnormally good year.)

There is still a lot of interest in our area, but demand is somewhat pent-up at this point, with many prospective buyers in Florida still waiting for their markets to turn around, and other buyers waiting to see if that prices will go any lower.

At the moment, interest rates are still very low, and I believe that cabin prices have probably gone as low as they will. (There are still a lot of very stubborn and/or out of touch people out there who refuse to lower their prices, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that there is a good inventory of property priced considerably lower than it was in 2005, as much as 25% lower in the case of a number of cabins in the $300,000-$400,000 range.) If interest rates were to rise, I think it could trigger a very serious setback, but as long as interest rates stay relatively low, I’m expecting a gradual recovery. In other words, I’m really not expecting cabin prices to go any lower.

It will take a while to absorb the existing inventory, especially in the $400,000-$500,000 range, where we are overbuilt in new construction. However, when that inventory is absorbed, I expect that the price of new construction will rise sharply. With builder licensing finally slated to take effect in June, the number of builders will surely decline, meaning less competition. (In my opinion, this is probably good, because many of these people weren’t really builders, just people like you and me who built a few cabins with subcontracted labor.) But along with builder licensing will come significantly increased costs due to the mandate to provide workers’ comp. This is not much of an expense for office workers, but construction workers get injured a lot, and for this population, it is a considerable expense. Taking these two factors together, I can’t see how construction costs can fail to rise, especially when the cost of building materials continues to increase as well. This all says to me that we will see a meaningful price increase when existing inventory is finally absorbed.

“Lots and land” is in greater oversupply than cabins and developers are not buying much of it, so it stands to reason that this market will take longer to recover.

For details on the Adventure Race this Saturday and the upcoming Polk Ramp Fest, see the columns below. By the way, security has been tight, and I haven’t been able to uncover any hints about the route of this year’s Adventure Race. Chances are, it will start at the Shallowford Bridge, but I have not been able to confirm even that much.

April 4, 2008

We’ve had a little rain over the past few days, and everything has greened up very nicely. The sarvis is still about the only wild plant in bloom, but I expect that the dogwood and the native azalea will be here soon, followed by the native lilies. We beginning to see a lot of migrating songbirds and waterfowl, and I’m still hearing turkey talk around the cabin.

I just noticed that I failed to give the date for the Adventure Race in my last column. I hope I didn’t inconvenience anyone. It is set for Saturday, April 12. See the column below for details.

March 29, 2008

We’re having a pretty good rain this morning, so it looks as though the opening day of trout will be pretty much a rainout. At least the river and creeks have returned to near-normal water levels. It was genuinely scary how low they were before we got a little rain this spring. They had actually stopped stocking a lot of streams last summer because they were too low and warm, so the tailrace of the river got more than its share of trout last year. By the way, that’s the best place to be when the creeks are stained, so long as they aren’t generating electricity. The schedule is on the TVA web site, if you like planning ahead. Or on their automated phone server. That’s 800.238.2264. They should have the information on the next day’s releases by 6 PM on the previous evening.

Spring is advancing nicely. I’ve seen nesting woodcock, and my sarvis (serviceberry or juneberry to you city folk) is just starting to bloom (as of yesterday). Looking back to last year, it bloomed the first week in April, so indications continue to be that we’re on about the same schedule as last year.

I continue to hear a lot of turkey talk around the cabin, so I imagine that turkey season is going well.

I’m going to say this again, in an attempt to inoculate myself against all the people who are going to reproach me because “I didn’t tell them.” As far as I can tell, we’ve reached the perfect intersection of interest rates and cabin prices. I understand that some people have even heard something like that on the news. Yes, there are some foreclosures out there – we’ve even added a foreclosure section to our company web site, so we’re glad to help with that – but you can get as good a deal on a lot of plain old resales, and they’re probably in better condition with better selection. Anything can happen, but I just don’t see things getting any better for our buyers in the foreseeable future. Please don’t say I didn’t tell you, although I know that you will.

The 11th Annual Blue Ridge Mountain Adventure Race begins at 8 AM April 12th at the Toccoa Valley Campground on Aska Road. (We also have the honor of hosting the national race in November!) Once again, the Natti Love Joys will be providing entertainment in the downtown park from noon until about 5 PM. (The Natti Love Joys are an internationally acclaimed reggae band, based – believe it or not – in nearby Isabella, TN. They’re one of my favorite local bands.) The first finishers are expected in the park around 2:00 PM. I understand that volunteers are still needed. If you’d like to volunteer, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 706.632.5680.

The last Saturday night race is scheduled for tonight at the Sugar Creek Raceway, although it would have to stop raining to have it.(They declared a rainout, so racing is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) at 2 PM! Next week is the first points race, with the racing reverting to the usual Friday night. There’s a new promoter this year, and he seems to have a lot of energy and good ideas. Among other things, I understand that he’s halved the admission fee, from $20 to $10, to encourage attendance. I’ll be participating again this year, by helping to sponsor the #20 S&S Collision Dirt Devil, owned by David Stewart and driven by his son, Devin Stewart. The car runs in Modified Hobby, and Devin finished 7th and 4th in previous races this spring. (David is an excellent body man, by the way. He does all my body work, and he’s a genius with matching paint and panels. He also does a nice job on old pickup trucks.) Devin is a student at the famous Nashville Auto Diesel College. I’m jealous. I always wanted to go there as a kid, until I got sidetracked into the philosophy of religion.

March 23, 2008

It’s been a beautiful Easter weekend, a bit chilly in the morning, but warming up nicely in the afternoon. It’s especially nice in contrast with the late freeze we had last Easter, which killed a lot of trees in the county, including my year-old persimmons. The moon has been lighting up the woods like a searchlight at night, and it’s been very pretty out.

The tree pollen has started to be noticeable, but I haven’t seen sarvis in bloom yet. The meadows are nicely greened up, and I think I saw the first Mourning Cloak butterfly yesterday (rather later than usual).

Turkey season came in on Saturday, and I’ve heard a whole lot of turkey talk around the cabin. They’ve been talking back to the geese who are trading back and forth from the old quarry out on Cutcane Road.

I want to correct something I said in an earlier column, which is that I heard that Nature’s Estates had obtained a liquor license from the state. I was told this by someone who was in a position to know, but it is apparently not the case. At this point, apparently the only entity in the county to have obtained a license from the state is the marina, although the county commission voted to assist the golf course in obtaining one last year.

Winter Pickin’ – the winter version of Pickin’ in the Park – continues at the Arts Center, March 27 and April 3, 10, 17, and 24 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Also, Ole Time Gospel Music, April 18, 6:30. The Arts Center is in the old courthouse, in downtown Blue Ridge.

The Blue Ridge Writers’ Conference is March 28-29. Call 706.632.7785 for more information.

Mark your calendars for one of my favorite events, the Polk County Ramp Festival, April 23-26. Note that the ramp digging day has been moved to Wednesday. The main event is still on Saturday, at the 4-H Camp on the Greasy Creek Road (Route 30, a few miles from Parksville Lake, off the Old Copper Road).

I’ve been reading The Old Home Place, a reprinted version of “The History of the Ocoee Ranger District” by Thurman Parish. It’s available from the Polk County News, over in Benton, TN. There’s some amazing local history there, including something I was completely ignorant of, which is that there was a utopian community in the vicinity of the Sylco Creek Campground in the 1850s known as the Dutch Community or Vineland. I’ve often remarked that it’s a very interesting area, where it’s obvious there was an old settlement, but I never knew the history. It was populated primarily by immigrants from New York. The “Vineland” part is from the fact that they made a prize-winning wine there.

March 17, 2008

We had a total of two inches of rain Friday and Saturday at our place. For the first time in a long time, it rained about as hard as it can rain and did some damage to the roads. The front had already passed through from north to south when the tornados started to form along the line of the front, so we were spared that drama.

Spring seems pretty well advanced. The pastures have greened up nicely, and the domestic pear trees are just starting to blossom. I haven’t seen any sarvis in bloom yet. I’ve heard a lot of turkey talk in the past few days, so it seems that opening day will be happening for turkey hunting this year. If you need a little brush-up on Woodcraft 101, I talk a little about turkey hunting in my column for 3/16/2003 (in the archives). The main thing to remember, if you’re out in the woods, is that if you hear owl calls, crow calls, or turkey calls – and especially if they sound real bogus – you’re probably hearing a turkey hunter. They make these sounds in the hopes of getting a gobbler to respond, revealing his position.

I seem to have survived the third week of GRI training, the final week. Thanks to all of you who asked about how it was going. It’is pretty intense stuff. You have to be in your seat by 8:15 – a minute late earns an hour detention – and you can’t leave class to go to the men’s room unless you turn in your cell phone. If you cell phone actually rings during class, it costs you at least $25. It’s a grind, but it is our highest educational experience. Most of the classes are head and shoulders above the usual continuing education offerings, and there’s a pretty stiff test at the end. I’m glad to be finally finished with the whole program. No doubt I’ll feel even better about it if I actually get caught up with my work this week.

March 7, 2008

We’ve had a little rain, and things are beginning to green up. Earlier in the week, we had a little over and inch and a half at our place, and we had a half inch last night. There’s snow in the forecast for tonight and Saturday morning, with the possibility of some accumulation.

I heard the peepers for the first time Wednesday evening. Looking back at my calendar, I see that I heard them for the first time last spring on March 1, so we seem to be on about the same schedule as last year. The buffleheads are still lingering on Mercier’s holding ponds, but I expect them to move on before too long. With the rain, the streams and ponds are finally getting back to a more normal level, and I’m hoping for normal spring rainfall.

I’ll be locked down for training all of next week, so I’ll probably be a little slower to respond to email than usual. This is the third of three weeks of Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI) training, our highest educational program. It’s a grind, but it is worthwhile, because the quality of the instruction is above what we normally have for continuing education, which is mandated by the state.

The racing season has already started at Sugar Creek Raceway, the little Friday night dirt track in Blue Ridge. Last year, they didn’t run a full schedule, but they have a new promoter this year, and it looks like he has some good ideas. For one thing, he’s halfed the admission fee, which is now $10. If you are a race fan, or just wonder what it’s about, this is a good opportunity to visit a local track.

“Lend Me a Tenor!” is on at the Blue Ridge Community Theater.

February 27, 2008

We had about and inch and a half of snow at our place last night and this morning. It started a little before midnight, and came in pretty fast. It was a bit of a challenge getting down from the ridgetop, but Hwy 60 north was already salted, and 515 was pretty good down to Blue Ridge. There seems to have been more snow over toward Blairsville, and I understand the roads are worse. Highway 60 south was bad this morning, but is reportedly being salted. Aska Road is apparently passable. There was only a dusting of snow down toward Ellijay. It’s going to refreeze tonight, so those of us on top of the ridge will need to get in before that happens. It was twenty this morning, with a brisk wind.

February 26, 2008

We’ve had about an inch of rain so far, this morning and afternoon. Yesterday was a beautiful spring day, up in the sixties. I was out walking property, and for the first time, I was bothered by insects. I suppose that’s progress. (If you are not a regular reader of this column, I should perhaps mention that if there’s 50 people at a picnic, I’m the one who slaps first.) There’s been some migratory bird activity, and it seems we’re well on the way to spring. One step forward, two steps back: It’s nasty today, and there’s a threat of snow after midnight. But things are greening up, and I saw lots of daffodils yesterday, around Gates Chapel in Ellijay.

I realize that the “things to do” part of the column has been a little skinny lately. I think it’s a great time to get out in the woods – all hunting seasons will be over by the end of the month, and it’s just a nice time to get out.

For those of you who love bluegrass, the Arts Association has announced “Winter Pickin'” (a winter version of Pickin’ in the Park) from 6-9:00 February 28, March 6, 13, 20, and 27. That’s at the old courthouse, 410 West Main, in the old downtown. 706.632.2144.

Just so none of you can say I didn’t tell you: Now is the time to buy property. We’re seeing buyer activity pick up, interest rates are still very low, and we have a very good inventory of cabins, lots, and land. I don’t expect to see any better deals than are available right now. You can literally buy a cabin that would have cost $400,000 in 2005 for $300,000, and have you choice of quite a few of them, too. There are even better deals in new construction between $400,000-$600,000. Optimism springs eternal in the seller’s breast, and with the coming of spring, I expect prices to firm up to some extent. By the time the newspapers figure all this out, it will be too late, so my advice is to come up and have a look now, while the pickings are still good. That way, you won’t have to blame me for not telling you ….

February 18, 2008

We had about 1-3/10″ of rain at our place on Sunday. The wind was strong, and it looked like a day that could bring heavy weather, but it never reached us. I haven’t seen any damage out in the county, although it is possible there was some. Weather is very local in the mountains.

February 14, 2008

We had a cold front come in fast and hard yesterday morning, and it snowed lightly off and on all day. The ground was pretty warm, so there weren’t many travel difficulties. But the porch steps were pretty slick, and it was a freezing cold day with a brisk wind. Today is sunny and more hospitable.

If you’ve been following the real estate market, you should know that interest rates just hit a four-year low.

I went to an interesting meeting last week concerning the proposed four-lane road from Asheville to Cleveland, Tennessee, which is known as Corridor K. The route through our part of the world would probably pass either directly through the Ocoee Gorge, past the Olympic Whitewater Venue, or along the route of the Kimsey Mountain Highway, through the Little Frog Wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. Both are difficult for people who care about the environment to accept. There’s good information on Corridor K and on I-3, the proposed interstate from Savannah to Oak Ridge/Knoxville, on

February 6, 2008

The tornado warning that was on for Fannin and Gilmer until 11 AM this morning was allowed to expire. At our place, we had some high winds, but no real damage.

Fannin County Primary Election Results and Vote Totals

Here are the results of yesterday’s presidential preference primary as reported last night by the election commission. They are “unofficial and incomplete.”

With 92.86% of the precincts reporting (13 of 14), there were 5804 votes cast out of 13,564 registered voters. That represents 42.79% participation.

Republican voters totaled 3900, Democratic voters 1892 (roughly half).

Guiliani, 25; Huckabee, 1819, Hunter, 4; Keyes, 6; McCain 1198; Paul 130; Romney 695; Tancredo 0, Thompson 23.

Biden, 12; Clinton, 1264; Dodd, 3; Edwards, 95; Gravel, 2; Kucinich, 6; Obama, 504; Richardson, 6.

I’ll give a call to Flint Davis, who managed Clinton’s campaign in Fannin County. In this, which he says will be his last election, he again delivered Fannin County for his candidate.

The total of 5804 votes represents the committed core of Fannin County voters. Experienced political observers will recall that there were 7,201 votes cast in the alcohol referendum, and 7,135 votes cast in the last race for county chairman (when Howie Bruce defeated Richard Vollrath).

Obviously, the county remains solidly Republican. On the strength of the Baptist vote, Huckabee solidly defeated McCain. Obama did not do well with Democratic voters in the county. It’s difficult to tell whether the votes for candidates no longer in the running were “protest votes” or simply an expression of being “a little out of touch.”

And, finally, for those who like to look a little deeper: The election commission reported 178 absentee ballots cast in the primary. As you may recall, there were 552 absentee ballots cast in the alcohol referendum, 287 no, 265 yes. That’s a net loss of 374 absentee voters in several months time.

February 4, 2008

I can’t give rainfall amounts, because my rain gauge died, but we did have significant rain Thursday night. Judging from the fact that Hemptown Creek was running fairly high, I’d say we had at least an inch. It’s kind of drizzling today, the way it has been, and the forecast for the rest of the week looks wet.

The past couple of days felt a lot like spring, and this morning we had some of that classic mountain weather – high forties and very foggy. It felt so much like spring that I couldn’t resist getting the dogs and going for a little hike before work. I’m sure it will get cold and chilly again, but when we reach this point in the cycle, I look for signs that the year has turned, and I think we reached that point this weekend. I’m sure the critters are happy, because it’s been pretty slim pickings in the woods with the drought. I watched six does – two mature, and the rest yearlings – forage in my yard early Sunday morning, and all they were finding to eat was an occasional acorn. Anything green out there seems to be long gone. I’ve seen some Buffleheads on Mercier’s holding tanks, and I hear the geese trading back and forth from the old quarry on Cutcane Road, so it seems that some of the migration has begun.

We’re waiting for the January numbers, but our seat of the pants feeling is that we’re doing a little better this year in the real estate business. Our projections are for this year to bring us recovery and for us to get back to normal in 2009. Interest rates are still very low, and we’re continuing to see good price reductions on desirable cabins. I think it’s fair to say that you can buy cabins today for $300,000 that would have cost $400,000 in 2005. That’s purely a function of supply and demand, and my advice to everyone would be that it’s time to get off the fence if you’re interested in cabins. Lots and land may still go somewhat lower, but I don’t expect cabins to go much lower. At this point in the cycle, there is still good inventory, and prices are definitely better than they have been in a number of years.

I’ll give a call to the very nice three bedroom, three bath cabin that I have listed up on Thunder Mountain. It has one of the best views I’ve ever seen in Fannin County, and you actually can see Brasstown Bald from the porch. It’s in move in condition, and we’ve just reduced the price to $299,900. You can see the listing on the real estate part of my web site, MLS 164220.

January 28, 2008

Although it has continued cold, the late forecast of freezing rain and sleet Friday night did not materialize. There may have been some patches of sleet, but I have not heard of any in our area.

This tends to be a slow time of year in the mountains, with density – both of rentals and part-time residents – at its lowest point of the year. Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen the first spring-like day many times on February 1st, but I don’t expect that to happen this year. My guess is that we’ll have a more normal runup to spring, with the warmer temperatures and greener landscapes coming closer to the first of March.

January 17, 2008

We had a little wet snow last night, about two inches. It came in pretty fast, but the termperature rose above the freeze by 1 AM and it started to rain. The main roads are fine, although there might be a little difficulty getting up and down from the ridgetops. At this point, I’m not expecting any more difficulties.

January 15, 2008

The weather has bounced back very cold, and we have wintry mix and/or freezing rain in the forecast for Wednesday night. In the end, we got a little over an inch and a half of rain out of the front that moved through late last week.

People are always emailing me and asking about the local market, so this is an alert for all you buyers out there who are waiting to see what happens so you can pick the perfect time to buy. Mortgage rates just went to a two-year low. They were very low, historically, already. The mortgage market has been pretty volatile lately. Not long ago, we got a “red alert” from Coldwell Banker Mortgage, saying that rates were expected to rise sharply. Instead, the opposite has happened. Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide will probably stabilize the market – they have the resources, because as a traditional bank, they have deposits to rely on, which Countrywide didn’t – but in the long run, less competition probably means higher rates, as the smaller lenders are forced out of the marketplace. Right now, though, we’re in a sweet spot.

We track the overall number of listings very carefully, because there is objective evidence that the buyer’s market is ending and recovery is beginning when the overall number of listings starts to drop, instead of rise. We did see an overall drop in the MLS in December. This may be a seasonal phenomenon, but it may also be reality setting in for buyers who still want a 2005 price for their property. Our fundamental analysis, as well as my experience as a realtor in this market, tells me that this winter will be the best time to buy in some years. That message seems to be getting around, because we are seeing good buyer activity for this time of year.

In local political news, the liquor and alcohol referendums in Murphy both passed. The total number of votes cast was about 500, and – if memory serves – liquor passed by about eight votes, beer by a somewhat bigger margin. Murphy already allowed restaurants to serve wine. The off premise sales situation in Murphy is a bit complicated. There is a state liquor store on the strip – ABC for “Alcoholic Beverage Control – but if you ask them for beer, they point up the road and say, “Tennessee state line is that way.” I think they’re trying to keep the working man sober, and of course we working men are grateful. I’m not certain, but I think the referendum was only for restaurant consumption.

January 10, 2008

As you know, the weather bounced back very warm this past week. At this point, the forecast is for rain, but it really hasn’t amounted to much more than a light drizzle this morning.

This time of year is very skinny for festivals and events, but the Arts Association is having an ARTrageous Friday Sock Hop on January 18th. For more information, 706.632.2144.

This is probably the most quiet time in the mountains and the woods. With deer season over, most of the hunters have departed the woods, and it is a good time to spend time outdoors. With the leaves off, you can see the views, and the cooler weather is ideal for climbing. Grouse, quail, and rabbit are in until February 28, so there may still be the occasional hunter in the woods. I recommend a blaze orange hat in the woods at all times of year for safety, and I wear one myself when I’m walking property or hiking in the mountains.

I was told this past week that Nature’s Estates, a new “fractional ownership” development in Fannin County, has obtained a liquor license from the state. This makes the second such “resort” in Fannin to have obtained a state liquor license, so this seems to be the new route of choice for circumventing the local alcohol restrictions. These new real estate developments make the county commission’s determination to keep Fannin County dry laughable, especially since they voted themselves to to allow one of these outfits to obtain their license. If I were a mean-spirited sort of person, I’d point out that the logic of their position is clearly that it’s OK for resort buyers to have bars and OK for the big developers to make money off them, just not anyone else.

January 4, 2008

The weather has been the big news lately. We got a total of about an inch and a half last week. Late New Year’s Day, it snowed like crazy – hard and fast. A lot of people were surprised when they woke up on Wednesday morning. There were some travel difficulties for those of us who live on the top of the ridge, but conditions had markedly improved by late afternoon. There is still some snow here and there in the outlying areas, but for the most part it is gone. Along with the cold front came very low temperatures. The temperatures on our porch for the past three days were 14°, 10°, and 20°. Wednesday, there was a killer wind, which created the coldest day we’ve had for a long time … I almost said, “the coldest day of the year.”

The real estate market has been decent lately, with almost a normal amount of seasonal activity. Overall, we are seeing about a third of the transactions we saw in 2005. The good news in that is that we are still seeing a significant number of transactions, and we expect that to continue so long as interest rates remain historically low. The bad news is that there are many more agents than transactions, and there has been some real pain in the agent community. Many agents have had to go on to other jobs on at least a part-time basis, and we expect that a significant number will choose not to renew their board memberships for the coming year. It has been, in other words, a rather severe “shake out” so far as the agent community is concerned.

I will not have the December numbers until Tuesday, but essentially, we have a three year inventory of cabins and a twelve year inventory of land at the current absorption rates. The bottom line is that 2005 is gone, and sellers who want 2005 prices for their property would be well advised to simply take it off the market, which would be a favor for all concerned. For sellers, the best available news is that we are still able to sell a significant number of properties at realistic prices.

For buyers, the news is much better. There are a very large number of listings to choose from, and prices this winter will be better than we have seen for many years. My best wisdom, based on both our fundamental analysis and my experience, is that the time to buy is now. We are expecting 2008 to be a year of recovery, with 2009 returning to normal (not 2005). These projections are based both on local and national trends. By far, the best values are to be found in new construction, particularly in the higher price ranges.

In closing, I hope that you all survived the festivities. Best wishes for a prosperous and healthy 2008!