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Building up: executive-level real estate a red-hot market

Even though only a few hundred $500,000-plus homes are built annually in the metro area, the market for them is white-hot and the outlook is bright.

“People continue to want nicer and nicer things,” said homebuilder Ti Garner, whose upscale executive home won first place in the Parade of Homes $650,000-and-up category last May and the People’s Choice Award in the Autumn Tour of Homes.

“With low interest rates, people are willing to fork out an extra $50,000 for a great kitchen because they know it won’t make that much of a difference on their mortgage.”

Garner, whose family-owned company, R&S Developers, has developed Corner Stone and is developing Lineage Lake and Latter Rayne communities near OakRidge and Indian Creek subdivisions, with houses ranging from $350,000 to $1.5 million, said two rooms sell upscale homes: the kitchen and the master bathroom, where granite countertops and top-of-the-line appliances are a must.

“If somebody’s going to pay $180 a square foot for a house, they want it to knock their socks off,” he said.

Bob McKay, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi (HBAM), said $500,000 homes no longer represent the high end of the spectrum for executive homes. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have said that, but prices have been going up so fast,” he remarked.

Reggie Sims, vice president of sales and marketing for Reunion Inc. in Madison, pointed out that $500,000 “isn’t that much for a house anymore.”

“When I first started selling real estate in Memphis 12 years ago, $500,000 would buy a mansion,” he said. “Now it’s just a nice house. In the past couple of years, $750,000 and above has kind of become the ‘big house’ price.”

When Bennett Chotard and Bucky Gideon developed the Bridgewater subdivision in Ridgeland in the late 1990s, some people raised eyebrows about the feasibility of marketing multi-million dollar homes.

“Eastover set the standard decades ago, and we wanted to create a top-of-the-line neighborhood — Eastover’s successor, if you will — and we kept the lot sizes large because nobody was doing that, and we tried to preserve the natural beauty of the area through a tough review process, and we just hoped there would be enough money and interest in the market to fill the orders,” said Chotard

Chotard, a builder since 1971, said he wasn’t nervous about the venture.

“Everybody knows that a good location is absolutely critical, but you have to build quality and make everything first class,” he said. “If you do that, then the market is very strong.”

Harbor Walk developer John Burwell said he didn’t see any risk building upper-level residential units ranging from $270 to $370 per square foot. “I think people are starved for what we’re doing,” he said.

Sims said because more than 300 families quickly moved into the new Reunion community in Madison, developers recently brought three ultra high-end neighborhoods to the market, including Rosedowne, where he “wants to build my last home.”

“One of the reasons we’re so bullish on Reunion and the upper-end homes is the amenity package we have here,” he said. “No one in the market comes close. As a matter of fact, no one in the Mid- South comes close. And I’ve looked. When you have a Bob Cupp-designed golf course that will, I have no doubt, be rated the best in the state within three years, Reunion Farms Equestrian Center (which will open in May), walking trails, a gated community with neighborhood patrol and a 400-acre fishing, skiing and recreational lake, all within a master- planned community in the Madison School District — heck, we have an elementary school, Madison Station Elementary, within Reunion — I think our investment is safe.”

Even the metro area’s modestly-priced home — $150,000 or so — are being built with luxury amenities such as crown molding and custom-made cabinets, pointed out HBAM executive director Marty Milstead.

“The Jackson market has gotten to a point where there’s a high level of expectation on what you get in your house,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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