North Georgia is rich with mountains, lakes, natural beauty — and plenty of bargains on attractive vacation homes.

Buyers have a unique opportunity to pick up a second home or retirement home in North Georgia, as sellers have lowered prices and banks have put foreclosures back on the market at a bargain. Despite the economy, the market is still moving and some submarkets are experiencing a healthy recovery, local real estate experts say.

“We have seen a pretty significant pick-up across the board,” said Faron King, president-elect of the Northeast Georgia Board of Realtors.Mountain cabins have been especially strong sellers, and there has been a resurgence in the market for upper-end lake properties, King said.

“Some of the strongest demand is for cabins in the woods from $120,000 to $250,000 or even $300,000,” said Frank Norton Jr., president of the The Norton Agency in Gainesville. “People are still looking for a recreational house in the woods.”Around Lake Lanier, the market for second homes has made a nice recovery, and Realtors are seeing “a super-strong market for lake homes under $500,000,” Norton said.
But some market segments are suffering.There is a 10-year supply of homes more than $1 million and that market remains soft, Norton said. In addition, about 65,000 vacant lots are for sale across the state of Georgia, he said.

“The market for second-home lots is very saturated, and that’s going to take some time to work itself out,” Norton said.

Prices have come down significantly throughout North Georgia.“It’s an incredible time to be a buyer — you’ve never had more to pick from and the prices have never been better,” said King, managing broker of Coldwell Banker High Country Realty.

There will soon be a new opportunity to buy in the exclusive Montaluce Winery and Estates, a community of European-style villages and Tuscan architecture set on 400 acres in the rolling hills of Dahlonega.At the heart of the community is a modern 25,000-square-foot winery that houses a tasting room, restaurant and wine-making facility. Montaluce is built around European culture.“You’re not buying into a home, you are buying into a lifestyle,” said Rob Beecham, chief operating officer of Beecham Builders LLC.About 60 of the 300 home sites have been sold, and home prices range from $600,000 to $1.5 million. But Montaluce is launching a new, more affordable option.“With the changed economy and changed mind-set, we are developing a weekend cottage in the low $300,000s,” Beecham said.

Beecham Builders is a family-run firm that has been building custom homes in Atlanta for four generations. It specializes in the $1 million to $5 million-plus range, but recognize the economy calls for new options.“The guy who wouldn’t have thought twice about buying a million-dollar second home — that buyer has probably changed,” he said.The weekend cottages will be targeted at people who want a weekend home to use five to 10 days a month. They are not being built yet, but are expected to start in the first quarter of 2011.Beecham is taking reservations now, and sales will start early next year.

Another new opportunity in Dahlonega is at Achasta, a residential golf community developed by Reynolds Signature Communities, the creator of Reynolds Plantation.Achasta features mountain views, walking trails, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The development has about 200 homes, and will eventually have more than 700, said Mike Langella, executive vice president of Reynolds Development & Management Group.

Prices are from the low $400,000s to more than $1 million. However, Reynolds recently designed some single-family detached homes that will be built in the $300,000 range, Langella said.They also launched a financing incentive this year that allows buyers to make a small down payment and then Reynolds will pay their interest for 35 months.“That makes it really attractive to purchase a home site today,” Langella said.Beyond financial incentives, the Reynolds name goes a long way, Langella added.“People know the Reynolds brand and they know the quality that we develop,” he said.Reynolds is also marketing Lake Burton Club in North Georgia, which is a luxury community of second homes. About 123 of the 230 sites have been sold so far.Reynolds acquired the property, which features a golf course with striking views and other luxury amenities, in April and is repositioning it.

“Our expertise is adding value to communities via amenities and programming,” Langella said.Aside from high-end facilities, planned activities and a social network, planned communities offer other advantages. Owners enjoy green space and spacious lots, but don’t need to worry about what could be built next door.
Another benefit is enjoying the outdoors without having to care for it.

“There is a sense of privacy and lots of land, but everything is taken care of,” Beecham said.Beecham said Dahlonega is ideal for retirement and vacation homes because it’s a beautiful location that is conveniently close — about an hour’s drive — to Atlanta. It’s very different than spending several hours to get to say, Highlands, N.C.This means Atlantans can spend more weekends vacationing, and retirees can easily access Atlanta’s health care, shopping and entertainment.“You can enjoy the mountain life but still make it down to Nordstrom in 45 minutes,” he said

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