Western North Carolina mountain real estate is located in a state designated high risk landslide region. Past and present buyers of this "at risk" property did not and will not find this material information on sales contracts. Hopefully the following will serve as a guide to safely buying a mountain home.
In 1998 the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management issued a report stating that the mountain slopes and ridges in the 21 counties of Western North Carolina were at extreme risk for the probability of landslides.
In September 2004 rain from tropical storms caused catastrophic landslide damage throughout the region. The state applied for 2 disaster declarations and received $72 million in federal emergency grants. For receipt of these funds, the state was required to initiate a landslide mapping program so that homes would be built only in safe areas.
In October 2006 Governor Easley issued a press release announcing the first of the Western North Carolina landslide maps. The landslide maps for Macon County show historic landslide events, attempt to qualify factors of slope instability, and determine how far a mountainside would move in the event of slope failure. The Governor said, "These maps will show which areas are prone to landslides and that will help developers, county officials, and residents decide where to safely build homes, roads, and other structures."
Since the fall of 2004, Western North Carolina planning boards have willfully ignored established geologic safety standards and have allowed hundreds of subdivisions to be built on unmapped and very likely unstable ground.
Their actions have placed uninformed buyers at significant personal and financial risk. Deaths from landslides are uncommon, 6 recorded fatalities in Western North Carolina since 2003, but property damage from erosion and landslides is commonplace, expensive, and uninsurable. The published landslide maps for Macon, Watauga, and Buncombe counties show that homes have been built in unsuitable and unsafe areas. Soon this risk information will be required for all real estate transactions and this will affect the value of these now identified landslide prone properties.
There is increasing legal awareness that prospective home buyers in designated hazard zones are disadvantaged by the silence of the seller and the real estate industry. Courts are recognizing this inequity and are finding for the injured parties. Law professor, Denis Binder, stated in his review, "The Duty to Disclose Geologic Hazards in Real Estate Transactions" that, "We should not realistically expect a purchaser to check the county clerk's office, the planning and zoning commission files, the Army Corps of Engineers, the United States Geologic Society, the state geologist, other agencies, and the Internet..."
Newcomers should not rely on the the actions of Western North Carolina planning boards or developers to protect their safety and financial interests.
Representative Ray Rapp, sponsor of the Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act, has encountered strong opposition from the Realtors and Home Builders Associations concerning the possibility of state regulation over construction standards and disclosure of landslide risks.
In an interview with Becky Johnson, staff writer for the Smoky Mountain News, Representative Rapp said, "The only thing I hear consistently is a concern that it might hurt economic development if there were any limits put on some of this slope development. In most mountain communities, developers answer to no one. They don't have to file a plan with the county before putting in roads or home sites, and no one checks up on their work afterwards." Please see "Rapp tries to round up support for slope development bill." Becky Johnson, Smoky Mountain News, January 2, 2008.
Home owners throughout the region face a constant battle with unstable slopes and expensive repairs. It does not make the news but a growing number of property owners in Western North Carolina have also had to deal with condemnation of their homes after slope failures rendered their properties uninhabitable. Planning boards and developers did not rescue these unfortunate home owners who have a mortgage on a worthless piece of property.
Prospective buyers should choose wisely. Tell the seller/builder/developer that you will not buy slope property unless it has been certified by a state licensed geologist.