What are the financial risks of buying Asheville mountain real estate?
Recent evidence indicates that much of the Asheville/Buncombe County development sites are unstable and subject to landslides.
The Buncombe County landslide probability map shows cautionary areas that must be investigated for stability as unsupervised construction activities will likely trigger landslides. A significant number of landslides and their deposits are pinpointed on the map: these areas are considered dangerous "no build" locations.
The Buncombe County Hazard Mitigation Plan (August 23, 2004) determined that the steep slopes and fragile soils of Western North Carolina put the county at high risk for landslides. This report was issued just weeks before the catastrophic 15 county slope failures of 2004. (Western North Carolina received 2 federal disaster declarations in September 2004.)
Geologic hazard occurrences are defined as events which are so adverse to past, current, or foreseeable construction or land use as to constitute an extreme threat to public health, safety and property. When natural hazard ordinances are enacted they provide real estate risk disclosure and require strict regulation and control over the development and sale of suspect land. Buyer beware: there are no hazard ordinances in Western North Carolina.
State geologists warn that 75% of the developable land in Western North Carolina is located on more than a 15 degree slope: this is the flash point for landslide activity. Tyler Clark, former chief geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey, stated in an interview, "You can build in many places in North Carolina, but you have to do it right. You need good planning, design, and construction anytime you develop, and part of that is knowing what hazards to look for." NCDENR UPCLOSE
Buncombe County's mountain acreage is currently under extensive development. Some of the largest residential/resort projects are: Versant, Reynolds Mountain, Bartram's Walk, The Settings, The Cliffs at High Carolina, Crest Mountain, and Southcliff. Their approximate locations are indicated on the hazard map. These mountain slope communities were approved without landslide investigation.
The federally mandated 2005 Western North Carolina mapping program, "Is it Safe to Build Here?" was intended to prevent the development and sale of unstable land but planning boards and developers in the 21 county region refused to wait for these risk studies. The Macon, Buncombe, and Watauga county hazard maps show that hundreds of homes and private roads have been built in precarious areas.
The public should be aware that Western North Carolina mountain real estate is a definable risky asset regardless of whether this information is disclosed on current sales contracts. Deaths from landslides are uncommon, 6 recorded fatalities since 2003, but property damage is frequent, expensive, and uninsurable. Landslide probability maps will impair the future value of many Western North Carolina mountain homes. Properties that are located on or near landslides and landslide deposits will be classified unsafe "high risk" real estate.
Investors should not rely on the actions of Western North Carolina planning boards, Realtors, or developers to protect their safety or financial interests. When buying mountain real estate, become informed and choose wisely. Slope stability can only be ascertained by state licensed engineers and geologists: sellers are not qualified to make these assessments. Complete site specific analyses are affordable, generally less than $2,000.
Attorney General Roy Cooper recently counseled, "It's tragic when people lose their homes, especially when it could be prevented."