I grew up around real estate. My parents were both realtors, and in 1995 my sister and I took over the family business. And in all my years in the industry I’ve never seen a market quite like this one.

In July, members of the High Country Association of Realtors sold more than 360 homes in the area — a 72 percent increase from the year before. Now we’re running out of inventory.

July was also our busiest month for land transactions in over a decade (110 tracts of land worth $9.9 million). That’s in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, and there’s a reason why people are buying anyway.

With the ability to work remotely via Zoom, people are choosing to spread out. They’re relocating to the High Country because of what we offer: wide-open space, outdoor recreation, a small-town atmosphere and an overall quality of life that makes this an ideal place to live. The question now is how do we protect that? How do we make this growth sustainable while preserving the scenery, sense of community and natural environment families come here for in the first place?

My family moved from Miami to Blowing Rock in 1969. Here in the mountains of North Carolina we found a safe, affordable, picturesque, family-oriented way of life (straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting) and that’s why we never left. Now the secret’s out.

We all know about the growth of downtown Boone because of Appalachian State University and its enrollment of over 20,000 students. But it’s not just Boone that’s changing. In the month of July there were more homes sold in Avery County than our association has ever recorded. But what about the month of August?

In August there were 30 home sales in Alleghany County (worth $6.3 million). That’s the most homes our members have sold in Alleghany in at least 12 years. And in Ashe County 69 homes were sold in the month of August (totaling $22.99 million). Their previous monthly high was 48 homes. And our phones won’t stop ringing.

Some of this is temporary. Interest rates are at record lows. There is an increased interest right now in country living from those who were stuck in apartment buildings during the pandemic. Much of that will go back to normal. But there will be a new normal.

Before the pandemic one of the issues facing the state was the rural-urban divide. Cities in North Carolina were doing well while many rural areas were struggling. Boone benefitted from being the home of a higher education institution. But surrounding areas were still finding their way in the new economy.

But now that you can work from home for a bank or a software company, more and more people are going to choose to do that throughout the High Country in West Jefferson, Newland, Sparta, Deep Gap, Creston and Banner Elk. That’s the good news.

Now we need a modern health care, education and transportation system to support them. We need investments in affordable housing so we don’t price young people and first-time homebuyers out of the market. We need 21st century water and sewer infrastructure. We need high-speed broadband internet that reaches every dirt road in the High Country. But we also need a strategy for growth and sustainability.

My message to state and local officials is to give us the tools to keep the region growing — to keep this booming market going — but to strike a balance that keeps property taxes low and the area so affordable. Our members are selling homes just as soon as they get listed, and for record prices, too. But that means we need to start thinking ahead. Because life in the High Country will never be the same, and families won’t stop coming. And because the future is already here. So let’s get ready.

Pam Vines is owner/broker for Jenkins Realtors Inc. and the president of the High Country Association of Realtors.

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