Home buyers are flocking to Knoxville. Here’s how one handled this wild real estate market. – Knoxville News Sentinel

Seventeen households per day for the first five months of 2021. 

That’s how many new net households the Knoxville metro area has gained, on average, according to an analysis conducted by the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors (KAAR) of United States Postal Service change of address data. 

The 2,853 households were likely attracted to the up-and-coming area for its low cost of living, growing business opportunities and quality of life. They also bring a new level of competition to Knoxville’s real estate market. 

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, KAAR’s study estimated Knox County has gained 3,870 new households.

So far this year, permanent moves to Knox County are up 220% from 2020 and 402% from 2019.

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Thanks to a housing shortage, home prices are on the rise. We already know out-of-state buyers, who tend to be older and wealthier, are contributing to high demand.

Amid all the market mayhem, Nicki Baxley is in a unique position. After living in Knoxville for 17 years, Baxley and her family moved to Iowa just before the pandemic. The relocation didn’t last long. In 2021, the Baxleys sold their Iowa home, bought a Knoxville house and left the Midwest. 

Baxley has experienced the wild real estate market as a local resident and an out-of-stater; a buyer and a seller. She talked to Knox News about what her family went through and offered advice for others trying to make it in this market. 

How she got here

Baxley and her husband, Doug, moved to Knoxville together after they got married. Fast forward 17 years and their family grew by two. The family had strong ties in the city – Baxley’s relatives live nearby and her sons loved their school. But in December 2019, they relocated for Doug’s career . They sold the house and headed west.

Nicki Baxley (middle right) has been a seller, buyer and from out of state amid real estate market mania in 2021. Here she's pictured with her son Anders (far left), husband Doug (middle left) and son North (right).

“It was a terrible plan,” Baxley told Knox News in hindsight. The move coincided with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. 

“Our only option was to be (in) Iowa, which was heartbreaking,” Baxley said. “We wanted to turn around, as soon as we got there.” 

The Baxleys’ new house was bigger, but it wasn’t their Knoxville home. For 18 months, the family lived at least 12 hours away from their closest relative and waited for the right time to move back. First, they’d have to sell the Iowa house. 

Baxley said the same market mania happening in Knoxville was going on in Iowa. Their home sold within 24 hours of listing. Half of the interested buyers were local families wanting to upgrade and the other half were out-of-state buyers. Baxley sold the house in a cash, over-asking-price deal to a buyer from California. 

“It’s really hard to turn down those cash offers, and it comes down hard on families,” Baxley said. “We almost didn’t (sell to an out-of-state buyer) because we really wanted a family to have our house, but we just couldn’t turn down somebody who had cash, who was guaranteed not to fall through.”

The sale started the clock on Baxley’s Knoxville home hunt. She called real estate agent Laura Slyman, who has helped her purchase multiple Knoxville properties.

The Knoxville Area Association of Realtors in May 2021 awarded its highest honor, 2020 REALTOR® of the Year, to Laura Slyman, broker, owner, and auctioneer at Slyman Real Estate and the Laura Slyman Team. Honorees are nominated by peers and recognized for accomplishments, service and community involvement. Slyman is ranked in the top 1% in sales volume among KAAR’s 5,000+ agents, and has served as the organization’s 2018 President. Her father, James Slyman, started Slyman Real Estate in 1971, receiving the KAAR REALTOR® of the Year recognition 40 years ago.

After convincing the sellers to consider Baxley, one home’s appraisal came in $70,000 under asking price, a “deal-breaker” for the family.

Then an almost identical house went on the market. That appraisal came back $50,000 below the list price. The Baxleys had about a week to leave the Iowa house and didn’t have anywhere to go. Stress set in. 

“My husband and I both love a plan. We don’t do well without one, and we were definitely nervous,” Baxley said. “It’s been very different than any other buying experience that we’ve ever had, for sure.”

Baxley couldn’t find a rental in her price range that was available when her family needed it. She thought the worst-case scenario would be to stay with friends in Knoxville.

Baxley is closing on the second home with less than a week to spare before the move back to the area. In days, she’ll move into the Farragut home, which was listed for $725,000 and sold for $745,000. 

Advice for buyers

People coming from outside Knoxville to purchase property aren’t the only ones searching for a new start in the city. Hancen Sale, governmental affairs and policy director for KAAR, said he doesn’t believe buyer demand will decline this year, and the data backs him up. 

Homes are selling at higher prices than ever. The median home sales price was $275,000 in June and is continuing to increase. Meanwhile, homes are spending fewer days on the market than in previous months. Half of the homes sold in May were under contract in three days or fewer, according to a KAAR report. 

As someone who has bought before, Baxley recognizes that 2021’s real estate market is much different than any other homebuying experience she’s had. 

More:Knoxville needs 40,000 more homes in the next 30 years. Can builders meet the demand?

“Buying in this market means changing your entire mindset,” Baxley said. These are her tips for other home buyers.

Do your research: Baxley recommended researching prices several months before entering the market. Doing so can help buyers set realistic expectations when it comes to costs and what’s available. 

Know what you need: Just like Baxley, know what your “deal-breakers” are. This can help buyers narrow their search to homes that work best for them. 

Set budget boundaries: Buying in this market requires strict self-discipline. Just because you qualify for an amount of money, doesn’t mean you can afford it for years to come. 

Move fast:Slyman says to “be first” if you’re interested in a home. See the house and make an offer as soon as you’re able, if you’re serious. Baxley said downloading the Multiple Listing Services app helped her stay on top of newly-listed houses.

Work with someone you trust: A reliable real estate agent can make all the difference in this market. Find someone who’s well-connected and knows what you want. 

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