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VOL. 121 | NO. 125 | Monday, June 19, 2006

Second-Home Buying Offers Mid-Southerners a Chance To Relax, Refresh

By Andy Meek

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MUD ISLAND GETAWAY: Brad and Dianne Champlin stand outside their 4,500-square-foot riverfront home in Harbor Town. Their first and primary residence is in the River Oaks subdivision on Shady Grove Road. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

After she and her husband, Brad, bought a second home on Mud Island in January 2005, Spanish teacher Dianne Champlin regularly flocked to the 4,500-square-foot riverfront getaway to grade papers and take walks, basking in the sight and sound of the Mighty Mississippi.

She no longer teaches professionally, but the couple still marvels over "Blithe Spirit," the formal name of their home. There's an unspoken satisfaction - almost a giddiness - that radiates from the Champlins as they chat, whether it's beneath the local artwork displayed throughout the home or on the patio where they frequently have breakfast, peruse the newspaper and return the hearty greetings of people passing by.

"Most people buy a second home because they want to get away," said Brad, an executive vice president for Regions Financial Corp. "And that getaway is a mental getaway - you want to refresh yourself and get into a whole different kind of environment."

Second time's a charm

More and more homeowners like the Champlins are taking that delicious plunge into different environments, buying second homes everywhere from urban communities to beachfront resorts. And Memphis, local and national statistics would suggest, is no exception.

Homes sales are up throughout Shelby County. Residential sales jumped 27 percent from April to May, according to the latest analysis from real estate information service Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com. And a new survey by the National Association of Realtors suggests homeowners are influencing those numbers in a unique way.

When The Residence at Hunt Phelan Estate - a condominium development on the grounds of the Hunt Phelan mansion at 533 Beale St. - opened in 2005, for example, brokers marketing the units quickly picked up on the trend of second-home buying.

David Tester, an affiliate broker with Marx & Bensdorf Real Estate, estimated almost a third of the inquiries were coming from people who would use the property for second homes.

"Having a home down here, we're aware of other people that also have a second home down here, and there are more people who have them than we believed at the time we bought our home," said Brad Champlin, who sits on several local boards and stays involved in community events with his wife.

The latter is a big reason the Champlins wanted to forgo, say, a piece of oceanfront property or a cabin at Pickwick Lake in Hardin County. Their Harbor Town residence, in addition to being full of contemporary art, vibrant bursts of color inside and unique touches such as a private elevator, won the Award of Merit in Residential Design from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1995.

More important, it keeps the couple in close proximity to the city where they have deep personal and professional ties. The Champlins are 17 minutes from their permanent home in the River Oaks subdivision on Shady Grove Road.

"The fact is, we can incorporate this getaway with our lifestyle - which is being active in the community - a lot easier than if we were several hours away," Brad said.

Numbers game

Second-home sales jumped 16.3 percent from 2003 to 2004, according to NAR. And NAR's 2005 Profile of Second-Home Buyers featured this staggering bit of information: Almost one of every three single-family, condo and new home sales last year were second-home purchases.

Time will tell if that sector of the real estate market keeps generating enthusiasm from property owners in Memphis, where taxes and the cost of public services are always a big worry.

"Second homes are really a combination of investment, enjoyment and potential retirement," said John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. "I haven't seen any signs yet of a significant slowdown, but my guess is certainly the investment part of it is going to soften for the time being."

Second-home buyers like the Champlins have a lot to consider. Memphis is the 17th largest city in the country, has a combined city-county property tax rate of $7.47 per $100 of assessed value - the largest in the state - and a smaller available housing stock than in the outer county.

In recent weeks, at least, both Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton delivered budget proposals to the respective legislative bodies that hold the line on property taxes for the coming fiscal year.

Landlocked luxury

McIlwain said there are a few patterns that affect the trend, at least one of which is strongly visible in Memphis.

"The tradition has been that the hotter markets are on the shore or in the mountains, but there's also a newer phenomenon of people buying second homes in urban areas."

The latter, of course, is illustrated by the Champlins' purchase of a home on Mud Island, which they found only after spending 12 years trying to find a property in the South Bluffs development. Their search was all about the view.

They ultimately found the river view they wanted at Blithe Spirit, where they now come one to three times a week to relax and enjoy life Downtown.

"Sometimes Dianne will call me during the week and say, 'It's a great night, why don't you come down, let's go for a swim, watch the sunset and have dinner?'" Brad said. "We may spend Friday night here, go for a walk on Saturday, go down to Miss Cordelia's and have one of those breakfast biscuits and a cup of coffee, and then maybe we'll stay until Sunday."

PROPERTY SALES 83 405 4,276
MORTGAGES 104 424 4,814
BUILDING PERMITS 148 883 10,151
BANKRUPTCIES 53 264 3,149